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A GIRL

There was a girl gone missing a few years back. Her mama standing out front of the Dairy Queen, eyeing your cone like you was hiding her child within. You seen Dee? Dee Switcher? You seen her? Nope, was always the answer, but I’ll keep an eye out. And before you knew it that cone was gone.
That was the year that old bitch Miss Shane was teaching us algebra.
Solve for x, children. Chalk dusting her dress like she had a ghost dress on over her other one. Them arms like dough on a spit.
That missing girl used to do her eyeliner during class. Over and over, underlining her eye like Miss Shane underlined them nasty equations. Solve for x.
We all had plans for that girl. She had a chest. She smoked them long thin lady cigarettes in plain sight of the custodian. When that retarded boy ran into the girl and knocked her purse down a condom spilled out, flashing there in its gold wrapper, looking for all the world like a coin.
The girl picked up her lipsticks and wallet and hair things and left it there, left that condom on the ground and walked off. Us thinking hard about ways to spend that coin.
There was other girls of course. The entire cheerleading team could get you going, save for the chubby one, but she’d do in a pinch. The majorette, Glenda was her name, rumor had it she’d drink too much at parties and beg you to fondle her.
So it wasn’t like this girl was the cream of the crop or nothing, there was plenty of girls. We wanted them all, Dee Switcher included.
Her mama was the town skank. Everybody knew. So you couldn’t take her all that seriously when her girl went missing. Stay home all night for once, our own mamas would whisper to each other, swat each other on the arm. You so bad. I know it.
Nobody ever picked up that condom. It got kicked around and pushed into corners, and once Dee went missing we all got scared of it, and kicked it harder. Girls would shriek should they see it rocketing toward them. Some boys too.
Then one day we all realized it wasn’t there no more. Probably the custodian got it. Or it was somewhere no one cared to look.
Her daddy came to the school on a Monday morning. No one had seen her daddy in years but here he was asking where was Dee, why did the school let her skip so easy, where was the truant officer, demanding to know who took her, who had his girl. We watched the principal pet his shoulder like you would a sick animal, watched Dee’s daddy get led to the door; it was a bright day and for a second he got swallowed up by the glare. He didn’t come back.
There was a big homecoming dance a few months after the girl went gone. We all paired up and parted our hair and wore suit coats and danced slow when we were told to.
Dee’s mama showed up at the dance in a fancy nightgown dress thing, asking could she chaperone. We watched the principal lead her over to the punch bowl, but Dee’s mama wasn’t there for long; no one came for punch and after a few songs she walked out with her head so high you worried for her neck.
Some of us met at the diner after, eating pancakes while our girls fiddled with our belt loops under the table, if you were lucky. Others of us went to the after party at the Days Inn, but that turned out to be a bust. The stereo ran out of batteries and Miss Shane’s freshman boy showed up and puked into the trashcan and everybody went home.
Dee had left school after fifth period, was the story. Snuck out while everyone was scrambling for their lockers. Rumor had it she was going with an older boy, he might could even be called a man.
One day a skinny lady cop came and asked a few of us what we knew, but really we didn’t know nothing.
We skipped school all the time, was the thing. Sometimes it felt like if you didn’t skip you’d close your eyes and die, right there in the middle of Civics, so you did skip, and you’d go to the Circle K to buy Slim Jims or over to a friend’s house to look at his dad’s titty magazines. And nothing bad ever happened.
The lady cop seemed to find us not knowing nothing a relief. That’s what I figured, she’d say in agreement with you. Which meant, to us, solving for x really was an impossibility, a waste of time, so why bother?
At Christmastime Miss Shane told us she had skin cancer, she wouldn’t be back the next semester. We stared at that mole on her cheek, as we had done for months. That’s what I figured, some of us wanted to blurt. Miss Shane’s eyes went wet, we started feeling soft toward her, but after she assigned two chapters of homework for over the break we went back to hating her guts, which felt better, more normal, than feeling sorry for her, so in a way you got to feeling grateful toward her for being such a cooze.
Over the break we saw Dee’s little brother at the movies by hisself. We forgot all about him, but there he was with his money in a wad, staring up at the listings like he couldn’t read. We went on in and spent all our money on arcade games. Then later that night, in your bed that smelled like socks and sweat and secretions and powder Tide, if you weren’t careful you’d start thinking how when you came out the boy was gone, and how maybe you should feel regretful about not inviting him to man the firetorch gun, really the best gun to have if you were playing Immortal Fear and you made it past the first two rounds, which everyone did.
But he had gone.
That winter someone found the girl’s yellow purse on the side of the road. The strap was gone. One of us heard their dad saying how you could use a strap to strangle someone, or at least tie up her hands. Her perfume bottle was smashed. That girl ain’t coming back, we told each other, shifting our nuts like we’d seen our dads do whenever they said something serious.
But really, we already knew that. You just had to say some things out loud.
During the spring semester Miss Shane’s boy got in a fistfight with the custodian. No one knew why but we figured it was stressful, having a bitch mom who had cancer. Then on Palm Sunday a dog found a skull and carried it to his master’s doorstep. There was excitement for a time but it turned out to be the skull of an infant, probably buried by some of them country folk who can’t afford no funeral.
A rumor got spread that a girl tasted like a nine-volt battery down there. It got hot, hotter than the last summer, and a old lady died in her house ’cause she was too weak to open some windows.
We’d see Dee’s mama working as the greeter at the Walmart. If she recognized you she’d say, Seen Dee? Dee Switcher? and most of the time we just shook our heads, stared at our shoes till we got to the magazines aisle. Guns and girls, we needed more info on both.
Some of us got for-real girlfriends. Some of us snuck in to their rooms at night and made love, you had to call it making love or your girl got mad, to these girls while you listened to their dads sawing logs just to the other side of the wall, you biting your girl’s pillow hard so you wouldn’t make no noise, you ignoring how sometimes your girl just laid there, her fingertips on your back limp and uninterested, you despite the dud your girl turned out to be feeling like your bottom half was exploding up into your top.
Dee one time punched a girl in the mouth, she’d been crying hard just before, her face ruined, black smears down her cheeks and her upper lip all glistened with snot. By that time we knew girls sometimes got ugly. Dee got sent home, came back the next day with her makeup all set again. Lips all wet. Eyes so blue you got to feeling indecent. See, we had seen Dee, we’d seen her a lot, but back then we had our eyes on all the girls, and over time it got to be hard to see how losing one was such a tragedy.

by Lindsay Hunter




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