A full moon was rising over the trees behind us as we started out down the road. The breeze puffed gently in our faces. I could smell the night scents—clover and vetch and fescue—and a hint of perfume on Reta Jane. She talked up a storm for the first five minutes or so, with me just listening and nodding in the dark. Boy, she was a talker—but I liked it. It made things easier for me. I could just walk along and listen and grunt every now and then and try to think of something to say if there was a gap—some question I could ask.

"Say," she said, poking me in the arm, "I don’t think you’ve said a word since we left the house. You still thinking about the hog?"

"Uncle Fred?"

She laughed and I was glad she’d taken it as a joke, which was how I meant it. She’d already told me her parents were dead and that she lived with her uncle. We walked on a few steps before she said, "You go to Gresham High?"


"What year?"

"I’ll be a Junior."

"Jeez, jail bait."

I didn’t quite know how to take that. Was she saying I was too young for her—or was she saying she was interested in me? She was somebody’s girlfriend. She had a ring on a chain around her neck. And besides, I didn’t even know if I liked her.

"I dropped out last year," Reta Jane said, breaking the silence which had lengthened while I thought about what she’d said.

She looked the type, but I didn’t say that. Hanging around with greasers and hoods. Most of them didn’t last through their senior year. I figured I’d better ask her something or she’d think I was a real dimwit. "You didn’t like it?"

She shrugged. I could feel her brush up against me in the darkness. An owl hooted, and I imagined big wings sweeping down softly and carrying us away. We were walking down the middle of the road, trees, shrubs, and waist-high grass to each side, all rustling in the breeze like feet gliding in slippers. A quiet, steady shuffle. Lonely sounds. I wanted to put my arm around her but didn’t.

And then, just when I thought she wasn’t going to answer, she said, "I got pregnant."

I felt my head snap around before I could stop it. I was hoping she hadn’t noticed in the dark. Her belly was as flat as a fence post. "You, ah, get, ah . . ."

"An abortion?" She laughed. "No. Uncle Fred watches the kid when I’m out. He’s a good guy."

I didn’t know if she meant her uncle or her kid. "What is it? A boy or a girl?"

"A girl. Janice Ann. That’s why I wanted you to take me there. She’s just about eight months old. I’m breast-feeding her."

She said it so normal. I didn’t know how to take that. For some reason, it made me feel awkward. I’d been a bit attracted to her, even though she was kind of plain—just because she was a girl and we were out together, I suppose—but now, thinking about her nursing a kid, I didn’t know. It kind of ruined any fantasies I might have had.

After a minute, she asked me, "What’s your last name?"


"Crenshaw. I’ve heard that name. Is your daddy a minister?"

Rats! She knew. "Yeah," I said finally, plodding along.

"Evangelical Free Methodist, right?"

I nodded in the darkness. "Used to be just Free Methodist," I said. "Without the Evangelical. That church behind the Main Library. On the corner of Fourth and Roberts." I paused, but she didn’t say anything. "We lived in the parsonage next door when I was in grade school. And then the church split up a couple years ago. Half the people went with my dad and half stayed with the new minister. We moved out to a place just off Division Street. How’d you know about it?"

She slipped an arm through mine. "You know Gail Sherman, right?"

"Uh huh." But I’d never told anybody at school about her.

"She told me about your dad’s church. She’s a friend of mine. She used to live out here but her parents moved to the west side. She goes to Centennial now."

"Yeah, I know."

Centennial was a new school, our biggest rival. Gail Sherman used to come to church with her older sister Beth. They were daughters of a hillbilly widower from Arkansas. My older brother Richy and I would take the girls home after Sunday evening church. I never really liked Gail, she always had baby burp on her shoulders from taking care of babies during the service, but it was a chance to make out. She and her sister always looked like they were desperate for some affection. It was kind of pathetic when you thought about it. Richy would find some place along the road where we could park and for ten minutes (no more or dad would start wondering what was going on), we’d make out. That was enough time to feel them up a bit and work on a few French kisses. It was better than smooching your arm for practice.

Reta Jane kicked at a pebble and it rattled off the pavement and into the brush at the side of the road. "What’s it like working at the cannery?"

Her question came out of the darkness as if from miles away. It almost sounded like there was longing in her voice. Anyway, I was glad to get off the church and Gail.

"Oh, nothing special," I said. "Pay’s good." But maybe she knew that.

She tucked her hair behind her ears. "I tried to get on once but they didn’t need anybody."

