Laurie Laframbois tries to recall how she got to the field that extends past Monica Street. She remembers there was an accident, a car spinning out of control, tumbling down an embankment, and now, here she is, dizzy with fire and lust, feeling like she did when she was little and had chicken pox, as if the whole world is gyrating, stripping off streamers of heat, and she needs to stay still and close to the ground or she’ll capsize.
She wants to stop the voice in her head — forget all those terrible things her mother said when she found out she was pregnant. She tries to focus on her boyfriend, Jimmy. His face is different since the accident. It swims in and out of her consciousness with the overpowering brightness of a sun. It makes her queasy.
“He’s gonna be a leader,” Jimmy tells her, his glistening hand cupping her large round stomach. Everywhere he touches there’s a sensation of marshy coolness. She wonders if he’s for real. “Oh Jimmy,” she murmurs, imagining a tiny snug cottage for them both and the baby, surrounded by a white picket fence. She pictures her mother sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch, giving the baby a pony ride on her knee. But the theme music to Little House on the Prairie, which has begun to jingle through her scorching head, is relentless and won’t stop even when she tells it to. The baby kicks. Her stomach undulates in waves and ripples under Jimmy’s slick hand. “I think I’m sick,” she whispers to Jimmy. Jimmy is like a ray of fire in her eyes and the theme music from Little House on the Prairie has risen an octave and acquired a distinctive disco rhythm. As it reaches an unnatural crescendo, the baby performs a most powerful kick, breaking Jimmy’s hand at the wrist. The hand flies through the air and splatters on the wall of a lean-to shack that Jimmy set up for them. Suddenly, she remembers. Jimmy is dead.
She screams and struggles to sit up, but is beaten back down by the force of gravity and her own weakening dizziness. “Don’t worry. It ain’t nothin’ important, just a hand,” Jimmy says. The sun has risen into the centre of the sky and gazes down on the field, as Jimmy gazes down on the knoll of her body — eyeball of fire cooking flesh tender, transforming clay to slate. Laurie settles again. She imagines everything is going to be fine. At least with her and Jimmy. He’s here now, with her. He didn’t take off like her mother said.
In the heat, Jimmy’s eyelid appears to be fusing shut over his one good eyeball. Before long, he won’t be able to see that his body resembles a melting fudge bar. He drifts in and out of Laurie’s consciousness. “You’re gonna take care of me, right Jimmy? I’m gonna be your woman and we’re gonna live in your ma’s house, right? When are you gonna take me back?” Laurie moans. “I’m really hot and sick, and I don’t like the way you’re getting all kind of gooey.”
Jimmy’s voice reverberates like an echo caught in the shells of Laurie’s ears. “We’ll go back when they ain’t lookin’ for us.”
“I don’t know why we gotta stay in this dirty field. You’re kind of magical, aren’t you? You’re dead and all and still can talk and stuff. Can’t you just make them stop lookin for us?” The music in Laurie’s head starts up again, an octave higher, more forceful and relentless than before. She knows Jimmy kidnapped her, that the police were looking for him before too, ’cause she’s 13 and he’s 16, and even though she wanted sex with him, they still call it rape. Jimmy’s voice mingles with the music in her mind. “No, we gotta be here, that’s all.”
“Can’t you make us invisible? You must be able to. You couldn’t have brought us out to this field, from that wreck of your car, just like we was.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy says, “that’s a trick I learned from my brother, Kevin Houdini Robinson. You should’a met him.” Jimmy’s voice fades and flourishes, just like it was coming through the speaker on a television set, the volume being twisted up and down. “He could get out of anything. Nothin’ could hold him.”
“So what good’s your magic if you can’t make us invisible and take us back to your ma’s place? My head is achin’, and I feel sick, and I think I got a fever. I’m gonna need to eat again before too long, and I don’t wanna eat no more field pheasants. Them tiny feather ends get stuck in my teeth.” The Little House on the Prairie music in Laurie’s head abruptly stops; in its place, the theme from The Brady Bunch begins to play, but it’s not exactly right somehow.
Jimmy’s voice is a train’s whistle, screeching and sliding through greased rust, between the field and the highway. “I’ll get us somethin’ different tonight.”
“I don’t want nothin’ from this field. I want a peanut butter sandwich and a glass a milk. I want macaroni and cheese! I need my vitamin pills. The doctor says somethin’ bad can happen to the baby if I forget my pills or don’t eat right.”
Jimmy’s face flashes and wavers in Laurie’s mind. “No,” he says unequivocally, his forehead wrinkling into deep furrows like watermarks in sand that stay that way, “The baby’s strong. He’s gonna be somethin’ special. He’s gonna be a great leader. He’s gonna make changes here in this subdivision — you wait and see.”
Laurie is half-listening to Jimmy’s voice. “What kind of a great leader’s that? I thought you meant like, the president of the United States or a foreman at Ford’s or Chrysler’s or somethin’. Who cares about this cruddy subdivision?” She starts singing along with The Brady Bunch music. “He’s gonna be as quick as a fox. He’s gonna be smart as my old buddy Jack Gould. He shot his parents and then talked his way out of prison. No cop in the universe was a match for him. He’s gonna be able to get out of anything like my brother, Houdini Robinson. He’s gonna know how to trap and skin squirrels and catch catfish from the Detroit River. He’s gonna know what bones is good to pick up from the field, and what bones you gotta leave sittin’ there. He’s gonna know what to shoot an arrow at, and what not to shoot an arrow at. He ain’t gonna end up like his ole man dead and without an eyeball.”
