When dad and Uncle Herb have a huntin day, I wait up to hear em come home at night. First, I hear the truck tires comin up the gravel drive, then it goes soft on the dirt, then the head lights go off, then the radio goes off, then I hear two doors slammin. The tailgate goes down and they drag the kill off. I wait in my bed till I hear em settled and the dogs are calmin down. Mom always leaves the back light on for em. Dad gets a fire goin in the pit. They leave all the kill on the ground for a while and let the dogs sniff at it. They usually have some beers before they have to go hang em all up in the shed. And after that, Uncle Herb goes home. I’m supposed to be in bed but I like seein what they got. I can see perfect from my window cause it isn’t that high. I like to look at the kill laid out with the eyes starin wide open. The first thing I always do is look for the blood streak to see where they shot it. Sometimes they arrowed it. Mostly it’s woods huntin. Sometimes it’s canned huntin—which isn’t as much fun but it’s good if you want pigs which is barely ever wild in Pennsylvania.

One time I had a dream that I went in mom’s room cause I was sick and I pulled the sheet down off her and her eyes when I seen em are big, black, dead doe eyes. When I woke up I really did go and check on her. One time I looked out and I saw the kill was a dead mommy hog and her three dead piglets. Dad and Uncle Herb lit em up in the head lights and had it lookin like she was suckling her babies one last time. Each piglet had its little snout on one of her nipples. Uncle Herb held her head up by the ears which pulled her face back like she was grinnin a funny grin and dad took pictures. They were real happy about that hunt. It was a good night. It must of been a real hunt if they got the babies there too. You can’t leave the babies alive cause that’s cruel cause they’ll just starve. The right thing to do is get em all. They probably helped out a farmer who needed them gone cause free runnin pig are a nuisance animal. I knew I was probably gonna eat em. But I asked mom never to tell me when it’s store-bought meat or when it’s game. It’s babyish but it grosses me out if it’s game cause I know what they looked like and all. You can’t tell once it comes back from the butcher anyways. Dad doesn’t like to butcher so he always sends it out. Unless sometimes Uncle Herb’ll butcher, if he’s in the mood.

I remember I was awake late the night they brought those pigs. And I was trying to fall asleep but I kept thinkin about the mommy pig and her pig babies just floatin around somewhere up in pig heaven. Then I’m wonderin if there even is pig heaven and what’s it like. I came to the conclusion that, although there is not a pig heaven, if there was one, it’s a big mud pit but the mud is made of pink pudding. God doesn’t put the beasts of the earth in heaven. Heaven is for Christians. I know it. I just kept layin awake and thinkin about what if.

On most weekends my cousin Gemma would come and have a sleepover and our dads would go on a long huntin trip. We hung out pretty much all the time before she became a teenage rebellion. She was two years older than me. She wasn’t by Uncle Herb. She was by a black man who she never even met but, as the story goes, Uncle Herb was so keen on marrying her mom that he took Gemma as his own. He even gave her the family name. Jard. And even though I am Gracelynn Lee Jard and she’s Gemma Elkens Jard, I didn’t always have to tell people she was my cousin if I didn’t want to, because she was mulatto. But mostly I did because we used to be best friends and she was the prettiest girl in the school and she looked like one of those kids you see on Nickelodeon. I liked hangin out with her cause she always had a natural street smarts. The summer I turned eleven and she turned thirteen, we hung out almost every day—walking around Main Street, goin in the park and ridin bikes.

One Saturday night she was sleepin over and I heard the truck comin in. And I got up to go look at what they brought. Gemma didn’t wake up like she usually does to tell me she doesn’t want to look and she doesn’t care and go back to bed. This time she stayed sound asleep in her purple sleepin bag. She pitied the animals so she hated the huntin. She was one of those bleedin-heart types. So I was lookin out the window and I seen they had a real big fire goin. The dogs were chewin some meat and some bones that they gave em. My dad was sittin there on the big rock next to the fire pit in his big, long camouflage jacket and drinkin a beer and he was laughin kinda at what Uncle Herb was doin. And I looked and at first I thought Uncle Herb was messin trying to get the kill out the back of the truck cause he was gruntin and spittin and moving back and forth real funny and cursin at it. And I kept lookin. And I seen this hog’s backside half off the truck and I seen Uncle Herb’s pants are down to his boots and he is holdin the hog by the legs and he’s goin in and out the hog with his penis. And I just look a long time. And my dad wasn’t tellin him to quit messin. He just kept laughin at him. I stop lookin finally.

