You are reading Fiddleblack #10
He wouldn’t look at me on the bus, but we’d had sex a week earlier, pulled off to an unlighted road near the point, the ocean only feet away from the parked car. “You’re like a dead deer,” he’d said. So I moaned, something that came out more like a sigh and he laughed but not nicely. It was spring, I could smell the mudflats, make out a thin strip of pine trees across the bay. It was quick, feverish. Headlights passing by on the main road made him come.
We had seen each other at a party. It was a high schooler’s party in a neighboring town, a friend of a friend. Everyone there was a stranger to me except him. Chase looked surprised then nodded at me from across the yard, finally approached. He lifted his drink, sat on a picnic table, “Liquid courage,” he said.
“They say alcohol is liquid courage.”
I took a sip of the beer, spit it discreetly back in the cup, smiled.
“So who’s that guy I’ve seen you with? Tall dude.”
The boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend, now in college. Chase led me to the back of the house. We stopped by a group of trees, kissed. He grabbed my breasts roughly through my jacket, tried to unzip it but was too drunk and finally gave up. He picked me up the following night, waited in the driveway for me to emerge, my mother looking out the window saying it was rude for a boy not to knock on the door. He parked in the elementary school parking lot, we walked around the playground, traced the outline of a whale, the school mascot, painted on the pavement, with our footsteps. When we got back in the car he said, “How about a little something for down there?” Smiled towards his groin, unzipped his pants, and I accepted.
Standing in line for the Howling Coyote, proudly advertised as the fastest roller coaster in New England, I studied Chase’s neck, red freckles and pink skin. He was slouched next to a group of boys in front of me. Our senior class trip was at an aging amusement park in Massachusetts. Sixty of us had spent the night in a hotel and were now milling around the park in shiftable groups. The roller coaster was at least twenty-years old, paint was peeling off of the metal, the wheels of the cars grinded loudly against the track as screams passed above us with every drop and turn.
The heat and hangover were making me woozy. I started to consider skipping the ride and walking to the wave pool, water so chlorinated I could smell it from across the park. Something fell past us on the other side of the roller coaster and hit the pavement. There was a hard mechanical screech, a single scream then another and another. A body was on the ground—a girl. A few park staff members started running, another appeared and cleared us off the ramp leading to the ride. Chase turned and looked at me straight in the face, raised his eyebrows and walked away.
Stephanie Roberts was dead. She’d fallen out of her seat. No one knew how, but I supposed these things happened. The ultimate amusement park fear realized. I kept thinking I’d hear an ambulance right away, that a stretcher would appear, that she’d be whisked away, but none of that happened. Her body lay on the hot asphalt, baking in the sun, for over ten minutes. She was dead, so I guess there’s no need to rush. You know that.
It seemed like something that would make you cry, make you scared, make you have some reaction. A few girls did cry but not hysterically, just more like short gulps of air with words mixed in. I didn’t know Stephanie. Not really. Not except for a brief friendship in fourth grade. She wanted to be a gymnast, so skinny it looked like her wrists might snap in half.
We spent a few afternoons on her trampoline until her older sister Patty appeared one afternoon. “Get off! My friends are coming over, you little bitches,” she yelled as she passed through the yard. We stopped jumping, made our way inside the house. Patty sat at the kitchen table, a bag of chips in her hand. Her body was enormous, not just fat but tall too, a giant of a girl. “What are you looking at, lesbo?” she said as she tipped the chip bag in to her mouth. I went home, asked my mom what a lesbo was, and wasn’t allowed to see Stephanie after school anymore. A few years later I saw Patty, her fat legs in black stretch pants, pushing a stroller downtown. She was wearing a puffy jacket, winter boots, trudging through dirty snow.
A week before the class trip, Chase and I went for a walk. I guess we were testing out doing normal things together, something other than kissing or fingering or blowing or fucking, but it felt wrong. We were silent on the walk, kept bumping in to each other. We had parked at his house and were making our way back through his neighborhood. The air was cold and earthy, the way New England smells in May. Lights were on in most of the houses, the blue of televisions illuminating the front windows. When he dropped me off, Chase leaned toward me, grabbed the skin of my stomach through my shirt and said “If you don’t get rid of this gut, I’m not going to fuck you anymore.” He smiled and my face grew hot. I was glad it was so dark. He grabbed the back of my head, pushed me towards the pants he was unzipping. I wanted to sink my teeth right in to his penis, leave a mark so violent he wouldn’t be able to jerk off for a month. I’d be a crazy bitch, but it didn’t matter anymore. I was sure I was about to bite him, was just beginning to tighten my jaw when he said, “Oh shit.” He pushed my head away, hard. It hit the steering wheel. I sat up and my mom was standing in the driveway in a bathrobe, arms crossed tight across her chest. He zipped his pants as she came toward the car. I opened the door at the same time she was pulling on the handle.
When I was inside the house she grabbed me by the arm and shook me: “What is wrong with you?” I pulled away, made my way up the stairs and she followed hissing, “Even married people don’t do that.” My heart was pounding so hard that my eardrums were pulsing, but she wouldn’t stop. “I don’t want you hanging out with trash like that.” Truth was I wasn’t interested in Chase anymore. He didn’t love me, he didn’t want to be my boyfriend. I knew it had been a mistake, but by then it didn’t matter.
