Near dawn, Dennis Moore saw the iron gate to the courtyard inch open and the wisp of a girl squeeze through, clanging the gate behind her. Two minutes later, on the boardwalk, she halted as if for an invisible dog, then resumed her dog-walker gait. He followed her down this wooden walkway, known as the Promenade. The surf, retreating as if pushed by the hurrying sun, murmured and slurped. The girl, he could see now, was dressed in purple, and she wore a thick long scarf twisted in an elaborate slip-knot around her throat.
His thoughts wandered. The Auguste Macke poster of “Promenade 1913” above his mantel. Andy Kaufman wrestling women in the videos he had watched. Lisbeth Salander with the dragon tattoo. The nutrition facts on the back of the granola bar in his pocket.
The girl in purple was coughing. She paused on the Promenade and coughed repeatedly. Something had gone down the wrong way. He knew the feeling.
This was the right moment to grab her, but he felt dizzy and sluggish. He had to concentrate. She was lighting a cigarette, cupping it from the beach breeze. He saw that her scarf was a tartan. He thought of Scotch tape. Quietly, he tiptoed behind her along the bare boards. When Mark Twain steered the riverboat around the bend where the Mississippi meets the Ohio, he had to proceed very carefully. But he dumped Huck and Jim there on a flimsy raft in those dangerous waters where Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky come together to shake hands. Now Dennis Moore had to go very carefully, pitty-pat. He could not stop himself now. This time he would do it.
A light bulb lit in his head. Fuck hen. Until this moment the spoonerism of Huck Finn had never occurred to him. That old jokester, Twain, was probably still laughing, wherever he was. The granola bar would taste good right now. Pay attention! She coughed again. The scarf was many shades of purple, flashing in the sudden sunrise.
BOBBIE ANN MASON wrote the widely anthologized short story “Shiloh.” Her first short stories were published in The New Yorker and her first book of fiction, Shiloh & Other Stories, won the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her first novel, In Country, is taught widely in classes and was made into a Norman Jewison film. Mason’s newest novel, The Girl in the Blue Beret, ventures into World War II and the ways it is remembered. Her memoir,Clear Springs, about an American farm family throughout the twentieth century, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Find out more at bobbieannmason.net