The wind was ripping through the dandelion fields. The fence that stood alone shook but the blue flowers hanging off of it stayed still. A pale girl walked on the dirt road through the fog and mud toward the fence, her long brown hair slapping against her face, covering her green eyes, which seemed blue when she turned them to the sky. She pushed her thin body through the wind, the black Rolling Stones T-shirt she wore as a dress blowing into her stomach. When she stood in front of the fence, the flowers finally swayed. Sprinkles of dew, dying. She pulled them off, the crushed flowers in her hands, falling to earth. The wind never took them.
She sat on top of the fence watching the sky for rain. Instead, she saw the faces that the clouds made morphing from evil to angel in one blink. She ran her hands along the old brown wood, digging her fingertips in hard, crusted blood under her nails. She kicked her legs against the fence, half wanting to knock it over and half wanting to fall with it, but it wouldn’t fall. She rubbed her thighs with the splinters until they burned and then made a fist with her right hand and bit down on it. She bit hard enough to stop her tears. Only cry when the rain comes, she thought. That way the rain would wash away her tears and no one would know. She saw a caterpillar sitting beside her and picked it up.
“No one knows you’re here but me,” she whispered. She laid the caterpillar where she’d found it. She opened her hands and kept waiting to catch the rain. She waited as the sky twisted around her, sealing her in a mist that she wished only the sky could see through.
Three boys came toward her down the dirt road, two short and fat, and one lanky and carrying a silver plastic Halloween sword. All three with buck teeth and zits.
Fuck the mist. It didn’t conceal anything. She jumped down off the fence, her bare feet slipping in the mud beneath where petals now lay in pieces. She walked through the field, away.
Little unknown things nipped at her ankles, splashing mud against them.
“Yeah, that be her all right, that be her, Led.”
Sadie walked faster, breaking dandelions that hadn’t already been broken.
“Her stepdaddy fucks her.”
“Yeah, it’s true. In the basement of his funeral parlor.”
“With them ghosts.”
Someone laughed. They all laughed.
“Turn around when we talkin’ to you.”
“She rebellin’ you, Led.”
“That what this sword’s for.”
“Hey. Sadie, ainʼt you wanderin’ alone when it gettin’ dark now.”
“It’s not dark,” Sadie whispered. “It’s the morning.”
“She want more, Led.”
“Turn around, bitch.”
Then she was in the ground with the stems all around and her face in grass mud. “Stick it to her good, Led.”
“Hurry,” Sadie whispered, but a fat boy’s thumb was pressing on her tongue and a sword was twisting…“Ainʼt fit.”
“Make it fit, fuckface.”
“Itʼs only the morning…” she mumbled.
“Fit it harder.”
“Finish it, Led.”
When it fit all the way, she blacked out. When she opened her eyes, the rain she had been waiting for came.
She was in a little swamp. Her hands squeezed the puddle. She tried her elbows but fell down, her face slamming back in the mud. A warm, wet wind blew through the rain. A disembodied cut of wind pierced through her legs, up her spine—she lifted her face to feel it. When the wind left her, she felt a burning, a nauseous wave of disgust across her chest, and she tried to breathe a little. She waited to hear her own breath but couldn’t as the rain came harder. She kicked her underwear off her ankle and tried to crawl. She laid herself down again on the earth only half an inch away from where they’d attacked her. Inside her, where the burning once was, a hatred arose, a shadow fusing into flesh. She spit. She’d heard every word before the sword was stuck under her skin. Without a tear, just a shaking under her eyelids, she’d heard them play. Without a tear, she scattered her eyes across the evil fields now covered in the descending gray.
She just wanted to die. But she couldn’t die without a daydream. She thought of something good, something that had some starlight in it, something outside of herself. She imagined a single star left alone in the sky, just one twinkle. Feeling the blood through her legs, she held a silence tightly within her that was hers alone, a sacred gift she left in the corner.
She kept her eyes focused on one knotted cloud ahead. This cloud seemed blue, blue as the flowers on that fence. She thought the blue was within the cloud, a swollen cloud with something else beside the rain inside it, something not wet, something half done. She crawled toward it now, a little hope to see something pretty. She heard her own hands slapping through more puddles, felt her wrists, her body tilting on her knees. “Popsie,” she whispered. Her own voice fell to the ground like bloody rain. She looked for her own whisper in a crazy daze, darting her eyes down, then back to the cloud on her horizon.
She rose upon her knees at the base of the little hill, walked on them to a log and rested against it. Wicked trees were already there, stripped from a constant flushing of rain that should have grown them, but instead took them apart. Surrounding her. She could smell their wetness. If only the star she was looking for would burn her up.
She crawled a little closer and more downward to a small black lake within the trees. Woodchips stuck to her skin as she squinted to see a golden dot: the blond hair of her friend, Billy Flath, hunting
frogs in the middle of the lake. She made her way to the edge of the water. It looked like black ink. She could wait to drown when Billy left, she thought, but the thought came and went as she fell limp at its shore. It was cold. She was shaking and cold.
