I spit out some awkward encouragement when I said, “I like porn. Sometimes.”
The summer afternoon felt like a slow game of chance. When I was in high school I used to sneak out to this isolated Ozarks pasture where I would undress and lay hidden in the tall grass for as long as I could maintain my spirit of daring. My high school boyfriend used to marvel at my absent tan lines. Then I went off to college and my secret pasture fell into disuse until Abby, who I had known for less than a week, was regaling me with stories of topless sunbathing in the Caribbean as we watched a TV show about Spring Break on cable. I told her something like; “You don’t have to go to the Caribbean for that.” I replayed that line over in my mind immediately after I said it, listening for any weird effect. There certainly was one.
Abby was from southern California. Her parents moved to Missouri last year because they had gotten tired of the people, the cost of living, and “the bullshit.” Abby wanted to stay in San Diego but got flown into Springfield for visits several times a year. I went to a private college in Saint Louis peopled with rich children. Despite its big city status Saint Louis had a tedious midwestern quality and I frequently daydreamed about escape to one of the two coasts, those promised lands of culture and activity.
Our summer visits coincided. Our parents lived next door to each other and we met on the day that we were both tasked to mow our respective yards. She invited me over for iced tea on the back deck.
We both had gorgeous boyfriends named Chad. Abby's Chad was in a fraternity and had a little bit of weight around his belly from all the careless hedonism." Abby confided that her Chad had racked up thirty girls before she came along. My Chad was also in a fraternity but he had a tight belly and I told Abby that I let him fuck me on our first date. Then I laughed and admitted that it wasn’t true, we waited, but I desperately wanted him from the start.
And now we were naked and isolated in the woods together, both of us lying demurely on our stomachs as a deathly summer breeze caressed the backs of our thighs.
“Wow, you can see the lake from up here,” Abby said, referring to the far off blue splash visible through the tree line.
“Yeah, I love it up here.”
“Don’t you ever get worried about, you know, people?”
“That’s part of the thrill, I guess. That people could see me like this.”
“Ummm.” She uttered it in a noncommittal way.
“I used to scare myself shitless in high school. It sounds bizarre but I used to imagine this ghostly zombie person walking out of the woods right over there.” I pointed to a shadowy gap in the trees. “This disgusting thing coming out and doing something irreparably hideous, I didn’t even want to imagine what, to me. It freaked me out but I kept imagining him, his slimy gray skin and yellow teeth.”
“I’ve done that, sort of. Imagined people breaking into my bedroom and stuff. Same deal. They wear ski masks though. It’s the same, though; they are going to do something unthinkable. And I don’t mean unthinkable as in bad, but it’s like I can’t think of what they’re going to do.”
“That’s funny,” I said.
“It’s not even, you know, sexual. It’s just scary and…uggh.”
“I wonder what it means. If there’s symbolism or a psychological interpretation to apply to these mysteries.”
“There’d have to be.”
“It probably means we wanted to lose our virginity, Leslie.”
The pasture was immense. The country road where Abby’s mother’s SUV was parked was just over a football field’s length away, behind dark trees. We couldn’t see it from where we were.
“So are you thoroughly bored of Missouri yet?” I asked Abby.
“No, it’s pretty cool in a way. Quieter than San Diego, but more relaxing. You’ve never been to Cali, have you?”
Her way of saying Cali had an obnoxious ring. I didn’t like it because it made me jealous. It made me wonder if she thought I was some midwestern fool or unsophisticated chick from the flyover states. Abby was right though, I’d never been to Cali, or “NYC” for that matter, as Abby called it. I’d been to Chicago and all over the South, something I hardly imagined as being impressive to the bicoastal gal lying prone to my left.
“No, I always wanted to go though.”
“It’s alright.” False modesty and downplaying! “I’m sure you’d love it.”
“It sounds awesome.”
We lay in silence for a minute or two. I listened to a motorcycle’s engine in the distance. I closed my eyes, imagined Abby’s Chad, whose round face was preserved in her cell phone. His face dissolved into my Chad’s angular profile, which melted away into Abby, into me, back into some exotic fusion of all four of us. Then there was an empty red space that blossomed from the sunlight bleeding through my eyelids. Then an explosion of grey skinned ghouls and prowlers in ski masks. Their faces, tiny and obscene, infested my mind. Then back to empty red.
“We should roll over now.”
With great trepidation I rolled over, gazing straight up at the sky as I shielded my eyes from the solar fury of the afternoon.
“It feels nice. I’ve never felt the sun down there,” she said dreamily.
“She’s such a fucking seductress,” I thought. Abby seemed all California sophistication and erotic polish and was kind of pissing me off. I tried to imagine what she was like in bed. The knowledge of her Chad having fucked thirty women by senior year told me that Abby wasn’t exactly virginal. I decided that she was probably just like one of those girls who do porn, all knowledge and technique, all built up through rote memorization and practiced enough to always know whether to say “oooh” or “oooh, baby.” I wondered if Abby’s face took on an icy set when she got physical; that look that says, “It’s all just a big show and I’m really just amused and bored.”
