Read an Excerpt
So on that April evening in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, with spring just beginning, a copper moon rose, balanced like a huge persimmon, and two young teenagers, Crow Davenport and his girl Sophie, left a party and walked into the woods toward the river to be alone. They were quiet as they walked.
“You okay?” Crow asked her. They had already talked about what they would do tonight.
“I keep thinking somebody’s following us,” said Sophie. Her voice sounded thrilled, expectant.
“Who would follow us?” said Crow.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you want to do this?” Crow felt eager but would acquiesce if Sophie changed her mind.
“No. I do.” She looked around. “I do want to.”
“Then what’s the matter?” said Crow. He carried a small blanket from the house under his arm.
“Don’t you hear something?” Sophie asked.
“An owl, maybe.” They kept walking. Crow put his arm around her waist and pushed tree limbs away from her head.
“Wish I could see it,” said Sophie.
“Yeah.” Crow began to rub her shoulders, touching her long dark hair.
“If I could see it, I’d draw it,” she told him.
Sophie’s school notebooks were filled with drawings, and even though those drawings were not the first thing Crow had noticed, her notebook was something he could ask her about. Their first conversation was about how well she could draw.
“Right now?” he asked. “You’d want to draw something now?” He leaned her body against a tree and kissed her. He had kissed her the first time in her house, the odor of honeysuckle coming in like mist. They had heard a dog barking across the street. Crow had shown Sophie a slick gray stone that he carried in his pocket and asked if she liked it. She said she did, so he gave it to her, then kissed her on the lips, barely—a wing of moth.
But his desire to kiss her now felt urgent. Wind chimes hung on porches, sounding like temple bells.
“Let’s stay here,” said Sophie, and she led him deeper into the trees. And for a short while the night seemed to stop. “Put the blanket down,” she urged. “We can lie on these leaves.”
Here, at the mouth of a creek leading to the Tennessee River, in early evening, near the home where the Fairchilds lived—both parents away—a party was going on, alive with teenage bodies and hard music. But these two had wandered away from the party. Their love for each other made them feel separate from the others, better.
The day had been warm, with a brief rain, and the air hung like blue milk.
“Nobody’ll see us,” Crow tried to reassure himself. “Most everybody’s drunk by now anyway, or stoned.”
“I feel a little drunk myself,” Sophie confessed.
“You’re not used to it,” Crow said.
“Well, that part’s true.”
“Sophie,” he said, and kissed her again. He had not kissed her like this before. The creek widened, and from where they sat they heard water lap against the banks of sand and river foam. With no adults around, their dreams of pale longing increased in size. They believed they were grown. Flashes of heat lightning flickered, made them dizzy.
Sophie stepped backward, laughing. Flushed with pleasure, she caught Crow’s arm and said, “Let’s lie down.”
Crow pulled her onto the blanket. He put his arm around her, and they sat listening to the woods around them.
“I heard something,” Crow said, pulling back.
Sophie looked startled and turned toward the river. She was sitting with one leg up, her chin resting on her knee. Her skin downy white with a mole beside her ear at the hairline. To Crow, looking at her, nothing seemed diminished, nothing seemed small or uninteresting.
“I’m just kidding.” He tousled her hair.
Sophie stretched her neck like a cat about to purr.
“You want to go on down closer to the river?” he asked.
“No.” Sophie touched his leg.
“You want to stay here?”
Then she did something Crow had not imagined her doing, or rather imagined himself doing for her. She began to unbutton her shirt, fumbling. She leaned forward and removed it, unhooked her bra. Pieces of white cloth moved down her arms. She seemed like someone in a movie, her glossy hair, the line of her cheek. The wind scuttled through the trees, riffling the leaves. Crow could not believe her skin shining in the dark. For a moment he did not move, then she reached to unbutton his shirt.
Crow’s chest and arms were big-muscled. He wasn’t handsome, but he had a strong, manly appearance that made girls hum with pleasure when they saw him for the first time.
Sophie settled into a comfortable position.