“Sadie.” Billy walked through the water to see her.
“I just want to sleep,” she said, stroking the oily water. She turned her face away from Billy and then flipped herself onto her stomach. She couldn’t hear the water parting, but she felt Billy come swiftly.
He knelt beside her. He planted his stick in the earth by her head. She clawed the wet sand. She blew bubbles.
“Nothing,” she whispered to herself. Blowing bubbles harder now, she knew she was fogging up the clouds somehow.
“Don’t mind you crying, Sadie, even though I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. ’Cause I’m not even doing it.”
She lay still now. He sat still, too. She turned her head to him, gave one look to his stick first, then up to his eyes. They were so blue between reddish rings, so blue within the fading light. He winked at her. She smiled with her lips closed at his shirtless chest, paler than her, with little muscles. Her face clenched and then sunk, expressionless. He winked again as if practicing. He put one hand on her stomach and she shoved it off, then he saw the blood through the hollows of black water and she pushed herself up.
“You can go now,” she told him, crossing her legs, sitting.
“Nope,” he said. “He ainʼt working tonight, and I don’t wanna.”
“OK,” she said. “Then leave me alone anyhow.”
He stood above her, his face stuck in fog. He reached his hands out. She looked down, the dark sand and forest litter beneath her. Eyes still down, she reached for his hand. Holding the tips of his cold fingers, she got up crookedly. She lifted her chin, watched his eyes as they came a little out of the smoke, and he stared at her legs. He pulled down her dress, which was sticking to her stomach. One of his eyes was wet. He rubbed it away. He took his stick. “I’ll kill him.”
Billy marched back into the lake, stabbing his stick through the water. Sadie fell down. When she opened her eyes, Billy was above her again. Stickless now, in his right hand he held a big black book and a big dead frog in his left. He laid the frog beside her.
“Biggest one,” he said. She shoved it away. He put it back. “And this. Your daddy’s book. Was at the bottom.” Its water dripped into her eyes. She stared at it. Leaves stuck to its cover. She stood up and walked away.
“Put it back,” Sadie said over her shoulder, crossing between trees. Billy put his frog into his wet jeans pocket and followed her.
She broke off a twig and dropped it. She held her stomach and bent over herself. Pain.
“Don’t want it,” she said.
He limped over beside her, wiped some of the leaves off the tattered cover, and held it out to her. She didn’t want it. He wiped more things off it, brought it close to his eyes and then read the faded gold letters.
“Travelers of the Dust,” he said.
“Throw the fucking thing back in the lake.”
He opened it. She slammed it shut. He opened it again. She broke another twig off a tree and dropped it. She felt a worse burning in her chest now. Her stomach tightening, she leaned against a tree. All the pages were ripped.
“Throw it back in the goddamn lake, Billy.”
“How come you beat it up?”
“’Cause I felt like it.”
They wrestled with the book until she fell.
The fields and the dusty road were behind her now as she walked barefoot through the night. The only light came through tiny windows scattered about, old fading light bulbs no one replaced until black. She smelled onions, but she could never find where the smell came from. She sucked in her stomach and took shallow breaths until she was home. The little red house, a rotten apple lying on a black sheet, was stuck in faded green grass the rain could never make glow. She knew she made no sound as she walked directly to the backyard, sprayed with leftover water from a blowing weeping willow tree that absorbed the wind no other tree felt. In the very center of the tree was a hole. Like an animal had taken a bite out of it. The tree stood alone, some ancient ruin of Earth.
She put her arms all around it and squeezed it tight. She squeezed too tight, wishing she could break herself. It made her smile to hug the tree. Even though as much as she tried, she couldn’t get her arms fully around it, she felt safe like this. Holding on so hard. Soon she dug her fingers in the hump. It was warm, wet, and soft while the rest of the world was what it was.
“It will rain again,” she told the tree. “Don’t be sad.” She buried her father’s book in the handmade grave where papers with her writings, her stories, already lay. The tree quivered when she buried the book and then stayed still. She rubbed soil and grass over the grave of stories and in the rubbing she felt a cigarette butt between her fingers, drenched but still intact. She held it, at first refusing to see it, chewing on her lips, and then her face froze and her knees dug harder into the earth, almost sinking. She stared at it, the cigarette butt, and waited. She waited, then she took it to her cheek. She rubbed its frayed fibers there and when she moved it to her nose, she felt a cry. She quickly brought it to her lips, and then came thunder. One boom of thunder, and there were baby lightening bugs flying near the red house. Thunder again, and she quivered from cold. One lamplight came on, the house became redder, the fireflies zapped away, and the screen door creaked open and slammed shut.
“Sadie,” Lilith, her mother, said. One hand on her slinky hip, a cigarette between two fingers, smoke rings swirling to her face, her flaming red hair shining. “Get the hell in the house.”