S. Dorman is currently at work on a series of Maine rural town novels with mythic overtones. Her work has appeared regionally in Maine publications like
Portland Monthly, in little magazines such as those of the
Mythopoeic Society, and in journals in the Midwest. She recently received a master's degree in humanities, her thesis being a creative display of the historical tension between rationalism and Christianity, focusing on Mark Twain, C. S. Lewis and Johannes Kepler. A byproduct of this was a novella,
Fantastic Travelogue. A scene from this is to be published in
The long June twilight had lingered, dark was just about down. Beyond the fretful borders of the sagging Cape, Cindabilla stood near the lane awaiting Daniel. She climbed onto the great low branch of a huge maple not far from the broken gate, and looked up. A tufted owl in the higher branches somewhere up there. Thing was on the far side, in the leaves, spitting out another mouse. Heavy old thing--swooping down on rodents all evening, killing and spitting them out; not even bothering to eat. It gave her the creeps but she was fascinated anyway. Owls didn't usually do that, did they?
She had crept out her window and scurried away from the fetid and furious house. A long wait, but Daniel would be here. One thing she could count on was Daniel. Feeling the impress of jagged bark on her palms and even through her jeans, Cindabilla swung her bare feet back and forth.
A crash came from the Cape style house. She looked over her shoulder at the yellow rectangles of light that broke the dark surface of her home. Shadows crossed the blinds, and in one shadeless window she saw Uncle Ferdinand lurch out of view; heard his drunken cursing drift out. He was taking aim at his girlfriend again. Babette sometimes looked 45, but Cindabilla knew she wasn't more than 33, or 34--ancient but not that ancient. Daniel had said she went to school with his mother in the '60s.
The soft rush of quiet wings went past. The owl was at it again. "Cruel bastid," she said in her high thin voice. She looked away from the house toward the lane. Why don't Babette just leave? Why take that abuse ovah and ovah and ovah?
She leaned out, looking up the road. Is that a shadow moving toward the lane? Yep, here he comes. She slid to the ground and moved toward the lane, running like a pale stripling through the dark of grass. So cool and sweet out here tonight.
Daniel came up to her, his quiet face with its slightly Indian contours visible in the June evening. He had high cheek bones and a very broad brow. She had never seen him smile.
"How's the school play coming t'night?" he asked.
"Cruel bastid's beating on her again--like last week. Wish she’d leave."
"Can't your grandmother do anything?" He was thinking of how there'd been no family in Phoenix for him to call on when Petey went ballistic.
"Call the cops's all. It’s something t'do, but ain't much use t'Babette. She nevah presses chodges, so gram gets discouraged." her eyes brightened. "Waunt see something?" She pulled him toward the maple.
In the shadow on the ground beneath lay an odd little mess. What's this? he wondered. Then a dead mouse fell on top. Daniel started back.
Cindabilla said, "Cruel bastid's up theya."
Daniel glanced up into the foliage and saw a gleam of something. He looked on the pile at his feet, recognizing tiny bodies, legs and tails.
"Cruel, stupid horned owl," said Cindabilla. "Been heah all evening, swooping down, spitting 'em out. Someone ought shoot it!" Staring at the heap of little bodies, she said, "We ought." She looked back at Daniel.
Cindabilla's face was ghostly and there was moonlight enough to see her cloud of freckles, the pale lashes around her eyes. Her long ponytail glimmered in the night as together they moved out from under the tree. Her arms were thin and white, her chest just developing under her T-shirt. Other girls in class were stylish in comparison, wearing bras, makeup, earrings, and blouses to top their imitation designer jeans. Their shoes were petite, feminine, but Cindabilla would go barefoot as much as possible this summer. Her sneakers, bought by Gram last fall, were now smelly and shot.
Daniel's look was doubtful. "Whose gun'd we use?"
"One o'Uncle Ferddy's."
But Daniel looked off toward the woods beyond the Sessions' pasture behind the house. He fancied he could see the glow of Aunt Nellie's camp. He pictured her looking at the arrowheads through her magnifying glass. But the thought of Cindabilla's great aunt at peace was suddenly shattered by the cries of Babette Buck.
Daniel seethed some words between his teeth, inarticulately wondering what they could do. Should he go in there and throw himself on Ferddy--a stranger? He had thrown himself on Dad--Petey--not long ago, in Phoenix. Ferddy is bigger than Dad, but it might distract him long enough for Babette to get away.
