BY SARAH McEACHERN
The Proctors lived at the center of the east cul-de-sac and Abby lived almost a half mile away, at the center of the west cul-de-sac. Everest Street bisected the two. When Abby got off from babysitting on Thursday nights, she walked in a straight line from the Proctors’ house to hers. It rained practically all of September, so Mr. Proctor started driving Abby home from babysitting. The third time he drove her through the cul-de-sacs, he pulled into her driveway, put the car in park, and Abby took her seatbelt off. Then, she reached over and took his off, leaving her hand between his legs. Eventually, his penis, which she described as hard and thick, ended up in her mouth. She told us it tasted like skin. We all thought this an incredibly simplistic answer. “Sweaty skin,” she finally said.
He told her to come over when there was no one home—Mrs. Proctor and their boys gone. They watched a movie together, and then he asked her to undress in front of him. Abby did. She told us everything about what they did together and encouraged us to do the same. She told us how good it felt.
Usually, she told us these things at sleepovers, or on the walk back from the bus stop, in the halls at school. Between the two cul-de-sacs there were fifteen girls. We were together all the time. Abby unclothed herself in Elena’s old, outgrown playhouse and showed us the purple splotches Mr. Proctor’s ravenous mouth left on her.
“Do you feel any different?” asked Lizzie.
“Not at all,” Abby said. “Maybe a little less depressed.”
Emily was next. She had sex with Timmy in his basement when he was supposed to be playing video games, and she was supposed to be watching him play video games. Emily had been trying to make Timmy her boyfriend since he’d moved across the street from her five years ago. She said that after they did it, she no longer felt anything romantic towards him. “It was like I realized that I didn’t want Timmy. I just wanted that,” she said. Like Abby, she encouraged us to get busy.
Abby was incredibly busy. She had her babysitting, her honor roll, volunteer reading buddies at the elementary school, and now Mr. Proctor. He begged her every second for more attention with an intensity that scared us and thrilled Abby. Rendezvous in the parked cars in the Proctors’ garage, once in Elena’s treehouse, often in the woods behind the cul-de-sacs. We’d see her out the windows walking back, and we’d gather to hear the details. In Abby’s downstairs family room, in Julie’s unfinished basement, in Elena’s treehouse, in the woods. We’d volunteer to be Mr. Proctor, and Abby would show us their positions. We’d wrap ourselves around Abby’s body and try to invent new possibilities.
Emily’s sister, Connie, was next. She was a year older than Emily, and two years older than Abby. She was supposed to go to college during the fall but ended up deferring a year instead. When we all went back to school, she spent a lot of time in her room, lamenting her birth and writing moody poetry. She read it to us every so often, called us children, and picked on Emily with a cruelty reserved for older sisters.
“This is awful,” she told Abby when we were messing around after dark on Janine’s playset in her backyard. Connie was on the swings, Abby was lying on the ground talking about Mr. Proctor, and the rest of us were just listening. “You’re disgusting,” Connie said.
“No, I’m not,” Abby replied, immediately on her feet. Her hair was long and fell out of her ponytail as she stood up, making her look ethereal and demonic at once.
“He’s married,” Connie reminded Abby. As if we didn’t know this, as if we didn’t live in the same neighborhood.
“He’s miserable,” Abby said. “He tells me all about how he hates his wife, how he hates his job, how everyone here is full of shit.”
Connie snorted and shook her head. We waited for her to say something, but there was nothing. She got up and left. As we watched her walk away, Abby said that Connie would probably be fine if she just got fucked.
The next night, Wednesday night, Connie fucked our youth pastor. We all knew Pastor Kirby because our parents carpooled us to youth group together, except the Parthy sisters, Sofia and Michelle, because they were Catholic. Pastor Kirby was young, maybe twenty-five, not particularly cute but charming. He really wanted to know how you were doing and try to help you in any way he can. Which was how Connie ended up in his office after youth group, crying about putting off college and not knowing what she was going to do with her life. After having sex with him on top of his desk, she told us she was filled with a new desire to be alive.
“Abby was right,” Connie said, “we should all be doing this.”
School became unbearable again in mid-October, and we were ready for some fun. Abby assured us that by Halloween, by November first, we should have all done it. We were on board, with the exception of Sofia, who remained unsure and devout (she only took off her purity ring when she showered). We started to plan who we wanted. Everyone from the cul-de-sacs went to our high school, plus Abby had opened our minds to possibilities beyond just boys from school. Heather decided she wanted Jessica’s divorced father, much to Jessica’s disdain, who decided that she wanted Heather’s brother. Older or younger, she wasn’t sure yet. After Connie, Sam decided she wanted her guidance counselor, who was by coincidence also Alicia and Bethany’s guidance counselor. Alicia and Bethany also wanted him.
