“Camping?” Mom wailed. Mary shivered.
“Stan!” Mom yelled after Pop, who walked
faster. Lenny’s, he was headed, for more beer. “Stanley, come back!”
“It’s not really camping,” Mary said.
“We’ll be in Noreen’s folks’ cabin. Not out in a tent.”
Noreen was her most genius friend, with
the strictest dad. Mary hoped Mom pictured them reading by flashlight. Too into
their books to get mauled by bears.
“Camping!” Mom sat down, lit a Virginia
Slim. “In October! The woods, at night, with bugs. And wild animals.”
“We’ll stay inside,” Mary said, “and
Her heart raced. Except for Christmas at
her aunt’s, she never went away. Or even slept on a bed. Just that shabby, old couch.
In the cabin there’d be cots.
On The Brady Bunch, they had
sleepovers. None of Mary’s friends even came over. Once Noreen
tried, but Mom stopped her at the door. “Mary’s doing her homework,” Mom had
lied. “Have you done yours?”
Mary had the weirdest parents of any
eighth grader at St. Peter’s. Maybe in the world.
Mom said, suddenly. “With frizzy red hair? The smart one?”
The door opened, and they heard Pop stumble
“Her dad,” Mary whispered, “says whiskey’s
It was chilly, up at the lake. Mary was so
fat, she wore Pop’s bulky winter jacket. Old beer, it smelled like, from
“Years back, he drank,” Noreen said, about
dad. Over the firepit, they toasted marshmallows. “But not anymore.”
“How come?” Mary said.
Noreen peered nervously behind her, at the
cabin. “Something bad happened.”
The marshmallows smelled so good, Mary’s
stomach growled. She shrugged off Pop’s jacket.
“He hurt my mom. . . . And then me.”
Noreen rubbed her arm, but it was too dark to see the scar. The fire’s glow
made her hair even redder.
“Wow,” Mary said.
“Now he’s into church. But not ours. The
In the window, Mr. Flynn sat, watching
them eat marshmallows. Since they drove up that afternoon, he hadn’t smiled
once. Or said much, not even to Noreen’s mom. Mrs. Flynn seemed scared of him.
She looked like a grown-up, worn-out Noreen.
At dinner, she’d served them hot dogs
with fruit cups and string beans. Canned vegetables? Mary’s
mom would’ve said.
“Would you like some more?” Mrs. Flynn whispered.
Mary was afraid to say yes.
Now, from behind her, Mary heard a car
coming. Loud voices. Music blaring: The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the
the window, Mr. Flynn seemed to stiffen more.
“Man!” one guy said, “This place is
“Watch out!” said a girl. “I’m
Giggles, as the loudmouths got out of
the car. Without turning around, Mary knew there were at least four. And, like
Pop would’ve said, “shit-faced.”
And not just from “Devil’s Lemonade.”
The smell made Mary’s head spin. Sweet smoke
that tickled her nostrils. Hippies,
she thought. Hippies smoked those druggie cigarettes.
Mr. Flynn burst out of the cabin. “Get
inside!” he said.
Noreen scrambled to her
feet. Mary turned and
saw a dirty-haired girl stick her tongue out.
The girl wore a tie-dyed
T-shirt, with no bra,
so her nipples pointed right at Mr. Flynn. Laughing
maniacally, she pulled up her shirt.
Mr. Flynn’s eyes narrowed.
Around them, the hippie
guys laughed with the
girl. One lit up a fresh joint, then held it out to Mr. Flynn.
yelled from the cabin door. Mary
watched Mr. Flynn clench and unclench his fists.
When Noreen grabbed her,
Mary was jolted back
to life. They ran as fast as they could into the cabin.
Over the kitchen sink, Mrs.
Flynn was crying.
“Go to bed,” she said. “Just . . . go to bed.”
Mary couldn’t sleep.
The cot was as hard as the
couch, back home. She had to fold the thin pillow in two.
Noreen hadn’t spoken
since they went to bed.
Mary bet she knew something bad was coming. That even without drinking, Mr.
Flynn was dangerous.
Would he hurt me,
too? Mary shivered. Pop never hit her, no matter how drunk he got.
She’d just dozed off
when the screams started.
Outside, the air was bright
orange. The stench
of burned flesh and hair made Mary gag. Noreen beat her to the window.
Inside the pit, the hippie
girl was on fire.
Her friends scuffled around; one grabbed a bucket, one tried beating off the
flames with Mary’s Pop’s jacket. One pounded on the Flynn’s cabin. “Help!” he
said, hoarsely. “Please! Help!”
begged. Noreen just shook her
Nobody answered the door.
Later, an ambulance and
showed up. “We’re deep sleepers,” Mr. Flynn told the sheriff. Mrs.
Flynn looked away.
The foul stench was still
in the air. Huddled
together, the hippie guys watched them get in the Flynns’ car.
The drive home took way
longer than the drive
up. Without Pop’s jacket, Mary hugged herself for warmth. She felt hollow,
soulless. Like she would never smile again.
But Mr. Flynn smiled, all
the way home.
Cindy is a Jersey girl who
looks like a Mob Wife & talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story.
She works out 5-6 days a week, so needs no excuse to drink or do whatever the
hell she wants She’s been published in the usual places, such as Shotgun
Honey, Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Megazine, Beat to a Pulp, Out
of the Gutter, Mysterical-E, and Twisted Sister. She
is the editor/art director of the ezine, Yellow Mama. She’s a Gemini, a
Christian, and an animal rights activist.