Aunt and girl are moving things to clean up for the season, that’s what was discussed, but really they are moving the planters because the squid had been allowed to grow too big.
It eats the greens, which are scattered around the pond platform in any number of planters and boxes, creating the illusion of an oasis in the south-Georgian heat. When nobody dares to swim in its pond, as grandmother regretfully did two weeks past, the squid must eat greens.
Their fronds grew long, and fell into the water, as minds were on other matters. Grandmother had been suckled.
The pond squid is a secret.
The pond squid is important.
The pond squid is as dangerous as it is coveted.
As aunt and niece work, careful to keep back from the ledge between water creatures and life, a girl appears. She looks like she’s been-a ramblin’, all dust-coated and pack-toting, but perhaps she’s just been walking the back roads of Rockford Township all day. She is of ambiguous age, probably between 17 and 20, and has long, flowing, dirty-blond hair, curls, but so long and snarled that it hangs heavy, leaving only swirls at the temples and the tips.
She has a tangled spangle, as grandmother was wont to say. Tangled spangle like a mop.
They meet as aunt and niece are carrying planters from the pond out to the decrepit barn. There is something important in the barn. It, too, is a secret.
"How's your ma n' em?" Girl explains that she hitched here for the party on the lawn next door, a farmhouse ¼ mile down the dirt road.
“What kind of party is it?”
“Dykes,” she responds, disgusted, but not by he thought of the lesbian camp out. Something else disgusts her. She was looking for one thing over there, but found another. Or perhaps she found nothing at all.
Later, intrigued, niece walks past the door yard and down the road. At first, she sees only a mess of tents and people on the lawn. “Dykes,” she says hesitantly, for she sees men in the mix. Soon, though, she realizes all the men are simply women with short hair.
May she have a glass of water? The girl is polite, not at all what niece expects of a hitcher, and she wears a gold chain around her left wrist.
“We’ll do you one better.” Aunt smiles nervously, as she always does when a stranger comes knocking.
Peach tea, which aunt reserves only for special company because the season is low and the crop was disappointing, and niece knows aunt must pity the teenage wanderer and wants to be a good Christian, show her charity.
Peaches are the work of The Lord, her grandmother always insisted, and thus aunt uses them as such.
While waiting for tea, girl asks, and niece shows girl the barn. Aunt asks that they finish taking the planters to the barn - with a sharp glance at her niece to be sure she understands the secret must stand.
They know it is safe because it is day light, like it’s safe to drink peaches, and girl doesn’t see the squid because it’s hiding in the depths.
When everything has been finished, girl says she may take a dip. It’s late-summer hot. Niece, torn between the secret and her fear of the squid, says she girl shouldn’t swim in the pond. It’s not safe. It’s too deep.
Girl looks as if niece has confirmed something she suspects and stays dry. She does smile, however. She smiles, and it’s not a nice smile.
They return to the farmhouse, and girl helps aunt serve the tea, although aunt protests that company shouldn’t be working.
“Nonsense, you’re too kind,” and so girl brings tray with glasses. Niece watches girl closely – suspiciously – because that smile had been wrong somehow. Girl notes the suspicion, and manages to slip something into niece’s glass, and hands to niece. Other glasses go to uncle, brother of aunt, and those have also been doctored, but with a different sort of thing.
A mesmerizing thing.
Aunt returns to sitting room with a small platter of bread and apple butter, and idle chit chat ensues. Tea is guzzled, the novelty of such a rare treat briefly replacing niece’s suspicion.
Niece awakens later, surprised to find herself in bedclothes, in her bed, and hears music downstairs. She pads down and finds girl playing a fiddle, to the delight of aunt and uncle. There is something wild in the sound, and niece feels ice in her veins.
Aunt and uncle are raucous, dancing and clapping, oblivious to niece’s return, but girl – still playing madly – glares at niece. A warning glare.
I will have what is mine, the glare says. I will have it, and you won’t tell.
Niece sees girl with male companion in town, although girl is dressed to disguise her hair, and niece ducks into a shop filled with 1950’s memorabilia. But not before her recognition of girl and companion is noted. She is followed, one through the back door of the shop and one the front.
There is a door – and old, wooden door – she has hoped to purchase for her aunt and uncle. It’s in the shop, and it perfectly matches the missing linen closet door of their farmhouse on the second floor. Niece glances at the door, but only fleetingly.
She feels the ice again, and is on guard. Male companion appears and tries something violent, but shop keeper somehow intervenes, and girl is asked to leave the farmhouse immediately. That the girl has found The Jackpot, there is no question.
Precautions are taken.
The secret in the barn is employed.
Church, two weeks hence: Niece sits with aunt, uncle and elderly grandmother in a pew near the front because grandmother’s vision is gone, but she insists she feels closer to The Lord when sitting closer to the minister.
Girl and male companion set off a series of explosions in church.
They will have The Jackpot.
They will have the dangerous spoil.