No way could I sleep so I went to the bathroom and I sat there on the toilet for a long while like I had to pee and I just sat there in quiet. Then I hear boots comin up the stairs. And I can tell it’s Uncle Herb cause dad always tip-toes when we’re sleepin but Uncle Herb is heavy-footed. And I hear his boots stop in front of the door which I locked it. The knob starts turning. So I get up and I run the water and I say, “In a second.” I hear him kinda sigh. And I just looked down at the bathroom tiles for a couple a seconds and count ten of the little pink tiles in a row. I didn’t want to open the door cause what if he saw me lookin? What if he came up to be cross with me for spying? I know I shouldn’t of seen what I seen. So after I counted ten I open the door and just keep my head down and walk by as quick as I can and he just goes in the bathroom and takes a leak like nothing. So I just go back to bed and I was trying to think of things to make me go to sleep but I couldn’t and I was awake all night till my mom opened the door to tell us breakfast and get up for church.

Every Sunday we went to church. It was me, my mom, Gemma and Gemma’s mom—aunt Hannah. We belong to the New Life of Hope Non-Denominational Charismatic Church. Most everyone goes there. It’s a very modern, livin church. It’s a big, long, tan building like a space ship. It has carpetin and TV monitors. Nobody dresses up or anything. You just come as yourself. Like, my mom was just wearin her khaki capris with her runnin sneakers and a Nike T-shirt. Mom lost a lot of weight last year on Weight Watchers and she can wear tight stuff now. But I remember when she was bigger, she had real pretty, long blonde hair with waves in it all the way down her back and I just thought how beautiful she would be if she was skinny and had long blonde hair. But then when she lost all that weight she cut her hair real short and then she went back and cut it shorter, and then shorter, until it looked like a boy. And it’s not as blonde anymore. It looks kinda brown to me. I am always gonna have blonde hair forever no matter what. But my mom is still pretty. Her nose is perfect—real tiny and pointy. Plus, she is always nice all the time. Aunt Hannah has a big, round, potato nose. Her hair is dyed purplish red. I think it’s kinda a cool color though. She always wears jeans no matter how big she gets and she wears a lot of wildlife T-shirts with wolves on them, or bears or Navajos. Mama said aunt Hannah used to be a biker. I bet that’s why she smokes too, like all bikers do. She smokes those real skinny, little, girly cigarettes. If I was a smoker when I grew up, those are the ones I would smoke. They look cute too if you have nice long nails.

That morning at church, I was in a bad way. Durin the singin, I didn’t feel like singin. Singin is usually the best part too, cause the band is a real rock band and they’re good. Then when the sermon started, I was just starin at the carpet and at the little blue knots it’s made of and just thinkin how dry it is but also it’s the color of swimmin pool water.

Pastor Dan was sayin: “Mark ten verse forty-five says that ‘Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ The Son of Man. The Son of Man! Jesus, who is without sin, humbled himself. Son of Man… Son of the wicked? Son of the lowly? Son of thieves, prostitutes, murdered, liars?! What did our Lord and Savior mean when he called himself the Son of Man? Are not each and every one of you sitting here before me today sons and daughters of men?”

Men. Man. Men. Men’s. Man. Human. Man. I knew that I shouldn’t of been getting out of bed at night and spying and I should tell God I was repentant. Stupid bitch pig. I looked over at Gemma and she was as usual prayin her heart out with her hands raised at God and tears coming down her face. She always worships that way. I was sitting there imaginin if when we get home, I might sneak in the shed and grab a knife off the wall and stab that bitch pig in the cheek and pop her eye ball out. Don’t Gemma know that when she pray like that it makes her look more black in a bad way?

Pastor Dan preached: “And the Lord tells us to humble ourselves before our fathers and our mothers… well, okay! Seems right. Sounds like a good thing. And He tells us to humble ourselves before our neighbors, our teachers, our bosses. Now, that might be something we need to work on a bit— remind ourselves about from time to time. But it sounds like the Christian way! So we go about every day in our community, tryin our darndest to be humble children of God. Now, isn’t that just about enough? What more could our Father in heaven ask of us?”

The grownups chuckled a little at the last part, which is okay cause when you see Pastor Dan smirkin, then he made a joke. But then he paused a long time and looked out at all of us and it got serious. I looked up at him like everyone does.

