The great tree shook with a sharp gust of wind. Marge was hit on the head by a rogue pinecone, and dry bark rained on Boris’ neatly combed curls. The two bikes rattled and fell tangled in one another.
“Perhaps he knows he’s buried,” said Boris, dusting his shoulders. “Perhaps he’s angry, that’s why the wind blows.”
Marge stood up, towering above him in denim and smiling iron-on patches. She twisted the tip of her shoe into the dirt.
“We dug deep, Boris. The worms will take care of it.”
“She’ll find out, I bet.” He fidgeted with the straps of his schoolbag. “We’ll have to burn the bikes. Change names. Leave the state. Oh, Marge! Marge, we can follow the train tracks!”
“There’s no train here, silly.”
“Then we’ll follow the bus.”
The gale blew a fine spray of rain on their faces. The yellow leaves shivered and floated about, glowing in the forest gloom.
“It’s him,” gasped Boris. “He can smell his blood on the tires. I can’t leave home, Marge! It’s Movie Monday tomorrow and Lee is coming over!”
Marge opened her arms wide, inhaling the metallic evening.
“No more Movie Mondays, Boris! We’re skipping town today. No more homework and greens. Smokey’s bad luck is good news for us.”
“May he rest in peace,” he mumbled and she side-eyed him.
“We’ll make it, Boris, you’ll see. We’ll get jobs at the first ranch we’ll find. We’ll train baby horses.”
“Or we’ll pitch our magic act. Or, or we could go to a casino and win at slots!”
Boris got up, pulling their bikes apart.
“Is that blood?” asked Marge, examining the front tire.
“No, just mud. I think the blood washed away in the puddles.”
“Great. They’ll never catch us now.”
She zipped up her jacket and lifted her bike. She began to go through her pockets. “Okay, I have four and a half dollars and a penny, one pack of gum and the books in my bag that we can sell.”
Boris searched himself. “Two dollars, half a candy bar, and I’m not selling my books. What if I want to read something?”
“Then you’ll trade them for comic books.” Marge mounted her bike. “Let’s go!”
“Now? But I’m hungry!”
“We’ll get some Cheetos at the bus stop.”
“Which bus are we going to follow?”
“A real slow one, I guess.”
“Huh. Good idea.”
Boris mounted his bike and rolled next to her. They kicked their pedals idly in place for a while, making the chains jingle. The rustling trees drowned the sound. Marge’s hair was already frizzy with humidity.
Boris rocked left and right, making the bike sway.
“Shouldn’t we have a funeral? I mean,” he added, looking at his shoes, “he was a nice cat. Always let me pet him.”
Marge didn’t reply, just kept flexing her brakes.
“I mean, Mrs. Tillman goes to church every Sunday. She’d be sad if Smokey never had a proper funeral, like her husband did.”
Marge looked up. A violet mist clung to the branches like cobwebs. The woods smelled of crushed earthworms.
They turned and biked uphill, stopping by the gnarled remnants of a rotten oak. At its roots was a small mound of upturned earth. They put the bikes against the tree and Boris picked a large leaf from the ground, still pale green around the edges, and set it on the mound.
“Dear Smokey,” he began, and then paused for a while. “We are terribly sorry.
You were the nicest cat I’ve ever met. I hope there will always be a bowl of milk for you in Heaven. Amen.”
He nudged Marge with his elbow. “Say ‘Amen’,” he whispered.
Marge was quietly sobbing.
“Amen,” she repeated between hiccups, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
Boris waited until she was all cried out. They picked up their bikes again.
“It’s almost night,” he said.
They started rolling the bikes down the hill. Headlights flashed through the trees. Their breath fogged the wet air. Marge gave a mournful tug at her bell.
“Can I come over for Movie Monday tomorrow?”
Boris thumbed his own bell. It rang clear and bright through the dusk.
“Sure. Mom’s making lasagna.”
About the Author: Clio Velentza lives in Athens, Greece, and enjoys writing in coffee shops all around the world while her beverage grows cold. Her work has appeared in print in 21 New Voices, and online in FractalArt, Literature.gr and 25th Hour Project. Find her at @clio_v.
Story Song: “Child I Will Hurt You” by Crystal Castles
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone