THE RUNAWAYS

Mitchell Hagerstrom

racoon

The place was borrowed. A potted plant, dying from too much water, had been pushed to one side of the round table. Through the windows came the yellow air of an unspectacular sunset. The sounds of a small stream tumbling its rocky course below the cabin were accompanied by an occasional screech of tires as traffic made the sharp turn in the canyon road.

The woman opened bags of fast food. As they ate, the woman watched the girl taking careful bites, raising her upper lip and exposing her braces.

Look at all those bottles, the girl said, and pointed to the row of shelves along the wall. Does he drink them all? she asked.

The woman looked over at the collection of odd foreign and domestic beers. She shook her head. He drinks near beer, she said.

Near beer, what’s that?

Pretend beer.

Why?

The woman shrugged. He’s silly, she said.

With the last of her hamburger in one hand, the girl went over to the shelves and picked up a bottle. What’s ale? she asked.

The woman told the girl to put it down because her hands were greasy.

This hand isn’t greasy, the girl said, but she put the bottle back and did not pick up another. Again she asked, What’s ale?

Just another kind of beer, the woman said. She had finished her French fries and reached for the girl’s.

You can have them all, the girl said. I’m full.

Instead, the woman gathered everything together and stuffed it back in the bags. I’m gonna fix a drink, she said, you want anything?

The girl shook her head and went to stand in the doorway to the other room. Why does he have a stuffed raccoon? she asked.

Who knows, the woman said. She was at the kitchen sink, struggling with an ice tray.

I don’t like it, the girl said, and I don’t like the snakeskin on the wall, and I don’t like the skull with the Jewish hat.

The woman sighed. We can put that away, she said.

You do it. I’m not touching it.

They both went into the other room and the woman set her glass on the mantle. It’s not Jewish, she said. I’d guess Persian? Or maybe Peruvian?

The front room was dim and the canyon traffic louder. Headlights had begun to rake the windows through gaps in the venetians.

The girl sat down on the edge of the sofa. Is it real? she asked.

Probably not, the woman said as she picked it up. She crossed the room to the closet and placed it on a high shelf behind some other stuff. Closing the door, she turned to the girl. Well, she said, holding out her arms, Do you wanna dance?

The girl gave a small laugh, then moved farther back on the sofa, and asked, You gonna sleep with me tonight?

November 5, 2016 2:29 pm

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