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Hannah Pittard

Some Nights

Stella sits on the coin-operated pony under the lighted ACME sign of the grocery store. The M doesnít light up. It never has, but she sits here anyway because she says the yellow lights of the other three letters make her boobs look bigger to the high school boys when they ride by on their bikes. I sit on the sidewalk beside her and count the empty matchbooks and soda can pop tops on the ground next to me.

"Letís go fishing tomorrow," she says and sucks on the butt of a cigarette that we found in the AC E parking lot. She doesnít light it because her parents might smell it, but she says just sucking gives her urges. She says it doesnít give me urges because Iím not developed enough, but I pretend to set her straight, telling her that a buttís not enough to get me in the mood. "I need a man to do the job right." Sometimes when I say this she laughs. Tonight she pushes her hair back and says, "Yeah, me too," but goes on sucking anyway. She says that if the butt were actually lit, she would swallow the smoke like lemonade. "That way I look tough. Boys like it when girls are tough."

Stellaís kissed more boys than even know my name. Sheís let them feel her up; she says they like it when she whispers dirty words in their ears. We practice saying them in low voices under the fluorescent lights of the A, C, and E. She always starts. "Sex," she says. My face turns hotter when I start in, "Boob." "Yeah, and dick," she breathes heavily. I always laugh, but Stella keeps her cool. Sheís always cool; nothing gets to her. Thatís why weíre friendsóI can tell her almost anything. Like when my mom died, and I laughed when my father told me. Stella just held my hand and said, "Yeah, sheís dead." Then she laughed with me, even though I was laughing because it hurt so much in my guts, almost like I didnít have a stomach anymore.

Some nights, we walk over to Thrift Drug and order burgers. Stella likes hers red in the middle. I like it when theyíre so dark that they shrink in size and the juice is cooked out of them. That way, when I add ketchup, thereís always extra that I can lick off my plate. I like to show her I know how to lick. She says itís disgusting, but I know sheís jealous she didnít think to do it first. Sometimes we pay; mostly we donít. Stella knows the boy who works there; she says heís a good kisser. I think heís got too many zits on his chin, but Stella says that just means heís got to be an even better kisser. If she werenít so cool, I probably wouldnít believe her.

Pube. Tit. Blow. Stella can go on all night. She knows more swears than me, but tonight I get her to stop early by suggesting we go over to the docks again and watch the high schoolers make out. She says it turns her on; it just makes my cheeks get hot and blotchy. I donít mind, though, because itís usually so dark that she canít see the warm rash around my neck. Tonight, we decide to scare the parkers by opening and slamming the car doors theyíve left unlocked when they walked down to the end of the docks. Stella chooses a brown beater and I choose a two-door heap with the word Catalina written in silver letters across the trunk. The carís door is long and heavy and I get scared when it takes more energy than I expected to open it. Stella peeks around the rear of her car and says, "Ready?" I count to three and slam the door. I donít hear Stellaís door but I see her up and already running. I follow her across the street, through a parking lot with grass growing through cracks, and behind Thrift Drug, where she slumps against the dirty concrete of the storeís rear wall.

Itís dark back here. There is light from an open door farther down the wall and sounds of a kitchen and men laughing. I imagine the pimply boy flipping a burger. We crouch down to catch our breath. "Here," says Stella, "sit across from me," and she puts her hand up my shirt. "Feel," she says and puts my hand on her boob. "Iím running out of air," I say. "Shut up and listen." I do, and she is rightóour hearts are beating together. Her skin feels thin and heavy, and it reminds of me of that time at the dentist when the doctor numbed my mouth and I was able to feel my face with my hand in a new wayólike it wasnít my own face maybe or like how my face might feel to someone else. Stella loses interest and pulls her hand away. "Letís go find a boy," she says, and so we walk back along the docks, staying clear of the high school parkers, to the AC E where Stella finds a fresh butt to suck.

We go on like this until ten, but then we have to go home because Stellaís mom doesnít like her out on the streets after that. "Itís Ďcause she knows the boys will stop and talk to me." My dad doesnít really mind when I get home, but thereís no point in staying out without her. Also, she says she wouldnít stay out if I had to go home early, so I do the same for her most nights. That way I know for sure that Stellaís at home. Tonight, she runs down her driveway and turns at the front door, "Donít forget. Tomorrow we fish," and then sheís gone. I stand where she left me and wait for the second-floor light in the window to the right to turn on. The shade is already down, but I can see when she finally switches on the light. Some nights, if her mother hasnít pulled the shade and if she thinks of it, sheíll go to the window and dance until she hears me laugh. Tonight, she doesnít.

