31 May 2010


The last time I saw Binny Green, he was running after a deer into the acres of night lying between US HWY 77 and the Missouri River.

I’m not sure when Binny came, or where he came from. There was himself, his older brother JR, and his mom. And their car that had an engine in its trunk – a VW, pale blue and zippy.

They lived in a house that was only a couple of blocks from Offutt Air Base. Their dad wasn’t around, because he was stationed in Nam. Our dad was stationed in Lincoln, which was almost as far away.

J.R., named for his father (Simon Sr.), was 9 years old, about the same age as Dwayne. And Binny (Benjamin) was 4, which put him between 5 year-old Patrick and 2 year-old Hugh. This made them both proper playmates for my brothers, and (Binny, anyway) a babysitting opportunity for me.

Even in memory, Binny is a typical, bratty 4 year-old - rarely bored, and never still.

He almost always had something in each hand and in the back pocket of his boxer corduroy pull-ups. He was always rotating and trading out with each new find. He had a fondness for dead flies and cigarette butts, and popped them in his mouth whenever the wrong people were looking.

Both of the boys were truly blonde. Mom called them toe-heads. Mrs. Green wasn’t a toe-head though, because she used peroxide. Mom told me not to say anything in front of Mrs. Green, because it wasn’t polite.

For 6 weeks in a row, the summer of 62, we spent our weekends camping with JR, Binny, and Mrs. Green at Tuttle Creek, Kansas.

We were always happy to go camping, to leave, even for the weekend. Born to the corn, to the alfalfa and chickens, we mostly hated the city. There were no meadowlarks in Omaha, or morning sun. Just the city walls becoming less dim, before dimming again.

We always packed the Rambler on Thursdays, and left on Fridays just as soon as Mom got home from work. We’d always go to the Green’s house, and then move out together. Tuttle Creek, Kansas was just a few hours away, and getting there Friday night meant we’d have all day Saturday to enjoy.

On Sundays we’d usually be packed up and on the road back to Omaha by 4pm.

Our last Sunday was different.

It started out muggier than usual. By sun up it was already 81 outside. And by 9am, it was 90. Mom said the humidity was the worst she’d ever seen.

At noon, a breeze started to pick up, and by 12:30, there were gusts moving the flag straight out. There were some fluffy clouds across the lake, but mostly it was still blue. We were situated in the shade of giant elms, cottonwoods, and several dense cedars, so we didn’t really see the skies to the west or even above us.

15 minutes later, when a lawn chair was spotted bouncing in the waves, rocking on a beach ball, Mom and Mrs. Green decided we should leave as soon as we could got packed. A storm was coming.

10 minutes after that, one of our chairs tumbled into the lake, followed by another from the campsite next door, carried by winds gusting to gale force. And by 1:00, hail the size of golf balls started dropping from the trees. And the light around us was yellowing to mustard. We switched from packing to stowing and stuffing. We’ll organize when we get home.
Mrs. Green had to pee. So we sat in our cars, waiting for her to come back from the restroom. Even as she stepped into the ladies room, the hail morphed into softballs, and started smashing at our windows. Mom told me and my brothers to get under the quilts. There were three. So we unfolded them, and huddled together in the steam.

Mom climbed out of the Rambler and into the VW with JR and Binny, and helped them get under their own blankets. She stayed with them because I was old enough to take care of my brothers.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Green was struggling against the wind. It blew her towards the lake, and she stumbled. We found out later that she was struck in the head and the shoulders by large hail. She sought shelter under our picnic area. It was an open pavilion with a concrete center post about 12 inches in diameter. She pulled off her belt, and cinched it around her left wrist. She hugged the post with both arms, and wound the belt around her other wrist. She sat on the concrete slab with both legs also hugging the post. She was wearing jeans and a sleeveless shirt, and flip-flops.

The sounds were horrific. The hail fell on our car like rocks from a dump truck, and with the wind, it didn't rock as much as it is shook our car. Lightening was so close it didn’t boom; it cracked. And then there was the sound of a bomb exploding.

