Winter 2011

Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 4


Poetry    Translations     Fiction    Reviews   

Nathan Leslie



Me and Tummy go walking. Tummy is not my sister’s name really, but I like “Tummy” better and she likes it back. Anyway, she doesn’t hit me when I say it.
We live above the lake with the mud and the skimmer bugs we try to sink with stones and bark and things, but after school we stay down near it in the small house. Ivy lets us play in the lake. We watch the lake turtle, Dog, and throw things, but after a while it gets boring ‘cause Dog goes under a lot. So we go walking. Ivy doesn’t care as long as we’re back in time. She lives nearby. She watches us. She likes to paint her toenails black and she has metal in her face. Sometimes the metal reflects the sun on the ground. Then she lifts her face and the reflections go up into the leaves. The cat watches them. Ivy plays drums. She plays loud. Tummy and me hold our ears, but the loud still comes through anyways. Our Mom doesn’t know about the drums. Ivy told us not to say anything.
In back of the houses are woods, and in front of the houses are tons of cars, cars, cars. Once Tummy almost got hit by a big blue one with wheels, but it stopped and the man yelled and Tummy doesn’t walk off the sidewalk now. That’s the boundary. Sometimes we mark it with chalk, but usually not. Even in the woods you can hear the cars. Cars are everywhere. More than people or trees or turtles.
“Go out and play until five,” Ivy says. She points to where the big hand will be, and I understand. I try to tell Tummy, but she’s only five. She only knows her ABCs.
The woods have a path and a creek. We walk the path. We throw things in the creek. Tummy likes it back there, so we walk for a while. We can hear the cars still.
We keep walking. There is a woman. The woman has her hair under her chin. It’s tied and gray like stones. Her face is funny. She’s missing her two front teeth and her arms have red dots on them.
“What’s that?” Tummy asks.
“It’s called the price of getting evicted when they raise the rent twenty percent,” she says. I don’t know what evic-whatever is. “My name is Ella,” she says. “Like the singer. You kids are too young.”
The woman is sitting on a log, sticking her fingers in a soggy place. She’s pealing up the bark and looking under, then picking up ants and slugs and sticking them in her mouth.
“There’s plenty of free protein out here.” She licks some bugs off the bark. The bark looks like a tongue made of wood. It curls. “It’s the other stuff.”
I can see the ants racing in her mouth. One runs up and down her yellow teeth. She licks at it and swallows.
“I think this creek water is making me sick,” she says.
I wanna tell her we have plenty of water, but that’s Ivy’s water. I don’t know if Ivy’s water makes you sick.
“Do you know Ivy?” I ask. I can hear cars on the highway or somewhere.
“There’s Ivy in the woods all over.”
“She lives over there,” Tummy says, pointing. Tummy is behind me. She’s shy.
“She plays drums a lot,” I say.
We don’t know the woman. We have never seen her before. I wonder what her name is.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Ella,” she says. She’s squatting over the log, lifting it. “I’ve already told you. Are you brain-damaged? I’ve met some idiots in my time.”
I forgot. She smells like our dog Rusty. Rusty is my age, but in dog years he’s an adult. I wish I could be an adult. Our parents say “I love you a lot.” If I was an adult I wouldn’t say it so much. If I was an adult I also wouldn’t eat insects. I’ve never heard of that before. I wouldn’t want them running around my stomach.
“What do ants taste like?”
“Try one,” she says.
We both shake our heads. She holds out bark covered in ants. She says the queens have the most protein, but you have to find them. She says she doesn’t eat the red ones ‘cause they sting.
She tells us to sit down, and we do. We’re sitting on mossy rocks. They are soft. Tummy’s mouth looks sleepy. We can hear the creek water over the rocks. There are birds chirping in the branches. The wind goes through the leaves. The leaves blow against other leaves. I feel sleepy too.
We are sitting when she says she will show us the gold if we bring her things. She wants bread and fruits and cookies and carrots and peanut butter or cheese. I want to see the gold.
“Can you remember that?”
It’s long but Tummy and me say it over again until we got it.
“What kind of gold?” Tummy asks. I’m glad she asked it. I forgot there are different ones.
It’s nuggets, I think.” She squints off and her hand is over her eyes. “It’s over there,” she says, pointing through the woods, past the creek. “We’ll find it.” I can hear cars past the woods. There are always cars. Some cars honk and some just drive loud.
Tummy and me start walking back and the woman yells at us: “Don’t say what it’s for.”
So we walk back to Ivy’s and get water and bread and oranges and chocolate cookies and water and peanut butter. She doesn’t have any carrots. Not even the baby kind mom likes.
“Do you think she’ll be mad?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Tummy says. She sticks her fingers in her mouth. “Maybe.” I can hear Ivy downstairs playing drums. She’s playing along to the music. It’s loud.
We walk and walk and walk. Tummy carries the peanut butter and bread ‘cause it’s light. I carry the rest. When we get back to the spot she’s splashing water on her face. She doesn’t wear a shirt. I know you’re not supposed to do this. She’s not even a mother nursing or anything. She looks at what we’re carrying, and she takes it all. She rips the bread bag open and stuffs slices into her mouth. She sticks her whole hand in the peanut butter jar and sucks her fingers. Ella’s making a real mess. We watch her but we don’t even laugh once.
She drinks the water. She eats the cookies. When she’s done she makes us sit again.
“I lost my job,” she said. “All I had. It was all because the company went under. I couldn’t do a thing after that. I couldn’t even get out of bed for a year. If I had owned it would be different. I rented. The landlord had enough.”
She doesn’t look at me or Tummy until she’s done. Tummy has her chin in her hands. I look at my watch. The big hand is almost there.
“What about the gold nuggets?” I ask.
I can tell she is lying by the way her eyes look, something about them.
“Let me dig them up,” she says. “I have to remember where they are. Come back tomorrow.”
“Can’t you find them now?” I ask.
She looks away, shakes her head, looks at the food. “Come back.”
We do but she’s not there, not anywhere. Tummy says maybe she left us a message on a tree, but we don’t find anything. It’s okay: I like it better on 324 Boysenberry and Tummy does too. My Mom says she’s going to look for a new babysitter. She says Ivy should be “locked up.” Daddy says “she should be shot.” But I don’t think he means it.
The woods are dark and cool. There’s the creek and the path. It’s like we belong there.


© Nathan Leslie



Poetry    Translations     Fiction    Reviews   

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