Hills and Cats
Hills was the proper name. Yucca was all the scrub
that stuck that time of year, maybe here and there a red
or blue flower that let out pollen like a TV time capsule
after stepping on it, but in no way was there anything on
that bare rise behind town that made it more than
something not level. Even its dirt loosed up and drifted
off, raggedy, dirt so white you could write with it. We
were using a chunk off it then.
"Hail Mary" we had across the last flat rock before
where the snakes started. Mary was for Mary who we
wanted to let know we didn't care for, a mouthy runt who
would make a better sister so to be more convenient to
torture. We'd be lining up junk cans for BBs, getting
ready for the wildcats, those kind of cats that get with
the strays and have a mane around their faces, and she'd
show, hand over hand, across some ravine between the cans
and us, right in a bunch of BB bullets, waving a broken
piece of tooth or a handful of Bazooka.
And saying, I got ideas, saying we can sell the
yucca and make enough for a real big plane model. And
we'd hear buzzing in the sky, I swear, where'd she'd
thrown up her voice, like it was one of those planes, one
that cost more than a cartoon kid's allowance. So we'd
stop and listen, of course, even though she was a girl,
and she would get us to peel a couple of the spears of
the stuff and skewer them onto old bedsprings from up
here and pretty soon we'd all be roasting this green
stuff--vegetables!--on a wacked-up fire from tumbleweeds
that she'd dragged over with her bare hands and lit with
her trash lighter.
So this "Hail Mary" was all etched in, in letters
like a high school motto against a mountain, and she come
up this time past it, towing a toboggan her third brother
had and kept under his bed. She was kind of chunky then,
wide in the belly because of her having it with that
creepy altar boy who was too sad to be bad--or so people
thought. They told her brothers to watch her but the
brothers, so far as we knew, didn't have the interest in
their sister that they did for other girls.
Anyway, this time, with her bulk and all, you could
hear her coming a long bit before she showed, the
toboggan crashing down against the rocks so loud the
hills started losing pieces like in a landslide. I mean
she made rock powder up behind her. By then we were
lighting some M-80's we'd found rotting away in an old
drawer six months after the season. We stopped though,
when we heard her, to hear if whether the sign worked
like a kind of hex, if maybe she'd get spooked or even
angry and go off.
But no, she corrected our spelling, said there
weren't no "i" in it and what we wanted was to throw
rocks down on people, that was "hail." Then she sat down
about an inch from the biggest cracker all lit and
hissing, with us running around with our ears stopped.
But since, on her sled, she had two snakes, we jumped
over and stomped it out, they were such nice rattlers.
We admired them with sticks, getting them ticked off
and nervy. We knew they was rattlers but we didn't tell
her because then she might take them straight home. She
wouldn't say where she'd found them, just that they laid
on the sled on her way up. Well, after a while, they did
beat off and that left us with just the ride idea.
One of the hills had some altitude to it with a lot
more of the yucca in most of the drops which in winter
was kind of surprising if you stopped there on a sled and
didn't know it. But now, with Mary having brought up a
sled in the almost summer, when snakes and cats come out
for sun before they was supposed to, we thought about it.
Before any of Mary's real good ideas, she was always
saying, Bless us O Lord like we were dinner and she was
calling grace. Bless us O Lord, she let out, after the
snakes had gone for good. We knew then there would be
doings we had to be part of. We knew.
The sun was about to set down in the middle of
clouds and that was fine because people weren't looking
up at the hill then to check out how good the colors
went. The days we broke rocks with hammers or built
fires, people would catch us because of the better
sunsets we helped off. Not to mention when people saw
our clothes after, and made us promise not to go there
under the pain of sin, if not regular pain. So it was a
fine right time to be going on the hill, then.
She wanted front. That saved the rest of us a fist
fight so we said a few cuss words to make it natural then
lined up behind her, each of us not touching the other
but still hanging on tight as a person is possible.
Well, with piss we slicked up a bunch of weeds
hanging on an incline so steep the whole town was spread
flat out against the front of us. I think somebody in
the middle was scared because we had to say twice which
way to lean at first to miss the big crevvie with the car
wreck inside, but then the cat came.
It didn't matter after, that people said we did the
right thing, running, even though it was a real cat,
about four feet at the shoulder, with that mane I talked
about, tufted not like a lion really but more like
Bozo's. Somebody shot it a couple weeks later. You see,
we all jumped off in about the time it took the toboggan
to get going, the way they start rough at the beginning.
But Mary kept on it and the cat, he came after.
That's what we guessed happened. Later, when we was
a lot older and we all had our 4-wheel vehicles and
hitches to them, we towed up toboggans instead of pulled
them and ran down what of the hill wasn't already too
loaded up with condos. Nobody had named that particular
part of the hills anything special but we ourselves still
think of it as Mary's because we always see her there and
lots of times elsewhere, in funny places like in the back
of the car at a drive-in with a date who has a stuck
zipper, or even later when we had a new baby with croup
that had to hightail it to the city hospital, or even
when we all spent a couple of months on patrol in a
desert as lousy reservists. We'd close our eyes and we'd
still see her, on that hill and toboggan. So it didn't
matter after that if we did what was right because it
seems like we learned only one thing: that you can't go
too far from where you're a part of, because it's got
you. What was that cat doing so far from good juicy
heifers? You see, now Mary is always with us, we can't
shake her, and what's worse, she's probably gone holy.