"It’s tight sometimes. This is my second summer and I almost thought I’d get cut."

"Is it hard?"

"The work?" I shrugged. "It can be. The women don’t have it so good. They stand along these conveyor belts grading the fruit with their heads bent down the whole shift. At least I get to move around. Usually they have me dumping crates, but sometimes I drive a Hyster."

"You like that?"

"Sure. It’s a lot better than dumping crates. But what I really like are the lights."

"The lights?"

"Yeah. It’s real dark outside but inside it’s like being in another world. All the bright lights and the machinery and the sounds. The rumble is almost hypnotic. I can dump a pallet of crates, that’s four stacks over six feet tall, and be lost in thoughts and never notice the time. Or if I’m out on the loading docks where the empties are stacked, there’s a kind of quiet above the hum. You get the feeling you’re alone in the universe—one little spot of light in the vast darkness of space. The rest of the world’s dead, everybody’s asleep."

"Not everybody," she said. "People like me are up. I like it out here in the dark. I don’t like bright lights."

I thought about that for a moment, then admitted, "The dark’s nice, too." But it was funny, I almost thought of the cannery with pleasure. It was so much better than working on the farm for my dad, and better than most of the other paying jobs I’d had. Sometimes I got to go up alone into the attic where the number ten cans were stored, to feed the chutes leading to the bulk grading lines. Late at night, it was always warm there, a dusty smell in the air, mixing with the sweetness of the sugar machines on the second floor just below me. You could hear, off to one side, the clacking of the machines that wrapped and sealed green beans before they were stacked and hauled off to the freezers by electric hand carts. I just found all those sounds and smells soothing.

But, shoot, she was probably used to having her summers free and that was a lot nicer than working.

The moon had risen above the trees and hung at our backs like a gigantic gold disk. The breeze came soughing through the grasses, sowing a pollen of sighs in its wake—the smell of fresh-cut hay, drying in windrows before the next day’s baling, the fragrance of wild flowers and thistle, occasionally a light hint of road tar to let you know you were still in the modern world.

"That don’t seem real, does it?" she said, looking over her shoulder. "The moon. It looks so heavy you’d think it’d sink."

We stopped to turn around for a better view, and she slipped her hand around my back. I thought about doing the same to her, but she had my arm pinned to my side and it would have been awkward to lift it free—too obvious. She did everything like there was no thought behind it, just natural. I wished it came that easy to me.

I didn’t know what to say for a bit then. I was absorbing her warmth and the pressure of her hand curled around my side. Not many girls had ever touched me like that and I could feel a stirring in my pants.

"You getting any dryer?" She patted me on the chest with her other hand, then let it drop down to my waist, her fingers finding my belt and easing inside the waistband of my jeans, as if she were trying to hang on. Her knuckles pressed into my belly and I felt a shiver run from there down to my groin. I started to turn away from her but she gently tugged me back around.

"My," she said, her voice playful, "I feel something."

I wished I’d liked her more. I’m a virgin and you know what that’s like. When you’re ready, the girl doesn’t really matter—or at least that’s what I’d always thought. I just wanted to lose my virginity and I didn’t care who with. But now I wasn’t sure. Oh, heck, maybe I was just a coward. I never did know what to do around girls. And she’d just had a baby. She was a mother. That made it hard to feel romantic. Every time I started to get aroused, I’d think of that and it’d pull me back to reality. The conflicting emotions were confusing. Back home with Uncle Fred she had a little girl.

A feeling of horror invaded me at the thought he might have—

"Who’s the father?" I said before I could help myself. "Of your baby?" I added, feeling like a moron now. Did I have to bring that up? What if she’d been raped by her uncle?

She dropped her hand. "You wouldn’t know him." Her voice had changed, no longer cheerful, no emotion in the words at all. There was a moment of silence, while I pondered whether I should leave well enough alone. But the silence was worse than saying something stupid.

"He go to Gresham High?"

She shook her head, and we started walking again. "Used to. He’s a mechanic. You ever go to Vic’s Motors and Auto Parts?"

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Not really. They’re on East Powell, right?"

"Yeah, he hangs out around there a lot. Working on the racing cars. We broke up before the baby came."

She wasn’t touching me any longer. I felt bad for pulling away from her, but somehow it didn’t seem right. I hadn’t been comfortable. But my mind kept going back to what it had felt like when her fingers touched my stomach. Like an electric shock. And that reminded me of the dead hog jerking around. Which wasn’t pleasant either. So everything she did left me up in the air, tossed one way and then the other. Attraction and repulsion. I didn’t like how awkward it made me feel, so unsure of myself.

