Skin and Mud

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By Eva Crocker 1st-place winner of the Cuffer Prize 2013

After the first frost, me and Rick Fowler walked up to the barrens. It was late afternoon, we’d just tried out for the boys’ basketball team. The grass on the hill had turned yellow and the wind was brushing it flat against the damp mud of the hill. From there you could see the whole community.

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The familiar swish of Kent’s Road slipping down the hill. The wide stretch of fissured pavement where Kent’s Road met up with Tressel Road. Either end of Beach Road was cut off with sawhorses that had been spray painted a watery neon orange by the town council. The choppy sea belted by a gray horizon.

 Rick Fowler was wearing a windbreaker with a pocket in the front of it. I could smell the syrupy, medicinal smell of a cough drop on his breath.

“Just cause I’m short doesn’t mean I can’t jump high though,” I told Rick.

“Look at Tommy, he’s second tallest in the class but he can’t get an inch off the ground,” Rick said.

My sneaker slid out from underneath me and knee went into the grass and sank into the damp mud beneath it. When I stood up, my jeans clung to that part of my knee. The fabric was soaked and gritty.

 Rick wanted to show me something. He pointed to a stand of pitcher plants bowing toward the ground.

“That’s where we’re going, over there.”

“What? Over by the stream?”

“Over by the flowers. ”

The ground was spongy by the stream. Clear water rose out of the moss and seeped into my sneakers. It hurt it was so cold. Rick Fowler was wearing rubber boots but I had my sneakers on from tryouts, still.

Rick took out his knife and sliced the head of a pitcher plant off its leathery stalk. His cheeks were red from the cold and there was a glimmer of clear mucus sliding out of one nostril. He passed me the knife and held the flower between his thumb and forefinger. Each petal was a neat triangle and they all folded in on themselves, an envelope. Rick picked them apart. Inside the flower was a pockmarked, frozen globe. Three mosquitoes were suspended in the ice. Their gangly legs frozen mid-gallop.

“I dare you to eat this,” He said.

“OK. I don’t care.”

“Open your mouth.”

Rick Fowler put the ball of ice on my tongue. I felt the cold lump slide down the back of my throat.

“Did you swallow it? Open your mouth.”

I opened my mouth and stuck my tongue out. We could hear quads tearing around the woods but they were far off. When I put my tongue back in my head he put his lips on my lips. And then his hands on my hips. He got on his knees and lifted up the bottom of my padded vest and put his lips there. We kept going like that. Lips and hands and the little ball melting in my stomach. He took me apart, lifted my skin off.

Then we walked home.

My pants were soaked from being on the ground. I held my skin up to keep it from dragging in the mud on the way down the hill. I could feel the wind coming in from the choppy sea and stroking my muscles.

My body was an elastic band ball of muscles pulled taught. Some places in my face there was just bone with nothing on it. Not smooth or shiny or polished. Not glinting or gleaming with spit. Just dried out, almost soft, grey-white bone.

I could touch my brain. It was dark and damp and wrinkled like a fingerprint.

I called Rick Fowler once. From a pay phone in Montreal.

“How’s everything back home? What’s all the news?” I asked him.

“They got President’s Choice frozen chicken wings in garlic and honey sauce up at the store now. Just got wireless Internet here. We were the last place to get cellphone reception on the shore. I got a new dog, a little puppy.”

“I’m thinking about coming home,” I said.

“You don’t want to do that. You’re all set up there. There’s nothing here worth coming back for.”

I climbed back into my wrinkled, stretched out skin.

Eva Crocker recently completed

an English degree at Memorial University and is now working on a master’s degree. She has been passionate about reading and writing stories since she was 12 years old.

She lives in St. John’s.

Next week: Chad Pelley’s “Where to Look”

Geographic location: Tressel Road, Beach Road, Montreal

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