Tell Mother We’re Going
The water is cold this time of year. The water is cold anytime of year, really, but in July it’s so hot out that people barely notice it. It’s September now, and you’d notice it if you went all the way under. Most people just wade in it. Over on the Yakima, kids grab inner tubes and college guys their beer and they float down it. But these parts of the Naches, on Chinook Pass, they’re not really for swimming.
He must have driven his car way up, close to Mt. Rainier, before he stopped to dump the girl’s body. The water’s barely a few feet deep. How could he think to throw her here? Did he even bother to plan for this part?
I wish I could have sunk lower. I wish he could have dropped me facedown instead of face up. I don’t want my eyes open to see people when they first see me naked, when they first find me. What was that I heard on the television once about how long your brain keeps thinking after your body’s shut down? It’s like when you fall asleep and feel like you’ve been dreaming for hours, but when you wake up only five minutes have passed. It’s like that, I think.
The rocks scrape my body as I skim across them. Some of these rocks are millions of years old, right? That’s what my dad used to tell me when I was a kid. I used to pick them up from the shore and make piles. I wanted to guess which rocks were older. This one was the momma rock and this one was the baby. This one was a million years old and this one was only a thousand. Then my brother would kick the pile down or grab one to see if he could throw it all the way across the river, maybe even hit the road.
Her body floats down the river. She doesn’t know where it will stop. Where does the Naches stop? I guess the better question is what does it flow into? The body bumps down the manmade salmon steps. They’re supposed to help the salmon swim upstream, but they make it difficult for anything big to go down. She used to play in these parts as a kid, wading through the water so cold it hurts, jumping to the safety of boulders. You would always take your shoes off to wade, no matter if it were summer or fall. You had to touch the water just to see how cold it was. Can you imagine being a kid out here, skipping rocks, and seeing her body float by? You’d never want to camp again.
By winter nobody will drive up here. They close the road down and keep White Pass open. What if nobody comes for me?
The girl and her friend had gone out for a bike ride, that’s what she had told her mother. There wasn’t much else to do on a Sunday in Gleed.
“You could come volunteer at the daycare during evening service. I’ve been asking you to do that for years,” her mother reminded her.
“I already went to church with you this morning. I don’t want to go back. It’s too nice outside.” Maybe afterwards she would meet up with her boyfriend and fool around in his backseat, but only after their bike ride. Maybe not. It was still too hot for that kind of thing anyway, Labor Day weekend.
The girls grew tired of peddling uphill, and slowed their bikes. They heard his car slow down, crunch gravel. He and his friend Bill just wanted to give them a ride. His name was Jerry. They flirted back, sure. She was only eighteen; it was fun. But they didn’t want the ride. They kept on peddling, a little faster. He kept driving.
I always thought Sharon was prettier than me. She had the height and long legs. Best I had was my hair, bright where hers was dull. She could’ve gotten a lot more guys if she wasn’t so shy. It’s not like it’s hard. All you have to do is smile and nod a lot. Sharon didn’t even want to talk to those guys and kept giving me that look like I needed to shut my big mouth. I was just playing around, telling them my name is all. It’s not like I was interested in them. They were probably almost thirty.
Sharon was still a virgin. I think that’s why my mom always liked her better than me.
“You should start acting a little more like your friend Sharon. She has her head screwed on straight. She’s not always thinking about boys.”
“That’s not all I think about. There are other things.”
“You could have fooled me.”
“You just don’t remember what it’s like to be young.”
“Don’t talk back to your mother, Barbara,” my dad would always say.
They didn’t see the men when they pulled their bikes up to Picture Rock. They stopped for a moment to catch their breath and surveyed the area for new graffiti. Barb smiled a little to herself whenever she came here. She lost it to Ronnie Michaels back in her junior year here. He was a senior then and he wanted to do it right in the dirt. She thought it was kind of funny but didn’t say anything. She hadn’t seen him in a year, not since he joined the army.
