Trouble in the Park
Ramona Quimby, brave and fearless, was half running, half skipping to keep up with her big sister Beatrice on their way home from the park. She had never seen her sister's cheeks so flushed with anger as they were this August afternoon. Ramona was sticky from heat and grubby from landing in the sawdust at the foot of the slides, but she was proud of herself. When Mrs. Quimby had sent the girls to the park for an hour, because she had an errand to do—an important errand, she hinted—she told Beezus, as Beatrice was called, to look after Ramona.
And what had happened? For the first time in her six years Ramona had looked after Beezus, who was supposed to be the responsible one. Bossy was a better word, Ramona sometimes thought. But not today. Ramona had stepped forward and defended her sister for a change.
"Beezus," said Ramona, panting, "slow down."
Beezus, clutching her library book in her sweaty hand, paid no attention. The clang of rings, the steady pop of tennis balls against asphalt, and the shouts of children grew fainter as the girls approached their house on Klickitat Street.
Ramona hoped their mother would be home from her errand, whatever it was. She couldn't wait to tell what had happened and how she had defended her big sister. Her mother would be so proud, and so would her father when he came home from work and heard the story. "Good for you, Ramona," he would say. "That's the old fight!" Brave little Ramona.
Fortunately, the car was in the garage and Mrs. Quimby was in the living room when the girls burst into the house. "Why, Beezus," said their mother, when she saw the flushed and sweaty faces of her daughters, one angry and one triumphant.
Beezus blinked to hold back the tears in her eyes.
"Ramona, what happened to Beezus?" Mrs. Quimby was alarmed.
"Don't ever call me Beezus again!" Beezus's voice was fierce.
Mrs. Quimby looked at Ramona for the explanation, and Ramona was eager to give it. Usually Beezus was the one who explained what had happened to Ramona, how she had dropped her ice-cream cone on the sidewalk and cried when Beezus would not let her pick it up, or how she tried, in spite of the rules, to go down a slide headfirst and had landed on her face in the sawdust. Now Ramona was going to have a turn. She took a deep breath and prepared to tell her tale. "Well, when we went to the park, I slid on the slides awhile and Beezus sat on a bench reading her library book. Then I saw an empty swing. A big swing, not a baby swing over the wading pool, and I thought since I'm going to be in the first grade next month I should swing on the big swings. Shouldn't I, Mama?"
"Yes, of course." Mrs. Quimby was impatient. "Please, go on with the story. What happened to Beezus?"
"Well, I climbed up in the swing," Ramona continued, "only my feet wouldn't touch the ground because there was this big hollow under the swing." Ramona recalled how she had longed to swing until the chains went slack in her hands and her toes pointed to the tops of the fir trees, but she sensed that she had better hurry up with her story or her mother would ask Beezus to tell it. Ramona never liked to lose an audience. "And I said, Beezus, push me,' and some big boys, big bad boys, heard me and one of them said—" Ramona, eager to be the one to tell the story but reluctant to repeat the words, hesitated.
"Said what?" Mrs. Quimby was baffled. "Said what, Ramona? Beezus, what did he say?"
Beezus wiped the back of her wrist across her eyes and tried. "He said, J-j-j—' "
Eagerness to beat her sister at telling what had happened overcame Ramona's reluctance. "He said, Jesus, Beezus!' " Ramona looked up at her mother, waiting for her to be shocked. Instead she merely looked surprised and—could it be?—amused.
"And that is why I never, never, never want to be called Beezus again!" said Beezus.
"And all the other boys began to say it, too," said Ramona, warming to her story now that she was past the bad part. "Oh, Mama, it was just awful. It was terrible. All those big awful boys! They kept saying, Jesus, Beezus' and Beezus, Jesus.' I jumped out of the swing, and I told them—"
Here Beezus interrupted. Anger once more replaced tears. "And then Ramona had to get into the act. Do you know what she did? She jumped out of the swing and preached a sermon! Nobody wants a little sister tagging around preaching sermons to a bunch of boys. And they weren't that big either. They were just trying to act big."
Ramona was stunned by this view of her behavior. How unfair of Beezus when she had been so brave. And the boys had seemed big to her.
Mrs. Quimby spoke to Beezus as if Ramona were not present. "A sermon! You must be joking."
Ramona tried again. "Mama, I—"
Beezus was not going to give her little sister a chance to speak. "No, I'm not joking. And then Ramona stuck her thumbs in her ears, waggled her fingers, and stuck out her tongue. I just about died, I was so embarrassed."
Ramona was suddenly subdued. She had thought Beezus was angry at the boys, but now it turned out she was angry with her little sister, too. Maybe angrier. Ramona was used to being considered a little pest, and she knew she sometimes was a pest, but this was something different. She felt as if she were standing aside looking at herself. She saw a stranger, a funny little six-year-old girl with straight brown hair, wearing grubby shorts and an old T-shirt . . .