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Call Me Gil

By Teresa Fowler

2013 Writers Contest – 1st place

First, my name is Gil, not Ghoul.

I earned that nickname digging graves back in high school. Mama worked long hours as a nurse, money was tight and I was a big, hungry kid. The job was a natural fit. Guess the name was too, because it stuck.

Belinda Levelland is the only person who refused to call me Ghoul.

She was a sweet, timid little thing, but back then I liked flashier girls so, despite what folks said I didn’t love her. Not like that, anyway.

Her house was over on Howard Street, behind the Stop and Shop where the neighborhood kids hung out smoking cigarettes and trading spit. She lived with her father and brother, and if she ever had a mother no one remembered. Her daddy fixed cars when he wasn’t at the bar, and their dirt yard was always full of rusted metal. The only shiny thing on that property was the dilapidated red bicycle Belinda rode to school every day. She would have ridden it everywhere if she’d been allowed to go anywhere else. She loved that bike.

We ate lunch together in the cafeteria every afternoon, mostly because she always forgot to bring anything to eat and I had plenty to share. That’s how the rumors got started, but, like I said, we never even held hands. Belinda didn’t really like to be touched.

So that day she was absent I missed her even when no one else did. I stopped by after class on my way to the graveyard, but no one answered the door. Her bike was on the porch so, never one to mind my own business, I headed around back. Good thing, too. I heard what sounded like a kitten mewing and I wandered through car hulls and dead motors listening. I found her on the floorboard of a Chevy, bruised and bloody, and, upon mama’s later inspection, missing a nipple, compliments of her daddy, and heaven knows where her brother was in all that.

Neighbors say she just disappeared, and that she did, I suppose. Her daddy insisted she ran away, good riddance. No one made much effort to find her.

Still, anyone who knew Belinda Levelland knew she’d never have left her beloved red bike behind. I wanted to go back for it, but I might have been seen taking it and how would I explain that?

She couldn’t ride a bike in a cellar anyway.

These days she loves crossword puzzles and my mother’s backyard garden, though since mama’s death in ’92 I guess it’s been her garden. She loves sunshine, too, but is content to till the soil after sunset, always afraid her daddy might still be out there looking for her.

Her daddy’s been buried beneath a stranger’s coffin since about a week after her disappearance, but I could never admit that. Not to Belinda Levelland. She’s the only one who calls me Gil.