I like walking home at night in the summer. Stella lives five houses closer to town than me, but I donít mind walking the last part alone. Stella says that in three years we wonít have to walk anymore because weíre going to buy a car together. Tilghman Island isnít more than three miles long, but weíre not buying it for Tilghman. Weíre buying it so we can drive to Easton where all the boys have cars. Thatís where she says weíll both have sex for the first time. The boys around here arenít good for anything more than feeling her up and kissing. "I just hope I last that long." Stella said once that sheíd had sex with a boy from school, but then forgot sheíd told me. Itís always hard for me to remember my lies, too. But thatís why I like Stella. She doesnít care.

In the morning, Stella comes over with two fishing permits and a pencil. In the bathroom she locks the door and tells me to take off my shirt. I hug myself. She calls me a sissy and then takes off hers. "This is how you can tell if your boobs are big." She holds the pencil up to her chest and pushes her skin over it to hold it in place. "I donít think youíre supposed to use your hands," I say. "You try," she says. But I shy away from her. "You know it wonít work on me." She laughs and says, "Yeah, I know, but take off your shirt." I take it off and then stand against the wall with my arms by my side. The wall is sticky and cool on my back. I let her do it for me. I close my eyes. I pretend she is a boy. I pretend she is the pimply boy from Thrift Drug and I let her shove her knee between my legs and cover my mouth with her hand and pretend to kiss me. "There," she says, "now youíre almost experienced." She moves her hand from my mouth, and I pick up my shirt, trying not to catch sight of my body in the mirror.

Itís only fair that I steal the fishing rods from my dadís closet since Stella got the permits. I donít know how she got them, though, because they cost ten dollars each. Anyway, it isnít really stealing since Iíll return the rods later. Plus my dadís said before that I can borrow them when I want, but Stella says itís cooler if we pretend weíre taking them without permission. Once, I stole a pack of bubble gum from the AC E. Stella dared me to steal a pack of cigarettes but I didnít want to; I didnít like to think about her sucking away an entire pack. Later, in the parking lot, she grabbed the gum from me, unwrapped it and started chewing right there. She offered me a piece but I didnít take it. I didnít even take one after we were away from the grocery store.

Some nights, but only some nights, because I donít like to lie to Stella, I donít go straight back to my house after walking her home. Instead, I cut around her backyard and head back to the Knapps Narrows. Most people on Tilghman know this is the busiest waterway in the country but most people probably donít think about that as much as I do. It keeps me up some nights just thinking about how busy it is. All those boats, all those people. All those lives and places that I will never experience.

Stella thinks I donít have a curfew because my dad doesnít care about me and because he knows the boys arenít interested, but thatís not true. Itís because he knows I wonít do anything. Heís always awake when I come home and sometimes heíll check the fridge and if heís remembered to buy more, heíll make me a bowl of ice cream without even asking if I want any. And heíll get a bowl for himself too, and weíll eat it in the kitchen, and sometimes heíll tell me I look more like my mom. I live those nights because it seems like a promise, like an oath, that I am a girl after all and that I will become a woman some day even if not as quick as Stella. I like sitting with him. It makes him happy, which is nice since I think he spends most days feeling pretty lonely.

The day my mom died I was late for school and missed the bus, which isnít like me. Stella told me later that she tried to make them wait, said she stood in front of the bus and cried, "Not without my friend." She said she called the driver a dick when he ordered her back on the bus. I donít believe her, but itís a pretty good lie, I think. And so my mom was mad because she didnít want to drive me the one mile to school and I didnít want to walk since it was winter and raining. And so I made myself cry until she agreed. It wasnít until later, when my dad was standing by the bus home, that I found out. It was funny that my dad was there and so I said, "What? Is mom dead?" And when he said yes, I couldnít think of anything else but to laugh. And my dad rode the bus home with me because our only car was ruined, and we sat in the back, and I was embarrassed and angry and refused to cry. I could lie and say I kick myself about that day and how it was my fault and how she shouldnít have been in the car at all and how it was only a mile, but it would be just that, a lie. I feel bad for my dad mostlyófeel bad that I guessed like that that she was dead and feel bad that there was nothing for him to say but yes. And I miss my mom, but only in that way that you might miss the physical proof that you are going to become something better one day, something different.