Once you look at him, you’re gonna stare at him. If you’re a people watcher like I am, then he’s one of them people that’s just real intrestin to look at. His hair is dark grey but he has like a younger face. Come to think of it, he always makes me think he looks like the cat from The Cat in the Hat cause he doesn’t really have a chin. His neck just goes up until his face starts. His mouth is wide and skinny. Doesn’t sound it how I’m sayin it but he is handsome. He has big, long dimples all the way down his cheeks and his eyes are really shiny and nice. All the female congregants like him and try and talk to him after church. His wife is fat. In his testimony he said growin up he had a real bad lisp. Kids bullied him on it and he became sorry for himself. That’s when God called to him. And then he overcame his lisp and became a preacher which he never thought of in his wildest dreams.


His shoutin startled me. It vibrated me. Gemma looked dull. This was the part where you are really supposed to be moved and spiritual and she’s sitting there lookin bored all the sudden.


He looks at us and everyone was real quiet: “The terrorists? The abortionist? The homosexual? The unrepentant?”

Shivers went through me.

“The Sons of Men.”

He looked up at heaven and closed his eyes: “Lord, how can I possibly do such a thing? I am weak Lord. I am weak, and I am proud. . Humility… it’s beyond you. But God is in you. Brothers and sister, let’s pray.”

When everyone’s prayin I like to look around. Like I told you before, I’m a people watcher. Ever since I was really little I had the bad habit of starin at people. I like to look at someone’s hair, like if it’s blonde and it’s got lots of hairspray in it and curled bangs I like to imagine what’s her bathroom like and were her kids in there with her this mornin while she was fixing her hair. Were they askin her a bunch of dumb questions and botherin her or did she lock the door and take her time? Does she have seashell soap dishes and displayed hand towels? I know it’s weird. I will also look at kids and see if they are prayin or if they are lookin around like me and I wonder which kids are gonna grow up good and which ones will be drunks and losers and stuff.

But that day in church when I go to start lookin around I can’t cause Gemma is lookin around. And I catch her eye and she smirks at me so I give her a look to get serious and I act like I’m tryin to concentrate on prayin with the pastor.

After the service, we stick around so mom and aunt Hannah can gossip talk to neighbors. And when I was little I liked it cause I was with all the other little ones, runnin around on the stage and in-between the chair aisles playin chase and all. But now I’m too old but I still wanna run but I know it’s too immature. And I’m not a teenager yet, actin adult and tossin my hair around and talkin to boys from school. Gemma is almost like that. She just sits textin on her phone at people. Probably boys. So I just pick at the refreshments and look around the Sunday school’s art projects and read all the signs on the bulletin board:

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A few nights later, aunt Hannah invited us all over for dinner. We got there a few hours before it was time to eat to spend some family time. Uncle Herb’s house is small and it’s a lot like ours except they have good, name-brand snacks and pop and a big TV with cable. So I like goin there. Some of their art pictures of wolves and deer and stuff we have too in our house because mom and aunt Hannah shop together and order things on TV together. Mom and aunt Hannah were in the kitchen together cookin and gabbin about how aunt Hannah’s new kitchen is comin along that she’s been remodelin since before I was born. I remember Uncle Herb got her a new faucet head for Christmas.

Uncle Herb and dad were in the garage havin beers. And Uncle Herb’s hound, Kruzer, is laying by the TV smellin awful cause he’s been in the woods and nobody hosed em. Kruzer is fat and boring. He never does anything that I seen. Except just layin around waitin to tag along on a hunt I guess.

Now normally who do ya think I’d be playin with? But Gemma had her door locked and she didn’t want me in there. I said, “Gemma, unlock the door. I’m bored. Let’s do something.” And all I got was nothin. I just hear Lady Gaga blastin in there. I told aunt Hannah and she said that probably Gemma was talkin on the internet and mom shot her a look like to say, “You better watch that.” And then aunt Hannah put the TV on for me and gave me a Vanilla Coke. Normally I might be happy gettin to watch Nickelodeon but I was just gettin madder than Hell at Gemma. Why can’t I just come in and see what she’s talkin about online? I’m not the police! It just shows you how she started thinkin she was real special and she differentiated herself among us. Pastor Dan says that Satan pulls the weak out of the crowd with promises of stardom and the riches of the world. So when dinner starts, I’m thinkin on this, and she comes down finally and we start eatin.

