August and finally free. Day camp done, closets cleaned, horse corrals painted
with creosote. We don't come home until dark and the horses are sweaty and
our moms yell Dinner and our dads yell Don't bring the horses
in hot, dammit.
I pull hard on Zeke's reins. It really is
dangerous for him to stay this hot. I blanket him so he doesn't get chilled
and sick, then I pull three cherry plums from the tree and eat them and
smear the pits on my lips so my mom can't tell I've been smoking and kissing.
I can barely see the back of the house in the gray.
* * *
Most days we ride in a pack to hang out with Tanner, the old patrolman
who parks on the road leading to the private school. None of us goes to
this school; it is for people from other countries and rich Catholics.
When September comes we will make fun of the students in their uniforms;
we will tease them and chase them on our horses and shock them with our
dirty mouths. Now, in summer, the girls are safe at home and there is
nothing for Tanner to protect. He passes the day parked under the redwood
tree by the 15mph sign, reading The National Enquirer and The
Star, and nonfiction library books, hard and blue with numbers and
decimal points on the spine. There is a family of quails living in his
car and today I go alone because of them.
I'm wearing the orange backpack my mom
got me even though I'm supposed to save it for the first day of fifth
grade. In it I have my dog-chewed Gumby, two grape-scented erasers, a
broken red transistor, and the giant Tootsie Roll Liz Welch gave me for
my birthday. I coast down the hill, left leg standing on the serrated
pedal and right leg in an arabesque behind me. Then I sit hard on the
sparkly yellow banana seat and skid in front of Tanner's patrol car.
“ Well hel-lo Trina!” Tanner says
“hello” like it's two words; it marches out of his mouth like the start
of a parade. He has a bulbous red nose and his face is thick, harmless,
and vague, with watery blue old-man eyes and bushy hair sprouting out
of his nostrils and ears, gray and soft.
“Hey. Well I brought all my best stuff.
Maybe will you trade me for a quail? I even brought my Gumby.” I pull
out Gumby, holding him by the leg so Tanner can't see that my dog has
amputated him from the knee down.
Tanner laughs and says, “Now Trina, these
are very nice, but your mom wouldn't let you bring home a bird
and you know it.” He says this slowly and with a smile, then gets out
of his car with some effort.
I can smell his old man smell, like the
bundles of newspapers we kept in the barn. His uniform is dull blue and
too hot for summer. In the trunk he keeps peanut brittle for us and I
know he's going to give me some but I pretend to be surprised when he
does. I say thanks and put my backpack on and ride home on my purple dirt
bike, the only one around with a banana seat.
* * *
After dinner I hang out on our dead end street; in summer it becomes
our “circle”— even our moms and dads call it that. I'm the youngest girl;
there are two other girls and four boys. The other girls are twelve and
thirteen, and Pammy the twelve year old has breasts already, real ones
that you can see in her elastic tube tops. Sometimes Tom, he's thirteen,
pulls down her top and we all see her squirmy white breasts and she screams
and giggles too and we all know she likes Tom—that's why she lets him
do it. Tom never does it to me or Laurie, the other girl. We don't have
real breasts yet.
Tonight we light firecrackers. I'm scared
of matches so what I do is drop the book when I'm supposed to light and
Tom gets mad and takes it from me. Pammy, Laurie, and I ride away to the
buckeye tree and Pammy tells us that Tom did third base to her. Laurie
and I say no way and I try to remember if third is above or below
the waist. I know other people who have gone to third but they're usually
going together. We all mess around in summer but we'd never go with each
other because we know each other. I wonder if Pammy minds doing that with
Tom. She acts like it was a drag but her voice is bright and she laughs
loud the rest of the night.
