BY TAMARA KAYE SELLMAN
Naturally, she recognizes the road.
summer afternoons had they ridden this gravelly margin on Dexter Road,
Bonnie and her best friend Lida? With Sheba and Micawber snorting and in
canter, they'd swatted at cicadas, shared Cokes -- or joints, when they
were older -- and flushed magpies from the milk ditch with side-skipped
The horses are gone now, a figment of the fifteen seasons of
quickening girlhood they shared along this stretch of Nowhere. A stretch
yet unimproved by curbs and yellow stripes like all the other country
roads in Lake County, Illinois.
Bonnie knows every crack in its
asphalt, even here and now, in the dead of night. Like the lines in her
She sighs, groans, rubs the back of her head where a goose egg
has taken shape, a reminder that she'd fallen unconscious.
body check finds no signs of assault. Arms and legs remain unscathed,
her face is unbruised, there's no pain between her legs when she takes a
few test strides across the pavement. Her clothes are not torn, nor have
they been removed.
A rustling among cornrows near the milk ditch
prickles Bonnie's skin. She tries to believe it's only a jackrabbit, or
the yawn and stretch of corn growing. Tall green rods pray grace toward
the low July moon with their leafy hands, beaming enough light for her
to see by. Moments pass. Nobody walks out of the field. It must have
been a rabbit, she decides.
Bonnie wipes her face with the back of her
arm, wondering by its dampness how long she'd been out cold on the
asphalt. It feels, to her, like four a.m. The hour when the steam of the
last day merges with the new morning dew. A double whammy of humidity.
The air smells strange, like cooked vegetables.
Pulling her hand
away, she notices what is not there.
The sound of her voice takes ownership of
the open space around her. The crickets follow to break the silence in
odd patterns, randomly, sometimes in solo and sometimes in chorus.
It's got to be the end of the night, Bonnie imagines, twisting the
bare knuckle on her hand. She approaches her car. It's still parked
at the side of the road where she'd left it.
"Figures." She laughs
this time. Her car is a beater, a rusted charcoal-colored Mazda with a
leaking sunroof. Even a gangbanger wouldn't steal that, she smiles
wryly, not even for parts.
She was never as enthralled with the
now-missing ring Rob had given her, a ring she knows she ought to be
more worried about at the moment. Rob will fall apart over its theft,
more emotionally invested in it than in their relationship.
wheel overhead, catching last mosquitoes before morning's hibernation.
Bonnie crouches to look underneath the car to make sure no one or
nothing is hiding underneath.
Not that Bonnie goes in for urban
legends, but the one about the gang ritual -- where the gangbanger wannabe
hides underneath the car and slits the Achilles tendon of his victim,
thereby immobilizing her, thereby making it easy to rape her first
before all the others -- has been going around for a while now.
never been one to be needlessly reckless. Even when she saw the guys
stopped along the side of the road earlier that night, her first thought
had been to pass them by.
There had been five of them. Latinos. Not at
all unusual in the rural Northwest suburbs, home to major landscaping
businesses outside the industrial wheel of Chicago. Mexican migrants,
legal or not, eventually made their way out to the collar counties for
work, often installing and maintaining lawns. Latino families clustered
in places like Wauconda, Carpentersville, Island Lake, Gages Lake,
Winnetka, starting up agricultural businesses, earning great amounts of
money which they eventually reinvested in enterprises back in Mexico,
where even a few American dollars could buy the most luxurious of
But these five weren't Latinos like Bonnie knew them, having
lived in Lake County her whole life. She'd had many neighbors who were
Mexican, but they were Old World: hardworking, fervently Catholic and
meek. Family folk. These new boys were gangbangers. Probably from
sprawling suburban Schaumburg, dark-skinned boys in black leather and
kerchiefs who swarmed the mall and the Golf Road arterial looking for
drugs or guns or girls or things to fence. They hung around theatre
parking lots and were hard-edged and aggressive. She'd stopped going to
the movies because of them, having grown afraid despite not wanting to.
In recent years, they'd reseeded in Lake County. It made Bonnie mad
to see the change, how it ruined it for her neighbors. For everyone.
There's no one under the car. Bonnie whistles a sigh. At least she
can eliminate the possibility of an urban legend come true. Now all she
has to deal with is Rob.
He would be mad. He would say, you lost the
ring! even after being told it was stolen. He would say, why did you let
them take it? even after her explanation, that they'd knocked her out.