Sometimes, but not to kick myself, I think about those hours between the time my mom died and the time my dad picked me up at school. Why didnít my dad come get me right away and what was he doing with all that time. But if you really want to know the truth, I wonder more about the tourists in the other car than I do about my mom or my dad. I wonder why they came to Tilghman in the first place. I wonder about their families back home getting the call from somebodyóthe doctors or the police or whoever makes those phone callsóand I wonder about their reactions. "Tilghman Island?" they ask. "Where is Tilghman Island?" But thatís not the kind of thing I can tell my dad about and itís not the kind of thing I want to tell Stella about.

Tilghman isnít your typical island. Here, the dirt and the grass grow right up to the water. And thereís one road thatís the main road, and it will take you from the waterway to the end of the island and back. Only, towards the end, for maybe a quarter-mile at most, the road turns from asphalt to gravel to sand. And, instead of grass and reeds and houses, there are flat rocks along the edge to tame the water and shape the land. This is where we come to fish. Stella chooses a cluster of rocks she thinks will be comfortable for sitting. We drop our things and Stella opens a plastic container of crickets. "They smell like swamp," she says and holds them up to my nose. "Gross," I say and push her arm away. I bait both hooks and then, for luck, we spit on our crickets. "Why do we spit?" she asks. "Dad says the fish like it." She laughs and says, "Just like boys."

Piss. Suck. Cock. Stella has abandoned her fishing rod and is sitting on the rocks behind me. Her t-shirt is stretched over one shoulder. She is saying the words loud and fast, not waiting to see if I have any new ones to add. There are boys down toward the point. From this distance, with the sun closer to the water than to the sky, they look like oily silhouettes, pushing and jumping and shouting each otherís name. Occasionally, the oil seems to spill or the two boys touch and for an instant there seems only to be one of them. Stella pulls out two sandwiches and tells me to sit down. Sometimes she really surprises me. I know sheís tough and I know sheís in to boys, but sometimes itís days like this, when weíve walked two miles to the end of the island and have spent the afternoon getting tans and fishing with no success, that I like her most. You wouldnít think it, because she tries to hide it, but she can be gentle.

"Do you think youíll get married?" She asks me this regularly because Iím always changing my mind.

"My dad says Iíll get married, but itís hard to think about having kids."

"Oh, I want kids. I definitely want kids. Yeah, and a husband."

"Are you sure youíll manage with just one husband?"

She laughs and says, "You know, youíre prettier than you think." She touches my face. I think she might kiss me. I want to tell her itís all right. She points down the rocks and says, "Do you think heís cute? I can talk to him for you."

"No," I say, "not yet."

"You donít want to be the only girl in eighth grade who hasnít been kissed."

"I donít mind." I blur my eyes and look west at the bay. There are sailboats in the distance. Closer to shore there are tugs and freighters. "Thatís Annapolis," I say and point across the open water. "What if we made it as far as Annapolis?"

Sometimes, just looking at the water makes me feel jammed up. I can feel it in my guts, these rocks, this place. Like the way my dad rubs his stomach when the tug boats go by. "Look at that," heíll say. "Just look. Can you feel it moving?" And a tug will pass with its tow of different-colored storage containers. "See the way they stack them? Sometimes ten high."

The rocks are hot from the sun and the air is gray and yellow. Summer, as we know it, is nearly over. Weíre lazy and damp from our day of fishing. Stella says, "I have an idea, but we have to go back to my house." We pack up our rods and trash, and Stella takes one last look in the direction of the boys before climbing off the rocks and heading home.

Under her bed, she says, "Close your eyes," and I do. "Donít laugh or Iím not going to help you," she says. I keep quiet. She inches her body closer to mine. I stay still. Her breath is warm. She smells like chewing gum and cigarette butts. She puts her lips to mine and moves her mouth around. My face burns. I squeeze my legs together and dig my nails into my palms. I can feel her pulse. After a minute, she moves away from me and laughs. "Yeah, so now Sara Barrett canít say you havenít ever kissed anybody. Just donít tell her who it was." Itís muggy under the bed and dark, but I can see Stellaís face. "Donít look so sad," she says and rolls onto her back to push her knees into the mattress, "when itís a boy, youíll actually feel it all over. Youíre whole body will feel it. Itíll give you urges. I promise." "Yeah," I say and push into the mattress with her. "I hope so."

I have this idea that one day Stella and I will come back to this island after years apart from each other and our families. We will eat mussels at the tourist restaurant by the water. We will count the boats and the number of times the drawbridge raises in an hour, and maybe, knees touching under the table, we will even count the cars.

Hannah Pittardís fiction appears or is forthcoming in McSweeneyís Quarterly Concern, The Oxford American, BOMB, and StoryQuarterly. She is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia's MFA program in creative writing and the recipient of the 2006 Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award. She is currently at work on a book about a man named Thad. 

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