"Let’s start back," I said finally. "I’ve got to be getting home."

She snorted. "Preacher’s kid. I thought you guys were wilder than the rest of us."

I shrugged, pleased but uncertain. "I don’t know about that. I always considered myself pretty dull."

She didn’t say anything for a while and when she did, her voice had lightened again. "Hey, think I could come to your church?"

I glanced at her. The moon was highlighting her face in profile and with her long scraggly hair, she looked like the Gorgon. "Anybody can come."

"I don’t go to church normally."

"Lucky you." I’d give anything to have my Sunday mornings free. Dressed up in a starchy white shirt and wool suit that drove me crazy with itching. And not only that. We also went to Sunday evening church services, though I didn’t have to wear a suit then, and Wednesday evening prayer meetings. And like I said, every day before breakfast, after doing our chores, we had to read a chapter of the Bible out loud. She could have that, too.

And she could have my dad. If hers was like mine, she was lucky he was dead.

My dad was one of those hell-fire and damnation types. Not a holy roller, at least. No speaking in tongues. But one of those spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child types. If he caught me out bumming around I’d be in for it. I’d get my hide tanned. And like I said, he seemed to have a knack for catching me. But that’s probably because I was always getting into trouble. At least it felt that way. I don’t try—I mean, it’s not intentional. Trouble just seems to find me.

Thinking about my dad spoiled any sense of freedom I might have felt out walking in the countryside with a girl I hardly knew.

Why did people always have to talk about religion? Like I said, my old man wasn’t a holy roller but he could get going when he wanted to. Shoot, once he got so excited it kind of scared me. He was praying at the altar rail after this Sunday evening service, trying to convert this woman. There must have been ten or fifteen of us stretched out along the rail—sinners and converted alike—and my dad started praying louder and louder. I don’t know if he didn’t think the woman showed enough sorrow—no tears of repentance for her sins—or if somehow he thought she was a hard case, or didn’t feel it deep enough, or what. But all of a sudden I hear this thumping in the church. Something hard hitting the floor. Rat-ta-tat-tat. Rat-ta-tat-tat. And I realized it was his toes—the toes of his shoes banging up and down while he was on his knees in front of her praying, his right hand on the woman’s head, left hand on her shoulder.

It was scary at the time, because I hadn’t ever seen him get so . . . it wasn’t just excited, it was like filled with the spirit. And I didn’t know if he was faking or not—you know, acting for effect, but I don’t think he was. I think he meant it. And that made it more scary.

I don’t know why it was so hard for that woman to break down. Did he want her to cry or something? That was easy. Every Sunday before I was converted, back when I didn’t know any better, I used to sit there in the hard pew and think about my soul winding up in hell, burning forever. Talk about guilt. It made my heart ache. Of course, that was something else my dad had a knack for doing to us kids. And if he wasn’t doing that, he was whipping our butts or whacking us across the head. Always trying, as he said, to knock a little sense into us. Yeah, it was no fun being a preacher’s kid, I can tell you that.

And he didn’t treat the animals any better either. The pickup wouldn’t have a dented fender if dad hadn’t hit the bull. Our cows were always getting out. Sometimes, my mom would have to come in and get me out of class to track them down. One night the bull got out after one of the neighbor’s heifers went into heat, and we spent over an hour trying to get him back where he belonged. Gorky just wouldn’t leave. Dad finally got so mad he went for the pickup and started chasing the bull toward home—only every time Gorky stopped dad would bash into him with the bumper. He even knocked him down a few times. Richy and I were out in the field screaming that he was going to kill Gorky and dad was revving up the motor so loud he couldn’t hear us. The bull finally swung around and hit the fender so hard it killed the motor. That was one time dad couldn’t blame Richy and me for breaking something.

But I wasn’t going to tell Reta Jane about that.

The last half mile of the return trip we held hands. It was Reta Jane who took mine, pulling me out of the way of a pothole.

"You walk with your eyes closed?" she said, her voice sarcastic.

I grinned. "Just thinking about my dad."

"There’s gotta be better things to think about than that."

She was right there, but she was the one who brought up the church and got me to thinking about him.

"I’m always getting into trouble for something," I said, "and half the time it’s not even my fault."

"But the other half it is, right?"

She had me there.

"Yeah, but I get beat all the time."

