Christy Crutchfield’s great, “How It’s Supposed to Work” was guest-edited by xTx, author of “The Smallest Superman,” back in 2011. It is now a part of Crutchfield’s debut novel, HOW TO CATCH A COYOTE, which is available now from Publishing Genius Press. How to Catch a Coyote is the story of a fractured family, told in a fractured chronology. The Walkers must piece together the incident that exiled a daughter, separated parents, and left a son to choose sides. Did it really happen and how can they live with it? —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
Boys, when raised well, are taught to respect women, to only admire their invisible parts—their minds, their laughter— or the parts visible to the world through modest clothing—their eyes, their smiles. In, “How It’s Supposed to Work,” Christy Crutchfield presents the struggle of a young man striving to be a “good boyfriend” while in the midst of the carnal desires that naturally assault when boys, young men, are faced with girls wearing summer skin, painted with freckles.
GOOD BOYFRIENDS tell their girlfriends they’re willing to wait. Good boyfriends aren’t interested in their girlfriends’ bodies as much as their smiles and minds. Daniel thoughthe’d been good at being a good boyfriend. Amy’s the one always trying her tongue in different ways. Along his teeth, wetting his lips before he can, poking around in his cheeks. Sometimes it feels like actual kissing, and sometimes it just feels like four lips and two tongues. But when it feels exactly right, he’ll find his hand pressing hard into the small of her back until she breathes in his mouth, that girl sigh he thought TV invented.
But the light also hits her just right, especially in summer. She’s blonde and so pretty, and he usually remembers to pull away.
They reach the tiny stretch of farmland, long grass spilling onto the dirt path. He’s not sure what they grow, something tall and leafy.
Daniel doesn’t move his fingers, even though they’re slick from holding hers. Amy’s kept a step behind him the whole time, and he’s supposed to be a leader. He’s supposed to show her they’re more than just bodies.
“What’s that?” Amy asks. There’s a growing buzz in the grass, like something reaching for their ankles. It makes the itch of the grass worse.
“Some kind of cricket,” Daniel says. “Some kind of bug.”
Amy points to a wooden sign next to the small farming plot, Caution Electrified. “Isn’t it from the fence?”
Daniel tugs a little harder to bring them away from the buzzing and into the woods.
They pass the tiny brook with a fallen tree for a bridge, and Daniel turns to watch Amy’s exaggerated wobble as she balances. They pass the imploded car with no trace of its original paint color, the trunk now holding leaves and any number of animals. He leads her onto the foot- beaten path that will take them to the broken-down railroad bridge.
Daniel tries not to think about Amy’s body, but now that it’s summer, her shoulders are freckled and always exposed. The white strip of skin between t-shirt and jeans winks at him when she walks. And she was the one who brought the condom today, the mix CD and candle. She’d pulled off his socks the way an expert did, not the way a virgin did.
“The air’s nice here,” she says, staring up at the shade of trees. “It’s nice to get out of the heat.”
Amy’s been reading women’s magazines and taking advice from a sister home from college. She said Daniel could stop being so polite. She said it was normal to want this. She said, “Put us on a pedestal, and we’ll break easier when we fall.” He’s not sure what came from a magazine and what from her sister.
“Let’s get your socks off first,” she’d said and circled her finger along the ribs of flesh that his sock created. She circled the bottom of his heel, and he couldn’t help it. He tried to turn his feet into fists. He didn’t want her to see.
Far beneath the padding of Daniel’s heel is a black dot, less visible each day, and always larger than he remembers. It’s his first splinter. When he was seven, he’d let the skin grow over, and then it was too late.
They stand at the railroad bridge, burnt red with rust. The vines snaking around it are turning yellow in the sun. The water is lower than the last time he was here, slow, but it makes reliable sounds over the rocks.
“This is the bridge near the highway?” she says.
“Yeah. Turns out it’s right here.”
“Hey.” She circles her fingers around his shoulder. She prefers circles. “It was nice, okay?”
Amy didn’t see the spot on his heel. She’d slid herself back up expertly, then fumbled with his shirt, even more with his belt, and he was comforted to think she was actually a virgin.
He should have brought a blanket, brought bug spray, found some- one to buy them beer. Then, they could drink and chuck them at the bridge. He hadn’t thought about what to do once they got here, just that he couldn’t watch Amy watch the pillow until her curfew, until his mother came back from the night shift. Amy is a talker, but the CD ended, and all she’d said was, “It was nice.”
He hopes the bridge feels like something, besides broken-down. When he looks at things through other people’s eyes, he always finds the problems. The bridge would look more important if the water were rushing by, if it were made of stone instead of iron, if they had some- thing to do besides look at it.
And you’re not supposed to touch a virgin. There isn’t a word for a girl who isn’t a virgin anymore.
Amy only comes up to his shoulder. She bumps her nose against him, almost into his armpit, and he tries to seal the smell he knows is leaking from him.
“Thanks for taking me here,” she says.
Daniel looks at the trees. “We’ll have to check for ticks.”