I’d picked up the phone a month earlier to hear her speak low and soft “…together this time next year.” A man’s voice in agreement, talk of an upcoming weekend together up north, I Love Yous. It didn’t sound dramatic or clandestine or anything else and that scared me. When she emerged from the bathroom with the phone in her hand, I was waiting. She jerked back a little then recovered, looked at me steadily. My dad was in the living room watching television, laughing by himself. “I don’t appreciate that,” I said, not understanding what it meant even as I said it. She paused then stepped aside as though I’d been waiting for the bathroom. “It’s all yours,” she said.
She trailed me into my bedroom. “What kind of girl does something like that?”
I spun around, got so close to her face I could see light freckles across her nose making her look younger than she really was: “I guess I’m a whore.”
Her eyes widened and then the slap came hard and fast and I yelped, grabbed my face. She left, closing the door so lightly as she went as though she had come in to say good-night.
We didn’t speak the week leading up to the trip, passed each other in the house like roommates. My dad noticed but she had been detached since summer. A woman who was always home at six, who walked our dog at six-thirty every night, who spent weekends cleaning the house and grocery shopping, who only had one friend I could name that she saw semi-regularly started spending evenings shopping, weekends away with friends from work, week night yoga classes. She was rarely home before ten. The dog still waited at the door every night. My dad ordered pizza or microwaved meals—“Mademoiselle, on special tonight we have fettucine alfredo and turkey with a fine gravy sauce,” he’d say, removing the boxes from the freezer. We ate in front of the television, talked only to reference inside jokes, retreated to our bedrooms afterwards.
When I woke I was still on the floor, just my shirt separating my skin from the stained hotel carpet. I must have slept for only an hour. Chase was still beside me. Sleeping next to him felt uncomfortably intimate, somehow more intimate than sex. He’d found me late that night at the hotel, we were both drunk on sweet flavored vodka and skunk beer that had been passed around earlier. Mr. Farber was supposed to be our group chaperone. He was a substitute history teacher who took over our classes halfway through the year when our original teacher left for maternity leave. He wanted to be liked so bad by us that movies barely based on any factual historical event were watched every Friday and sometimes Mondays. He retired to his room as soon as we arrived at the hotel that night. Chase’s roommate was already asleep in the bed, so we made our way to the floor, fumbled with each other in the dark until he passed out.
I turned to face him, trailed my fingernail across his arm. He didn’t stir. I pressed in hard, all five fingers, then again and again until I could feel skin scraping away and curling up under my nails. He twitched his arm but didn’t move it away. I placed my hand lightly across his throat, felt his Adam’s apple poking my palm. I applied pressure slowly more and more and more until he took in a quick gulp of air. I covered his nose and mouth with my palm, felt hot air pushing out of him. Still asleep, he rolled away. I stood unsteadily, haze of liquor and sleeplessness coming at me in a sickness. I made my way to the bathroom. I cupped water to my mouth, squinted at my self in the mirror under the fluorescent light. Chase’s toothbrush was lying near the sink, I held it under myself as I peed, placed it back where I found it, opened his miniature mouthwash and spit in it. I shook the bottle, held it up to the light, went back to my room.
Mr. Farber appeared. He was wearing swimming trunks and a t-shirt, running barefoot toward us. It was unsettling the same way seeing a teacher outside of school is—teachers belong in business-casual clothes, standing in the front of the room or sitting behind a desk not shuffling through the grocery store in sweatpants on a Sunday morning. He held us kids back like we were an angry mob, his arms spread, his body trying to block our view, but none of us were moving. We just kept standing, kept staring. When the ambulance finally arrived, we were all there. We climbed on the bus shortly afterward, went back to the hotel even though we’d already checked out. Police officers met us in the lobby, took some people that were on the roller coaster to an area of the hotel usually reserved for the complimentary continental breakfast, wrote things in their little notebooks. Mr. Farber made calls to our parents, told them what had happened. Hotel staff offered the use of phones in unoccupied rooms to whomever wanted to call home. I wondered who called Stephanie’s parents, if they were on their way here, what they’d do if they were.
The bus broke down halfway back. The driver pulled on to the shoulder, apologized, and said he was making a call to the company. Forty-five minutes later the engine shut off and with it the air conditioning. Mr. Farber stood at the front of the bus and announced, “I know it’s hot, folks, but it’s not safe for us to stand on the side of the road. Please stay put.” We endured two hours there in thick sour air. Some girls were crying about Stephanie or the heat, and Mr. Farber, wild eyed, stood again to offer his impromptu counseling services. A new bus arrived, we shuffled on in the dark. The driver dimmed the lights for us, drove north.
When the bus finally pulled in to the school driveway, it was after midnight. Parents were standing outside their cars, tired and serious, watching for us from the parking lot. My mom hugged me, looked like she’d been crying. She watched me buckle my seatbelt then made her lips into a frown and stared at my face. Her hand fluttered up as though she were going to touch me, tuck my hair behind my ears, but she stopped herself and reached down and put the car in reverse.
I rested my head against the window, pressed my cheek to the glass. It was cold outside now, but I turned the air conditioner on, aimed it straight at my face and fell asleep. I woke up in the driveway, my parents were standing on the steps, my mom was talking quietly and gesturing towards the car. My dad was there, standing against the screen door, waiting to welcome us inside. Moths hovered above them, little wings beating in the night air. My limbs heavy and sticky, I pulled the seatbelt tighter across my lap and chest, and closed my eyes against the porch light.
Gillian Morrison is a native of New England now living in the Midwest with her two black cats.