Saturday, September 16, 2006

After the Party

After the Party

(The Herpetologist)

by Mary Stebbins

for Jackie Greene, Dick Baldauf

and Sara and Erin Stebbins

unfinished first draft!

i. prologue

It felt a bit like a mysterious, unhappy carnival. For years, all I could remember of that night was Da-Glo orange plastic ribbons cordoning off the area, giant searchlights aimed into murky brown water, and six gum-ball-lights, spinning over the dark fields and lake, and cops everywhere. I clung desperately to a young policeman, Officer David Michaels, sobbing hysterically. I'd ever been hysterical before. When they asked me about what had happened, I couldn't remember anything.

An older policeman, Officer Grogan, tried to talk to me. He had jowls and watery blue eyes. His blond crew cut, was touched with grey at the temples.

"Just calm down a little, miss, and tell us what happened," he said. An edge of irritation crackled in his voice. I couldn't see anything beyond a wall of darkness in my mind. I stared. Nothing. Then, in the darkness, an image formed of myself, as a small child, walking down a beach. I was carrying something large and heavy. It was a struggle. I walked between the blankets and towels toward my mother and father. I was proud.

"I found a snapping turtle when I was three," I said. I stopped crying suddenly; I knew this was important. "I carried it down the beach by its tail. Everyone was yelling at me, but I didn't understand what they were saying. When my father saw me, he leaped up and said, `Alicia, drop the turtle!'"

"I didn't want to. He had to pry my fingers open. When I finally dropped it, he held a stick in front of the turtle. Its neck shot out with lightning speed, and it snapped the stick in three pieces. The stick was much thicker than my fingers. My father carefully carried the turtle off the beach and let it go at the edge of the swamp. He told me to be careful of snapping turtles."

"Good," the older officer said impatiently, with more than a trace of sarcasm. "Very good. Now, will you tell us what happened here?"

But I couldn't. I had no idea. A wall in my mind had started to clear, like a window losing its condensation. Now it fogged and darkened.

"We'll be coming by your house to talk to you again," Officer Grogan said. I felt a hint of threat in his voice.

Officer Michaels led me to a police car. I watched him as we walked. He was tall, slender, and dark. He reminded me a lot of my friend, Billy, only a little older, more confident, less awkward. I remember thinking he was cute, and wishing I could get him to hold me again, the way he had when I was crying. But I couldn't just "turn on the tears" the way some girls seem to.

As we walked up the hill, state police divers drove up and unloaded. They climbed into wet suits and put on air tanks. I looked at them blankly, my mind empty. I don't even remember being curious. Though I was able to talk, some parts of me had apparently shut down.

"I'll get your seat wet, Officer Michaels," I said, when he politely held the door open for me. It was the front door, not the back, where the criminals ride.

"You can call me David," he said, a little shyly. It was dark, but I would have sworn he blushed. Maybe he wasn't so different from Billy after all. Or maybe I imagined it.

David got a piece of canvas from the trunk for me to sit on.

"Thanks!" I said. "I already got your clothes wet."

"I don't mind, it's a warm night," he said, blushing again.

I wondered if he meant he didn't mind being wet or he didn't mind having held me. I watched him all the way home, wishing that I was the kind of girl, like Shelly, who asked boys out. Men, in this case, though he didn't look that old. But I wasn't. And the ride was short. Too short.

I arrived home still dripping wet. My parents, of course, were terribly upset. How had I gotten from Billy's graduation party to the back seat of a police car, soaking wet? But no matter how they plied me with questions, I had no answers. David stayed for a little while, but had nothing reassuring to tell my parents. He did take my father aside and I could hear them whispering. I thought I could almost catch the names of some of the friends I had been with earlier, but I couldn't seem to focus enough to concentrate on listening, or bring to mind any of the events of the evening. Since I had to work in the morning, David left, and I went to bed.

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