* * *
I mess around sometimes with Tom's brother who's eleven, and sometimes
with Aaron who is ten. JP is also thirteen years old but he's not like
Tom. Tom isn't too nice to JP, because he thinks JP tells on us and that's
why we get caught sometimes for smoking or having beer. I like JP, but
I never tell anyone that. Tom's brother isn't bad and I like kissing Aaron
but he tells me I hug too hard. When we kiss, Aaron tells me to lean against
a tree “so we can make out like teenagers.” Laurie, JP, and Tom are the
only real teenagers I've seen make out and I've never seen them lean against
Today I'm with Aaron and we're in the shady dry creek making out and smoking
and I try not to hug too hard. Taylor, Aaron's little brother, sneaks
up on us and Aaron throws a rock at him and misses. I hate when boys get
upset at people for interrupting. I really don't care if we have to stop
and it embarrasses me when they get all mad about it. Aaron and I bury
the cigarette butts then get on our bikes to go visit Tanner, Taylor trailing
* * *
When we were little, like five years old, we'd ride around on our big
wheels and practice acrobatics on them. For instance Tom would drive and
I would sit on his shoulders and Laurie would stand behind us and do an
arabesque or even a handstand. She is the best at gymnastics. We'd get
really good at a trick then we'd ride to Tanner's car and show him. He
would clap and we'd ask if he wanted to see it again and he said no, he
said My heart can't take it. I worry you kids will break your heads
open. After, he'd give us peanut brittle or sucking candies, like
butterscotch, and we'd show him a little more, but nothing as dangerous
as the tricks. We only did those once. We thought it was bad luck to do
them twice and I was secretly relieved when Tanner said he didn't want
to see them again.
Our parents trust us more on the horses
than they did on the big wheels. We really don't care if we break things
or not so we didn’t take care of our big wheels, or of ourselves while
we rode them. Horses are different though; they're not just things. We
used to try to blow up just about every thing we could find.
Tom tried to blow up insects too, with magnifying lenses or gasoline.
I would cry and cover the ants or roly-poly bugs with my entire body.
JP would help me stop Tom, which is why I love him.
* * *
We rock back and forth on our dirt bikes and practice wheelies in front
of Tanner. Taylor catches up with us finally, sweaty and smelling wormy
like a little boy. Behind us he sings, “Trina and Aaron, sittin' in a
tree, K-I-S-S-I—” and Aaron turns around and whacks him.
“Hey now, none of that.” Tanner will let us do or say just about anything
as long as we don't hit or tease each other. He says he doesn't like to
see us hurt each other—that it makes him sad. I'm glad Aaron stopped Taylor
though because I don't like to be reminded of kissing Aaron. It makes
me feel disloyal to JP. If JP would kiss me, I wouldn't have to kiss Aaron.
Maybe he thinks I'm too young.
* * *
It's dusk, diffused in its summer way, and I'm high up on the ridge looking
down into the hollow where I live. Zeke is smooth fur under me, between
my thighs, strong and solid. We gallop home to beat the dark and mosquitoes
and I tuck my dirty bare feet in the place where his front legs meet his
chest, where it's warm and steamy and soft. My toes get squeezed as his
legs pump, hooves pounding packed dirt.
When I ride alone I think about JP, wishing he were with me. I imagine
how I'd look to him now. He’d see me all tangly brown hair blowing behind,
thin strong legs hanging loose, no need to grip. I've ridden all my life;
my balance is perfect, natural. If JP saw me ride alone he would love
me; he would ask me to be his girlfriend and if I asked him, he'd beat
up Tom to defend the helpless insects. When we all ride together, I am
not beautiful; I am scrawny and raw. My chest is flat and Pammy's boobs
bounce in her tube top and she rides with her left hand, holds her top
in place with the right.
I lean to his left ear, “Hurry boy, they're close behind, let's go.” I
am an Indian Princess atop a wild strong stallion; the cowboys are just
behind us and we've got to get back to the village before we get shot.
I am on the Pony Express, delivering mail, trying to beat the storm coming
* * *
“I bet she’s a slut, a scum, a sleaze. I bet she weighs two hundred pounds
and chews tobacco.” Tom went all the way with a girl he met at the horse
show he went to with his parents. Her name was Teddi, “with an ‘i’,” and
Tom says she was sixteen and her breasts were as big as JP’s mom’s. Pammy
is crying and Laurie and I want her to feel better so we make up mean
things about Teddi, and soon Pammy is laughing.
