At two-thirty in the
morning, fake cricket chirps wake Colton—"Crick chirp, crick
chirp," then silence. Colton lays still, trying to hear what
woke him. Night sounds: a motorcycle whining gears down main street,
the damp smelling breeze flowing from the cracked window, oak
branches chittering on the glass panes. His left eye twitches,
after-imaging a dream of—what? No. Too late. Gone.
"Crick chirp." A
message. Colton jerks nervously up from under the sheets, squats
down in front of tropical fish swimming slow circles on his computer
screen. He flicks the mouse and the fish vanish into the tight dots
Subject: Bad News
Date: Sun, 09 Nov 1997 2:23
Not much to say except it’s
true. I did three piss tests yesterday, then went to the doctor and
he tested more piss and I can pissingly say that I’m pregnant.
Whoopee, eh? Had a short talk with my parents tonight. Picture it:
mommy all quiet thinking how she’ll explain this to everyone,
daddy walking outside to drop tears alone. They ended up sending me
to my room. That’ll teach me. Anyway, I’ll be doing the sinner’s
walk at church in a few hours. You there for me? You going to join
Colton looks out the
window, glances a block over. The light is on in Barbara’s room.
Such a joke to e-mail when he could walk over there and hold her,
hug her, or whatever you do in moments like this.
Colton clicks on the reply
message. What to say? Funny thoughts leap to mind—baby better look
like its father, maybe now you’ll grow some breasts—but the
jokes roll dry on his tongue and he forgets them right off. He sits,
hands over a keyboard, absently typing S-S-S-S-H-I-T but not finding
any other words.
Outside, headlights spin
by, whirling in and receding off Colton’s walls. Red brake lights
blink from the corner stop sign, go dark to the sound of tires
screeching. That one’s going too fast, Colton thinks, seeing Scott’s
Not that Colton really saw
the accident—just listened to Scott’s stupid-luck story of
flipping his slick misty red 442 convertible three times and not
getting hurt. "Here’s it, bud," Scott had said.
"When the big stuff happens you don’t think it’s so big.
There I was, spinning flips in the car and all I’m thinking is
whoa, it’s just like the g-forces astronauts go through. No
thinking that I’m about to die, no fear whatsoever."
Colton relaxes, lets the
worry about Barbara dance off from his mind. For a moment the winds
shift and suck the drapes out the window crack before blowing in
again. Wet cool air.
Colton types on the
computer: I’m there for you. Hits send. Laughs—hope I
wasn’t there for you when this happened. He then tries to sleep—thinking
of big things, wide-eyed till dawn.
* * *
Last fall, the Wetumpka
Church of Christ’s youth group camped out on a sandbar that jutted
into a curve of the Tallapoosa River. Behind the sand bar grew a
fence line of shit oaks, and behind that two tall sand piles from an
old gravel quarry.
Brother Jed had pitched
camp earlier in the day. He’d piled dry driftwood until it touched
six feet tall, pitched four small tents borrowed from the armory,
filled a cooler with soft drinks and hot dogs. When the truck with
Colton, Scott, Barbara, others, pulled up at dusk, Brother Jed waved
two gas cans at them.
"Dark enough, wouldn’t
you say?" he asked. Scott and Colton took the cans and pitched
the gas forward in quick splashes onto the wood. Scott dribbled a
gas fuse from the pile and Barbara dropped the match into it. Whumph—a
fire circle jumped out with a sigh.
said. Everybody hunted down thin, long branches, stripped them,
roasted wieners and sang church camp songs—the boys and girls
alternating verses in low high varied cadences—then Brother Jed
led the group in a devotional. Finally, after total dark above, with
the glow of Montgomery on the horizon, Brother Jed stood.
"Anybody for some football?" Assorted "yeahs" as
Brother Jed searched his tent for the ball.
Scott kicked the fire,
floating sparks onto the wind.
"Wanna go for a
walk?" he asked Barbara softly. She nodded. They stood, walked
across the sand to the shit oaks.
