The cicadas were back again. Last time they’d come, Sis went out scrounging through the trailer park, collected their shells of skeletons in a pail, and dumped the lot in my bassinet. Seventeen-years later and I was still there living in that park, sucking hard on a smoke, and waiting on some boy to show up.
I set my rear on the rail that kept the park fenced in. Behind me was a herd of aluminum trailer-humps that caught and threw the sun between one another. I knew where folks was in there — where they’d slumped out to get the paper, or water their stupid flowerbeds — because those was the places where the dogs tried to bark, but only got out loud rasps of air.
Down aways, the road mounded up in dirt-clouds of itself. That guy in his ride was on his way to me. I darted down my smoke and stomped it with my bare foot. I stomped it flat and I stomped it again cause why the hell not? Seventeen summers of bare-footed stomping grew me some elephant skin. I never did feel no burn.
His rattle-trap truck pulled up and wheezed to a stop a few feet up the road. I started walking and by the time I got there my hips had got to full sashay.
His window was fogged with old age, but that guy was a kid, maybe just a slim bit older than me. His stick-arm cranked down the window something furious, but even with that it dragged slow and tired. The kid’s beetle eyes jumped back and forth between the crank and me like he was scared I’d tricked him, that me and my peach party-dress were gonna dissolve into the dust his ride kicked up. But there I was.
“Hey there.” I held out my hand with a limp wrist, all dainty and fair like the hands of chicks on the television that get draped in sashes and get crowned and smile all white and big.
He hushed both his palms over his corduroy trousers. “Nice to meet you.” Quiet, small words below the cicada static.
“I was starting to get a smidge worried you wasn’t gonna show.”
He fingered an almost-zit on a face he’d already rubbed raw popping them pimples. He scratched at a cluster below his lip, fussed with his shirt collar, and then straightened the steering wheel. Jesus was on the dashboard flashing a peace sign, or something that looked an awful lot like it.
“Well. I’m right here.” His hand — pink skin stretched over little bones — was nervous when it patted the passenger’s seat. “Wanna get in?”
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Does it matter?”
“Well, eighteen. You?”
“Twelve.” I got in the truck.
The seats were all ripped leather, open wounds of swollen stuffing. The floor was dirty and my bare feet bothered around for a place that wasn’t a mess of spilled tobacco shavings or old ash or dead flies.
“Thanks. You ain’t really twelve-years-old are you?”
“No. Hell, you’ve seen me at school before. And I seen you. You ain’t really eighteen.”
“Almost.” He rubbed that pimple skin. “Just a few months to go.”
I took deep, long breaths, the kind that fill up the lungs and raises the tits and comes out hot between fat lips. He wouldn’t look at me. I deflated and clapped my hands to my thighs.
“Don’t let it get around that I’m doing this,” I said.
“I mean it.”
“I ain’t no slut or no whore or no anything else besides getting by.”
“Let’s get this going already. What do you want?”
“A Slappy Pie.”
“From the gas station just ahead. You mind if we make a quick stop?”
“Aw, hell. I oughta charge by the hour.”
He pulled up off dirt to dirt, off the road and into the gas station lot. He parked by a lone pump, decayed metal going to rust, handle limp on the ground.
“Your buddies put you up to this?” I asked.
The black of his eyes went to animal panic, small pupils flailing in big white, in red veins. “Naw.”
“They send you to pick up that trick Chastity Bowbar, sent you to have a quick laugh at Chastity Bowbar? A blowjob then out for beers with your buddies? That what this is?”
“I don’t even got any buddies.”
I slouched back in my seat. “Sorry, guy. Just wasn’t expecting anyone from school to reply to that ad.”
I got out a pack of smokes and slapped it in my palm like an idiot. “Care if I have a cigarette?”
“Naw, go ahead.”
I offered him the pack, but he shook his head. I lit up. “What the hell’s your name, anyway?”
“You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me. Jeezmaneez.” I blew smoke-smog at Dashboard Jesus. “Well, go get your Slappy Pie, Junior.”
He got out of the car, tried closing the door but it didn’t shut all the way, so he had to go and yank it open again then clapped it shut too hard. Dashboard Jesus staggered as Junior walked away on wishbone legs then tripped into the store.