He knows you’re supposed to bring the head out with the body, buthe’s not sure what happens if you don’t. Ticks are a lot like splinters.
Daniel developed a fear of splinter removal after his sister landed palms-first in a pile of woodchips. Their father had to pin her wrist to the counter to keep her from running, while their mother went at it with a sewing needle. When they removed it, it just looked like wet wood. It was just so small, but Daniel had never heard a scream like that before.
She had a thumbprint-shaped bruise on her wrist for a week and a half. The two of them named it with each color change: Pencil, Mom’s Eye Shadow, Throw-Up. Daniel swore this would never happen to him.
He realized only after the splinter on his heel was completely covered by skin that there were reasons to remove them, but he couldn’t tell his parents or even his sister by that point. He figured death was in- evitable, but after remaining alive for a month, he only thought about it when he looked at the bottom of his heel.
This is how his sister told him it’s supposed to work: your first kiss should be with someone who is your opposite, dark where you are light. She kept up the bargain, always coming home with dark-haired men with dark-haired beards. Except for last time, a dark-haired woman named Molly.
Amy walks toward the bridge and stands on a smooth rock that’s usually covered by water, there are wave patterns on it, and it looks more like wood than rock. She throws tiny stones into the shallow pool. She’s better at finding ways to fill silence.
And Daniel knows the real problem is that it was more than nice. In bed today, in his own bed, Daniel stopped thinking, actually stopped thinking, until a noise escaped from him that made him thank God his mother worked the night shift. Daniel could do this every day. He understands now where the bad boyfriends are coming from. Every day, until Amy moves to Chapel Hill for college, and then every weekend when he visits. There can’t be much to do at University of the Oaks besides go to class, and he’ll want to visit.
He joins Amy on another wooden rock. His hipbone juts out where her waist curves in, and side-by-side, they’d fit together.
“Try throwing a rock at the bridge,” he says.
“We should have brought a camera.” She closes one eye and leans back. “You want to throw a camera at the bridge?”
She nudges him with her shoulder, half laugh, half eye roll. All thesun she’s gotten this summer has made her hair even lighter, the exact shade as Daniel’s. He gathers big rocks and stacks them at their feet.
But the thing is, isn’t turning lesbian the opposite of kissing your opposite? Even if she has brown hair. Even if Dakota probably dumped her by the time they got home. Who made his sister the expert on relationships, anyway?
“Hey,” Amy says, her rock missing the bridge. “It just wasn’t what I expected, okay?”
The rock has little distance to travel before it hits muddy bottom. “I want to try again,” she says. “It was nice, I promise.”
The freckles on her arms and legs will make it difficult to find tickswhen they get home.
When Daniel got his second splinter, from playing outside withno shoes, he told everyone in the family. “Brave now, Chief,” his father had said, hands bigger than Daniel’s feet. Daniel hoped his father would see the black dot, much more visible back then, and dig it out.
It did hurt. Enough for closed eyes and one chipmunk sound, but it was over fast, and his father smoothed the Band-Aid over his foot, held the splinter up with tweezers. “That’s it, Chief. Check it out.”
But Daniel knows that no matter how many splinters he’s removed since, they don’t cancel out the black dot growing lighter and lighter in his foot. When he can’t see it anymore, it will break out of the skin and tumble into his bloodstream. He doesn’t even remember how he got it. Something makes him think it’s made of metal, and something makes him think this makes no sense. He’s pretty sure he will die in his mid-twenties, and if not then, by his early thirties.
Daniel tries his baseball arm, and Amy smiles at the bell tone his rock produces against the bridge.
“Nice one,” she says
Daniel can still be the type of boyfriend who says, “We can start over.” Who says, “I don’t expect it,” when she decides she didn’t actually want this.
Maybe he should say it anyway, in case she was thinking it was a mistake and didn’t want to say anything. And the thing is, they only have three more weeks of summer.
Amy winds up before this throw, and the bridge gives off a higher note. “Maybe we can figure out a song,” she says.
Before she decides she didn’t actually want this, Daniel can check for ticks and remove the head and save her from Lyme disease. May- be this will save him from the bad boyfriend label. He can touch her whole body, check for raised skin, for squirming. With her summer freckles, he may as well check for moles and skin cancer too, for any sign nature is trying to kill her.
Maybe he can finally tell someone, tell Amy, about his impending death by splinter, and maybe, if he also says, “We don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but if you do want to, then we could keep doing it,” they will stay together when she leaves for college. Maybe she’ll even dye her hair black like she’s been planning.
Amy grabs his chin and he only gives a little resistance before he faces her.
“Hey. It’s okay,” she says. “Okay?”
And maybe she’s right. She’s smart and usually right. Daniel decides to keep their sides together and to kiss her, decides to check for any sign of paint when they walk back by the imploded car, to peel back the long grass and see if it’s cricket or energy making that buzz. He decides to make this kiss feel like a real one and not to let go until he can swallow the sigh she leaves in his mouth.