Errata Literary Magazine

by David Jarret

s usual, my car was on empty. My neighbor Mr. O'Malley keeps a drum of regular unleaded inside his barn for a tractor, so with my gas can in hand I crept through poison ivy and stepped over a dip in his barbed wire fence. When I pulled open the big sliding door my stomach turned from the stench of a dead animal. Inside, the walls and floor shimmered with the glassy wings of a thousand blue green flies. The big stink must have drawn them from miles around. I covered my nose and mouth with the crook of my arm and looked for the hand pump. There was a tee shirt heaped on the floor and I nudged it with the toe of my shoe. The flies felt the touch. They buzzed like they had a case of bad nerves. There was a person's face, blackened and swollen. It was the missing Will Justice. My saliva began to run. The flies cocked their mean little heads daring me to try and steal their nasty meal. I dropped the can and fled outside where I fell to my knees and hurled a puddle of greenish mud in the weeds.

When I recovered, I ran to the Buy/Bye in town. It's a convenience store like a 7-11, only shittier. Serena, my best friend from tenth grade was kicking her hacky sack in the gravel by the parking lot. Her hair was jet black today and she wore it long and straight. She was cute in pink shorts and a shirt with a unicorn on it. A box of Eve cigarettes, her mother's, lay on the curb beside a lighter. I ran up behind her and yanked out her earphones. "Hey," I said. "You'll never guess what!"

"Cricket, you shit head," she said. "I love that song. Jesus, what stinks?" My clothes.

"It's Will, Serena. I found him." Will was her boyfriend who had supposedly run off a week ago. I was surprised at how calm I sounded.

"You're crazy." She threw her hacky sack at me.

"It's true. And he's dead inside Mr. O'Malley's barn."

"It's not Will. He's in Texas."

"Yeah, it is."

"Shut up!" Her face hardened. "You better not tell, Cricket, 'cause if you do it'll be the last thing you ever tell anybody."

"You knew he was in there all along, didn't you? I can't believe you were lying about it all week." I pounded on the back door of the store. Emmanuel opened it. He works there now, since he lost his job washing dishes at the Yip-Yap Restaurant after he got caught smoking weed in the walk-in. A three-day-old beard made him look cool, even if he is over thirty. I begged him for a Seven-Up to wash away the horrible taste in my mouth. He sneered, so I pulled up my shirt to let him feel me. His hands were baby soft. When he was done he gave me a can. I know it's not nice to take advantage of people like that. I chugged the whole soda without taking a breath.

A baby cried. It was Serena and Will's month-old girl, and she was in her car seat on a patch of clover by the dumpster. "Oh, can I play with her?" I kicked the hacky sack back to Serena.

"I'm serious," she said. "Say nothing to no one." I ignored her and picked up the baby, Coco. It's short for Cassandra Chrysanthemum. Thank God for nicknames. "Asshole, you hear me?"

Coco's diaper was heavy and I told Serena she ought to change it, but she said she hadn't brought any with her. I peeled off the tape. It was just pee. The baby's butt was red and sore-looking, so I held her naked in my arm to let her skin dry. Our friends were afraid to hold her, but I took to it easily. Her belly button stump had turned black, like the stem of an old banana. Serena said it should have fallen off by now. I wiggled it a little, making Coco cry. I cooed to her and gazed into her glittering blue eyes. I want to have a baby, too.

A bicycle tore through the lot and skidded on the gravel. I turned my back to protect Coco from flying stones. It was Nicholas Kemp, our friend who's in ninth grade. He hopped off the bike and I could see he was wearing a backpack.

"Hey, Nicholas!" shouted Serena. Her voice sounded so sweet. He waved at her.

"Can I hold it?" He pointed at Coco. I looked at Serena and she shrugged, so I handed him the baby. Nicholas juggled her a little bit before he got his grip right. "Okay like this?" I nodded. "Why's it naked?" I told him. "Stinks around here. Sure it didn't shit, too? I think it's you, Cricket." He grinned. "Ever think about taking a bath?"

"Quit it, Nicholas," I said.

