He tells her she'll love it down south but
when "down there" is only South Dakota,
she tries not to look disappointed. He
laughs and gives her hair a little yank. She
doesn't appreciate having her hair messed
with, but he's passably good-looking and
convinced that girls enjoy his touch. If Eva
doesn't react pleasantly he thinks it's funny,
like telling her all week they were going
south. She'd been so excited it was pathetic.
They've been married six months and her
parents in North Dakota still call him” that
man.” “That man” and “our girl.” He's
thirty-five and she's eighteen and she
thought three nights in a hotel called for
marriage. He said sure, why not. He's a
salesman and only has to come home on
weekends anyway, and it would be
convenient if she's there, waiting. She's got
a wicked figure and a real talent for waiting.
They pack fishing clothes and she sneaks in
a pair of high heels and a dress. They drive
all day while he sings stuff that was popular
when she was a kid. He has a decent
baritone voice and his mother always
claimed he could have been a professional,
that he could sing “Flow Gently, Sweet
Afton” to make you double right up and
bawl. After a few drinks, he would make the
same claim—if only he'd been given the
opportunity and training. He looks
sorrowful as he says it, and sighs.
The sky swirls low and gray like a quilt
made of oatmeal and she sees why the
radio announcers always say bad-weather-
coming-out-of-the-Dakotas as if they
manufactured it there. Rain and insects
splat on the windshield and she shudders,
trying to remember words to his songs. She
hums along and he tells her to cut it. She's
quiet for half an hour and says, "Tell me
more what's going to be so great about this."
"You'll love it, I'm telling you. It's a log
cabin with three bedrooms and a creek you
can hear all night like someone left the
john running. And fish all over the place.
Light me a cig, hon."
He wears a rough wool shirt with the
sleeves rolled up and a feed store cap that
says International Harvester. He prefers it
to his weekday clothes. He's only happy
after work, depending on what's around.
She flecks the Paradise Essence polish off
her nails and the tiny crumbs gather in her
lap. She plans to use Bermuda Sunset when
they get there. It's an exotic rose with
undertones of speckled gold which she
hasn't tried yet.
"Drop that crap in the car and you'll lick it
"Would you make me do that?"
"Is that what you'd do if you didn't love
me?" She puts her hand on his shoulder
and strokes the thorny texture of his sleeve.
"If you did love me?"
"I said you goddam try it."
"Do you love me?"
"Don't you know anything else to talk
"Well, do you?"
"Jesuschrist, open me a beer."
She hands him the beer and then wets her
middle finger to pick up the polish bits. She
wraps them in the Kleenex and throws it
out the window.
They pull off the road to eat the sandwiches
she had made. She puts the sack on the
floor between her feet and lifts the food out
and puts his on a paper napkin.
"Don't give me any of that carrot junk. Just
"We don't have any tomatoes."
"I don't suppose you thought of potato
"Well, gimme gimme."
He starts in on the huge ham sandwich.
When there's only a quarter of it left, he
opens the bun and says, "What's this shit?"
"Mustard. You like mustard."
"You like mustard," he mimics in a whiny
voice and tosses the pieces into the sack.
"Let's get in the back seat."
"No, it's not dark enough."
"Okay okay," and he starts the car with a
jerk and they drive on while she eats her
sandwich slowly and fastidiously.
When she finishes, she pulls the visor
mirror down and draws a red line around
her lips and fills it in with Peach Frost. She
turns to him, puckers her mouth and asks,
"Like this color?"
"Love it," he says without looking.
She starts to comb her hair and asks, "Why
do they call this the Black Hills? Looks like
green mountains to me." He tells her
because the Blacks took it away from the
Indians in a football game.
They arrive in the evening and he pulls the
car in behind a pickup truck in front of the
cabin. Spook and his wife, Jojo, jump up
from the porch steps and come toward
them. Spook shouts, "Jim, hey fella,
thought you'd never come." He nudges Jojo
and says, "Maybe that's why they're late. Hi
Eva. Lookin' pretty."
Spook works for the same company as Jim.
She's met them a few times, once at a
disastrous party where she got sick. He
shakes Jim's hand and helps him unload.
His skin is white and reminds her
unpleasantly of mushrooms, and he is
skinny enough to make his shoes look
enormous. He has a grin that nearly divides
his face and a dirty mouth. He lurches his
shoulders forward and pushes the hair off
his forehead with the flat of his hand and
winks at Eva. "He slow comin' already, Eva?"