She laughed.

"Once my younger brother Bobby broke my tooth with a shovel—"

"Broke your tooth!"

I grinned. "Yeah, we were fighting. He was using the shovel to fill a pothole in the driveway and I needed it to dig out this caved-in septic tank. I grabbed for the shovel and Bobby swung it at my head." I laughed again. "And then he took off running, grabbed his bike and headed for the house. I knew he was going to whine to dad, so I threw a rock and hit him in the head."

"You guys . . ."

"Yeah, well, he went bawling to dad and my dad made me stand in front of the shed while he threw rocks at me. See this scar?" I tried to show her a scar under the hair on my forehead but it was too dark. "And there’s a smaller one on my upper lip, too."

Maybe I shouldn’t have told her about that because it got me to thinking about another beating. I’d written it down once, hoping that would stop the hurt.

It was just a story, but it had an air of truth.

The boy had gotten angry at his younger sister for getting into his stamp collection, so he’d grabbed her doll and flung it across the room and broke its ceramic head and now his dad was jerking him around and cuffing him on the back of the head while the boy held his puppy, Higgins, and tried to keep the dog from getting hurt.

"I’ll teach you to pick on your sister," his dad said.

The blows stung and he couldn’t keep from saying something, even though he knew talking back only made things worse. "I wasn’t picking on her," he said. "I was picking on her doll."

His dad grabbed the puppy and held it by the neck. "Let’s see how you like it when someone picks on your things."

His father raised his hand to swat the dog, which had started choking, and the boy yelled, "No, not Higgins." He was afraid his dad would crush its head.

"Well, what’ll it be? You or Higgins?"

The boy didn’t want to reply, didn’t want to pick one or the other, but if he kept silent Higgins might get hurt worse, so he said, "Me."

His dad dropped the dog, which yelped and started whimpering, and when the boy bent over to see if it was okay his dad smacked him on the butt and knocked him down. "See what it’s like," he said. He shoved the boy with his foot, then pulled his belt from its loops, and the blows started. The boy pushed the puppy away and put his hands over his head and curled into a ball. The blows started and he tried to think of something else—of running through the orchard with Higgins behind him—the dog trying to keep up, his ears flopping—and jumping the fence while Higgins squeezed under the barbed wire . . . of clomping through the stubble of the wheat fields in search of pheasant, waiting for the thunder of wings and the puppy’s vain leap . . . of coming across the creek bed in the fir trees and lying down side by side, he and Higgins, to drink the clear cold water. He tried to think of the puppy’s joy as it cavorted in the field, to see his clumsy gait, to laugh as Higgins bounded after the grasshoppers in the straw—but all he could feel, rising through the pain, welling up from deep within, was the all-consuming blackness of hate.

When the beating was over his father tossed the stamp collection and his sister’s broken doll into the garbage can. "That’ll teach you kids to fight over things," he said.

It had an air of truth, but it was just a story.

At least that’s what he told himself.

"You should’ve hit back."

"Are you crazy?" I took a deep breath to calm the quaver in my voice. "He’d have killed me."

"You don’t do something, one of these days you’re going to explode. You’ll kill him."

She couldn’t see me in the dark, but I nodded.

Maybe she was right.

We stopped talking for a while then and just walked.

When we got to the car, my shirt was pretty dry but my pants still felt wet.

"Take them off," she said. "We can tie them on the antenna and let them dry in the breeze."

"What?" With her standing there watching?

"I’ve seen boys in underpants before," she said, reading my mind. "Don’t worry. I won’t bite."

I blushed. Thank God it was dark and she couldn’t see my face. "I don’t know," I said.

"Come on, it’s no big deal. Do I have to take off my own?"

She put her hands on her cutoffs and my eyes widened. Before I could say anything, I heard the zipper going down. I swallowed hard. In one quick movement, she slipped her pants off and held them up in front of me. "It’s easy."

Her white underpants stood out in the moonlight like a flag under a spotlight. My breath caught in my throat. I was getting excited again. Embarrassing. I decided to act before it got worse. I unbuckled my belt, unzipped my pants, and tried to slip them off over my boots. That wasn’t easy and I hopped around in the dirt at the side of the road, trying to keep my balance while Reta Jane whooped and laughed.

"Come on," I said, when I had them in my hands. "It’s not funny. Besides, your uncle might hear." Just the thought was making me nervous, both of us standing there in white underpants.

"You worry too much," she said.

Yeah, right.

