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Authors: Melanie Rae Thon

In This Light

BOOK: In This Light
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Also by Melanie Rae Thon

The Voice of the River
Sweet Hearts
First, Body
Iona Moon
Girls in the Grass
Meteors in August


Melanie Rae Thon


Copyright © 2011 by Melanie Rae Thon

This publication is made possible by funding provided in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and private funders. Significant support has also been provided by Target; the McKnight Foundation; and other generous contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. To these organizations and individuals we offer our heartfelt thanks.

Published by Graywolf Press
250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America

ISBN 978-1-55597-585-2
Ebook ISBN 978-1-55597-031-4

2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1
First Graywolf Printing, 2011

Library of Congress Control Number: 2011922712

Cover design: Christa Schoenbrodt, Studio Haus

Cover photo:
Boarded Window.
Photo © Bradford Dunlop,

for my mother and brother and sisters
for our beautiful children
for the ones who have joined us by marriage
and for all who shall come in the future
for our father who loved this life—and who taught us to love one another

Does the light descend from the sky or rise out of us? That instant of trapped light … reveals to us what is unseen, what is seen but unnoticed… . It shows us that concealed within the pain of living and the tragedy of dying there is a potent magic, a luminous mystery that redeems the human adventure in the world.

—Eduardo Galeano,
from the introduction to
An Uncertain Grace
Photographs by Sebastião Salgado




Girls in the Grass

Iona Moon

Iona Moon. He said country girls always had shit on their shoes and he could smell her after she’d been in his car. Jay Tyler said his choice of women was nobody’s business, and if Willy didn’t like it, he should keep his back doors locked.

Choice of women, Jay said that so nice. He thought Iona was a woman because the first night they were together he put his hand under her shirt and she didn’t stop kissing him. He inched his fingers under her brassiere, like some five-legged animal, until elastic caught his wrist and squished his hand against her breast. She said, “Here, baby, let me help you,” and she reached around behind her back and released the hooks. One hand on each breast, Jay Tyler whistled through his teeth. “Sweet Jesus,” he said, and unbuttoned her blouse, his fingers clumsy and stiff with the fear that she might change her mind. Jay Tyler had known plenty of girls, girls who let him do whatever he wanted as long as he could take what he was after without any assistance on their part, without ever saying, “Yes, Jay,” the way Iona did, just a murmur, “yes,” soft as snow on water.

In the moonlight, her skin was pale, her breasts small but warm, something a boy couldn’t resist. Jay cupped them in his palms, touching the nipples with the very tips of his fingers, as if they were precious and alive, something separate from the girl, something that could still be frightened and disappear. He pressed his lips to the hard bones of Iona Moon’s chest, rested his head in the hollow between her breasts and whispered words no boy had ever spoken to her.

“Thank you, oh, God, thank you,” his voice hushed and amazed, the voice of a drowning man just pulled from the river. As his mouth found her nipple, Jay Tyler closed his eyes tight, as if he wanted to be blind, and Iona Moon almost laughed to see his sweet face wrinkle that way; she couldn’t help thinking of the newborn pigs, their little eyes glued shut, scrambling for a place at their mother’s teats.

Iona supposed Willy Hamilton was right about her shoes, but she was past noticing it herself. Every morning, she got up early to milk the four cows. Mama had always done it before Iona and her brothers were awake. Even in winter, Hannah Moon trudged to the barn while it was still dark, slogged through the mud and slush, wearing her rubber boots and Daddy’s fur-lined coat that she could have wrapped around herself twice. Waves of blue snow across the fields fluttered, each drift a breast heaving, giving up its last breath.

Mama said she liked starting the day that way, in the lightless peace God made before he made the day, sitting with your cheek pressed against the cow’s warm flank, your hands on her udder, understanding your pull has to be strong and steady but not too hard, knowing she likes you there and she feels grateful in the way cows do, so she makes a sleepy sound like a moan or a hum, the same sound Iona heard herself make at the edge of a dream.

Willy had a girl, Belinda Beller. She wore braces, and after gym class, Iona saw her stuff her bra with toilet paper. Willy and Belinda, Iona and Jay, parked down by the river in Willy’s Chevy. Belinda kept saying, “No, honey, please, I don’t want to.” Jay panted over Iona, licking her neck, slipping his tongue as far in her ear as it would go; her bare back stuck to the vinyl seat, and Willy said, “I’m sorry,” his voice serious and small, “sorry.”

