sixty-seven days before

So this I show no ah felt.You wake up one morning and God has forgiven you and you walk around squinting all day because you’ve forgotten how sunlight feels warm and rough against your skin like a kiss on the cheek from your dad, and the whole world is brighter and cleaner than ever before, like central Alabama has been put in the washing machine for two weeks and cleaned with extra-superstrength detergent with color brightener, and now the grass is greener and the bufriedos are crunchier.

I stayed by the classrooms that afternoon, lying on my stomach in the newly dry grass and reading for American history — the Civil War, or as it was known around these parts, the War Between the States. To me, it was the war that spawned a thousand good last words. Like General Albert Sidney Johnston, who, when asked if he was injured, answered, “Yes, and I fear seriously.” Or Robert E. Lee, who, many years after the war, in a dying delirium, announced, “Strike the tent!”

I was mulling over why the Confederate generals had better last words than the Union ones (Ulysses S. Grant’s last word, “Water,” was pretty lame) when I noticed a shadow blocking me from the sun. It had been some time since I’d seen a shadow, and it startled me a bit. I looked up.

“I brought you a snack,” Takumi said, dropping an oatmeal cream pie onto my book.

“Very nutritious.” I smiled.

“You’ve got your oats. You’ve got your meal. You’ve got your cream. It’s a fuckin’ food pyramid.”

“Hell yeah it is.”

And then I didn’t know what to say. Takumi knew a lot about hiphop; I knew a lot about last words and video games. Finally, I said, “I can’t believe those guys flooded Alaska’s room.”

“Yeah,” Takumi said, not looking at me. “Well, they had their reasons. You have to understand that with like everybody, even the Weekday Warriors, Alaska is famous for pranking. I mean, last year, we put a Volkswagen Beetle in the library. So if they have a reason to try and one-up her, they’ll try. And that’s pretty ingenious, to divert water from the gutter to her room. I mean, I don’t want to admire it…”

I laughed. “Yeah. That will be tough to top.” I unwrapped the cream pie and bit into it. Mmm…hundreds of delicious calories per bite.

“She’ll think of something,” he said. “Pudge,” he said. “Hmm. Pudge, you need a cigarette. Let’s go for a walk.”

I felt nervous, as I invariably do when someone says my name twice with a hmm in between. But I got up, leaving my books behind, and walked toward the Smoking Hole. But as soon as we got to the edge of the woods, Takumi turned away from the dirt road. “Not sure the Hole is safe,” he said. Not safe? I thought. It’s the safest place to smoke a cigarette in the known universe. But I just followed him through the thick brush, weaving through pine trees and threatening, chest-high brambly bushes. After a while, he just sat down. I cupped my hand around my lighter to protect the flame from the slight breeze and lit up.

“Alaska ratted out Marya,” he said. “So the Eagle might know about the Smoking Hole, too. I don’t know. I’ve never seen him down that way, but who knows what she told him.”

“Wait, how do you know?” I asked, dubious.

“Well, for one thing, I figured it out. And for another, Alaska admitted it. She told me at least part of the truth, that right at the end of school last year, she tried to sneak off campus one night after lights-out to go visit Jake and then got busted. She said she was careful — no headlights or anything — but the Eagle caught her, and she had a bottle of wine in her car, so she was fucked. And the Eagle took her into his house and gave her the same offer he gives to everyone when they get fatally busted. ‘Either tell me everything you know or go to your room and pack up your stuff.’ So Alaska broke and told him that Marya and Paul were drunk and in her room right then.

And then she told him God knows what else. And so the Eagle let her go, because he needs rats to do his job. She was smart, really, to rat on one of her friends, because no one ever thinks to blame the friends. That’s why the Colonel is so sure it was Kevin and his boys. I didn’t believe it could be Alaska, either, until I figured out that she was the only person on campus who could’ve known what Marya was doing. I suspected Paul’s roommate, Longwell — one of the guys who pulled the armless-mermaid bit on you. Turns out he was at home that night. His aunt had died. I checked the obit in the paper. Hollis Burnis Chase — hell of a name for a woman.”

“So the Colonel doesn’t know?” I asked, stunned. I put out my cigarette, even though I wasn’t quite finished, because I felt spooked. I’d never suspected Alaska could be disloyal. Moody, yes. But not a rat.

“No, and he can’t know, because he’ll go crazy and get her expelled. The Colonel takes all this honor and loyalty shit pretty seriously, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Takumi shook his head, his hands pushing aside leaves to dig into the still-wet dirt beneath. “I just don’t get why she’d be so afraid of getting expelled. I’d hate to get expelled, but you have to take your lumps. I don’t get it.”

“Well, she obviously doesn’t like home.”

“True. She only goes home over Christmas and the summer, when Jake is there. But whatever. I don’t like home, either. But I’d never give the Eagle the satisfaction.” Takumi picked up a twig and dug it into the soft red dirt.

“Listen, Pudge. I don’t know what kind of prank Alaska and the Colonel are going to come up with to end this, but I’m sure we’ll both be involved. I’m telling you all this so you can know what you’re getting into, because if you get caught, you had better take it.”

I thought of Florida, of my “school friends,” and realized for the first time how much I would miss the Creek if I ever had to leave it. I stared down at Takumi’s twig sticking erect out of the mud and said, “I swear to God I won’t rat.”


I finally understood that day at the Jury: Alaska wanted to show us that we could trust her. Survival at Culver Creek meant loyalty, and she had ignored that. But then she’d shown me the way. She and the Colonel had taken the fall for me to show me how it was done, so I would know what to do when the time came.


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