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Authors: David Zimmerman

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BOOK: Caring Is Creepy
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“W
here does this go?” Logan asked, slowing down the car and pointing to a road of packed orange clay that wiggled off into the pines.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never been out that way before.” I shaded my eyes with a hand. “But I think it belongs to the McWhorters. Or at least it used to. Nobody’s planted anything here since I was little.”

“Good,” he said, and we pulled off the highway, raising an orange cloud behind us. The trees beside the road were wide and tall and the road itself had sunk down four or five feet below the fields from a couple hundred years of wagon wheels and pickup trucks, so it felt like we were driving through a tunnel of green needles. Sunlight freckled the clay. A crow pecked at the body of a smaller bird in the ditch beside the road. And somewhere back behind the trees a cow lowed. Logan drove slowly now, taking the curves carefully and glancing over at me and smiling every couple of minutes. I bounced in my seat and grinned back, pleased to be me at that moment, in that car, with that boy. I didn’t want the ride to end.

We turned a bend and found a cow standing in the middle of the road. Logan tapped the horn once, but she wouldn’t budge, so he wheeled us down into the ditch and drove around her. He said something too quiet to hear. The cow never moved an inch, but she turned her head to watch us pass, chewing and chewing. I wondered what she saw.

“Are you worried?” I said.

“About what?”

“About leaving.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I had to get out of there. Even if only for the day. Maybe I should do something and get myself chucked out. Do something crazy. The big problem is my family. They’ll never forgive me for that. My dad’s a Vietnam vet. Two tours. He’s going to think I’m a pussy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes it into his head never to speak to me again.”

“Really? But you already went over once.”

“That don’t matter to him. The only time he was ever all that nice to me is when I told him I’d enlisted. This would screw up everything.” He sounded more angry than sad.

“Where would you go if you left?”

See there, how already I wished he would stay with me? Although I didn’t know it then, I’d started tying little invisible strings of trouble to each of the veins going into my heart. Each lie, each selfish intention—another dainty little knot.

“I’ll burn that bridge when I cross it.”

Logan drove the car into a clearing of high grass beside a half-collapsed barn covered in kudzu vines. The door squealed when I pushed it shut and I had to bump it with my hip to make it click. The grass came up past my knees and tickled me. He pulled an old green blanket out of the trunk and slung it over his shoulder. Beside the barn was an overgrown pasture filled with cornflowers and goldenrod. We walked to the edge of the clearing and he spread the blanket out in the shade of an old camphor tree.

“Ready to celebrate?” he said.

I smiled and sat down next to him. He pulled a bottle out of the plastic sack, all sweaty and slick with cold, and unscrewed it. He took a swig and passed it over to me. It was berry-flavored Boone’s Farm and it tasted like Kool-Aid.

“Sorry,” he said, “I forgot to buy cups. Some picnic, huh? I meant to bring all this stuff, but it was all I could do just to get to those gardens before you thought I’d forgot about you and left.”

“I don’t care.”

We passed the bottle back and forth a couple of times and he looked at me as though he was on the verge of saying something, but he didn’t. He just looked.

“In the barracks all anyone ever does is bullshit and drink beer,” he said finally. “So, I hope I don’t sound stupid.” Him saying this made me like him even more. It felt like he’d opened a window curtain and let in a gush of sunlight.

This is
her
August afternoon. Young Lynn’s,
before
Lynn’s. Her prized possession. Looking back, I know now that day stood up on its tippy-toes and peeked over into September and all that came with it. Hints of trouble floated here and there like motes in sunshine. That younger Lynn might not of known what her August day saw over the edge of the month, but, feeling as she did right then, she sure as hell wouldn’t of given her afternoon back even if she had.

Don’t ask me if I’d do it now.

We drank the wine, and sip by sip he told me about his family and his life in the Army. He was the youngest. He had two sisters and a brother. All of them were married. His brother was a Ranger stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. The hero of the family, who hadn’t done wrong since the day he first put on his Pop Warner football helmet. No matter that Logan played just as good, maybe better. His sisters made babies, he told me with a frown, and that’s about all his father expected from them. Five grandkids so far and more on the way. His father owned an Army surplus store in Virginia Beach and traveled to gun shows to collect antique pistols. His mother taught tatting at the local sewing shop. They’d moved away from Savannah while Logan was overseas because his father worried the blacks were invading his south-side subdivision.

