Thomas Atkinson | Ruint Horse

Kim’s the Korean lady Jeri hired on to do nails. She’s nice but hard to understand and I don’t know how on God’s earth she ended up here in Shitsville. I bet she’s the only one in southeast Ohio and you’d probably have to go up to Columbus or over to Cincinnati to find another. I know sure as hell they wouldn’t let them in Kentucky and you can probably bow hunt them in West-By-God. And she’s really, really good. She can do teeny tiny horses or unicorns that look like they’re running from one fingernail to the next, and if you wiggle your fingers fast, it looks like a flipbook movie. I used to get unicorns when I was a kid, but now I get horses. She does mine for free ‘cause my grandma owns the place and I do stuff for her ‘cause she’s got bad feet. She helps out with the shampoos too.

I said, “Hey, Miss Kim. You need anything?”

Kim smiled at me over her shoulder and kept rinsing out the lady with her head down in the notch of the pink sink. It looked like this movie we watched in history class, about some queen in England that liked chopping off everybody’s head. There was a wood block with a notch and they all had to kneel down in front of it and say how they were innocent and loved the queen, but the axe always came down anyway. The sink looks like that, except it’s pink.

And even though she was covered up in a slick polyester sheet with tropical flowers, something about the lady getting rinsed out was really familiar. Then she said, “Is that you, Amber?” It was Mrs. Kincaid, Molly’s mom. Molly’s probably my best friend, and her mom’s always trying to get me to call her Pat, but I just can’t seem to make that work. Molly’s dad calls her Pat, or Patty, or Patsy, or Patso which is only funny ‘cause she’s not fat at all.

I said, “Hey, Mrs. Kincaid.”

And she said, “If I’d’ve remembered it was prom, I’d’ve gone fishing with Molly.”

I said, “Molly went fishing? It looks like rain.”

I couldn’t picture Molly fishing. She’s got the cerebral palsy bad and struggles around school behind a little blue thing that looks like a grocery cart and a bicycle had a baby. She’s smart but really hard to understand so everyone thinks she’s stupid. She’s a couple of years older than me, ‘cause she got held back, but it’s not like you can tell.

And like she read my mind, she said, “Her dad took her fishing.” She waved her hand under the sheet, “They’re probably home by now. You know Mr. Kincaid, they got an early start.”

I said, “In a boat?”

Mrs. Kincaid hooted and said, “Lord, no! Molly doesn’t like boats. She likes swimming okay if her lifejacket’s on good and tight. And somebody’s got a good hold on her. And the water’s knee deep. But she doesn’t like boats. Just off the dock. In a lawn chair.”

Even though it didn’t, I said, “That sounds like fun.”

She lifted her head up enough to look at me and smiled, “You don’t have to blow smoke up my skirt, honey. I just hope they didn’t hook another catfish that I’ll have to fry and stink up the whole house.”

Kim said, “Mmm! Basa!” Or something like that. Then she tilted the chair up and started gently toweling Mrs. Kincaid’s hair.

I wouldn’t eat anything that came out of that river, especially a bottom-feeding catfish, ‘cause every time some drunk boater falls in and drowns, they find half a dozen other bodies before the right one pops up. Last year, some guy caught a five foot long, hundred pound catfish in the tailwater below the locks, and he didn’t get that big just eating fish poop and tampon applicators.

Molly’s mom looked at me and said, “She says she saw the ghost again last night. Riding Spite in the field behind the house.”

Everybody knows the horse’s name is Spite, but nobody seems to know the girl’s name for sure, which is weird since everybody claims she was some shirttail relative in Kentucky that tied up her boyfriend ‘cause he beat her and let wild dogs eat him alive. Then she tried to swim her horse across the Ohio and drowned, caught in the undertow of a coal barge coming down river from Charleston. Molly’s grandpa saw her on the island early one morning when the mist was still on the water. He was trolling in a bass boat and said she looked like an Indian, so maybe her and Spite have been ghost riding longer than anyone thinks. Or maybe he just said that ‘cause Molly never saw ghosts and spirits before she went to the Appalachian Festival and danced with some Cherokees. Now she wears a little leather bag around her neck filled with treasures and she wants my arrowhead bad, but I found it at Jeri’s house when I was little, in the broken knot of a windfall branch, like a shining shadow hiding there in the wood.