We had venison stew and cheesy cornbread. Gemma sat next to me and when she sits, her brown thighs were poppin out of these tight white shorts she’s wearin. And a belly roll popped out a little too cause her shirt’s so tiny. And she smelled like ten different Victoria Secret body sprays mix together. I lost my appetite cause it smelled like venison stew and cucumber-vanilla and lilac and cotton candy and cheese, all mix together. Plus, all I could hear was Gemma’s teeth scrapin down her spoon. She has so much lip gloss on she couldn’t hardly eat right. I’m sittin there wonderin since when do we dress like that in this family? That just shows you how soft-hearted Uncle Herb is. We all seen it. We’re all thinkin it. But Uncle Herb’s just lookin down and eatin like he ain’t eat all day. The tips of his orange mustache were brown with stew and each time he finished a bite he blinks with both eyes. Dad says Uncle Herb has a twitch all his life when times are stressful. Like that time all the tiling jobs dried up on em. Dad just looked harder but Herb passed out at the bar a bunch of times. So when I seen him twitchin his eyes I know he’s in a sorry way about Gemma. He’s embarrassed. And it makes me madder than Hell even more at Gemma, sittin there like an Egyptian princess lookin down on all us sorry people.

Then aunt Hannah takes Uncle Herb’s hand and she looks to everyone at the table and she says, “We had you guys over for dinner to make an announcement.”

When someone is saying something meaningful, I tend to feel real shy and I don’t want to look at em but you have to in order to be respectful. So I just pick a spot on their head and focus on it hard to keep from laughin or hidin my face. I was starin at aunt Hannah’s chin roll the whole time. It had a grey patch on one side cause maybe I think she has to shave that spot. I was listening with my spoon down, not chewing or takin a drink, being totally respectful. But Gemma didn’t even bother payin her mom any mind. Then aunt Hannah says, “Gemma, baby, this regards you as well.” And Gemma shrugs. And then aunt Hannah goes on and tells us that she’s pregnant. Everyone was over the moon, except Gemma. She didn’t appreciate nothin. She didn’t even look up or stop eatin. You know what I’d do for a baby sister or brother? My mom can’t conceive no more. And here Gemma didn’t even regard it. And Uncle Herb didn’t do nothin. He just let the Queen of Egypt sit there poutin and then go off to her room without finishin her plate or clearin nothin or doin a single dish.

My mom was talkin on it the whole ride home. She couldn’t hardly get over it. She says aunt Hannah can’t figure out what happen to her and the change came on so sudden. Mom says Uncle Herb needs to establish a disciplinarian and stop ignorin the issue. But dad hates gossip and he just kept sayin, “That’s Herb’s way and ain’t our business.” Uncle Herb’s so much skinnier than dad and so much quieter. My dad’s got a big belly that pops out and black stick-up hair. People used to think he was Italian! But Herb’s bony with long blonde hair and a orange mustache. So I know if I had a little brother he could come out totally different. I imagined it the whole way home. He might get blonde hair like me and have freckles like me. But we’ll never know. When I have a son, my son’s name’s gonna be Avery.

Avery. Avery, Avery, Avery. And this is my son Avery. Avery, tell the lady hello. Avery is goin full scholarship to play football at The University of Miami. He better not spend all his time on the beach with girls! He brought home a Hispanic girl for Thanksgivin. She was real nice. She wasn’t for him though. Their culture was too different. He’s our little ladies’ man. Avery, tell grandpa what you did to your car! He totaled it, Daddy! One week and he already totaled it! We told him it’s comin out his pocket!

A few weeks later aunt Hannah and my mom went shoppin for the baby and Gemma was made to play with me. She was wearin the same white shorts from dinner but with a purple spaghetti-strap shirt and her eyes had glitter on em. So we went walkin to the gas station to get candy and people were honkin and hollerin, “Damn Girl!” and everything like that. And I know they weren’t hollerin at me in my big old Tweety Bird t-shirt and my green sweat pants shorts. So I say to Gemma, “They’re all hollerin at you.” And she says, “I don’t care.” And I say, “They’re lookin on you lewdly.” And she says, “Men’s eyes were made for lookin.” And she wasn’t foolin—you could tell she didn’t care at all. Her dark brown ass crease was bouncing out of her short bottoms and she just walk by like a queen diva not caring when a truck slowed down to look or nothing. Not even noticing.

“Why haven’t you been at church?”

“Cause my mom won’t let me in the clothes I pick out.”

We got pop rocks, orange sodas, sour sticks and a bunch a jerky. We sat on the grass next to the lot. Gemma sat in the shade even though the grass was damp there and I sat in the sun. We didn’t talk for a minute. Then I was like, “Gemma why don’t you sleep over hardly anymore?”

