by Virginia Watts
The plastic park service issued nametag reads Lonny but this is incorrect. Her name is Lonnie Gray. It’s only a summer job, so Lonnie let the misspelling slip. Anyway, the name she likes hearing the most is the one her grandmother and mother use when the three generations of Shawnee women are alone together. In those times, her grandmother and her mother address Lonnie as Nuttah, which means my heart.
“Hey Lonnie, what would happen if a smile suddenly got slapped on your face, huh?”
Rick Godfrey jams his square, pimply face into the middle of the pick-up window. Calling him a cook, even of the shortest order, would be a stretch. Rick’s only job in the snack bar kitchen is punching buttons on a microwave.
Lonnie frowns, pinches the edges of the white paper boats Rick reaches toward her. Turning around, she places hotdogs on the counter in front of a row of shivering kids sipping cocoa from Styrofoam cups. Twin girls, one with her eyeglasses steamed opaque, and an older brother, have been swimming in the creek that gallops through this section of Canyon Vista State Park.
“How’s the water today?” Lonnie asks sliding squeeze bottles of mustard and ketchup where little hands can reach them.
“Freezing,” the boy replies.
That’s the standard reply. Inside the park’s roped swimming area, the Sehoy Creek’s white-capped currents froth, tickling bellies. The water is deep enough for dunking under, but tourists who climb down the metal ladder wade in circles like herds of sleepwalkers. The Sehoy is ice cold, even now, in the dead center of an August heatwave. Only locals sleep through winter snowstorms dreaming of swimming the Sehoy.
“Here’s the trick. Dive in right away. Don’t stand there thinking about it. And then, swim hard,” Lonnie suggests to the blue-lipped trio.
She glances past the drippy, bony shoulders at a Sorry, folks! We’re Closed sign hanging cockeyed in the snack bar window, then down at her wristwatch. Two more hours with this jackass Rick bugging her, staring at her chest every chance he gets. Two more hours until her cousin Bodie swings by in his rickety Ford truck. He better have enough gas to get here. If not, she’ll have to jog home and try not to sweat to death.
“Lonnie, you’re in outer space again. The young man is paying up,” Rick barks through the window.
The boy has placed a row of six Sacagawea dollar coins face up on the counter. Lonnie reaches underneath for the change tray.
“You look like her,” the girl without the glasses says, her smile missing two upper front teeth. She points to the coins. “You’re pretty.”
“Thank you,” Lonnie says. “That’s really nice of you.”
Lonnie glances at the coins and then at her own image reflected in a silver napkin holder: straight hair pulled back, high cheekbones, almond eye shape. There is a resemblance, of course. The girl on the coins looks about the same age too. She’s young to have an infant on her back. It must be her baby, though. Why else put it there.
“I haven’t seen any of these coins yet,” Lonnie says to the boy.
“They just came out last year,” he says. “In 2002.”
“My brother collects coins,” the same twin explains.
Lonnie smiles down at the three upturned faces, masking a familiar rage. Here, the idea that the United States government would make use of the image of one of the first peoples of this land for any purpose.
“Hey Lon, I want to see your gorgeous face in gold,” Rick says. “Be right out.”
Lonnie turns around. Somehow, Rick has managed to poke his head all the way through the window. Lonnie gives some thought to a guillotine. Bodie better have enough gas to get here, and he better be on time.
“As if you know what my face looks like,” she says. “Don’t you have something to do in the kitchen?”
Rick frowns, matches her glare.
“Get back to work, Rick.”
He backs his head out of the window, mouthing bitch to which Lonnie responds with a muted Fuck off.
The boy’s hotdog is gone. Inhaled. He’s watching his sisters’ jaws moving up and down.
“Hey, Rick,” Lonnie calls over her shoulder. “It’s buy-three-dogs-get-one-free day. Remember? Need another dog out, please.”
To her surprise, Rick plays along. Lonnie is rewarded with a wide smile from the coin collector as she serves him a second helping.
It’s Sunday. That means dinner at her grandparents’ house with her mother, Bodie’s parents, and maybe a smattering of other relatives. At least she’ll have Bodie all to herself during the ride over unless his little brothers tag along.
