Fiction · 05/28/2014

Present

Coya is in the main lodge kitchen leaning against the cool wall. She watches moths tick into the electric fly catcher at the open door. Outside there’s that familiar rectangle of light, cut on the steps down. Beyond that, a square of indirect light makes a pitch of blue grass. She pays attention to anchors. This one is pretty good, steady. Out past the lawn she can see nothing but black and little lights that might be insects, or folk travelling through the woods, if the woods weren’t knotted up tight, and the ground under them wasn’t hidden under a fold of water sliced at by little sharp fish.

She’s thinking of her neighbour, Ray. Ray’s tall and split with stress. He wears polo shirts that were someone else’s before. A brother’s or a cousin’s, or one of the men who visit. But on weekends this time of year he wears special clothes for the hunting party. Red, so they’ll see him in the corn. Ray gets calm, those days. He told her first he was a beater, but she found out the lie. Other sorts of work gets better pay.

Coya’s bones feel heavy. She pulls at her vest to let in some air. She’s been working since six cooking, and now she has to go home in the dark, alone. Ray said he’d stop by, but now she doesn’t know. She runs her hand down the rib of her braid, then looks at her palm. Flour. But under it, the lines she knows how to read. There she reads: flames, also: death — not hers. Flames and death, huh. Her death she knows. The line for her life stops in a smudge, breaks down like a delta. She taught herself what that means, and how to put the futures away when she has to get on. She lifts the vest to poke at her belly. It’s like flat top bread baked with an egg wash. She looks back out the door. The corn will burn, she guesses.

There’s the sound of a car coming up the gravel. This big house, and no noise inside or out, after the workers go home. Excepting when the hunting parties come in for the late summer weekends.

It’s Ray, she can hear his step. The way he puts back the screen door behind. And she can even smell him, before she’s seen. It’s that kind of night. Coya, he says, all smile. She just nods and picks up her purse. You got somewhere to be so fast, he asks. No, not really. Ray says, let’s go for a drive or something. In the car Coya sees the Virgin on the dash, glue bulbing at her edges. She picks at it. Don’t you do that to her, Ray says with a harsh tone. They drive for a while, windows down, through sugar and corn and branches. Seems that every bent leaf prickles against her skin as the light slides it into sharpness and then lets it fall. Gotta get some gas, says Ray. They stop at the gas station. Coya gets out to stretch.

It’s like getting a cramp. It starts in the same place, the same size. Like a pulpy fist, pushing up. She knew it was coming. At worst her eyes are a bit glassy when it hits. She’s never told about the soul-cramps. Anyway, sometimes they just switch into a behind-the-eyes migraine. Not this time: she’s standing in the gas station lot, then she’s also standing in a hallway, looking into a room. She closes her eyes not to look. Then she’s at the fringes of a corn field, she can hear gunfire. The bright day pressing on her shut eyes like a menace. The corn is making sounds, parting in long lines, and above it, in front of the lines, the birds are rising in their clamour. A bell tinkles. That’s it. She’s back at the gas station. Ray’s paid up. He wants to go for some dinner, but Coya tells him she can’t today. He’s bought a deep blue drink, and they share it, driving home.

Ray parks and gets out first, walking away. Coya breaks the dashboard Virgin free and slips her in her purse. Goodnight Ray, she calls back. He says, up early tomorrow for the hunt, Coya. You catch the bus, okay? Maybe you can get me some lunch from the kitchen and I’ll get you for a ride home early. Yeah okay Ray, she says, Goodnight. She goes into her house and washes up, then picks over the bodies of her sleeping sisters to get into her side of the bed. But there, she can’t sleep. There’s a light coming in the room and it lights up her palm. Coya holds her hand against the wall for a while. She wipes her face and breathes out.

It’s not like she knows, not all the way.

She thinks, her older brother has the best running shoes. He’ll be so mad. But things go missing, home is a busy place. She leans to sitting. Okay then.

Outside, she stands on the dirt, barefoot, holding her brother’s shoes. Almost every streetlamp has broken, so there’s only one point of light for anchor. It’s by Ray’s house. She crosses the street across the band of nothing, opens the metal gate and pads up to the porch. Little plants, little weeds touch her. She lays the shoes down neatly at the door and takes the Virgin out of her back pocket and puts her in the right shoe. Sorry, she whispers, and tucks the lace around like buckling her in.

Next morning Coya wakes to the ricochet of birds in the corn getting shot at by the men from out of town. And there’s no cramp, not all the ride up to the big house. But that can’t mean much. Her hands fret the zip of her purse, moving it in and out of the blinding the roadside sun.

+++

Helen McClory is a writer based in Scotland. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in 3 AM Press, Smokelong, The Toast, and Phoebe, among other places. She also writes reviews for PANK and The Female Gaze, and can be found at schietree and on Twitter.