“Cause I’m always grounded.”


She sat Indian style and started pulling out the grass and building a pile. Her undies and her private hairs were showin some. What if a bug crawls up there and gets in her privates? If you’re gonna dress like a hoochie-mama you should be ridin around in a limo goin shoppin in high heels! Not sittin on the gas station in rubber flips with your cousin eatin pop rocks.

“I don’t care if I’m grounded. Know why?”

“Don’t you care if you hurt your mom?”

“I have discovered something about myself.”

I almost didn’t want to know what it is at that point. I thought she was gonna tell me about masturbation or something the way she was goin.

“Gracelynn, I found out I’m an artist.”

‘’You are an artist?”

Now I don’t mean to be judgmental but it’s just the way my mind’s goin that I’m picturing what I know to be an artist as somebody who wears black turtle necks and glasses and talks about intellectualism and throws paint at the wall. I dunno anything about it really but no artists I seen is a grounded hoochie-mama. But I am not a mean person so I just listen to her and I try lookin understandin even though I know she’s in a stronghold with the devil. We knocked down the grass pile and open our sour sticks. Then we built up the grass pile again but added twigs so it looked like a bird’s nest. Then we opened up the jerky an ate it. Then we opened the sodas. It was fun.

“I can’t even ask for paint right now bein grounded all the time but I work in collage. You know what collage is? It’s when you take pictures out from magazines and the newspaper and you glue it into a whole new picture with real intricate parts. I didn’t show anyone yet. I might show you next time you’re at the house.”

It was real hot and thirsty out and I remember I said, “Hey, don’t monkey-lip the soda! You’re gettin gloss grease all on it!” I always hated sharing soda with her.


Then we finished the soda, split the last jerky an lick all that orange jerky fat off our fingers. Then Gemma gets up to throw out all the wrappers. She got a big, wet grass stain on her behind. Don’t bother her. Now those little white shorts are kinda see-through in the back showin her undies which I know is Barbie undies cause I have the same ones. And she’s walkin all sexy to the trash cans by the gas pumps and there’s these teenage boys, three of em, standin by the doors just talkin and spittin and smokin and shufflin their feet around but then of course they all stop and look at Gemma. And she seen their stare and she look back cool as a cucumber. Actually she looked back kinda meanly. Maybe that’s just cause it was so sunny and she was squintin. But it looked mean. And then she comes back to the grass and sits down with her legs stretched out and crossed and she’s still lookin at em. And they go back to talkin in a circle and smoking and spittin but all of em glance over at Gemma every once in a while.

I wish teenage boys look like they do in Nickelodeon or like Justin Bieber, with smooth skin and sad eyes and straight hair. That’s handsome. That’s the kinda boyfriend a girl wants. But whenever I see a boy from the high school he’s got pepperoni skin and he’s too skinny or too fat and he’s wearing two weeks long dirty sweat pants. These young men were no exception. One of em has an Adam’s ball stickin out so big I could see it from where I sit. Maybe when Gemma becomes a newsworthy artist she can introduce me to Justin Bieber. I’d be happy just to see him in person, and see if he’s real. I definitely ain’t givin my flower to no boy with pimples, no boys with a big Adam’s ball and no boys who’s too fat or too bone skinny.

“So as soon as I can, I’m gonna move to New York City.”


I forgot what we were talkin about cause I was lookin at the situation with the teenage boys all that time.

“Well that’s where all the artists go if you wanna get discovered.”

“Yeah.” Yeah right, I’m thinkin! Gemma Jard, the famous picture and glue artist in New York City with all the sophisticates getting toasted by their fancy glasses and livin in a sky scraper! Yeah right.

“Gemma, but what are your art pictures about?” I think she sensed my judgmentalism comin out cause she was like, ‘’I dunno.” And she knock down our grass nest with her foot and went quiet.

“I’m not sayin they’re prolly not good. They could be really influential. I’m just wonderin what you know about comin from a little town like this. Like, what’s your art gonna offer to New York City that’s worthy of famous people’s time and attention? That’s what you should think about. Dig deep, I guess.”

I really did want to see those pictures now. “I’m just tryin to encourage you towards your dreams. But as your cousin I gotta help keep you thinkin about the realistic stuff.” And that’s what I told her. Real friends tell ya the truth.