She and Bodie need to hatch a plan regarding their forest discovery from last Sunday. He doesn’t want to help her make some good use of it— he made that clear—but she needs his help, so he’s going to have to help her. Bodie fits comfortably into a pair of goody two shoes. Lonnie is nipping his heels at almost sixteen years old too, but Lonnie has no interest in being anyone’s role model.
“I guess you will be turning eleven next week,” Lonnie’s grandfather, John Hawthorne, says.
“Ten and not until next month, actually, on September fourth.”
Summer is nearing an end, and the almost ten-year-old Lonnie has had her fill of it. She’s ready to get off of Elk Mountain. There isn’t much down in the valley either—in Montoursville where the school bus will deposit her—but there's definitely more than the mobile home park where she lives with her mom and her cousin Bodie and his parents, more than her grandparents’ cabin a few miles down the road from that, and more than Canyon Vista State Park a few more miles down the same road from that.
In Montoursville, there are no farms, barns, cows, vast armies of dense trees, creeks with nothing but round-edged rocks, and constant quiet of forest. Lonnie is sick to death of listening to nothing but the world of small things. If she detects one more insect drilling its way through her skull, she might scream all the way until the first day of school.
“What will your school subjects be this autumn?” Her grandfather, a retired high school principal turned organic gardening addict, asks.
“I don’t know yet.”
She is walking to the lower garden with her grandfather only because her mother asked her to, more liked croaked her to, from inside the hammock on Lonnie’s grandparents’ front porch. Her mother got home after three a.m. last night; another late shift drawing beer taps at The Black Squirrel Tavern. Connie Gray is transforming into a black squirrel herself, the dark rings under her eyes blending into her dark brown irises: charcoal briquettes for eyeballs.
It’s been rough. Lonnie’s dad, Justin Gray, left three years after Lonnie was born. Last word, he was living in a province in northern Canada. He phones Bodie’s dad, Bodie Sr., looking for money from time to time. Bodie Sr. and Justin Gray used to be the best of friends. That was before Justin married Bodie Sr.’s younger sister, Connie, and treated her worse than shit.
“I suggest you call the school office and request your textbooks early so that you can read several of the introductory chapters ahead of time,” Lonnie’s grandfather says.
Lonnie doesn’t want to walk or talk with her grandfather. All her grandfather ever does is quiz her with that sour puss of his: the names of trees or the cloud types he has been teaching her since her toddler years, times tables, abbreviations for the elements listed on the periodic table, the names and spellings of all the state capitals in the United States of America in alphabetical order for bonus points.
Her grandfather is never satisfied with the amount of correct answers Lonnie or any of the cousins can provide. No human child could ever please this man.
Why did Bodie have to sign up for the middle school cross-country team anyway, with so many preseason practices? Two good legs can run anywhere. He should be here now. They could run somewhere together like they’ve been doing all summer long.
This August is the hottest August ever. Lonnie closes her eyes and imagines snowflakes filtering through the trees. They fall slow and settle silent onto the dirt path underneath her feet.
“Smells like cheese doodles in here. Hand them over,” Lonnie says to Bodie, swinging the whining truck door toward her bony hip and slamming. Rick can finish sweeping out the snack bar alone. He can take out the trash and lock up too. He deserves it. He was an hour late getting to work as usual.
“I know, and I ate them all, but you can lick the bag,” Bodie suggests.
“Hey, you work in a damn snack shack. You can hog up hotdogs all day long if you want.”
“Would you eat anything Rick Godfrey touched? No stowaways? Where’s Donny and Arlo?”
Bodie shrugs, cranks his window down as Lonnie lights the cigarette she swiped from a sweatshirt someone left hanging on a hook inside the walk-in cooler, probably one of the delivery guys.
“With my mom, I guess. You should be nicer to Rick, you know. He’s about the only person in the world who will help you with this lame-brained idea of yours because I won’t. Don’t ask me again. Don’t do it.”
