They met each morning at the corner, Davy and Glen, and Glen’s twin sister, Brenda, who hung around like snot on a runny nose.
“Why don’t you just go live on the moon?” Davy gave her a little shove. but she didn’t budge, hands her hips, knees locked, her roller skates digging into the grass.
Glen said, “Who else she gonna play with—stuck-up Linda Box?”
Davy answered by jumping on his skateboard and yelling like a Comanche. Glen threw his board to the ground, gave a yelp, and headed after him. Brenda skated as fast as she could. They were eleven, it was summer, 1960, and all any one could talk about was launching monkeys and dogs into space.
First stop was The Big “T” where they stocked up on candy and gum, some paid for, some not. They tapped on goldfish tanks and played hide and seek in the aisles until the lady in the wig chased them into the parking lot, leaving Brenda inside.
“Let’s split,” said Glen. They grabbed their boards and Davy snatched Brenda’s skates. They bumped down curbs, rumbled down the middle of streets, sweat salting their eyes.
Brenda showed up, red faced, as they were digging grape Nehis from the fridge, not a word about her skates on the porch with their boards.
They ate in the living room, no plates, sprawled on the cool wood floor, wishing “Gunsmoke” was on TV during the day.
After a while, Glen said, “Let’s run the fence.”
“No way.” Brenda was examining her scraped knee, and Davy felt bad she’d run after them in her saddle shoes—probably why she fell. He thought about saying something about taking her stupid skates, but sneered instead. “You chicken?”
They glared each other down. They did this a lot.
“Com’ on, Bren,” said Glen. “Mom’ll never know unless you tell her.”
“I won’t tell.” She was still squinting at Davy who said, “You’d better come then, so you can’t squeal.”
Brenda stood up. “What’re we waiting for?”
They banged out the back door and climbed to the top of the chain link fence that separated Davy’s backyard from Roger’s Lake. It wasn’t a lake any more The city had drained it and put in a channel and sump to control the water, turning the lake into a muddy celery field.
The channel had eight feet of chain link on both sides and more chain link stretched over poles along the top. From up there, the kids had a nice 360 view of the nearby sump, the town’s small airport, and the hill where the rich snots lived. The channel was as deep as the fence was high so running along the top felt like flying a rocket and driving an army tank at the same time, the metal below their feet sagging and chinking in-between the poles.
They ran, one after the other, back and forth until they were drunk with it and flopped on their backs, hot and sweaty, the cross-poles like hard pillows, the sun beating down.
They were laying in opposite directions, feet to feet, Brenda tap-tap-tapping the bottoms of Davy’s tennies. He kind of liked it. He tapped back.
Glen groaned. “It’s hot up here.”
They all sat up. Davy said, “Let’s go swim in the sump.”
Brenda said, “Mom’ll have a cow.”
Standing, Glen nudged her with his toe. “You promised you’d do whatever we did.”
“Did not.” She looked from him to Davy. Bit her lip. Davy felt a little dizzy and when he said, “You chicken?” this time, his voice was softer.
Abruptly, Brenda scrambling down the chain link on field side, landing in the mud.
The boys followed, squishing around in the muck, then racing to the sump.
For a moment, they gripped the fence links and stared at the pit with its soft asphalt sides and black water.
“Let’s go,” said Davy.
Climbing was a cinch, getting through the barbed wire, painful. Their legs and arms were bleeding by the time they dropped onto the slope into the 50-foot-wide sump. The stench from the water made their eyes sting.
Glen took the lead, slightly leaning back because of the steep incline. Brenda, close behind Davy, said, “Pee-yew!’ then “Glen!”
Davy looked up from his feet in time to see Glen skiddering down the incline, tumbling forward, knocking his head against the asphalt before rolling into the water.
“Glen!” Davy yelled.
They stared at the spot where Glen went in. Then Brenda lurched forward, starting to slip, but Davy caught her. She tried to pull away, but he held her fast, and barked, “Go get help.”
“Where is he?”
“He’ll come up in a second. Go on. Hurry.”
“Find him,” she begged as she turned up the slope.
Davy scanned the water. It was dirty and dark and murky, the surface still. He waded in up to his knees. Glanced back. Brenda was climbing the chain link.
He went in deeper, arms out, splashing and shouting “Glen!”
Then he was under water, surprise opening his mouth, filling his throat with gritty liquid, choking him. As the water pressed in, he thought, This is what happened to Glen.
Davy kicked hard, crawling upward through dank water until the sun blazed in his face. He wheezed and coughed, nose screaming, ears plugged, too exhausted to tread water, sinking a little, but in the distance, he heard the shouts of men, the rattling of chain link, and began to move his arms.
The sun and the moon shared the late afternoon sky. Women hid behind hat brims and mantillas. Men straightened bow ties while crescents of sweat grew under their arms. The priest bowed his head. Each sob from Glen’s mother made Davy flinch.
The coffin seemed too small, too final, as if built to launch a monkey to the center of the earth. He glanced at Brenda, wanted her to stare him down, glare at him, but she never met his eyes.
Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008/09/10, Hint Fiction Anthology, and Short Stories America. Her stories online can be read at Corium, Night Train, Every Day Fiction, LITandIMAGE,Smokelong, and at other venues as well. She is the editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly. Her personal blog can be found at wordsinplace.