I cranked down the window, shot the smoke-butt like a dart, and then sent half-myself out after it — flipped the whole world on itself. I hung out — head and arms and tits. I sniffed hard on gasoline stink and hoped for some kind of dizzy. But hell, the air just stayed stale. And some pig-men in overalls just stayed huddled — around a coffee-can full of tar-spit and sunflower seeds, in dumpster-shade. They grunted at each other and flicked their mustaches, waited for the day to do something with itself.
And then one of them whistled my way. All the blood of my body had gone to my head, so I just gaped stupid at the man upside-down. He stopped whistling and stared right back and we just kept on that way for a minute — his jowls all lank-skin, dumb pouches. His eyes were like a Basset’s, and a Basset’s eyes were like an alcoholic’s.
I did what I could and mouthed him a kiss. He stayed staring behind all his sagged, sad skin.
Junior got back in the truck, but didn’t start it again until I was all the way inside, upright, and belted.
“You get that pie?”
He took it from a brown paper-sack and tossed it back-and-forth between his pink hands. He tapped his toe to invisible music while he fussed with the wrapper. All I could hear was the cicadas, and then his chewing.
I sat on my hands. The pig-men laughed at something, and their guts jumped. They hacked, and the hack dinged into coffee-can. I took my fingers to my hair and lips, rubbed in glitter-shit to make me smooth or nice or something.
“Let’s go, Junior.”
“What do you mean ‘what?’ Let’s go.”
“I mean I couldn’t hardly even hear you.” Between curds of pie, “You talkin’ so quiet all of a sudden.”
He had a chunk of the thing left. He pinched off a corner-crumb and flicked it to my lap. “There you go. Have some pie.”
For a slim-second, my bones left my body. I sat slouched over, and all that was there was his pigeon meal between my thighs. I waited for my callused fingers to be callused fists, and I waited for those fists to darken his red-raw face to bruise-blossoms of yellow and purple — along the cheekbones, below the beetle eyes.
My fingers pinched up the pie scab. And they brought it, between finger and thumb, to my mouth. I closed my damn eyes.
He nursed on his teeth, pulled back his lips, and cleaned at his chops with a tongue stained artificial-red. That nibble of pie was still on my tongue, but it was getting to gone. I didn’t taste anything too great.
Junior shifted the stick. The truck wheezed, kicked, and barked out an exhaust bomb that scared some hopscotch-brat clear off her feet.
We went off dirt-lot onto dirt-road. The pig-men were smaller, then smaller, and then nothing.
Out the window everything whipped itself into a smear. We rattled through the ‘Burbs and the ‘Burbs hid from us — the strip malls, and playgrounds, and churches, and women pushing baby carriages, and men on cell-phones, and kids digging in their nostrils — by only showing itself in smears.
We pulled from dirt to gutter-rot. I stepped out onto big balls of chewed and spat rock with busted bottles and blown tire-flesh stirred up in all of it. My bare foot and the leg attached to it flinched back inside the truck. Junior was already at the skirt of the woods. A backdrop sun blackened him from boy to silhouette. I sagged myself over to the driver’s seat and sat with elbows on the steering wheel until the car honked out protests. Junior turned sharp, alert like wildlife. He wasn’t television wildlife — not the lion, not the bear — but he was the suburban wild. He stood straight, nostrils flared. His ears strained like every ear on every possum, or raccoon, or deer that ever twitched at uneasy-air, trespasser-sounds. He held his hands out. His eyes were black and wet.
He said, “What?” And his words didn’t come to me small, but sharp. “What is it? Come on now.”
“I’m gonna cut my foot on all this gutter shit,” I said.
“You oughta had worn some shoes.”
“Only assholes wear shoes in the summer.”
Junior stepped loafer onto loafer. “I’ll give ya a hand.”
I slunk out, and Junior helped me over the rut. I wrecked ahead of him, shook off his bone-grip.
“Which way we headed?” I asked.
His finger came up and pointed straight ahead so that’s the direction I tore into.
I snapped away spider-webbed branches, straddled mossed logs with bare thighs. I grunted my way first, cleared a path for him through leaves gone to crunch and curl. My bare foot caved in the photo-copied face of some little girl on a flier. I shuffled on feet and hands over big limestone, that weird limestone that finds itself out in the middle of nowhere, stacked up in big boulders of itself.
And the cicadas — they were there. Their plague of shells over shells over shells clung to tree trunks. Their guts sang that hum; it got through my big hair until it shook in my damn skeleton. My bare feet quit their stomp. Junior skidded to keep from knocking into me. And I stood there stupid until the noise of the insects made like the noise of lawn mowers — too much of the same loud gets to the ear quiet.