I try to picture what going all the way looks like, try to picture Tom
doing it. I can’t see why a sixteen year old would want to do it with
him. Maybe he lied and said he was sixteen too.
Then Laurie says maybe Pammy should tell Tom she'll do it with him; maybe
then he'll ask her to go. Pammy cries again, harder than before, and Laurie
says sorry. I tell Laurie she has a big mouth and I get on my purple bike
and ride home.
Late that night, before I fall asleep, I think about going all the way
with JP and decide I'll do it with him once I turn thirteen, if I have
real breasts by then. I wouldn't want him to be disappointed.
* * *
I'm over at Tom's, and he and Aaron have locked me in the musty trailer.
Tom gets real close and says, “Can we fuck you?” I shake my head no.
“Can we finger fuck you?” I say, no, sorry. I ask if I can leave. He says
no and then opens the trailer door and the sun is blurry hot on my head.
* * *
Fifth grade is starting soon and I'll be going to school for the first
time without JP. He'll be starting high school; he skipped a grade. Tom
will be in eighth grade. I wish it were the reverse; if I went to school
with just JP and not Tom, maybe things would be different. I could have
him to myself, without Tom pushing and pulling us.
These last lukewarm days before school starts we hang out on the far side
of Big Hill. There are canopies of oaks, old barbed wire fences, and mossy
blue rocks. We smoke Kool cigarettes and start little fires in the grass
that we stamp out. It's slow here; the sky is high and hazy. There is
little to do. Even the wind is still; even Tom is quiet. I can't tell
if I feel completely right, or like I'm in the wrong body. They're so
close I can't tell them apart. I try to feel just perfect, take a drag
on my Kool and shut my eyes.
* * *
Pammy and Laurie are shopping for back-to-school clothes with their moms.
I am bored and dusty under the oaks with Tom, JP, and Aaron. “I bet Trina's
gonna get bigger tits than Pammy.” Tom says this as a prediction, and
“Really.” For some reason this thrills me.
JP looks down and I wonder if he agrees with Tom. If I had big breasts
JP would be the first I'd show them to.
“Nah,” laughs Aaron, “Her mom doesn't have them at all.”
I give him my best fuck-off look and take a drag, hand shaking and I'm
not sure why. I wonder if Teddi really had bigger boobs than JP's mom,
and if Tom really saw them.
JP throws small blue rocks at a far away tree and I wish he would sit
next to me, tell Tom and Aaron to shut up, say that he's my boyfriend
and we're gonna get married and I'll have big breasts one day.
“Hey Trina, let's see your tits.” Tom stands up and hands his cigarette
to Aaron and he really does come towards me, he's coming towards me.
Aaron cracks up. “She doesn't have any, dork.”
“Maybe she's hiding them somewhere, huh Trina?”
I laugh, I think that this must be how he got Teddi to make out with him;
it was a dare. Pammy wouldn't like it if she knew how Tom was joking with
me, but I'm glad he's being like this.
Then he comes so close to me that I'm sure he's gonna kiss me. I'm sorry
Pammy, I think. Tom likes me. I wish it were JP doing this, but maybe
this will give him ideas. He's still throwing rocks, rhythmic and slow.
But Tom doesn't kiss me. He pulls my t-shirt up and I push him away and
he slaps me hard on the cheek.
“You're right, she doesn't have any.” Tom laughs and stares at me.
Aaron comes and sits in the rocky dirt
on the other side of me and he and Tom look shy for a moment. Aaron kisses
me on the cheek. Tom pulls my shirt up, slow, and I look at JP, waiting
for a signal. He's still blank and busy with rocks. Ummmnn. It
comes out high and whiny, and I sound scared but don't feel it yet. A
horrible picture of Zeke, sliding down a hill towards rusty barbed wire,
eyes white with fear, comes slow out of nowhere.
Four hands push me back and there are sharp
rocks and dry prickly weeds. Tom kisses me hard—it hurts—and Aaron just
holds my arms tight and I wonder Is this what Teddi did? I look
for JP but can't see him clear; he is distorted and distant. There is
the dirty tinny taste of Tom's fingers, his hands tangy and hot over my
mouth. To my right is a lizard. I can see his eyes and he doesn't blink.