Colton sat alone as the
fifth and sixth graders joined Brother Jed in touch football beside
the river. Colton watched, bored: someone threw the football,
everyone looked for it against the dark sky as it thumped into the
sand. Colton turned back to Barbara and Scott—they were at the
Colton was fifteen, Barbara
sixteen, Scott seventeen. With no other church kids their age, the
three of them were friends. They’d all been baptized together,
played together after services, always sat next to one another in
church. "Kinda links us in a way," Barbara had said after
their triple baptism, interlocking little fingers with Colton and
Scott. But as Colton watched her walk across the sand, watched Scott
slide his hand to her rear jeans pocket, Colton felt his neck
Colton sneaked across the
sand. He and Scott were the same size—stringy, muscles on bones,
just under six foot—but Scott moved with power while Colton
slinked about. Colton liked Scott, liked Barbara, but didn’t know
how to feel now. Colton crept up on Barbara and Scott, watched them
in the moonlight reflecting up from the sand.
They were kissing—Scott’s
hands moved up and down Barbara’s body, Barbara’s hands grabbing
Scott’s right leg. For a second Barbara’s shirt rose and her
pale stomach shimmered. Then they stopped as if by some command,
stared at the sky as Scott moved his hand between Barbara’s legs.
Colton grabbed a handful of sand and arced it through the air. It
cascaded with a moon glimmer over Barbara and Scott.
"What the fuck,"
Scott yelled, jumping up, dumping Barbara back in the sand. Colton
jumped onto the dirt road and ran down one of the tire ruts, Scott
chasing hard. Colton could barely run, his legs wobbling weak like
in a dream because he kept wanting to laugh. Colton dodged into the
scrub oaks, dove under a barb wire fence he barely saw. Scott
smacked the wire with such a twang that Colton’s legs jellied and
he fell over laughing.
Scott walked up to Colton.
"You little shit," he said half-menacing. Colton laughed
so hard he coughed on his spit. Scott hit Colton playfully in the
stomach, then flopped on the sand beside him. "Oh shit, that
wire hurt." More laughing. Barbara walked up, kicked sand at
both of them. "I can’t believe you two," she said, but
she also laughed. They then walked to the river and joined the game
of touch football.
Later that night in the
tent, Colton and Scott lay side by side in their sleeping bags.
"I don’t know,"
Scott said. "You think you’re just friends with someone then
one day, huh ya, you look at them different."
* * *
The morning of Barbara’s
e-mail message, Colton sits in the church. Slow, drab, not much to
stare at. A slow worship day—people sitting staring at fake-grain
plywood and green pew-cushions, the a/c sighing the air currents in
slow loops that picks up people’s smells and wafts them about.
Colton zones out on the
opening announcements—"Youth group’ll be defending its
bible bowl championship in Mountain Brook next week"—mumbles
a cappella song number 312—"There is, beyond the azure
blue"—feels his feet day dream into clay as the middle prayer’s
thanksgivings and protect us and forgive our sins sound on for ten
Hate this, he thinks. Need
not waiting here.
Behind Colton, Sister Inez
amens the prayer with a solemn click of her dentures. Barbara used
to try to make Colton and Scott laugh during prayers by mimicking
that denture click. The congregation breathes in as Brother Jed
walks to the podium—time to open bibles, shift on pews, look
around. Beside Colton, just two hand spans to the right, Barbara
twists the woven bookmark of her bible around her index finger until
the fingertip turns purple-red. She then stretches the bookmark out
and slides it down the curved paper of the spine. She don’t look
pregnant, Colton thinks.
He wants to turn to her.
Wants to laugh, talk. Don’t be going up there now, he’d say.
Wait. See what happens. Gotta be something we can do, gotta be
something we can find.
But no words come. Brother
Jed grips the wooden podium, clears throat, speaks: "Let us
turn our bibles to…"
Rustle of thin bible pages,
so easy to rip with fast tugs. Barbara wears a thin blue dress, not
tight, not loose. Colton wants to rub the cotton fabric between
fingers, needs to feel if it has any texture. He gazes at her—hair
loose, lips no lipstick. She refuses to catch his eye.
Colton lifts an attendance
card and stub pencil from the front pew. He holds the little pencil
awkwardly in his long right hand.
"Still going up?"
he writes. Barbara nods, bloats her stomach out and pats it in super
slo-mo. Slow raises the hand, pats the stomach. Pat, pat. Ha ha. Pat
Pat. Inside, down deep, Colton’s different body things squeeze
about and about.
Far behind them, on the
very back row, Scott sits alone.
* * *
Last year, Barbara, Colton,
and Scott won the statewide bible bowl by cheating. They weren’t
supposed to—win that is. Their youth group lost the competition
every year to Mountain Brook, a rich church near Birmingham that
also hosted the event.
This coincidence seemed a
little suspicious to Scott.
