(Excerpt from a nonfiction manuscript in progress.)
“She wanted to go into the corn,” I would write decades later, forgetting the night my sister and I had done just that. We had walked into the July corn tall as an elephant’s eye – with apologies to Oscar Hammerstein – fireflies electrifying the green gloom, and parted rustling cornrows until we found an open spot, just big enough to spread two sleeping bags. We had been hitchhiking without mishap, some might say, though there had been a close call, or two, since Portland, Oregon, and we were now about to “camp” for the night in a cornfield just off Interstate 80 in Iowa.
“A circle, remember?” We both lay in our bags and watched the stars emerge above us. The thought of a circle no matter where you might be was comforting. Like a bedtime story. I had read many of those to her when she was small.
Look up, I told her, and there it is. And, most importantly, you are in it.
Like she and I were in the corn that night, ignoring mosquitoes and spiders, but unable to ignore the rain pelting us awake. We packed up as best we could and sloshed out of the field back toward the highway. There were no fireflies to light our way now, only a summer downpour, thick as Karo syrup. I checked my watch; it wasn’t even 4 AM.
“Help me spread the tarp and we’ll get under it and wait for the sun to come up.”
My sister, nine years younger than I, was fifteen that summer, and would turn sixteen in mid-September. I was supposed to be the big sister with a plan. We sat huddled on the bit of raised cement not far from a freeway entrance. Then we heard it: the unmistakable roar of a Detroit engine. The first car to pass us in the rainy dark. It slowed; we listened to it backing up. Our eyes widened in surprise. Now what?
I knew I had to get out and confront whoever was behind that wheel. A dangerous being. Who else would be on this highway at this time of night in such a downpour?
“Stay under that tarp and don’t move. I’ll handle this.”
I stood up in the pouring rain. The car, I would later learn, was rat-colored, like Hazel Motes’ car in Flannery O’Connor’s classic novel Wise Blood. A male voice said something like Get in or maybe it was Going my way but I firmly replied No thanks. I didn’t let out the breath I was holding until that terrible car speeded out of sight.
Then I crawled back under the tarp and took out a chocolate bar I had been saving in my pack.
“Breakfast,” I announced in as cheery a voice as I could manage.
Afterwards, our lips sticky from chocolate, we each lit a cigarette, one from the other and watched the sun come up. We inhaled smoke and hoped our luck would turn.
––Christina Pacosz recently read her poetry at the 2011 Montserrat Poetry Festival in Missouri, the third year for her participation. Check out her chapbook Notes from the Red Zone, which won the inaugural Rebound Prize from Seven Kitchens in 2009. Learn more at
We are proud to showcase Christina’s work in Volume 5 of Kansas City Voices. Order your copy today for just $5 at: http://www.kansascityvoices.com/