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Fall/Winter 2000 Volume I Issue I

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who we are

from the editors

failbetter presents



Catherine Fisher lives and works in Seattle, Washington.

Hiding, Seeking

Catherine Fisher

Out back behind the big house, that was where we'd play.  Running and shrieking, or sometimes hiding, quiet, crouching down, real small.  I liked the crouching and hiding games better than the running ones because everything slowed down or was still.  And she was there, Ellie, hiding with me.  We got down there and told the stories while the grass just stretched out all green and buzzing until the edge of the road, where some cars would go shooshing by and you could feel the warm soft colors around the trees, just outlining them a little bit.

And me and Ellie, we were down there behind the woodpile, and the crickets made a kind of chirping hum that went all in your ears but you couldn't tell what it was until you were away from it.  And it was wet in the back of my knee where that tall piece of grass was tickling.  We watched a caterpillar crawl over my toe, which had a little moon of pink at the top.  My mom she showed me how to paint it like that, 'cause it would make me pretty, she said.  Ellie's toes didn't have no pink, and a few strings hung down from the edge of her shorts at the top of her leg and she said Did you bleed down there yet and I said Where and she said You know.  She said My sister did last week and I asked Did it hurt and she said I don't know maybe just when it comes out.  Then she told me how the whole bathroom started stinking up and we had to press our hands over our mouths so they wouldn't hear us giggling.  And we played the games like we always did, picking the petals off those flowers to say who she would kiss and who I would.  And what it might feel like.  Her sister, Leeann, she told us about it sometimes but she didn't know everything either, even though she was in the high school.

Ellie picked the last limp little petal off a buttercup and touched it to my chin to see if I liked butter.  It left some flecks of gold on my skin, that meant I did.  And just then one of them other kids came real close and hollered Where are you guys and I started to get up but Ellie she grabbed my wrist hard and pulled me back down.  They're just stupid kids she said so I watched that other girl through a hole in the woodpile and she put her hands in the back pockets of her shorts and stuck her brown belly out a little and she called our names.  But the names got lost in the hot, thick air and we just stayed and the grass tickled me back there and the smell of the wood breathed right into me, damp and fresh.

 Then Ellie she took up one of those tiny strawberries and put it on the tip of her tongue and so I did the same thing.  Those little ones that look so sweet and precious like a tiny jewel but they never taste like much.  I picked one too and put it on my tongue and reached out and touched it to the tip of her tongue and it felt like a weird little thrill.  We just did that, you know, because we didn't know that we shouldn't.  We were just trying, because of what Leeann said about the tongues.  And it didn't matter none.  But then I heard some singing high kind of laugh from behind us, over by the rusty shed.  First I didn't see nothing, just some broken cement blocks with grass growing out the tops and the leaves of that dogwood tree rustling a little bit in the wind-breath.  I thought maybe I hadn't heard it for real, but I could feel on the back of my neck how someone was watching.  And Ellie she touched my arm and showed me with her eyes where the ratty sneakers were on the other side of the shed, and then they stepped out toward us.

 It was Greg, from down the street.  I didn't know him much but Ellie did, 'cause her sister used to go out with him or something.  He was in the high school too, fourteen.  A purplish scar was there on his forehead, high up.  And his hair, it was the color of rusted stuff.  Leeann was telling us how he got that scar from being thrown up against a locker by some of the bigger guys in gym.  She was glad, because he was always talking like a punk and getting in trouble, she said.  Now he stood over us, tall.  I saw how he was looking at Ellie.  He talked real low in his throat, like he was trying to hold his voice down there, still looking at her in that way.

 "Ooo, I saw you do that.  Don't you know what you are?  That's disgusting."

I wanted to ask What do you mean but I just sat there and picked at the pink on my toenail and looked at Ellie too.  Her mouth was like a thin little line and she just kept her eyes on the grass around us and the woodpile, like those things should have protected us or something.  Then she said Get outta here, Greg.  Just leave us alone.

 "I'm not goin' nowhere, sugar pants.  In fact, I think what you need is a little guidance."

He stepped closer and his mouth made some sort of strange shape, like he was trying to snarl but his lips were too soft.  And I heard his breathing so close, rasping in and out of his mouth, where his bottom lip curled down, sort of cracked, like he always breathed that way, out of his mouth.

I felt my heart beating hard.  Ellie, she told me one time how he was over watching TV with Leeann and she saw them when they were making out but his eyes weren't closed like they were supposed to be, they were open, looking right at her.  He was staring down at her now too, in a mean way but also kind of scared and nervous.  He started to do something around his belt and then I looked and there was something new there, hanging.  Pink.  Ugly.

 I thought I shouldn't look but I couldn't help it, and Ellie, she looked too.  We saw a picture one time in her dad's library but it wasn't nothing, just a drawing.  I didn't know what he was going to do but I knew that it was bad.  And then the sounds started to vibrate inside me, the lawnmower eating up the grass down the street and some dog barking somewhere and the crickets just buzzing all around and inside like they wouldn't never stop.  I just sat there and the air got closer but everything else more far away.  And I could feel that buzzing all in my head, and taste it there, really.  He kicked Ellie a little bit with his sneaker.

 "You know what this is?  This is what you're supposed to be kissin'.  And you'd better, or else I'll tell your sister and everyone else what a perv you are.  What you did."

 And Ellie said Get outta here but she didn't say it real loud.  I'd never seen her look scared but she did then.  My fingers closed around a rock and I saw how he would suck his breath in hard, how he would fall back after it hit him in the chest but that rock didn't go anywhere.  It just stayed there, sweating in my hand, and I didn't say anything at all in that stretched-out, buzzing minute.  He started to step closer to Ellie but then I heard some footsteps and one of the older kids ran past on the other side of the woodpile and yelled Hey Greg, c'mon, man.  Football down at Chuck's.  What're you waitin' for, asshole?

 He looked at Ellie hard and laughed a little bit as he fixed his pants.

 "Well, that was your first lesson, little Miss Ellie. The second one will be even better. And you know you better not say anything."

 Then he was gone, and our own little magic, it was gone too.  The questions were in my insides but I just couldn't say them, because the air was too hot and thick in my throat.  And that rock just slipped out of my hand down into the weeds, gone.  I wanted to tell somebody what he did, but Ellie said no.  He was just playing, she said.  It wasn't no big deal.  But I saw her shoulders, how they were still shaking, and her eyes, all sad and wild.  I told her I wouldn't say anything so I didn't, but it was hard to go to sleep that night and others.  I just thought and thought how his eyes looked when he was standing over her, how everything buzzed all inside me, and how all those yellow petals were just scattered and crushed in the grass.