"I studied my ass off
last year and we still didn’t stand a chance. Before the question’s
even done those shits knew the answers."
said, "I bet they’ve got a nice computer system up there. Why
don’t we go take a peek for ourselves." Barbara was the
smartest person they knew. She didn’t study in school because she
just knew things already. Like computers: she could make a computer
do anything. She’d learned code and programming and stuff last
"How’d you get so
smart?" Colton asked.
"Smarts is a natural
thing among women," she said, smiling.
Early the next Sunday,
Scott and Colton wore ties and blazers, Barbara her yellow sundress,
and they drove the three hours to Mountain Brook in Scott’s 442.
They’d told their parents they were attending a youth service
"You know, of
course," Scott said, "if we get caught we’ll have to do
the honorable thing."
Colton had no idea.
said with a quick laugh.
Colton smiled. Barbara
smelled of fresh powder, of powder clogging sweat glands, of
trickling sweat down the back. Scott had the top up on his
convertible so the wind wouldn’t mess up their church-going hair.
Scott cracked his window but the hot stayed.
Once at Mountain Brook,
Colton asked where the Sunday school classes were. A smiling usher
pointed down a long hallway next to the nursery. Scott, Barbara, and
Colton walked slow circles up and down the hall.
"That’s gotta be the
preacher’s office," Colton said the first time they passed a
wood door with a glazed glass window. A Wal-Mart aluminum plaque on
the door said PRIVATE.
unlocked," Barbara said the second time they passed it.
"What kind of sinner
would lock stuff in a church on a Sunday?" Scott asked.
They went back to the car
and drove around until worship started, then walked in the church
again. The office was still unlocked. They entered, Scott taking
care to lock the door behind them. He and Colton flipped filing
cabinets files while Barbara turned on the computer.
"Got it," she
She hit print. A noisy
bubble jet printer started gliding down a page.
looked through the glazed-glass panel of the door. "Someone’s
"I can’t stop it
now," Barbara whispered.
The door shimmied, followed
by the chinking of keys. Scott reached out a strong hand and held
the doorknob in a double-fisted passion grip. The doorknob tried
turning but Scott’s callused hands held tight. A shadow leaned
against the glazed glass—looking in—then disappeared. The
They ran from the church,
drove so fast down the highway that a state trooper pulled them
over. "We’re late for church, officer," Barbara said
sweetly. The trooper smiled back and still gave Scott a ticket.
"Might say God’s
been good to us," Barbara said as they neared Wetumpka. She was
in the front with Scott. Colton watched as she leaned into Scott’s
chest, her left breast swelling out as it pushed behind him. The
windows were down and the cool air whirled hair, paper about. Colton
tucked the bible bowl answers into a tight roll and held them safely
under his armpit.
* * *
On the Sunday of Barbara’s
repentance, Colton sits through Brother Jed’s sermon without
listening, remembering Barbara and him sneaking down behind the
community center, to the little playground beside the cracked tennis
courts and rotting nets. It was three months ago. They sat under the
extra-wide kiddy slide. A hundred feet behind them the trees grew
dark by the drop-off to the Coosa River, but Colton couldn’t hear
the splashing rapids because the wind whipped the trees’ dead
leaves into cold dances.
Barbara closed her eyes,
Colton stared at her nose. Barbara grabbed his neck and leaned him
back, kissing him softly. He looked straight up to moonlit clouds.
Barbara’s lips stopped, smiled.
"That’s called being
dominant," she said. Colton grinned, didn’t know what to say.
"Should be getting some rain soon," he blurted out.
Barbara dropped his head onto the ground.
original," she said, "talking about the weather."
Colton’s chest went
tight. He felt the need to say something serious about how much this
moment meant. Movie clichés, romance, all the things he’d heard
and seen jumped in his head. Nothing seemed right.
"I was so
jealous," he said, "you going out with Scott."
"We were just friends,
Colton looked at Barbara.
He didn’t know what to say, what to do. His heart shook, his legs
and arms twitched.
Barbara kissed him, started
hard rubbing his bluejeans.
"Gotta grab hard to
feel anything through denim," she said. Colton laughed. He
reached up under her skirt, his fingers shivering on smoothness. Her
legs wobbled, his pants went down to the knees. The night dew jumped
off the grass, raced wet willies up and down Colton’s bare butt.
Ran his butt tight.
