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by Amanda Earl
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Half Moon Girl
I have come home with nothing. I have come home bare-handed, so empty the days howl through me. It sounds like the wind in the power lines along the naked highway, an endless moan rising and falling, when people say the lines are singing.
I could tell them about singing.
I see Bubbie standing outside the tiny ticket office, waiting for the bus to come to a stop. She's wearing a flowered day dress, clutching her purse to her waist, her bare, generous arms as round and brown as a mambo dancer's thighs. Her jaw is thrust forward, angry and brave.
I haven't cried the whole twelve hundred kilometers but the sight of her strikes my chest like a chisel, a chink of pain so sharp I can hardly breathe. I inhale soft, sucking little whiffs through barely-parted teeth, an old trick that got me through grade three, four and five without ever crying in the school yard.
"Tough as tire irons, those Indian girls."
The words bite me fresh. Memories are louder at home.
Only a handful of us get off at the Lockport stop, and I'm the last. It's been three years but Bubbie doesn't grab me; I'm not a child anymore. I'm twenty-four and old, old. I've warned her what I look like but she's shocked anyway; it takes her a second to recover and smile.
"Well, it's as short as you said. You look like a little bird, a robin that fell out of the nest, flying feathers not grown in yet."
I shaved my head three weeks ago. My hair is a dark fuzz, a quarter of an inch all over my skull. I look like a chemo patient, not a bird, but Bubbie always finds a way to be kind.
She's my mother's sister and she raised me. It never seemed right to call her mom, but only Child and Family Services called her Barbara. The whole town knows her as Bubbie. It's different when I say it, like a secret squeeze under the table.
The driver sets my suitcase on the pavement and I seize the handle, half-afraid Bubbie will reach for it. I want to show her I'm strong, even though I'm thin. She watches me so intently the calm June air seems to crackle. I can feel her getting angrier, just looking at me.
Please don't hate him, I think.
We start the long walk over the bridge, over the river I've seen in my dreams for three years. It's called the Red but it's a brackish, murky green, the color between an army uniform and a shadow. On one side, water churns through the locks, a pounding, thrilling waterfall of white foam. Far below, Americans in boats circle patiently, watching their lines, daydreaming of a sixty- or seventy-pound monster.
The ugly, slow snake of a river is full of money. My home town was built on catfish and hotdogs. Wherever you buy foot-longs, you can buy minnows, too.
Cars whoosh by on the bridge and I can feel the rubber-neck looks. Even if they don't recognize me, the stink of failure is so fresh they can smell it with the windows rolled up. I shrink towards the cement guard wall, the suitcase hitting my calf with every step.
Bubbie walks between me and the road, back straight, eyes ahead, her full, female body swelled out in a formidable D.
"I fixed up your room, Carly, all nice and sorta new. They're hiring at the Half Moon and they want to talk to you. I asked."
Instead of a chartered accountant, I'm going to be a Half Moon girl. Yet I'm so grateful I could kiss her plump, wrinkled hands. The city is only a half-hour bus ride away, but I know I couldn't get there every day. I can hardly pull back the covers in the morning, put my feet on the floor.
We're half a block into town when I see the great green and yellow S, rising high into the air. It's a giant catfish, twenty five feet of painted concrete, resting on its chin and waving its tail fin at the world.
"Oh, it's Chuck! He's still here," I say.
Bubbie looks at me, lifts an eyebrow in Metis deadpan. "Did you think he'd swim away?"
That's so silly I laugh, a short hiccup of sound, then another, an engine starting. The next thing I know I'm sobbing, sobbing, buried in Bubbie's pillow softness, my breath squeaking like an old board being sawed in half.
"I wanted it, Bubbie. I wanted it. Am I bad? It was a baby to me."
She strokes my head as if I'm a little girl again, my schoolyard tears spilled into her lap.
"Of course it was, child. Every woman understands that." Her voice lowers to a mutter. "As if they know anything about it."
She doesn't say ‘the bastards,' but I can feel the words, the way I feel her smooth steel bones beneath the soft flesh. I try to shake my head—don't hate him, don't hate him—but I'm trapped in the marshmallow cove of her breasts, hugged into safe harbor.
