by Susan Muensterman
I tattled on my sister, Amanda, who was ten and a year older than me. I tattled on her for mooning the neighbor boy. Mom didn’t let us go over to the neighbors’ house after that; she didn’t let us play with Matthew and Molly for two weeks. When the two weeks of our punishment had passed, she let us play with them again, but the rule was that they had to come over to our house to play. She didn’t want us in their house alone, especially because their parents weren’t home, she said. Matthew was eleven, and Molly was twelve. Amanda tried to convince our mother that it was Molly’s fault.
“She started it! She mooned him first!”
“That doesn’t mean you had to moon him, too. You should’ve known better than that.”
When Amanda wasn’t around, Mom told me that I had been smart for telling her what had happened. She said she was proud of me. Amanda was mad at me for tattling, though. But I knew better than to pull down my pants and wave my rear end at a boy. Or at anyone for that matter. Later, when Amanda was trying to get Mom to revoke the punishment, she told Mom that Molly said she mooned Matthew all the time and that it was no big deal. We had a discussion about who it was and was not appropriate to let see your bottom. Mom said it was never appropriate to show anyone your bottom.
“Only your mother,” she said. “And if you have a problem, you can always tell me and we can talk to your doctor and show her if we need to.”
“What about Daddy?” one of us asked.
“Just tell me,” Mom said. “Come to me first. You really don’t need to tell Daddy about it. Let’s just keep it between us girls. If it’s an emergency, you can always tell him, but come to me first.”
“Okay,” we said.
“And if anyone ever tries to touch you or wants to look at you, don’t let them. And if anyone ever does bother you like that, you make sure to tell me, okay? Because that’s not right.”
“Okay,” we said.
“You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” we said.
That made me think about how Matthew could have seen me. One time, we were going to swim in my pool in the backyard, and Amanda and I needed to change into our bathing suits. We had told Matthew that he needed to leave so that we could change out of our clothes. He said he didn’t want to wait outside; could he just sit in the closet if we shut the door? =We agreed then that since he wouldn’t see us, it would be fine. We shut the closet doors and changed into our bathing suits. Matthew followed Amanda and me down the stairs.
“Why was Matthew with you girls upstairs?” Mom asked.
I held my shorts and underwear in a wad that I was taking to the laundry room. “He waited in the closet while we changed,” I said. “He couldn’t see us.”
My father was standing there. He told Matthew not to go into Amanda’s and my room again. And Mom told us not to let him in our room.
The next time that Matthew and Molly came over to play, they found out that I had tattled about the mooning incident.
“Jenny told,” Amanda said. “Mom says since we did that, we can’t play with you for two weeks.”
Matthew and Molly were mad at me for it, too. They said they couldn’t believe I was such a baby for telling on them. They said that what happened was not a big deal and that it didn’t matter. Matthew said that their parents didn’t care what they did. He added that he was grossed out and wasn’t looking at our butts anyway. But I was pretty sure I had seen him looking.
After the two weeks had passed, Matthew and Molly started coming over to our house again, though their visits weren’t nearly as frequent as they used to be. Sometimes we played in the woods after school like we always had before the punishment. There was a big woods behind my house. In the summer time, we trekked paths to see how far we could get. Every day, we’d try to go a little further. We always wanted to reach the end, but we never could. When Matthew came with us, he carried an axe to chop down the branches that were hard to get through. It scared me and Amanda when we heard bullet shots. I could never tell how close they were. Matthew said that if they were too close, they would hurt our ears.
“Since it doesn’t hurt your ears, don’t worry about it.” He looked at the ground and kicked some of the branches on the path. “But nothing can hurt your ears like my mom and dad yelling at each other. Do your parents ever yell at each other?” Matthew said.
I shook my head sideways.
He dismissed the thought. “Anyway.” He moved on. “Even if a bee bee were to hit you, bee bee shots can’t hurt you. They’re not powerful enough.”
I wondered, then, how a bullet could kill an animal. I thought about how animals probably had tougher skin then people and that, if it could pierce an animal’s skin, it could probably pierce mine, too. But Matthew seemed to know a lot about hunting, so I accepted what he had told me.
Matthew and his dad took both hunting and fishing very seriously. He showed Amanda and me the mounts in the trees that he and his father built to shoot from. Sometimes he brought his bow and arrow and shot at little animals like toads and the occasional squirrel. He liked to pick up the toads and see how far he could throw them. Other times he shot at them. He mostly missed, though. And I was glad. I was afraid of seeing blood. When he didn’t miss, he laughed. Sometimes he laughed hard enough that he couldn’t stop and had to sit down on a fallen log to catch his breath. Matthew wore a lot of camouflage clothing. He had shirts, pants, and even boots that were camouflaged. Most of the time, he had on a camouflaged baseball cap; I hardly ever saw him take it off. One thing that I never understood about him was that he was always killing animals, yet he always talked about how he wanted to go into wildlife conservation. Sometimes I wondered if he even knew what those words meant.
Once when I went over to Michael and Molly’s house, they were standing outside on the gravel driveway with their father. Their father had a paper bag brown mustache and a camouflaged baseball cap like Matthew’s. As I entered through the side of the garage, a deer head was floating in a white paint bucket. But the bucket seemed to be filled with red paint that seeped over the edges and stained the rocks below. It reminded me of carving a pumpkin, except that instead of the guts matching the pumpkin, the contents seemed both dark and bright at the same time. Immediately when I saw the blood, my stomach squeezed itself in bunches, and I took slow steps backward so I wouldn’t trip and fall into the blood. Michael and Molly’s father asked if I wanted to help with the deer.
