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#126

Chippertwig Nights



            Corbin’s grandparents had been spending their summers at Chippertwig Campground since before he was born. They had a mobile home on a choice lot that they would have happily lived in year-round if the campground didn’t shut off the water between October 1st and May 1st to keep the pipes from freezing. Chippertwig Campground was huge. Corbin didn’t know how huge, exactly, but it was big enough to get lost in, especially at night when you could just hop into a golf cart and drive the winding gravel roads past tents and campers and RVs and pop-ups and trailer homes and public bathrooms and pavilions and supply sheds for what felt like hours. Chippertwig was sprawled along the Western bank of Lake Banquist and the Runoff River and it was a mere twenty-minute drive from Corbin’s house in Multioak. Corbin had grown up staying with his grandparents at the campground for days at a time once summer vacation started, sleeping on the lumpy couch in the living room or in a one-man tent in the yard by the fire pit.

                It was at Chippertwig Campground that Corbin had met Lola when they were both 14. Lola’s family was from a town three hours to the South and they only came up to the campground four or five weekends every summer. They had an old camper that they towed behind Lola’s dad’s truck and the lot they always reserved was just around the corner from Corbin’s grandparents’ lot. Corbin and Lola had revealed their mutual crushes on each other within the first two hours of having met. Ever since, whenever they were both at the campground, they were a couple. Away from the campground, their relationship was harder to pin down. For one thing, they did not keep in touch. For another thing, Corbin sometimes went days or weeks without thinking about Lola, especially during months like November and March. And for yet another thing, during the summer after Corbin graduated from high school, on an early summer Saturday in Chippertwig Campground just before noon, he walked from his grandparents’ mobile home down to Lola’s family’s lot and discovered that since the last time he’d seen Lola, she’d gotten pregnant and given birth to a baby girl.

                Lola, in yellow shorts and a light t-shirt, sat in a lawn chair under the camper’s awning and bounced the baby on her knee. A shirtless man who looked to be in his late 20s sat on the grass next to Lola and played with his phone.  He wore baggy black denim shorts, his baseball cap was tipped back on his head, and a thin beard lined his jaw. He had no tattoos, which struck Corbin as odd.

                “This is Lolanna,” said Lola, turning the baby around and holding her up so Corbin could see her face.

                “Hello,” said Corbin, waving his hand to draw the baby’s attention. Lolanna’s eyes focused somewhere off to Corbin’s right. He couldn’t tell if she was unaware of him or intentionally snubbing him.

                “And this is Bryant,” said Lola, tilting her head sideways at the guy beside her on the ground. “He’s the father.”

                “I’m her boyfriend,” said Bryant, looking up from his phone. His face almost expressed something, but he stifled it before Corbin could tell what it was going to be.

                “Have you ever been here before?” asked Corbin.

                “No,” said Bryant. “Lola told me I wouldn’t like it, but I decided to come along anyway. I like it so far. Seems relaxing. Pool looks nice. I like mini-golf.”

                “There are two pools,” said Lola. “And the lake.” She looked at Corbin and rolled her eyes at Bryant’s ignorance.

                “Where are your parents?” asked Corbin.

                “They took the golf cart to the office to get some ice,” said Lola. “They’ve been gone for a while. They should be back soon. You should stick around so you can say ‘hi.’”

                “That’s OK,” said Corbin. “I’m sure I’ll see them around.” His sweaty feet made the tops of his flip-flops slippery. “So I’m guessing you guys are going to the teen dance together tonight?”

                “Bryant can’t go,” said Lola. “The cutoff is 18 and he’s 19.”

                “So you’re going to miss your last chance for a Chippertwig teen dance?” Most of the sympathy in Corbin’s voice was for Lola, but he also felt plenty sorry for himself.

                “I guess so,” said Lola. “I hadn’t thought about it that way. That’s so sad. Are you going?”

                “Um, I don’t know,” said Corbin. “There’s not really anybody to go with.” He had assumed he’d be attending the teen dance with Lola, but since she wasn’t available, he supposed he wouldn’t go either. There were other girls around, but he’d only ever gone to the Chippertwig teen dances with Lola. If she wasn’t there, the dance wouldn’t feel right anyway, so why bother?

