portion of the artwork for Merridawn Duckler's stories

Deep Woods
Merridawn Duckler

We stop where the stickers stick to Sal. “Fuckin’ A,” says Sal, stomping. “Excuse my French, baby girl.”

I’m not a baby. But that’s OK. A bug buzzes my ear and then stops with a click. The sun on my hairband is heavy. Sal shows me what animals chewed. He can pick up any stick and read it like a book. He can’t read a book. When I bring him my library books, he says, “Whoa, man, this is gonna make my eyes hurt.” I’m not a man. I was being polite. I can read them without Sal.

But it’s OK.

Before, we were on sag chairs in the front yard.

“Nice day,” says Sal.

He gets the toolbox out from under the sink but uses a bottle opener instead. He puts the band from his ankle on the fan, so it circles and slaps.

“Freedom,” says Sal. “Tastes so fine, baby child. Let’s go to the hardware store.”

I am a child. We get in his truck. I put my hand out the window. I close my eyes and stick out my tongue. At the hardware store, Sal and me walk along the drive mowers. “Man, I could start a business if I bought that one,” he says. But we never do.

We don’t drive home. There’s the river. It’s windy and my hair blows in my mouth. Along the path Sal picks up a broken net and gives it to me. Stuff outside is free: shells, flowers, twisty wood, pieces of metal, rocks that are green.

“Man, I’d be set with a boat.”

What if I was a man? That would be OK. I feel the wind stop and it feels funny because how do you feel a thing stop? At the water’s edge Sal sits, and I sit. He throws rocks. He always says the same thing when we stop and sit on the beach. A guy named Jerry told him this and then another guy ratted them out. Sometimes it’s that guy’s fault and sometimes another person. Sal throws out each part with the rocks.

I wait for one part. “Your mom,” says Sal. “Not a goddamn other person in the whole family except my sister. That one’s a princess, a queen.” Sal stands up. He looks down the sand one way, and then another. No one comes in the afternoon. They come on the weekend. But there is a man throwing a stick to a dog. He stops and watches us.

“This way,” says Sal. Turns, marching. I can’t step in his steps. They disappear too fast. Now, we’re in the deep woods. Look down and keep up. I pull the hair out of my eyes because I lost my hairband.

There’s a cleared part.

“Hey,” says Sal, “what we got going here.” I see two vampires: a girl vampire and a boy vampire. His skin is so white it looks like paint. The girl has rips in her skirt and her hair is black. They look at us and then move apart. Behind them is a very big thing they built. The girl crosses her arm with words written on it. She looks at Sal.

“Girlfriend, I’m being good,” says Sal. She laughs.

“You two have fun now.” He puts his hand on my head and steers me as we walk fast down the pathway. A family has a dog and the kid has a toy car that curves around in front of us. Two people with hats and water bottles look at a map.

But was that his girlfriend?

Sal turns the truck key the wrong way two times. He leans his head on his arms and shakes. Babies cry but what Sal wants to be is a grown-ass man and that would be OK. The seats of the truck burn my legs, but I don’t say anything. We drive to the trailer and Mom is sitting in the driveway. I get out of the truck and she runs toward us. Everyone is small. With every step I imagine I’m a baby, a child, a girl, a grown-ass woman. I am a giant, stepping over the whole river and the stores and the woods, the deep woods.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 53 | Spring/Summer 2019