In the evening I fill a bath in Bubbie's old claw foot tub. It's long and deep, a porcelain pond I used to float in as a child. I feel like a shadow; my clothes should fall off my body, but they don't. Curves cling to me in stubborn hope: my hips and low, sloping ass; my breasts, two soft handfuls, nipples dark as ripe Saskatoon berries against calfskin. I slip into the deep, steaming water, surrender to the penetrating heat that finds all my secrets. It's like being up to my neck in love.
I could tell people about singing. I could tell them about the song a man's body sings to yours, the same bones and muscles, yet so different every limb is a fresh wonder. The solid wedge of his forearm, muscles twisting up like saplings grown together, corded with veins. The soft hollow before the bulging bicep, salty and warm, a spot of skin as tender as a woman's.
And his hands. Knobby, hard-knuckled, deft. He tugged open his belt buckle with such a sure stroke, I heard the faint, metallic clink across the room, as exciting as an old key entering a lock. Treasure. Sitting, I arched my back, a cat's languid stretch that rubbed the cherry-pit hardness between my legs against the taut seam of my blue jeans.
He came up from behind, a thief. One hand pulled my long hair aside, the other unzipped inches from my ear. Fabric rustled and the new smell made me drunk, its heady, animal darkness, pungent sweat and eagerness. He took his cock out, held it down and pressed the hot, throbbing length against my cheek. I tried to turn, mouth already open, but he held me tight by my hair and began to buck. Slowly at first, the velvet friction rose into a strange, teasing burn. He was fucking my face and if I took one step back, I would have known it was madness. But my panties were soaked, riding up into my cleft. I strained, tongue curling sideways, and licked the bell cap as it went by.
The soap is between my legs now in Bubbie's bathtub, a firm, slick shoulder that slides from one familiar crevice to the next, blooming to bliss at the top. I can't keep away and nudge my clit over and over, as quick as a snake striking. The water ripples as I hurry to the crest and ride, thighs squeezing my own hands, cunt grasping for the thing that isn't there.
Saturday morning I go to the Half Moon. Fifty years ago it was a long, wooden stand on the side of the highway. The girls passed foot-long hotdogs and cool tins of salted minnows through small sliding screens. I know this because the three half-moon humps are still there, overgrown by lilacs and moldering in decay, just a stone's throw from the big, gleaming restaurant with the neon sign.
"That's so we never forget where we came from," Mr. Cherneski says. He's the owner, a man whose puffed-out chest has become a stomach, too, teetering on top of his thin legs. He looks like a double scoop of plaid on a polyester sugar cone.
"The Half Moon was built with my father's hard work and the best damn hotdogs in the country. It was expanded by my hard work, and by God, at least one of my boys is going to make sure the Half Moon celebrates its hundredth birthday, fifty years from now."
Mr. Cherneski seems to remember that this is my interview. "You're the girl who got that First Nations scholarship," he says.
"To take what?"
"My CGA, certified general accountancy."
There is a wavering, ground-shifting moment as he realizes I couldn't possibly have completed the degree, since I'm standing here. "Well, you'll start in the kitchen—learn the business from the back. That's where everybody starts," he adds quickly. "I ain't no racist."
He turns, crunching on the gravel. There is an oily triumph in his voice. "Nobody ever gave me anything."
Except a restaurant, I think.
To start in the kitchen really means to start with dishes and pots. Dishes are easy. I just load the tray and push it through the big silver machine that whooshes steam and smells like the bottom of a drain. They come out so hot they're already dry, and remove my fingerprints when I pick them up. Pots I must wash by hand, bent over in the deep sink, burning tongues licking up the backs of my thighs, where the pain will be tomorrow.
The counter girls come in to look at me. They're sixteen, seventeen, too young to have been anywhere near my grade in school. I know them in a distant way, try to place their peach-powder, cherry-lipstick faces with the chubby children of my memory, then realize I just don't care.
For half a day I'm a mystery to them, trailing darkness like a tail. I get the feeling my fuzz of hair would be cool, if I had the tattoos and piercings to go with it, which I don't. Then someone remembers I was in her sister's class, a hundred years ago.
"Oh! Carly's that girl who got the...Native charity thing. Scholarship." Even bent into the pots I can hear the smug hush of her voice. "Your tax dollars hard at work."
After that I'm no longer interesting, and I'm glad.
Yet they keep haunting the kitchen. When I realize what the draw is, I'm surprised. Trevor is not the type of boy young women usually like.