On the walk home, Colton
kept kissing and rubbing Barbara and she’d kiss back. Still,
somehow, he didn’t feel as much energy as before. He found himself
staring empty as he lifted tennis shoes up, back down to the gravel
pavement. What would Scott say, he wondered.
"Ain’t as much as
you thought it’d be, is it?" Barbara asked.
"Not what I was
That was that time, this is
now. Colton stretches on the church pew, cranes his head to see
Scott sitting in the back row. This is the first time Scott’s been
to church in the months since his accident. He must know, Colton
"Want me to do
anything?" Colton asks whisper quiet. Barbara watches the
preacher, lets her eyes be sucked away from Colton.
"And if there’s
anyone here this morning who feels they have lost touch with the
lord," Brother Jed says. "Let them come forward now, as we
stand and sing."
Colton stands up. His mouth
wags along in silent harmony, knowing the words so well. "He
could have called, 10,000 angels. To destroy the world and set him
free eee eee." A repentance song, calling sinners forward.
lost?" Colton whispers between stanzas.
Barbara mouths. Colton grips the forward pew.
At the third stanza Barbara
turns, squeezes by him, walks to the front. Four rows of passing,
walking. The whole congregation keeps eyes on songbooks, walls, not
a head staring. That would be rude.
Barbara sits on the first
pew. Brother Jed puts down his songbook, walks over and joins her in
a hugging, whisper-talking embrace.
Sometimes there’s no
decision, Colton thinks. Easier to just ask forgiveness in private,
so everyone don’t have to know.
Brother Jed and Barbara
talk, nod, talk more as the song ends and people sit down. Silent
waiting. Finally, Brother Jed stands up. "Sister Barbara Gwen
has asked us to pray for her, as she goes through a trying period in
Colton mouths along with
Brother Jed: "Has gotten lost. Sinned. Asks the Lord Jesus
Christ to forgive her." Brother Jed’s eyes jump to Colton as
the preacher scans the congregation. Colton bows his head.
"Let us pray,"
Brother Jed says.
Colton watches Barbara. "Help this lost child…" She
stares ahead at the big wooden cross stuck on the wall, at the
double cross shadows cast behind it by twin spotlights. "In
Christ’s name we pray…" Ain’t no need for this, Colton
Jed says. Several men echo him. Behind Colton, Sister Inez clicks
her dentures. Everyone stands, talking. Colton watches as Barbara
hugs Brother Jed, then hugs her parents.
Better have left me out of
it, he thinks.
* * *
Scott loved his 1976
Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 convertible, loved the finger-squeaking-wax
on the red paint, the black fold-down top, rally stripes, raised
white letter tires, the 440 engine inside. He’d rebuilt the engine
one summer, painted the car the next. Colton helped him wax the car
once a month; afterwards Scott and him would cruise the different
parking lots, letting people check out the car. Colton never got to
drive but he’d talk like he did.
"Scott’s thinking of
putting in a 455 engine next year," he’d say.
would reply. Colton could never tell if they were impressed or
realized he didn’t know what he was talking about.
Scott flipped his 442 going
a hundred five outside Wetumpka. Not a curve in the road—just
straight and shiny, newly paved, fresh-yellow lines down the middle.
Scott’s car somersaulted a trinity before landing upside down.
It didn’t kill him, didn’t
do a thing to hurt. Scott hung there from his lap belt, the car
wedged on either side of the ditch so he had six inches of life
between his hanging down head and the rocky ground. Took forty
minutes for anyone to go by and see. An hour and a half for the
volunteer fire department to get there with their jaws of life. Lots
of red yellow flashing lights spinning into the fence-line trees,
lots of little motors grinding whirling with the lights.
"Waste of a beautiful
car, huh?" a deputy asked Scott, who still hung upside down
under the car. Scott hadn’t said much, just answered okay when the
deputy asked how he was. The deputy had been talking to Scott to
keep him from slipping into shock or something, but the more the
deputy looked at the stupidness of the wreck, the more irritated he
"Okay, son," a
fireman said, "there’s going to be some serious shaking as I
rip open the door. Just hang on." The jaws of life ripped and
the door came off. Scott was pulled out, stood there looking down at
the underside of his car.
"What were you
thinking, going that fast?" the fireman asked.
Scott didn’t answer.
"Kids today," the
deputy said, "can’t get shit for answers out of them. Course,
that’s what my momma used to say about me, but ain’t it the
* * *
confession, after the church service, Colton sits on the astroturf-covered
back steps as Brother Jed locks the door.
