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Authors: Joseph Monninger

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BOOK: Finding Somewhere
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That’s what I was thinking when Delores woke up. Horse-crazy thoughts.

“W
HERE ARE WE
?” D
ELORES ASKED, PUSHING BACK HER
hair and reaching for her water bottle.

“Ohio,” I said.

“My mouth tastes like the back side of duct tape after you use it to clean the crumbs out of a couch in an elementary school for bed wetters,” she said, starting a little game we played.

“Like,” I said, “the fur on the paw of a dog walking across a cow pasture in the rain.”

“Like,” she said, “Jim Frank’s armpits.”

We both started laughing.

Jim Frank was the horrible band director we’d both had in our respective seventh grades. His shirt pits always gleamed yellow from sweat stains.

Delores wound down the passenger window.

“Getting colder,” she said, sticking her hand out and cupping air toward her. “We should think about where we’re going to sleep.”

“I thought we were going to keep driving.”

“I think maybe Speed needs a break. And we have time.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Just a couple hours, then we can buzz off.”

“Someplace like that rest stop in New York State,” I said.

“Or a farm,” she said. “We should get off the interstate.”

She pulled out her cell phone and checked the bars.

“I had it on mute. Three messages,” she said. “All from Mommy Dearest.”

She hit Messages and put the phone to her ear.

“Delores …,” she said, repeating some of the words her mother used, and grinning at me. “Delores … big mistake … reckless … cousin Richard’s trailer … truck … bad. Bad, bad, bad. Delores … right away … that horse is going to … if anything happens … I mean it … since you were a girl … Larry. Yes, Larry …”

She hung up.

“Well,” she said. “That was awkward.”

We both laughed. Delores reached for the radio and cranked it high. We screamed our guts out to Faith Hill’s “This Kiss.” Wind blowing in, crisp air, Ohio.

“I
T’S ME
. D
ELORES
.”

Delores held the phone away from her ear. I heard her mom yelling on the other end.

When her mom stopped yelling, Delores put the phone to her ear again.

“Delores is not here,” Delores said, lowering her voice into a growl. “I am Satan and I have taken her soul.”

More yelling. Delores gave me a big grin.

“Nice talking to you, Mom,” Delores said when her mom stopped yelling.

She hung up.

One second later the phone rang.

“This is Satan,” Delores said. “May I ask who’s calling?”

A quick burst of yelling.

“What do you want me to say, Mom?” Delores asked finally. “If you just want to yell at me, okay. Yell away. But if you think I’ll take that seriously, you’re dreaming.”

Her mother spoke for a long time. Delores’s grin fell off her face in little chunks. She listened. I looked over as much as I could. I put my hand on her knee and rubbed it.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mom,” Delores said after a time. “I’m sorry for everything. We’ll get the trailer back to cousin Richard.… Yes. Hattie is coming back.… Right. I don’t know. Maybe.”

Delores hung up.

I reached over and grabbed her hand. She squeezed it. Then she looked away to the window.

“She’s debating calling the cops on us, but that’s a bluff, because she doesn’t want the cops sniffing around her any more than I do. I’m not welcome back home. I’m now officially invited to stay gone. She wanted me to know that. What else is new?”

“You okay?”

“Sure,” she said. “Swell. She said that all my life I’ve been
screwing up. She said she can’t have me in the house as a model for Sissy.”

“Like Sissy needs any help being Sissy,” I said.

Sissy was her little sister and a little hellion.

“And,” Delores said, “she doesn’t think twice about hooking up with Larry, bringing him home, letting him hang around with his nasty tattoos and his looks. I saw him looking at Sissy the other day and it was just disgusting.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You know what I would like?” Delores said after a while. “I’d like a campfire. Just a fire. Maybe we could find a campground and build a little fire. We could let Speed out of the trailer for the night so he could stretch his legs.”

I nodded and said, “We could do that.”

We drove. Delores leaned her head against the passenger window. We still held hands.

“Where am I supposed to go, anyway?” she asked. “Where does she expect me to go?”

“It’s okay, sweetie. We’ll figure it out.”

“You know, when I tried that …,” she said, and pointed at her wrists, “she never told Sissy. She said Sissy didn’t need to know her sister was crazy. She told me I was her first try and that Sissy was her second try and you always got the second try to turn out better.”

Delores’s face crumpled then. She turned to the window and cried. I held her hand. I searched around inside my head for something to say, but I didn’t have any good words for her. She was right about her situation. Her mom wanted Larry to take a bigger slice. She called him the Larinator, and twice she had markered tattoos on her arm, practicing for the real one she wanted to get to represent their love. Delores’s mother liked to say she had put eighteen years into Delores and wasn’t seeing any kind of return on her investment so she wasn’t throwing good money after bad. Larry, she said, would be different. Larry knew how to treat a woman, her mom said, which was a laugh to everyone in the world except to her mom.

We drove along the top of Ohio. The horse trailer rocked nice and easy behind us.

Chapter 3

W
E FOLLOWED
M
EL
C
LEMENS THROUGH A MAZE OF
campers and RVs. He drove an electric golf cart. He wore a navy Windbreaker and a white visor. He had to be close to eighty. His office had about a dozen plaques saying things about life being golf, or golf is life. You had the feeling he was trying to talk himself into believing it. But he had been nice and friendly, and he had been willing to give us a site where we could tether Speed and have a fire, too. The camping fee was twenty-two dollars and included showers.

Our lights snapped against tent walls and camper sides, and twice we entered a short stretch of forest. Moths clicked through our headlights. Delores drove and leaned forward to
see better. Finally Mel Clemens gave us an arm wave to turn in left. Trees lined the left side of the site, but the right side opened onto pasture that had turned quiet and frosty under the large moon.

