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  • Writer's picturePeggy Nalls

Des Arc Elegy

She was angry with her mother. The boys were going to Big Creek to swim and she wasn’t allowed. She was ten. It wasn’t fair. The only thing her mother would say was that someone had written on the bridge supports “I want to pet your pussy” and it wasn’t safe. So there was a cat down there. She wasn’t afraid of cats. She liked cats.

Pouting, she flung herself down on the front porch swing hard enough to make it fly backward into the siding under the porch window. If granddad had been around he would have come out and made her cut her own switch so he could leave red stripes on her calves. But, he wasn’t, so she pushed with sandaled toes against the concrete floor of the porch looking at nothing and hitting the siding again and again. Behind closed eyes she could picture Big Creek with the almost smooth river stones cutting into her city-soft bare feet, the dragonflies strafing the water, frogs making summer noises and the water striders whose feet barely touched the surface of the creek.

The porch swing had a cushion and if she stretched out end to end, she fit perfectly. One leg hung over the side of the swing and meant she could make it go with a nice creaking sound. The heat and somnolence of Des Arc in summer stifled. The paper bag tied up and hung from the porch ceiling to look like a hornet’s nest wasn’t moving at all. She wondered if it really frightened away the wasps from making nests. A lot of things were like that. People said something was supposed to help, but could you really tell? The fake owl on the front porch was supposed to keep away snakes, but how could you tell? Grandma said there weren’t any snakes, so it was working.

But, she wondered even more about what the boys were doing now. She wanted to run where they were and do things that broke the rules. She settled for picking loose the stitching on the porch swing cushion, at least until she could find a better rule to break.

Her mother called her to lunch at the big table on the screened in back porch. Her grandma and mother talked over the top of her head. One of the local boys had shot his eye out by looking down the barrel of his BB gun. She wondered what it looked like. Even with a shot-out eye, he was probably at the creek. She was still being ignored for being difficult about wanting to go swimming without an adult so it wasn’t a good idea to press them about whether the hole went all the way through his head.

She had made short work of her lunch and was beginning to eye her mother’s. As she cooled her face with one of the cardboard fans with a face of Jesus on it – taken from the church, and walked back every Sunday – she noticed movement of a noodle on her mother’s plate. The two women didn’t seem to notice that it had horns, or that it moved on its own. They were still engrossed over whether the boy that looked down the barrel of a BB gun would have to wear an eye-patch for life. The noodle looked at her. A mouth appeared smiling and it said, “I’m Satan. If you let your mother eat me you will be damned forever. Do you know what that means?” She didn’t, but she wasn’t thinking fondly of her mother just now. She was thinking of the boys moving their limbs through the silky smooth water of Big Creek. She said nothing as the noodle with the mouth smiled and her mother’s fork scooped it up and swallowed it down.

She jumped up so quickly her chair flew over backward hitting the floor and calling down the wrath of her mother and grandmother. She ran out the back door making sure it slammed shut hard. “Stupid girl! Stay in the yard!” followed her out the door. She was headed on flying feet to the creek. With burning lungs she went as fast as her legs could pump. She was soon scrambling down the gravel access road that led to the creek. But, where were the boys? She couldn’t see or hear them. Just her luck, they were off having some other kind of fun that she wouldn’t have been allowed to do either.

Her sandals slipped but she quickly made it to the water’s edge kicking them off and going in clothes and all. Shorts and a cotton shirt weren’t much different than a swimming suit. Looking back, she could see the words that offended her mother scrawled on the bridge supports. The figure of a young man came out from behind a pillar. “Hey, there,” he said, walking toward her. “Hey, there,” she said back. She squinted at him trying to see if he was one of the boys she had gone down the slide with at the school playground. Nope, he was taller.

“Where’s the cat?” she asked. He was getting closer. His response was, “You’re the only little pussy I see down here.” That didn’t feel right. She felt like she needed to get away and

she looked behind her to the main channel of Big Creek. This time of year it really was just a big creek but it had a little channel in it about six feet deep. A black snake was gliding across the top of the water there, between her and a brush covered bank she knew was too steep to climb. She looked back at the young man smiling at her, waving, saying “Here kitty, kitty.”

She moved toward the snake and away from the boy. The water moccasin opened its white mouth, came incredibly fast toward her and bit her hard on the face. “Stupid girl,” it said and smiled with its wide, pale mouth. She was screaming and clawing as the blood ran down her cheek. She felt like her face had been placed against a hot skillet and then someone had hammered a nail into it. The young man gasped, turned and ran, never looking back. Neither did the snake as it undulated away over the top of the water.

She struggled but was unable to find the bottom, getting weaker, going into shock, sinking lower until only a stream of bubbles marked where she had gone under carried by the current gently downstream. Then it was quiet again and the striders were lightly touching the clear water.


Peggy Nalls was formerly a copywriter and technical writer. She is now trying to find her voice in the middle of Missouri.


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