“You can all have him,” Abby said, while lying on the floor of Bethany’s TV room. “It’s not like we have to cut him in half so you can each have a part. Just take turns. Or all at once.”
All of it was strategy. Like Emily told us, she had thought she wanted a boyfriend, but then she realized she had only wanted to have sex, something we previously thought was inaccessible without a boyfriend. No one wanted to be in love, not even Abby.
“Of course, I’m not in love with him,” Abby said, “he’s old. And he has kids. I’m too young to be a stepmom. I watch them every Thursday and that’s enough for me.”
Once Connie and Emily had done it, they wanted to wait for the rest of us to do it again. Abby was different from us like that: Mr. Proctor was ongoing. We would watch her zone out in math class knowing where her mind was headed, wondering about fingers or toes or backwards. She would spend the week thinking about new things, only for them to finally meet up, when he would cry for Abby and her youthful willingness. There was a part of it, no matter how many times she explained it to us, which remained unknown, untouched.
“I can be done with it anytime,” Abby said, and then laughed. “I mean, I can be done with him anytime.”
We knew she wasn’t in love with him, but she went back again and again. He texted her constantly, begging her all day while she was at school, only to flake at the last moment, having forgotten there was one of the boys’ baseball games to go to, a birthday party to attend, a work event. Other times, he’d call her screaming, demanding to know why she wasn’t there, and she would scream back into her phone no matter where we were, in Tiffany’s kitchen, in Bethany’s bedroom, in Elena’s treehouse, walking back from the bus stop with a group of us.
She went, even when he made her mad. “It can be better when you want to kill each other,” she advised, “because then you’re so mad you try to kill him while you’re doing it, which makes it really good, let me tell you.”
She did tell us. She told us everything. What it felt to smell him under her nails, what it was like to have sex in his king-size bed, how hard he got for her, the time she got it in her eye and went to dinner with it swollen. Her mother insisted she go to the pediatrician for pink eye the next day.
The more she told us, the bolder we became. Bethany, easily the smallest and meekest of us, was next. It wasn’t her guidance counselor, like she first said it was going to be, but instead one of the Smithers boys, who lived on the corner before Everest Street separated the cul-de-sacs. There were five of them and she had the middle boy, Alvin, who was sixteen like her. He offered to walk her home from the bus stop because she was carrying a huge French dictionary that day for French class, which she shared with Alvin. He was behind in that class, lost beyond lost, and she offered to help him.
Later she told us this was when she decided. Like a bird of prey, she swooped in at just the right moment. The third time he got stuck on a conjugation at her kitchen table, she stood up next to him. In one seamless action, her shirt and cotton bra were on the floor, and Alvin reacted on instinct, she said. It was like he was ready for it. He had never done it before, he told her afterward. Bethany told us that he was a good boy, must have been raised right, because he helped her clean off the kitchen table with a wet washcloth.
Halloween was a week away, and we set our sights on it. Elena, who had long hair that fell to her ass, volunteered to be the bait. She could have had her pick of anyone she wanted, but she said that she wanted to go last. To be the caboose. She wanted it to be someone who never felt like they could have her. We thought it was noble of her, and we laughed. The rest of us were scooping them up as they came to us. Heather did it in a ditch walking back from soccer practice with Jessica’s brother, Charlie. She dared him to follow her down the embankment.
Because it wasn’t always this easy for everyone, Elena told the boys to meet us in the woods at midnight on Halloween. Back behind the cul-de-sac, in fact right behind Abby’s house, was the woods, a vast wasteland never patrolled by adults. When Abby and Mr. Proctor went there, she led him by the hand, past the tree that was struck by lightning, past the place where the creek forked, to the left, to the meadow in the middle of the woods. Here, Elena told the boys, we would be hosting a bonfire on Halloween.