When we were littler we used to play this game at the Walmart jewelry section. First we each pick out an engagement ring from our futures. So that part is like a contest to see who can pick the nicest one the fastest. Then we pick out one for each other. We always just mess around and pick out the dorkiest ring for each other. Like one time a four leaf clover, one time a metal skull, one time Gemma did the funniest one yet. She picks out this great big diamond ring and says, “That’s what your fiancé gets you!” I knew something must be up if she pick such a good-lookin ring. Then she whispers to me, like, “Ask the lady how many carats diamond it is!” And I find out it’s a cubic zerconiac which is a fake diamond! And I was laughin. We were laughin all night about it at our sleepover.

But there is a truth in every joke. My mom always tells me it if she hears me tellin a mean-spirited joke. And the reality of this joke is that I hope I get the better husband and she hopes she will. Now she thinks she’s gonna get a rich New York City husband and I’m lookin like the one who’s gonna marry one of the three wise men standin over there spittin and growin pimples.

I don’t know how long we were sittin there but I thought we were just tryin to think of what to do next—go to the school yard and swing, go get our bikes, or go bottle throwin at the quarry.

“Wanna get our bikes?” I say.

“Maybe. Wanna get a pack a smokes first?” And I’m sittin there in shock mode that she says this in all seriousness.

“Whatcha gonna do, Gemma? Rob the store? They’re not gonna give you smokes, you don’t look eighteen! And we’re outta money anyways.”

She just looking straight ahead and she says it again, “You wanna get smokes?”

“Yeah, okay!” I say, real sarcastic.

“Okay.’’ And she gets up and starts walkin toward the teenage boys. Finally when she’s half the way there, I get up and follow behind.

The boys see her comin and they all look and give her full attention. I’m standin behind Gemma and I feel embarrassment comin on so I just focused on her Barbie undies. The wet spot was already dryin but the shorts were ruined forever. No way aunt Hannah was gonna beat that grass stain. Bet she’ll be happy thrownin em in the trash.

Then I hear, “I’ll give a blow job for a fresh pack a smokes.”

I thought about pullin her back or saying something but I just couldn’t even do anything. I was in traumatic shock. Now I’m lookin at the teenagers and they’re all three turnin the color from pizza cheese yellow to piglet pink. You could see they were all real excited at first like she’s offerin them a million dollars on the spot. Then the fat one and the short one kinda step back and look down at their feet and take drags on their smokes or light a smoke and spit and it looks like maybe they’re about to walk away. But the tall, skinny, Adam’s ball one steps closer at Gemma.

“What chew smoke?”


“How do I know yer gonna do it?” I was noticin now that the Adam’s ball boy looked mean. He was looking down at Gemma with one eye squintin and I guess the best way I can describe it is he was talking to her like she was a whore. Which was true at that time but I took it to extend to me. I think that the other boys were just as embarrassed as me cause they had sneaked off and sat on the curb by the dumpster smoking and texting among their selves like they didn’t know about us all.

So Gemma goes, “I’ll meet you around back and then you know.”

“Aright.” Adam’s ball spits and adjusts his hat and turns around and walks in the store. And Gemma and I start headin around back and now I was telling her a piece of my mind and pullin on her.

“Gemma, you can’t do this! You can’t give no blow job!”

“Get off my arm, Grace! I am a grown-ass woman. I can suck on any man I want.”

That she said that scared me. So I stood back some and we waited I think half a minute cause he was that fast.

I saw it happen like this, he stood right in front of Gemma and first he unbuckled his belt. Then he tossed the cigarettes at her. The pack of smokes hit the ground. That pissed me off how he did that. Gemma bent down to retrieve em and as she does he works his belt loose. He had a nasty look on his face like he was about to stomp on a baby chick and he planned on fully absorbin his enjoyment. Gemma gets the smokes, stands up and all in one swoop she kicks out her foot right in his privates. That wiped the look clean off his face. His face turned instant red. Gemma’s already runnin at me, like, “Run, Grace!”

The way I remember what I saw, I don’t think she got a good kick at him cause he wasn’t drop down moaning on the ground or nothin. He just looked mean pissed off and he was pullin his belt on as fast he could and then I’m not lookin anymore cause we are runnin. We caught the light at the corner on yellow just before the cars go and that was lucky cause it’s the busy street and we just kept runnin without turnin around. We never stop to look but I didn’t feel him behind us and we knew he wasn’t chasin us down so runnin home was fun. We were both laughin and squealin like it was a game a tag or somethin.