                “I could say I’m 18,” said Bryant. “I look young. What’re they gonna do, check my ID?”

                “That won’t work,” said Lola, scowling at Bryant. “You’d get us both kicked out. It’d be humiliating.” Bryant shrugged. He did not seem concerned about whether or not he or anyone went to the teen dance.

                Corbin wondered where Bryant had gotten the idea that he looked young.

                “Well,” said Corbin. “I’m going to take off. I’ll see you guys around.”

                “Bye, Corbin,” said Lola, flashing him a very pretty smile. “Say bye-bye to Corbin, Lolanna.” Neither Lolanna nor Bryant even looked at Corbin as he turned and walked back down the gravel road to his grandparents’ mobile home.

 

                An hour later, Corbin sat on the couch in his grandparents’ living room reading a college football preview from the previous year and scoffing at the wrongness of its predictions. He’d left the front door open and he heard golf carts whirring past and the chatter of children headed to and from the nearest swimming pool. Every once in a while, he’d hear a Chippertwig Campground security guard pass by in one of their blue pick-up trucks or the sound of new arrivals maneuvering their vehicles along the narrow roads with extreme caution, terrified of running over someone’s toddler or terrier.

                When Corbin heard footsteps coming up the front walk and onto the porch, he assumed his grandmother was back from her card game at the gazebo by the beach, but then there was a knock on the screen door and a girl’s voice said, “Corbin? Are you in there?”

Corbin jumped up and went to the door, ushering Lola inside. “I thought you were my grandma. Where’s your boyfriend? And your baby?”

“They’re back at the camper,” said Lola. “My mom’s watching Lolanna. But I have good news. Bryant says it’s fine with him if you and I go to the dance together. Isn’t that great? It’ll be just like before.”

“He really doesn’t care?” Corbin was excited, but he was also a little scared of Bryant.

“Well, he cares, but I talked him into it.” Lola smiled and smiled. “I didn’t think we’d really get a chance to go, but I packed a dress for the occasion just in case. I’m so glad I did!”

“I am too,” said Corbin. “But you could go dressed like that and I wouldn’t mind. You look really good.”

“You’re just saying that ‘cause you haven’t seen the dress,” said Lola. “Pick me up at 9?”

“9, OK,” said Corbin. “I’ll see if grandpa’ll let me use the good golf cart.”

“I’m so happy!” said Lola. She looked it.

 

Corbin’s grandfather let him use the good golf cart. It was bigger than the other golf cart and it had a radio which was permanently set to Saddlesore 103.5, the Multioak country station. The other golf cart did not have a radio at all.

When Corbin pulled the golf cart up in front of Lola’s parents’ camper, he didn’t see her at first. The sun had set and the towering oak trees that grew all through the campground cast deep shadows over the lot. The lights were on inside the camper and Corbin heard soft voices and cabinets being opened and closed. Then Lola emerged from the shadow beneath the awning where she’d been waiting in the same lawn chair Corbin had seen her sitting in earlier in the day. She wore a small blue dress and didn’t carry a bag. She had her hair pulled back into an informal ponytail, which Corbin thought was just the right kind of incongruous.

“You look handsome,” said Lola. Corbin wore black pants and a button-up shirt, but he hadn’t tucked in the shirt and he didn’t have a tie. This was a teen dance, after all.

“I thought having a baby was supposed to make you look worse,” said Corbin.

“Not if you’re young enough,” said Lola, accepting Corbin’s hand as he helped her into the golf cart.  “If you’re young enough, your body bounces right back. It’s awesome.”

“That is awesome,” said Corbin. He pressed the golf cart’s accelerator gently and pulled back onto the road. He usually preferred to start fast and spin the tires to kick up a little gravel, but now wasn’t the time. The volume on the radio was low, but it was playing something slow and twangy.