My dog Jessie barks far away, down the other side of the hill, at my house.
I think, As long as the lizard doesn't move, as long as my dog keeps
barking, I'll be fine. There could be a waterfall, with a four-story high
feather standing next to it. And it wouldn't move, it would be still and
clear, and I will be still and clear and fine.
* * *
Soon it's Labor Day, and the last weekend before school. Tom hasn't really
talked to me yet and JP hasn't been hanging out. We spend most of the
time on our horses and with Tanner. Once school starts he'll be busy patrolling
the roads, protecting the rich Catholic girls. I wonder what it would
be like to go to school there, to be a girl like that.
I want to be alone with Tanner; I want to ask him why JP isn't hanging
out. I ride to his car and he gives me peanut brittle right away and asks
me how I feel about school starting. I can't think of how I feel or what
I want to say. I want to ask why Tom isn't talking to me and why I cry
hot tears when I wake in the morning. I want to ask when it will be autumn,
with cold clean sunlight.
Tanner is reading a library book on acupressure—it's like acupuncture
without needles. He says if you press certain places on your feet and
hands, you can fix any part of your body. He says the cloudy spots in
his eyes are getting clearer because he has been pinching his little toes
several times a day. I can't decide if I believe him or not. Laurie says
she thinks he's nuts, that he's old and senile, that he calls his quails
* * *
It's the end of the second week of school when I go with my parents to
meet with the counselor. In her hot yellow office with two small high
windows she asks me to play with these dolls, and I think she's crazy.
I hate dolls. One of the dolls has solid green eyes and I pinch her little
toes to make them clear. The counselor asks what I'm doing and I tell
her about acupressure and how Tanner's eyes are clearing up.
* * *
Tom says Tanner is crazy anyway, that they wanted to fire him a long
time ago but they felt sorry for him. When we go hang out with him now
he is much more quiet and doesn't give us candy. When I ask my mom why
Tanner is getting a new job, she looks at me strange. I tell her I'll
miss him and she looks like she's going to cry.
I try to hang out more with JP but he is distant to me. I wonder if he's
mad. I love JP so much and I wish he could take me to high school with
him so I wouldn't have to see Tom and Aaron and Laurie and Pammy anymore.
Friday after school I ride Zeke over to
Tanner's car and ask him what to do about dizzy headaches. I need to ask
before he goes. I tell him how much my head hurts. I know, I know,
he nods. He shows me a picture in his library book, a diagram of a hand,
and instructs me to press on the area between my thumb and pointer finger.
He doesn't offer me peanut brittle.
* * *
After the Halloween parade at our school, Tom and Pammy and I ride around
the Catholic school roads. I stop at the patrol car to show Tanner my
zebra costume. I knock on the driver's window and a man with a blond mustache
smiles up from his newspaper. Tanner hasn't been here for almost two months,
but somehow I thought he'd be here today to see the costume I'd been planning
since summer. I try to get away but my foot slips on the pedal and I fall
hard on the asphalt. My knee hurts dull and deep and I drag my bike off
the road and bite my sparkling yellow seat and whisper for Tom and Pammy
to go home. My throat hurts and then I'm sobbing Jessie Jessie c’mere
Pammy helps me pick up my bike and I stop
crying for a minute but then I realize JP might never marry me. He might
find a polite, shiny-haired high school girl to like. I wonder if he thinks
Tanner is crazy. I decide to go to his house and wait for him to come
home from high school and ask him. I picture JP standing with his pretty
new girlfriend, his thin face nodding Yes, he is crazy Trina.
Tom is impatient with my warm messy tears.
He calls me a baby.
Shut up shut up shut up. This
thin voice of mine hangs and hesitates; now I stop crying and turn from
Tom. My head pounds, pulses, spins dizzy-hot. I give a tight pinch to
the web of my thumb and forefinger, then pedal hard uphill on my purple
dirt bike, waiting for Tanner's trick to work.