Before getting in the car I tied the legs of my jeans to the antenna and we started up the road.

Reta Jane had dropped her cutoffs on the seat between us. I wanted to look at her some more, but I had to keep my eyes on the road, which rose and dipped over a series of low wooded hills. Her cutoffs made me nervous. I shoved them toward her.

"What if the cops stop us?"

"I’ll slip them on if they do." She sounded peeved.

"Yeah, but what about me?"

She snorted. "Well, I doubt they’ll take you to jail for indecent exposure. Besides, there’s never any cops out here."

I turned on the radio and we listened to that for a while, while she directed me from road to road. We were running on flat ground by a dairy farm when Reta Jane grabbed my arm.

"Wait," she said. "The Johannsen’s."

My foot hit the brake. "What’s that?"

"See that house up ahead, just beyond the barn? Pull over before you get there. They have the best cherries anywhere."

I could see the tree in the darkness, sitting in their front yard all by itself, branches sweeping wide to all sides. The road leading in to the property had a spiked gate across it, and to each side stretched a four-strand, barbed-wire fence.

"I can’t drive in there," I said. "They’ll hear us if we open the gate. It’s probably locked anyway. And that fence is hot. See the white insulators? The bottom and the top lines are electrified."

"We can go through the middle. You hold the wire for me and I’ll hold it for you."

I didn’t think that was a great idea, but she wouldn’t give up. She had to have some of those cherries.

"I’ve been eyeing them every day for two weeks," she said. "Never had a chance until now to get some."

I pulled off the road into a grassy ditch just beyond the big house, a white two-story affair with a porch in front. With the lights extinguished and the motor dead, I could hear animals moving in the dark. "Horses," I said. They were standing under the cherry tree. "I don’t think this is a good idea."

"Oh, come on, Artie. Don’t be such a scaredy-cat. I want some cherries."

I came around to untie my pants from the antenna but she stopped me. "Forget them," she said. "It’ll be easier in our underwear."

Easier. What in the world was she talking about?

"Come on. This’ll be fun," she said, pulling me across the road with her.

I hoped no cars would come along. We stood out like the invisible man wearing a phosphorescent swimming suit.

To get to the fence, we had to slog through a ditch and I got water and mud in my work boots. I felt really weird. Shirt, underpants and work boots. How’d I let myself get talked into this? And I wasn’t looking forward to getting shocked. We had electrified fences for the Angus and they were one pain in the neck. You try to jump them, especially with a scissors kick, and don’t make it . . . watch out. It didn’t feel good to have your thigh whapped with current.

I held the two middle wires apart—they were barbed but not hot—and Reta Jane slipped through with no problem, but when she did the same for me, I caught my shirt and heard it rip. Great, now mom would wonder how that happened.

I shook my head. Couldn’t something be easy for a change?

Oh well, there were plenty of excuses I could use with mom. I was always banging up against something at the cannery, including a machine that cut my head open and sent me to the emergency room for stitches one night. Maybe mom would just be happy I hadn’t sliced myself to the bone.

It was only about a hundred feet to the cherry tree. The horses moved off without making much of a fuss and five minutes later we were up in the tree, furiously stuffing ripe Bing cherries into our mouths. Thick, huge clumps hung from every branch and twig—and, boy, were they good. I could see why she’d wanted to sneak in.

"We look funny," she said, laughing.

"Shh. Not so loud." She’d been giggling like a crazy girl ever since we climbed into the tree. But I had to admit she was right. Was there something in the laundry soap that made our underpants stand out so much in the moonlight? I felt like we were two spotlights calling attention to ourselves.

"Hope these don’t have worms," she said, and then started laughing louder, shaking the branches so hard I thought she was going to fall. I could hear ripe cherries plopping on the ground.

A light went on inside the farmhouse.

"Oh, shoot," I said. "Someone’s coming. Get down."

"Just a few more," she said, her words garbled. She spit out a mouthful of cherry pits.

"Come on, Reta Jane. I’m not waiting for you."

I was already scrambling down from branch to branch. I hit the ground with a thud, and then heard the front door swing open.

They were going to catch her. I couldn’t wait. A flashlight beam stabbed out of the night and I heard a gruff voice yelling—something about a shotgun—and then the person charged back inside the house.

I swore.

Just what we needed—an angry farmer shooting in the dark.

—Reprinted from The Turning by Ron Terpening by permission of Desert Bloom Press. Copyright © Ron Terpening, 2001. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.