I lay submerged in a witches’ brew of contempt, anxiety, and self-accusation. Then I said:
“I’m curious about other girls and all, but I won’t touch you until your eyes flash like a fucking slot machine for me.”
“What?” Abby declared it like someone dumped ice down her spine.
I had just humiliated myself. I wanted to blurt out a monologue that went something like: “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that. I take poetry classes for God’s sake and verses materialize in my head all day long. They’re symbols, just like prowlers and zombies in the trees. They mean the opposite of what they seem, in fact! I’m so embarrassed, Abby, we should go back to our separate lives now.”
I remained wordless and still. Abby sighed and I heard her moving. I assumed she was getting up to leave.
“Well, you can look at them. My eyes.”
I cautiously opened them, wondering how grotesque of miscalculation I had made. Our eyes met. It was like gazing into two little blue apocalypses. I felt suddenly disgusting, rotting on the inside. It was strangely pleasant.
“I feel shy now,” she more or less whispered.
“Because what you just said made me…hot,” Abby said. “I’m shaking. God, please tell me you weren’t kidding.”
Abby was on her side. I looked down at her crotch. It was a little red from being shaved bare in the shower. We were talking earlier about how grooming ourselves like that thoroughly made our skin itch.
“It’s ok, feel my heartbeat.” I said as I held her hand to my chest. “See. It’s racing.”
“I’m not experienced in this. Is that…alright?”
I had never in my life known the woman Abby must have taken me for at that moment. I felt supremely and amorally feminine, like a topless Hindu goddess carved into a stone wall. I stared at her pussy brazenly, owning it, making Abby the person into a less interesting extension of it.
“You’re looking at me so nakedly.” She spoke crisply now, with great moral courage.
I guided Abby to her back and cooed as I tugged on a strand of her sunlight radiant hair. “I’ll show you naked.”
We held eye contact as we slipped fingers inside each other. Guys always looked away during sex. They always looked down at my tits or watched their penis go in and out. And I always closed my eyes. Abby was unwilling to permit this. She made me look at her, into her, as we explored. The intensity was so searing that I eventually had to roll onto my hands and knees and ask Abby to touch me from behind. I wasn't ready to show her the tears streaming down my cheeks.
We were drained and lying in the heat. The onslaught of passion had receded and we were telling each other how “I can’t believe we just did that” and “wasn’t that incredible.” We flirted with the idea of sharing our summer romance with our boyfriends to see how crazy with desire it drove them. Maybe we could all get together for some ill-advised weekend tryst.
But I heard the motorcycle again.
“What was that?”
“That motorcycle? Yeah, I heard it. Do you think he’s close?”
“I’m a little worried about it. I heard it earlier.”
“But not too close? Right?”
“Not really…close…I guess. Maybe like it passed by down the road. Not down this road though.”
We got dressed quickly. Our afternoon in the sun was vanishing; we would have to make our flight back into ordinary life immediately. Before we were seen and our secrets were transformed into a third-person story, something to be told about us and made into a matter of historical record.
The motorcycle cop’s blue siren was flashing. He was about a hundred yards away, on the path leading back to the car, poised there in unnatural stillness. His riding sunglasses, white helmet, and police uniform made him into a blue tropical bug.
One knows their sexy games are over when they feel overcome by shame and darkness and wish they could take every caress back and return to a state of virginal innocence. My game was ending fast.
There was no reason for him to be patrolling this far out of town.
“What do you think we should do?”
“But my mom’s car…”
“We should just run away.”
That was an unthinkable option, however. Nice girls don’t run away from cops.
“But we haven’t done anything wrong,” Abby said.
We both expected embarrassing tickets that people that would generate gossip and confusion. But as we walked toward him we sensed something profoundly wrong in his posture.
“Why is he just sitting there?”
The motorcycle cop raised his pistol and fired at us. We screamed in unison as we jerked into animalistic crouching poses. Then, the engine throttled and his bike shot forward into the pasture. His speed was reckless. No, it wasn’t reckless; it was suicidal and berserk. Why was he doing this? He shot at us again as we scrambled back toward the trees.
The motorcycle cop crashed into something and the bike flipped. He flailed forward into the tall grass as his motorcycle skidded off to the side. Abby let out a nervous, ecstatic laugh like she was watching a scene from a slapstick movie.
“Back to the car!” she shouted in my ear.
We ran hard toward the end of the path, taking an arching detour away from the middle of the field where the motorcycle cop lay. There was another crack. I turned around and he was limping in our direction with a stiff and awkward leg, his shooting arm extended robotically. Then there was another crack. We ran hunched over, sobbing and shrieking.
Abby and I made it back to the road. Her mother’s SUV waited where we had left it, intact and undisturbed. Tears were streaming down Abby’s cheeks as she pulled her pockets inside out as she muttered “keys, keys…”
“Where are the keys, Abby?”
“I heard them fall. Back there. I think.”
The motorcycle’s engine started in the pasture.
