She wasn’t going to the hospital again, no way. It smelled like pee there and her mother always yelled at her to stop kicking her foot against the leg of the chair while they waited for the doctor. She didn’t like the hospital, despite what her dad said: “Well, for not liking it, you sure do end up there, a lot, Gee.” Gee was her nickname, the one Pap gave her. It was the only thing she answered to that summer.
She didn’t eat the peach seed because she wanted to go the hospital. She was bored. She was sitting on the back porch and thinking about running out into the pasture to play Under the Ocean, her new favorite game. Brown Dog could be the shark—he was good at it, he nipped at her heels. She would be a mermaid, the fireflies were tiny, glowing fish, and the grass was coral that swayed gently in the ocean current.
But she knew the dew would already have started to form on the grass. It would get her favorite red slip-on shoes all wet. If she went barefoot, her feet would wrinkle and prune and then the touch of anything against them would be too much.
“Brown dog, don’t!” she yelled. He lifted his head and wagged his tail. He wasn’t doing anything bad. She just wanted to hear her own voice against the muffled sound of the TV inside.
She stared at the peach seed in the palm of her hand. It looked like an almond. A tiny bite was missing. She lay her hand across her stomach, feeling for something that might be happening inside.
She wouldn’t have taken a bite of the peach seed if she had a swimming pool. If she had a pool, she could really play Under the Ocean. She could get one of those masks the people on the nature shows wore. Brown Dog couldn’t play then, but that was okay. If she had a pool, she wouldn’t have climbed the barbed-wire fence and got the cut on the inside of her thigh that needed stitches. She wouldn’t have broken her wrist jumping out of the treehouse. She wouldn’t have taken a bite of the peach seed that she was now certain was poisonous.
If her parents yelled for her, she’d tell them. She’d wrap the peach seed tight in her hand and walk into the living room. “I took a bite of this,” she would say. “A really tiny one. And I spit most of it out.” She would stand in the middle of the living room floor, like being on stage for her piano recital all alone. All the attention would be on her. Her dad would turn the TV off at last. “It’s too late to go to the hospital,” she would tell them. “But I’m pretty sure I’m going to die.”
“Brown Dog,” she whispered. He beat his tail once against the wood of the deck and then rolled over onto his back, waiting for her to rub his belly. “Brown Dog, you’ll have to get by without me,” she said. She ran her hand along his soft underside. “Will you miss me, Brown Dog?”
Robyn Ryle started life in one small town in Kentucky and ended up in another just down the river in southern Indiana. She has a chapbook, The Face of Baseball, as well as stories in CALYX Journal, Midwestern Gothic, Paper Darts, and WhiskeyPaper, among others. You can find her on Twitter, @RobynRyle.