Fleas

map Fleas

by Cathy Mellett

Published in Issue No. 220 ~ September, 2015

Well

I told the cops, “We went as far as the car would take us.”

“Why don’t we go over this one more time,” the first cop says, shaking his head.

I begin again. “When it ran out of gas, we had to abandon it behind the Arby’s on Jackson and we took off on foot from there. I stayed with Jay and the others, and Chile and Scrum went, well, I really don’t know where they went.”

“Scrum?”

“Yeah, Scrum.”

“What’s his last name?”

“I don’t know his last name. Everybody just calls him Scrum.”

“Why’d he get that name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where do you know him from? He doesn’t go to Skyline with the rest of you.”

“He’s a friend of Jay’s.”

“Sky High,” the other cop says and smiles. “Were you all high when you did this?”

The other cop says, “Maybe that’s beside the point.”

But the first one gives him a look, to let me keep talking because maybe they’ll learn more that way. I’ve seen cop shows. I’ve never been in a mess like this before. I keep looking at the door, the one the second cop just walked through. And I wonder who’s going to walk in next and how things are going to be by the time I walk out.

“It all comes down to this, son,” he says. He keeps calling me son.

But I already know what it’s coming down to. Before it all happened, before we left to beat her up and before the girls met us at the restaurant, we all talked about what we’d tell the police, should it come to that.

I didn’t want any of this to happen. I don’t know how I got here exactly. It was like falling down a well. Where you’re just looking over the edge. You want to see what’s down there. Maybe it’s diamonds or maybe it’s gold, or maybe it’s just a chance to do something different for one day in your life. But you just know it’s something interesting, you just know that you should take this opportunity, this crazy opportunity to live for once, to do something you would never do otherwise, that maybe it would change your life. And before you know it, you lose your footing, you’re hanging from the edge of the well by your hands, and no matter how hard you try to hold on, your hands slip… and you travel down that rabbit hole with a loud thump and it’s not gold you’re standing in. It’s something else altogether.

So I told them I just went along for the ride. I thought we were going to pass by, drive by. That was all. Scrum was mad. I’d never seen anyone so mad. He was like that phrase “his blood boiled.”

I told them all of that, more or less.

“So you were just the driver,” the other cop says.

“Yes.”

“And as the driver, what were you supposed to do?” He says the word driver, like it’s something dirty. And I guess it is, given what happened.

“I was just supposed to drive everybody there and wait for them, until they got done, and drive them back.”

“Until they got done doing what, son?” He leans toward me. I think I can smell what he had for lunch. He is big and beefy and sweating and looks like he could collapse my windpipe with one hand. I think I’m going to throw up.

“Son?” he asks again. “Until they got done doing what?”

I don’t have words for it.

“Were you going there to buy drugs?”

“No, I don’t do drugs.”

“What then?”

The other man takes over now. He opens his file again and closes it, slaps it on the table as if he’s killing a fly.

“Where were you before you went to her house?”

“McDonald’s.”

“Which one?”

I tell him and he nods.

“Did you notice anyone around while you kids were talking?”

“Well, sure there were people around, but we were off in a corner by ourselves.”

“Not quite,” he says.

“Someone in the restaurant heard everything.”

“They were just talking. Just blowing off steam.”

“The lady who saw you says she can identify every one of you. She got a good look at you. Had a nice lunch while you guys plotted away. Wrote down your license plate number.”

“Okay, I knew Scrum was mad at Hayley for dumping him, but then he kept saying, ‘I’m going to fuck her up.’ They said they were all going to beat her up. Not just the guys but Ashley and Amy too.”

“Is Amy the one you like?”

His question is perceptive and so sudden, it shocks me. How does he know this? Nobody knows this, not even Amy herself.

“Were you trying to impress her? Is that why you were there?”

He is giving me an out. A lifeline to a sinking swimmer.

“That’s it, isn’t it? Because I can’t imagine a kid like you getting involved, son.”

The other one says, “At what point did you know you’d be going into the house with the rest of them?”

“I didn’t want to.”

“I know, son, but at what point did you change your mind?”

I think about things my parents have said, my old grandmother at the Thanksgiving table once when our parents mentioned that Justine was dating one of the Henderson boys. “You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas,” she said. Now I’ve lain down with dogs.

He asks me again. “When did you think you’d be going into the house with them?”

“When I realized that they were serious. That they were going to hurt her. I was going to try to stop it if things got bad.”

“And things did get bad.”

“Not there. After. They got bad after.”

“Yeah. You think?”

“So why didn’t Scrum do anything in the house, son?”

“I think he chickened out. When he saw her, he couldn’t do it. At least, he couldn’t do it there. He was afraid the neighbors would hear. Amy and the others still wanted to.”

“How about you?”

I shook my head. “No way. She didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserved that.”

“So what were you planning on doing?”

“I was going to wait. I figured there might be a chance to let her go.”

“Why were the girls so into this? What was in it for them? Were they going to rob her? Rape her, too? What?”

My stomach heaved.

“Amy wouldn’t do that.”

“What about the other one?”

I shook my head, but I didn’t know about her for sure.

“Once again, why were the girls in on this?”

“They said she was a slut, that she’d taken their boyfriends once. They each wanted to get their hits in. They were saying things to Scrum like, ‘You hold her and let us have her first.’ It surprised me when Amy said that.”

“And you didn’t say anything to them then. You didn’t try to stop them.”

I looked at the floor, dirty and scuffed. I thought of how clean Hayley’s house was. You could eat off the floor, like my mother would say.

“You might as well tell us the rest, son. The officers saw you running, how you were pulling Hayley along. Why’d you do that if you were trying to save her?”

“Because I told her if she stayed with me, I would protect her. I was going to take her some place they couldn’t get her, even if we just called her parents to come and get her. It would be better than hanging around with Jay, who would have called Scrum right away. I told Jay to keep running, that I’d keep Hayley with me. That we’d meet up after everything was clear. I would just say she escaped.”

“And after you told her that, is that when she fell?”

I imagine the well again. This time, Hayley is trying to climb out of it but she keeps slipping and every time I reach for her, her fingers are just out of my grasp. She’s grabbing at the side of the hill and the dirt is collapsing all around her and the next time I blink she is lying at the side of the highway so far away she looks like one of my little sister’s dolls.

They don’t say anything now. They just sit there, looking at me, the two of them. One of them taps his pencil on the yellow pad, over and over. Over and over. The other just keeps looking, never seems to blink. He opens that file again, looks at it now and then, closes it up, and keeps looking at me. I can hear the clock on the wall ticking so loudly. I wonder what my parents are doing right now. If mom has started dinner and how mad dad is going to be. Beyond mad. They would never expect anything like this to happen. You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. He has never hit me, but I wonder if he’ll do it now. I wouldn’t blame him, and now I want him to. I want him to hit me so hard that it really hurts.

We went as far as the car would take us. And from there the plan for our whole lives changed.

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Cathy Mellett’s short stories have appeared in The Yale Review, The Literary Magazine, Confrontation, Greensboro Review, and others. She has short stories upcoming in Animal and Brain, Child, and memoir in Midwestern Gothic. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is working on a memoir. To learn more about her, visit: www.cathymellett.com.