The Bog: part four (short story)
Now Laurel heard a country singer, the crackle of an energy bar unwrapped. Her sister might do this…be on the phone, snack and play music, put busyness between them. The sojourn would end, and they would not have spent it together. Rachel was nervous, out of her element.
Laurel’s own phone played a snatch of organ music.
“Laurel, hey! I can’t get my wife. She there?”
Rachel muttered, “Oh, Jesus!” Her hand came out.
“You’re gonna trash that song.”
“No.” Laurel hunkered down, peered through the flap, and saw by the light of the thrust screen that the space was barely big enough for two short people to stretch out. More likely, draw up knees and face the walls (if tents had walls), neither of them able to uncramp a leg without waking the other. She’d bought the tent brand new, expecting to use it alone. The cooler was new. The windbreaker and hiking shoes were new.
“Why would you buy stuff?” Rachel had asked. She’d meant, how can you spend money, when you haven’t got any?
Because this is the only thing I’ve done for ages, the only place I’ve gone. I like spending money.
“No,” Laurel repeated, sighing and clambering in. “It’s okay.”
She tugged her pack to the entry and began unstrapping her own bedroll. “I love that song. I was sixteen or something, when it first came on the radio. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.”
“You better cancel your notifications.”
“Rachel, they don’t control me. I don’t change my life for them. And how could I call the police? Who are they? Maybe not the Free Landers. It’s just these little spates they go through, inventing things, stupid name-calling that’s too cowardly to even be name-calling. It’s all kind of train-wrecky, you know? I figure they’re just giving themselves guilty knowledge…I’ll be in the nursing home one day, and they’ll still be out there, twitching when something reminds them…I mean, one of ’em might grow up and run for sheriff, or something.”
“I don’t know what to think about you.”
“Then don’t. Just don’t worry.”
She appreciated what Rachel was doing—what she thought she was doing—too much to start something sisterly, competitive and carping.
They were only half-related.
Laurel had once, eighteen or nineteen herself (Nixon had been president then, the laundry room’s black and white TV the only one there was to watch), let Rachel, five years old, camp out in her apartment. Laurel was the adult, unassailable.
Now Rachel was the adult, her bossiness relentless after Debbie had died. She’d told Laurel what to bring to the supper, what to wear to the service, and what her stepmother had wanted her to have.
Laurel saw her Dad squirm in his recliner, digging out his pen-knife to slit the wax paper on a package of graham crackers. On the coffee table (rings scored deep in the blond varnish) was a tub of peanut butter; vanilla sandwich cookies for dipping. Debbie’s marshmallow fudge. Bottles of root beer—root beer, not everyday Coke—for Christmas. Popcorn.
She was not dreaming, just remembering.
“Hey,” she said.
She’d kept her hiking boots on…this seemed like sense if it was going to thunder, and they might have to head back to the car. In the space of half the tent’s floor, the endeavor got out of hand in a hurry, stealth moves Laurel tried, pushing herself to her knees.
“Jesus, I’m not asleep. We’ve only been in here five minutes.”
And, having disentangled her feet from her sleeping bag, for two or three minutes more Laurel was able to sit alone, outside on the cooler, thinking of poor Debbie, her Dad—of how the bog resembled a glowing bowl, so much light of civilization to be seen everywhere along the horizon. The rain had stopped.
Rachel crawled out.
“Is that lightning? I think it’s flashing over there.”
“Do you wanna go? I mean…we would just have to stick to the path. I guess I didn’t really notice how far we came in.”
“No.” Rachel said. “Hey what?”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)