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Proof of Us
The farm was all slosh and snow. Josh walked around with his shirt off to prove the cold couldn’t get him, but he was turning blue and grey. His cigarette burns stood out like crusty bruises. He called out “hey” and his arms shivered.
Josh picked up a slab of wood which caused snowy-slush to slide down his chest and rest on his belt. His entire body went into a consuming spasm that made him mutter and curse. We all had something to prove. He ran into his trailer and turned off the light.
“I fell down the hill,” showing him my slashed hand and wrist. It was still dark out so my word was all he had to go by. He took a piece of canopy that use to guard one of the sick sheep and wrapped it around my hand. The scratchy material made me bite and grin. “It’s only to catch the blood.” He said.
At nineteen he looked 30. Sad and lonely. He became Erin’s farm hand when he got out of jail. He likes mainstream rap and good speakers.
I slashed at the bindings on the hay with the knife Josh gave me. The sheep and goats bawled at me. It’s not like they’d been waiting. I got up so early I’d woken them up. The llamas stared at me. I’d wish they’d squawk or something.
“When Vick picks me up she’ll drop me down here. If Erin finds out I’m not at school I’m not with you.” He lit his cigarette which influenced me to get mine.
I started back up the hill. My lungs burned and my arm ached. I probably looked just as old as Josh. At 16 my back hurt, my legs cracked. The pain become nice after a couple weeks on the farm because it becomes the one thing you know. Yeah, that’s it; my neck hurts from pulling the hose. I figured it out!
Erin and the girls were still sleeping. Nobody ever sleeps much here, even the people at school. You go to bed real late and get up at 4:30 because the quiet echo’s.
My footsteps sounded so loud on the tile. I went directly into the bathroom. I looked like me still. My hair straight and dark, my eyes black, and my skin so white. I undressed and rubbed my chest for heat. The big bulk of canopy scratched at my collar bone. I ran upstairs quickly but I didn’t really care about being discreet. With Robert serving in Iraq, we were all girls. Erin’s children all under the age of 6. And if Josh walked in it was nothing he hadn’t seen from me.
I threw on a sweatshirt the swarmed and jeans. I turned around and there was Erin, it felt expected.
“Morning,” she said. You never knew if she’d be overly joyful or yelling through the door to wake the three girls up. Her blond hair laid flat and her freckles looked like age spots. Her blue eyes searched my room for anything, something to prove.
“Hey.” I wanted her out. Lately, I hated her.
“Vick on her way?”
“I guess so. She hasn’t called to cancel.” I smiled at her, trying my best to be civil to the overly dramatic disheveled Erin but she just walked out. Her flowery robe drifted behind her. She’s such a liar.
I picked up my bag for school when I heard the red truck crunch on the rocks. I walked down the stairs slowly because from lack of sleep, everything seemed to glide under my feet and I wasn’t sure when gliding would stop. When suddenly there would actually be a stair and I’d miss it, like on the hill.
Victoria opened the door and I grabbed two diet cokes. The caffeine was a sure friend. Vick and I talked about light things, how John was annoying her. How she cheated on him with Matt yesterday. Luckily, the drive to Josh’s was 45 seconds and I hurried out so the lights of the car didn’t cause Erin to be suspicious.
Josh stood on the porch digging in his pocket for his cigarettes. This time he didn’t have to influence me. I already had a cigarette in my mouth and my lighter pocketed. “Beat ya.”
I walked into the overly heated trailer and went back to his room. I climbed on to the maroon bedspread and huddled under it. The phone rang and Josh mouthed Erin. “I’m working on the shed today,” he said. “Yes Ma’m.” I fell asleep.
I woke up and turned towards the clock. It was 9:40 A.M. The music in the living room was blaring so loud I couldn’t make out a single word. He came into the room to get his lab top. “Well look who’s finally up.” If you slept till eight in Emmett, Idaho you were a lazy bum who did meth. I’d be in Mr. Tyde’s class right now and he’d be yelling “Samantha! Should I just not bother?”
