This flautist spent a couple months of my fourth-grade year thinking I may well be losing my mind.
I wore my zippered backpack on my back even while riding that dusty, yellow bus with its barely-padded, vinyl, dark green seats. I had an assigned seat mate: Robin. She lived in the cul-de-sac. She didn't much comb her hair or wash her coat: tough as nails, she was, even in elementary school. I carried a book for reading, always, and just tried to mind my own business.
One day, I stepped off the bus in front of the school, and suddenly, inexplicably, the front of my backpack fell open, and all my books and papers and folders and things hit the sidewalk just at my heels. I remember, still, the humiliation: sliding my backpack off my shoulders and clutching it in front of me, stooping in my dress to scoop up my stuff and jumble-cram it into my bag. A few of my papers blew on a breeze under the bus.
I couldn't believe I'd forgotten to zip my backpack, and it wasn't long after that I started to lose things: a pack of school pictures, a library book. I still remember which: Sylvia Cassedy's Behind the Attic Wall. I loved that book.
And then, one day, I lost my flute. I'd zipped it into my backpack, but--when I got home--the zipper was about eight inches open at the top, and the instrument was gone. And suddenly, I knew (don't ask me how): Robin had snaked that flute right out my backpack.
When Daddy got home from work, I told him all about it. "Are you sure?" he asked, and I nodded. "Well," he said, "get in the truck. We'll go get it back."
Minutes later, Daddy was knocking on the door of Robin's house in the cul-de-sac. I stood beside him, my hands crammed deep in my coat pockets against the cold and dark. Robin's daddy answered the door. "I believe your daughter has my daughter's flute," Daddy said. He never has been one to much beat around the bush.
Robin's daddy frowned and called for Robin's mama. She came to the door. "Robin come home with a flute?" Robin's daddy asked her.
Robin's mama looked from her husband to my daddy and back again. "She did," she said, bewildered. "Told me the band instructor was letting her borrow it."
Robin's daddy shook his head. "It belongs to this little girl," he said, nodding toward us. "Y'all come in."
Robin's mama left their dim, little living room and came back with the flute. Daddy and I thanked her kindly and climbed back in the truck. He didn't say another word, just reached over and squeezed my leg right above the knee.
A week or so later, Holly from the cul-de-sac handed me my library book. "I knew you were looking for it," she said, "and I found it at Robin's house. She must really like you; your pictures are all over her room."