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Authors: Peter Hedges

An Ocean in Iowa (25 page)

BOOK: An Ocean in Iowa
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“I’m seven…”

Claire saw it first. Then the Judge looked up. Maggie was the last to realize what Scotty was holding. Her smile faded. The Judge asked, “Where did you get that?”

“I’m seven. I’m
seven
!”

“Yes, of course, you are.”

The Judge started to move toward Scotty.

“No! Don’t!”

“Scotty.”

“Don’t move any closer or…”

His hand, sweaty now, squeezed the grenade tighter.

The Judge, his sisters, none of them moved.

Scotty tried to remember the procedure. Pull the pin. That’s what you pull. Pull, then toss? He couldn’t remember exactly. Throw it? Drop it? He knew he had gotten their attention. They weren’t laughing anymore. They were watching now, barely breathing.

“Scotty,” the Judge said softly, attempting to appear calm, “please…”

Scotty held his available hand up, as if to say “Do not disturb me.” Okay, I’ll pull this part. He brought his hand down and reached for the metal pin.

It was quick, the Judge’s lunge, almost too easy, but he got the grenade from Scotty and held it in the air. Scotty jumped up and down, trying to reach it, but the Judge was too tall.

The Judge studied the grenade as Scotty clawed at him. “Here you go,” the Judge said, giving it back. “It’s a dummy model—it’s used for demonstrating.”

Scotty stood frozen.

Maggie giggled nervously and Claire said, “You sure had us fooled.” The Judge looked at his boy, patted him on the back, and said, “I’m glad you’re still with us.”

Scotty lowered his head; his chin almost touched his chest.

For a time, none of the family knew what to do. Eventually it would be another Scotty story to be told to amuse relatives at holiday gatherings, but for now what else should they say?

Scotty asked to be excused.

“Of course,” the Judge said.

Scotty turned and slowly climbed the stairs.

***

Later, the girls checked on him. They reported back to the Judge that Scotty was in bed with the lights out.

“But you think he’s okay?” the Judge asked.

“By tomorrow he’ll be fine,” Claire said.

***

Upstairs Scotty couldn’t sleep. He had imagined it differently. An explosion sending him every which way. Little bits of him scattered all over Iowa. Maybe a clump of hair would land in Davenport—a patch of skin in Ames.

But it was not to be.

Outside, he could hear his sisters and the Judge. They were wrapping the slide with streamers and filling the pool with balloons.

Still, Scotty lay in bed. With his eyes closed, he pressed the grenade against his chest, pressing so hard it nearly squeezed through his ribs and lodged deep inside.

(8)

When Scotty woke up, he looked out his window. It was pitch-black. He dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. He tried tying the laces of his tennis shoes but ended up making knots.

Downstairs, he found the Judge in the kitchen. “You’re up early,” the Judge said. “I’m making you a treat.”

Scotty rubbed his eyes.

“Why don’t you go back to bed?”

Scotty nodded that he would.

“I’ll get you up when it’s ready.” The Judge turned his attention to the coffee cake he was attempting, carefully rereading the recipe on the box of Bisquick. He didn’t notice Scotty step outside.

The streetlights glowed. In the east, the sky had begun to turn a rich purple. Scotty walked down the street. The lights were off in the other houses. His neighbors were asleep. When he got to the bush, he dropped to his knees, crawled in, and claimed his spot. He leaned back and thought, This is where I’ll live.

***

When they discovered he was missing, his sisters took turns shouting from the porch, “Scotty!”

He heard them calling.

They’ll never find me.

He used his finger in the dirt to make drawings. He printed his name. If he had paint, he decided, he would make cave paintings, if he had paint. And if he had a cave.

The sun rose higher, and it got hotter.

“Scotty! Scotty!” they called.

He could hear it in their voices. They were scared he was gone for good.

***

When the phone rang at the Ocean house, the Judge answered on the first ring. He was worried. A neighbor from down the street was on the line. She had heard the Ocean girls calling for Scotty. “Just wanted you to know a boy who looks very much like yours is hiding in the bushes across the street.” She could see his T-shirt through the branches, and every few minutes, he poked his head out like a gopher, presumably to see what activity was going on up the street.

The Judge thanked the woman.

She wondered if she should send Scotty home.

“No,” the Judge said. “Let him be for now.”

***

Scotty had left his watch behind, so he didn’t know the time. But he knew the party guests would be arriving soon. He could picture them all in their swimsuits, running from their cars across the hot concrete driveway. All the kids waiting by the water, but no one getting in, because there was no Scotty.

Up the street, his sisters had stopped calling for him. But
he knew he’d hear his name again soon. Eventually, maybe, there would even be a police car.

He could see the sky through the branches. It was full of every kind of cloud. Faint wisps in one corner; a large cluster of popcornlike clouds plugged up another section of sky. The white line of a jet stream cut across directly above him. Around noon, a group of low-hanging, dark clouds raced by, moving at twice the speed of the others. They brought a burst of rain, big, violent drops, and this was always strange: how it could be sunny and raining at the same time.

***

Joan called from a gas station. She had pulled over during the downpour. She had just arrived in town. She asked Maggie if they needed anything. She was near a store. The Judge took the phone. He said that they had everything they needed, except for one thing.

***

Water dripped from the branches of the evergreen bush. The floor of dirt got wet, turning the black soil into a kind of mud paste. Scotty didn’t mind: It would take a flood to wash him out.

He found a stick and practiced writing it. Two circles. One on top of the other, as if kissing: 8.

And then he heard the sound.

Low at first, the rumble of a muffler, a car moaning, an announcement—growing, the sound. And Scotty began to look about.

The belch of exhaust, the dragging scrape of a tail pipe, splotches of yellow seen through the branches, moving yellow. It was her. She was driving past, heading to where she used to live.

Suddenly the yellow car came to a stop. The engine idled, and Scotty tried to move a branch to get a better view.

He watched her reach over to the passenger side. He heard the car door lock be lifted—then he watched as she pushed on the passenger door. It creaked, swinging until it was open.

“Scotty,” she said. It was barely more than a whisper.

How did she know I was here?

“Little love,” she called.

He tried to resist, but the pull was strong.

When he emerged from the bush, she saw his face streaked with mud, his clothes drenched.

“Oh, sweetie,” Joan said, her hair tied in a scarf, her lips bright red and her dress clean and fresh. She smiled. “You must’ve got caught in the storm.”

Scotty didn’t say anything.

“Come on, get in,” Joan said sweetly.

Scotty turned and started to walk. He could feel the car moving. Joan drove up alongside him, the passenger door still open. “Don’t you want a ride?”

He stopped. Didn’t she understand? He was eight. Eight didn’t need a ride.

A mother with a car full of boys in bathing suits pulled up behind Joan, wanting to pass. Joan saw that she was blocking the street. She knew to drive on.

“Sweetie, don’t take too long. You don’t want to miss your party.”

She reached across, pulled the door shut, and drove up the street.

Scotty walked. He walked at his own speed, his hair and clothes still wet from the sudden rain. He headed home, even though he didn’t need a party. He was eight now, and parties were for children.

BOOK: An Ocean in Iowa
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