BANG! authors are showcased individually here online for a month. Each author installment is made up of three pieces in any combination: poetry shorts (20 lines) or fiction or nonfiction (500 words each) for a month. All work on must be previously unpublished. Submission period runs all year round. BANG! pieces are not published in The New Guard. Work should be very short: flash-short. Pieces on BANG! are meant to serve as a kind of calling card for the author. :: Our next installment will be posted on September 3, 2017. ::
Margo Orlando Littell is a BANG! invited writer.
MARGO ORLANDO LITTELL
Margo Orlando Littell grew up in a coal-mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania, where there's always a crowd at the gun counter at the Rural King. Her first novel, Each Vagabond by Name (University of New Orleans Press, 2016), about grief, isolation, and xenophobia in Appalachia, won an IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Mid-Atlantic Fiction and the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize. It was long-listed for the 2017 Tournament of Books and was named one of 15 Great Appalachian Novels by Bustle. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress, The Distance from Four Points, was published in the July 2017 issue of Embark: A Literary Journal for Novelists. Her writing has also appeared in Real Pants, Monkeybicycle, Compose, and Newfound. She has an MFA from Columbia and lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two daughters. Her website is www.margoorlandolittell.com.
For the first few days, it was easy enough for Jessa to ignore. Thirty days, thirty-five, forty. Forty? She and Shane hadn’t had sex in the janitor’s closet, but something had been triggered when he put his hand up her blue plaid skirt.
On day forty-one, the girls in Jessa’s eighth-grade class were led to the auditorium for a sex talk with Mrs. Nunzio.
“There is a line,” Mrs. Nunzio said, “called the marriage line.” She arranged the first grainy transparency on the overhead projector: a list of actions printed in black. With a green marker, she drew a line across the middle of the list. The actions above the bold green line—holding hands, kissing, hugging—were okay to do before marriage. The actions below the green line—French kissing, petting, intercourse—were only for after. “The marriage line,” Mrs. Nunzio said, her finger a blurry shadow tapping the screen. She explained that going past the marriage line would result in unplanned pregnancy and a life of hardship and regret.
On the transparency, she wrote the phone number for a pro-life support group where pregnant girls could find help and counseling. Then she passed out the precious feet. Impossibly small—the feet of a ten-week-old unborn baby. The girls squealed and pinned one another’s precious feet to the collars of their white oxford shirts, silver winks around the room. Uneasy, Jessa didn’t pin hers on. She imagined tiny eyeballs, tiny brains, tiny accusatory fingers.
They filed out of the auditorium by row, to the heavy fire doors at the top of the stairs. Jessa ducked her head, avoiding Mrs. Nunzio. She’d kissed Shane Weber, it was true, and it was also true that as they kissed he’d stuck his tongue into her mouth, nudging the tip into the wet hollows of her cheeks, and it was also true that she’d felt him pressing himself between her legs. She’d let him; she’d opened her thighs to bring him closer.
She’d crossed the marriage line. It hadn’t felt like doom.
She asked for the hall pass as soon as they returned to the classroom. In the stall, she checked her underwear: nothing. She’d only ever had her period twice, hating it each time, wishing it away. The absence of it now, far from welcome, sent her not back to childhood but into some threatening unknown.
She climbed onto the sinks and raised a discolored ceiling tile. She took the precious feet from her shirt pocket and stared at them in the center of her palm. Lizards. Mice. They were creepy, disturbing. She would not wear them on her collar; she would say, if asked, that they fell off on the bus. She nestled the precious feet into a corner and carefully replaced the ceiling tile. Lying there, tiny toes pointing up to the pipes, they could have been the soles of sleeping fairies, dreaming miniature dreams.
Those Nights in the Woods
By the time Jack finished his second cup of coffee, Evelyn knew he wouldn’t die. He made his living shoveling snow, mowing lawns, hard physical work across the seasons; he was young. This was fact, not protection, so after each snowstorm he endured Evelyn’s Maxwell House until she was satisfied that his heart beat on.
“Any more coffee?” he asked. Evelyn refilled his mug. He never stayed for three, but his face was haggard today, pale beneath the red-cheeked cold. A girl, she would have said, but he wasn’t known to have one.
She waited. Wouldn’t pry. Then he put his head on his arms.
“Jack?” she said.
“Something happened last night.” His words disappeared into the sleeves of his flannel shirt. “Freddie and I were up in the mountains. I had my gun.”
The approaching threat was like darkening clouds. Evelyn tensed.
“I shot something,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. By the time Freddie brought the truck around, it was gone. Thought it was dead but it got away in the dark.”
“Oh, Jack. Surely it was a deer.”
“A bear, a coyote. What else is in those mountains?”
“It wasn’t an animal I knew.”
“Something that was injured, then, and healed crooked.”
“We looked for it all night,” he said. “Blood trail stopped after a mile.”
