(Another piece of fiction here. Five bucks for anyone who can suggest a name for this character. Has that ever happened to you? Where you can imagine all kinds of things about a person you’ve made up, but can’t come up with the right name?? Anyway, five bucks is five bucks!)
Marcia Trimble is still missing. It’s Saturday and I’m at The Hair Loom with Mama, getting her perm and frosted tips. I read all about Marcia Trimble in one of those magazines they have. The lady who sweeps up the hair told me I didn’t want to read that trash and tried to give me a puzzle book for babies instead, but I said I like trash and could I have another one of their Krispy Kremes please.
Nashville Magazine says Marcia Trimble’s parents put posters up like crazy and have even quit their jobs to spend all day and night looking for her because they only have one daughter and “she was so full of life.” In the middle of the page is her fourth grade picture where she has pierced ears.
Marcia Trimble is a Girl Scout, like me, so I have been hearing a lot about the tragic thing of her being missing and how they all blame it on her selling cookies door to door. But the story in the magazine isn’t just about her. It’s about unsolved crimes around town and how a whole bunch of kids and people have disappeared and no one has ever figured out what happened to them.
Also, it seems like lots of people’s heads have been chopped off. One girl was killed with a fork while she slept and the police still don’t know who did it. Every page has a picture of a regular person, smiling away like Christmas, and then you read about whatever terrible thing happened to them, like murder by strangulation, and you just can’t believe it! The magazine says they just don’t have “the man power” to solve every case.
Mama smiles all the way home from the beauty parlor, which is always a relief. On the way, we stop at the liquor store and I lie down on the back seat, watch the giant mechanical horse in the parking lot lift his hoof over and over and wonder about all the stranglers and fork killers running around out there. One of Nashville’s many criminals could reach in this car any minute and grab me and I would never be seen again. My class picture would go in the paper, the one where my bangs are too short. Mama would never pay the money to get all those posters made though, and it would probably just end right there.
I don’t know why I think about things like blood and mysteries as much as I do. It seems like the trashier something is, the more I want to know about it.
Driving home, Mama talks to herself and has the radio tuned to the WMAK news. “The state supreme court ruled today that paddling of unruly students is acceptable under the law.” I wonder if Marcia Trimble was unruly. I also wonder how come she got to have her ears pierced and I have to wait until I’m thirteen, which, in a town full of crazed maniacs, I may never live to see.
Sometimes, you get an idea.
When we get home, I go straight to my room and get my Girl Scout jumper with the white shirt for underneath and the green socks that match but are so tight you like to die. I put it all on, along with the sash that has my cooking badge glued on with Elmer’s and the beanie, which takes me forever to find. In the mirror, I am Pepper Anderson from Police Woman. I will trap Girl Scout killers by posing undercover, screaming my head off until the police come with man power to catch them.
Mama’s asleep in front of the television. Before I leave, I take the cigarette from between her fingers and run some water on it over the sink so we don’t burn to death, for crying out loud.
Slowly, I walk through all the front yards on our street, trying to look “full of life.” That is something kidnappers and murderers can’t get enough of. There’s a bus stop on Central Avenue where I think I’ll sit for a minute because another thing they love is to give people rides. A lady with a sequin jacket sits next to me and makes clicking sounds with her tongue until I’m ready for the funny farm, as Mama always says. I leave there and walk all by myself toward the highway, which, as everyone knows, is practically like begging to be kidnapped. I stand in the gravel and smile as cars whiz by. No one even looks, so I stick my thumb out.
On TV, Pepper, who is actually an actress named Angie Dickinson, never has to wait very long to trap killers. That’s how you can tell it’s fake because, in real life, it’s the most boring thing in the world and you could walk around ‘til you’re a hundred getting blisters and never seeing one maniac. The police were right— we just don’t have the man power.
I’m burning up in my stupid jumper. I get a rocket pop and sit in the ditch by Rose’s Department Store, watching all the people lined up in the parking lot to see the sperm whale. You pay fifty cents and they let you go into this air-conditioned trailer that’s longer than a school bus, where they have him frozen in a gigantic block of ice. The whale has only been parked here a week, but I’ve seen it twice. The first time I stayed in the trailer so long my lips turned blue and I had bad dreams after. The trick is to just look at it just long enough to get your fifty cents worth, but not so long that you start thinking about what it’s like for the whale.
Rose’s is closed, but I can see from across the highway that there’s still some people waiting by the trailer. Here’s a rule I just made up: when I find a four-leaf clover, I can go home. Sometimes, I make rules like this up for fun, but just as often they end up not being fun at all. Like now— I’ve found a million four leaf clovers here before, but tonight I haven’t seen one and it’s getting darker and I need to hurry. Murray’s law, as they say.
I pick through clovers, three, three, three, four! No, three, three… I wonder how they got that whale to sit still long enough to freeze it? Three, three…
A truck pulls up to the curb in front of where I’m sitting in the ditch, hits the curb and keeps rolling. It’s a blue truck. Loud, with black smoke coming out the tailpipe. There’s a man inside with a baseball cap on. I wish I’d find that clover, I really do, but they only show up when you’re not looking. The man in the cap yells something from the open window of his truck.
“What?” I say, looking up at him. He doesn’t have a shirt on.
“Come over here so you can hear me, darlin’ “ He’s smiling and when I get up, brushing the grass from my knees, something hanging from his mirror catches my eye. It looks like yellow feathers and something shiny, like a hook.
“Where’s Rose’s Department Store?” I think I hear him ask. No other cars are passing. I’m standing in his black cloud thinking he must be blind. I point past him, over to the shopping center.
“It’s right there!” I have to yell over the rattle of locusts and his truck engine and the quiet of Hwy 70, at dinner time.
“How’s that? Now come on, I ain’t fixin to bite. Come close so I can hear.” He’s smiling a chipped tooth at me.
When I move closer, I see his hand in his lap. At first I figure he’s got shorts on, but then I get that he does not have shorts on, or anything at all. It feels like being stuck under water, when you don’t hear anything except the blood in your heart, pumping. His hand, in a fist, is holding his thing and moving so fast the hook on the mirror is shaking, catching orange from the sky.
“You getting’ in?” He says, smiling away but not stopping what he’s doing down there, not stopping at all. A car zooms by, not stopping, and I start to feel like the whole world is never going to stop for me, even if I scream and scream.
I back away, through the gravel and clover until I feel the line snap between us, and I’m free. I turn and run faster than anything, across Hwy 70, through the church parking lot and all the back yards with their clotheslines and chained up dogs. My heart is like a cartoon in my chest and my whole body is on fire when I make it home. The back screen door is open and I dive inside, where it’s blue from the television and Mama’s still asleep.
I make up another rule: I will never tell a living soul what happened to me tonight. I will freeze it in a solid block of ice, and only people who stand in line and pay will hear the story of the man with the chipped tooth, and the hook, and the trap that I set.