He's as long as a nine o'clock shadow, pale, unfinished, with wheat-colored hair. There's a fuzzy newness to him that remind's me of a colt's nose. He's a junior cook in training, still chopping lettuce and frying onions for burgers. He drops things a lot and blushes scarlet at a whisper.
The gaggle at the counter lives for this.
"Treh-vor," one sings, "have ya got a foot-long for me? Just put it in my bun, hon." The girls behind her cackle, shrill.
He tries to grin but he's rattled, flushing crimson. At last Sammy, the head cook, storms out.
"You got nothing to do, girls? Take that ice cream counter apart and clean it, top to bottom, now."
Sammy's vehemence surprises me; I wonder why Trevor is worth protecting. I glance at him over my shoulder and realize he's looking at me. A flash passes between us across the prep counter. We're suddenly a couple, the two people stuck in the shittiest jobs.
At home after dinner, I sit on the back step, chin in my hands, and watch Bubbie's garden fade into dusk. Three nights of this and Bubbie is alarmed.
"He stole more than your baby, girl. He took your spirit. And the minute you let yourself realize that, you're going to be mad as hell—and you'll get it back."
The counselor at the university wanted me to be angry, too. She pulled out a chart with the Seven Stages of Grief on it, and tapped them off. Anger was number two.
"I'm angry you don't believe I'm just sad," I said.
"Carly." The counselor's hands were clasped tightly on her desk. "Your lover pressured you into an abortion, and then skipped town. You shaved your head and stare out the window all day long. That's a repressed act of a very angry woman."
"Maybe it's what my people do," I said.
She perked right up, clearly excited by the cultural angle. "And which is your tribe?"
They let me go home.
Now I stare at Bubbie's rhubarb and think, He didn't steal my spirit, he showed it to me. He lifted my dress and showed me the bare animal underneath.
Like the night we parked illegally in an alley, and didn't get a ticket. Coming out of a club, bodies flushed and sticky with the dance, he saw the clear windshield and squeezed my hand, excited by the luck.
It made him bold. Before I could open my door, he pushed me hands-first against it, not rough but...intent. The night throbbed with the pulse of instinct. I was wearing a spit-through little dress, too scanty for March, and my nipples hardened instantly against the cold glass of the window.
Lighted windows blazed down on us in the alley, but it didn't matter. He laid his scalding hand above my haunches and bit the back of my neck, the way a lion bites the female he's going to mount. I felt his teeth and growled low in my throat, tawny legs spreading under the press of his body. In heat.
He peeled up my skirt, yanked down my panties. I was profoundly aware of the brisk night air on my naked ass, a cold plum with a fiery pit. The hot shock of his loins took my breath away. He maneuvered his cock, sliding back and forth through my wetness, the thick length teasing me until I arched into a painful crescent that pushed my pussy towards him, shameless and needy.
He entered me with a primal thrust, a thrilling surge that opened and filled me, impaled me against the car. I felt him shudder with the power of it, and the word came out as a groan, low and reverent.
Even the memory shakes me, vibrates through my legs and into my womb. Growing up, it was just a dirty word. Now I know it's the deepest song I can sing to a man, the bare-wire truth of what I am, animal and spirit, the place where life starts. I want to spread open again, just thinking about it.
How can I hate someone who showed me that?
By the end of my first week at the Half Moon, I know two things. The restaurant is losing seven to fifteen percent of gross profit margin to theft and wastage, and that's just what I can see from the sink. It delights me that I'm not going to tell Mr. Cherneski that.
I also know Trevor is sweet on me. He takes his breaks the same time I do, sits out on the back step and drinks a Pepsi while I smoke. Up close, there's more to him than I thought. I like the strong cords in his neck, the bold, alluring jut of his Adam's apple. With his apron off, I can see his thigh muscles tug at his white kitchen pants. He reminds me of the steel framework of a building still under construction.
At first he watches me with shy wonder, as if I really was a bird that tumbled out of its nest. He doesn't ask, but I know he wants to touch the velvet fuzz of my hair. He'd like to touch all of me. If I lean forward, my uniform gapes between the buttons, and sometimes I catch a lovely cool draft over my sweat-silky breasts. His eyes are pinned on that small, shadowy opening as if it's all the light in the world.