I am not proudly admittin this but I was happy she got the best of him. I had a fantasy of Gemma gettin a better kick at him and then he falls to the ground and we both start kickin on him. And he is on the ground squirmin helpless and I start kickin his ugly face in and blood squirts on my sneakers and I kick his eyes out, knock his jaw off the hinges and he stops moving and his mouth is hangin open and he’s just gurglin and twitchin and then Gemma goes, “Grace, that’s enough you really hurtim!” And I go, “I’ll say when it’s enough.” And I step on his Adam’s ball and splatter it on the cement and a loogie oozes out. And that night my mom asks me, “Gracelynn Lee, what the heck happen to your new sneakers?” And I say, “I went bare hands Indian huntin.” And dad calls out from the livin room easy chair, “What’s that now?” And mom says, “Gemma went huntin.” And dad says, “Gemma, what I tell you about that?” And mom says, “Relax, Brent! She didn’t take a gun.” And dad says, “Yer kiddin me! Gracelynn, you went bare hands Indian huntin?” “Yup!” “Did you make a kill?” “Yup!” “Well she takes right after you then, Brent! The girl’s a natural hunter.”

In real life that’s not a real fantasy cause the cops would arrest us and we would get the death penalty. It’s a devil’s fantasy. But thanks to Gemma I have this filth in my mind now that I gotta contend with. That’s what the devil wants. First he gets hold of your mind, then your heart, then your body, then your soul. The first and the last is hardest to get back cause your mind is pliable and your soul is helpless. And what your eyes see, your mind absorbs. That’s why the eyes are called the window to the soul. Once your mind goes, your soul starts gettin nervous.

That’s when God intervened. Cause we get home and there’s nothin left to do but smoke them menthols. And guess what— they’re gone. Gemma dropped em by accident while we were runnin. That’s Jesus intervenin. Gemma agreed with me. Not only did we recognize the Lord’s intervenin—we were moved to prayer. We held hands and we prayed and on that day we made a pact right then and there.

Gemma prayed, “Lord, Jesus, God, Father, we come before to you today as sinners.” Gemma had big fat tears going down her cheeks and actually at that time it didn’t annoy me like it usually does. Why? Cause I was cryin too. Her prayer said:

“In our dark hour, you were there, God. Father Lord, your gentle hand has saved us from further transgressions against you, Lord, and you have shown us, God, that you are with us, God. Father, your daughter Gracelynn, Lord, and myself, Lord, we pledge before you, Lord, on this day as witness to your awesome power, Father God, that we will never smoke, Father God. Father, we can’t thank you enough for being with us today and protecting us, Father. I needed to know, God. I needed to know…”

Towards the end of the prayin Gemma was really getting choked up cryin. We squeezed one another’s hands and we were wipin our tears and huggin. It was a genuine reconciliation.

One week later it’s huntin day for dad and Uncle Herb and I was really lookin forward to me and Gemma’s sleepover. I didn’t even suspect the remote possibility that she wasn’t comin. But she didn’t show. I knew right off the bat—Gemma’s grounded, ain’t she. And as soon as I ask I felt Uncle Herb not wantin to talk on it like maybe I shouldn’t stick my nose in asking about it. He just said out the side of his mustache while passin by gearin up the truck, “Gemma is grounded this weekend. Her mom found a pack a smokes in her room.’’

Was I shocked? I can honestly say that, no, I was not shocked. One should never be shocked when the devil gets a stronghold. In a way, I can honestly say I’m glad the last time I seen her was a time when she was makin right by God.

When Gemma got shot you can imagine all the grownups tryin to hide it from me at first. They all acted like I was still a baby. I heard snit bits and I knew full well what happened before they sat me down and told me how Uncle Herb took Gemma bunny huntin cause he was tryin to reach out to her and calm her rebellion before school starts with fatherly bondin. He was even planin on makin a custom hat out of their kill for Gemma. But then when Uncle Herb went to shoot the hare he was pullin the trigger and Gemma jumped her head in front of the hare with no warnin. She was tryin to save it, we think. And her head took a bullet and she died instantly.

Everybody in the town came to Gemma’s funeral. Even the ones who got a lot of nerve spreadin awful rumors on Gemma and Uncle Herb. And there was a lot of little kids there and all, and they were fussin all of em. Plus, it had to be a closed casket so it made you forget that you were even at a funeral sometimes. The band was there too but they didn’t play their usual upliftin rock songs, they played just comfortin tunes. Aunt Hannah, Uncle Herb, me, mom and dad, and any other family, all got to sit in the front row. And Pastor Dan was very serious and very sorry for us it seemed like.