"We got to get it stoned some time," he said. "Serena, you wouldn't mind, would you?" He picked up the pack of cigarettes and lit one and playfully held it to Coco's lips. She sucked on the filter contentedly. "See? It likes it. Remember when you said you wanted to get it drunk, Serena?"

"I did not," she said.

"Give her back to me." I grabbed Coco. "Serena only said she heard you could give a baby whiskey on a rag when it fusses too much, that's all."

"I can't waste any more time with you girls," Nicholas said. "I got a job today."

"How'd you get working papers when you're only fourteen?" I asked. I held Coco over my shoulder and patted her on the back.

"Who needs working papers? Will's grandfather hired me to hang up signs." He reached around and unzipped his backpack and riffled through some papers. Posters. I saw the words, "Missing Person" printed on top with a picture of Will. He was staring straight into the camera with his curly blond hair down to his shoulders. I glanced at Serena. She narrowed her eyes. "Five bucks an hour just to nail these on telephone poles around town." The poster mentioned a reward for information about Will Justice, missing for one week, five feet tall, age fifteen, reward $2,000. There was a phone number.

"Still can't believe Will took off," I said, pretending for Serena.

"You must feel pretty bad he left, Serena," said Nicholas.

"Yeah," she said. "Can't you see I'm all broken up over it?"

To my surprise Nicholas and Serena French kissed. Coco cried again.

"Oh Jesus, baby, shut the hell up," Serena said. She pushed Nicholas back. I rocked Coco and tried to hush her. "Maybe she needs to be smacked."

"You can't hit a baby this small," I said. Sometimes I can't believe how stupid Serena is.

"I'll smack her for you," Nicholas said.

I hugged Coco tight. "You do, and I'll smack you back, Nicholas."

"Leave him alone, Cricket," said Serena.

"Yeah. Fuck you, Cricket." He picked up the bag and hopped on his bike. "You're always acting like a little mother. I hate you." He flicked the cigarette at me.

"Bye, Nicholas," said Serena. "Make lots of money." I gave him the finger to his back.

"Serena," I said. "They're gonna find the body, you know. Soon."

"They're gonna find the body." She mocked me. "Shut up. Will you just shut the fuck up, please?"

"How'd you get him in there all by yourself, anyway?"

"Oh my God! All right. So I lied to you. Will and me got in this huge fight. I told him you seen him with Veronica." I had told Serena I found Will making out with Veronica Aynsley last week. Thought I was doing Serena a favor. Now, she told me she went ballistic about it and lured Will to Mr. O'Malley's barn with the promise of sex. "So the way I figure it, it's your fault he's dead, too, Cricket. If it wasn't for you, I'd have never known about them being together."

"Whatever, Serena."

She told me Nicholas had helped her and had brought along his baseball bat. "I got so mad I cracked Will on head with it. He just dropped on the floor and I left him there to fucking rot." Coco squirmed. Her skin stuck to the side of my arm in the heat. "I could've hit him a million times, I swear."

"And you think nobody'll ever find him? What about when Mr. O'Malley goes in the barn for his tractor?"

"I don't know, Cricket, but you're really pissing me off."

"He already stinks so bad. You should see all the flies."

"Don't be gross." She ripped Coco away from me and stormed off with the car seat dangling from her arm. "What do you want?" she yelled back. "He cheated on me." I could hear the baby crying for ten minutes.

I felt dizzy. I sat on the curb and wrapped my arms around my legs. Cars came and went in the parking lot of the Buy/Bye where oil spots made pretty rainbows on the pavement. Men, dirty from day shift, carried out six packs and cartons of cigarettes. They looked at me like they had never before seen a girl. Emmanuel was inside taking their money. I wondered if I should wait for him till he got off work, but decided not to, since he had complained his wife got upset the last time she had caught us together.

My head cleared. I ran my fingers through my hair and started the walk home, feeling sick all over. Serena's a bitch from morning to night, but I love her. Always will. We're like sisters and I would never tell her secret to anyone. We're cool. Way cool. On the road a cop car passed by. Whenever I see one my instinct is to duck, but I had nothing to hide. Or did I? A poster Nicholas had tacked up fluttered on a pole. I stopped to look at it. He had fastened it with a nail right through Will's head. Asshole. I don't think I'll ever get that smell out.