“Rick is so disgusting. He thinks one of these days I am suddenly going to stop detesting him. He nauseates my soul.”
“Well, he’s also your only hope. He’s been nuts about you since third grade. He’d do anything for you, jump off the Empire State Building, break into Fort Knox, help you screw up your life.”
Lonnie arches her neck back and launches an arrow of white smoke toward the roof of the truck cab. The smoke takes a right degree turn when it hits the solid blockade, races toward the top of Bodie’s head in the shape of a witch’s bony finger. He coughs and smacks at the air.
“My life? Always so dramatic,” Lonnie says. “It’s a prank. A joke. That’s all. Jesus. And Rick just likes anything that falls into the category girl.”
“Maybe. In any event, don’t ask him to help you either. This prank is bound to backfire on you, Lon.”
“Shut up, Bodie.”
“And blow that shit the other way, out your window, or I swear, I will pull over and dump you out. Where’d you get that cigarette anyway? Smells like a skunk’s ass.”
When Bodie and Lonnie laugh together, they still sound like the two little bandits who stole their grandmother’s warm apple pie one Thanksgiving morning, hid in the root cellar, ate the whole thing, and somehow didn’t get sick.
The only good thing about having to walk to the lower garden with her grandfather while Bodie laps the middle school track is that Lonnie can check on the beavers. Last week, one was bobbing on the surface of the dam, a whiskered submarine, silent and stealthy, but Lonnie had spied her quickly.
In Lonnie’s favorite book, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, children enter a magical land through a door at the back of a wardrobe. All the animals talk in this land. A beaver couple lives inside a cozy burrow with fine china teacups, lamps on doilies, a hearth with an orange fire, ticking clocks, and fat, stuffed furniture.
If Lonnie could dive and see the beaver’s house in her grandfather’s lower garden, maybe the beaver would invite Lonnie inside. Maybe she bakes orange rind scones. Maybe she is waiting anxiously for Lonnie’s visit, crocheting, a Parcheesi board set up behind a curtained window. Lonnie could tell the beaver about all her animals at home: two dogs, three cats, one hamster, gerbils, a parrot, goldfish, a bearded dragon, and Ruth, an ancient rabbit Lonnie believes is actually a goddess. Her mom is cool about most things, especially Lonnie’s adoration for animals of all kinds. She hasn’t said no to one, single pet Lonnie has begged to bring home yet.
“Lonnie, I just asked you a question,” her grandfather says.
“We’re going into the chard rows for slugs. I hope those aren’t your good shoes you’re wearing. It’s muddy.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“It is not a question of my level of concern. It is a matter of practicality and your mother’s restricted budget. These are life lessons for you, Lonnie. Work hard in school. You can’t make a decent life doing anything behind a bar. Your mother needs to get her brain around some vocational training through correspondence. Life doesn’t make itself.”
“These aren’t my school shoes,” Lonnie lies.
She almost adds Mom’s too tired. She never gets any sleep. She’s making a perfectly decent life. She’s not the one who up and left forever.
There is something immediately off-kilter about the lower garden this August morning, as if a runaway locomotive jumped track, tumbled down the side of Elk Mountain, and smacked Lonnie in the forehead. As she approaches the gate, something leaden settles around her shoulders. She should run from these still, suspended leaves, these birds with their throats locked up tight. She should have joined the cross-country team too.
Lonnie and Bodie have been treasure hunting inside the woods of Bradford County for almost all of their mutual sixteen-year lives. The suspense that goes along with being explorers of such a vast, untamed world is perfect for killing boredom. A bounty of their discoveries fills one corner of their grandparents’ root cellar: canteens, bullet shells, a gilt picture frame, silver comb, grandfather clock hands, one military boot, a fillet knife, shoebox of assorted fishing lures, and a menagerie of antique glass bottles dug up from the remnants of the old Lenox farmstead.
One of Lonnie’s favorite bottles from the farmstead is a small, white glass bottle with an embossed baby head: howling, toothless little mouth, cinched eyes erupting gigantic tears. Connie Gray had named the baby “Colic.” No way of ever knowing if the medicine relieved any agony inside a Lenox infant or not. The Lenox place was abandoned decades ago. Still, Lonnie imagines the medicine working like the spell of a good witch.