"Your parents asked me
to talk to you," Brother Jed says.
They cross the back lot to
the house behind the church. Colton’s family lives down the street
from Brother Jed; he’s been to the preacher’s house so many
times that he doesn’t need to knock. This time, though, the house
doesn’t feel so inviting.
Brother Jed says. Colton sits at the dinner table. Large scratches
run up and down its varnished wood surface, the deepest scratches
covered by a doily in the middle. There is no food set out, no
smells from the kitchen. Brother Jed goes out to eat on Sundays,
always the guest of some deacon or church family.
"You probably figured
out about Barbara by now," Brother Jed says as he sits catty
corner to Colton.
Brother Jed teases his
salt-pepper hair between two fingers. "Figure I should be mad
or something, but I can’t see how that would do any good."
"They know who the
father is?" Colton asks nervously.
Brother Jed frowns.
"Not you, she says. Why? You think it’s yours?"
Colton shakes his head, a
spasm in his stomach as he tries to breath. Twitch, twitch, breath.
"I gotta say,"
Brother Jed says, "I’m troubled by this. I thought I’d lead
you kids better than this."
"I didn’t do
"Never said you
Brother Jed stares hard at
Colton. Questions asking questions behind his eyes. "Well, I
ain’t got time for this right now. You just think on what
Colton nods. Sure. Think.
"Barbara’s going to
need a friend right now. Talk to her, take her to the movies and
what not. That’s what she needs—support."
Support, Colton thinks.
Sure. Like always.
As he leaves the house,
Colton passes Scott coming up the steps to talk with Brother Jed.
Scott slow smiles at Colton, then goes in the door.
Subject: I’m worried
Date: Sun, Nov 16 5:40
Scott hasn’t talked to me
much since the wreck. When I told him I was pregnant, he just nodded
yeah, like he’d already known. I’m worried—we gotta do
something. Why don’t you try calling him up. Maybe he’ll talk to
you, let whatever he’s thinking inside get out. Will you do it?
Early on Sunday morning,
one week after Barbara’s repentance, she knocks on Colton’s
bedroom door. He opens the door, sits down again at his desk. His
computer’s plastic fan hums, the monitor shoves uncountable dots
into pictures and words.
feeling?" Colton asks.
Barbara pulls a chair to
"Hope I’m all done
with throwing up, if that’s what you mean. Just need seven months
to drop the baby out."
Before Colton can respond,
the doorknob clicks, turns, and his mother leans in. "Ten
minutes till church," she says. She walks away, leaving the
door open. Barbara stares at her lap—Colton’s father, mother had
thin smiled at her as she came in. Hadn’t been more polite than
"Anything on the
net?" Barbara asks.
"Here’s an on-line
radio station, plays any music you like. All sort of stuff you’d
never hear around here." Colton clicks start, lets Buddhist
monks chant out the speakers. He’d downloaded the program just for
says. She takes the mouse, clicks the music off and jumps around
some. The screen flickers from site to site.
"I’m here for
you," Colton says.
Colton stares at Barbara’s
belly. Her blue dress pulls tight over her stomach—he really can’t
tell anything. Could be just her faking it, but he knows no one
would put themselves through this shit for nothing. He wants to
reach out and touch the belly, feel the pressure of touch, feel if
it is his.
"Touch me and I’ll
slap you," Barbara says.
"Is the baby making
you moody, or you just hating me right now?"
Barbara smiles, then slugs
"Probably should be
getting to church," Colton’s father yells from the front. It
is early to be going, but Barbara and Colton know why.
Barbara says, taking Colton’s hand. She half hugs him, but drops
his hand at the door before his parents see.
"I don’t care what
they think, you know."
"Uh huh," Barbara
says. "Let’s do something tonight, okay?"
* * *
They had drilled every
Sunday for the bible bowl. Scott rigged up a simple buzzer board:
three orange light bulbs and three buttons built into a short
two-by-four. Scott slid it across Brother Jed’s dinner table,
curling up strips of varnish.
"First one to hit
lights up," Scott said proudly. "Way I see it, if the
Mountain Brook team gets all the answers too, we need to memorize
the suckers better than they do and practice till we’re faster
They were soon smacking the
buzzer before the questions were finished, with just a few word
"What was the name of
"How many people…"
Barbara grinned. "If
they change a word of the questions, we’re dead."