"Let's go look in the window, " said Cindabilla, turning toward the house. "If it's bad we could decoy'em. Beat on the house, break a window, something."
Through weeds and bits of trash they crept up to the weathered windowsill. The rank smell of Hannah Sessions' kitchen came out at them, along with the glare of a naked bulb above the table. There were cans and clutter, plates and pots everywhere. Chairs were askew or knocked over. A cigarette lay on the floor, burning a hole in the linoleum. A cat lapped at something under the table. Over in a corner beside the refrigerator hunkered Ferddy over Babette, yelling like a maniac. He was a demon hollering himself hoarse, right into her ear where she sat scrunched against the appliance. She didn't seem injured, but her head was down, covered with arms clasped in an attitude of protection. Hannah was nowhere to be seen.
Wide-eyed and tense, the children watched as long as they could, but Cindabilla soon pulled Daniel back. "She's all right. Let's go get the owl. We'll climb in Uncle Ferddy's window'n get one o'his guns. One of 'em's bound to be loaded. He's like that. Surprised he never threatened Babs with one." She shivered, thinking of an ever present dread. Maybe she'd come home some night to a scene of blood.
Threading through junk, weeds, and swatches of streaming light, they moved toward the dark end of the high-gabled cape. Cindabilla clambered over the sill and in through a tear in the screen. She landed on a pile of dirty clothes, popping up to whisper, "Wait heah. I'll hand out the gun."
Daniel stood peering in as she moved around. Light from the kitchen at the far end of the house slashed into the open doorway. He saw the shade of Cindabilla crossing and recrossing the bright line made by the open door. At last she handed out the gun and climbed after.
"Just what we want," she hissed. "His bird gun--loaded'n ready t'shoot."
Going down the lane, she asked, "Your aim ana good? We'll shoot that owl, run back'n dump the gun on the clothes pile. Tomorrow he'll probably know 'twas me done it--if he even 'membas it then."
"I never shot a gun," said Daniel, a bit breathless. "In Phoenix only gangstas had guns."
"When we get done, hightail it t'the woods'n you can tell me bout Phoenix more." She nudged him. "There 'tis, on the other side in the branches," she whispered. "Gimme."
She crept beneath the overshadowing boughs with the bird gun, lifted it to her shoulder, took careful aim, and squeezed off a shot. The explosion tossed her back, a light thing. The owl dropped with a thud onto its pile of prey, bouncing a bit. The children ran back across the weedy yard and rounded the corner of the house, panting, breathless. Cindabilla threw the gun into the room. She heard it miss the clothes pile and bark on the floor. There was another explosion.
"Shit!" she squeaked, and ran away around the corner at the back of the House. There was a pigpen and, beyond, the trash-filled yard with the old pickup. She panted and squeaked with excitement, looking back to see if Daniel followed. He knocked into Cindabilla and they tumbled into muck that Hannah Sessions had raked out of the pigpen that afternoon. Rising, stumbling toward the pasture, Daniel puked. But Cindabilla was laughing, freely cursing as she followed, bumping him. "Fuckin' pig shit!" she squeaked at the end of her cursing.
Over and over she said it, as they ran down past the abandoned '40's pickup, tripping over junk. "Fuckin' pig shit!..." They made it to the pasture and went on towards the woods. Daniel looked back toward the hulking tumble-down barn and sway-backed Cape, thinking he heard something--screaming? But he kept on, Cindabilla's laughter and his own ragged retching diverting him.
On and on they ran until at last the great arms of the woods received them. Daniel knew where he was heading, whether Cindabilla followed are not. He was far ahead of her now, on his way to the stream. All he wanted was to drench himself in the rocky waters. He rolled under the current, careful to avoid the rocks cropped out here and there. He clawed at himself, scraping futilely at the muck on his clothes. He wriggled out of them, flopped over suddenly, looking for Cindabilla.
She stood a little apart, already down to her underpants, dunking her T-shirt up and down in the stream. He saw her thin body, faintly agleam, her breasts like buds. She was giggling, cussing a stream of filthy words, and looking over at him with what seemed a face of pure wicked glee. It wasn't quite light enough in the woods for him to see it clearly. "But we got that owl," she said, breathless, repeating it over and over. "We got that bastid fuckin' cruel owl!"
At sight of her Daniel felt an erection coming on, even here in the cold water. He struggled up, lugging wet clothes under a nearby arched snowmachine bridge. He went further upstream and began again, furiously dunking his clothes.
He heard her call out, "Daniel! What choo doing over theya?!"
