“Oh, hello,” I say, “my name is Ruth Zook,” while this boy at the party is looking down at my bowl of Amish mashed potatoes that I am holding against my belly. He is … dangerously handsome. I am far away from my brethren back in the Old Order settlements around LaGrange County but I can hear in my mind Mother’s voice saying it is not wise to let someone like that know your name. The boy sticks his finger into my mashed potatoes and licks his finger!
He says, “Mmmmm. Finger lickin’ good.”
I shouldn’t feel embarrassed like this, and so I just say, “The secret ingredient is cream cheese.”
The boy says, “I am Hayden. You must be with that group of traveling Amish kids that Alanna invited. I notice that some of you are wearing normal, I mean, you don’t have to wear those old timey Amish outfits?”
I make fun by answering, “No, not when we are in the Devil’s playground,” and then I say more truthfully, “Not on this particular night, anyway. Our usual clothing is called for in our Ordnung, our community rule for living, as a shield for humility.”
Hayden asks me, “So, I heard that now is, like, your ‘Time to Sow Regrets’?”
I feel my cheeks get hot and I say, “No. No, of course not. It is called Rumspringa. It is granted to us so that young people can know what they are choosing if (why did I say if?) when they finally decide to be baptized and join the Church for life. It is said: ‘One must choose either the world or the faith’.
Hayden is grinning in a way that is… I would say …, yes, wicked, and he asks me oddly, “So then, ‘what happens in Rumspringa stays in Rumspringa’?”
I answer, “I don’t understand.”
And Hayden narrows his eyes at me and says, “Never mind. It’s a joke from television.”
I ask, “They joke about Rumspringa on television?”
Hayden answers, “Well, not yet. How about some special punch?”
I say truthfully, “My mouth is a little dry, thank you.”
Hayden says, “Well, I am sure I would enjoy lubricating your mouth, Ruth,” and I can hear nearby mirth.
I am so unfamiliar with their worldly expressions and I answer uncertainly, “Thank you?”
Hayden bows slightly in a gentlemanly fashion and he says, “You are well-come and I think you will be glad you came.” Others nearby are laughing again. I hope I can experience such fun. Hayden says, “Allow me,” and then he takes my bowl of mashed potatoes from me and gestures toward the nearby refreshments table. No wonder others were laughing! So many colorful strange appetizing dishes!
At the refreshment table appears Alanna, who invited me to her party, and she asks Hayden in a manner that is a little perturbed it seems to me, “Hayden. What are you doing?”
Hayden answers rather innocently, “Being a warm host.”
For some reason Alanna sounds to me a bit skeptical, saying to Hayden, “Yeah, right, Hayden,” and in conclusion I think Alanna has just said to Hayden that he is… that Hayden is… an intelligent donkey? I am not sure. I am quite unfamiliar with their way of speaking. Alanna takes my arm and leads me away.
Alanna says to me, “I admire you, Ruth. You Amish ‘walk the talk’,” and when she sees that I don’t understand she says, “Practice what you preach.”
Alanna is so pretty with her short dark hair and her short blue dress is just lovely with the patterns of silver sequins but, My Lord, there is more of her breast and legs showing than are concealed.
I look away and say, “My friends and I really wanted to come here to your party, Alanna, with all our hearts, but really, in the back of our minds, we are all afraid of dying outside the Church and not going to Heaven. Rumspringa is not all ‘cruising for hot dogs’. Is that how you say it?”
Alanna laughs happily and tells me, “That is how we should say it, Ruth!” Then she adds, “But I understand the appeal of your mellow, clear cut lifestyle. I really do.”
Alanna had told me that she and her sister Kate had a band of musicians, “We call ourselves the, uh, Lickitty Splitz.”
I had smiled and said, “That is a cute name. My grandfather used to say ‘clickety-clack, lickety split’ when he complained about the world.”
I had told Alanna that back in LaGrange County the women sing and the men sing, but not together, and not with musical instruments.
Alanna had told me that she and her sister Kate were fraternal twins, but that they call themselves “sorority twins” as a joke. Alanna said that this had given them the name of their first band when they were 10-years old, the folk singing duo named “Sorority”. Alanna had told me that she and sister Kate wrote their own songs together from the start.