He thought of his father handcuffing that boy who stole the floodlights from the funeral home. Willy was twelve and liked cruising with his dad, pretending they might get lucky and find some trouble. They caught up with the boy down by the old Miller Creek bridge. His white face rose like a moon above his dark clothes, eyes enchanted to stone by the twin beams of the headlights.

Horton Hamilton climbed out of the patrol car, one hand on his hip. The thick fingers unsnapped the leather band that held the pistol safe in the holster. Willy’s father said, “Don’t you be gettin’ any ideas of makin’ like a jackrabbit, boy; I got a gun.” He padded toward the skittery, long-legged kid, talking all the time, using the low rumble of his voice to hold the boy in one place, like a farmer trying to mesmerize a dog that’s gone mad, so he can put a bullet through its head.

Willy recognized the kid. His name was Matt Fry and he lived out west of town on the Kila Flats, a country boy. Horton Hamilton believed you could scare the mischief out of a child. He cuffed Matt Fry as if he were a grown man who’d done a lot worse. He said stealing those lights was no petty crime: they were worth a lot of money, enough to make the theft a felony even though Matt Fry was only fifteen years old.

A policeman didn’t get much action in White Falls, Idaho, so Horton Hamilton took what business he had seriously. He’d drawn his gun any number of times, or put his hand on it at least, but he’d had cause to shoot only once in nineteen years, and that was to kill a badger that had taken up residence on poor Mrs. Griswold’s porch and refused to be driven away by more peaceable means.

Fear of God, fear of the devil, that was good for a boy, but Willy heard later that Matt Fry’s parents had had enough of his shenanigans and that a felony was the limit, the very limit. They told the county judge they’d lost control of their boy and it would be best for everyone to lock him up and set him straight. Until then, Willy didn’t know that if you did a bad enough thing, your parents could decide they didn’t want you anymore.

When Matt Fry came back from the boys’ home, he smelled like he forgot sometimes and pissed his own pants; he didn’t look at you if you saw him on the street and said, “Hey.” His parents still wouldn’t let him come home and he slept in a burned-out barn down in the gully. People said Matt Fry got caught fighting his first day at the state home. They threw him in the hole for eighteen days, all by himself, without any light, and when they dragged him out he was like this: lame in one foot, mumbling syllables that didn’t add up to words, skinny as a coyote at the end of winter.

Willy stopped pawing at Belinda and sat with his hands in his lap until she leaned over to peck his cheek and say, “It’s all right now, honey.” Iona Moon had no sympathy for Belinda Beller’s point of view. What sense was there in saving everything up for some special occasion that might not ever come? How do you hold a boy back if it feels good when he slides his knee between your legs? How do you say no when his tongue in your ear makes you arch your back and grab his hair?

Willy liked nice girls, girls who accidentally brushed their hands against a guy’s crotch, girls who wiggled their butts when they walked past you in the hall, threw their shoulders back and almost closed their eyes when they said hello. Girls who could pull you right up to the edge and still always, always say no.

Iona thought, you hang on to something too long, you start to think it’s worth more than it is. She was never that way on account of having three brothers and being the youngest. When she was nine, her oldest brother gave her a penny to dance for him. Before long, they made it regular. Night after night Iona twirled around the barn for Leon, spun in the circle of light from the lantern hanging off the rafter. Dale and Rafe started coming too; she earned three cents a night from her brothers and saved every penny till she had more than four dollars. Later they gave her nickels for lifting her shirt and letting them touch the buds that weren’t breasts yet. And one time, when Leon and Iona were alone in the loft, he paid her a dime for lying down and letting him rub against her. She was scared, all that grunting and groaning, and when she looked down she saw that his little prick wasn’t little anymore: it was swollen and dark and she yelled, “You’re hurting yourself.” He clamped his dirty hand over her mouth and hissed. Finally he made a terrible sound, like the wail a cow makes when her calf is halfway out of her; his mouth twisted and his face turned red, as if Iona had choked him. But she hadn’t; her arms were flung straight out from her sides; her hands clutched fistfuls of straw. Leon collapsed on his sister like a dead man, and she lay there wondering how she was going to explain to Mama and Daddy that she’d killed her brother. He crushed the breath out of her; sweat from his face trickled onto hers, and she felt something damp and sticky soaking through her jeans. When she tried to wriggle out from under him, he sprang back to life. He pinched her face with one hand. Squeezing her cheeks with his big fingers, he said, “Don’t you ever tell, Iona. Mama will hate you if you ever tell.”

BOOK: In This Light
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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