Jojo puts her stringy arm around Eva and
leads her inside. Eva is ready to cry and
when she sees Lefty and Maris in the
kitchen, she does. "She's just tired and
sulky," Jim says and when they get to their
bedroom, she flops face-down on the bed
"Last ones here get the unchoicest
bedroom, if that's what's bothering you,"
Spook says, and goes out and shuts the
"So what is it?" Jim asks.
She rolls over on her back. "You didn't tell
me they'd be here."
"So if I didn't?"
"I don't want them here."
"This is a fishing trip and I told you that. Do
you think I'd want us just to fish alone?"
"I don't even know how to fish," she wails.
"God, you're something. Tell you what." He
kneels one leg on the side of the bed and
takes her shoes off and then her skirt.
"Know what you do know how to do? Eva?
Look at me. Know what?" He pulls her
panties off. She smiles and sniffs and he
takes the corner of the pillowcase and wipes
her eyes, leaving a mascara streak across
her cheekbone. "Now you bend this knee
and put this foot here and this foot there
and you wait just like that."
He stands up and undresses, then leans
over and shoves her blouse up under her
chin. "Now, say, 'Come here."
"Are you happy now?"
"Okay then. Grab ahold."
The four are laughing raucously in the
kitchen. Lefty shouts, "Hey, you lovebirds,"
and rattles the doorknob. She asks Jim to
lock it, but he doesn't hear.
"Now," he says when he stands up, "say
you're real happy."
"I'm real happy. Do you love me?"
"Yeah. Sure. Looks like you've got a black
eye. Don't act like an asshole in front of my
They dress and she takes a long time with
her make-up while he goes out to the
kitchen. When she follows, everyone stops
talking and leers at her and she feels the
heat rising in her face. She drinks what
someone hands her and finds a place to sit
next to Jojo while Spook finishes the dirty
story he was telling. Jojo is nice. She says,
"Don't let them get your goat. You'll get
used to it."
She looks down at Jojo's hands. They are
brown and covered with rings up to the
knuckles. She watches dully, waiting to see
if Jojo can curl her fingers around her glass,
but she picks it up deftly with her thumb
and forefinger and Eva looks away. Her
eyes wander around the unfinished walls
and it doesn't look like a real log cabin
inside. The floor is linoleum, worn in stripes
where the boards beneath have buckled.
There is a calendar on the wall and a
picture of fishermen holding a long string of
trout that hang like bloated pennants. The
curtains are gathered in skimpy, dispirited
ruffles, two in plaid and one with flowers,
all faded in the middle.
They don't go to bed until two-thirty and
she lies awake listening to Jojo in the next
room moaning, "Oh Jesus!" ten or twelve
times while their bed bangs the wall, and
the mirror falls on the dresser and snaps in
two like a dry stick. She begins to cry again.
When she wakes alone at noon, she stays in
bed for an hour before she joins the women
in the kitchen. They point to the coffee and
toaster. Jojo hooks a foot under a chair and
scrapes it toward Eva and they go on
She guesses the two couples had come here
together and Jojo and Maris didn't get
everything said. They go on and on and she
thinks they're on the verge of emptying
Both of them are wearing expensive warm-
up suits. Maris is large and spongy looking
and her hair is blonde and crimpy. Other
than that Eva thinks she is kind of pretty.
Jojo is nicer, though. She is tan and dry and
wears huge glasses and her nerves seem
always at a fizz, ready to explode and leave
everyone behind. She almost knocks things
over but at the last moment, she doesn't.
She drags on her cigarette and lets the
smoke escape from her mouth and speed up
Eva stands with her back to them and
finally figures out the ancient toaster. Then
the toast cools while she gets oleo out of
the refrigerator. There's no jelly in sight
and she decides not to ask. While she pours
coffee she worries about where to sit. She
edges sideways on to the chair Jojo had
pushed so as not to seem to be listening,
but available if they want to say something
to her. They don't, but she thinks she might
mention how pretty the Black Hills are if
After an uncomfortably long while, she
takes her coffee outside and sits on the
porch step. It is sunny and the pines are full
of birds and glinting with beads of
yesterday's rain. There are four more
cabins and behind each is an outhouse with
logs attached here and there to match the
cabins. She had made Jim walk out and wait
for her last night because she was sure
there were bears. She goes in the outhouse
and notices spider webs in the corners and
inside the roll of paper. She taps her finger
on the roll in case anything is still inside.