I'm astonished to learn he's almost twenty-one.
"Why didn't I know you in school?"
He smiles ruefully. "Because I have two older, smarter, better brothers. They're easy to hide behind. Even at home. If I didn't show up for dinner, no one would have noticed—if it weren't for the leftover pork chop."
He says it so lightly, so easily, and yet I'm touched. There wasn't a day that Bubbie wasn't waiting for me on the step, after school. On impulse, I reach over and squeeze his bare forearm, and the firm, thick maleness of it is a shock of memory. I'm awake.
Trevor is, too. Our eyes meet, and some invisible barrier falls away. Even after I let go I can still feel his damp flesh against my fingers.
"What happened to your hair?" he says.
"I cut it off one day when I was sad." I touch my head, self-conscious for the first time. "It'll grow back."
"You're beautiful," he blurts. "Any way you want to be is...beautiful."
He means it. There are no lies in this man, about me or anything else. The warm glow in my stomach beams out toward him.
"Why aren't you in university?"
He was, taking business administration, until his brothers decided they couldn't stand the catfish and hotdog life anymore, and moved away.
"So I'm all dad has left." He smiles, but there's a granite edge to it, so surprising on his fuzzy newness. "I know what he wants, Carly, and maybe I want it, too. But goddamn it! I'm an adult and this is my life."
His brown eyes flash with anger and something else—drive. The bold, masculine push forward. It sings to me under my clothes, licks up my legs in an ancient call.
"Living well is the best revenge," I say.
He laughs, a short, bitter note. "Define ‘living well.'"
I smile. "I'll show you."
I meet him at nine o'clock. This is late June on the prairie, and every leaf and wooden board is polished gold by the low-sailing sun. Savannah colors. Even the dark snake of a river shimmers, saffron.
I'm wearing a pink lemonade dress. Short, sleeveless, it's tight in the hips and the lines of my panties whisper beneath the light fabric. My nipples press forward like eager schoolgirls, and my bare arms and legs are smooth caramel. I lead Trevor through the lilac bushes, and the full, open flowers bob under their own lush weight. We can hear the distant, surreal sound of laughter and cars; the Half Moon is busy tonight. A breeze wafts the smell of french fries through the air, already moist with flowers and lust.
Trevor's hand is damp, and in his tight grip I can feel all the sex he's ever had: the dark fumbling in back seats and basements, frantic, then finished. He doesn't know that this will be different, that I am different.
Trevor carries a thick wool blanket over his arm, and the key. It slips easily into the padlock on the door of the first Half Moon. I hold my breath as he pushes in, but there are no scurrying sounds in the dim cavern; the mice have moved into the field for the summer. The old hotdog stand is simply an empty shell, quiet boards, dust and cobwebs.
The space is so narrow I don't know how they ever put counters and a grill in here. Yet I'd believe anything—the little hut is hushed with magic. Light pries through the gaping boards, a hundred brilliant splinters crisscrossing the wooden floor. Dust rises and lingers in the golden shafts, the air smells like time. I have a premonition of a little bird hiding in some corner rafter, waiting to be set free.
Trevor shakes out the blanket and the sound makes me turn. He's anxious, hesitant, excited, his upper lip already sheened with sweat. He's wearing shorts and his hairy thighs are lean and muscled, ready as a racehorse. The strong jut of his hard-on sends a wave of desire from my navel to my sex.
I step out of my shoes and onto the blanket. When he reaches for me, I catch his wrists.
"Take your T-shirt off," I whisper. "Roll it up and hold it behind your back, with both hands."
He's surprised but game, tugs off the shirt as if it burns him. He grips it obediently behind his back and I flush at the sight of his bare torso, the light cross of brown hair; the hard, angular lines and sudden hollows—at his throat, in his navel. I arch to undo my zipper, and the dress falls, a pink skin slithering down my long toffee nakedness.
"Ohh." Trevor's eyelids flutter and he sways.
I feel wanton, powerful. My swollen sex lips throb against my panties, soak the white cotton. I kneel at his feet like a slave and undo the clasps of his sandals so he can slip them off. His breath is audible above me. I catch a whiff of his sharp, sour musk and for an instant I feel lost, swept away by a tide greater than myself.