As they drove to the teen dance, Corbin and Lola talked only about what was happening right there in the present: the near collisions with other golf carts at intersections and blind turns, the tackiness and immense variety of lit-up lot decorations, the lameness of people who came to Chippertwig just to sit inside their air conditioned trailers and watch satellite TV. Then the conversation moved to Chippertwig summer weekends of the past. Memories of the kid who almost drowned in the lake three times in the same day, but was wearing a different pair of swimming trunks each time. The time lightning struck the projector at Family Movie on the Lawn Night and an irate father started bellowing antiquated epithets when organizers decided to cut the event short because of safety concerns. The time the lady accused the winner of the over-60 mini-golf tournament of lying about his age and then he hired two kids to set fire to her camper but they got caught and the man and the kids didn’t get in trouble from the cops because Chippertwig security preferred to handle campground problems internally but they all got banned from Chippertwig for life. And then, getting more comfortable by the minute, Corbin and Lola discussed memories of their moments together. They talked about the many times they’d capsized the canoe and argued about whether or not Corbin had ever done so intentionally. They talked about sneaking out at night to make out in the woods by the river and how one time they’d seen an empty, half-swamped canoe float past that appeared to be riddled with arrows from the archery range. They talked about the time they’d run from a security guard who thought they were prowlers responsible for a recent rash of campground burglaries. They’d hidden under an upside down canoe on the beach, holding their breath while the guard stood inches away from them, murmuring the Lord’s Prayer while he shone his flashlight out into the water. Then they laughed at how often canoes figured into their special moments together.

The teen dance was in full gear when Corbin pulled the golf cart up outside the cinder block dance hall and parked it next to the fifteen or so golf carts already there. The summer’s hottest, most thoroughly-edited rap hits were pumping through the sound system inside. Someone, perhaps the DJ, had apparently decided to emphasize volume over fidelity. Corbin took Lola by the hand and they went into the dance hall. At one end of the hall, a DJ in sunglasses and a coat with the hood up who must have been trying to conceal his age stood behind a computer on a desk. He was flanked by a motley assortment of large, vibrating speakers. There were green streamers hanging from the ceiling. Other than that, the room was filled with teens and only teens. The event was called a teen dance and that’s what it was: teens dancing.

Corbin and Lola danced among the other teens, many of which were much younger than them and not dressed as nicely. Some of them were barefoot. Several of the girls were wearing bikini tops and shorts, which was a sort of all-purpose uniform for a certain kind of Chippertwig camper. A lot of the boys wore baseball caps arranged atop their heads at every conceivable angle. Sunburns and tan lines were the rule. The dancing tended either towards stiff-and-barely-touching or frantic-and-shameless-grinding. Corbin and Lola were perhaps the only couple who had settled on a happy medium: comfortable, classy, yet still intimate. The time passed in a blissful blur as it had for them at all previous Chippertwig teen dances and, Corbin reflected, as it never would again.

After the dance ended, Corbin and Lola drove around the campground with no destination in mind, along the lakefront, past both swimming pools, which were both closed for the night, and way out to the lots on the Northern edge of the campground up against the woods where the oak trees were tallest and coyotes went through the trash every few nights. Corbin parked the golf cart in front one of his favorite lots in Chippertwig. Whoever owned the lot had turned the entire yard into an elaborate train set, complete with hills and bridges and structures that lit up, though none of it was turned on now and the trailer itself was dark. Corbin could never find the train set lot when he set out looking for it, but he’d come across it by accident many times. The fact that he and Lola had found it tonight seemed like a sign. He kept the key in the golf cart’s ignition so they could keep listening to the radio. Hopefully Saddlesore wouldn’t play any mood killers. Corbin turned to look at Lola. She looked young and gorgeous. She gazed back at Corbin in a way that made him feel deeply appreciated. Desired, even, which felt incredible. A golf cart loaded with at least six teens from the dance buzzed past with everyone on board chanting something in unison that Corbin couldn’t make out. As they rounded the corner out of sight, one of the teens fell off the back and rolled over several times before coming to rest against a flower box. The golf cart sped on without him and he jumped to his feet to chase after his friends, yelling for them to wait in a voice fraught with desperation.