Lonnie found Colic the week Ruth the Goddess finally died. Ruth had been her grandmother’s rabbit first for ten years, then her mother’s rabbit for ten years, then she was Lonnie’s for another ten years. The veterinarian in Dushore said a thirty-year-old rabbit is nothing short of a miracle. Lonnie keeps Colic tucked in a dresser drawer, a talisman sent by Ruth the Goddess to ward off more bad luck.
Last Sunday, Lonnie had had the day off from work at the Canyon Vista snack bar and Rick Godfrey, so she and Bodie had gone treasure hunting. They made a decent haul from a deserted campsite near Lincoln Falls. Lonnie found a silver charm bracelet, and Bodie dug up an unopened bottle of Jim Beam buried under a tree.
They were hurrying out of the woods. According to the sun’s position, destined to be late for Sunday dinner. Bodie was humming, then whistling, humming, then whistling, his fist gripping the throat of the bottle, amber liquid rising up toward the cap and falling back down with the swing of his arm.
Bodie was always in a good mood. He liked life from day one. Loved the mountains. Loved Bradford County. Loved Elk Mountain. Lately, he’d been talking happy thoughts constantly. Going on and on about working in his dad’s lumber business after high school, about saving money for a new, cherry red Chevy truck with custom rims. All the years growing up side by side, Lonnie kept watching her cousin for signs of discontent, but she never saw so much as one hint.
“Do you like whiskey all of a sudden?” Lonnie had asked.
“I like it all right. You gonna keep that?”
Lonnie held up her wrist, made the charms on the bracelet dance: a miniature suitcase, plane, passport, Eiffel Tower, baguette, artist palette, croissant.
“I don’t know, probably not. Maybe I can get some money for it when school starts.”
“It’s kind of pretty. You should keep it. You’re good at French and you’re not that bad at painting, and you eat a lot of bread.”
“I do not. You’re the one who eats bread all the time, empty, stale hamburger buns even—shit like that. You eat anything.”
They stopped marching at the same time on the same foot forward. People don’t spend a lifetime roaming the woods and not develop a sixth sense for the contrived hand of man.
“You see that?” Bodie asked.
“Yep, over there, under the crabapple.”
He handed her the whiskey bottle.
“Stay put, Lon.”
Bodie scavenged, found the biggest rock he could, got as close as was wise to a brush pile, and hurled the rock.
Jagged, metal teeth of a jaw trap sprung into view, slammed shut in the center of a miniature cyclone of rising sticks, leaves, and dirt.
“Damn. Let’s take that with us too,” Lonnie said.
“What for? That’s nothing but a regular old Duke Number 2 Square-Jaw Trap. Nothing special. Only thing that’s good for is snaring a fox or a coyote, something like that.”
“I’ve had this hilarious idea in my head lately,” she said. “As luck would have it, all I need is a trap.”
“My dad’s got plenty of traps.”
“Yea, but he’ll know if one is missing. Please?”
“I don’t feel like lugging it all the way back. Anyway, the trapper will be back for it. I’m not screwing a fellow trapper. What kind of idea of yours would need a trap?”
“Come on, Bodie. Please?”
“Not lugging it.”
“Okay, stubborn. I’ll tell you this brilliant idea on the way. Once you hear it, you’ll come right back here for that trap. Come on. We better run.”
Nine-year-old Lonnie latches the garden gate and turns to follow her grandfather. Stops.
She’s seen cage traps in her grandfather’s gardens before, but they have always been empty. She never thought much about them. They were no different than the posts making up fences and the wooden stakes holding up vines.
Today, there is a real animal inside a cage trap ten footsteps away from Lonnie’s toe tips. There are so many eyes inside the rectangular, metal box: eight eyes on a single, white body, one mouth locked on open, fangs long and pointy. Looks like a big, strange, angry snake.
Lonnie’s grandfather whistles in the same way he does when he bends over green stalks in his garden and plucks a ripe, prize-worthy yellow tomato or speckled squash.
