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That fall we spent our Saturdays deep in Amish country. We didn’t live there, but Becca’s boyfriend did, forty minutes from our McBurb near Reading. The farmhouse supposedly belonged to the boyfriend’s uncle, but I never saw an adult in all the times we were there – it just seemed like a bunch of cousins and friends were having a nonstop party on the property, most of them high school dropouts like the boyfriend, who Becca’d met in rehab. The barn was full of old minibikes and four wheelers, and anybody who showed up at their house could ride wild across the bumpy pastures, which is why I tagged along to begin with. The older kids would sit on the sprawling porch disregarding their rehab, and me and one of the younger cousins would go out on whichever bikes were gassed up. If you got far enough from the house you could see the Amish farm that butted up against the uncle’s property, and sometimes you could see a hatted man on a plow and some tired-looking gray horses, and once the cousin said, “They’re fucking crazy,” and though I had no reason to defend the Amish, and was just being contrary, I said, “They just want to live like old times,” and he said, “which is fucking crazy.”

Becca and I had been in cahoots about the goings on at the farmhouse ever since we’d first visited. Our parents fully expected her to lie to them, but me they still trusted, so when I said that it was good clean fun – adults present, well-maintained minibikes, video games, guys playing guitars – they were desperate to believe it. Once I let it slip that some of the kids smoked cigarettes, because I sensed their trust in me could be further cemented by the “accidental” disclosure of minor sins.

“My little hero,” Becca would say. “How’d I get so lucky?”

I ate this up. She was my greatest friend, my protector, my third and favorite parent. Rumor had it she’d made me laugh when I was only a few months old by standing over me and yoyoing so that the yoyo came centimeters from my nose but never touched it. The thrill, my mother said once in a family meeting, to the psychologist. His face… the absolute joy. She got misty, as she did all the time at those meetings; when she looked at us you could tell she was looking at our baby selves.

Afterwards Becca often quoted this moment to me, though not with the mocking voice you’d expect. The thrill… she would say dreamily, driving home stoned from the boyfriend’s house, into the western glare of late afternoon. His face… The absolute joy…

Often, on that state highway back to civilization, we saw buggies. There was a farmer’s market near our turn-off; when we passed it, we’d see horses lined up in the lot just like cars.

The buggies moved slowly along the state highway, straddling the line so that half the buggy was in the car lane and half on the shoulder. It wasn’t highly traveled but the speed limit was 55, so when my sister pulled off the dirt road and onto the pavement she always gunned it into the sunset. She hadn’t been driving that long, less than a year.

When she turned that day and gunned it and I felt the bump, I didn’t understand at first what had happened. Later I understood it must have been a hoof, that she’d shot out into the glare and somehow missed the buggy itself but clipped the hoof of the horse in its dutiful trot. The horse spilled down the embankment, dragging the buggy with it. Becca spun around to look and crossed into the oncoming traffic and a truck horn shrieked with such fury that it seemed to propel our car back into its own lane, and in her swerve Becca overcorrected and we spun and skidded to a stop on the shoulder facing the way we’d come, the buggy below us in a ditch, the black horse on its side, a hatted man in suspenders already bending over the horse’s face.  A boy, maybe eight or nine, sat on the bench of the titled buggy staring up at us.

“Jeeeeeeeeeeeeesuuuuuus,” Becca said.

Already, oncoming cars were slowing, and I understood all at once that when the police arrived and found Becca fucked up in the driver’s seat that she was done, finished, that the trouble she’d been in before would be multiplied by a thousand, that so far she’d gotten away with her many transgressions by coming from a nice-looking family with kids who went to rehab instead of jail. But that would not save her this time.

“Switch!” I shouted.

She turned and looked at me blankly.

“Places,” I explained.

She jolted back into herself. In a hot second, our seatbelts were off and I couldn’t even say which one of us went over and which went under but five seconds later we were sitting in opposite seats, huffing. Later we would explain that she’d been sick and I had offered to drive, and no one understood this but no one stepped up to disprove it, either. Only the boy knew —  he was still looking up at us when I stared down at him from the driver’s seat, my hands gripping the wheel.

His face was pale and round and flat as he regarded us.  Maybe it was his brown hat, or the harsh angle of the descending sun, or what had just happened to him – but his face was as white and impassive as the moon at its furthest point, not the breathtaking yellow moon on the horizon but the cold white hole in space, and I only paused for a moment, hearing a siren in the distance, before emerging from the car and announcing to the moon and the man and the dead black horse, It was me.

Susan Perabo’s most recent books are The Fall of Lisa Bellow (2017) and Why They Run the Way They Do (2016), both from Simon & Schuster. Her fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize Stories, and New Stories from the South, and her work has appeared in numerous publications, including One Story, Glimmer Train, The New York Times, The Sun, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She is a professor of creative writing at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

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