“They should raise the age limit for the teen dances,” said Lola. “Don’t you think?”

“Why?” asked Corbin. “So you could have gone with Bryant?”

“No! No!” Lola was aghast. “So you and I can go again next year!”

“Oh,” said Corbin. “For real?” He grinned.

“Of course,” said Lola. “Corbin, Bryant’s Lolanna’s dad, but I don’t feel about him like I feel about you. Which, I know that sounds crazy or whatever, but I didn’t realize it until we got here today and I saw you and then tonight at the dance and yeah I just knew that yeah I like you, not him, and I want to be here with you, not back home with him, right? Right?”

Corbin was stunned. “You want to move to Multioak? To be with me?”

“No, not to Multioak,” said Lola. “Here. Chippertwig. I want to live here with you.”

“For how long?” Corbin was struggling to keep up.

“What do you mean?” asked Lola. “I want to live here with you. However long that is. Forever.”

“But they shut off the water during the winter,” said Corbin.

“Not all of it,” said Lola. “I asked at the office. You can still fill up buckets with water from a few pumps that work all through the winter. Then you can just carry the buckets back to your trailer and use the water to drink, cook, bathe, flush the toilet, whatever. It’s simple.”

“I guess that sounds simple,” said Corbin. He tried to make sense of what was happening. Lola was basically proposing to him and, even crazier, he realized how much he wanted to accept. High school was over, he didn’t have any real plans, and here was a plan, a thrilling, beautiful plan. He and Lola living together in a trailer in the campground where they’d met by chance years before, their love – because that’s what it was – bringing them together and sustaining them even through the winter with its drained swimming pools and barren, snow-covered lots and inconvenient water acquisition.

“What about the baby?” asked Corbin. “What about Bryant?” He tried not to sound nervous when he said Bryant’s name.

“Lolanna can live with us,” said Lola. “Or my parents will take her. It’s up to you. And don’t worry about Bryant. I’ve already got a plan for how to deal with him.”

“Oh, good,” said Corbin. “What is it?”

 “I went online,” said Lola, “and looked up how to make bombs. I printed off the instructions. Then I bought all the supplies and put the supplies and the instructions in one of Bryant’s backpacks and hid it under the sink in the camper. I was waiting to see if you wanted to live here with me or not, but now that I know you do, tomorrow I’ll go to the office and tell them I think my boyfriend’s planning something bad, and when security comes to check, they’ll find the bomb stuff and he’ll get banned from Chippertwig for life so he’ll never be able to bother us.” She grinned at her own cleverness.

“Will that work?” asked Corbin. It sounded risky to him. And maybe excessively cruel. But he also didn’t know what Bryant was like. Maybe he deserved it. “What if you just tell him you want to break up with him?”

“I can’t just break up with him,” said Lola. “He doesn’t think I can decide things like this for myself. My plan’ll work, though. If he tries to come back and bother us here, Chippertwig security will chase him off or worse. They can do whatever they want to perpetrators in the campground and the cops look the other way. Bryant doesn’t even like me that much. He just thinks we were meant for each other so that makes him stubborn. And my parents will freak out about the bomb thing. They’re both obsessed with Bryant right now, but once they think he’s a bomber, I bet they’ll help keep him away from you and me, like, legally. Speaking of which, you should probably take me back now. I don’t want to be gone so long that it starts to seem weird. I’ll tell security about the bomb tomorrow afternoon when Bryant’s napping and then you and I will never have to part like this again.”

“Wait, when are you moving down here?” asked Corbin.

“I’m here!” said Lola, laughing. “I’m staying. Once Bryant’s out of our hair, I’ll just tell my parents I’m staying here with you. We can stay with your grandparents until we get our own place, right? Do you have a job? Can you get one fast? It’d be perfect if you got a job in the campground. Maintenance or something. Maybe you could work your way up to security. I could work in the restaurant!”

