Those Who Come From Circumstance

by Merridawn Duckler

It's summer. It's twilight. Mrs. Martin is mad. She scrubs burnt bread off the bottom of the oven with a wire brush. The oven light is out; the wire brush is black, so how is she supposed to tell if she is making any progress? Outside, in the yard, Gilly faces Hank in the tent, a flashlight between them, under his plaid sleeping bag, one, wavering red eye. It's Gilly's fourteenth birthday party. The neighbor's house is empty but the summer machines live on, sprinkler sputtering, sigh of the smoker. For the party Mrs. Martin made pizza. Gilly came in to say one girl won't eat meat. Mrs. Martin pulled off the circles of sausage. He watched her suck on a burnt finger. C'mon Gil, no one will know. Then he says, "Hank is a vegan." Mrs. Martin pulls cheese off the pizza. That's what a pizza is, Gilly, meat and cheese. What is wrong with him? Mrs. Martin bought him a game system, she took a vacation day. She wanted to do more but Gilly didn't want, as he said, "any trouble." All he wanted was a few friends over, pizza delivered to his tent. When Mrs. Martin asks what they do for activities, Gilly is offended. He looks away. They'll watch stars. He's been sleeping in the backyard, in the tent, most of the summer. Mrs. Martin doesn't know what to think about that, she doesn't want trouble either, but then there's Hank. That boy is one step off the street. When he smiles he has a gap, a black tooth and eyes blue as twilight, a beautiful smile. Mrs. Martin wants to hug him, but his stink protects him, dirt, pins in his face and the slogans on his filthy parka. The girls love Hank. They ask for him. Sometimes he appears, at Gilly's house, smiling. Sometimes he's gone for days and then Mrs. Martin hears of his return, walking into the smoke and loud talk at some party, a narrowing presence, blacker, bluer. She wants Gilly to quit hanging around Hank. But words have lost their currency this fourteenth year. When she talks to Gilly, her ideas fly like rocks into a pond; all drama, noise, splash, and then complete disappearance. This summer Gil