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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I saw you do that. Don't
you know what you are? That's
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.
not goin' nowhere, sugar pants. In
fact, I think what you need is a little guidance."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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?
looked at Ellie hard and laughed a little bit as he fixed his pants.
that was your first lesson, little Miss Ellie. The second one will be
even better. And you know you
better not say anything."
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.