V
            Danny remembered:
            She sat on his front steps. On her right ankle were five “friendship braids,” which he knew was a girl thing, like cat’s cradle. Her sandy blonde hair was falling free from its barrette, and she sometimes put a lock between her teeth. She had a necklace her parents had given her on her birthday; her name was in gold, in the V of her collar:  Katie.
            They leaned over the Sunday comics, and he showed her silly putty.
            “Do Hagar now,” she said.
            He pressed the putty against the paper, and he watched her face as she looked down at his hands. He felt her fingers, when she helped him peel up the putty. The duplicate of Hagar appeared, and she laughed.
            “Now do Snoopy.”
            She smelled like strawberries, and he thought he might marry her.
VI
            He held her down by the neck for a long time, looking at her pale flesh. She was so pale, but he couldn’t make himself work, because she kept whimpering and gasping. So he put his finger inside of her, and he looked off to the woods, feeling her muscles contract around his finger with her every gasp, and with every gasp Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.
VII
            For Halloween, they wanted to do something wild and unheard of. They met at Shawn’s house before walking to school, and they laid their shirts out on the grass. Standing bareback in the chilly air, Shawn shook a can of purple spray paint. He put a number one on the front of his shirt and a tiny “one” on each sleeve; a piece of cardboard was inside so it wouldn’t bleed through. He made Chris number two, Kenny, whose idea it was to dress as numbers, was “three,” and Danny “four.”  They also put numbers on bandannas and tied them around their heads and thighs, and numbered their cheeks with face paint.
            At school, most of the students were in costumes. Mr. Miller wore a tuxedo and stood by his classroom door between bells, with his thumbs tucked into his cummerbund.
            “What are you supposed to be?” he asked.
            “The number one,” Shawn answered, and when they walked into the classroom, he jumped onto Danny’s back. “Now, we’re a quarter.”  Shawn laughed.
            “No fractions allowed,” Mr. Miller said and told them to take their seats.
VIII
            The frost-covered grass and leaves cracked beneath Danny’s feet as he followed Chris through woods behind his house. An oak tree had fallen over. Its roots, packed with dirt, stood straight up from the ground. Chris sat in the hole and leaned back against the roots. Danny climbed down beside him. Chris had hidden a briefcase under the tree trunk, and now he sat cross-legged with the briefcase at his knees. Its leather top was torn, and yellow padding showed beneath it. A piece of a broken hinge jutted out from the side. The briefcase made no sound when Chris opened it and took out the first of the magazines. It smelled musty. The pages turned stiffly and crackled and puckered and seemed almost as if they would break. He read the captions aloud and laughed. Danny laughed too.
            On one page, there was no other image but the flushed, pouty folds of a woman’s vagina.                          
IX
            Several days before Thanksgiving, Danny walked home from school with Shawn. It had rained the night before, so now, bloated worms slunk and shriveled on the cement. Looking down, Danny was careful not to step on them. Nancy was a few paces ahead. She was wearing a brown plaid skirt and white stockings. Her black shoes must have been very hard, because they tapped as she walked. Eventually, she turned around and smiled, because Shawn was singing a Christmas carol. “What Child Is This?”
            “Real nice, Shawn,” she said. “You’re a month early.”
            He shrugged and continued to sing.
            When a car pulled up beside them, Danny lifted his head. Although he didn’t recognize the car, his brother Jeremy was leaning out of the passenger side window and grinning. Danny gave a slight wave.
            “Wait till you get home, Dan. Mom’s pretty pissed off at you.”
            “What did I do?”
            As the car started away, Jeremy said, “Watch out, buddy boy.”
X
            She felt him stop, but she couldn’t lift her head, because his hand was still pressing down on the back of her neck. She had an idea that maybe some of the other girls from softball practice might see her and laugh. She felt the length of his forearm on her spine, his breath against her cheek, and then she felt him inside of her again. She didn’t want her mother to worry, and she didn’t know what had happened to her glove, and she kept thinking Mom, the word pulsing like her blood, and she didn’t know if she were thinking it or saying it, because he wanted her to Shutup. She shouldn’t have gone to softball practice, and from now on, she would be careful when she drank milk in the living room. She didn’t know where her glove was, and she didn’t want anybody to laugh at her, and then she thought JesusJesusJesus until it was over.
XI
            He saw his finger smeared with blood, and there was blood on his palm. He wiped his hand on the grass. Then he leaned closer, pleading in her ear for her to Shutup. Everything was urgent and beating. His vision seemed to close in from behind him, so all he could see was his free hand clutching the grass. There was blood on his knuckles and wrist. Then he realized what he was doing, that he was slipping in and out and in and out of blood. He stared down at the grass beside her head, because he wasn’t going to stop. He wanted to stop, but he wasn’t going to stop. When he was done, he stood up and looked down at her. She lay flat on the ground, so pale and still for a moment, and then she curled herself up, hugging her knees.
XII
            Danny sat on his bed, looking through his window at the settling dusk; everything appeared shadowless and empty, with no wind in the trees at all. His mother had just left his room, saying that he had spoiled the Thanksgiving turkey. Two weeks ago, when he had helped her unload the groceries from the car, he was supposed to put the turkey in the freezer in the basement. But he’d put it in the refrigerator instead. Even as she’d yelled at him, he had felt relieved that this was all it was. He had ruined a turkey, “wasted money” she’d said, but he couldn’t feel bad about it.
            It was really nothing.
<< 1 2