After about an hour it all stopped. We climbed out from the blankets to find that all of our windows were smashed in, that the VW’s windows were also smashed in. Both cars had zillions of dents and scratches, and the VW had one very large dent in the roof, like an elephant sat on top of it. There were 5 softball-sized hailstones in the depression. Mrs. Green was standing between the two cars. She had a black eye, and her arms were all bloody and bruised. And there is a gash on her forehead and on her right leg. The legs of her jeans were torn.

We still hadn’t noticed the 40 feet of cedar felled on the stationwagon parked in the next picnic site. We turned at the creaking of a car door. The back door of the stationwagon dropped, and the mom climbed out. Her hair was goopy with blood, and her face was painted red.

Mom ran to her. Her daughter and husband were trapped inside. Mom and Mrs. Green went to the windows, which were smashed in like ours. Mom tried to open the doors. She leaned inside – she was pretty sure the people inside are dead. Some men from a neighboring site came up, and pried open one of the doors. They confirmed it. The man and the little girl inside were lost.

Other people came up, and tended to the stationwagon mom and Mrs. Green, washing the blood from their faces, putting ice on their bruises. And everyone waited for the ambulance. A sheriff came too. The ambulance drivers wanted to take Mrs. Green to the hospital, but she declined. She wanted to go home. So they just took Stationwagon Mom.

Mrs. Green could barely move her right arm. And walking hurt, because the bottom of her left foot was also bruised. But she decided to drive anyway. We drove slowly, maybe 15 miles per hour. Manhattan, Kansas was sitting in shallow water. And we could hear our tires washing through. It felt like the water was washing us. I imagined it rinsing the blood off the dead girl in the stationwagon.

It was hours before we reached Nebraska. We were probably up to about 40mph at this point. My brothers were asleep in the back, and I was sitting with my mother. I saw a deer crossing the road in front of Mrs. Green’s VW. The deer went east, and her VW went west disappearing into the nothing on our left.

Mom drove up to where the tracks left the road, got out, and ran into the nothing after her.

After a long while, she came back and turned off the headlights. She told Dwayne to stay with his brothers, and she told me to come with her. I was to stay with Mrs. Green while she got help.

In the dark, most things are a shade of black. Blood is sticky black, Mom’s shirt is fuzzy black, and the deer lying in the road is a sharp-quilled black.

“Mrs. Green hit a deer? I didn’t see this one.”

This one? There was only the one deer.”

“But I saw the other one that ran across. The one Binny was chasing.”


She takes my hand.

The trees whisper, a little boy, and this afternoon’s rain falls on us from leaves moving in a sudden breeze. I try not to follow Mom, but she won’t let go of my hand.

The corn comes to my hips, and wets my jeans all the way through. The VW looks like a small bent shed at first and then an animal sitting with its head bowed. Mom pulls me along, and we pass its belly. It’s on its side, on top of Binny’s clothes, Binny’s hat. I smell poo.

We step carefully around the tires and the bumper to find Mrs. Green on the other side with JR. She’s leaning into the hollow where the elephant sat, and JR has tucked his head in her armpit, his body shaped into her ribs and hip. He’s sucking his index finger the same way Patrick does.

Mrs. Green is humming and rocking, rocking JR with her. She’s cradling a baby, sticky black. I ask her, did you hit a baby? But it’s not a baby. It’s an arm.


[edited 14Jun2010]
[edited again 22dec2011]


studio lolo said...

I was riveted, misty-eyed, glued to the monitor.

Binny breaks my heart.I hope this is fiction.

I love seeing you here.♥

fredwrite said...

Well done. I hope you submit this somewhere. A few of my favorite literary mags are Ploughshares, Pleiades, Willow Springs, Third Coast, River Styx.

Catnapping said...

studio: it's good to see you, and it's good to be around. thank you.

fredwrite: maybe someday. thank you.

Isonomist said...

Cat, this is one of the best things I've ever read online. I hope you let it rise for a while before you start kneading it. Don't tinker with its soul. I'll help if I can.

Catnapping said...

Bless you, Iso. I'm going to leave it alone. I'll come back and read it in a monht to see if there's anyhting I would change.

Keifus said...

Oh my, that is really vivid. The family car trip, caught in a thunderstorm, it really starts in a place that resonates, a comforting pleasure to read at first, and then it goes to a much more frightening place without straying into a different story. An unsettling contrast--we're such fragile creatures.