Well, I'm okay otherwise, she would point out. The thought would be lost
on Rob. That ring cost him several months' pay down at the Salerno
cookie factory, where he worked as a sorter. That would be the focus of
"Well, they -- stole -- it," she practices to herself. She
knows she'll have to repeat the phrase several times to Rob. He's one of
those guys who's perpetually clueless to the obvious.
At one time,
she thought it an endearing quality.
The keys dangle in the
ignition. She opens the door, missing immediately the ignition bell
warning. A quick turn at the keys issues the dreaded, hollow click. At
the same time, lightning flickers ahead of her.
Strange. She tries
again. No battery, but the atmosphere, super-charged on the outside,
matches her effort. More of the electric fingerlings crawl across the
Electrical storm. She tries once more. Dead battery.
battery is so dead it doesn't generate enough juice to light the digital
clock on the dash.
Dead battery, electrical storm.
"Lida, Lida, Lida," she utters under her breath, "I've got to
get out of here."
Lida had been in a similar predicament.
with gangbangers. She'd not been knocked out by anyone. No one had
stolen anything from her. She'd been out of town -- Florida, spring break,
cheap rental car -- and had lost her way while driving down the Keys.
Who knows how she did it, but while being lost, Lida ran out of
gas. It was the theory, anyway. No one ever found out for sure. All they
ever did learn was that Lida had stayed in the car while an electrical
storm bullied its way over the islands like a miniature hurricane.
Maybe it was a waterspout. There had been reports. Heavy rain had
made visibility next to impossible, so no one could blame the truck
driver. He plowed into the rear end of the Alamo rental car a split
second after discerning its fading flashers through sheets of rain.
Bonnie and the rest of her friends didn't hear about Lida's death
for a week. They'd been hanging out at the Southernmost Point, drinking
hurricanes the whole time, eating Cuban chicken and yellow rice, singing
karaoke, reading Hemingway, and checking out the local flavor down at
Smokey Joe's, wondering lazily when Lida would show up. Her accident
didn't make island news, or if it had, they'd not been around to hear
about it. They put two and two together only after they found out that
the Dolphin museum near Islamorada had been thrashed and would be closed
for the rest of the summer.
Lida loved dolphins.
knows this stretch of road so well, the fact of her being there,
stranded between stretches of farmland before the threat of a midwestern
downpour, only makes her more anxious. Getting mugged by a bunch of
shopping mall gangbangers at the side of a solitary road has already
surged enough adrenaline through her for one night.
But she isn't
about to join Lida yet, as much as she misses her best girlhood friend.
She knows how a wicked and spontaneous summer storm can still be much
worse than a fight with Rob over a ring.
Her purse is gone. She
rifles through her glove compartment. The trunk. Under the
And then, just as soon as she's decided that it, like
her ring, has been stolen, it turns up, completely intact, wedged
between the bucket seats. Cash, money, credit cards -- all in
Bonnie grabs her purse, writes a note for the dashboard. She
collects an umbrella, then promptly puts it back when the next flash
illuminates the sky, reminding her of lightning rods.
Stepping out of
the car, she starts the hike across this lonely stretch of Dexter, swift
frames of ordered memory replaying before her, blurring out the thought
hanging like a ghost in the back of her mind:
Maybe they hadn't
stolen her ring at all. Maybe she had really only lost it.
boys had been jacking up a beater truck (even more beater than her
Mazda) when she'd passed by. Two of them waved. They were from
Schaumburg, she could tell by their black leather and the thin greenish
lights glowing from underneath the carriage of the truck. They were
But then she thought she'd recognized one of them. The
guy at the custard stand. She went there every Friday after work. He was
always pulling soft custard for sundaes in the back. He was cute, she
remembered his face every time. Kind and smiling. Clean, short hair
gelled into spikes. He worked behind the glass, so she hadn't yet been
able to find out his name. There had never been a good moment to
inquire. After eating her weekly double scoop of chocolate-vanilla
swirl, she'd leave for Rob's, for the usual dinner and movie and retreat
to his apartment for a romp on his couch by the light of the TV,
wondering all the way there how she could be interested in anyone else
when she was already engaged.
Not much happened at the scene of
Even thinking of her situation in those terms disturbed
Bonnie a little. It just didn't feel like a crime had been
She'd walked to the rear of the truck where they were
jacking it up to replace a tire, and then. . .What? Darkness. Silence.