"Trust in Jesus,"
Scott was clearly excited
by their prospects at the bible bowl. "This is all I’ve ever
wanted," he told Barbara and Colton one evening as they sat
outside Brother Jed’s home enjoying the cool summer breezes.
"I mean, just give me a fair chance. That’s all I need."
Barbara squeezed Colton and
Scott’s hands, and Colton found himself nodding at what Scott had
said. A fair chance. Everyone deserved that.
The tournament came at
summer’s end up in Mountain Brook, before the largest audience
Colton had ever seen in a Church of Christ. They made it to the
finals easy, shooting off answers like computers.
"Good team this
year," people told Brother Jed. "They’ve worked
hard," he said in agreement.
The final competition was
with the three tie-wearing brothers from Mountain Brook who’d won
the year before. Before the match, Scott walked up to them and shook
each one’s hand. "It’s time to pay for your sins," he
said with each handshake.
"First question, what
are the names…"
"Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John," Barbara yelled.
"Name the seventh…"
It was a 25-0 romp. No
question was even finished. The trio from Mountain Brook were
"This do in
remembrance of me," Scott quoted from the bible—King James
Version—as the Wetumpka team shook hands with the Mountain Brook
team. "Ain’t no way you can cheat a winner."
negative," one of the Mountain Brook boys said. His teammates
Scott started at them, but
Brother Jed grabbed him. "Just go get your ribbon," he
Afterwards, Brother Jed
took Barbara, Colton, and Scott out to eat at Shoneys. Colton
ordered a hot fudge cake, watched Barbara and Scott hold hands,
secret like, under the table. Colton scooped every last spoonful of
hot fudge from his plate.
"Gotta love competing
when you’re given the answers before hand," he said.
* * *
In church, Colton’s
parents make him sit away from Barbara. "Don’t want people
thinking you’re the father," his mom says. "Uh
huh," Colton replies. He’s relieved that the choice is made
It’s the same old
service. They stand, sing. Sit, pray. Listen to Brother Jed talk
about responsibility. Stand, sing, Lord’s supper, sing.
During the dismissal
prayer, Colton leans onto the pew in front of him and looks back
under his armpit at Barbara. She sits with her parents two rows
behind him. Scott is still sitting in the back row.
As the prayer turns towards
an amen, Barbara reaches out and pats her stomach. She stares ahead,
mouth opening shutting around the word "Amen."
As the congregation files
out, Barbara passes Colton. "Meet me at the playground,"
she says. "Tonight."
* * *
A week before Scott’s
accident, he was in the parking lot at school, showing off his car
to a group of ninth graders. The hood was propped open on a metal
rod, clear exhaust coming out the tailpipe. Colton was walking to
the gym when Scott saw him.
yelled. "Wanna take a ride?" He waved the ninth graders
away; they were suitably impressed that Colton had been invited to
ride. Colton strapped the old seatbelt on as Scott dropped the hood
and got in beside him.
"Wanna get some
Colton nodded. While
sitting in the drive-through, Scott shook his head. "Here’s
the thing," he said, speaking low, straight down into the
steering wheel. "Barbara ain’t been talking to me the last
week or so. I want you to get her to call me."
"Maybe she don’t
wanna talk to you."
Scott nodded. "Of
course she don’t wanna talk to me. That’s why she ain’t
talking to me."
gotten involved with a friend, that’s what happened."
On the way back to school,
Scott pulled off on a deserted dirt road. "Wanna drive it
once?" he asked.
"You don’t need to
bribe me—I’ll talk to her."
"Just asking if you
wanna drive it."
Colton drove the 442 so
slowly down the road that their dust cloud kept trying to smother
"You can shift into
second gear, you know," Scott said.
Colton shifted up, the
shocks smoothing out little worn washboard bumps, the gears shifting
third fourth, the steering wheel steady and stiff. Colton drove
sixty, seventy, whirled dusted leaves in the wake. Some part of him
thought he ought to love the speed but he was too afraid he’d
wreck, ding, burn up, do something to hurt Scott’s car.
"Nothing like driving
a classic, eh?" Scott asked. Colton pulled over and quickly
gave the keys back to Scott.
Colton never told Barbara
to call Scott. She slowly grew more and more angry at Scott and
finally invited Colton to go to the park that weekend with her. The
next week Scott flipped his 442, had plenty of time to ponder
classic hot engines and whirling fan belts before the fire
department arrived to cut him out.
