Frances Badgett – Wishbone Stick
Grady Kessler hollowed out the bottom of his mother’s boxwoods to make a fort with multiple rooms and a lookout tower. I could see flashes of his red soccer jersey as he piled pinecones and sticks for his armory. He treasured wishbone sticks most of all, stable enough to withstand the rubber snap of jumbo rubber bands or knit a tidy thatch roof. Sluggish from reading in the sun, I rose to my feet, picked up a broken-off y-shaped twig and marched to his front door, a cross of two branches that fell away to a spacious entry hall.
“You have to know the code to get in here.”
I knelt before the door and tried to recall the lexicon of usual codes.
I heard a rustle.
“No, Lynette, it’s Kittyhawk.” He pulled the branches aside.
The dirt was cool under my knees. While crawling, I broke an arm of the stick, rendering it useless for a slingshot.
“I came to give you this, but never mind.”
He took it anyway and propped it upright against a pile of dirt in the corner of the fort. He watched me watch him.
“There are rules.”
I felt his eyes. I leaned forward. His lips were salt and grit. Dry and cracked.
According to after-dinner front porch gossip, the Kesslers were Pentecostals. Parents spoke in low tones about snakes and tongues. I caught four lightning bugs and watched them light up my jar. Dangerous snakes. Strange, unknowable tongues.
I raced to his house after school, mud seeping into the waffles of my shoes. Breathless, whispering: Kittyhawk. He opened the door. He crouched over a turtle, its head tucked.
“Meet Rin. He hates girls.”
There were rules. His kiss lingered this time, his breath sweeter. I felt in the dirt for purchase. He knocked me over, Rin slinked off to the corner. His hands found things I didn’t know, places I hadn’t been. I blinked up at the curved ceiling of branches, the interlock of wishbone sticks.
“Wait. Are you saved?”
He sat back and stared at me. A lawnmower started up, a sprinkler dappled the roof. He held up a palm and I scooted back, back, until I was in the blazing late May sun, sweat gathering itself around me. Mud clung to my knees. I could hear him praying over the turtle. I closed my eyes and heard his words, normal words, then strange ones. Words that didn’t exist. Words that flowed and crackled. When the sprinkler came around again, I darted away, leaping the fence that his father built in a rainstorm. I hid in the garage behind dad’s Beetle. I touched my lips. They tasted of wet stone and gathered sticks.