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Soak Hides Road
Elizabeth Robertson


In 1968 we moved from Virginia to California to a house on Soak Hides Road. The first summer I was there I met Danny. He lived two buildings down from me. I could walk along a dirt trail through the brush that covered the hills between his house and mine.

Danny had an old car his father didn’t want anymore. It didn’t ever run at all. One day he was puttin on a new muffler when I got there. I don’t know if he heard me coming; I could make almost no noise when I was walking on sand. Danny was under the car on one of those roller things. His legs and shorts were sticking out, and his tidla was sort of hanging over one leg. I’d never seen one before. Weird! I just stood there, not knowing what to do next. So I hollared, "Hey, Danny, it’s me!"

He rolled out from under the car. Totally not knowin he was showing Paris and France to the world. He chatted me up for a while. He said he knew all about Soak Hides Road; that’s where an old tannery used to be. The one where they brought skins from the cows to make them into leather. Then he asked if I wanted to go down to the movie theater to see that Alfred Hitchcock one Notorious cause it’s got Cary Grant in it. I said I could sit through it.

The theater was one of those that’s so dark and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You can believe there’s no one else there but you. You’re safe from everything outside. Protected. Cause no one knows you’re there. Like a hideout. Danny was real quiet the whole time we were there. He sat really still, not moving which was just fine with me.

One day Danny took me back behind the barracks where he was building a fort in the boonies. It was just a square shed he was making from leftover wood from a construction site. I watched him work on the old rusty nails and bang them with a hammer til they were straight. He’d hold them down with his forefingers which were kind of large and knobby at the ends. He would work on two or three nails at a time and showed me how to put an old board full of nails up on a bench and nail the nails backwards pulling them free with the top of the hammer.

By the end of the summer, the fort had a door on hinges and a plain hook lock. There was a bench inside and we’d sit there together sometimes and hold hands. One time he put his hand on my knee and then started scooting it up my pants leg. I said, "Danny!" and he stopped.

We heard some kids outside laughin. They said, "What’s going on in there?" We could hear them running away. As if we cared.

In Danny’s bedroom at his house, he had a collection in a steel box. There was a pin that’s pink and smooth with a girl with her white hair up. In a black silk bag he had a watch, gold and silver, with a second hand in a tiny circle that goes round and round. There were coins, too, Kennedy half dollars and real silver quarters and dimes, before they started adding copper to money to make it cheaper.

I asked him where he got this stuff and he said, "I’ll show ya." So he takes me down to where the officers live. He led the way down the path through the boonies. The trail went out one way to Mount Moro. But down by the base there were six big houses they had built a couple a years before. "This one near the road is easiest," Danny said. "You take the front, I’ll take the back. Look under everything."

I looked down the street. There was not one car in a driveway, but that didn’t mean much, cause the colonels and generals had two car garages. Between the house and the boondocks was a row of trees. They had cut the branches off all the trees from the ground up to about 12 feet, so it looked more like a park. The tops of the trees grew together to form a canopy over the yard. They had dug up all the roots and bushes and put in thick green grass that ran right up to the sand and stopped. It looked funny like a rug.

I was still peekin around the corner of the house, when Danny said, "Got it!" He came up holding a dirty brass key. "It was under a rock next to the pool," he said, grinnin like a banshee. "There’s always a key on the property."

We went around to the front door. "Act normal," he said. I must have looked like a deer in headlights. "The opposite of how you look now," he said, putting the key in the front door. "O.K., follow me," he glanced up at the windows on the second floor. "We’re going up the stairs to the left."

The key turned easily in the bottom lock and the door opened. The front hall was marble with a small table and a mirror over it. You could see into the main room where there was a fireplace. The house was huge inside. Danny disappeared around a corner.

I thought two hours went by but it was probably two minutes. The door to the left at the top of the stairs was closed. Danny just went right up there and opened it as if he owned the place. I forced myself to follow him. Danny had pulled the top dresser drawer out.

"This isn’t it!" he shouted. There were tape cassettes from one end to the other. He went to the other side of the room where another dresser was. He yanked the drawer but it wouldn’t come out all the way. He tossed stuff onto the floor, men’s socks. There was a red velvet box in his hand. He opened it right under my eyes so I could see the gold cufflinks inside. Then he scooped them up and put them in his pocket.

"O.K., downstairs," he snatched a plastic bag out of the trashcan next to the door and we ran. At the bottom of the stairs he turned right and went into the dining room. There was a small chest next to the door. He dumped it upside down into the bag. You could hear the silver clanging against each other.

"We’re outta here," he hauled the bag up and wrapped the top of it around one wrist and held it into his stomach as he went for the front door.

We raced out the back and through the brush toward the mountain. I was afraid to look. I couldn’t feel my legs; it was like they weren’t attached to my body. We got behind one hill. Brush surrounded us on four sides, dead quiet. I thought I could see a bright white light flashin from the road.

"O.K., we need to get to the fort," Danny said. But half way up the trail he started coughin. I could hear the phlegm in his chest moving around. He sat down on the ground, handing the bag of stuff to me.

"Go, go to the fort," he said. "I’ll meet you there."

"Are you all right?" I said.

"No! Will you go? Go now!" he shouted in my face and started coughing again, to beat the band.

I ran up the hill on the sandy path. My breath was hot and my head was scrambled up, confused. I got to the fort in about ten minutes. I just sat on the bench thinkin for the longest time. It was obvious Danny had no intention of coming there.

I didn’t know what to do with the loot. I left it all in the bag and put it under the bench. Then I found some pieces of board and set them together like a shelf, so you couldn’t tell there was something under it.

After that things got kind of strange between me and Danny. I went by his house but there was no one around. When I checked the fort, the stuff we stole was gone. I tried to quit thinking about him. But I couldn’t help wonderin what he was up to.
One day it was about 90 degrees so I put my swimsuit under my clothes. I was tired cause the coyotes had kept me up all night, runnin up and down our fire escape. I walked down the road to his building by myself. I heard a loud crack and when I came up to his yard I saw him standing under the telephone wires with a gun.

"Hey Danny," I shouted. "Wanna go swimmin?" There was a pool down towards Oceanside and I figured he’d been there before.

"I’m not allowed to go swimming," he said. He pointed the gun at some birds sitting up on a pole and fired. One of the birds tilted slowly backwards and fell head first to the ground.

I ran up to where it landed. It was jerking and twitching like it wanted to live. I thought I should to do something to save it but I didn’t know what.

"She’s dead," Danny said, coming up behind me. I ignored him and watched as the twitching stopped and the eyes closed, forming tiny x’s just like in the cartoons.

"I can’t believe you did that," I yelled. It didn’t sound like my voice.

"Oh, yeah?" Danny said, and pointed the gun at me.

"You’re crazy," I puffed up my face and tried not to cry.

Then I turned around and walked towards the road, past his old car and down the driveway.

It was about a year later when my Mom showed me his picture in the paper.. The article said Danny had died at the age of 18. The cause of death was cystic fibrosis. I asked Ma what that was. She said it was an incurable disease. She said he always knew he would die. It was why he was so thin all the time and wore coats in the summer. Funny I never noticed.


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