“Lucky days are here again,” he sings.
Waterfalls begin crashing inside Lonnie’s ear canals: all those black eyes peering, accompanied by all this hissing and guttural growling. Her heart claws to get outside.
“There’s the little white beast whose been eating everything in sight down here, and I can see why,” her grandfather mutters to himself. “I was hoping for that beaver, but no matter. Stand back there.”
Back where? Lonnie is standing right beside him.
“What is that?” she whispers.
“You sure?” Lonnie says.
Lonnie draws on the skunk ass cigarette again, coughs, crinkles the freckles on the bridge of her nose closer together. She sighs, drops the cigarette into an empty Hires Root beer bottle in the console cup holder of Bodie’s truck.
“That thing is on the strong side. I can’t believe you didn’t save me any cheese doodles,” Lonnie leans over, plucks the empty bag from the car mat, rips, and starts licking.
“I never do, and I’m certainly not going to start today,” Bodie answers, turning onto the gravel driveway that leads to their grandparents’ house.
“I hope it’s not ham today. I hate ham,” Lonnie says.
“You say that every Sunday, and it’s always ham every Sunday.”
“You think that trap will work again? I mean, it worked pretty damn perfect when you set it off. It wasn’t very rusty, was it? How many times can you reuse those things?”
“I swear to god! I told you, Lon. I am not getting involved. No way in hell. I don’t want to hear about it. Look, if you promise to just forget all about that stupid thing, forget we ever found it, forget about with your stupid idea, I’ll drive a bulldozer over to the Lenox foundation. Maybe we can dig up some real Lenox skeletons.”
“Weenie,” Lonnie says.
“Why can’t you just let it all go? That was like seven or eight years ago now. What difference does it make?” Bodie asks.
“You know why. He keeps bringing that possum story up again and again, laughing like a hyena about it. You’ve heard him. He does it all the time. He just can’t resist tormenting me. Told the whole story again to everyone at his beloved Hawthorne family reunion like two months ago. Remember that? You heard him. Remember your dad and him arguing about it afterward? Your dad was really pissed off. Grandma was mad too. Didn’t talk to him for two weeks. I heard her giving it to him pretty good in the parking lot too. He talks about the first time you chickened out of shooting your first deer too. You know he does. You were twelve! He’s supposed to be our grandfather, not a complete asshole.”
“I am out of this one, Lon. And you should give up the idea too. It’s got a bad feel to it.”
When they get to their grandparents’ house, everyone is already seated around the dining room table eating.
“How many times do I have to say that Sunday dinner begins at six p.m. sharp?” John Hawthorne asks from the head of the table as Lonnie and Bodie take their customary seats across the table from each other.
“Well, we had some late customers at the snack bar,” Lonnie says. “Not like we could just kick them out.”
Connie Gray pops up from her chair, circles around the table with the mashed potato bowl, plops a mound on each of their empty plates with an ice cream scooper.
“Lonnie, an information packet arrived from Drexel today,” she says, searching for the smallest slice of ham for her daughter’s plate.
John Hawthorne clears his throat, leans forward.
“Drexel as in Drexel University?” he asks, looking around the table, but everyone is bowed toward their plates. “That’s a pretty tall order, Miss Lonnie Gray. I don’t have the impression you have the sort of grades necessary for an institution like Drexel, even with my legacy connection. What about some kind of technical school?”
“I am going to be a veterinarian,” Lonnie speaks to Bodie.
When Lonnie’s grandfather laughs at a dinner table, he has the habit of smacking the tabletop with an open palm, erupting liquids out of glasses. Water, milk, and cranberry juice begin sliding down onto placemats. The flames in the centerpiece tremble.
“That’s utterly ridiculous and you know it. Be levelheaded, Lonnie. Be practical. My advice would…”
John Hawthorne’s laughter takes over and gets the best of him. He can’t seem to get another word out.
“John! Stop it!” Lonnie’s grandmother interjects, standing up from the table. “Lonnie, hurry to the kitchen and check the stove. I smell smoke.”