Lola’s plan was wild, but Corbin felt good. Lola’s enthusiasm was intoxicating. He was just glad she was handling the whole false-accusation-of-Bryant thing on her own. As he pulled the golf cart back onto the gravel road and drove back in what he thought was probably the general direction of Lola’s parents’ camper, Corbin wondered how different his life would look by this time tomorrow. He wondered if tonight-him would even recognize tomorrow-night-him’s life if he saw it.

 

That night, Corbin slept in the one-man tent by the fire pit in his grandparents’ yard. It was a muggy night and the air conditioned living room would have felt nice, but sleeping in the tent allowed for the possibility of Lola sneaking out to meet him so they could go make out in the woods, even though she had said that she definitely would not be doing that because the last thing she wanted to do was arouse suspicion the night before she framed her boyfriend for a bomb plot. Lying on top of his sleeping bag inside the tent wearing only a pair of black basketball shorts, Corbin fell asleep quickly and easily to the sound of crickets and the quiet conversation of four tired, drunk men sitting around a fading campfire two lots over.

A few hours later, Corbin awoke to someone shaking the tent and saying his name in a low voice. He sat up. “Lola?” It didn’t sound like her, but who else could it be?

“It’s not Lola,” said the voice. “It’s Bryant. I need to talk to you.”

Corbin inhaled sharply, looking around the tent for something with which to defend himself. There was nothing. “It’s the middle of the night,” said Corbin, stalling for time in the most obvious possible way. “Can’t this wait until tomorrow? Like, tomorrow night? Or tomorrow evening?”

“Lola can’t know I’m talking to you,” said Bryant.

“What’s it about?” asked Corbin.

“It’s about her and you,” said Bryant. “Are you going to come out or not?”

“I’m naked,” said Corbin. “We can just talk like this.”

Bryant snorted. “All right, whatever you want. I’m not here to beat you up, dude, I’m here to help you out. But whatever you want.”

“Help me how?”

“I know Lola’s planning something with you,” said Bryant. “She fought and fought to keep me from coming on this trip and I know you’re the reason why.”

“I doubt that’s true,” said Corbin, self-preservation still foremost in his mind.

Bryant laughed. “It’s true, dude. But I asked her parents if I could come and of course they said yes because they’re obsessed with me. So I don’t know what she’s planning now. I don’t know what she told you, but I’m telling you that whatever you think you know about her is wrong, dude. She doesn’t love you. She loves this place, and you’re just a part of it.”

“That makes no sense,” said Corbin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but even if I did, it makes no sense.”

“You don’t know what our hometown is like, dude. This place is her only escape. This place is like paradise to her. You know what a rendering plant is?”

“No,” said Corbin. He didn’t like the sound of it.

“We’ve got one in our town. The whole town works there, pretty much. Lola’s dad works there. I work there. The town was built around it. The rendering plant was there before the town was. It’s in our blood. It’s a place where they take dead animals and leftover pieces of animals from slaughterhouses and turn ‘em into other stuff. It smells like death. The whole town smells like death all the time. Little league games smell like death. Church picnics smell like death. A cool spring breeze coming through the open window of your bedroom at night smells like death. Lolanna smelled like death the second she was born, just like all the rest of us. We all smell like death.”

“Lola doesn’t smell like death,” said Corbin.

“Not here,” said Bryant. “Not in paradise. But everywhere else, trust me, she smells like death.”

“But we’re going to live here in the campground,” said Corbin. “And work here in the campground. Year ‘round.”

“Sounds nice,” said Bryant. “Surrounded by all these memories. Everywhere you look, there’s memories. They take you back in time and it feels so good to be 15 again, right? That’s how it feels now. But how will it feel when you live here? When Chippertwig Campground isn’t paradise anymore? When it’s just the place where you live and work? What happens the first time Lola has a bad day in Chippertwig Campground? Or a bad couple of days? Her world’ll come crashing down, dude, and then she won’t even have the memories left because even those will be tainted. It’ll all collapse at once because she’ll realize it never was paradise. You know what I’m saying? And if Chippertwig isn’t paradise, where’s that going to leave you? You won’t be the man of her dreams anymore, that’s for sure. She might even blame you. And then she’ll hate you. And eventually, I don’t know how long it’ll take, but eventually she’ll start to smell like death, even here in the campground.”

