Clothes hanging on a line.
And sheets, and towels. Covering.
The naked girl, like a scavenging animal, had crouched below the rise, observing the big farmhouse for an hour now, wondering if anyone was home. It was only a few hundred feet away, on the other side of a straight two-lane highway. “State Route 463”. “Thornhill 8 Miles”. The occasional car whizzed by, the occasional truck. Parked in the driveway was an big Chevy. A big metal mailbox, with the name “G Kaplan”. The house was surrounded by overgrown bushes and vines. She guessed that retired people lived there. Definitely no signs of children.
It was now late afternoon. She had walked most of the day before this lonely house came into view. The sight of clothing flapping on a line could only be gripping to the long-naked girl. She licked her lips. And then looked around. This was not untamed prairie here. There was a field of corn, now high and getting brown, a few hundred yards to her right. There were other fields stretching out into the distance, most of them mowed, maybe wheat or something that had been harvested, though Tami had only a vague idea about such things.
Now she heard a faint buzzing behind her. Way off near the horizon, a little airplane was flying low to the ground. A crop duster, she guessed. And someone who could see her if it came this way. She saw it turn toward her. Thinking fast, the naked girl ran the several hundred feet, hoping she wasn’t being spotted, tough soles flattening the chopped-off stumps of thick grain, and plunged into the forest of corn stalks, the soft leaves flapping against her breasts and thighs.
She penetrated about twenty feet in and hid. Then she wondered if she had made a big mistake. That little plane: would she now get dusted with some pesticide? She tentatively stuck her head up through the corn. No, the plane didn’t come near, apparently doing its work on the mowed fields beyond. Odd, crop dusting where there weren’t any crops. Behind her, the buzzing slowly died away into inaudibility.
She crouched down again. All around her was a forest of corn, big floppy leaves that shook gently with the wind and caressed her butt and shoulders and knees. And looked up to see three husks right in her face. She smiled. God had been keeping her away from clothes for some reason but was making sure she didn’t starve. She peeled off the husks and ate. It was sweet and delicious, better than any cooked corn. Maybe from now on she would eat corn raw.
Now she became aware of bugs descending on her. She crept to the edge of the corn to where she could see the farmhouse. Looking back, seeing the crop duster was far away, she dashed back to behind the rise. What should she do? Steal the clothing off the line in broad daylight? Knock on the door? She decided it was best to wait for darkness. It would increase her options.
The sun was about to set. Now a creaky old car, maybe a Studebaker vintage 1959 or so, came down a side road across the highway from behind another stand of corn. It stopped at the corner. An old lady got out, carrying a bag which she set down. She looked dressed up in an old-lady kind of way, complete with flowered hat, dark green dress, black nylons. The car left and she waited. This was apparently a bus stop.
Tami smiled as the old lady took out a cell phone. I’ve got to stop judging people by appearances. This lady was all 21st century.
It got dark. The naked observer’s eyes adjusted to the light. The lady sat down on her bag, then used her cell phone again. Tami guessed she was calling whoever was expecting her to say the bus was late.
And now a big truck came whooshing by.
The truck, a huge semi, blew down the stretch of dark highway, blowing its horn as it quickly receded into the distance and disappeared over a faraway rise. The blast of air that was its wake was felt even by the naked girl, hundreds of feet away. Soon all was silent and then she recognized what had just happened.
A gutteral grunt, audible to the sharp ears of the naked scavenger. As her eyes focused she saw the dark crumpled figure on the ground and realized the truck had hit the old lady.
Tami gulped and hesitated only for a second. The crumpled form was barely moving. Trying to forget her nudity, she bounded over the rise and crossed the road, her bare feet softly slapping on the asphalt still warm from the recently set sun, and knelt over the injured woman. The lady’s face was to the ground. “Ma’am?” she said, setting a firm grasp on the woman’s shoulder to let her know someone was there.
“Oh God -- please -- ” The lady tried to roll toward Tami but winced in pain. Tami tried to see where she was hit but she didn’t want to risk moving her. She spied the cell phone which had been thrown to the gravelly road shoulder and grabbed it. Thank God, it was not broken. She dialed 911. “Police? Emergency here. A lady got hit by a truck on” -- she stood up and looked at the signs -- “Route 463, 8 miles west of Thornhill. Outside the house of G. Kaplan.” She looked down to the crumpled form. “She looks badly hurt. Please hurry!”
“O.K.,” said a nervous voice. “Is the other vehicle still there?”
“No,” Tami said, looking down the road, her voice choking with anger. “I don’t think he knows he hit her. He just drove on.” She wished she could have gotten the guy’s license plate, the bastard.
After a pause the voice said, “We have an ambulance free. We’ll be there inside of ten minutes. Is she bleeding?”
Tami said, “I can’t tell. I’m afraid to touch her. It’s too dark to see.”
“Do you have anything to cover her with? Like a blanket?”
“Um. . . no.”
“Just stay with her and hold her hand. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Now what? The naked girl knelt over the old lady again and found her skinny wrinkled hand and held it tightly. “Please try to hang on, Ma’am. The ambulance will be here in less than ten minutes.”
The lady tried to speak, then swallowed. “Lord -- something on that truck -- caught my hip . . . Thank you . . .”
Tami held the hand, and rubbed it. She didn’t know anything about emergency medicine, she didn’t know what to do. She prayed, please God, don’t let this lady die. She asked, “Can you breathe all right?” Hoping the answer would be “yes”.