I stand up, so close that his erection presses against the curve of my stomach, a hard column of denim against my soft skin. My nipples touch his chest as I sway back and forth, the buds harden against hot skin and rough hair. Trevor's breath slips into a low, pleading murmur.
I look up into his glazed, half-dreaming eyes.
The fumbling junior cook is gone; he bites me like a beast. With his hands tucked away, his whole soul is in his mouth. I guide his devouring lips in a slick trail down my neck to my breast. He fastens on it with a raw, deep-belly moan, and desire snaps through me like a lash. I unzip his fly and the hard cotton bulge surges forward into my palm, radiating heat.
I love the smell of him, the feel of his strong back under my hands. I stroke the firm curve of those muscles and the touch releases him: he drops his shirt and seizes me at last. His hands slide into my panties and grab my ass in a sudden, hard squeeze. The pain is bright and brief, a flare that zings between my legs and glows again as a sweet throb. My clit rears, ravenous.
I melt to the blanket and he follows, twined around me like a vine. I gaze up at the grey rafters and ease his mouth down, down between my legs. He falters; I know he's never done this.
"Just lick," I say, holding his silky head. His hair is as soft as a child's, and for an instant my arms ache with that desire—my whole body is liquid, flowing towards it.
"Lick," I whisper again, and he does, a cautious lapping that grows bolder, hungrier. He likes the taste. I lift my hips, writhe to steer him to the right spot, and his tongue finds the firm little button of my clit. Curious, he sucks on it gently.
My deep feline purr vibrates the old wood, I sound like something else. The wind. A lion. Electric understanding runs through him—he's found me.
"Soft, soft," I beg, almost frightened by the swift, thrilling pulls of his mouth. Then I arch my back and ride it, grind my hips brazenly until I'm sure my sex is rubbing his teeth. All I can think of is his cock. The shape and smell of it, how the deep strike of it will feel in my body. I'm fluttering with joy, light dancing on water, and still I crave that base connection, brute and wordless. It draws me like gravity.
I push Trevor's mouth away. He rises to his knees, face glistening with my moisture, hair tousled from my clutching hands. He looks exquisitely drunk. Yet every fibre of his body is alert and tuned to me, breathlessly ready. He slips out of his shorts and I glimpse his cock in the hastening darkness. It's long and lean, gleaming with ruddy elegance. A final ray of sun licks up the shaft, Nature's blessing.
Trevor drops over me, leans in for a kiss. I reach between his legs and guide his hard length, nudging my clit with the firm, engorged head but I can't bear it. My cunt is grasping, impatient. I lift my hips and he enters me in a long, slow velvet slide.
Right. It's so right. I'm exhilarated from the inside, plugged into some ancient, animal current. Trevor begins to buck, the fierce leap of instinct, and with each plunge, my womb pulses. I pull my legs up until I grab my knees, and he slams in deeper, harder, his eyes squeezed shut. My name is a song to him, a prayer.
"Carly, oh, God, Carly. I'm fucking you, girl. Car-lee."
I know the instant his orgasm pumps through him. I feel the hot, wrenching shudders, balls twitching against my ass. My cunt clasps around him tighter and to my surprise I come, too, a mushroom burst of pleasure that tugs me like a puppet, curls my fingers and toes. Rapture ripples through my body and the wave wipes me clean. New. I ride the second swell, and in my mind's eye I see a window open. The little imprisoned bird flutters out and away.
I suddenly understand where it will land again, nine months from now.
There is magic in this Half Moon hut, I'm sure of it. I lay on the blanket in the warm darkness, nestled against Trevor's long body. I can feel his strong arm around my shoulder, his hairy thigh under my smooth leg, yet at the same time I'm far above us both. I'm looking down from a great distance, marveling at all the pieces falling gently into place.
"I love you, Carly," Trevor says softly, and I know it's true, or it will be. He's going to be his own man, a contented king in this catfish and hotdog town. I'm going to be the Half Moon girl, winner of that Native charity thing who can see theft and waste with her eyes closed. I even know who I'll fire first. And fifty years from now, a certain hotdog stand will celebrate its hundredth birthday, thanks to the child created here.
Bubbie, I think, this is what you get for not hating.
"I love you, too, Trevor Cherneski." And the two of us cuddle together, curled up in Nature's laughing palm.
© 2003 Tulsa Brown. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.
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