“You’re crazy,” said Corbin. “None of that’s going to happen.”

“I know her a lot better than you do,” said Bryant. “Trust me, it’s going to happen. She’ll probably try to stay here even if you won’t stay with her, but that wouldn’t involve you. We’ll deal with that if it happens. Me and her parents. I’m just telling you to jump clear while you still can. Go home to your parents’ house for a few days. Avoid her. Try to forget about her. You’re not even a person to her, dude. This isn’t what you want.”

“She wants me,” said Corbin. “You didn’t see how she looked at me.”

“Yeah I did,” said Bryant. “I guarantee it’s the same way she looked at the guy in that Chipmunk costume and the old lady that sells the firewood bundles and the kids smoking ditch-weed on the pedal-boat and everything else she’s seen that gives her that Chippertwiggy feeling. It’s an intense look. I don’t blame you for falling victim. But if she saw you somewhere else, she wouldn’t even give you a second glance, dude. It’s not you. It’s you in this place. That’s your only value to her.”

“What makes you such a good option for her?” asked Corbin.

“I’m not a good option,” said Bryant. “I’m a depressing option. But I’m also the only practical option. I’m a real person from the real world, not an idea from her imagined paradise here, and I smell like death just like she does. You don’t understand how important that is to a relationship, dude. She knows this too, when she’s not here, even though she hates to admit it.”

“I love her, though,” said Corbin.

“Nah, dude,” said Bryant. “You only love how it feels to feel like she loves you. And she doesn’t love you. So that’s over. Anyway, I said what I came to say. Do what you’re gonna do, but at least do it with your eyes open. ‘Night.”

Bryant must have walked back to Lola’s parents’ camper across the grass because Corbin didn’t hear him crunch away on the gravel, but when he said, “Bryant?” there was no answer, and when he unzipped the tent and poked his head out, there was no one there.

 

“Where are we going?” asked Lola. It was almost noon and she and Corbin were in Corbin’s grandparents’ lesser golf cart because his grandparents had taken the good golf cart to a talent show at a pavilion on the South end of the campground.

“Just on a drive,” said Corbin. “Just out for a little spin.”

“Well, Bryant’s going to be back from the pool soon, so when we’re done, drop me off at the office so I can walk back and tell him that’s where I was.”

“Good idea,” said Corbin, and when he looked over at Lola, her smile was so warm and genuine that he almost turned the golf cart around right then and there. Wouldn’t it be better to not know? To just take each day at a time and see how it played out?

“Seriously, Corbin,” said Lola. “Where are we going? We’re almost to the entrance.”

“Yeah,” said Corbin.

“Corbin, turn around,” said Lola. “Stop the golf cart.”

Corbin accelerated the cart right out Chippertwig Campground’s front entrance and took a right out onto the county road. The golf cart hummed and bumped along over the asphalt. On the left was a field of thigh-high corn. On the right was Chippertwig Campground, the lots of the outer rim set apart from the road by a low wooden fence. People sat in lawn chairs and read books and drank iced tea from glasses passed down to them from their great aunts. Children threw fistfuls of dirt into the air and watched the breeze disperse the resulting dust clouds. A girl in shorts and a bikini top stood in front of a closed grill with a pair of tongs in her hand and a distant expression on her face. Not one of the people inside the campground looked at Corbin and Lola passing them by out on the county road.

“Why are you doing this?” asked Lola. Her voice had an edge to it.

“I was just feeling a little cooped up,” said Corbin. “I thought it might be nice to get out of the campground for a while.”

“No,” said Lola. “It won’t be nice. It isn’t nice. Turn around and go back.”

“There’s a little white church just up the road,” said Corbin. “It’s got an old cemetery behind it. We could drive around in there and see who can spot the oldest headstone.”

“Turn around and go back,” said Lola. “I don’t want to go to a cemetery. I don’t want to go anywhere else. Why are you doing this?”