Logan had recently gotten the rank of specialist. That’s why they stationed him down at Hunter Army Airfield, where they were training him to fix helicopter rotors. Because of his shrapnel wound, he wouldn’t have to go out to some forward operating base and do movement-to-contact missions anymore or patrol urban streets, but he’d still be over there. This new training, he said, was all but over and he’d be shipping out in a matter of months.

“My dad was proud of me when he heard. Sent me down a bottle of Wild Turkey and a case of beer,” he said, “but it don’t mean fuck all to me. I’m twenty-five years old and my biggest accomplishment is a little iron-on patch.” He laughed like laughing was something you did when you were angry and took a long gurgle of wine. I watched the bubbles fight each other to get to the end of the bottle, and when I reached for it next, I accidentally on purpose touched him on the neck. His skin felt soft but hard with muscle. Tense and corded.

I told him about my family and Dani and school. But only when he asked me. Mostly, I asked him questions and listened. It helped me control my misfiring nerve circuits. Whenever the conversation slowed down, I asked him another question. Butterflies floated about in the clearing eating flower perfume. Logan caught one with a cupped hand and set it down on my knee. It rested for a moment there, stretching its baby-blanket-colored wings, and then took off. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the wine went straight to my head. Like I’d poured it in my ear. It made my stomach tingle and my mouth want to laugh for no reason. At that second, Logan looked to me like the most beautiful man on earth.

In August, it doesn’t get dark until after eight, so we drove around for a while talking. I made sure we never got too close to town. I didn’t want anyone else to see us. By then I did all the talking and the words came out as fast as the wine went down. Dizzy now, I felt the words spin out in circles around my head. I told
him I wanted to be a social worker and help children with bad parents, which was funny since I’d never thought that before. It only occurred to me then.

When the fireflies started flashing along the road, I had him park his car in the hospital’s side parking lot, which was never full but never all the way empty either. We walked on either side of my bike, each of us holding a handlebar, and cut across the strip of grass between the lot and my backyard. I kept a careful eye out the whole time, nervous somebody’d drive past and see us, but no one did. The house was dark and my mom’s car was gone, which worried me some since I thought she was working that night and she almost always walked to work. But there was nothing I could do about it, so I tried to push the idea from my head. That was a whole different soap opera and I wanted to keep it on a whole different channel. The last thing I needed was for Mom to drive up unexpectedly and see me getting out of some strange boy’s car, or at least strange to her, so it was just as well she was off somewhere and I’d had him park so far away.

“What—?” he wanted to know, but I shut him up with one last kiss. No tongue, just a fearsome squashing of lips.

“Thanks,” I said and made to shut the screen door, but he stopped it with a hand.

“When can I—?”

I needed him to be off and away before Mom came home. I’d used up all my extra talk, small or otherwise. At the same time, I didn’t want to make Logan think, well, whatever it was he’d think if I dashed off into the house without some last swapping of
see you laters
and
call mes
. I didn’t know how to tell him it had been the most perfect day of my life without sounding like a sappy fifteen-year-old girl. But he wouldn’t know any of that unless I said something. I muttered and stuttered and said, mouth so full of smile I could hardly get the words out, “We can do this again whenever you
want, soldier. But it’s late.” I put my thumb and pinkie up to my ear and waggled them in the universal sign for call me, and then felt so dumb for doing it, my face probably looked like I’d dunked it in ketchup. “I mean, this was the best day of the summer. Call me tomorrow and—”

Now it was his turn to steal away the last of a sentence. “Wait, I almost forgot.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out something white—a scrap of paper. “I have something else for you. I made it when you were off in the trees … uh …”

Peeing, he meant.

“Thanks,” I said quickly and snatched the paper out of his hand.

I tossed him my best sexy smile, the one I’d been practicing in the bathroom mirror, and skipped into the house, screen door bouncing behind me. Really. I skipped. I couldn’t help myself. Around the coffee table twice and then down the hall to my room and back. When my pulse stopped hammering in my eardrums, I looked at what he’d given me. An origami butterfly made from the gas station receipt for the wine. I have it still.

