Boston Harbor’s piscatory breeze gave way to wafts of grease and cigarettes tinged with an endnote of stale urine as Dr. Tom Bradlee approached the “Little Poland” section of Andrew Square. He surveyed the densely populated area while parking. The faded beige of unmarked buildings backdropped the loud aesthetic of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. Cliques of adolescent girls, gossiping in Baltic languages, masked the privation in their pretty features with bright makeup and hair resourcefully tinted with flavored drink mix. The small group of Vietnamese youths rebelled against parents with piercings and garish attire. While looking for the orphanage, Tom came upon a lioness den of rotund European widows in gaudy swimsuits. Their plastic lawn seats blocked the sidewalk. His attempt to circumvent them proved unsuccessful.
“Where you go?” inquired one, replacing what she lacked in grammar with volume.
“Saint Brigid’s” he replied. The matriarchs digested this, tensing with disapproval.
“Ok. I take you.” she brusquely informed him, clutching his arm. The entire group escorted him down the street.
“ They have only girls, you know. And, I tell you this, daughters today are not the same quality. She gonna make trouble for you.” one warned.
“She already make trouble for him!” shouted another.
“When I was daughter, you never see nice father search for me on streets like dog for food.” another one chimed in.
This tirade against the hypothetical daughter continued until they reached the historic building. He thanked them and they marched away, immediately recapping the event.
A half hour later, Tom sat in the main office with Lisa Shay, the volunteer director at the orphanage. Having grown up in Boston, her tough accent permeated the space like spilled perfume.
“I never heard of sports psychology before, Dr. Bradlee. Sounds kinda queer. You really think this study’s gonna help with these kids?” she asked dubiously, then regretted her tone. Despite her disbelief, this experiment could mean a freed bed.
“If we saw any negative effects, the project would cease immediately. However, that is unlikely. Similar studies have been conducted before on a smaller scale with street kids. Not only were the children provided with a higher quality of life but valuable developmental information is uncovered each time. That information can be useful for the coaching and support of future Olympians.” he replied calmly, noting her sudden excitement at that last part. “May I look through her file?”
“I gotta be honest, Agnieszka causes a lot of trouble.” she said, handing over the re-used manila folder. “The only reason we’ve kept her is because she has protected the other girls from outside violence, which used to be an issue. Now they need less supervision when outside which means the nuns get more done inside. We can’t afford janitors.”
Tom read through Agnieszka Mikolajczak’s list of offenses. Although advanced for a small child, it was nothing too shocking for him, given his extensive searching. A certain amount of aggression was needed for viable candidates and he used juvenile records for his leads. He was more surprised at the mental image of a little girl fighting off adult assailants.
“She have any hobbies besides sports? It says here she likes reading.” he pointed.
“Oh, yes. That is only partially true, unfortunately. She learned early and within a year was devouring books. The Bible. Mythology. The nuns were wicked pleased until, one night, one was cleaning and they found a whole stash under her bed of torn-out pages from all the romantic parts of the books. You being a fancy mind doctor, you probably got some explanation. But the nuns were very upset. They worry about when she gets older…”she trailed off.
He nodded in understanding. There were explanations for the orphaned girl’s fascination, but he didn’t have time to go into them. Instead, he asked to meet her. Ms. Shay returned in a few minutes with the child. He turned, taking in an unexpected muscular convexity and light green cast to her hair. The girl, with her triangulated build and tsunami eyes, gazed at him with bald curiosity. Visits from outsiders meant a potential ease of scarcity. Sometimes they resulted in attention. And, on rare occasions, they meant a quality of life upgrade with blankets or fruit. He warmly introduced himself, deciding not to keep her on tenterhooks.
“I work at an academy for children. We could use a strong girl like you around. You would stay at our residence and have access to our amenities. There’s a gym and a library. Other strong kids. You’d make lots of friends.” he added. “Would you like that?”
She nodded once. He decided to cement matters.
“‘Agnieszka’ is too difficult for the other kids to pronounce. We could shorten it or give you a nickname. You choose. What would you like to be called?” he waited patiently. She softened her gaze, thinking of the heroine of a romance novel she had stolen earlier this year.
“I want to be called Eartha.” she replied, her voice having a combination of Lisa’s dropped ‘R’s and the Polish nuns’ choked vowels.
“Eartha, it is.” he affirmed, taking her hand.
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