There are three holes and she guesses any
three of that crowd would go together.
In the kitchen she refills her cup and sits
with the women. Maris and Jojo have just
had a big laugh and Jojo says, "Oh, he
Then she turns to Eva and says, "Maris said
that Lefty says he's going to fuck you before
we leave and she's taking bets."
Eva looks at Maris who is enjoying herself
and rocking side to side on her lofty
buttocks while she snorts and laughs. "Don't
worry kid. I'll watch out for you—if you'll
keep those tits covered better."
Eva smiles tentatively and goes back
outside. Maris says, "She ain't no Cindy."
Their cabin is the last one on the left and
the land slopes sharply down to the brook.
Even though it is a sunny day everything is
in shade. The ground is covered with
slippery brown pine needles and she makes
her way down to the water's edge. The
stream is wide here and bubbles and ripples
over smooth stones. She wonders if Jojo
and Maris have even seen it.
She reaches her hand in and finds the
water icy. She sits down on a rock and
watches the water swirl into eddies, and in
an iridescent vortex a green leaf spins and
disappears. Except for the water tumbling
by, it is quiet. The trees are motionless and
dark and it smells like gin and mint.
She thinks about Jim. It's what you get,
girl, you couldn't wait, she says to herself.
But she's learned a bit, that she likes sex
and what a man looks like. She'd expected
something different, not so pink maybe.
And she'd thought only women had pubic
hair. And that everything wasn't all
between his legs but more out in front. She
remembers when she and Mary Upton were
freshmen. They thought rubbers were like
rubber bands and tried to guess how they
worked. They talked about marriage
incessantly and planned to give all their
children names that started with the same
letter. Mary chose R and Eva said it
depended on her husband's last initial. They
wrote their names with different boy's
names to see which sounded best. When
Eva wrote Mrs. E.B. Skinner, they looked at
each other with wide eyes. Mr. Skinner was
the math teacher and had a wife and two
kids. Mary gave her a sly look and asked,
"Would you really do it with Mr. Skinner?"
Eva smiled and raised her eyebrows hoping
she looked knowledgeable, not sure exactly
what "doing it" involved. Mary dated lots of
boys later and their friendship faded away.
Eva was shy and plump and the boys didn't
hang around like they did with Mary.
In her senior year Eva met Jim at a movie.
She was standing in the lobby in a swarm of
popcorn that someone had knocked out of
her hand. She was flushed and uncertain,
wondering if she should clean it up, or just
ignore it. She tugged her head scarf
forward trying to become invisible. Her
dowdy brown coat hid the embarrassing
curves her body had suddenly developed.
She looked innocent and naive and Jim
swaggered up, picked up her empty box and
half filled it from his. Then he took her arm
and they went in to the movie. He said the
show was only worth half a box anyway and
they left in the middle and walked to his
hotel. No, she wouldn't go up to his room
and no, she'd only drink a coke. The second
weekend he charmed her into the room and
the third into bed. Next he bought her the
kind of dress and stockings he wanted her
to wear and she was hooked.
They married when she turned eighteen
and told her parents after she graduated.
Now she wishes they'd had a real wedding,
she in a low-cut white satin dress instead of
one of her mother's home-made horrors,
and Jim in his navy blue suit, in which he
looks somewhat like Mr. Skinner.
Back in the bedroom she puts two coats of
Bermuda Sunset on all her fingernails and
toenails and stretches out on the bed,
humming while she waves them dry. The
three men come back and when Jim doesn't
come into the bedroom, she goes to the
kitchen. Jojo and Maris greet her in a
friendly manner and start cooking fish the
men have caught and put out plates and
drinks. Jojo has brought a peach pie with a
circle of punctures in the center and a crust
decidedly browner on one side, and Maris
has baked potatoes wrapped in tinfoil and a
salad. Jim hadn't told her to bring anything
and she feels wronged. Not able to make
herself set the table or do anything to help,
she sits with a sweating drink in her hand
and tries to look interested.
Remembering what Lefty said about her,
she gets a wiggly sensation inside as if her
guts had suddenly gulped. His disheveled
good looks give her a guilty thrill and she
wishes Jim could know what he said without
her being the one to tell him. Now and then
she peers up to see if Lefty is looking at
her. When he catches her at it, he makes a
face like an oxygen-starved fish, pops his
eyes and smacks his lips. She blushes and
looks at Jim.
