leaping bug

Excerpt from Pink Sky
Mary Meyer

Ronnie finally arrived to pick Marlyce up. We knew this because Marlyce's mom opened her bedroom door, and her face had taken on an extra shade of sour. Her mom looked past me into the room, toward the bed where we'd been dancing, and I decided to wait out front on the porch. Ronnie was there. His hands, if he had hands, were in his pockets like always. He was slouched and thin and very still, always very still for a guy who looked like a terrier. Tonight his eyes were bloodshot and puffed to half mast, his smile cut and pasted from a magazine, and I wondered if Marlyce's mom had noticed.

"Hey, Ronnie," I said. "You look like shit."

"Shut up," he said. Speech seemed to close his eyes, but he was still smiling.

"Maybe you should have waited till you got up to the Pass," I said.

He shrugged his shoulders and pooched out his lips a little, but he didn't reply.

Marlyce showed up just then and pulled the door shut behind her, cutting off a black shadow inside that I think was her mom. She turned on Ronnie. "You're lucky my dad isn't here, you asshole."

"Let's go," Ronnie said, crooking his arm like we'd all just come out onto the porch in dresses and gloves and were going to church in a limo.

Just then I got a good idea. "Hey," I said. "Ride me up on the hood of your car."

"You're dumb," Ronnie answered, and I took that as a sort of challenge. Ronnie should watch the way he talked to people. People could get their feelings hurt.

I climbed up onto the VW, my butt on the hood, my heels propped on the bumper. The evening was cool and the clouds carnation pink. As Ronnie started slowly up the hill and the breeze pushed back my hair I felt large and important. I wasn't trapped inside behind the windshield like my friends. I was the Grand Marshall in the Rose Parade; I was Shirley Temple, a child prodigy. I was tempted to wave.

But Ronnie sped up, and instead of waving I gripped first one windshield wiper, then the other, because suddenly I wasn't Shirley Temple anymore. I looked over my shoulder at Ronnie behind the glass. He was smiling, but it wasn't a good smile. It wasn't bad, exactly, just sort of disconnected. "Slow down!" I shouted, and he laughed.

I could feel the bumper through my sandals harder now, and then Ronnie was going faster and I was thinking how that made no sense, that it was outrageous, that my hands hurt, that I was slipping down the hood toward the blur of asphalt, that the carnation clouds were turning red, that I might die, all of this at the same time.

I contemplated throwing myself off the front of the car, just to get it over with. But not seriously. Ronnie had gone past my house toward the cul de sac at the top of the hill, and I knew something had to give. I was either going to fly off when he made a U-ey, or he'd stop.

He stopped -- so suddenly I had no time to let go of the windshield wipers. They ripped from my hands. And then I was flying through the air in front of the car, the yellow shafts of sunset lighting up my landing spot. I was a non-pilot, about to crash somene else's plane. Then I was free, relieved, so happy I could cry. On the second half of my arc I thought about the asphalt, about greeting it with my flesh. I wondered what part of me would land first. If it was my head, would I leave a trail of facial features behind? A nose, perhaps, at the landing site, then an ear and a lip farther on?

I met the steet with my knees, my hands, my chest. Everything was tall around me as I slid along: the trees, the houses, the VW. I was a skateboard without ballbearings; the distance I made was hard won. I thought I could hear my cord jeans heat up and melt to my knees. Then I stopped, and the pain I'd left in the street behind caught up to me. I lay still till it got there. Marlyce's feet were running toward me and I was aware of Ronnie, emerging slowly from the car like a rock star posturing for a crowd.

But none of that really mattered -- the pain, the blood, Marlyce crying, indifferent Ronnie. I was alive.


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