* * *
When Colton walks to the
playground, Barbara is sitting under the jungle gym. The wind is
still tonight and he hears the river off down the bluff. The calls
of crickets and frogs stop as he walks near and come again after he
passes, like he’s flying in a silent balloon.
"Can you hurry
up?" Barbara says. "I gotta get back."
Colton sits next to her
under the metal bars. Barbara puts her arm around him, gives him a
"Gee, be a little
stiff, why don’t you," she says.
Barbara kisses him on the
lips, turning his head so she can get a better grip. She reaches
down to his bluejeans.
"I love you,"
Barbara grabs his crotch
and twists hard. "Shit," Colton shouts. He jumps up, hits
his head on the bar above him. He smacks back down with a thump.
says, laughing. "Shouldn’t jump up like that."
"Here I was feeling
sorry for you."
Colton rubs his head—he
hadn’t hit the bar knot-raising hard, but it hurts. Barbara
reaches to touch his head. He jerks and she pulls her hand back.
"You want us to do
it?" Colton asks.
"Oh please, you did it
They sit silent as passing
car lights bounce off treetops and building edges. Colton eyes her
belly, feels a little turned on. He couldn’t get into trouble now.
"Didn’t know I’d
be so horny," Barbara says. "I mean, I read up on the
morning sickness and how I’d swell up, and the books talks on and
on about the pain, but they never said I’d want it so bad."
"It’s really not my
kid, huh?" Colton asks.
"Be a little more self
Colton sticks his leg under
his butt to keep off the moist ground. Barbara shifts, too. For a
second Colton sees an afterimage of her belly swelling way too much,
of skin stretching and popping and bursting open.
"Scott’s parents are
really pissed," Barbara says. "So are my parents. The
scary thing is Scott: he’s gotten all mature-acting after his
accident and thinks he’s gotta be responsible. Probably going to
try and marry me or something. Soon as I’m old enough, that
"So what are you going
Subject: What I’m going
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 2:23
You said it right. What am
I going to do? I notice there’s no ‘we’ in that question, eh?
Here’s what I’m going
to do: First, I’ll have the baby. To be honest, I don’t really
want it but I’m not ready to be kicked out of the house, which is
what I’d be if I didn’t have it. Guess I’ll be trading a baby
for two more years of living at home. Pretty shitty, huh? Still,
shitty ain’t beginning to describe how you’ve been acting.
Colton e-mails back:
We’ll be friends. Always.
I’ll never let you go.
Give it up. You got what
you wanted and now you wanna forget it. Least Scott’s car accident
scared him into the decency of trying to do the right thing.
* * *
The next Sunday, Colton
shifts on his pew while staring at the wooden cross hung from the
sheet rock. Brother Jed is talking about sin, about burning in hell
for eternity and how that would be a really long time. That’s the
job of a preacher, Brother Jed says, to give his flock the knowledge
of how long eternity can be.
Colton stares down the pew
at Barbara and Scott. They’re sitting together on the opposite
side. Colton watches out of the side of his eye. Barbara slides
forward, blue dress pulling tight as the pew cushion holds it back.
Her breasts suck out under the cotton, her left leg inches beyond.
Sleek, bare. She grabs Scott’s hand, looks at Brother Jed.
For a second, Barbara’s
head moves forward and Colton’s corner of eye grabs into Scott’s
eye. Scott’s face smiles—you going up, he mouths. Colton shakes
So much for friendship.
On the communion table
below Brother Jed’s podium, the etched words filled with black
paint: This do in remembrance of me.
Things to come: Scott will
stand for confession, will walk to the front and receive his
forgiveness and from then on he’ll be upright and boring, work
some job. Barbara, she’ll keep doing her life and one day she’ll
move away. Colton, he sees that he’s already gone.
Brother Jed raises his arms
in an embrace of the entire congregation as his sermon closes.
"And if anyone here
today finds they are not right with the Lord, if anyone here feels
that they can’t take one more step with the burden life has placed
upon their shoulders, let them come forward now, as we stand and
Jason Sanford was born and
raised in Alabama. He is the winner of a 1997-98 Loft Mentor Series
award in fiction and a story of his will be published in the spring
2000 issue of the Beloit Fiction Journal. In addition to literary
fiction, he also writes children's stories and has published them in
several book anthologies, including Girls to the Rescue and
Newfangled Fairy Tales. He currently works as the About Town
Readings Coordinator for SASE: The Write Place, a literary
organization in the Twin Cities. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.