(This is part of a longer piece of fiction I’ve been working on. I may never actually finish it because I love being this girl. By the way, I realize that I’m writing about camp again. Fair warning: I may write a lot more about camp before I’m done here. Or, I may not. Such is the joy of being the boss of my own self.)
I love camp. Camp Merri-Mac for girls is the main place I want to be, if you ever ask me. I do not like the fact that I have to take swimming and horseback riding though, and one day I plan to put my foot down about that.
The reason I hate swimming at camp is because of these things: dirty lake water, being cold, rocks and sticks on the bottom, swimmers ear, water moccasins which happen to kill people, wet bathing suits that the camp nurse says can give you an infection, and being embarrassed.
I have no idea how every single person in the world has learned to swim except me, but that is how it is. Every year at camp there is a swim meet where all the campers swim in races and the whole day is spent on the thing I hate. Usually I pretend to faint on the day of the swim meet and that is enough to keep people from asking me to race. In this way I am definitely NOT a Camp Merri-Mac girl and show very bad Merri-Mac spirit, but it is either faint or die in a lake and I pick faint. I believe that Jesus understands, but I don’t really understands why Jesus hasn’t taught me how to swim. That’s one strike against Jesus, just so you know.
Horseback riding is another of my worries. It’s something everyone has tried to get me to do and I hate it as much as I hate anything on this earth. At Merri-Mac, everyone has to wear a helmet for horseback riding class, and even the smell of that thing gets me upset. If it’s true that horses can smell fear, then those horses at camp must know I’m coming from a mile away.
Everyone I know loves horses but me. Daddy even got me and Katy a horse, which still seems real unfair since the only thing I really want and dream of having, if anyone cared to ask, is my own record player, but there goes everyone with horses, like I said. Our horse’s name is Little Luck and I feed her carrots sometimes but almost never ride her unless I have to. We keep her out at a place on highway seventy. We call it The Nealy’s because the family that lives there is named that, and the main things I have to say about the Nealy’s is that they have a retarded son who thinks Little Luck is his and they have a tree in their yard that’s always covered in caterpillars.
One time we’re out visiting Little Luck, the retarded boy comes running out real mad because I’m feeding her a carrot. He says she’s his horse and carrots make her sick (which I know for a fact is a lie) and is pitching a real fit so much that his mother, Mrs. Nealy, who I almost have never seen, comes out, squinting from the sun. She always seems nice but wrung out like a dishrag, and that day she yells so loud that Little Luck looks up in the middle of her carrot. Scares the life out of me, too. She yells to her boy to get back inside and comes over to me, all nervous and strange. I think she’s crying, but she keeps looking up to the sky so I can’t exactly seeDaddy’s in his car, smoking with the windows up, and Katy is cleaning out Little Luck’s stall, so me and Mrs. Nealy just have to stand there.
“Sorry about Tommy. He don’t mean it.”
“That’s ok,” I say, wiping horse slobber on my jeans.
“You get scared when he come at you that way?” Her hands are as dirty as mine, except I’m nine and she’s a grown up, which was the reason it seems funny. They look like the hands of the man who works on Mama’s car, all cut up and half black.
“No,” I say, even though it is not the truth. In this situation the truth would come out wrong, I’m sure of that. The truth is this: that boy makes me want to run away when we pull up and I see him look out of the kitchen curtains the way he does, and always with his overalls on backwards. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but it makes his head look real big and his hands floppy and he looks at me like he’d like nothing better than to run me over with the old broken down tractor that sits in their driveway.
“Now I know that’s a fib,” Mrs. Nealy says, taking a big sniff and pulling up some dandelions. She still hasn’t looked at me for one second. I feel bad that her son makes me scared and I wonder if she can smell it the way the horses do.
Little Luck walks away, flicking her tail, to look for Katy.That horse doesn’t like me any more than I like her, except that at least I bring her carrots. I like her nose, I guess. Her nose is as soft as anything ever invented. If I could live in a world made of only one thing, it would be her nose.
I watch as Lisa puts the saddle on Little Luck, just like nothing. I really don’t think there’s anything I’m that good at, unless you count imitations. I can imitate almost anyone and that is the bald faced truth. These are my favorites: Julia Childs, Rod Serling, Helen Reddy, and our neighbor Kaiser Kallenburger, which is funny because he isn’t famous to anyone but me and is German. Also the flute on HR Puff-n-Stuff, even though I don’t watch that show anymore.
“He wasn’t born like that,” Mrs. Nealy says. “He was born just fine. Big, ten pounds, but fine.” Her fingers are digging into the dirt for the roots. Now I know why she’s a mess the way she is. “Doctors did wrong by him, that’s what happened. Pulled him out the wrong way, is what I think. Used some kind of thing what to get big babies out. Hell all…”
I’m feeling like I would like to get out of this conversation. It’s the feeling I get when grown-ups are are drunk and talking to you like you’re someone else their own age. Like I know I’m not supposed to hear any of this, only I can’t think how I know it.
I see her boy looking out from the yellow curtains the way he does. Even from far away, I can see his face is red from crying. Something about him is the saddest thing I think I’ve ever seen. I get a hold of a dandelion root and pull, like Mrs. Nealy does. Just then she straightens up and lets loose a whistle loud enough to make me deaf in both ears. She does it with her pointer and pinky, like I’ve always tried to, and I hear her big dog Shelly come running toward us.
“Next time, Sugar,” is all she says while Shelly and her go walking back up to the house.
The Nealy’s house is funny, how it sort of sticks out of the ground, with half the roof practically touching the hill in the back and tiny little windows like on a trailer. Can’t be much light in there for The Nealy’s, I think. I pick myself a few more dandelions and take them over to the caterpillar tree. Next time I need to ask her about what they are all doing here. It doesn’t seem fair. Ten thousand caterpillars and not a butterfly to be seen.
One more strike against Jesus.