“I have to go home to finish some homework.” I fumbled with the words as I walked backward.
“Okay then, come back soon,” their father said.
As I walked away, I thought about all of the deer heads mounted in their house — above the kitchen sink, above the fireplace, all around the living room. I had always been grossed out by the animal’s head mounted on their walls, but now it made my insides turn just thinking about it. I will never go back in that house again, I thought to myself. Their house itself reminded me of the woods; it was a log cabin. I remembered that Matthew even had a deer head in his bedroom. Then I thought about how Mom told me to stay out of his room.
My father planted a line of pine trees between our house and Matthew and Molly’s. He bought large enough trees at first, so that it wouldn’t take years and years for them to achieve their purpose. Daddy also bought six acres of cornfield beside our house so that nobody could build there. He liked having a big open yard. I did, too. Daddy wasn’t going to use the cornfield to plant corn. He did decide, though, that it might be nice to have some apple trees. He and I went to a home improvement store that sold trees in the garden department. We bought four apple trees and two pear trees. While we were planting them, Matthew came over and struck up a conversation with my father.
“You know,” Matthew said, “those trees in your front yard have locusts in them. I’m pretty sure you could sell them to the zoo.”
Matthew, the wildlife conservationist, I thought to myself. I was surprised he didn’t want to pin the locusts’ wings down and slice them open with a razor. The wildlife conservationist also had a black German shepherd. His name was Bigun. Matthew said the dog got his name because one time the dog jumped up on his dad, and his dad had said, “Oh, he’s a big’un.” I thought that was a stupid way to name a dog. I also thought the name of the dog was stupid. Bigun was kept locked up in a metal wire cage. They threw the garden hose over the top to fill up the dog’s drinking bowl. They tossed a bucket of dry dog food over the top, too. But there was no bowl for it. Instead, the dog food simply landed on the bare dirt of the cage. The German shepherd was at least half my size. I didn’t like to go over when I knew Matthew and Molly had the dog out. Matthew said Bigun wouldn’t hurt me, that he might jump up on me but he would never hurt me. I told my mother I was afraid of the dog. She told me to stay away from it. She said that if he ever brought the dog around, I should try to get away.
“Get away as fast as you can without running because it will see you’re scared and chase after you if you run,” Mom told me.
Over the weekend, I had helped Dad in the backyard. Mom wanted to paint the arbor by the woods, and Dad said he would do it for her. I said I would help Dad. While he was at it, he replaced the swings on the swing set. He made wooden seats and sanded them so they wouldn’t be rough. The plastic, store-bought ones we’d had before had broken in half. I was out swinging on them one afternoon when Matthew came into the yard.
“Hey, I got a new basketball, want to come play?”
He went to get the basketball from inside the house, while I waited outside. We played knock-out, and I made a basket. My ball knocked his ball away from the basket, and it rolled down the hill toward the dog cage. Matthew opened the cage.
“Come on, Bigun, come play,” I heard him say.
I was backing away from the big black dog, but he was coming toward me. The dog seemed twice my size. Soon, he was chasing me down. I had never felt my legs run so fast. I didn’t know they could carry me that way. I circled my house twice before the dog got me. It got me, and jumped on top of me, and then I felt a numbing in my thigh. I screamed so loud that all I could feel was my throat; I didn’t feel the immediate pain. That came afterward. The German shepherd took off the top layer of skin and blood oozed from my thigh onto the stained grass. I was screaming as Matthew raced to get the dog off me. He couldn’t at first; it was too strong even for him. The dog was gnawing at my leg. Now would have been the time to get his hands on his stupid gun.
My mother took me to the emergency room, and I got stitches. She said that she wanted the dog to be put to sleep.
“He could’ve killed my daughter!” she said.
I didn’t ever see Bigun again.
I didn’t see much of Matthew again either. Or Molly for that matter. I heard Matthew’s dad made him shoot the dog. Matthew had never told me that his dad had forbid him to take the dog out of the cage when he wasn’t home; Bigun had been a hunting dog. I heard that Matthew cried afterward. I wondered if Matthew and his dad would mount the dog’s head in their living room, too.
My mother didn’t say it, but I think she was glad when Matthew and Molly’s parents decided to move. Matthew’s father moved to an apartment on the other side of town. He took Matthew to live with him in the apartment, and Molly stayed with her mother.
After the summer was over and when school started again, Amanda made some new friends. I was glad because that would mean she wouldn’t want to play with Molly, and if she didn’t want to play with Molly, I wouldn’t have to either. I could tell Mom was glad that Amanda made some new friends, too. She was happy to take Amanda to her friends’ houses after school and then pick her up before dinner. Mom knew their parents from church. One day after school, I rode with Mom to pick Amanda up from a friend’s house. She was holding a puppy. She said it was a Golden Retriever. Amanda begged Mom to let her get a puppy the whole way home.
“They’re sooo cute, Mom,” Amanda said. “I promise I’ll take good care of it. You know I will.”
“We’ll see,” Mom said. It sounded like Mom might consider it.
I sat quietly in the passenger’s seat. I was looking out the window and pushing the lock button up and down with my thumbs while I was both hoping and waiting for Mom to say ‘no.’ When we got home and Amanda was in the bath upstairs before dinner, Mom asked me what I thought about getting a dog. I told her that I was afraid of dogs and that I didn’t want one. Amanda got mad at me because Mom didn’t let us get one. Amanda said I was tattle-tale, but I was used to that.
Susan Muensterman is currently an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Mississippi, where she is attending on a Jacob Javits Fellowship. Last year, she won the AWP Intro Journal Award in nonfiction.