“Wanna go on the ATV?” Josh asked.
Meaning, “Wanna get high?” We never got high on the farm, we’d hit a shovel or something if we did. We’d bleed and our solace would be a canopy, and nobody in their right mind would let Erin be the savior. She’d hold it over our heads, “I saved you from your stupid selves!” We’d rather be stupid on somebody else’s turf.
I got my coat and we were fast.
It was three by the time we got back. I could feel my hair wild. He met me in bed and we were fast.
After, Josh and I walked outside with our lighters and our smoke. Erin would be home at 5. School was already out and Josh hadn’t got a frantic call from Erin saying Sam wasn’t in school so I’d got lucky again. We walked into the house and heard the phone ring. I recognized the number as my school so Josh answered.
“She wasn’t in school today?” He put his fingers to his lips.
“Erin isn’t home but I’ll tell her immediately. We’ll take care of this.” When the liars were trusted by the trustworthy people, it clashed so much it made me want to cry. Josh smiled.
The phone rang again and the caller ID said it was Erin. I picked up. “Hey beautiful!” she said. “How was your day?”
“It was great. How was yours?”
“It was amazing. I learned so much and who knew the woman I’ve been talking to is actually my cousin. I couldn’t believe it when they said 60 degrees on the news today! Is the snow melting? Is Josh with you?”
I fake laughed as always and told her that Josh was here. She knew all about Josh and me. Allowed it as long as I was with nobody else. But I was, I always was.
“Good! Can you both start cleaning? Everywhere needs to be vacuumed, the front needs mopping, the kitchen needs scrubbed, the dish washer needs to be unloaded and please dust!” There was no saying no. What aggravated me was she disguised her tyrant under a questioning tone.
“Pizza for dinner! And you can do the bonfire tonight.” And that was the most annoying, the most transparent thing she does, she gives treats like we’re dogs. “Here, I’ll let you lick my plate since you killed the rabbit.” And here, you’ll pity the rabbit when it’s the dog you should look at. Pizza was my favorite. She even had candy buckets. After she gave Danielle the bloody nose she gave her a blow pop.
It was clean by the time she got home. “Well, the cleaning ladies come tomorrow so I’m glad it’s not a total mess,” she said. I wanted to pour the Lysol in her eyes. The girls trashed the play room and ate pizza standing up letting the crumbs fall.
It was always so awkward eating in front of Erin. Josh wouldn’t even bother eating. She looked and stared. “Ready to go burn?” Josh asked me. It was nine o’clock all ready. Erin looked annoyed even though she knew we were going. She turned her back and told the girls to get ready and take a bath.
The door was jammed in the passenger seat again. Josh picked up his leg and brutally slammed the blue door so hard he left a plate size dent. The door swung open and he walked to his side.
The farm was eighty acres of thistle and dried grass. We’d gather so much of the thistle and sticks into a huge pile and burn it. The pile was never stacked symmetrically or remotely neat so it burnt like a war zone, so very easy to catch the nearest tree and go from there, meeting at the house and burning that down too.
For an hour we built the pile and than Josh got the gasoline can. He drizzled it everywhere and than shouted “Step back!” as he dropped match after match into the pile. As soon as the prickly bushes recognized what was happening it blew up and the crackles screamed.
As soon as the smoky wind hit me I felt all my muscles loosen and laid on the ground. Josh met me in the dirt and we went slowly this time. He smelled like fire and dirt. The fire truly roared and the smoke at the top went all the way to the sky. When we were done I pointed towards the hill across the fire.
“What would you want to be over that hill?” Really it was Erin and the house, the animals and the children, the cars and the phones that were over the hill. I’d get kicked off of the farm a couple weeks later, Josh would be sent back to jail, and Erin would become a widow when Robert gets killed in Iraq.
He closed his eyes and never did answer me. When he opened his eyes he stood up and ran right across the fire with no shirt on. We all had something to prove.