They kissed each other carefully, as if handling a glass object. He pulled her skirt off, and as he kissed her breasts, her nipples grew hard.
“Sophie,” Crow whispered. Her hair spread on the ground, her face open, his hand on her breast. Then he rose above her. “Sophie. Sophie.” He shuddered with desire.
“I know,” she told him, but she looked uneasy. “Have you ever done this before?” Her voice sounded shaky.
“Not really,” he told her. “I mean, not like this.”
She didn’t ask what he meant.
The only other time Crow had had a woman was down by the railroad tracks when Tom, Casey, and Bobby paid for Eileen’s services on his fifteenth birthday. They gave him five condoms. The woman was thirty-something, and she cost fifty dollars. He hadn’t liked it as much as he thought he would, but he liked it enough to think of her every night for two weeks afterward. The best part being that his friends knew he was no longer a virgin. He wouldn’t tell Sophie about Eileen, but he was glad to feel the confidence of experience.
“Have you?” He didn’t think she had. He felt caught by the perfume of her body.
She let him stroke her arms and legs. She made him feel slow-witted. As Crow moved on top of her, she parted her legs slightly, willing. She did not urge him to wait or stop. He touched her thighs, between her thighs. He looked at her white, papery skin and the thick tuft of dark hair. When Crow looked back at her face, her mouth seemed edgy, and a hot-blooded certainty came running toward him like a horse.
For a long while they urged each other with odd angles of arms and legs, a wild symmetry of touch and whisperings that moved them into a mood of perfect order.
“I want to go inside you.” His words were a question, but he was almost inside her already, pushing. Sophie did not resist, but then said, “Wait, wait.”
“No, please. Let me. Sophie, please.”
“Do you have something, Crow? Aren’t you going to use something?”
“Shit.” He seemed awake now.
“Oh, shit. I think I came a little bit.”
“But don’t you have something?” They had talked about using something the first time.
“It’s in the car. In the glove compartment.”
“I think we should—”
“Okay.” He cursed himself for leaving the condom behind. “I’ll get it.” He leapt up, pulled on his underwear. The car was parked down the street in a church parking lot. No one had parked in the Fairchilds’ driveway.
“Hurry,” Sophie said. She looked trembly, but determined.
“I will.” He laughed and slipped on his shoes. “I will.” He left his shirt, pants, and wallet in a pile on the ground.
“Your shirt,” Sophie whispered. “You forgot your shirt.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “This won’t take long.” Sophie covered herself with his shirt and pulled on her panties.
Crow hurried through the woods toward the parking lot. There must have been ten cars parked there. He found his car, opened the glove compartment, and grabbed the package of condoms. For one brief instant he wondered if they should go through with this. He already felt foolish. But Sophie was waiting for him. Her hair and mouth, her skin that smelled like oranges. He started toward the woods.
But at that moment he heard a pickup drive into the lot, a group of girls laughing. He ducked down beside the car. When they laughed, he thought they had seen him in his underwear, were going to make fun of him, but they were only teasing each other. They got out of the truck and lit cigarettes. He was going to have to stay until they left. He recognized their voices.
The girls took their time. Crow cursed his bad luck and waited. His legs began to cramp from squatting. The girls laughed louder, lit more cigarettes. Sophie would wonder what was taking him so long. After what seemed a long while, Crow decided to risk embarrassment; but just then one of the girls grew impatient and began to urge everyone toward the house.
Crow stumbled into the woods. He pictured Sophie’s face, her long legs. He could hardly wait to touch her again, and grew excited even while running. But when he got to the place where they had been, Sophie wasn’t there. He called to her. No answer. He called again. Then he saw something, something white, further in the woods, and walked slowly toward it.
She didn’t answer but moved slightly.
“Oh, shit. Oh, Christ. Sophie, is that you?”
He heard her moan, and as he stood over her, he saw that she had blood on her legs and hands.
“Damn.” She seemed to be unconscious. “Sophie? Sophie? What happened?”
