Thirteen • Len Kuntz

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It was the summer of deceit, desertion, dandelion wine and Delilah, Dad’s latest gal.

Bryn and I could hear them at it in the camper, both of them starved for something expensive but elusive, murdering each other with feral lust.  Their noises singed my nostrils, made my ears bleed. The air tasted tacky and scarred.

As much as possible, Bryn and I strayed offsite, skipping stones in the meandering creek.  We practiced walking on water.  We swam under the crumpled waves and held our breath till our brains sank like leaden blowfish in the muck below. 

One afternoon, we fished out our stolen bounty and took turns drinking a jar of homemade clear until our toes and extremities sang songs of deliverance.  We told outlandish lies and talked about our futures like they might actually be possible.

When Mom was still around she’d chide me about my imagination, saying it bordered on outright deceit.  Mom pointed out that Bryn, my fraternal twin, had died during childbirth.  It wasn’t healthy or normal to carry on with her all the time as if Bryn was a real person, Mom said.

Mom left a summer ago, June 25th, 3:25 in the afternoon, the day before my birthday.  She smelled like butterscotch and sadness, wearing a winsome blouse with faded daisies printed on it.  Mom’s not around anymore but Bryn is.  Tomorrow we’ll be thirteen and I wonder if Dad will remember. 

Delilah’s not all bad, even if she does smoke constantly and walk around half-naked with her nipples out.  It’s the winking thing she does that I don’t trust.  She’ll pinch my butt then wink.  She’ll kiss me with her coal-tasting tongue then wink.

Bryn says we need to get back home to the trailer because Mom won’t forget our birthdays, even if she did happen to ignore them last year.  That was different, Bryn says.  Hard times, you know, resolve-building and such.

When I arrive at the camper, it’s a hardy surprise to see them both fully-dressed for once and waiting on us.  I want to tell them what Bryn said—that we need to get back, go home, but Delilah’s hand is on the open door.  She says, “Your dad wants me to show you something,” and winks.  She says, “It’s an early birthday present.”

When I look to Bryn for advice, she’s not there, not anywhere. “Come on,” Delilah says, gnawing her lower lip.  “Don’t be afraid.  It’ll be fun.  I don’t bite.”

_____

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press.  You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com

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