01 May 2012

Ashley Begins the Tale

“Layin' there and starin' up at the stars, I felt real small. Then I felt kinda' big. But not big in a really big, fat sorta' way. It was just a big feelin' that went away in just a minute when I stared feelin' small again. You feel big when you can't feel where your body ends and the rest of everything begins.

I was layin' there on the great big lawn of the Switchback place, layin' there and just feelin' the cool, damp lawn on my shoulder blades. I'd been out for a walk and I went further than I thought I might have, but I went that far, anyway. Pretty soon I realized I was out near the Switchback place, with its nice white fence and the horses, so I just set myself right down in the grass. I knowed I probably shoulda' got up and get goin', but it felt so good to sit there. I smoothed my dress out around me and laid back on the grass, thinking of Peter Switchback all alone inside that big old house, him just sittin' there and readin' his books or writing a story or lookin' through his telescope like I knew he did. I knew he would stand there for hours and look through that telescope on dark nights, making notes in some notebook of his. I knowed this on account of how I would sometimes watch from down the road across the fence. I would see his little red flashlight come on for a second or two and then he would go back to lookin' up at the stars. The same stars I was lookin' at when I was layin' there, so I felt a little closer to him for just a little bit – like we was lookin' at the same things, and even though we was probably havin' different thoughts, I liked the idea of just lookin' at the same things with him not knowin'.

I'd knowed Peter Switchback from the third grade, I think, and he'd always been the kid in school who done good. Hollerin' I was, that one day, hollerin' at Kevin Maage, that blond-haired kid whose parents were immigrants from some place and they spoke with a funny way about them when you'd see them in the store, when you'd see them at all. Up and down the aisles they'd walk, buyin' the strangest combinations of things. You can sometimes tell a lot about how normal or how weird a person is by the things they buy, you know, and when they buy strange combinations of things, you can tell a whole lot about them. They bought fish – a lot of fish, it was. But Kevin was so blond-haired and had such nice blue eyes that I didn't think about the smell of fish and such on him until that day when Peter Switchback found me hollerin' at him, and me doin' so with good reason. When a boy wants to see what's under a girl's dress it don't matter how blond his hair is or how blue his eyes are when she don't want him to see.

Peter Switchback knew that and I was hollerin'. And he done took care of me and he done took care of Kevin. And that was a long, long time ago when we was little kids. And this I thought about and dreamt back to and held in my heart and my memory as I was layin' there on the great big lawn of that Switchback place, lookin' up at the stars maybe just like the stars that he was maybe lookin' at just that very minute not just a couple hundred yards away. And I wasn't a girl anymore, and had I wanted to go talk to Peter Switchback about what was under my dress, I know he still woulda' been a gentleman and just asked me if I wanted a ride home or was I not feelin' so good. And I woulda' taken a ride home from him, and I woulda' burned like crazy sittin' there in the cab of his pickup right next to him or if I was lucky it'd be in the seat of that fancy little foreign car that he would drive down the lanes and you'd see him on the highway, headin' to the city. Maybe he'd drive me home in that, and I'd be sittin' there and if it were daylight then people would look at us in the pretty little car and my hair would be blowin' as maybe he'd have the top down on it, and people might see us laughin' and they'd think that Peter Switchback was sweet on me and maybe we had something goin'.

But it was night and I just stayed there, layin' in the cool, wet grass, lookin' up at the stars. And later the lights in that Switchback place went out and I knowed that Peter was in bed and I was gonna' walk home. But I knowed his heart was good and so was mine.

Burn, a heart does, sometimes.

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