Heckle and Jeckle

A
t eleven o’clock that same damn night, somebody, or some-bodies, had to go and ruin my day of black-eyed Susans and Kool-Aid wine kisses by ringing the doorbell. Nobody was home but me. The only light in the house came from the TV, and it was on mute. Hardly ten seconds passed before they rang again. I crawled to the front door on my hands and knees. The hallway was as dark as the inside of my stomach. I didn’t hear anything at first, and then a man said, “I saw her leave before. Around dinnertime. Maybe they both—”

“Will you hush?”

One of the two of them slammed on the door with a fist. The sound of it filled up the hallway like shotgun blasts. I held my breath and waited. It was quiet for a time, and then the first one started up complaining again.

“After all this waiting around, I could eat a bite or two myself. What you think about barbeque? I hear there’s a good place up the road. Just off I-16. I think it’s called the Forking Pork. My cousin went there before and he said he ate the shit out of their pulled-pork sandwiches. I could seriously go for some pulled pork and—”

“Ever hear the expression, never trust a man with an ass wider than his shoulders? Well, you’re one fucking sandwich away from untrustworthy, bo.”

“Wenzell, come on, man. Don’t give me that—”

“What I tell you about using that name? Just quit, before I pop you one. I didn’t choose the damn thing and the hell if I’m going to let you use it.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“Uh-huh,” the Wenzell man said, and the way he said it, all freezy and evil sounding, I’d of kept my mouth shut about the name, the Forking Pork, and everything else. The hungry one must of agreed with me. Neither said nothing for a while.

Then the hungry guy came on quiet and apologetic-like. “Sorry, I forget. What you want me to—?”

“Wait. Hush up now, Travis.” The second man, who didn’t like to be called Wenzell, made a hissing sound and lowered his voice. “You hear that?”

“No.’

“The car is—” The rest of what he said was a grumble. Neither of their voices sounded like the one I’d heard on the phone. The mouth breather. I tried to picture Marty from when I saw him the other night at Bow Wow’s, but his face wouldn’t come.

“Yeah, that’s probably right. I don’t expect he walked here,” Travis said. His voice was higher pitched and easier to hear.

Something crunched outside and then the flap on the mail slot lifted. I held my breath again and concentrated on being invisible.
No one can see me. No one can see me. No one can see me
. The man looking through the slot breathed heavily, but not the way Marty did on the phone. This one had a slight wheeze. I hoped to God he couldn’t see the blue flicker from the TV.

“No nothing,” Travis said. “If he’s here, then he’s quiet as a Goddamned mouse. We can tell Marty we waited till …” He paused. “Around midnight. I don’t believe he’s here. Even Hayes ain’t stupid enough to hide out in the first place we’d look.”

He obviously don’t know Hayes, I thought.

“Marty thinks he is.” Wenzell coughed and one or the other of them rubbed his feet against the brickwork, making a couple of sandy scrapes.

“Well, the man can come out here and wait himself, he thinks that. I’ll tell him to his face.” Travis giggled. It was a very unpleasant sound, and I was glad I couldn’t see him while he did it.

“Uh-huh. I’ll be believing that shit when I see it. You always talk big when it’s just you and me.”

“Let’s go get us some food,” Travis said, his voice turning whiney. “We been here for fucking ever. They’re gone. Vamoosed. I still don’t get why Marty won’t let us bust in here and check for sure.”

“Marty says there’s always cops coming over to the emergency room. He said, unless it’s a real dark, overcast night, somebody might see something.”

“Bah. The hospital is a half-mile up the hill. Nobody can see us.” Travis sniffed and spat. “Wait, you hear that sound, Burns?”

Neither of them said anything for a second.

“I don’t hear shit,” Burns, the non-Wenzell, said. Then I remembered the name from that horrible night at Bow Wow’s. I couldn’t remember the man’s face to save my life. Only that ugly pink triangle scar on his cheek and the red baseball cap. Unless these were different Burnses and Travises, I had nearly the whole nasty cast on my doorstep.

BOOK: Caring Is Creepy
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