"Here's where you ain't. We're not doing anything, Cindabilla!" His voice was cracking and shrill.
"Who said anathin bout doing anathin?" Her voice echoed toward him under the bridge. She was wading after him, her teeth beginning to chatter.
But Daniel did not look toward her. "Stay over there till we get dressed." His voice trembled, the words stuttering out. "W-we're t-too-young t'do anathin'!" He was shivering, his sexual urgency now abating.
Cindabilla giggled, but turned away. She climbed up over the rocks onto the bank. "Good thing water's high this time o'year," she called, wringing out her T-shirt. "We'd nevah get fuckin' pig shit off us." She was squeaky with laughter and kept hearing that explosion inside Ferddy's bedroom, the one he shared with Babette.
Her thin arms and hands worked over the jeans, twisting. Never get the water run out of 'em! "Daniel, I caunt get the water out o'my jeans'n I in't wearing 'em wet. Way too cold!"
After a moment she heard him yell, "Well, put your T-shirt on then." She felt energized, exhilarated. No one ever wanted to do anything with her before. Daniel was surely just about saying he wanted to do something! Glorying, she felt luckier than anything; and glad, too, that nothing was going to happen. It meant that Daniel was to be trusted more than anyone. More, even then Gram or Aunt Nellie. Neither one knew what to do with her anymore. She pulled on her T-shirt and called for him to come over now.
When he came up out of the water and saw her in shirt and underpants, he wanted to protest, but decided not to be bothersome. It would be all right as long as he didn't look at her. He started up the path a little ahead of her in cold clinging jeans. Water trickled down inside and the cuffs dragged in the dirt. "C'mon," he said, trying to jam his hands into the pockets. No good. His teeth chattered fiercely, and he flapped his arms. "N-now what'll we do?"
"You're gont tell me bout Phoenix," she said, a little behind him.
She's so tough, he thought, makes me feel delicate in comparison. "No," he said. "We got t'get warm! Let's go to Aunt Nellie's. "
"Daow," she said, sounding like Hannah Sessions. "We'll just jump up'n'down and beat the trees with sticks. That'll keep us warm."
He jogged along the path, swinging his arms. All he wanted was warmth, but he said, "Whad y'think happened when the gun went off? Thought I heard someone screaming."
"Let's go back 'n' look in the window."
Jogging through the dark, careful of roots and rocks, they speculated on the uproar that must have been caused by the discharging bird gun. Laughing, Cindabilla spun ideas for escaping retribution. She did not really care. Gram didn't know what to do with her anymore and that meant liberty. Yet she always tried to avoid giving too much trouble. Gram's life was hard enough.
When they reach woods' edge, Daniel grabbed her jeans and wrung them out. "Put 'em on. You won't believe the trouble we'd get in if anyone saw us like this."
So, hopping on one foot then the other, Cindabilla got into her jeans. Coming down through the pasture, they noticed a flashing glow coming from beyond the house. And there was another flashing, blue, coming down the road.
"Police," said Daniel. "We're in trouble now."
She grabbed his arm, pulling him toward the corner when they reach the yard. "Theya won't be trouble fah us if I get in bed 'fore they get here."
She pulled herself over the sill and into her dark room--the room beside Ferddy's. Her pale face glimmering in the opening, she said, "Go back t'Twitchell Cove'n I'll be down tomorrow. Let you know what happened then."
He heard her moving around, probably taking off the wet jeans. Then he watched as she opened the bedroom door, letting light stream in. He heard voices of the police come in with the light, questioning. Cindabilla rubbed her eyes against the brightness, yawning and stretching as she headed toward the kitchen.
Daniel crept away as quickly as the strewn yard would allow. He went down past the old barn that loomed like a small mountain over the farmyard then took its lane to the road. Glancing back, he saw the ambulance, its red lights still flashing, mingling with the blue of the cruiser. He watched as the paramedics loaded an occupied stretcher. Then, in a spray of gravel, it leapt away, took the road and flew down toward the highway. Daniel saw the lights vanish below hill crest.
Who was on their way to the hospital? Don't let it be Gram. Cinda might as well not have a mother, so little use was she to her daughter. Walking on toward the crest of the hill in the light of the stars, his breathing slowed. He grew thoughtful and calm. What will the cops make of her wet T-shirt? No, better not think about it. Not if you can help it.
But he felt a strange exuberance. Daniel wasn't sure he could help thinking of Cinda and her budding T-shirt.