Lonnie slams her fork onto her stoneware plate, doesn’t stop to pick up her chair as it topples backward, stomps out of the dining room, and flies the kitchen door open with a bang.
“Get back here, Lonnie. Right this minute. Connie, retrieve that insolvent daughter of yours. She’s going to hear what I have to say to her whether she likes it or not.”
“Leave her alone, Dad,” Connie says. “Lonnie does have the grades. She can go anywhere she wants. Places better than Drexel. Leave her ALONE.”
When Bodie appears in the kitchen, Lonnie and Bodie go outside and head straight for the root cellar.
The root cellar always smells sweet, a mixture of rich, wet soil and trapped fresh air.
“Let’s go get that trap and set it somewhere in the lower garden where he’ll step on it right now,” Lonnie manages to whisper, settling her back against a damp wall. “I hate him so much. He’s such a son of a bitch!”
“He is. He’s evil,” Bodie slides down the wall beside her.
“I swear he thinks I am not smart enough to do anything I want to do because of the Shawnee part, because of my mom’s part, your dad’s part, grandma’s part. He’s a racist, pure and simple. And why did he ever marry grandma in the first place? I’ll tell you why. I know exactly why. So he can make all of us all feel like complete pieces of shit every chance he gets. I am just waiting for the day he asks you to give your last name back to him. You should change your last name, Bodie. Legally. Your dad should too. Let’s go back and get that trap. Right. Fucking. Now.”
Lonnie allows the tears to fall, lets them flow salty into her mouth.
“That’s only going to get us into a lot of trouble, Lon. Besides, it’s small-sized, that trap. Won’t do much but bruise his ankle a little if he’s wearing his sneaks and nothing at all if he’s wearing his boots. Forget it. Forget him. He’s an asshole. You’re gonna be a vet. I know you are.”
“I’ll hide his boots,” Lonnie says.
“Setting that trap is a bad idea, a really horrible idea. You don’t want to do anything to keep you from going to college. Think about it that way. He’d get the last laugh then. He’d love that more than anything else.”
“Shut up now, Bodie,” Lonnie says.
She accepts the whiskey bottle, tips it back, then cries as hard as she wants into the soundproof underground.
Lonnie opens her mouth, turns to her grandfather.
“Where are we taking him?” Lonnie whispers.
The opossum is running around and around in circles inside the cage trap, a tumbling, banging tornado. Down by a shed, a red wheelbarrow waits, full of rainwater. Maybe they can put the opossum in that and wheel him to another part of the woods. He can’t be that heavy.
In a blur of color and motion, Lonnie’s grandfather raises his rifle. He carries a gun when the brown bear have young babies trailing as a precaution; Lonnie has never seen the gun off of his back before, never seen it balanced on his shoulder, horizontal.
A trigger is pulled. Gunshots are always a lot louder than you remember.
A crimson hole appears on the opossum’s hind area, but the animal keeps spinning. The shot didn’t kill him.
The wounded opossum fills the forest with an unholy sound, a combination of piercing scream and wail. Lonnie cups her ears. Screams too.
When the world falls away to silence, her grandfather steps forward, bends over, and examines his work. Lonnie’s arms drop to her sides. She squints.
Some of those eyes were babies. That’s what they were. Three of them, clinging to her back, a little band of piggyback riders. They melt down the sides of the body one by one, plop onto the cage trap floor and curl around their mother in a limp halo.
When Lonnie and her grandfather return from the lower garden with a warm rifle barrel, the young Bodie launches off the tire swing and sprints to meet them.
Lonnie’s head is down. When he gets close enough, Lonnie looks up at him, reaches out, and grabs for his hand.
“I’m sick, Bodie,” she says.
The cousins peel away from their grandfather’s trudging boots. They sit side by side on the creek bank below their grandparents’ cabin and wait together for Lonnie to stop being sick.
The Sunday following the boy with the Sacajawea coins, thunderstorms hit hard. The new park ranger at Canyon Vista never closes the snack bar on stormy days. Nobody knows why. Only the lifeguards get to stay home.
