You have hated the little girl ever since that first day you saw her in your yard. She wore a pink, tulle skirt and threw rocks at stray cats.
Her name is Lily. She is ten years old, lines her eyes heavily with makeup, and wears red lip gloss that makes her lips stick together when she smiles. Sometimes you find yourself thinking about that smile, even though you don’t want to. You wish she’d wear longer skirts. Her exposed legs make you feel anxious, like the time your cock got semi-hard when she rolled in yellow leaves with her skirt riding up.
You hate when Lily clomps through your side gate and asks to play with Emma, your eight-year-old. Some days you pretend Emma isn’t home or that she is sleeping or doing homework when she is really just watching TV in another room or writing in her tablet. On those days when you send Lily away, she frowns and drags her ragamuffin feet out the side door, tramples your Easter lilies as she goes. Emma sometimes hears you at the door and comes running in, and on those days she is angry.
I wanna play with her, Emma says.
But you’re afraid Emma will take a shine to short, tulle skirts and curse words.
Lily sometimes plays with Max, the boy from next door. One day you see them kissing under your chinaberry tree. You are watching the two of them from your kitchen window. Emma is watching their lip lock, too, standing with her head cocked to the side and her mouth slightly open.
The suds from the dishwater plop onto your bare feet as you step away from the sink and toward the screen door. Walk calmly. Don’t run.
By the time you reach the chinaberry tree, Max has run through the gate and joined his mother in their yard. She yells at him to stay in sight, grabs his arm, takes him inside.
Lily is still standing there looking up at you.
I need to meet your parents.
Lily says she will take you to her house, and because you assume it must be right around the corner, you don’t bother to go inside to get your shoes. As you walk, Lily tells the most elaborate stories about her Daddy—the tyrant that makes everyone cry, meanest man in Mississippi. She says he’s nearly seven feet tall and carries a pistol. She says he is missing an eye—that it was snagged on a piece of glass during a fight.
You and Emma follow Lily to the main road. Lily begins to dart across the busy five-lane highway, but you shout at her, grab both girls’ hands and lead them across the road.
Lily takes you to a shotgun house planted in a weedy yard. A woman opens the door. Where you been, girl? she asks Lily. Git in this house.
Lily obeys her momma.
A man appears in the doorway. He is not seven foot tall, but’s he’s damn close. One of the man’s eyes is sewn half-shut, and there are scars forming a half-moon shape around the eye. Attached to his belt is a silver pistol.
You start to speak to the man, but he grumbles his thanks and closes the door in your face.
The man yells, and Emma jumps at the sound of his voice.
What’d I tell you ’bout runnin’ off? the man demands to know.
Got to worry ’bout you all the time! the man says.
Emma whimpers and hugs your waist. You still hear his shouts as the two of you walk back to the highway.
You think Lily won’t come around anymore. But a few days later she knocks on your door. She invites herself inside for dinner.
Your momma and daddy may want you home.
No they don’t. They gone.
At the dinner table, Lily tells you she doesn’t like to drink milk as you think about what gone means. Gone to town? Gone for good?
You give Lily a juice box and she wrinkles her nose at the carton. Apple juice, she says. That’s nasty. I like fruit punch and Mountain Dew. At my house we got a whole stack of fruit punch this tall. She raises her hand above her head.
Why don’t you go home and drink it then?
She looks up at you, wide-eyed, tears brimming.
You set three places at the table. Lily eats and eats.
You watch her carefully, just as you always do whenever she comes inside the house, and you do this because she once pocketed $2.75 that you left on your kitchen counter. She looked you dead in the eye when she slid the quarters into her palm. Your heart beat faster, and because she is forever wearing run-over sneakers and her hair never looks brushed or cared for, you didn’t even demand that she put the money back.
After dinner you go to start the wash, and when you get back to the kitchen, only Emma is there.
Where’d Lily go?
Emma shrugs. Home, I guess.
That night you put Emma to bed and then sit on the screen porch. It’s one of those Delta nights when sweat puddles on the hollow place at your lower back and you have to bathe twice during the day or else you smell yourself. You are dozing off when you hear leaves crackling near the gate. A flash of pink. Lily. The one you hate. You feel like telling her to go away, go home, go anywhere, but instead you watch to see what she will do.
Lily goes to the apple tree. She is carrying a white bag; you hear it rustle as she drops apples into it. Green under-ripe apples. The pink skirt billows in the darkness as Lily bends and scuttles around on the ground, probably collecting the pecans that have fallen in the dirt.
She runs back through the gate.
Later that night while you are in bed, you dream of Lily. And when you wake you wonder why you didn’t go after her and drive her home. You sit up and you can’t stop picturing her running in the dark across that highway. You hear wheels screeching and a horn blaring.
Some day when you are telling this story to someone else, you will alter the details. You will say you went after the girl, escorted her safely home. You might say that you adopted her, saved her.
Monic Ductan has an undergrad degree in English from Georgia State University and currently studies poetry writing in the MFA program at Georgia College. Monic was recently named a finalist for the Spring 2013 Diana Woods Memorial Award in creative non-fiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, FRiGG, Bartleby Snopes, DOGZPLOT, and several other journals. Monic is currently at work on a novel as well as compiling a collection of short stories. She blogs here: http://monicductan.wordpress.com/
Q: What can you tell us about this story?
A: I usually write short stories in first person, past tense. I began this story in first person as well, but decided on a whim to try my hand at the second person.
Q: Besides Prime Number, what are some of your favorite literary magazines?
A: Carolina Quarterly, Florida Review, storySouth, Dead Mule School of Southern Lit, The Rumpus, Muzzle Magazine, PANK, and several others I’m forgetting right now.
Q: What would your ideal writing day be?
A: Hmmm. I’d sit at my desk, sip peppermint tea and wear my favorite hoodie and sock feet. My writing sessions would be interspersed with short walks in the autumn air. The ideas would flow smoothly and I’d finish a first draft of this damn novel I’m writing.
Q: What’s happening outside your window right now?
A: Dusk. A rain-slicked road. Trees swaying. Gunmetal gray clouds. Squirrels clambering over a garbage bin. Sound of firecrackers.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A collection of short stories and a novel. The story collection is tentatively called Shotgun Houses. Most of the stories are about female characters who struggle with self-identity. And of course there are outcasts in it. I love outcasts.
The working title of my novel is Gullah Babies. It’s about two girl cousins of mixed Gullah and Jewish ancestry. The cousins grow up on an island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. Both cousins eventually leave the island to pursue education and career goals, but they are repeatedly drawn back to