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Fiction by Jane (Cohen) Stinson
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ear drums and stopped her brain from rerunning the old memories that had started on the way home. Tommy returned from the kitchen with cans of beer for all of them, dropped two of them on the coffee table for Peggy and Becky and then sprawled on the white canvas chaise near the front sliders, gulping his beer, and smoking a long cigarette, imagining himself on top of Becky. She could tell exactly what he was thinking from the leer on his face. He watched her move around the room, while he destroyed his cigarette in an already-full ashtray and lit another one, his eyes glued to her body. Peggy didn't wait for an invitation to explore the house. She ran upstairs, flipping on light switches as she careened from one room to the next, shrieking ecstatically as she progressed. Becky leaned back into the softness of the pale green leather couch and closed her eyes to let the music in. The pounding heavy metal cleared her head and finally drew her up from the couch to convulse to the hard rhythms. Her body absorbed the beat until it became part of her and she could be just another instrument that played the music. But then Tommy was there, interrupting her privacy, pulling her body up against his. She closed her eyes as they moved together for a moment. He swung her out away from him, then back, holding her close for just an instant, then away again, finally letting go of her hand so she could dance alone again. She knew he was watching but she didn't care. She came alive when she danced. Her good, strong body moved at her command. She, no one else, controlled it. It belonged to her and no other person. She pushed Tommy away when he tried to touch her a second time. Without warning, Peggy screeched down the staircase. “This is the greatest place I ever saw!” she declared. “Let me work for you, Beck. Come on.” Becky looked at her watch. It was 7:00. “Joe's coming soon,” she whispered conspiratorially. “You've got to get out before he gets here. He'll kill all of us.” “You don't expect us to walk back to town, do you?” Peggy complained. “Besides, we need to talk about my job.” “Tomorrow, Peg,” Becky said. “Come on. I'll take you back to town.” She sent Peggy upstairs to turn off the lights while she turned off some of the downstairs lights. Tommy grabbed at her as she moved from room to room but she eluded him easily. His reaction time had been halved by beer and whatever else he had been drinking. It was just 7:15 when she dropped Peggy and Tommy off at the cafe. It was snowing lightly and that meant that Joe would probably be delayed. There was time if she didn't stay too long. She turned the Jeep north for a short distance and then off the highway onto the dirt road that led to the Tree. It was as white as the half-full moon. It seemed almost human, perhaps a young boy with arms outstretched towards the stars. She stumbled through the rough grass, tripping a couple of times, falling once but not hurting herself. She stood at the edge of the bluff with the moon, almost cloud-hidden now, behind her and searched the Tree once more for its secrets. The slender root sustained it. It had stood alone, unbraced and unguarded, with the least sustenance from and connection to its nurturer, the earth, and yet it had survived for hundreds of years. With her fists she wiped away the tears that rolled unbidden from her eyes. Perhaps she was beginning to understand.

The Witch Tree - page 11