Mr. Proctor was in love with Abby. She knew, and she told us all. She knew because of his actions and because he told her frequently, texting her at all hours. She had made him wake up from what he called “our cul-de-sac of lies.” Life was in her loins; this was something he said to her once when they were having sex in the back of his parked car in his garage. He asked her for a lock of her hair, which he must have meant as a romantic gesture. Abby found it pathetic. Some of us found it beautiful, heartfelt, something out of a costume drama we watched with our mothers. Abby had beautiful long hair, which fell in curls all down her back, thick and unmistakable. She gave him a tiny lock to please him. She told him it was stupid when she handed it over. Eventually, she gave him one of her wisdom teeth from when she had them out in the spring. Abby didn’t tell us if Mr. Proctor found this gothically romantic, or even how he reacted.
Either way, she told us she was nearly ready to break it off with him. It was always the same way. Clothes, lingering while taking off her bra, breasts, nipples, going from her breastbone to her pubic bone, only lingering lower if there was a special occasion, here she was expected to go lower, then inside her until he came. She felt her youth stifled when he told her garbage about wanting to settle down with her. “He went from a cul-de-sac of lies to us together in his house,” she told us through slits of eyes. “He’s ridiculous.”
We planned for the bonfire on Halloween night. There were recently successful converts: Tiffany (Max from biology, then, twenty minutes later, his twin brother Stanley, also from biology), Alicia (her father’s college best friend, who visited their family and stayed the night at their house), and Michelle (the mailman). But for those who hadn’t yet, the bonfire was the focus. News of the event, although not our desirous goals, had spread. All of our high school, and the smaller high school in the west of our district, as well as most of the middle school, had heard of our bonfire. Something big would happen, we all stressed. Details were not given.
We were all too old for Halloween, and according to our parents, also too young to venture farther away. The woods were considered perfectly fine though, because of their proximity to the cul-de-sacs. We did our time in our entryways, dishing out Halloween candy and ensuring no one threw eggs at our houses, while our parents went to their work-related Halloween parties in their boring offices.
Mr. Proctor found a reason not to walk up Abby’s driveway. His kids knocked on her door and received individually packaged Milky Way and Snickers bars from their longtime babysitter. Mrs. Proctor went up with the boys, and Abby played her part. After we were all discharged from our trick-or-treating details and in the woods together, past the tree that was struck by lightning, past the place where the creek forks, to the left, in the meadow in the middle of the woods, making a clearing around our bonfire pit, Abby told us how furious she was with him. “He can’t just decide when this is going on and when it’s not,” she screamed. We were trying to pay attention to her, but for a lot of us, this was our night. Abby had gotten so much out of Mr. Proctor, and there were so many of us who were still waiting for the right moment.
Abby helped us for a long time. She was an expert fire maker, and she showed us how to use the pine needles for kindling, adding small sticks until we could get to full-fledged logs. She gave us suggestions: how long to wait, how many should show up before we made ourselves known, how dark it should be, when we should all scream. She told us to enjoy ourselves and then slinked off, away from us. We didn’t notice while we waited for the boys.
They came one by one at dusk, trickling in. We were sitting around the bonfire, feeling our skin warm from its heat. They sat next to us and we chatted with them. Nothing happened until about 11:30 or so, when we all decided we had hit peak attendance. Some of the boys had brought beer, and one or two had brought pot. The bonfire became our only light. We left one by one, sometimes two girls at once. The boys stayed where we wanted them to, around the bonfire. They thought we were peeing together in the woods in groups. In fact, we were stripping down, erratically undressing, our fingers humming with energy. We didn’t take the time to fold anything, just threw our clothes on bushes and tree limbs and on the dirty forest floor.
We came out all at once. The boys were completely taken off guard. Their eyes grew wide, their jaws slack. We could tell they wanted us. Most of them stayed put, but Evan Wilson stood right up and reached for Rebecca, who in an action so natural and smooth, laid herself down on the forest floor for him. Others simply moved on top of the boys. Elena came out of the woods last, her long hair covering her breasts like a mermaid out of water. She was the one all the boys had come for when she asked them to meet us here. She walked in front of those already partnered and chose Steven Phillpees, small and round, who never expected to be chosen by any girl, let alone Elena. She took his hand and put it on her breast. When he gave her his other hand, she put it lower. This was the signal, this exchange, Elena choosing a partner, and we all broke off, traded, moved around in the dirt in front of the bonfire, deeper in the woods, or like Sofia, bent over a log. One or two of the boys just took off running, leaving behind whatever sweatshirts they had draped on the ground to sit on.
The woods were moist and a humidity clung to the air. There was the bonfire’s smell and the sweat from our bodies. The boys were groggy-eyed, and we dressed, laughing and putting our clothes on, sounding like witches in the woods. We returned to the cul-de-sacs.