“Cheer up, Miss Sunshine. At least we’re getting paid for doing nothing,” Rick shouts to Lonnie.
She ignores him, unwraps her third ice cream sandwich of the day. Earlier, Rick dragged one of the picnic benches through the front screen door, placed it in front of the counter, and centered his spine on top. Sore from playing too much football, he had told her, like she cared. He’s been lying down for hours.
Lonnie is pacing the kitchen’s linoleum floor, keeping an eye on Rick through the pick-up window, hands folded over his heart: a grinning fool, utterly entranced by the spin of the ceiling fan.
Rick must know how to set a simple jaw trap. Bodie is sticking to his guns. What if somebody else swipes the trap before Lonnie does? It looked pretty new. It sure had a hell of a snap to it. How much harm could it really do? Bodie is being impossible. It’s just a small jaw trap, like Bodie said, for a small animal, not for a bear or something, just one of those that grabs hold of the leg of something like a raccoon or a hedgehog, keeps the animal in one place until the trapper gets back. It might leave a bruise on an anklebone at the very most. Perfect for scaring the living shit of someone, though. Lonnie swings the kitchen door open, stands over Rick.
“If I let you see my tits, will you do something secret for me and keep your mouth shut about it until your dying day?
Rick’s mouth falls open. He sits up fast as a lightning strike.
“Like what? Like what do I have to do?”
“Just set one of those jaw trap things for me. Know the ones I mean? A real small one. I’m, I am, I want to help my grandpa out as a surprise.”
There’s crusted mustard stuck at the corners of Rick’s mouth. Lonnie’s stomach clenches and burns. She’s dizzy. Rick is so tall. He’s still sitting on the picnic bench, but he and Lonnie are almost face-to-face. He cinches his forehead.
“Why don’t you get Bodie to do it?”
“I am asking you. You have six seconds to decide before the offer is off the table forever.”
Rick’s eyes fall to Lonnie’s heaving chest, freeze, and glaze over like some Looney Tunes cartoon character who just got hit over the head with an anvil. He reaches out to stroke her shiny hair, but she pulls back.
“Okay,” he says, standing up.
He follows Lonnie to the walk-in cooler. Stupid Rick. He didn’t even ask how long she was going to let him look. If he blinks, he’ll miss everything.
“Turn around until I tell you,” Lonnie orders.
“You want this or not?”
Lonnie turns around after he does. With her back to Rick, she tugs her t-shirt out of her shorts, pulls it up and over her head. As it drops from her fingertips, refrigerated air grips her shoulders. She shivers, lifts her bra, stops under her chin. She doesn’t need to take it off all the way. She could have left her t-shirt on. Too late.
“Hurry up, Lonnie. I’m freezing.”
There has never been such a crybaby as little Miss Lonnie Gray that day with that trapped opossum.
What about some kind of technical school?
Keeping her fingers tight on her bra, she turns around. Rick turned around before her. He is inches away from her—mesh shorts and the white flash of underwear around his ankles. Lonnie’s nipples brush against his shirt. He reaches out; places his hands heavy on the top of Lonnie’s shoulders.
“I’ve heard you people are magic with this kind of stuff,” he says. “How about showing me some of your ancient ways.”
Lonnie goes soft-bodied, drops to her knees. Rick sighs deeply, lets go of one of her shoulders to yank up his shirt, the lifted fabric covering Lonnie’s eyes.
Waterfalls crash into Lonnie’s ear canals, but this time, her cheeks ignite hot as a branding torch. She raises her jaw, swings her head to the side, and bites as deep as her teeth will take her into his hairy thigh.
She’s outside then, running and spitting, poking her arms into the sweatshirt abandoned in the walk-in. It’s not that far, less than six miles to the mobile home park. She knows the shortest cut through the woods. Several times, she glances over her shoulder, but Rick isn’t there.
Lonnie heads directly to Bodie’s bedroom door and taps softly. Her mother’s door is closed. She’s sleeping.
Bodie has seen this expression on Lonnie’s face before. His eyes flicker recognition. He bites his lower lip, swings the door wide.