He said, “The death of a child is always a great tragedy. And we are all touched and feel the immense loss. Before we start this morning, honoring and remembering this child’s short life, let’s take a moment to bow our heads and be silent. Let us be still as a community and allow our grief to be laid bare before our God.” The band stop playin and you could hear everyone’s necks droppin their heads down at the same time. It was like, CRUUUMP-PAH. And then silence.

And the strangest thing, I forgot we were even at a funeral for a second I just automatically go and do what I usually do. I was like, lemme see if Gemma’s head’s down and then I can people watch at everyone while their eyes are closed. And I even looked next to me to check Gemma and I immediately saw my dad’s big thigh sittin there in the dress pants and then I just closed my eyes and put my head down. It wasn’t even a real moment of silence when every five seconds a grownup is clearin their throat or coughin. It’s disgustin. Do we really think that Gemma’s memory would want us all to sit and listen to these people scratchin their slimy lungs out?

It seemed like it took forever and I was just sittin there wishing I could crawl away real fast under one of the rows of chairs till I got to the emergency exit door and then just make a run for it. I bet I’m still small enough to fit but I bet I would brush a bunch of people’s legs. Aunt Hannah tried to give a speech but she kept cryin. Uncle Herb was lookin down between his knees the whole time and he looked like a limp ragdoll. They had a lot of poster-sized pictures of Gemma all over the stage and some of them I’d never seen before looked like they were modelin pictures. I thought the modelin ones were annoyin. I just don’t see why it matters anymore. She’s never gonna be a big model now is she? So it looks kinda like your makin fun.

Finally we all go back to Uncle Herb’s house and eat out of a buffet spread. I was eatin a lot cause I was hungry but my mom wouldn’t let me turn the TV on. She was real serious about that. I wanted to go play on Gemma’s computer but I was afraid to ask. Uncle Herb’s dog was actin real fussy and mean with all the people around. We stayed real late and did all the cleanin up till finally we got to go home and go to bed.

What started that night and now I have it every night is the same nightmare. I’m openin Gemma’s bedroom door and sneakin in real late at night and I’m real tall. I’m eleven feet tall. And I can see her lyin under the covers and I come over and I pull off the covers but it’s that mama pig lyin there. I get so mad that that goddamn hog is laying there instead of Gemma cause suddenly I have something real important that I want to tell her and she’s not there thanks to this pig. And the madder I get the shorter I’m gettin. And the shorter I’m gettin, I’m gettin excited cause I want to reach the pig so I can beat on it real good. But I keep trying and I can’t reach it. I know I can put my fist through her but I can’t get close enough no matter how mad I’m gettin. And I’m so mad. Madder than I’ve ever been in real life. Till finally I wake up, snot runnin down my face and I’m full on cryin and sobbin pissed off.

I forget what the last thing was that I said to Gemma. I really wanted to remember. I tried really hard to picture what was the last thing I told her. In grief counselin, Pastor Dan said I could talk to Gemma anytime I want now and it’s not idolatry or anythin. It’s part of grieving and God created grievin to help man to deal with the consequences of sin which is death. It’s perfectly natural if I want to talk to her as much as I want because I am getting used to her never coming back. I asked Pastor Dan if Gemma is in heaven. We don’t know. I don’t really think she probably is.

So I did start talkin to imaginary Gemma sometimes. And I basically know what she would say so I would carry on a conversation that’s pretty long sometimes. Like, I told her that her mom found out she is havin a boy and it’s healthy. So that’s good news and I think things will be back to normal. They’re gonna name him Braxton. We’ll all probably call him Brax for short. I told Gemma it’s okay with me whatever they name him just as long as they don’t name him Avery. Cause, like I told you, that’s gonna be my son’s name. By the time I have a son I wondered if I would still be talking to Gemma.

“Gemma, do you think I will still be talking to you when I am a grown up and I have my own kids”?


“Yeah. Probably not, cause I will be a grown-up and you will still be a teenager.”

She didn’t say much about that fact.

The next time I tried talkin to her was when her mom went to the hospital to have the baby. I said, “Gemma, are you scared of havin a baby?!” I knew right away what she would say, being that it was a stupid question on my part. But she didn’t say anything.

The next time I tried was when I heard about a group of high school girls that were going around beatin on younger kids. I tried talkin to Gemma about that. I didn’t feel like she heard me. So I stopped. I think it’s God’s way of tellin me that I don’t have to grieve no more.