People whispered about Jack and Freddie—both brothers in their forties, running through the woods like kids. Jack, a high-school football hero chasing his ghost. Freddie with that funny wife, as liable to burst into tears as offer a healing crystal. Still, people wanted their eerie stories, the grainy nighttime videos of ambiguous shadows they posted on their Bigfoot Brothers website. Something to believe in besides the everyday worry: woods full of impossible magic, creatures of legend in their own backyards. Redneck fools, Jack had said once, knowing Evelyn would laugh.
Evelyn couldn’t blame those boys, saddled with so much fizzled hope, for seeking a return to the days when possibility still outflanked disappointment. She envied this last thread of their innocence, looked forward to Jack’s wry, gleeful tales. Her own regrets were as heavy and lethal as wet snow.
She pressed Jack’s arm, her bony fingers like bent tines. Tears brightened his haunted, hollow eyes. She didn’t know what he’d shot, but whatever it was had changed him. Few people would understand, unless they themselves had gazed down at some lifeless thing that was lifeless now because of them.
Shovel the walk, she’d told Gene that long-ago morning. Quickly, before the Melvins do theirs first. Then there he was, face down in the snow, as dead as if she’d taken a gun and shot him herself.
“It was what you wanted,” she said to Jack. “Haven’t you been waiting?”
“Not for this,” he said. And Evelyn knew there would be no more nights in the woods.
He laced his boots, put on his coat. He’d shoveled the sidewalk so well he left no footprints as he walked away.
Friday night, late. Without the headlights, Kim couldn’t see Jon’s face. They always drove around back here after they went to a movie or Golden Corral. Nothing but woods, a whole lot of nowhere. Jon had pulled his truck into the high weeds by the road, and now he unsnapped his seatbelt and slid toward her.
“Supposed to freaking snow tomorrow,” Jon said. He’d be out early with his dad and uncle on opening day.
“Think you’ll get anything?”
“Didn’t last year. My dad nicked one with the Ram, though. Poured a Coors over the windshield to rinse the blood.”
He unclasped her bra. This far out, they didn’t have to worry about other cars.
Both hands were under her shirt now. She hooked her fingertips into the waist of his jeans. Sometimes Jon liked to talk while they were here, in the quiet, describing the things they’d do together when they finished high school and skipped town. We’ll have our own place, he told her. Our own bed.
She’d let him think she was waiting until it could be like that.
She didn’t trust herself to talk tonight. Jon had seen Adam at the movie theater, hadn’t liked him smiling at her. What’s with that guy, he’d said. She’d known Adam since kindergarten, and she’d missed him in the six months he’d been at juvie. When he got out last week, he’d taken her driving, two old friends. She hadn’t even known what she wanted.
He hadn’t even asked.
She pulled away from Jon, adjusted her clothes. “Let’s go,” she said.
“Someone might drive out here. Deer spotting.”
“Spotters stay down by the pond. No deer back this way. ”
“I’ve seen them before,” said Kim.
“If you say so.”
She’d seen a deer the night she was here with Adam, a four-point buck that stood stunned when Adam punched the headlights. Kim had gasped as it crashed into the trees. Wish I had my gun, Adam had said, raising an imaginary rifle to his shoulder and locating the deer in its sights. His mouth blasted it.
Jon started the car, eased onto the road. He was good like that, not pushing her, accepting whatever she was willing to give. Even at sixteen, she knew this was a boy she should love.
Yellow signs warned of a curve ahead. Jon slowed and took the curve expertly, giving the truck just enough gas. Then, through the trees, she saw it. Ten yards away, peeking from the thick, dry stalks near the road, was a deer. Its antlers glowed under the stars, and its white breast heaved. It looked at the truck, waiting and watching.
“Jon!” she said, but in that second the deer leaped away.
He put a hand on her knee. “You’re spooked. We’ll be home soon.”
“Alright,” she said. She didn’t want to tell him how much he didn’t know.
Fiction © Margo Orlando Littell, 2017. All rights reserved by the author.
Previous authors with appearances on BANG! are: Patricia Smith, Jose Padua, Pete Follansbee, Jillian Brenner, Susanna Baird, Alexandra Oliver, Kerri Quinn, Mike Heppner, Marc Mewshaw, Lola Rainey, Timothy Dyke, Marcia Popp, Quenton Baker, Joshua Graber, Charles Wyatt, Julio Duggan, V. Hansmann, Scarlett S. Diaz, Erica Vega, Amy M. Alvarez, Jonathan Segol, Lissa Kiernan, Roger Bonair-Agard, James Kimbrell, Bridget Boland, E.G. Cunningham, Melissa Goode, Mark Wagstaff, Carla Stern, Sarah Glass, Jennifer Amell, Zakia R. Khwaja, Julie Poitras Santos, Lyall Harris and Amy Nash.