She stands ankle-deep in the wood chips of the playground at Library Park—merry-go-round, whirlwind seats, the usual. She looks up at the sky, all that gunmetal gray. Then she shouts, HEY YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!
Most of the children were already staring at her thanks to the show she’d just given—left shoulder, right shoulder, left nipple, right nipple, pale full moon, full black bush. She gathers her dress around her. It’s bright red, high-collared, knee-length, with a line of gold buttons down the front.
One child is borne away by a cousin, another by an aunt, but ten or so remain, apparently unaccompanied, or at least on their own for now. She lights a cigarette and says it again, but softly, and with great love:
—Hey you motherfuckers.
Two of the older kids laugh—they’re nervous but they love it when adults talk like this. The others keep staring, or look away, at their untied shoelaces, at the chains holding the swings they’re swinging on, at the murky surface of the lake.
—Okay, says the woman. So you know how they told you that story about Sotuka?
This gets no response from the children.
—SOTUKA! the woman says.
Again the two kids laugh. Another looks like she’s about to cry.
—Sotuka, whispers the woman.
There’s a syrup bottle on the ground beside her. She picks it up, smells it, throws it hard, and it bonks off the head of an unused grasshopper see-saw. She lights another cigarette.
—Fine, she says. So. Sotuka was this Sanel princess who was in love with a warrior named Cachow—
—CACHOW! shouts one of the laughers.
—Damn straight! says the woman. But Cachow, that slimy motherfucker, he goes off and marries some slut, am I right?
Half of her audience seems confused by this, but she’s worried she’ll lose them all if she stops to explain.
—SQUAW ROCK! she shouts.
The laughers laugh. Two of the other kids leave to go feed the ducks, and she gives them the finger.
—So. Sotuka climbs up Squaw Rock. And what happens then?
A younger kid raises his hand.
—How come you’re wearing clown shoes? says the boy.
—If you only knew, she says. So okay. Cachow and that slut come walking up the river. And Sotuka grabs up a huge rock, throws herself off the cliff, and lands right on top of them!
Her audience now consists of four kids, a homeless guy, and a couple of drunk high-schoolers.
—Cachow, says the remaining laugher.
She lights another cigarette, her last.
—Cachow, she agrees. And that red lichen growing on the front of Squaw Rock—that’s actually her blood, where she bounced off the cliff on her way down, am I right?
No one answers. She closes her eyes, sways.
—The thing is, she says. The thing is, that whole story is bullshit. Made up by some white motherfucker named J.C. Tucker. He had some time on his hands. What a stupid name for a place. But there’s an older story, an older name. I bet you’ve never heard it.
No answer. She opens her eyes. Everybody’s listening. The breeze brings the sound of a siren.
—Oh well, she says. Maybe next time.
The siren swells. She wishes she had more cigarettes.
—Frog Woman, says the only remaining kid.
—Frog Woman Rock. That’s what my dad makes us call it.
The woman is so happy she almost falls. She tries to hug the girl, and the girl shies away, and now the squad car pulls up. Officer Durst flings his door open, comes running toward them across the spotty grass, and the woman sees him, laughs, sheds her dress, kicks off her shoes, snatches him up and leaps a hundred feet into the lake.
Roy Kesey divides his time.