“Chastity? You okay?”
“Anywhere looking right enough yet, Junior? Listen, that fine vehicle of yours is likely to get towed over to the junkyard any minute now if we don’t get done and get going back.”
I couldn’t hear the cicadas anymore, but their tiny-earthquake song moaned at my bones. My skinny finger bones, my gaunt ankles, my teeth.
Some local wildlife rooted around in me too — bird wings flailed frantic, some rat-thing burrowed in my gut.
“Yes,” I said, “we need to get done and we need to get back. We been wandering around these woods for who the hell knows how long — “
“It might’a been just fifteen minutes,” he said, one leg on the ground and one perked up on a boulder like he just discovered the whole everything.
“And I have things to do, Junior. You know this isn’t my whole life? You know, I have to go spend this money on something. I’ve got to go get milk or some important shit like that. I got to get eggs, or orange juice, or maybe some vitamins, or paper plates, or something. We gotta hurry; we gotta get on with this.”
I had my dress hem strangled in both fists. Yeah, my fists — finally my fists — shook with cicada-song, and an angry hunger for gas-station dessert, and they shook because there was glitter shit on my lips, and my hair was fluffed up. My fists shook because fat kids fall from monkey bars and slouch home with bloody noses. Seventeen years of being there had my fists shaking.
“Calm yourself down. We’re almost to the spot.”
He took wide strides ahead, strides that light could spill between. The sun slunk down toward the world, and shadows made Junior’s legs too long. Junior strode on his impossible legs and he wasn’t a boy, but a shape. He strode as a blackout, a shadow-guy. He waved me after him. He called my name.
I heard it echo over itself, my name — Chastity. Chas·ti·ty. “Chastity” through the woods and off the woods. My name flung birds against sky, sent rat-things to burrow. “Chastity” was above the locust-hiss, in the tree-tops. I couldn’t hear any farther than that. I listened for it in the sun, but then I looked for it in the sun, and everything washed white.
I fumbled and I followed.
“Here,” he said and pulled me from the woods to shore.
I knocked myself clear on my ass as everything around me rushed itself through the rest of the white.
The lake gurgled and dribbled for about a mile along a bank made up of whatever was around — old rock weathered down to shards and pebbles, fish fresh dead and fish gone to rot. I slid on my rear, cleared from the woods, and inched over sporks, plastic knives, an upturned grocery-cart bogged by sopping plants. The tide was a bulimic thing. It swallowed and spat the same fish cartilage, the same busted beer bottles.
Junior’s hand got me up straight then showed itself to the small of my back. Light pressure forward.
His hand stayed.
I rounded away, stepped back, and a shard of something crumbled away under my foot. I hobbled to and dropped into a stranded tire. My elephant-skin was scrapped up, but no blood.
“No,” I said.
“This is what I want.”
“No. I didn’t think it was going to be anything like this!” I threw up my hands at the fish bones, threw them up at the mushroom-flesh remnants between my toes. “I thought this was going to be a park-the-car, do whatever, then get-on-with-my-business kind of deal. You take me through those woods and now you got me here at this exaggerated puddle. No way. You wanna get me in that shit water to freak around? No way.”
He dug a paperback from his back pocket, flipped through the bent up pages. “I ain’t after nothing freaky, Chastity.”
My name, my name, my name. My name as sound-waves rolled over waste-waves. My name’s vibrations were out there with cicada-vibration. I was too there. I sat in lake vomit, a junkyard tire.
Junior held out his big hand and mine clasped in it, not dainty or fair or trying anything, but it was just my bones strained through, my knuckles clenched.
“Help me up,” I said.
He did. And then his hand was on the small of my back again and I tried to round away again, but he just kept his hand there and I really wasn’t moving much at all. I tried to round away, but really, I just stood stupid in my peach party-dress. And I waited.
My nose prickled. The air in my lungs was some kind of thin. I sucked in the fish-rot air, quick and sharp inhales, because the air I had inside was no air to fill up the tits or to exhale my lips plush. The air I had was barely there and his hand was still on the small of my back.
“How much I get?” I said, but the air was small. Words made of air; I had to say them so small. “How much I get?”
His hand kept on my back.
“How much I get?”