It was dark, probably about one or two in the morning, and we returned with the boys as one. Most of us were marked, hickeys or scrapes or other bruises, leaves in our hair. Our bodies covered with a sheen of sweat even though the night had gotten colder. The wind blew in and gave us a chill, and we understood that November had begun.
The cul-de-sac was lined with squad cars, at least fifteen of them, two ambulances, and a fire truck. We figured at first they were there because of us. We had just left, both our houses and our parents. Some of us had written notes, but not all. We walked underneath the yellow tape that cut off our entrance to the cul-de-sac and came prepared to apologize for our disappearance in the woods. We would not provide details, simply that it had gone too far, gotten out of control, we hadn’t asked anyone to bring pot or beer, but it had showed up and one thing had led to another.
That is when we saw her, when the squad cars and the crime tape made sense. Abby in the middle of Everest Street, one side of her body flattened and red on the street, the other the way it usually was. We stood in disbelief, then started to wail.
She had come back to confront Mr. Proctor. This was the official beginning of the altercation, according to the police, according to what ended up in newspaper articles and what came out in court documents in the months and years after. She was saying everything she could think of on the Proctors’ doorstep, and at such an obscene volume other neighbors were opening their doors, asking if everything was alright. Mr. Proctor said that she seemed insane, babbling incoherently, completely erratic. The word he used in his deposition was “violent,” although the jury had a hard time buying that, since Mr. Proctor was a forty-two-year-old former college quarterback for Notre Dame and Abby was seventeen years old and 115 pounds.
He didn’t want her in the house, and Mrs. Proctor was upstairs putting the boys to sleep. They ended up in the garage, one of their former rendezvous locations. Knowledge of the affair came to light following the incident. Abby’s diary was a key piece of courtroom evidence, as were logs of her texts the phone company handed over. Abby’s phone had been in her pocket when Mr. Proctor drove over her with the family SUV, his children’s car seats still in the back. Her phone, like her, had been smashed to pieces and destroyed.
The prospect of Abby and Mr. Proctor having illicit sex all over our community, in our backyards, in our playhouse, in the woods in full view of the houses, was too much for many of our parents, and they packed up and left. Others were worried about the lasting grief. Some of us left with our parents. Our houses were filled up by new people or left empty on the cul-de-sacs. Abby’s parents left in the middle of the night and we woke up to her house vacant.
We tried to do what we could to remember her. Mrs. Proctor had gone to live in her mother’s house, Mr. Proctor to the penitentiary, and their house was for sale, although no one would buy it. We knew where the spare key was, and we went inside in order to find Abby’s wisdom tooth. It was dark and our numbers were down, since Sofia and Michelle were already gone by then, moved to another place with their parents. Elena led the pack, as if she were our new leader. Connie cried quietly behind us.
The house was dark inside, empty entirely. Their furniture was gone. We had no clue where Mr. Proctor would have kept her tooth. The story the way Abby had told us now seemed discombobulated and not completely true. Something was left out, we realized now. We walked through all the rooms in the house. The boys’ playroom, their bedrooms, Mr. and Mrs. Proctor’s bedroom. We sat on the deck in the dark after we had given up.
“Maybe he buried it,” Emily said.
“He kept her hair in his sock drawer,” Elena reminded us. It had been entered into evidence, and was now sitting in a box in the basement of some country building for the rest of time. “It was here somewhere.”
“It’s like she was never here,” Connie said. The house felt like no one had ever lived there, much less Abby had once been alive within it, making mac and cheese for the boys, watching TV while waiting for the Proctors to come home, having sex with Mr. Proctor in the garage, in the bedroom, on the floor of the boys’ playroom. It was like all of it had evaporated the moment she was gone.
But she was real, and she had done those things. She had been in our cul-de-sacs. Abby’s death was not a full stop to anything. What it did was fill us with fear. We continued to do as she had taught us, instructed us, encouraged us, but we did it in secret, moving our craft into clandestine places, practiced only with others who had been sworn to secrecy.
Sarah McEachern reads and writes in Brooklyn, NY. Her recent work has been published or is forthcoming in Five2One’s #thesideshow, Potluck Mag, The Menteur, Entropy, and The Spectucle’s The Revue. She was formerly the co-founder and editor of Broken Yolk, Sarah Lawrence College’s alternative literary magazine. She is currently a fellow with Wendy’s Subway, a non-profit reading and writing space.
Photo by Chuttersnap on Unsplash
Published January 13th, 2019