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Terese Svoboda

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.

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