Kim made her tiny eyes as big as they could get and said, “Gwishin!” Then she

pulled her straight fingers slowly down across her eyes and looked between them, “Vengeful spirit.” It was the clearest thing I’ve ever heard her say, and it was scary enough to make me wonder why she left Korea.

Mrs. Kincaid said, “Lord, Kim! You just gave me goose pimples.”

I don’t think there is a ghost ‘cause the story is always different, like the dogs ate him, or they chewed his face off, which probably means one nipped at his butt a little. I looked it up on the computer at the school library and I couldn’t find anything, and it seems like the TV or newspapers would be all over a story about a girl and her horse drowning in the river after tying up her boyfriend and leaving him for dog food. Molly thinks that Spite made it across and he’s real, but that she drowned, that he’s real and he waits for her ghost down on the sandy bank when the moon is full so he can take her riding.

Me, I think she made it. I can’t say why but I just know she did. And someone saw them, saw them struggle up the Ohio side, wet and exhausted with coal grit in their hair on some dark night, and when they disappeared into a stand of corn, that’s when they turned into ghosts.

Mrs. Kincaid’s cell phone rang and everybody jumped. She pulled it out from under the sheet and read the screen, “Oh, shoot, ‘Get cornmeal.’”

I said, “Cornmeal?”

She scrunched her nose up like she just smelled something she stepped in and said, “Can’t fry a darn catfish without cornmeal. And Molly likes her hushpuppies.”

I picked up Kim’s trash can. It was full of pop cans and stained cotton balls and blue gloves like the school nurse wears except Jeri buys them in bulk from Harbor Freight. I’m pretty sure they’re not what they’re supposed to be ‘cause the box says, “Janitorial,” “Maintenance,” and “Light Shop Work,” not “Examination,” “Powder-free,” or “Hypoallergenic.”

Molly’s mom looked at Kim and said, “Do what you can. You got this mess of girls to get dolled up to go dancing, and I get to go home and stink up my house frying river cat.” She frowned and said, “Oh yeah, and a couple of loads of laundry. I understand why Molly gets that fish slime all over her, she can’t help it, but I don’t know what her father’s excuse is.”

I toed the vinyl floor and asked, “You heading home after this?”

She said, “No, honey, I got to get up to the Wally World and pick up Molly’s meds. And cornmeal.” Then she considered me and said, “I could come back by this way, if you need me to.”

One thing about having the most messed-up mom in town, and Gwen’s pretty much the hands-down winner there, is that some people feel sorry for you. I know Mrs. Kincaid’s heart’s in the right place, but it would have been a lot easier to say yes if I couldn’t tell.

I just said, “No, I got to stay here and help Jeri. Busy day.”

I slid Kim’s trashcan across the cracked floor tiles to the back door. It seems like I remember Jeri telling me my dad put the floor in, way back before I was even born. I backed out through the door, and it wasn’t until it closed that I saw Sasha behind it, leaning against the wall waiting on me.

She squinted and said, “You got a big mouth, all things considered.”

I shook the trashcan and thought about that, then I looked up at her and said, “What things?”

She whistled, “Where to start, where to start? I know! Your mom’s a crazy, lesbo, drug whore and your best friend’s a retard, what I hear.”

And I knew it might mean a bloody nose or another split lip, but I said, “Drug whore? Guess you turned yellow at church. And Molly’s turds are smarter than you.”

Sasha sucked at her teeth and said real quiet, “Be a damn shame if Bobby and his brothers was to catch you out.”

I know all those Franklin boys – the big ones are all meth heads and the little ones smoke ditchweed out behind the middle school.  I didn’t think about it at all before I said, “Yeah, it would. ‘Cause then Chief’d have to stop by.”



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