Barracuda

By Madeline Harvey

Barracuda is one of the stories that will feature in CARS & GIRLS. Here’s an opportunity to read Madeline’s first thousand words.

That night I didn’t get out of the diner until after one. The clean up took longer than expected and, by the time I stepped out into the warmth of the night, my feet were killing me. All I wanted was a cup of cocoa and the comforts of home. Unfortunately, other plans had already been made for me, I felt it in the air. Riding along next to Jocelyn, I felt tense, coiled like a spring. She dropped me off at the end of the street and I walked the dusty road in bare feet, carrying my shoes, and scanning the darkness for trouble.

There was always trouble. It followed me around.

Rector, or Rectal as I called it, was a small shit heap town deep in the good Old South. Arkansas was riddled with similar towns. Nothing set it apart from all the other shit heap towns, except it was where I lived with Daddy and my baby sister, Susannah. Much like the Old South, these small towns had a tendency to set their own rules. The Boyds constantly found themselves knee deep in politics and neighborhood bullshit. People didn’t want us around, and it wasn’t just because we came from a broken home. Yeah, they turned their noses up over the fact that our mama took off with a younger man, but that wasn’t all. The town hated us for so many reasons, too many to retell.

The uneasy feeling nestled in my guts wasn’t new. I’d felt it a hundred times before. And when I rounded the bend and saw our house in the distance, I paused. The porch light was on and the front door stood open, a mouth parted in a silent scream with only the screen door barring the way in.

My stomach flipped.

Daddy worked late most every night, hauling loads into Tennessee and Oklahoma, and I’d sent Susie out earlier in the day with her friend Beth. They were planning to drink apple wine and play board games. At seventeen, Susannah was one year my junior. She appeared to be a soft kitten, but her temper flared hotter than mine at times and her head was screwed on tight.

Our daddy raised his girls right. We took shit from no one. Swing first and ask questions after. It was the way things had to be—especially in Rector, where the boys didn’t need encouragement to get handsy and no one seemed to give two shits when a girl got taken advantage of.

Call it instinct, or premonition, or any of that other bullshit, but I knew my sister was in trouble. Plain and simple. As I ran up the stair, the boards creaked out their familiar tune and I shouted for Susie. Unlatching the screen door, I threw it open and darted into the hall. I stood there and listened. Over the frantic beat of my heart was the sound of running water upstairs.

“Susannah?” My voice warbled with understanding and the realization sucker punched me right in the gut. I knew I’d be here again.

Five years earlier, I’d taken my own scalding hot shower to wash the sin and evidence away. The bruises and scratches lingered. The worst wounds festered under my skin, refusing to fade, even with time.

When I reached the bathroom, I stood there, staring at the chipped white paint and the yellow light streaming into the hall. I didn’t knock. I didn’t have to. Easing the door open, I saw her sitting on the toilet. She looked impossibly small, as if she were her child self again. I was the taller, bigger sister, with curves and a foul mouth. Susannah was waifish.

Still clothed, she sat with her head hung, shoulders slumped, her hair a brown sheet obscuring her face. Tears collected on the floor at her feet, but she didn’t whimper or mew. On the rare occasion we did cry, the Boyd girls did it silently. No fucking sobbing for us.

“What’d they do to you?”

She didn’t answer, but raised her head to show me her battered face. Split lip. Black eye. Blood dribbling from her nose. This was not how my baby sister was supposed to look. The sweet defiance in her blue eyes had faded and her wry smirk no longer visible.

“Who did it?”

She didn’t have to tell me. Ever since the school year started they’d been mercilessly hounding her. With me graduating and moving on, they thought it was open season on the remaining Boyd sister, and they wanted to trap, torture and skin her alive. She was a live target. I told her I’d go down to the school and talk to them, but she said no and I had to settle for spitting in their food when they came into the diner.

“Say their names, Susie.”

She pawed a stubborn tear off her battered cheek. “Mitchell West, Dennis Harper, Jackson Little and Frank Walker.”

“Francis Walker?” I snarled. “Eddie’s brother?”

She nodded.

“That little piss ant followed you around like a lost puppy for years. Where the fuck does he get off?”

Her slight shoulders raised up. “I don’t know. He’s big now, and the other boys convinced him to join the football team. Doesn’t even look at me anymore.”

“Tell me what they did.”

Her voice softened. “Don’t worry, Etta, they didn’t fuck me.”

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