No pain, no stars. Just blank.
Sure someone stole her ring. But they
could have done so much more. If they were really bad-ass, they
Anyway, the custard stand guy, if that was who he was, had
stayed in the truck's cab the whole time, so she never did find out for
sure whether it was him. She doesn't want to think the worst of him,
yet. Even if she is engaged.
the dim fields. The lights are on way down by the orchards where the
Koeppens live, just beyond these cornfields owned by the locally famous
Plumhoff clan. That's it. Two miles toward the first sign of harbor.
Just hold off, she prays against the storm.
Stagnant air heavy
with ozone and the strange cold weight of morning burdens her walk.
"The path of less energy. . ."
She says the words aloud to keep
herself company. "The path of irresistance...no..." Her head
continues to ache. The storm, moving in, seems to be collecting air as
it goes, leaving her tightly wound and out of breath. She snaps her
fingers. "That's it," she laughs. "The path of least
She jumps into the shallow milk ditch near a concrete
drainpipe just as the first leaded drops begin to pelt the
She'd only blacked out twice before in her life. Once, when
she was a kid. The paramedics called it a sympathetic response. She'd
been running and playing like crazy, then crashed into some bars at the
playground. The pain and shock of that, melded with hyperactive
excitement, overwhelmed her and she fell to the ground in a faint. Blue
lips, eyes rolled back into the head, the whole nine yards. This was
before the advent of 9-1-1 services. Before people knew things like
The other time had been in response to a fear she'd since
outgrown, of spiders. Reaching to pick morning glory blossoms for a
biology class assignment, she'd grasped the thick, hard body of a
resident white spider. Arachnophobia took its toll and she was
eventually revived by smelling salts from the neighbors. Old Granny
Bettendorf. She said how she often used them to rouse her apneatic
husband, Karl, before he died of heatstroke.
But have they really
happened only twice, these blackouts? Bonnie wonders. Pools of rainwater
crusted with hailstones begin to encroach around the opening of the
drainpipe inside which she's found an oasis.
What about all those
parties in high school? Had she really been drunk? High? It occurs to
her suddenly that maybe she'd passed out those times for other reasons
entirely. Epilepsy? Seizures? Brain tumors?
Flickering blue lights interrupt the sleet.
Bonnie, after hesitation -- it hasn't thundered in a few minutes, signaling
the departure of the storm -- steps out of the drainpipe to get a better
A patrol car is lighting up the tail end of her Mazda with
its brights. Behind it, she spies a truck. She watches the driver jump
out and race up to the squad car with his shirt pulled over his
"Hey, I'm down here!" She calls out. And then:
No one can hear her for all the rain pounding flat the
atmosphere. Her ears pop and though her clothes run slick and tight
against her saturated body, a strange new chill sends every hair of her
body on end.
The policeman steps out in head-to-toe gear and
gestures to the driver. Then he pulls an umbrella from the squad car.
The truck's driver accepts the umbrella from the police officer and
opens it just as Bonnie is climbing the shallow ditch to the
No one notices her. Not until that very last moment, when
the reflection of lights on his profile reveals the custard stand guy.
Bonnie's eyes connect with his and they exchange a brief smile of
puzzled recognition before Bonnie loses her footing and falls down the
The custard stand guy does what every boy would
do, every good boy with an appreciation for damsels in distress -- he
chases after her, to lend her a hand. And as he thrusts his right hand
out to grab her -- even as he is still twenty feet away -- and as his left arm
elevates the umbrella in an involuntary gesture of balance, Bonnie bites
her lips in the blinding flash that ensues, then whispers, "I'm so
Ears ring. Eyes cannot pierce the flash imprinted on them by
the lightning that's struck the tip of Pedro Gonzalez's umbrella.
She'll not know his name for a week, not until the death
announcement makes it into the Wauconda Leader, not even when she asks
around town, at the custard stand. Nobody knows who she's talking about.
Bonnie's outstretched fingers grow keenly aware of the texture of
crabgrass and thistles, the strange icy chunks of hail embedded into
warm, damp clay, the feeling of torn leaves plastered against her
humming skin. Ozone fills her nostrils as she fingers the small, cold
circlet with its singular stone, the ring alone in a flash-flooded patch
of crown vetch, just two feet off the roadway, where she'd clearly left