We were from the deep south. You know, the kind of places Faulkner wrote about. We all owned property and horses and went to church every Sunday. We grew up runnin’ barefoot in the dirt, huntin’ alligators and catchin’ catfish barehanded. We knew how to work hard and play even harder. The boys spit in the dirt, bubblegum as kids and chewing tobacco as teens. Us girls were dangerous debutantes with our big pretty eyes we knew how to flash in just the right way. If you were smart and liked books and science, you lied and said you thought it was garbage. If you were dumber than dirt, you acted like the smartest damn kid in school. Our parents knew we were wild and reckless, but they sat quietly on the porch, sipping their sweet iced tea, knowing exactly who their kids got it from.
There was one spot everyone knew of and no one talked of. I’m sure our parents, grandparents, great grandparents—and so on—all knew of it. It was instinct to go there, like the kind of instincts birds have that make them fly south every year, or turtles have to return to beaches where they had hatched. I remember asking ma about the spot once when I was young.
“Ma?” My five year old voice had quipped from the backseat of our four door Chevy. We still had the damned truck. Not a thing in it had changed from the time I was born to now. The tan upholstery was still just as velvety to my touch and harbored years worth of tobacco smoke.
“Yes darlin’?” She had answered, both hands on the steering wheel, one hand delicately pinching a cigarette between two fingers. She brought it to her thin pink lips and took a long drag, holding it in her lungs.
“What’s that place?” I had asked, pointing to a ridge high above the lazy river. I remember how her eyes had flashed to meet mine in the rearview mirror, round as saucers. She exhaled, and the smoke tumbled out the open window.
“That’s The Ridge, and you don’t never go there, ya hear?” Her voice had turned to steel.
“Yes m’am,” I had promised. But a five year old’s promises were meant to be broken.