“You girls should do okay here,” Mel said, climbing out of his golf cart and joining us in the headlight beams. “Your horse can eat all he wants in this meadow. Can’t do any harm at all. You can burn that bundle of wood we threw into your truck, but you can burn just about anything you find on the ground around here. This site is a little overrun. Sorry, but it’s a good spot for the horse.”

“It’ll do just fine,” Delores said.

“Long way to the bathhouse, but again, I took the horse into consideration.”

“Perfect,” I said.

“We have seventy-two slots here. Of course, with the economy the way it’s going, some of them are taken full-time. Month by month, I mean. We don’t get many girls traveling alone.”

“We’re not alone. We have a horse,” Delores said.

Mel smiled but didn’t seem to mean it.

“It’s getting a little cold,” Delores said. “Guess we’ll get that fire going.”

“Well, you know where to find us if you need anything. Quiet hours are from ten on. No liquor, no drugs.”

We both nodded.

“Okay, then,” Mel said. “Sleep tight.”

He climbed back into his cart, backed it around once, then took off with a wave.

“It’s dark,” Delores said when he was gone.

“We’ve got headlamps.”

“Let’s get Speed out.”

We backed Speed out of the trailer. He came slowly, looking a little tired and unsure of his footing in the darkness. We slipped a long lead on him and tied it to the handle of the truck. He found some grass and started eating. I filled up a rubberized water bucket from the spigot near the campfire ring and waddled over with it. Speed took a good long drink. I stayed awhile and rubbed his neck while Delores started making a fire. I whispered that he was a pretty boy, the prettiest I had ever seen. Then I put my forehead against his neck and breathed him inside me. It made my heart hurt to feel how much I loved him.

“Get twigs,” Delores said when I finished with Speed.

She had a tiny fire going. She had used a piece of road map as starter.

I collected wood in the small forest to our left. I searched for dry stuff and eventually found a downed pine tree. I snapped off branches and twigs and hurried back. The fire had nearly died, but the pine revived it. Delores put the pine in carefully, letting the flame swing from one twig to the next.

“Now, that’s better,” Delores said when we finally had a solid flame. “My grandfather used to say the whole world becomes a fire wherever you build one.”

“It’s getting colder,” I said, my hands out to the flames. “I can feel it on my back.”

“I think we’re south of where we started.”

“Still,” I said.

“Let’s pull the picnic table closer.”

We did. Then we sat. Everything was dark except for the fire. We added a few pieces of wood we had purchased from Mel. They hissed. I fed some pine in to give them life.

“Speed is having an adventure,” I said, my hands out to the fire. “You think this is the farthest west he’s ever been?”

“Probably. Didn’t the Fergusons say he had come from western Massachusetts?”

“A pony riding place.”

“Then the Humane Society took him?”

“Only when the place closed down. The owners had
nowhere to house the horses. And they had no money for food. Speed wasn’t in good shape when the Fergusons got him. I was there the day he came. I fell in love with him the minute I saw him back out of the trailer. He was dignified, Delores. You could see he was tired and probably badly fed, but he didn’t expect any special kindness. He kills me. I don’t know why, but he does.”

“I’ll give them that, then,” Delores said. “Taking Speed in, I mean.”

“They’re nice people,” I said. “They are.”

“They like you, for some reason. Not that you’re not likeable. But they’ve taken an interest in you, I guess is what I’m saying. They never quite knew what to do with me when I came around the stable to visit you.”

“Well, they won’t think much of me after this.”

“You never know. They might respect you for it if they’re as horse crazy as you say they are. Write it off as a young person’s inexperience.”

“The whole thing seems pretty straightforward to me. We’re just giving a horse a different perspective.”

“You’re a dreamer, Hattie,” Delores said.

We ate three quarters of a bag of marshmallows Delores had purchased with the wood. Now and then the light from the fire shrugged higher with a breeze and we caught little
snapshots of Speed grazing contentedly, his bulk glistening. Delores’s grandfather had been correct: the whole world had become our fire. We sat and ate and licked our fingers. Delores insisted on roasting a marshmallow once, peeling and eating it, then roasting it again. She called it CPR, the char, peel, repeat system. Like getting two marshmallows for one, she said.

We were still eating when the four-wheelers came.

We heard them a long way off and didn’t think much of them. Then they came closer and we saw Speed’s head jerk up. What had been mere engine sound and glaring headlights a moment before materialized as four ATVs screeching into a half circle around us.

We couldn’t see a thing. The lights blinded us. The revving engines made Speed take a few steps away, his ears upraised and turning to understand what had invaded his grazing.

“Don’t act scared,” Delores whispered to me. “Just keep eating.”

I did. We did. The ATVs idled and kept their lights on us. It was clear they wanted to taunt us. Maybe they had seen us come into the campground. Maybe this was their way to fight their own stupid boredom.

Suddenly Delores stood and threw her marshmallow stick at the ATVs.

“Get out of here!” she shouted. “Who asked you to come around?”

They backed off. Then one of the drivers, being funny, revved forward like he was going to ride right through our camp. I suspected they were young guys—idiot boys—but I couldn’t tell for sure with their helmets and everything. They might have been aliens, for all I could see. Delores picked up a rock and held it above her head. She didn’t say anything. Finally the ATV on the right peeled away and headed back toward the center of the campground. The others followed. The one who had revved his engine did it some more as he gunned off. Teasing us.

“What wicked wheeze bags,” Delores said when they had finally pulled away. “I hate those things.”

“Who were they?” I asked, feeling sick and dizzy from the fumes and the fright and the marshmallows.

“Just jerks,” Delores said. “Dumb boys who think because they ride an ATV they amount to something.”

“Give me a horse any day,” I said.

BOOK: Finding Somewhere
9.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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