Corbin came to an intersection and stopped. There were no cars approaching from any direction. The day was hot and the sun was bright. Some sort of insect that Corbin always heard making noise in corn fields was making its noise in the corn field nearby. Corbin turned to look at Lola. She did not look at him. She looked down at her lap and gripped her thighs with her hands. “Take us back and everything will be fine,” said Lola.

“I want you to look at me, though,” said Corbin. “Just look at me and then we’ll go back.”

“I don’t want to look at you out here,” said Lola. “Take us back to the campground and I’ll look at you all you want. I’ll never stop looking at you. Why are you doing this?”

“Do you love me or the campground?” asked Corbin.

 “Why does it matter?” asked Lola. “Why do you have to divide it up so precisely?”

“I don’t know,” said Corbin. “I just do.”

Lola looked at Corbin, then, and what he saw in that look was not desire. It may, in fact, have been the opposite.

“Do you smell that?” asked Corbin. “Sort of, like, burning, rotten, smoking blood?”

 

Corbin dropped Lola off at the Chippertwig Campground office. The golf cart’s tires spun and kicked up loose gravel as he stamped on the accelerator and raced away from the office as Lola called for him to come back in a pleading, romantic voice. “I’m fine now!” she shouted after him. “I’m back to normal!”

Corbin did not look back. He did not trust himself.

At Lola’s parents’ camper, Bryant was sitting by himself at the picnic table eating from a plate filled with nothing but potato salad.

“Bryant, get your phone,” said Corbin, leaping out of the golf cart and running over to Bryant. “Quick, call security. There’s a bomb. Or bomb materials. She has all the supplies. It’s all hidden under the sink in the camper. She told me all about it.”

Bryant looked up at Corbin, continuing to chew his mouthful of potato salad. He swallowed. “A bomb? And what do you think security would do for something like that? What’s the punishment?”

 “A lifetime ban from the campground. That’s their harshest punishment. They handle campground problems internally, but she’s going to pin it on you, so if you’re going to call, you have to hurry. She might be accusing you at the office right now, I don’t know. You have to hurry.”

“Why didn’t you just call security?” asked Bryant.

“I can’t,” said Corbin. “That’s not for me to do. I’m out. I don’t even know her. I just want to help you. And her.”

Bryant pushed his potato salad away and stood up, fishing in the pocket of his shorts for his cell phone. “There’s going to come a day,” said Bryant, “when you will regret this. You will wonder what could have been. You will wonder if you betrayed your one true love. When that day comes, I want you to remember how death smells.”

“I will,” said Corbin, and as he got back into the golf cart and drove the short distance back to his grandparents’ mobile home, he imagined the rendering plant in Lola’s hometown, dozens of towering smokestacks silhouetted against a crime-scene sunset belching black animal corpse ash into the air while Lola and Bryant and Lolanna, who was about three now, planted a vegetable garden in the foreground. They all seemed content, even Lola.

Corbin wondered if his vision was prophetic or just wishful thinking. He would probably never find out.




Discussion Questions

  • What elements must be present in order for what you’re doing to be considered “camping?” Are these rules both hard and fast? Are they set in stone? If not, then why bother to even have them at all?



  • Did you ever have a Summer Fling? What about a Recurring Summer Fling? Is it possible that you had a Summer Fling or a Recurring Summer Fling that you can’t remember? (Hint: anything’s possible).



  • Do you prefer to be wanted or unwanted? Explain your answer WITHOUT crying.



  • To you, what is the most appealing aspect of campground culture? Is it the perhaps disproportionally heavy emphasis on leisure? Is it the infrastructure designed specifically to accommodate golf carts as the primary means of transportation? Or is it just the heady, lower-middle-class romance of it all?



  • Would you still love your home town if it had a rendering plant? What if no one in your home town really understood you? What if your home town lacked the means to adequately entertain you on a Saturday night? What if everyone in your home town was super-conservative and only cared about sports?



  • Do you know what Death smells like? Stinks, right?