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"Wood Ducks", short story excerpt

Monday 3/30/20

I have composed a new story this morning. That is now ninety-nine completed short stories since June 2018.


A portion of this one, which is called "Wood Ducks."


***


As a girl, she climbed a lot. She was scared of heights and then she was not. Her father took her to the circus where people walked on high-wires. “There are no nets,” she observed. “Of course not,” her father replied, as if he were proud and he was the one walking near the top of tent that rose like the tip of a child’s party hat, so festively peaked.


“He could fall and die,” she had said, catch in her throat. “That’s not going to happen,” her father reasoned, and he was right, though later she read that someone in the same circus—it could have been the same man from above them that day—had fallen and died, which was why that particular circus closed, but others did not. Business was entirely a matter of not falling.


She was scared to crawl across the jungle gym in the backyard as her brother Harry watched on the lawn and called her a pussy, a word he thought signified an ineffectual cat, but with added potency that got people’s attention.


“Shut up, Harry,” she would try and explain back, the breath hard in the back of her throat, like the handle of a knife, just wanting to get across, but the first time after the circus she stood up and put her feet on the round surfaces of wood, flagstones in columnar form, air between them.


“Holy shit,” Harry said when she had come to the other side.


“Holy shit is right,” she replied.


The parking lot was overgrown. It was mostly grass, mulch, stones. Maybe it had been pavement before. The forest had taken it back if it had indeed been pavement. There were chunks of black rock which she felt might have been man made, sundered asphalt now trying to blend in with the earth. If you can’t beat ‘em, etc. Snakes in the parking lot and hornets’ nests on the ground. You had to be careful. She saw a garter snake eat a hornet once. She felt grateful. Her husband’s car was parked at the edge, the only car, but he parked where he did as though he was making room in case there was a full cavalcade of cars, crowd of hikers, picnickers, kids who wanted to get stoned, kids who wanted to fuck, later in the day, long after dawn, which had not yet arrived but would soon.


Once they had been on a hike and they saw Amelia Patterson standing and bent over with a boy behind her, thrashing. They were well off the path because Hank said you found the best blueberries by braving a few thorns. “Live a little, June,” he said, smile so broad it might as well have wrapped around the back of his head. She still babysat for them after. No one said anything. “They could have thought they saw someone else,” the girl thought. “It could have been anyone,” Hank had said, adding, “Kids, right?”


“Hank,” she yelled, at the edge of the woods. It was funny that forests had edges. Like table tops. Her voice wasn’t loud enough to carry. She remembered being a freshman in college. She and her best friend Demy spent the night with two boys. The boys were roommates. The boys had joked that they would reach out and do a fist bump across the room as they both had sex. The girls were welcome to do one, too, if they liked. The boys sniggered each time they made the joke. She had never drank like that. When she was a girl and she climbed a lot, she wrote in her journal that when it was time for her first time, she just wanted to feel safe. The man at the circus made her feel safe because he did not fall while she watched, seemed like he could never fall, which is why she assumed someone else must have fallen when the circus was shut down, that particular circus, not the others, where the right number of people remained airborne.


She hadn’t expected any questions. “How long do I have?” the boy asked, his breath staggered, staccato, gasp-y. “Take as long as you need,” she said. She dressed in the morning. It was two steps to the other bed. Not big steps, even for her. “Come on,” she whispered to Demy, wanting to wake up only her, “we have to go.” She shouted into the woods like that now, hoping to keep some creatures, life forms, even plants, asleep, or not roused, have her voice come to Hank’s ears.