We walked through the field a long time, pushing tall grass out of the way, before we saw anything. I’d pluck ticks out of my hair later and scratch red bumps. I hoped it was worth it.
“How much longer?” I asked. I wondered now if it was just a story Tamara told in her bedroom with the window propped open and flies buzzing everywhere. There were always flies and the sour smell of hog drifting in on dusty Saturday afternoons.
Tamara’s mom and Rudy had gone into town and would be there until late, drinking bottle after bottle in the small rectangle building with the windows painted black and the music crashing out onto the pavement. The pea-green pickup would stumble into the gravel drive late and they’d laugh or yell, depending on how the night had gone, while we pretended to be asleep behind fragile walls.
We’d already flipped through shiny magazines and smelled their thick scent. We’d smeared watermelon polish on our nails for a moment that’d probably never come. Then we rolled the magazines up and slapped at the never-ending flies. Coming out here was the only thing left to do.
“Sometimes it takes a second to find,” Tamara said as she stopped and scanned the field, and I said nothing because I still wanted to believe her.
I turned back around. From here the sagging trailer was the size of a thumbprint. It was hard to believe we’d been crammed inside—it seemed too small to hold us. You could block it out with a finger and make it disappear.
The late summer sun sank low in the far row of trees and looked like moving globs of light. If I squinted my eyes and let them go all blurry, it glittered just like magic waiting. Or how I pictured magic might look if I could ever find it.
“Should we go back?” I asked, right as she pointed.
“There it is.”
At first I couldn’t make it out. Weeds and golden grass had pierced the wood and pushed through, making it hard to tell what it had been. I was just about to ask her where when I saw the face.
Its teeth were bared in an eternal grin. A tiger. Or a lion, maybe. A few feet away lay a camel. And I thought I saw a giraffe, but it was hard to tell. The framework was gone. Probably cut up and sold for firewood a long time ago.
“I told you,” she said, but I didn’t look at her.
I bent down and touched its head, the lion or tiger, and traced my newly painted nail along a red wooden vein. It was a long-ago ribbon or maybe even a rose, now bled of color except for one faint crimson line that clung to its splinters and wouldn’t let go. The wood let out a rotting sigh, and the smell of damp and soil rose up like something whispered.
It looked old. And not just because of the rotting wood. It looked old-fashioned.
“Where’d it come from?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” Tamara said. “It’s always been here. Even my mom remembers it from when she was a girl.”
“She never rode it?”
Tamara shook her head.
Somebody had carved each eye, each tooth, each wild, blowing curl and set it out in a farmer’s field. Others had stood in line, clutching sweaty coins, just to ride around in circles to the sound of a calliope. Until it wasn’t enough anymore. Or maybe there was just too much to keep it standing. Too much sky pressing down, and now it was just wooden bones.
I wished I could have seen him twirling madly, head lifted high and proud, but there was still a fierceness in his gaze that not even a prison of weeds could hold. Even though the earth was slowly swallowing him, it was like he wouldn’t stop fighting.
I looked up at Tamara, but I could see that she didn’t care, not really. Ten years and she’d have a dirty-faced baby on her hip. Two, maybe three kids with crusty noses would cling to her knees in that same trailer behind us with the linoleum floor that sounded sticky when you walked on it. She’d have her own Rudy in a pea-green pickup, and her eyelids would look like purple bruises. She’d be too tired to slap at the flies.
“It’s just a pile of wood,” she said when she saw how I looked at her.
But I wanted to tell her to shut up. This was haunted ground. A whole other world had moved and swallowed and ached unseen under this one with cries and laughter and screams. For a moment, I could almost hear it on the hot breath of wind that brushed my cheek. I strained to listen before the cicada song rose up and sang it away.
Tamara shrugged and chewed on a nail. She was already peeling off the watermelon polish.