We whiled away the rest of that day into the evening. We drank the rest of those Coronas, and ate the hot-dogs that we cooked over the fire on long knotty sticks whittled down to points on their ends. Then Joey passed out in the tent. My anxiety had built to a pitch that any hope of sleep for me was gone. I just sat and watched as the tires turned the fire into an inferno, their edges slowly melting away, flaking white hot, and becoming thick glowing ambers that would break off into the sky and turn to ash. I could see the consistency of the smoke rising change from the romantic smoke of a lakeside campfire, to the roaring chug of a nineteenth century locomotive, black and heavy with soot. Someone else noticed it too.
“That’s one hell of a fire boy!” The voice came from behind. I was panicked and anxious. I thought I’d been had. I turned to put a face to the voice. She was a young girl, my age or younger. She had on jean shorts, and mismatched jelly sandals. She had dirt-blonde hair that fell out from under her Old Milwaukee hat and down around her cherubic face.
“You scared me.” I was still scared. She had just appeared out of the middle of the woods after all.
“Sorry. Whatch y’all doin’ out here tonight?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just camping,” I answered.
“Oh. I’m Melinda. You wanna go for a walk?” She was right behind me now, and put her hand on my shoulder. I put my hands on my knees and pushed myself up.
“I’m Hans. Sure,” I said.
I’m six months into my sobriety. I have a sponsor that likes to talk about God. I start talking about God back to him. I still go to meetings, though not as regularly. I still meditate, and try and remind myself that there are no rules. I open up the big book of sobriety and read about promises of a better life. I open that Buddhist book I was given and read about a monk named Huang Po and how in meditation we are supposed to let all conscious thoughts and emotions drop like rotten blocks of wood. I try, but my wooden blocks just seem to stack higher and higher until I am enshrined in a fortress of memories I cannot or do not know how to deal with. I look up at my blocks hoping they don’t topple down on me.
My Walk with Melinda:
She took my hand and we walked back beyond where we had set up the tent. The woods didn’t go on for as long as I had imagined. They opened up into a clearing, and there we were standing on the sixth hole of a golf course I didn’t even know existed. We were too poor to play golf anyhow; most Watertonians are. The dew on the green was bright under the half-moon and the stars. I took my shoes off to feel the fresh wet grass under my feet. Melinda grabbed my hand. I looked down at my hand now intertwined with a perfect stranger’s. I looked up at her. We didn’t say anything in that moment. I imagined running off with her and never looking back. Two strangers living a quiet existence off at the horizon-line somewhere. She leaned in to kiss me. Intimidated, I pulled away from her and our hands unclasped. She looked hurt, so I apologized.
“Sorry I wasn’t expecting that.”
“That’s OK. You wanna go back to my place? It’s just about a quarter-mile over that way.” She pointed out past the golf course into the darkness.
“Sure, what the hell.” What did I care anyhow, I thought? I’m a fugitive.
I followed her to her house, a dilapidated old two story farm house, with missing siding and the hollow rusted body of an old Datsun pickup in the yard.
“This is it,” she said holding her arms out wide to frame the image for me. “Come on.”
“Wait. What about your parents?” I was holding back now, letting the strangeness of the situation sink in.
“Why you thinkin’ bout gettin’ lucky?” She laughed, and her hat fell over her eyes.
“No I…” She interrupted me.
“I’m kidding. Relax, Mom works overnights at the turkey plant, and I ain’t got no daddy. Come on,” she said, and once again grabbed my hand and walked me into the house.
The inside of the house smelled like a litterbox had farted. Just beyond the entryway stood three rows of rotted wooden cages housing a number of little black and grey rabbits. I knelt down for a closer look.
“Rabbits huh? Cute.” I reached out to touch one.
“I wouldn’t. They bite.” I pulled my hand away. I kept surveying the room. It was a sadness-hole of old magazines and free newspapers piled up around discarded RCA stereos and bombed out Zeniths. I thought about the film Deliverance.
“Nice place.” What had I gotten myself into?
“Liar,” she smirked.
“Where’s your room?” I asked trying to be polite.
“Boy you really are forward, aren’tcha?” She laughed her hat down again. “Just kiddin’, it’s up there.” She pointed at a staircase over which were draped two soiled spring mattresses.
“Ah ha, I see” nodding my head.
“You hungry?” she asked.
“Not really.” I was thinking of an exit strategy.
“Well I sure as hell am. Go out on the porch and I’ll meet you there.” I walked back outside and was going to just keep on going, but for some reason I stayed. I walked over and sat on an old wooden porch swing and rocked. Its white paint chipped off onto my legs, and its rusty metal chain wretched loudly as I slowly shifted my feet from heel to toe. Melinda emerged moments later. She had a green plastic plate stacked with pork chops, a bottle of KC Masterpiece, and a Diet Mountain Dew. She handed me the soda, and took a seat next to me on the swing. She picked up a chop, slathered it in sauce and a ripped a chunk off with her teeth. The sauce running down her chin reminded me of a lioness looking up from feasting on her prey. I opened the can of soda, took a sip and told Melinda I was going to leave.
“Ah c’mon Hans. You just got here fer Christ sakes. At least sit with me while I eat.” She had barbeque sauce on her hands and lips.
“OK sure,” I said as I relaxed back into my seat. She licked some sauce off of her thumb and threw a pork-bone out into the yard.
“You got any stories Hans? She grabbed the soda from my hands and took a loud sip.
“What, like ghost stories?” I asked.
“I got one”
“Tell it to me.” And with that I proceeded to tell Melinda about everything that happened the night before. I told her every incriminating detail. The specifics of everything; everything I had promised I would never tell another living soul. I finished my story around the same time she finished her meat.
“That’s a hell of a thing there Hans.”
“Yah I guess it is.”
We sat there until the dusk began to break. The grey was beginning to break to purple, and the sky was opening itself up to meet the dusty landscape. I looked over and Melinda was asleep, her hand holding the rusty chain that her head was resting upon. I got up quietly and walked away. I’ve never told anyone but Melinda about the specifics of that night, and I’ve never told anyone about Melinda until this moment.