I’m doing something a little strange for me: posting a teaser from something that is very much a work in progress. Something I wrote last night, in fact. The narrator here is an 8-year-old girl. She’s spent the night hiding in the meadow, and as the sun is coming up, she’s hiking back to her house. When she reaches the road, a guy on a motorcycle goes by. Startled by her unexpected presence in a hay field at dawn, he does a double-take, skids on gravel, and spills his bike. What does it all mean? I don’t know yet.
The Giant sat up. He winced and rubbed at his elbow and then his shoulder. Then his big hand touched the back of his head. It came away bloody. He stared at it for a moment then reached for me. I thought about fighting. Running. But his hand was shaking where he held my shoulder.
“Goddamn. I thought you were a ghost or something. Where did you come from?”
I pointed toward Mama’s house.
“You’re not an angel?”
I shook my head.
“You sure? ’cause I think I just about bought the farm. Wonder how fucked up my bike is.” He got up on his knees, awkward with his left arm held close to his body. He touched me again, his hand skittering over my hair. “You got grass and leaves in your hair.”
He smoothed it. Gentle and still shaky. For me or for him, I didn’t know, but he petted my hair for a minute, and looked at me. I looked back. Not everyone is safe to look at. There are ways to get into you through your eyes. But I was sure he wouldn’t creep inside my eyes and steal me away, the way Mama said people could.
When he started to stand, I put my arm around him to help. Silly, thinking I could help, but he leaned into me like I could. For a second, I breathed him in. His oily black hair was delicious mint and dirt. Then he got on his feet, and I filled my nose with the smell of the rest of him: sweat and fuel and sharp chemicals. We lurched and shuffled toward the bike. His ankle must have hurt, too.
“Turn the key off. To your left,” the Giant said.
The motorcycle’s engine dropped away to silence when I did it. I tugged the key out, let it dangle on my finger, a little silver skull balancing on the other end of the chain. To take it from me, he let go of his left elbow. His hand was bloody, dripping into the dirt, and he smudged it down his jeans when he put the key into his pocket.
“You gonna help me up to the house or you got more business down here in the meadow?”
“I can help,” I said. Because he was safe that way, too. It was safe for me to say something.
“Hey, you can talk.” I let him put his hand on my shoulder and together we walked up the road to the house. He talked the whole way and I knew why. To make me easy, the same reason Grandma had talked so much. She talked too much sometimes, afraid of quiet.
He told me about the bike. The custom paint job. Probably fucked all to shit. The way the dew had glinted off my hair and the meadow hay. The tattoo on his arm. I already knew it was a dirty word, but he didn’t say “motherfucker” that way. It was just a word. He asked if there were rabbits in the meadow, but he seemed to know there were. Like he asked to leave a space in his talking. A place for me to say something if I wanted.
We didn’t make it all the way to the house. Just to the stone steps that went up from the road to the barn. He sat down there, holding his arm tight and breathing hard. I waited, worried I needed to fill that space, but then he looked at me.
“Can you go up to the house and call somebody for me?”
The phone was on the kitchen wall, but I hadn’t used one before. Ever. There were people you couldn’t smell on the other end of phones. And your ear. Your ears were openings, too, Mama said. The blood from his head ran down his neck. His black t-shirt drank it up. I nodded.
He told me the numbers. Then he wrote them out with his finger on my arm. Streaks of blood. “Do you know your numbers?” he said. I knew it was because I was so small. He thought I couldn’t read. So I read the numbers back to him, from his blood on my arm.
I brought my hand up to my ear, making a pretend phone, the way Aunt Brenda did when she said, “I’ll call you.” To show him I understood. Then I thought of something else. A complication. I reached out. Brave for me. Knowing how secrets like that work. The mouth is a dangerous place, Mama said. A dirty place. But I wanted to. I touched his lips. Warm and dry.
“Your name?” I said.
“Kellen. Jesse Joe Kellen.”
I thought of how he left spaces for me when he talked, but it was okay that they were empty. He didn’t mind that they were empty.
If I saw him again, I decided I might put things in those spaces.