I ran back to the path. There were no keys among the rocks. He had returned to his bike and was motoring back toward the road. The leisurely speed he was traveling at now seemed as abnormal and monstrous as his demented riding from earlier.
I gave up and ran back to Abby screaming.
We decided to escape through the woods on the opposite side of the road. It was steep descent through timber and scrub bush, we were falling on top of each other as leaves crunched beneath our tennis shoes and branches struck our faces. Abby’s fear distorted mouth was bleeding and a strand of ivy was caught in her brown hair.
She turned to the noise of a second engine. We watched the white SUV pull away from its spot on the side of the road. Its disappearance seemed like a reprieve. Maybe the motorcycle cop just wanted to scare us away from the pasture forever so he could steal Abby’s mother’s car. That would be a miraculous. But it idled somewhere above, intent unknown. We continued to struggle downhill.
The tires squealed and a metal avalanche suddenly fell toward us. The lumbering SUV snapped blackjack oaks and tree limbs in its driverless tumble. Abby split away from me and ran in another direction.
The SUV bounced over on its side and slid fast toward Abby. Its collision with an oak was deafening and the large tree was almost snapped in two but remained standing, broken beyond repair. I decided that Abby was dead and despair came over me, not because she was gone but because he could see me and he would choose me. Now that she was dead I was destined to be his bride. I knew that I would die beneath him and decay in the woods. Maybe a wandering hunter would find my body someday and call the police. The police would identify me through DNA samples and dental records and I would be buried in a Missouri cemetery on a plot my parents had picked out so the three of us could be together again when their lives ended. That’s the way it happens there. Every year they find a woman’s body in the Ozarks wilderness, they put a decade old picture of her on the news, and everybody tries to imagine, only for a few seconds, the story of her death. Now everybody would imagine me.
And he was coming, limping down the hillside, firing again. I don’t know why I didn’t surrender to exhaustion but I didn’t and the trees thinned out and there was another pasture. I saw a lonely shed.
Abby was there, crouched down and shaking the doorknob. Her lip was cut and bloody and I kissed her lips out of insanity. Her tongue was in my mouth and she grabbed my ass hard. We were both unhinged by what was going on. The notion of the world being there was slipping away from me and I felt like I was wandering into some primordial conception of time that is impossible to render through language. A part of me wanted to get off on Abby, I actually wished for a penis to shove inside her so I could die in a state of orgasmic narcosis. My thoughts were appalling and sinister and when I looked in Abby’s blue eyes I could see a matching darkness.
The doorknob to the shed turned. It was a bronze knob with a latch on the interior side. As we shuffled inside and twisted the latch to lock it Abby whispered, “We’re going to die in here, aren’t we?”
We squatted together among cans of paint and unidentifiable tools and listened. We heard limping steps and pained breathing outside.
“I am so drunk right now,” his drawling voice slurred through the sheet metal. I dug my silver fingernails into Abby thigh.
The doorknob, locked shut, clicked and clicked as he jiggled it. His gun went off, rattling the shed and shattering the brass doorknob. The motorcycle cop kicked the door open, filling the shed with afternoon sunlight as he, automaton-like, raised the pistol toward us.
Abby was the first to throw one a paint can at the motorcycle cop; he had to break his aim to deflect it with his forearm. I threw one that hit him in the chest. Then we simultaneously threw cans into his crotch. He doubled over and Abby hit him with one that spilled open, coating his helmet and sunglasses in blue paint. He tried to wipe the paint away with his fingertips. The motorcycle cop failed to clear the gob away from his eyes and began firing rounds into the back wall.
I saw an ax in the corner. I took it up and swung at his shoulder. The blade sliced into him and he dropped the gun on the floor. I swung again, hitting him in the stomach. The motorcycle cop collapsed forward and Abby darted over the top of him and exited the shed.
He caught my foot and I fell forward. Both of my knees were driven into the wet floorboards and I thought that I was going to faint from the impact. I kicked at him with numb legs and squirmed as hard as I could but the motorcycle cop’s grip was too tight. He slithered on top of me, saturating my body in hot blue paint and blood.
He wrapped his hands around my throat. I had never been choked, really choked, before. It’s like having the night sky collapse on top of you. Long strands of blue ran off of his sunglasses and helmet and into my gasping mouth. I knew my windpipe was being crushed.
Abby shot him through the elbow, then through the knee. All of his weight pinned me down and she shot him through the leg again, apparently hoping that she could induce such a paroxysm of trauma that he would flop off of me. He didn’t and the motorcycle cop, shattered and slipping into unconsciousness, just sank into my trapped body.
Abby, shrieking and still afraid to touch the motorcycle cop, then shot him though the ankle.
The motorcycle cop's gagging whisper was the noise of an oil-less machine grinding into total failure. His splayed arms and broad shoulders blocked my hands from my ears. The motorcycle cop's inchoate words carried me into his death alongside him and I didn't know how to escape so I tried to drown him out by screaming but my voice was now gone.
"Code 288...lewd conduct...female motorists...dead...dead animal...female motorist needs assistance...I am...on premises."