The Hidden Town

Janalyn Guo

H. had just purchased a truck with his brothers, which he was going to use to haul materials to the construction site of a highway that would cross through our town. The truck was so large it could not fit onto our narrow roads. He had to park it outside the entrance to our town. His two brothers took turns sleeping in it to make sure nothing happened to the truck. One of the brothers sat with us for dinner, eating silently and fanning the flies. We threw leftovers into the dog dish. Afterward, we watched television in the dark to avoid attracting the mosquitoes. There was a live update of the Russians huddled around a small hole somewhere in the middle of the South Pole. They were trying to get a sample of the water from an undisturbed lake under two miles of ice. They’d drilled to where they almost touched the surface. The reporter spoke about a feared geysering effect from pressure change, the old water spewing up and out. The screen was bright from all the footage of snow, so white it was as if the room were lit.  

The teacher stood before her students explaining the layers of the earth. She had even brought a miniature model to show them. It was like the model of skin at the doctor’s office. Mid-sentence, she felt a pop and an unbuckling of her chest. Folding her arms, she excused herself and allowed the students to take out the class pet, a small muzzled snake. In the bathroom, she turned off the light, and in a stall sized for children, she twisted her arms behind and beneath her flowery blouse and struggled to refasten her unmentionable. A young girl walked by the doorway and peered at the teacher standing in the darkness. She studied the teacher’s face, an expression she never forgot.

I walked regularly in the mornings, just before seven. Sometimes I came across people I knew. When M. jogged toward me with her dog to say hello, the dog darted in the opposite direction upon seeing me. As we spoke about our weeks, I continued to think about why the dog had darted away from me. There really was no reason…I knew that M. had seen it too, and I wondered if M. was concerned about the dog darting, and by extension, my dogsitting methods. In the dog’s defense, I had wanted to dart too when I saw M. and her dog, but I hadn’t. M. could be intimidating with her clean mannerisms and conversational ease, and I had indeed darted on previous walks through the town square, hiding behind a bush or tree to avoid contact. I didn’t understand what I had done to the dog, whom I’ve often allowed to nest in my lap as I read even though it always left behind a ring of fur. I sensed my own indignation. I had expended so much energy to suppress my need to bolt that the dog should have at least faked some enthusiasm. 

She woke up with his foot in her hand. She supposed it was true that a fight could be healthy and was what was needed to move forward. She drove away from his little house, past the French American School and florist, to her own house on a parallel street.  As she turned the corner, she noticed two small boys playing in the front yard of the neighboring house. Two more boys, a little taller, emerged from behind the gate that opened to the backyard.  She drove slowly past the gate and found more similarly sized boys standing behind the fence: five, six, seven, eight, nine!  Nine boys.  As she counted, she did not notice her car drifting into the next lane until she’d side swiped a parked van. Now all of the boys were looking at her, and she was once again unsure of what to do.

The bus trip wore down our nerves. We had wanted to see the Petrified Forest, which was 9 million years old. A woman with a tight pony tail and her chubby husband with a looser pony tail fussed about no seats being available in the front and made the entire bus sit according to the seat number assigned on our tickets. Our two seat assignments were in the very back, by the wheel. Just after we gave up our seat, the bus driver stepped back onto the bus and told the passengers that the bus was first come, first serve and would not be checking seat numbers. At the back of the bus, we sighed. All along the road, the peach trees bore fruit into paper bags. 

Janalyn Guo lives by the beaches of Norwalk where the air is interesting. Her most recent fictions can be found or are forthcoming in elimae, Bat City Review and the inaugural online issue of Interfictions. She is an editorial assistant at Unstuck Books.