My First Friend

Dotty was my first friend. We both had baby carriages, and we walked in tandem, taking care of our babies.

The mothers sat in front, on chairs from inside that they carried down, folded up, and, one two, three, magic, they opened them up and sat down.

We walked the carriages back and forth, and sometimes we walked to the back, where there was grass and a door. A big fat man lived behind the door. He had a chair too, and besides him and the chair, there was a great big metal box that made noise. The man’s name was Joe, and he told us that the box was a machine called a furnace, and it made all the apartments warm, and besides that, it made the water hot. Sometimes Joe gave us a piece of candy, so we went there a lot, looking to see if he was there and would give us more candy.

We always came down after lunch and after naptime, if it was nice out. We didn’t go out if it was raining or very cold. My mother carried her baby, all wrapped up, so she could get fresh air. My mother said fresh air was important for everyone: mothers, big girls like me of four years old, and babies like my mother’s baby, Margaret, who she told me was my little sister.

So we went to see Joe almost all the time, and he was almost there all the time. He laughed when we came in, and one day he told us he had figured out when we were coming to visit him, and waited for us with the candy.

Dotty and I didn’t talk much. She told me she had a big brother, who was in school, and we shouldn’t tell the mothers about Joe, because her mother said candy was bad for us, and would give us holes in our teeth. So we didn’t tell the mothers about Joe.

One day I slept a lot at naptime because I had had bad dreams the night before and I woke up yelling and my father came in and told me it was only a dream, and I was tired when I got up in the morning. So my mother and the baby and I went downstairs a little late.

Dotty’s mother was holding Dotty. She must have fallen because there was a lot of blood. The mother was yelling. Ambulance, police, police, ambulance. Help, help, murder. Ambulance. My mother went over to Dotty’s mother and they talked. My mother ran, holding the baby, and went into Mrs. Cudney’s apartment on the first floor. She came out quick and went over to Dotty’s mother. She said to her that the police and ambulance were coming. She said, “The police will take care of that pervert.” Dotty’s mother yelled some more. “Help, help. My baby is bleeding out.”

The police came, and they went to the back and came out with Joe. His hands were tied up together with shiny metal. He didn’t look at us, and he didn’t say anything. The ambulance came, and Dotty and her mother got in, and they drove away.

My mother, the baby, and I went upstairs. My mother unpacked Margaret from the blankets and put her in the crib. She took my jacket off and said, “Come sit down; I want to talk to you.”

I sat in my father’s chair. My mother said that Joe was a very bad man. “He gave us very nice candy,” I told my mother. “He always was nice to us.” “No,” my mother said. “He only made believe to be nice. He hurts children in a very bad way. He damages their privates. You know, where the sissy and doody comes from.”

“Yucky, why would he do that? Yucky.” My mother said, “Because he’s not right in his head. Stephanie, if a grown-up man gets too close or touches you anywhere near there, run away and yell, ‘Help, help.’”

When Dotty came home from the hospital, she wouldn’t play with me. She didn’t walk her baby anymore, and she just stood next to her mother.

My mother said, “We’re getting out of here. We’re going to live in our very own house where there are no bad men. And Dotty and her mother and her brother and her father are also moving to their very own house, on the very same block as we are moving to. Won’t that be nice?”

And it was nice. But Dotty didn’t play with me, or anybody on the block. She just stayed with her mother. I rode my bike up and down the block. I loved it better than the baby carriage. I rode with Mimi and Betty, the twins who lived three houses the other way, and I was waiting for school to start, and I was going to be in Miss Marion’s class in kindergarten, which was the beginning, and my baby sister Margaret was beginning to walk and say words.

Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

About the author

Stephanie Kaplan Cohen's poetry has appeared repeatedly in The New York Times, and has appeared or is forthcoming in 96 Inc., Aura/Literary Arts Review, The Coachella Review, Confluence, CQ (California Quarterly), Crack the Spine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Folly, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Iconoclast, Pearl, Poet’s Page, Ship of Fools, Sierra Nevada College Review, Slant, Spillway, and Talking River Review. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Amherst Review, Artful Mind, Art Times, Belletrist Review, Binnacle, The Chrysalis Reader, Contraband, descant, Double-Entendre, Forge, Fuel, Grasslands Review, Hardboiled, The Homestead Review, Iconoclast, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, The Legendary, The Long Beach Independent, Lynx Eye, The Penmen Review, Minotaur, North Dakota Quarterly, Orange Willow Review, Pedestal Magazine, Reader’s Break, Real (RE Arts & Letters), Reed Magazine, Riversedge, The Scarsdale Inquirer, Slow Trains, The Smashing Icons Anthology, Sulphur River Literary Review, The Westchester Review, and Westview. My work has also appeared in the anthologies Lessons in Love: Gifts From Our Grandmothers (Crown, 2000) and Split Verse: Poems To Heal The Heart (Midmarch, 2000). She is the author of a memoir IN MY MOTHER’S HOUSE, published by Woodley Books and a poetry book ADDITIONS AND SUBTRACTIONS, published by Plain View Press. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She writes a column “Ask Stephanie” for the Alzheimer’s Association Quarterly in Westchester and Putnam, New York. I am also an editor of The Westchester Review.

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