They eat, dump all the dishes in the rusty
sink, fill it with water and start drinking
Jim lifts her up on a bar stool and it's
another endless night. She is looking down
from the top gondola of a Ferris wheel,
swaying to music only she can hear and
below, out of focus, is the rest of the party.
Their voices sound like knives and forks
clattering together and only a few phrases
drift up to where she is hanging on. The
wheel gives a lurch and her drink splashes
into her lap. It's Lefty who comes up behind
her, reaches around and grabs her breasts
and says something to the others and walks
away. She thinks if they'd stop talking she
might say something. Then the men get
together in a noisy hullabaloo and leave in
the pickup—Lefty driving with more racket
and skidding than necessary. She thinks he
may be showing off to her.
The three women move into the dark living
room and Eva waits to see where they
choose to sit before she settles on a lumpy
gray hassock. Maris slops out more drinks
and starts telling about someone named
Bitsy. "She married Bob—you know—
tractors. And she dresses up and buys a
bottle of wine and thinks she'll give him a
surprise visit on the road on their three-
"God, anyone could have told her. So of
course she walks in on them."
Jojo says solemnly, "I could have told her."
"Dumb hotel clerk gives her the key. He
didn't know who was up there."
"I could have told him."
"Comes home crying. What does she think?
He's going to sit on his ass five nights a
"You can bet Spook wouldn't. Take him
about one hour to find another ass," Jojo
says, with pride.
"Lefty too, and I'd think the very less of him
if he couldn't."
Eva stands up and says, "I think I'll go to
bed now. I feel a little woozy," and realizes
it is probably her third sentence since
"Yep, she's no Cindy," Jojo says.
"Another Bitsy with a bigger pair."
Eva is asleep when the men return, rowdy
and careless, thumping against the
furniture. Jim bounces the bed and says,
"Hey" a couple of times, gives up and
passes out on the rug.
They get up late in the morning. No one
else is around. After a glum breakfast, Jim
gathers his gear and leaves with Eva
trailing along behind him. "Now just where
do you think you're going?" he snaps.
"I want to watch you fish."
They walk through sunny meadows to a
smaller brook and he stops and pulls on
waders. They crackle and appear
unbendable. She watches while he buckles
and then asks, "Do you know a Bitsy and
"Maris said what happened." Jim makes a
few casts. "Did you know about that?"
"Everybody did. Move back."
"Do all your friends and Lefty and Spook act
"How do I know?"
"It's none of your business." He wades away
casting ahead into the stream. She takes off
her shoes and steps in. It's rocky and
numbingly cold. "I wondered about us."
"I wondered about us." She knows he
"Stand back or you'll get hooked."
"Jesuschrist, Eva, go back where you
"Where do I belong?"
"Out of the way. That's all. Just out of my
She follows a few more steps, "What does
out of my way mean?"
"What it sounds like."
She pushes some weeds aside. "Does it
mean what I just might think it does?"
"Eva! Shit! Back off!" He jerks the line out
of a tree, and moves on.
She shouts after him, "Do you know what I
just might be thinking?" He doesn't answer
or turn back.
They make love that night and leave the
next morning. She says no at first until he
says, "But we didn't do it last night." She
wishes they could talk. About anything,
fishing even. Instead, it's all kidding small
talk, as if they'd just met and don't expect
to meet again. What he knows about me,
she thinks, is only what's already happened.
In the car he sings an old song and she
looks out the window. He's in a teasing
mood and pretends he has a microphone
and sings to her, mugging and rolling his
eyes. He jerks the car back on the road
after bumping onto the gravel shoulder.
"Got my limit," he sings. "Fish for thee
freee-zer." He takes his cap off and jams it
on her head. She pushes it up and watches
a fly on the side window walking up and
"Hey Eva, take your shirt off."
"Just through this little town."
"Spoil sport. So, how'd you like down
south? How'd you like those green Black
She opens the window and lets the fly out.
Then she rolls the window closed and says,
"I found out how things are."
Barbara Mayor’s story, “Gauguin,” won the Tamarack Award
and was published by Minnesota Monthly. A lifelong graphic
artist and painter, Mayor now writes poetry and fiction and has
discovered that art and writing make a wonderful
combination. She lives near Minneapolis.