January '04

C.L. Bledsoe Luck
David Gianatasio The Movie I Remember
Gary Glauber Physics Lesson
Claudia Smith Liar
Francis Raven My Fifty Dollar Coffee Cup


            Claudia Smith

"What's the worst thing you've ever done?" I asked Trevor. If we'd been at school, he would have made something up, or talked about Alice Cooper and dead puppies. But it was just us, so I knew he'd tell the truth.

He leaned back and closed his eyes. We were sitting on his front porch, eating apples. The afternoon was balmy, slowly cooling into evening. A warm breeze stirred at our feet.

A week before Trevor had asked me to go with him. We hadn't kissed yet. We were twelve. Going with him meant the girls would like me. It meant writing his name across my book covers, writing his initials, TOV plus my initials, JLC, across my fingernails in blue ball-point pen over white-out. At night, I whispered his name three times before I said my prayers. Trevor Vollman, Trevor Vollman, Trevor Vollman. It tasted like caramel on my tongue.

He stretched his legs out over the steps and I stared at them. They were hard and lean, the skin a tender white, marred by a few mosquito bites and scratches. He was on the track team, and he was faster than anyone else in the sixth grade.

"I don't know."

We were both quiet for a few minutes. I wasn't thinking about what he would say. I was thinking about what he'd told me last week. That I was the prettiest girl, even prettier than the junior high girls. That my hair was prettier than Molly Ringwald's, and he would never go with anybody who wasn't a redhead like me, even if I said no.

I was done with my apple, so I threw the core into his mother's azalea bushes. He held up his and I took a bite from it.

"I don't know," he said, "this is maybe not be the worst."

"My Dad used to go hunting with his friends. They took Joanna once, and she hated it. He told me he'd take me the next year. But next year he was already dead."

He paused here. I hugged my knees to my chest. He never talked about his father.

"Mom put his gun up in the attic. At first she put all his things up there. The reason she did was because every time one of the girls came across something of his they'd all bust out crying. It got to where I couldn't stand it anymore."

"And then I started thinking about that gun. I asked Mom about it and she got mad and said to leave it alone, she didn't know about guns and she didn't want to."

"But I just thought about it all the time. I kept thinking about hunting."

"I started thinking, it couldn't hurt to take it out. I wouldn't shoot anything. You know, just hold it, inspect it."

"So one night I snuck into the attic. It was easy to find, it wasn't even in a box. I took it and went into the backyard."

"I stood there for awhile, thinking I knew a lot about guns. Then I heard a noise coming from the trees. I just pointed the gun and fired."

"Then there was a scream. It sounded like a baby crying, and the thing ran off."

"There was this cat, a stray that hung around the house sometimes. Mom hated it. She was always throwing stuff at it to scare it away. She said she hated dirty things. She said it would bring fleas to our house. She called it 'that mangy cat' and the girls gave it a name, 'Ugly Cat.' He was pretty ugly, but I liked him. You know, if someone had found him when he was still cute and raised him he would have been a good pet. So I left him milk sometimes, not at the back door, but under the peach tree where the property line ends, and he kept coming back. I'd hide and wait for him to show up. He was skinny, and I didn't want him to starve."

"I knew I'd shot him. I went looking for him, but I couldn't find anything."

"I didn't see him for a long time. But after awhile he came back. He didn't have a tail. I heard somewhere cats need their tails to find their way out of spots."

"Did you see him around after that?"

"No. Only the one time. He must've starved."

We were silent. I rested my hand on the back of his neck. I waited for him to ask but he didn't. What is the worst thing? I knew at that moment I would have to tell him. And if I didn't, I would be a liar.

"I never told that to anyone," he said.

He turned and touched the small of my back with his palm. Then he kissed me. I tasted apple. I felt the brush quickly, lightly. It was like touching the wings of a lovely creature you couldn't see, but knew to be beautiful, simply from the feel of it. It made me shiver.

I stood up and walked into the house.

Claudia Smith's stories have appeared in print and online, most recently in Opium and Word Riot. Her novella, "Sustainable Development: A Love Story" will soon be serialized online in Inkburns.