Big Bridge #10

Export: Writing the Midwest


Jodiann Stevenson



Bug scoops only lake-water, heavy with sun and warmth, into a plastic bucket. The bucket is probably yellow with a light blue handle. Sheís missed the minnows again. As if one mind controlled their hundreds of small, quick bodies, they twist and shoot away from the edge of her trap. She can feel her heart thumping in her chest. Hears other children laughing. She smiles, hums.

Bug tries to hum whole songs like her mother. She strings hums of different pitch and length together at random. The effect reminds her of her mother and eases her.

Standing at the serpentine shore tugging at her small feet, Bug looks back at Mama and her sister, Polly. Gulls squall. A wave hushes then hisses against the sand. Not the word, but the idea of beautiful rises up in her. It radiates from the hot, wet sand between her toes. She is wounded by the need to run to the soft woman reading on the blanket and the solid-edged body of the girl beside her. But she doesnít dare disturb their perfectly accidental design. She aches joyfully with the fact of belonging to their kind.

Bug squats on her heels and feels the tautness of her thighs and calves. She looks down to admire their beach brown then looks out at the water. The water. She hugs herself. She is always hugging herself in imitation of the television puppy that flies into the air when he hugs himself. Bug stays on the ground. She likes to touch her soft arms and the silky, animal hair all over them.

Quick Thin Minnows, 1977

The rising sun begins hitting their side of the bay. Bug squirms under its penetrating heat. Her father stands hooking worms, tying them in knots and piercing them through. His hands look half-chewed and gnarled. Bug imagines a big thick-skinned bear fighting her brave father. He scowls at her staring. She turns her face to the bay. They are first this morning. They are alone. Bug tastes the silence between them and tries to curb her need for her motherís constant hum.

The chill bank of the bay is muddy and black-brown. Perhaps the bodies of millions of squashed earthworms. Bug fills herself with its fishy smell, damp and thick. She feels compelled to take her shoes off and wriggle in it. Instead, she stands rigid in her new stiff and scratchy boyís overalls, learning how to cast.

She loves the long stroke of her arm as it flings the line out upon the water. The path of sun shimmering across the water. The quiet flip and turn of fish just under the surface of the water. Her fatherís rough hands tighten and twist around her small, weak arms. They remind her to pay attention. A bear couldnít be stronger than those hands. Bug stares out at the line as it whips softly back then forward. She squints her eyes toward it, telling it this time it has to be perfect.

When Bug feels the tug at her hand the first time, her heart flies open. Her arm jerks as if it is suddenly possessed to separate itself from her body. She doesnít hear herself squeal or know her knees are trembling beneath her. Her father laughs and shouts, ďHold it kid, hold it!Ē His suddenly friendly voice turns the musty world bright with its music. Clumsy and fumbling, Bug holds tight and slowly turns the reel. Her father puts his arms around her and helps her hold and lower and lift and tug the wavering rod. His strength is reassuring.

Bug will catch her own fish. She feels full of birds. Her fatherís face glows in the risen sun. They stand so near one another now that she imagines they look like one giant animal ecstatically lunging toward something.

CatFish, 1979

A cartoon of an empty body is outlined on the chalkboard with bubbles pointing to different parts.


Bug tries to read the words and find them in the outline. The high-pitched nasal noises her teacher makes donít seem to match the words spelled on the board. Bug thinks of her motherís bulging body. It is not the same animal as the hard lines of the body on the chalkboard. Bug pats the top of her smooth, stiff desk. This body would feel like that.

A humming silence permeates the classroom. Bug feels the absence of the constantly stirring boys. The girls sit still and quiet as if they are being punished. The heater scratches out its buzz of dry breeze. Bugís throat rattles with it, rough and raw from winterís abuse.

She enters the story of the lesson by imagining herself as a baby. Inside of her motherís close and cozy belly. Curled the way kittens curl. The tiny size of the palm of her fatherís hand. Bug caresses her own belly, soft and round. The nervous voice at the front of the room explains that this belly is connected to her private place. Bugís mother calls it her tutu. Bug only thinks of it as the place that Tony touched three years ago. The stinging and tickling place where Tony raked her.

Suddenly nauseous, Bug glances anxiously around the room at the other girlsí reactions. They donít seem to understand. They twist up their faces in disgust. Or they stare blankly in disbelief. They donít know the way Bug knows. Bug knows she knows too much. Her spirit sinks into a breathless lump of shame. The lump is lodged in her belly. Her belly, she thinks, is growing a baby. She carries this knowledge and this shame deep in her belly, as she leaves the classroom for recess. She carries it in her Fallopian, her Uterus, her Cervix.

The boys are ready with iced-over snowballs by the time the girls, hypnotized with fear, exit the building. The boys have spent the hour playing games with the gym teacher. When the first cold, hard melting fist of snow hits her in the chest, Bug begins to cry. She is burning with fear. Her belly knotted in ugly understanding of the lesson. The tears seem to gush from a deep, horrible well tucked away somewhere inside of her. She is unable to move even the slightest inch from where the boys now begin pummeling her unprotected body. Bug squeezes her eyes closed and lets it come. Knowing she deserves it.

Sex Ed, 1981

Hanging by its back hooves, the deer seems to stretch itself all the way down to the floor as if heís doing some ghastly exercise that requires having his entire underside exposed. Bug has been afraid of the basement all day. It stinks like animal. Now, she stands in front of the deer, braving herself to fetch the ball that bounced down the stairs and rolled under its milky-white eyes.

Up close, itís a different fear. Bug feels it all through her body, a sort of tugging. The whole belly is cut open. Everything in him is red and gleaming. Itís almost beautiful. She runs her eyes along the inside of the animal as if she were choosing the prettiest color in her box of crayons. A hot, cinnamon smell but bitter. She longs to touch the inside of him where he seems so alive and slippery like water. She wishes she could run her tongue along the edge of the bulging muscles and taste the thin white veil that makes them seem pink.

Too close, the tips of her toes brush one hanging front hoof and the whole swollen body swings slightly toward her. She screams. She grabs her ball, shaking, and runs the stairs quick. Turning the corner into the kitchen, she rests her heaving body against the wall to catch her breath.

Bug bites deeply into the spicy-sweet smell of the animal decaying in her basement. She places the palm of her hand to her mouth and licks the sweaty inside. Her whole body hums with desire. Sheís sure she feels birds inside of her, beating their strong and heavy wings against her bones, crying to fly away.

Martinís six-pointer, 1982

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