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Jason Sanford


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 of words:

Subject: Bad News
Date: Sun, 09 Nov 1997 2:23
From: Barbara<>


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 me?


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 accident.

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.

"Toasty," Colton 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 tree line.

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 twitch.

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."

"Yeah," Colton said. "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 minutes.

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."

"Well," Barbara 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 summer.

"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 there.

"You know, of course," Scott said, "if we get caught we’ll have to do the honorable thing."

"Lie? Run?" Colton had no idea.

"Repent," Barbara 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.

"It’s 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 said. "BOWLQA-dot-DOC."

She hit print. A noisy bubble jet printer started gliding down a page.

"Shit." Scott looked through the glazed-glass panel of the door. "Someone’s out there."

"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 printing stopped.

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.

"That’s 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, okay?"

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 thinking."

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 thinks.

"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.

"Still feeling lost?" Colton whispers between stanzas.

"Asshole," 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 her life."

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.

"Heavenly father…" 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 thinks.

"Amen," Brother 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.

"Shhhit," men 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 became.

"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 truth."

* * *

After Barbara’s 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.

"I know."

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.

"Sit down," 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.

"I know."

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 anything."

"Never said you did."

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 happened."

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 about Scott
Date: Sun, Nov 16 5:40
From: Barbara<>

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? For me?


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.

"How’re you feeling?" Colton asks.

Barbara pulls a chair to the desk.

"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 that.

"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 Barbara.

"Cute," Barbara 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.


"Because we’re friends."

"Yeah, right."

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 Colton.

"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.

"Let’s go," 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 than them."

They were soon smacking the buzzer before the questions were finished, with just a few word prompts.

"What was the name of the disci…"

"Peter," Scott said.

"How many people…"

"Five thousand," Colton said.

Barbara grinned. "If they change a word of the questions, we’re dead."

"Trust in Jesus," Colton said.

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…"


"Adultery," Colton said.

It was a 25-0 romp. No question was even finished. The trio from Mountain Brook were stunned.

"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."

"Double negative," one of the Mountain Brook boys said. His teammates laughed.

Scott started at them, but Brother Jed grabbed him. "Just go get your ribbon," he ordered.

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 for him.

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.

"Colton" Scott 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 fries?"

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."

"What happened?"

"Shouldn’t have 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 them.

"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 little kiss.

"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," Colton said.

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.

"Sorry," Barbara says, laughing. "Shouldn’t jump up like that."

"Here I was feeling sorry for you."

"Don’t need that."

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.


"That’s sick."

"Oh please, you did it before."

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 centered, okay."

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 is."

"That’s stupid."

"Isn’t it, though."

"So what are you going to do?

Subject: What I’m going to do
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 2:23
From: Barbara<>

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 his head.

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 sing."

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


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