Rosalie came down from up north to see the pond for herself.
She’d left a note for her grandmother, asleep on the couch, that she was taking her Monte Carlo, and drove six hours, stopping only to eat gas station burritos and pre-bagged whole dill pickles and wash under her arms in cramped bathroom sinks. She bought a souvenir t-shirt at the first truck stop over the border that said WHAT HAPPENS IN LOUISIANA STAYS IN LOUISIANA. Though she knew everything—everything—followed everyone always. That’s just how it was now.
She’d printed out articles, addresses, maps from the high school library. The pond was on private property but easy enough to find. The sky was the color of tempered steel when she pulled along the side of a rural highway. She trekked through a heaving grove of swamp chestnut and water oak and laurel oak. She stopped to admire hanging arms of Spanish moss that reminded her of a postcard or a Civil War drama her grandma would watch.
The pond had made national news. The Supreme Court was deciding on critical habitats and how to save the species within. Here, it was endangered frogs. It would set precedent. No one seemed to care.
Her blood-red sneakers stuck in the black mud as she moved on. Rosalie touched the cheap plastic-handled pocketknife clipped to her jeans every few steps to make sure it hadn’t shaken loose. Up ahead there was only a wall of greens. There was no clearing, no discernable pond. No frogsounds or birdsounds either—just buzzing insects, whips of wind. She blinked and licked her lips, took out her maps. She couldn’t figure out where she’d gone wrong.
The collapsible baton weighed heavily in her backpack. Henry’d given it to her as a defense. He was the only person who knew she was coming down. She’d fooled around with him—her best friend’s first cousin—on the trampoline in her friend’s backyard a few months back. Later, he told her he had rug burn on his dick but it was worth it.
Why do you even want to go? he’d asked her.
I need to see, she said, how they’re living down there. What this place looks like. Why it’s so important.
It’s not important, not really. None of us are.
Rosalie stood still, caught her breath. The sky continued to bruise dark. Henry had told her that frogs were signs of good environments. That they died off fast when the air quality was bad. He’d told her to bring one back in a container for him to experiment on. Once he’d shot a squirrel with his BB gun and then cut it open and spread its guts along a shimmering black lava rock in the backyard. He just wanted to see what it was made of.
Robert James Russell is the author of the novellas Mesilla (Dock Street Press) and Sea of Trees (Winter Goose Publishing), and the chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press). He is a founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find him online at robertjamesrussell.com and on Twitter at @robhollywood.
Cover photo by popo.uw23