She was listening, and I heard what I thought she heard: rats in the walls of the old abandoned Miller farmhouse. She’d brought me there; we’d pedaled our bikes in the hot May sun, and it wasn’t until she’d suggested that we play house, like husband and wife without the house part, that I realized we weren’t there to get stoned. I was relieved because I’d never been stoned and didn’t want to be, but saying no to Claire could be volatile, even for weeks thereafter. As I listened to the rats scraping around in the walls, I tried to think of something to distract her with so we could get back to kissing, because suddenly I wanted nothing more than to pursue her idea: husband and wife without the house. It wasn’t that I was attracted to her, but the opportunity had been presented.
“It’s Margaret,” she whispered.
“It’s the wind,” I said. “It’s just the wind knocking around the shingles on the roof and they’re scraping together.”
“It’s Margaret,” she whispered, “and you need to go look.”
“It’s just the wind.” But I wasn’t convinced. She could be a pest for following us.
“You need to go look.”
I tried to start kissing her again, but she punched me in the chest.
“If my father finds out about this, he’ll kill me and Derrick’ll kill you. You need to go look.”
“And what if I see her out there? What am I going to tell her? I just want to be left alone?”
“You tell her,” she said, and looked around the vacant room with its walls punctured over the years with fist holes, and plywood sheets on the floor to cover weak spots and holes, “you tell her whatever you need to tell her. Just get her out of here before I change my mind.”
That got me started. I stood up from the mattress, the sole mattress in the house, really the sole domestic item left in the [End Page 3] house, which I now realized was there for making out, and went to the window that looked toward the highway we were forbidden to cross. Claire’s parents and my parents and even our schoolteachers told us to never cross the highway because there was nothing north of it with the exception of the abandoned farmhouse and pastureland. Derrick and I came here often on our bikes, chasing away anyone no matter what grade they were in, until Derrick graduated high school and started to steal, and it was suddenly beneath him to ride out to an abandoned house and talk for hours about the future.
From the south window I could see nothing I hadn’t seen many times before, although because Derrick had graduated a year before me, I hadn’t been to the house since last summer. I couldn’t see the front porch because it had been covered, an open sunroom, so I left that window and went through the studs of a wall that I’d torn down years ago so I could see the front and back doors as fast as possible, and when I entered what was, at one time, a bedroom other than the master bedroom, I heard a crack and knew I was falling through the floor because I’d done this once before several years earlier. But this time I didn’t get stuck in the upper floor, but fell through to the lower floor, and my feet skidded out from underneath me and I heard my head smack the floor and the last thing I remembered was Margaret standing in the bare kitchen, not even a refrigerator or a stove left, staring wide eyed at me. She split into two separate images and when I woke she was gone.
I don’t remember pedaling to the nearest house and asking them to call the army because the Russians had landed. In our social studies class we had seen the movie The Russians Have Landed, and this must have been in my mind. My...