Jimmy swims in and out of The Brady Bunch. He is a face in a box, looking across the television screen at another face in a box. Laurie sees the ugly emptiness in his eye socket. She vaguely remembers that it happened when Jimmy was shooting for pheasant, that he thinks some of the old bones in the field he used for arrowheads were cursed. “I should hope not!” she says. “No kid a mine is gonna play with no arrows.” She tries to moisten her dry lips with her tongue. “He ain’t gonna be diddled by no school principal, and he ain’t gonna let none of the jerks in this subdivision get the better of him. He ain’t gonna knock up no 13-year-old girl neither,” Jimmy adds.
“Hey!” Laurie cries, sounding exactly like Cindy Brady to herself. “Are you sayin’ you don’t want him?” The theme song ends and begins replaying. Now Laurie knows why the song doesn’t sound quite right. Because it’s her voice singing it just as she sings it everyday, but without the accompaniment of the Bradys.
Jimmy continues: “He ain’t gonna have to shoplift nothin’, and if he does, he ain’t never gonna get caught. He ain’t never gonna get caught at all, not for nothin’.”
It makes Laurie feel lonely that she has to sing all by herself. Jimmy flutters in and out of her vision. He is standing, wrathful, against the day’s brightness. His calves collapse into his ankles like two chocolate flutes. “And if you ever bitch at him, he’s gonna just give you one good look with his two good eyeballs, and you’re a goner.”
The threat stops Laurie from feeling sorry for herself. “I hope you teach him some respect!” she snaps. “I wouldn’t want no kid a mine treatin’ me like I seen you treat your ma.”
“He ain’t never gonna have a brother, and he ain’t never gonna spend the best years of his life thinkin’ his brother’s comin’ back for him, when his brother’s gone and left him for good.”
Laurie opens her tiny eyes. The sky is spinning round and round. Jimmy is a shadow enveloped in orange light. She watches as his neck collapses into his chest, as his head pops off with the sound of a champagne cork, and rolls onto the hard dusty earth. She blinks, her dry throat, red and raw, emits the sound of a train jarring to a halt when she screams.
“He ain’t never gonna do anything he don’t want to do, and he ain’t never gonna take the blame for anythin’ he didn’t do.” Jimmy’s head stops rolling and continues speaking. “He ain’t gonna put up with no one’s shit.” The rest of Jimmy’s body blows away like ash.
Laurie heaves herself to a sitting position, feeling as if she’s come full circle in a Ferris-wheel cage. Sweat cinches like maggots down her back. “You can’t tell me it ain’t nothing important now! You can’t tell me it don’t matter.” She leans forward in the dirt to touch Jimmy’s head.
“Don’t!” Jimmy’s warns. “You touch, and it’s over.”
“Jimmy,” Laurie sobs. “Ain’t you magical enough to put yourself back together again? Ain’t you magical enough to make good on your promise to me? You said I was gonna be your woman and you were gonna take care of me! You said we were gonna go back to your ma’s place.”
Jimmy’s head begins rolling in the dust again, rolling like a rattle, rolling back and forth, gaining Gould…who walked from prison and melted away into the Toronto pavement. “He’s comin’ back! He’s comin’ back!..no…no…wait. It’s not Jack. It’s Kevin. He’s gonna be my brother, Kevin Houdini Robinson. I knew it! I knew he’d come back. I was right! I was right!” The head in its great jubilation crumbles to dust.
“Jimmy,” Laurie screams. “Jimmy. I’m too young to be a widow and we ain’t even been legally married yet.” The sobs fill her throat and echo like the cries of garbage gulls through the field all the way down Monica Street. She leans lower to the earth so close she can almost inhale the dust that was Jimmy.
“Wait a sec, I was wrong.” It’s Jimmy’s voice, echoing across the sky, booming from the earth. It takes a couple of seconds before Laurie spots them: Jimmy’s lips, crawling over the stone-hard clay, two thick articulate worms. “He ain’t gonna be Kevin. He’s gonna be me. He’s gonna be Jimmy Robinson junior, and he ain’t never gonna take no crap from no one ever again.”
As the lips disintegrate to anthills, the final chorus of The Brady Bunch comes to an end in Laurie’s mind, and she collapses back into the grass. A rush of water burns her legs. Immediately there is a sharp knife-blade pain in her abdomen. “I should a listened to my ma. She said you was unreliable. She said you’d end up leavin’me when I needed you most.” Sobs collect in her dry throat and choke her. “What am I gonna do now? You tell me what am I gonna do?”
She clutches her abdomen, feels the tight contraction with her hand, then another. The world is still unsteady, but she hoists herself to her feet. “See what you made me do?” She speaks directly to the earth. “You made me piss myself, you scared me so bad, and now I got pains in my stomach. I told you we shouldn’t eat nothin’ from this field. I told you. You probably went and poisoned our kid too! ”
Laurie cradles her stomach. Another sharp contraction stabs her, as she begins her wobbly journey to her destination, the houses at the top of Monica Street.
“Now I gotta get to a doctor, Jimmy. And where the hell are you? Where the hell are you with all your magic and big talk. ‘Our son’s gonna be a great leader!’ Shows how much you care. You ain’t even here to help us.”
Laurie staggers through the field, away from swirling dust. Sweat pours over her. She bends and pants, feeling a tight grip in her stomach. Every few minutes, she curses the potholes and bugs, the burrs that stick to the hem of her jumper, the weeds that cut fine bloody lines into her legs.
“I hate you, Jimmy Robinson,” she hollers into the bright transparent sky. “I hate you, and I’m glad you turned to dust. I’m glad you blew away. You ain’t no kind of father. You ain’t no kind of man at all. Ma was right about you!”
Madeline Sonik’s fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction have appeared in literary journals internationally. Her
published book-length works include the novel Arms, a collection of short fiction, a children’s novel and two poetry collections.
Her most recent collection of personal essays, Afflictions & Departures, was nominated for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and was also a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize.