obby’s foot caught in a sinkhole hidden under a pool of water and he stumbled and fell. As he coughed out the fetid water that had found its way into his mouth he heard someone say: “You shouldn’t run.”
The branches overhead opened enough to let a smattering of cold, blue moonlight into a small clearing in the woods. There, in the middle of it all, was a girl, probably no more than twice Bobby’s age. She sat on a tattered blanket with a wicker picnic basket, wearing a faded sundress. The wilted brim of her drooping bonnet hid most of her face in shadow. Her hair was blond but stringy. Too long without washing.
“My name is April,” the girl introduced herself as Bobby picked himself up. She gestured to herself importantly, turning a pert, soot-smudged nose up into the air.
Bobby stepped forward, onto the blanket, “I’m Bob…”
April waved her hand dismissively, “That’s not important.” The girl spoke quickly, as though she were in a hurry, but she moved slowly. Reaching into her picnic basket she removed a battered thermos. Opening the thermos she poured dark liquid into a Dixie cup. “Would you like some coffee?” Every question was a single breath, spoken impatiently.
Bobby shook his head. Don’t like coffee.
“Just as well. It is more of a grown-up drink.” She took a sip, screwed up her face and spat the hot liquid out. April apparently didn’t like coffee either. “Please, sit down,” she patted the blanket beside the basket politely. Bobby sat. April sipped. And spat.
After a long silence, during which April examined Bobby loftily, she spoke. “Do you like my bonnet?” She removed the hat and held it out so that Bobby might better examine it. The faded fabric was moth-eaten and ratty. A lonely spider carefully crawled along its rim, searching for a home. Bobby did not like the hat but before he could tell April so, he looked for the first time on her uncovered face. April had no eyes. Instead, her sockets held two poorly-painted, glass orbs, like a doll’s. They were chipped and cracked in places and were a little too large for their sockets so that April seemed at all times to be wide-eyed with wonder. Don’t stare, Bobby, it’s rude.
April held the hat in her lap, caressing it and smiling, proud of herself. And her hat. “It was a gift. It is the sort of hat that ladies wear, but you are much too young to know that.” Bobby agreed. He couldn’t see why anyone would want to wear that sort of hat, especially with a spider on the brim.
Lifting her face to the moonlit sky and breathing deeply of the stinking swamp air, April told Bobby, “It is the perfect day for a picnic, is it not?”
No, thought Bobby, it is not. Everything must look different through painted eyes.
To Bobby, the clearing looked dismal. Beetles and spiders and various other creepy-crawlies were migrating onto April’s picnic blanket in search of dry land though mud and muck had already begun seeping through in places. Gnats and moths investigated the girl’s basket as a possible source of sustenance. Trees groaned and creaked in some unfelt wind and save for the winking fireflies, the moon above was the only light. Not a good dream for a picnic at all.
Taking no notice she continued, “Ladies always have picnics on fine days like this. It is very dignified.” When Bobby gave no response, the girl continued: “And at those picnics, the ladies eat dignified foods like crumpets and tea cakes and caviar.” Bobby’s eyes wandered about the clearing as she spoke. “Pay attention,” April insisted, “this is important.” Then, when she was sure Bobby was listening, she asked: “Do you know what caviar?”
No, Bobby shook his head. He had no idea what they were.
April drew a small tin from the basket and looked at Bobby, unable to blink for her overlarge eyes. “It is a quite a grown-up thing to eat. Would you like some?” she inquired. Bobby shook his head once again. At picnics he preferred hot dogs and macaroni salad at picnics -it's better than regular salad because there's no lettuce in it.
Popping the top off the canister, April upended it into her open mouth. Bobby watched as shiny, black roe immersed in some sticky fluid lazily rolled onto April’s tongue. She filled her mouth and gulped without chewing. For a moment she smiled. Then she coughed. Then she gagged. Then shuddered, suppressing the urge to vomit. When April had forced the food down and calmed her roiling stomach, she licked the tin clean, allowing stray eggs to fall down her chin and onto her dress.
Although April seemed to think she knew so much about adults, she ate just like a child. At this moment, Bobby thought she looked like a picture his mother had taken at his very first birthday party right after his very first slice of chocolate cake.
“I los’ Mommy,” Bobby explained as April wiped fish egg goo from her mouth with one sleeve. That’s crude, Mommy would have said, use your napkin, not your sleeve.
“If your head were not attached you would probably lose that as well,” April snorted. “I’ve never lost my mother. She’s much too important a thing to misplace so easily.” Bobby didn’t like this girl much. In fact, he did not like most girls. They were bossy and only wanted to play house, but he disliked this girl in particular. She was rude and not a little bit mean. “Well, how do you expect to find her if you are here pestering me?”
“D’you know where th’libary is?”
Another stupid question. Another snort. “Of course, I know where the library is. Don’t be so silly.” She sipped at her coffee. Gulp. Spit. Cringe. Repeat.
“I can’t find’it.” Bobby was growing impatient.
“Then you are obviously doing something wrong.” April took another sip of coffee. Swallowed. Shuddered. “Perhaps you aren’t holding your mouth right.”
Bobby didn’t understand. What did mouths have to do with Mommy?
“Silly boy, what ever will you do?”
April sighed. “No, I thought not. What do you know then?”
Though Bobby was sure he knew many things, the girl interrupted before he could answer. “You’re such a young boy with such a small head I doubt if you know much of anything.” She rummaged through her basket a bit before withdrawing an orange. It was covered mostly in the fuzz of some mold colony. “For example, do you know what the difference is between an orange?”
“And orange an’ what?”
“Here,” she handed the rotted citrus fruit to Bobby, “you could learn something.” Bobby examined it a moment, curious as to what exactly he was meant to glean from a decaying orange. The mold looked like dust and rubbed off just the same. When he looked closely, Bobby thought he could see it moving, alive…
“Drop that, it’s filthy!” April jarred Bobby from his thoughts and slapped the orange out of his hand. It went bouncing off into the swamp.
“There are many things you will know when you are older,” April began sagely, “that you could not possibly understand now. It’s your turn.”
My turn? Bobby didn’t understand.
“Go on, ask me anything. Anything at all.”
Bobby only had one question to ask: “Where’s Mommy?”
“Oh, I’m sure she’s around,” April replied dismissively. “How rude of me! You haven’t met my friends.”
April gestured to her friends, piled neatly beside the picnic basket. There sat a teddy bear, half the stuffing gone, the rest leaking from the seams; a Raggedy Anne doll that looked to have been through some bad times: no arms, dress torn, hair charred, one eye missing, the other lazy; and a rabbit with only one ear. The rabbit that Oscar had crushed. The rabbit from Cookie’s fridge. “That’s Nora,” April explained, poking the poor creature with a teaspoon. It whimpered quietly, shuddering, still alive but unable to move its broken body. “He’s sleeping off a rough night.” She poured another cup of coffee and shouted at the rabbit – “Wake up!” – upending the cup over the poor creature’s head.
Bobby had had enough. He kicked April’s picnic basket as hard as he could and spoke his mind: “Yor stupid and’ugly!”
April stared at the boy, shocked. “Well, I never!” No, she never had. Perhaps that was her problem. Bobby stalked off, more determined than ever. He would find the library on his own. And then, he would find Mommy on his own.
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