Howard’s Girl by Jane Zingale

It’s August in the midwest. I’m fifteen and me and my cousin Coreene sit on the top step of her front porch. We fan ourselves, we swat flies, we sing, we just do stuff until maybe a big wave of heat will drive us into the house. My cousin has this thing called dermatographism; it’s a pretty big word for just meaning her skin is real sensitive. I draw a face on her arm with my fingernail it stays there for almost half an hour.

June bugs hum through the thick, hot air. In the field behind the house the sound of my uncle’s tractor slides along the humidity. Two blue and copperdragonflies circle my head just as a horse and rider come ’round the north bend in the road. The horse’s shoed hoofs slide and skitter sideways on the black top and the rider’s right shoulder just clears the top of a low hedge. Without missing a beat they come straight back up and stop right in front of me and Coreene. From the side of her mouth Coreene whispers, his name is Howard. At that moment I’m impressed by what I see; right then I want to be bad.

He slips down from the horse; he’s long, lean in his Levis his name is Howard.  He drops the reins. The horse stands still chews on his bit eyes us from the side of his head. Howard comes and stands at the bottom of the steps as if he wants something. I want him to want me. Together me and Coreene stand up. She motions Howard up the stairs. We three move to the hanging swing at the far end of the porch near the shade of a large Maple. We just sit, we watch clouds scud over us, we drink Root Beer. Coreene begins to hum a throaty little tune. I emphasize the high notes, Howard adds a Flamingo beat and the dog drools his paws quivering as he chases dream rabbits.  The afternoon whistle jumps in, jumps out. We riff past a blue sky that rolls into evening. Arpeggios from crickets and fireflies join our song as it rises up in timbres that softens into the air, hot as toad’s breath. I want to be Howard’s girl.

Today me and Coreene go to the new health food store. The odor is one of sanctity; sort of flat, dusty. I’m overcome with a damping humiliation; I like french fries. I think of Howard and that makes me want to rush out and sin. We stroll over to the creamery to see him. It’s butchering day for Johnson’s Meat Market across town. Howard guides us into a green tiled room with a drain in the center the size of a truck tire. He tells us to wait there and he leaves. A few minutes later he slidesopen a small door at the end of the room and out comes a pig. Howard ducks right in behind him, he looks so big and tall as he stands against the wall. He lifts a gun and shoots the pig. That pig runs around the room squealing, squealing  and bleeding all over the greenness of the tile. His hoofs click and slip in his own blood as it circles into the drain. Finally that pig drops down and me and Coreene leave.

We sit outside under a weeping willow tree near the creek and wait for Howard to finish up. Coreene wears a red and white checkered halter-top; her bare back is a perfect canvas so I draw a picture of that dead pig. It looks just like him.  I take a photo with my new color film and then I take few more just in case some don’t turn out.

 Jane Zingale is an artist, actor, writer and yoga instructor. Her education includes a BS in Art from The University of Wisconsin, Yale School of Art and Architecture and an MFA from The University of Minnesota. Jane taught art at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, The University of Minnesota and The University of Oklahoma. She worked with the French artist Guy de Cointet and over the years she’s performed his plays at LACMA, The Getty Center in L.A. at MOMA in N.Y. and in Europe at The Renia, Sophia in Madrid, The Contemporary Art Centre in Sete and The Pompidou in Paris, France. She’s taught performance techniques in Amsterdam, Lyon and Geneva, Switzerland. She’s directed theater at museums in The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland. Her short stories have appeared in three self-published anthologies and The Hamilton Stone Review plus three podcasts for I Love a Good Story.

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