The Bog (part six)
In respect of Dana…the two of them alone now.
“The strip on this side of the road is all you’d have to donate. Just don’t let Harry pollute the creek.”
He told her an irrelevancy, rather than hear this. “Rocky’s running a security business in Denver. From college, from high school, all he wanted was to get out there.”
“He doesn’t care, you mean, that you sold the business. But he’d care if you cut him out of the profits.”
“Yeah. Like that.”
“But you don’t care. About any of it? Anymore.”
Dana made a noise, a high-in-the-nostril snort. “I remember working the cash register. Up front of the store, not the pharmacy, summers. We put price stickers on everything. Ka-zing. Ka-zing.” In air, his hand worked the gadget. “Another job I did was pull stuff off the shelves when it expired. My dad was a son of a bitch for that. People were always messing up his shelves. So, my mom was working the counter and I brought her six boxes of Contac. I said what else does Dad want me to do? She was on the phone, she put up her hand, so I stood waiting. She had her bag open, sitting on the floor, under the counter. She was moving, pacing, you know? Writing something down. I saw her bump one of the boxes…it fell off into the bag. I didn’t say anything because I knew it was on purpose. I saw her knock another one in.”
My mother, Laurel thought, got in trouble with the neighbors for not making me go to school. When I went to live with my dad, I never caught up. You remember me, Dana.
Harry Penfold’s paneled office, the glass ashtray with the chipped corner…
Harry leaving his cigarette perched in a dimple, smoke wisping up in her face, while on the phone, cord stretching and compressing, he swiveled in his chair. She had gone after Harry at the start of all this, thinking herself well placed to speak to him about the bog.
She had dismayed him with her age.
“Laurel? Lil gal Laurel, got in my files?”
Drunk. Harry, she supposed, couldn’t think of himself as seventy-eight, so it amazed him the twenty-year-old he’d hired in ’76 was now sixty-one.
But Dana’s job story was leading to some other confidence.
“You know Harry?” he said.
“So you know Stonemill Market is empty. They got that off-road bike dealer, and they got that one restaurant.”
“I can’t think of the name,” she said, because he’d paused here. She could picture the metal grid inside the oval of the damaged sign.
“Uh. Who cares? No, I’m saying, if you drive by at night you see Harry…or you see his storefront, the open door at the back and the light coming out of the office. I don’t know why, it makes me think all of us are, the whole town is…condemned, in a way. I’m not saying this like I want to…”
“You mean poor Harry, sitting tight in his ruin, reminding everyone he perseveres, he sticks by his own—even if the rest of us won’t.”
“Yeah. That’s good. Guess you do know Harry. Just parked at his desk, is what I figure, getting tanked most nights. Locks up about nine o’clock and then he wants to talk to somebody. I’m there in my garage. It’s true…”
Dana’s clothes rustled with a shrug.
“I watch TV where I don’t get bothered. I got a twenty-seven-year-old kid home from college. My wife thinks I should suck it up and look for a job. Neighbors probably say, there’s fucked-up Dana, getting pissed. Not true.”
“You were in your garage and Harry came knocking.”
“He wanted to drive out this way. He told me to stop the car at the top of the hill. He got out, and I thought he was gonna puke or take a leak, and after I listened to about four or five songs on the radio, I got out too, and yelled for him.”
“And you’re saying…he’s just gone?”
“What you think, Laurel?”
It depended on whether Dana meant, what should I do? Or of Harry Penfold, what, really, did she think?
Here in the bowl, with civilization circling, the bark of a deer or the whinny of a screech owl were only ambient noises, competing with the slam of a car door, shouts that flared over dim music from the Free Landers’ camp, fire or emergency sirens carrying from the highway and filtering through pockets of housing along secondary roads.
Was it reasonable to call the sheriff so soon? Harry would turn up in a minute. Being drunk, he had probably taken his leak, then headed the wrong direction. Was there any reason not to approach the Free Landers and ask their help?
She was tempted. She would say, “You know who I am. Laurel Elbertson. One of the Boggies.”
Out of ten people, no matter how they traded garbage among themselves, only one or two could look you in the eye and spew hate at you. Of this, Laurel was fairly confident.
Shouts, suddenly, without the ragging note of a boy’s camp, where all the wind was on the first syllable—“Move it!”; “Shee-it, dumbass”—volleyed up, and these pitched opposite.
“Look out!” “Come on!”
Dana shoved himself up from the ground. Laurel pushed off the cooler. Above the hilltop a cloud was roiling, lit orange from beneath.
“God,” he said.
“Oh!” This was Rachel, emerging from the tent, ripping Velcro. “What’s on fire?”
Now, where the slump’s shadows had been inky, flame pulsed down a flickering movie-reel light, and it was the bog that grew submerged in blue.
The Bog (conclusion)
(2017, Stephanie Foster)