“Yes,” she said, “it just hurts on my hip.” Tami exhaled a little; it seemed like maybe it was only a glancing blow and the lady would end up O.K. The lady turned her head and looked down at her leg and, bracing it with her hand, moved it slightly with a grunt. “I don’t think anything’s broken.” Then she looked up at the teenage girl who had saved her life and her eyes widened. In a weak but surprised voice she said, “Good Jesus, girl, where are your clothes?”
Tami swallowed, still kneeling on one knee, still holding the lady’s hand. She wanted to cover herself but besides being awkward, it seemed self-centered and petty to worry about. After all, this lady’s life was in danger. Seeing the lady wanted an answer, Tami said, “Don’t worry about me. I care about YOU. I want YOU to be all right. Please be all right!” She squeezed the clammy hand.
The old lady winced again and lay her head down on the road. She seemed to be trying to breathe evenly. “Go get some clothes on you.”
Tami looked around. The impact had thrown the lady into the lane of traffic. In her dark clothes she was all but invisible in the dark. Tami would have to stay and wave off the cars. “I wish I could move you,” she said. But that would be dangerous. But more dangerous than lying here to be run over by the next truck? What to do!
The teenage girl’s dilemma was solved by an approaching pickup truck which had quite naturally slowed down after noticing from afar what looked like a naked girl in its high beams. As it got close and Tami found her nakedness in its headlights, with an ambulance and probably the police to arrive any minute, there was only one desperate thing to do. She gave the lady’s hand a final squeeze and put it down, then bent down to give her a little kiss on the cheek. She whispered, “Get better.” And then darted back to the barren field as fast as she could.
Two men in cowboy hats got down from the pickup. They had noticed the injured woman and one went down to her, while the other made a motion toward the dark field where the naked girl had run -- did I really see that?? -- before glancing back at the farmhouse, after which he went over to join his partner.
Tami rolled down into the little valley through the sticks and dirt, then stayed there, curled up in a ball, holding her feet, listening. Then, like a soldier emerging from a foxhole, she crawled up on her belly to her old lookout spot on the edge of the rise. She had a thought of bolting back into the corn field, but then the ambulance came and then the police. She might be seen if she tried that now. After a few minutes they had put the lady on a stretcher and everyone had left, even, somewhat to Tami’s surprise, the pickup truck.
Tami put her head down onto the dirt. Please God, let that lady be all right. She kind of thought she would be, but it made Tami sad to realize she would never know.
Once again, the naked girl looked across at the farmhouse, now more dully and with less interest. There was a light downstairs; people were home. And now, floodlights went on all around it, illuminating the sheets and clothes on the line and bringing the shaken girl’s attention back to her intense desire for covering. Once again she licked her lips, looking at those clothes.
A stern-looking old woman came out with a basket and started taking the clothes and sheets down. Tami wanted to jump out and say No! No!, but that would make her look like a crazy naked girl and the mental health people would be called.
Tami tried to take her mind off the accident and focus on getting into those clothes. Or ANY clothes those folks had. She decided to let the lady finish up and then go over and knock on the front door. Minutes passed. Tami got on all fours like the naked animal that she was. Then she started to stand up, noticing that her body was all dusty and scratched from rolling around in the dirt, then gingerly rose further to expose her nakedness to the harsh light of the floodlights. This was not going to be easy. If they were looking this way, the sight of the brightly lit naked girl approaching their house would explode like a flashbulb right in their faces.
The naked teenager ran to the highway and then, suddenly getting cold feet, cut left and ran into a stand of corn to the side of the house. It was then that the dogs started barking. She peeked up over the tops of the corn. From her new angle she saw a pen in the back yard, lit by yet another floodlight, filled with yelping dogs. Three or four big dobermans. Tami began to get a bad feeling about these folks, a feeling which certainly did not improve when a tall man came out with a rifle.
And, after looking around, including taking a look at the stand of corn Tami was in, he fired a shot into the air.
Tami froze, horrified. She could barely see the man through the thicket of corn, but that meant that maybe he could see her too. She stayed absolutely motionless, holding her breath. The man looked around again. He had a funny kind of soldier hat, which (though the teenage Rhode Island native did not know such things) was a replica of a Confederate Army cap. She did recognize the stars and bars. Tami found herself praying another urgent prayer, this asking that she not be shot at. Being naked made her vulnerability twice as acute. Please . . .
The man turned back inside. Tami waited for the dogs’ yelping to die down. She tried to think of how to escape. She had forgotten all about clothes; the only thing on her mind now was to save her bare skin. She looked around at the leafy stalks that lay against her nipples and butt cheeks and thighs. It had been a big mistake to hide out here in the corn. The slightest move would make a sound and set off the dogs again.
She gulped and did the only thing she could -- run away in the opposite direction as fast as she could. Keeping her head down, she flung her way through the corn in the darkness, trying to see where she put her feet, pushing the stalks aside with her hands. In the distance behind her she heard dogs and then gunshots, relegated to the back of her consciousness by the adrenalin that helped her run, until a bullet zinged by to her left. “No - no - no - no - “ she whimpered, running faster, not caring any more if husks and stalks hit her in the face or rocks and sticks bruised her bare feet.
Fortunately the ground descended a bit and she was out of the line of fire. She kept running. She came to a clearing and straightened up and sprinted, going into her old track team pace, bent arms pumping, long strides, trying to measure her breathing to maximize her endurance.
Blessedly there was a stand of trees about a quarter mile ahead. The naked girl flew into them and then leaned against a big trunk, panting, the heaving of her concave tummy. She looked back. There was no sound. She saw no lights as if from a vehicle going after her. Indeed, by now the highway was far away and out of sight. She was back in nature, away from people. Squatting down, putting her head between her knees, she let go and started crying with relief, the awareness of what she had been through sinking in.