Everyone was lined up to watch. We’d waited months. Cassie sat beside me on the curb as her dad revved the engine of his bike. Ready. All eight cars from the night’s derby were bumper-to-tail in front of him like a canyon. He had cleared seven in Wichita once, but never eight. Cassie’s step-mother, Luann had refused to show.
Cassie and I both wore shirts with a graphic of him soaring through the air. He signed them earlier that day, laughed and apologized that he was out of the smaller sizes. “Christ sake, those look like dresses on you two...” Walking away, we’d sniffed the signatures as they dried.
We sat beneath a streetlight, waiting for the jump. Our white shirts glowed. Her knees were tucked into hers like huge tits, she looked down at them and smiled at me. “Hope mine never get this big.” She made jokes when she was nervous.
Her dad turned the throttle again, ZRRAANG....ZRRAANG. Carnival lights went woozy in storefront windows as they shook. He took a last look at the ramp and then retreated to the end of the block for his approach. He was the coolest guy I had ever seen.
My dad was on stage with the rest of the band and they all started banging away on their instruments. He was on drums. It was their first original tune all night, a rabid, crescendoed free-for-all. The engine screamed through its gears down the street toward us. The band stopped on my dad’s cue as the front tire reached the foot of the ramp. Our hearts beat into our ears. Eight cars.
Cassie knew before anyone else. She realized Luann was right. That eight was too many. She pulled her knees from her shirt and sprinted toward where he would crash land, feet from where his helmet split against the street.
After that he was different of course. The bones eventually healed but his head never did. No more state fairs, no more jumps. And Cassie was different too. She threw away all those shirts because no one wanted them anymore, especially her. They sold his motorcycles to pay the hospital bills.
He would shuffle through neighborhoods, never lifting his feet. Sometimes barely dressed. People whispered in their yards about him until it wasn’t interesting anymore. Finally he took a shotgun into the basement and finished what the crash had started. The police took most of the mess away, but the blood was still there. Shards of bone were left behind too, some stuck in the ceiling tiles even.
I heard my dad screaming into the phone the next day, furious. “Because I would’ve done it myself, Frank, for fuck’s sake!!!” He came out of the kitchen, eyes wet, shaking his head. “That poor girl...’’ They’d let Cassie clean it all up herself because she and Luann couldn’t afford someone else.
I followed Cassie down to the creek behind the funeral home. She lifted her dress over the tall grass along the bank. The first time I’d seen her in a dress, or a necklace.
She took off her shoes and put them on a large rock, then stepped in. She bent down and caught a few tadpoles in her cupped hands. That time of year there were thousands of them. We’d collected them together as little kids.
“Lonesome in numbers...” I didn’t know if she was talking to me or the things squiggling around in her hands. She looked up. “It’s something my dad used to say. That there are so many people it can make you lonely sometimes. Like these things...just too many of them to mean anything. C’mere...”
She let the tadpoles go and took off her necklace. It was a delicate gold chain with a dull, white pendant shaped like an arrowhead. “Gimme your hand.” She pressed the sharp edge of it against her palm and drew blood. I asked her what it was. “A shark tooth. My dad gave it to me.” It didn’t look like any shark tooth I’d seen. I gave her my hand. She squeezed hers hard against it and I felt our blood mix. We watched it drip from our hands and disappear into the water.
She asked me if it hurt and I shook my head no. I looked at her and saw she was crying. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a shark tooth between our palms; it was bone.