When they saw his car again, they left their bikes and walked faster up the hill. That was when Sharon got scared. She stopped and asked the men why they were following them. When the men started up the hill, Sharon grabbed Barb’s hand and broke out into a run.
The men found them hiding.
When I was a little girl my mother used to read the Bible to me, never those picture Bibles for kids with cutesy animals walking into the ark or a smiling Jesus holding a baby lamb, but the real Bible. She said I should learn the truth, not cartoon versions of it.
One day I read about David and Bathsheba and I said, “Mother, why did King David take that lady away from her husband?”
“Because he was the king and he could,” she answered.
When I read on, I asked my mother, “Why did David’s son do that to his sister Tamar?”
“You know ‘lie’ with her.”
She said, “Because he wanted to.”
“Mother,” I said, “what does it mean to ‘lie’ with someone? Is it like sleeping?”
“Why don’t you stop reading that for a while? Go watch television. And don’t ask so many questions. It’s not good for a girl.”
Jerry hits Barb’s friend first, like a practice run, like a test shot, wobbly and uncertain. She falls to the ground and her friend drops with her, beside her, grabbing her arm, screaming. He turns and looks at her, his friend standing a few feet back and not thinking fast enough to do anything. Just watching. She turns, but can’t stand up fast enough, just crawls through the dust, but he grabs her by the ankle and pulls her back to him.
And he’s grabbing something to stop her with. He searches over the ground until he finds the rock he dropped, just big enough that he has to stretch out his whole hand to hold it, almost needs two hands. Then he brings it up above her face; then he brings it down.
I’m standing beside him and I’m watching him do it. I’m watching him hit her until you can’t make her face out any longer. I’m telling him to do it, to hit her.
“Hit her again, hit her again,” I’m screaming, but he doesn’t hear me. He’s not doing it right.
In church we learned about the woman who committed adultery, somewhere in John, I think it was. The men were going to stone that woman, but Jesus stopped them. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
I can’t see her there anymore. I just see them, as they fight over what to do with the bodies and his friend Bill keeps saying, “I didn’t do anything, man. I don’t want nothing to do with this.” The friend runs down the hill and back towards the road, but Jerry doesn’t have time to chase him. He has to drag us into the car.
Jerry sets the bodies by the car, Sharon face down on the dirt and Barb propped up against the door.
“Stupid bitches!” He yells it and slaps Barb across her face. His hand is covered in blood now so he wipes it on her summer dress. It smears across her chest. He smears more blood and then pulls until the dress rips off of her body. He tears the rest of the clothes off of her, thrashing at them, scratching her skin with his uncut fingernails. He lays her body across the backseat. He moves back for Sharon, pulls her up into the car, and stacks her on top of Barb. He smoothes Sharon’s white dress down.
“We’ll have time later, once we get rid of this slut,” he says and presses his palm on her thigh.
The door slams shut and the engine starts. He turns the radio on and hums along as he drives away from Picture Rock, along the road that follows the river.
When Barbara’s mother sees the body, what will she say first, “Not my baby” or “Cover her up”?
Sharon’s still slumped over the back seat when he drags me away. Maybe he’ll take her somewhere else. I wish she could go with me to the river.
He wades knee deep into the water, dragging the body by one leg. It floats. He stands in the middle of the river, looking around him. You can’t see the road from here, but still he has to be careful. He almost loses his footing in the current. He pushes the body under and holds it there by placing one foot on the stomach. He looks down at her face through the water. The eyes are open. It makes him shutter.
Still holding the body down, he reaches to the bottom of the river and pulls lose the largest rock he can feel. He piles rocks onto the body, weighing it down. He thinks he hears a car in the distance and sets one more rock on her chest. When he steps back, the body stays below the surface.
He speeds off and leaves only the sound of the river. The water moves the rocks across the body until enough have come off for it to float back up. The skin starts to pucker. The body floats downriver until it catches on some branches.