“Don’t ask,” Lonnie says, folding into a beanbag chair across from an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond on Bodie’s small, black and white TV. “I’ll tell you later. Is E.R. on?”
Bodie is right. Bad thoughts tend to bring bad luck. Doing anything with that jaw trap is just a rotten idea. Goddess rabbits and Colic only help you when you don’t bring the world down on yourself.
“Stop looking over at me. I’m okay. Can we switch to E.R.?” Lonnie asks.
“No, it’s too depressing. Want some doodles?” Bodie asks.
“Do you even have any?”
“Shut up, Bodie.”
Lonnie shoves her trembling hands into the pockets of the sweatshirt.
“Did something happen, Lon?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle. I’m just so pissed off. Rick Godfrey tried a lame move on me, and now he’s bleeding.”
“God, not his…”
“Ew, god no. His leg. Totally disgusting like all the rest of him.”
“Sure you handled him then, ” Bodie says. “Sure you got it all handled, as in said and done, never happening again handled it?”
“Yea, I’m sure. He’s a coward. You really don’t have any doodles?”
“Not one curl.”
Now that Lonnie has quit her job working at Canyon Vista snack bar, Bodie has to drive farther to give her a ride home. She is making steady money, though, waiting tables inside Dot’s Diner in Montoursville. Lonnie buys Bodie a full tank of gas for his truck every week and more whenever he needs them.
That son of a bitch Rick Godfrey is still microwaving at the park on weekends as far as she knows. She sees him at school all the time. He can’t even look Lonnie in the eye. A few times she could tell he was thinking of slinking over with some lame apology. He has a lot more to lose than she does.
Bodie and Lonnie are seated at their grandparents’ dining room table. It’s another Sunday dinner. Outside, most of the trees have thrown their autumn leaves to the ground. They stand taller and lighter for it, black spines and limbs proudly exposed, forest floor vanished in parts under the blankets of variegated leaves.
Lonnie is hiding little pieces of ham inside mashed potatoes; spoonfuls she swallows whole to avoid tasting.
“Did you decorate the diner for Halloween yet, Lon?” her mother asks from the other end of the long, oak table. “I have some cool skeleton lights you could borrow that we didn’t put up at the Squirrel this year if you want.”
“Sure, mom. You know Dot. She loves Halloween. I’ll take them.”
“What are you going to be this Halloween, Arlo?” Lonnie asks her little cousin. Arlo just turned seven. He’s the youngest cousin.
Unlike Lonnie, Arlo loves ham. He’s shoveling forkfuls. No room for speech.
“Arlo is dressing as Sleeping Beauty,” Bodie teases.
Arlo squirms and whines in the chair beside his big brother.
“Hey, mom, where’s dad?” Connie Gray asks her mother who has just returned from the kitchen with a basket of rolls.
“He’s a little late coming back from the lower garden, pulling up stakes down there, getting ready for cold weather,” she answers. “Probably lost track of time.”
Lonnie’s body stiffens. Under her chin, her spoonful stops midair. She senses an electric spark of amusement coming from across the table.
“I see him now,” Lonnie’s grandmother says.
Pausing by a window with the rolls, she cocks her head to the side.
“Something’s wrong. He seems to be limping a bit,” she says.
Sometimes, it’s almost impossible not to let your mouth fly off the handle into a firework of a grin.
Bodie went ahead and set that jaw trap for her after all. Waited for the best time of year to do it. Bodie would do anything for her.
Nobody will suspect Bodie. Too born and raised in these woods for that to happen, far too clever about the patterns of nature and the habits of men who lack pure instinct and good hearts.
It’s the Shawnee in him.
It’s why he’s superior.
Lonnie finds Bodie’s eyes across the table and climbs in.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, The Blue Mountain Review, The Moon City Review, Permafrost Magazine, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Sky Island Journal, among others. Winner of the 2019 Florida Review Meek Award in nonfiction and nominee for Best of the Net Nonfiction 2019 and 2020, her poetry chapbooks are upcoming for publication by The Moonstone Press.
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