Baptism

by Amy Crane Johnson

Amy Crane Johnson is the sole proprietor of Syllables Freelance Writing in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The varied work of freelance writing, especially developing health and wellness materials for professional sports teams (including the Milwaukee Brewers and the Boston Red Sox among others) and psychiatric hospitals, gives her access to free game tickets and a multitude of in-patient services. She spends her spare time searching for a place in the woods in which to live deliberately. She's also the mother of two children, a husband and a dog. Amy has appeared most recently in Sheepshead Review and Alsop Review.


Sometimes she remembers that night. She remembers it like this.

It was October, that much she knows is true. It was a birthday party Julie gave for herself. Julie at 27 or 28, blonde and wildly lost in life. The moon hung like a huge coin in a dark autumn sky. The partygoers were all acquaintances, not quite friends, but friendly in an "anything is still possible because I don't know you well enough to expect much" kind of mood.

She drove into town slowly, feeling night air wrap around her like a sheet of gauze. The apartment building she was looking for was cut from the same mold as the others in the complex, little boxes of cookies all in a row. She knew that if she spun herself around quickly getting lost would be easy. She pulled into a slim parking space in back of the building. At the edge of the parking lot bulldozers and other machinery slept, hulking animals in the darkness. This she also knows is true—another apartment building was under construction. The rectangular hole was there, waiting. She could feel it even if she couldn't see it. The man-made mountains of unearthed clay loomed large in the moonlight. She knew they were waiting too.

Inside it was Mexico. A striped poncho served as a tablecloth and candles dripped wax down the sides of chianti bottles. Piles of corn tortillas hung over the edges of heavy platters. Terra cotta bowls held spicy picante sauce and smooth green guacamole. Julie's laughter had reached a fevered pitch and when she saw her enter there was no time to say "Happy Birthday" or even "hello." She grabbed her arm and pushed her toward the patio doors.

"Look at that," Julie panted in her ear, "don't they look like elephants?" Julie was pointing to the mud hills out back." Don't you think we could ride them? Or at least run up and down their backs until they wake up and heave us off?"

The crazed look was in her friend's eyes, but she was not afraid. What Julie just had said was exactly what she had felt on seeing the lumpish monsters on her way in. She slipped off her shoes. Julie laughed and opened the doors wide, welcoming the October night. They ran off hand in hand, leaping from mound to mound, howling their delight to the moon.

The dark earth is cool on her feet and her black skirt swirls around like a dervish in the nighttime breeze. Up and down. Up and down. All around the beast they run. Clay sandwiches her toes together. The wind fills both their lungs with songs and they sing the things only their souls know as true. Down to the bottom of the hill, up to the very top, arms embrace the big sky. They are on the tallest hill, the peak, the highest point you can get to from here. Standing on the beast's back is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, a feat, a conquest. They stand close together, arms around each other's waists, panting softly, smiling into the shadows.

They walk back into the party, stand on the rug near the door. People call out things like, "How was your trip?" and "I never knew you guys could mountain climb" then go back to drinking and dancing.

The room is full and warm. She looks down. Her stockings are torn and her feet are dirty. She quickly lifts up her full skirt and pulls off her wrecked pantyhose. They lay in a small dark heap on the rug. A ghost of what happened.

A man rises from the couch and walks over to her side. He slips his arm around her midriff and guides her down the narrow hallway to the bathroom. He closes the door behind them. She sits on the closed toilet seat while he reaches over her to put the plug in the basin and turn on the taps. He fills the tub with warm water. He hikes her skirt up to the knee, takes one foot in his hand and places the foot carefully into the water. He drizzles water down her calf and rubs her sole until it is clean. He lifts that foot out of the tub, rearranges the skirt around her leg and puts the other foot into the murky water. He washes her with the gentleness one shows an infant. When the second foot is clean he lifts it out, lays the skirt over her thighs, and wipes each calf and foot with a mint green terry cloth towel. He pulls the plug and they walk back into the party.

The music is loud and the food is hot. Molé chicken, cheesy enchiladas, fried ice cream. Someone is telling a joke to a circle of partygoers. The night winds down. She drives home barefooted, windows rolled down, moonlight streaming in like lucky coins dropping into a wishing well.

Sometimes she remembers that night. She remembers it just like this.


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