But before he could lean to touch her, he heard a police siren and a car pull up near the house. Blue lights flashed in the driveway; men headed through the woods. The silky murmur of night birds was dying down. They’ll think I did this, he thought. I’ll just tell them. I’ll say I just came back and found her. He reached for his shirt. He wanted to look dressed. He heard them enter the backyard, talking, asking questions, coming toward him.
“Sophie?” he whispered. “Are you awake?” He shook her slightly and she moaned.
The flashlights moved deeper into the trees. “Sophie?” he said. He struggled to put her clothes back on—her panties, her shirt—then began to run. He ran fast, his legs paddling themselves on the marshy ground. When the flashlights and voices reached her, someone yelled, “We found her,” and as he ran Crow heard a jumble of exclamations.
She’ll be okay, he told himself. They’ll take care of her.
But what had happened? He had been gone only twenty, twenty-five minutes. Or was it longer? His first thought when he saw her was: Did I do that? He knew he hadn’t, but still it was his first thought, and the thought hit him like dropping a stack of plates—they all broke. “Shit. Oh shit.”
Crow ran toward the river, toward the subaqueous life of its silty edge. He could barely hear their voices anymore. He thought of finding her lying there, and he couldn’t think of her name. Sophie. He could not imagine leaving her there; even as he left, running away from her, still he could not imagine himself leaving her.
He went past trees. His bones formed waves of heat and fired his body. He grew giddy and sick. Limbs reached down to pull hair from his scalp. He ran, and became older running. In just a few moments he would be far away, and he would not have to explain anything to anyone.
When he got to the river, he heard someone running behind him, still far off, but behind him, so he went into the water. His pockets filled with mud. He swam underwater to hide behind bushes. In a few minutes flashlights scoured the bank, and Crow stayed very still. They had not seen him. After they left, after the voices had died away, he came out of the water and fell on the bank. He waited—he didn’t know how long—until the Fairchild house turned dark; then he went to his car and drove home.
Crow entered his house through the back door and removed his clothes in the mudroom; he walked in his underwear to the outside spigot to wash himself. When he looked up, his father stood at the back door.
“What the hell is going on?” his father asked, flipping on the kitchen light.
Crow jerked away from the hose. “I fell in the river,” he said, his voice calmer than he imagined it could be. “Some of the guys were kidding around and pushed me in.”
“Come in here. You know what time it is?”
“No sir.” Crow didn’t move.
“It’s almost three o’clock,” his father said. “We got a call. Something’s happened to Sophie Chabot.” He watched Crow enter the house. “Police found her in the woods behind the Fairchild house. She was unconscious and a wallet was found near the place where she was. About twenty feet away, they said. It had your stuff in it.”
Without thinking, Crow reached for his back pocket, even though he wore only underwear now. “I was with her tonight,” he said. “We went to that party. But when I left I thought she was going home, I mean . . .” He felt like a ventriloquist speaking. “She’s all right, isn’t she? Maybe I should’ve taken her home.”
“Maybe you should’ve.” They gravitated toward each other, and Carl Davenport put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “What’s that on your leg?”
Crow had a gash on his leg from running through the woods, falling. The blood formed moist clots.
“Get that cleaned up. I’m thinking we should call Raymond Butler. I think there’s going to be trouble. Don’t say anything now, and don’t tell your mother anything at all. Let me handle her.” He paused, thinking.
Crow wanted to ask questions, but he was afraid of appearing guilty. He wanted to ask why they needed a lawyer.
“We’ll call Butler at home. Go on to bed, and here, give me those clothes.”
Crow lay in bed now and tried to imagine Sophie, and why he felt the need to lie. He remembered kissing her, but she became faceless as he remembered. His mind refused to bring in anything but a black bed of cold leaves and her mouth—too small now.
He rushed to the toilet to vomit, bringing up small pieces of meat and corn in white slime. He recognized portions of his dinner that evening, which he’d eaten before meeting up with Sophie. That seemed years ago now. He vomited again, until there was nothing left but his own gagging reflex. He didn’t want to stop; he wanted to throw out everything that had happened, let it land in water and be flushed.