My foot shuffled itself forward and then the other one shuffled too.
The water was cool, but not cold. The thick sun had been at it all afternoon, so the rush of skin to lake wasn’t a rush at all, but a wet giving way. The clouded water welled itself around my ankles, and my ankles lingered with it. Under its water was its jagged crust — old bottles, and rocks, and fish bones waiting to get spat, but my elephant-skinned feet didn’t mind them much. I kept my shuffle until my thighs lingered with the lake, and then my dress hem rose with the water line, came up so that my entire underneath was free for the water to know.
And his hand was on the small of my back, and my hands had felt their way back there to lay over his, to keep our pace at my linger.
He rotated me to his face, and the light caught hold of the littlest foil-thing on the front of his pocket book — a cross.
“I want you to know I am a trained professional,” he said.
I breathed out a sigh all over him. “What?”
“I took this course on the world wide web.”
“A course in what?”
“Well,” he flipped through his cross-book and snatched out a folded piece of paper that ended up being a folded degree. “Enlightenment.”
“Oh hell,” I said.
“Are you ready?” The sun hit his face a particular way that he probably would have loved to see, because with a certain frame of mind you might think he looked right “enlightened,” but all I saw was his fucking nostrils.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
His big hand clamped over my forehead, the other on my back again.
“Is this your first time?” I asked.
He dunked me.
The slashes of forest crud came out in his wash.
He sent me down into the second dunk and my hair lost the fluff, stewed wild in the green water. He rose me up and the strings of snarled blonde were soaked to shades darker, plastered over my face and his fingers.
The third time I was ready for it. He tried telling me to let my arms stretch out to the opposite ends of the whole world so the whole world could come funneling into me, but there were bug-songs in my bones, and seventeen years of sucking down smokes in my chest, and I’d grown elephant skin over my feet. It was already there. The cicadas left the trailer-park world of plastic flamingoes, kids sniffing glue out of bread bags, but I was always there.
My arms wrapped themselves around his torso. He tried to pry me from him, snaked an arm between us and cupped his hand back over my forehead. He drooled out some line from that book, a line I knew he’d salivated to say all day. Salivated in that truck, saliva wet and full of “amen,” “amen” curdling with Slappy-Pie molasses. Amen, amen.
There was air in me. I panted it out of me, pushed it through the curtain of hair, tried to form it into words, but the gusts were too big and wild to shape into anything but what it was — an exhale, heavy and hot. I was there.
He slobbered out something from that book and I went under again. I went under a fourth time, but my clung-around arms took him with me. We went under and we was like Mama making spaghetti. The sweat salt of our armpits and tear-ducts set the water to a fast boil. I opened my eyes under the murk. My peach party-dress thrived — thin layers of fabric opened, inflated, and reached. It was fed up being solid, wanted to spread itself into liquid. It spread over Junior, lapped at his hands and his hands shrank from it, but it just found them again and licked again.
He nuzzled his face in my neck, opened his mouth, and when he screamed his breath was bubbles that scrambled to the surface. Sweet nothings, or words from his book, or a scream — it could have been it all at the same time; everything means the same damn thing when it’s underwater.
We went up and he tried to pry from me. His hands pushed hard at my breast and his fingernails clipped into breast-skin, but my hands were at work too. My hands made of skinny fingers had gone to fists and them fists locked my arms around his chest. They kept body to body. And we stayed welded as my elephant-skinned feet dug deep into the rut floor, pushed our mass past the surface. I dragged our mass back below. We rose and craned our necks. We filled our lungs fat with air for our sweet nothings, our screams. We rose, we sank, rose and sank. Hallelujah, hallelujah.
Hallelujah and amen until we dragged to shore; our cloth and hair stuck tight to our bodies and we didn’t say nothing sweet and we didn’t scream.
We sat in tires.
That hum and buzz was shut up. Maybe they’d got themselves gone again. I lit a smoke.
“Was it good for you?” I asked.
He wrung out flannel and the drops soaked into corduroy.
I struggled into his pant-pocket, fingered out green, and stashed it down the front on my dress. I nudged him. “But really, was it good for you?”
NICK SAWATSKY is currently studying writing at an institute where fifteen minutes on foot — in any direction — inevitably leads to a corn-maze. He gets a lot of writing done there. Said writing has appeared most recently in The Baltimore Review, Stumble Magazine, and RiverLit Magazine.