Salamander

by Amanda Yskamp

The big boys lost her on purpose in the woods to mock her urbanity, because they thought she mocked their simplicity, way out in the wilds near dusk. She hadn’t been paying attention to the trail, except to remark the slap of branch or to stop by the shore where they showed her the salamander. Lifting a log, one boy poked a length of neon red to reveal the bright nubbins along its length.

The three boys had been getting gruffer with each hurled stone and darkening hour. She’d paused to empty her sandal of something sharp. When she looked up, she was all alone. At first she couldn’t believe they’d had the nerve. She called their names, those children of the friends of her parents, but what she got back were their lilting echoes mimicking the British accent she’d recently adopted, retreating into a darker and darker distance.

On the way into the woods, the boys had talked about the bonfire they’d set last night, how high the flames, the broken vanity they’d dragged out there, how their parents had been too drunk to notice they weren’t around for hours. With each new boast, they karate-chopped rotted trees at the throat to fell them recklessly. She dodged one barely, fell back to look at a mushroom that spread its red umbrella over the duff. That’s what she said, how she described it: a red umbrella. Later she told the boys how the Wampanoag used sumac bark for dye. She ducked under the branches that led down to the creek, took off her sandals and waded in. That’s when the one boy had said something about snakes, about leeches, about salamanders, and had found one to show her under a fallen log.

She had been talking too much again, she knew, but she was nervous. Both boys and unfettered nature were familiar to her only in books. So, let’s say the bomb has dropped, and we’re out here in the woods, she’d said pausing to take off her sandal, where the radiation can’t get to us, just the four of us left on this earth. What are we going to do? She’d turned to ask the boys who were nowhere to be seen. How are we going to survive on our own?

Amanda Yskamp’s work has appeared in such magazines as Threepenny Review, Hayden Review, caketrain, Redivider, and The Georgia Review. She lives with poet Doug Larsen and their two children on the 10-year flood plain of the Russian River, where she teaches writing from her online schoolhouse.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Salamander”?

    As with many stories, this began from an autobiographical seed: Bunch of miscreants lost me in the woods, me, a city kid already out of my element. Most of the details are invented to convey the remembered feeling.
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