Tonight, Alanna’s band of musicians will be playing music for dancing at this party. She already knew that we Amish did not dance.
Alanna implores me, “But you are going to dance tonight, right? Rumspringa!”
I hesitate, saying, “I don’t really know how…”
Alanna says, “Just watch the other kids. Rumspringa! Get you a glass of rum and just spring’a, ha, ha! Here. Here is a glass of rum and Coke. You’ll like it.”
I take a sip and pucker, saying, “It is dark and a little sweet like molasses.”
A voice behind me asks, “You rang?”
I turn and Alanna says, “Ruth, this is Jamaad, our drummer.”
Jamaad is dark like the Three Wise Men from the East, and he is short with thick black-rimmed glasses and he is wearing a bright red basket-ball player’s uniform with the sewn letters and symbols “Jamaad Lickitty Splitz.” Jamaad has on red sneakers.
Alanna says, “Jamaad, this is Ruth, one of our Amish guests tonight.”
Jamaad exclaims, “Damn! I watched a girl from your group who was wearing her Amish threads and her white hat...,”
I quickly explain, “White prayer cap. That is Miriam and she’s to be engaged...”
Jamaad concludes, “…and chugging a can of beer!” Then he turns to Alanna and says, “Hey, Alanna, maybe we should start our set with Vodka Tampon?”
I am certain that I have misunderstood Jamaad.
Then Alanna’s sister Kate appears and Alanna introduces her to me. Alanna had said they were only fraternal twins and indeed they are very different, Kate seeming quiet and almost shy with long wavy blonde hair.
Alanna then says, “Let’s get ready,” and she, Kate, and Jamaad go toward the other side of the room where I can see musical instruments. Alanna calls back to me, saying, “You are going to dance tonight, Ruth, remember?” and I wave at her. I’m still not so sure. I look around for Miriam and I am starting to feel a little apprehensive about this night.
I see Hayden coming toward me and now I am really nervous.
Hayden says to me while he is looking at the departing Alanna, “Here you are! Ruth, right? I promised you some special punch, remember? Let me take that for you,” and he takes my glass of rum and Coke and then hands to me a very tiny glass of some wine-red beverage, saying, “Here you go. This is called a ‘shot’. Tip your head, throw it into the back of your throat and swallow quickly. Like this,” and Hayden demonstrates with his “shot”.
I look at my ‘shot’ and ask, “What is this, again?”
Hayden lifts my hand with the drink and he answers, “Good for you. Down the well, now!”
And so I imitate Hayden’s manner of imbibing, nearly choking myself, but I swallow and then I ask him, “Like that?”
Hayden nods, saying, “Perfect.”
I say, “Well, thank you for the punch. It is very unusual. It is tingly in my mouth.”
Hayden asks oddly, “So you like tingly things in your mouth?”
I hardly know how to respond to these strange conversations but I say, “I guess so.”
Then Miriam who is to be engaged appears beside me, swaying and grinning. Her demeanor clashes with her traditional long dress and prayer cap.
I look into Miriam’s veiled eyes and I ask her with concern, “Are you alright, Miriam?”
She leans towards me and she says, “I so love you, Ruth Zook.”
Hayden leans in between us and asks with a silly grin, “Do you love me, too?”
I am stunned as Miriam begins to giggle and then she pulls down her prayer cap and covers her face with it.
Music is suddenly heard, very loud. People at the party are crying out together, saying, “Whoo-hoo!” I look over at the Lickitty Splitz and I can see Alanna holding a guitar and singing, and Kate playing what looks like a tiny piano on a rod, singing, and Jamaad gesturing frantically behind a setup of drums of different sizes.
There is so much sound for three people. I can feel it in my belly! All around me people begin to dance and deform, as if the music is melting them! I feel like the music is an ocean and I am rolling on it like a boat. I put out my arms to steady myself but the music is pushing me back and forth. Pushing everybody back and forth and up and down.
I can feel the arms of someone go around my waist and I know they belong to Hayden. He turns me around and holds me against himself and I don’t feel so woozy. I look over his shoulder at Miriam, who is to be engaged, and she is playing an invisible guitar, but I swear that I can hear music coming from her. She is swaying like a snake and she is grimacing with, oh My Lord, secret pleasures.
My vision is moving side to side and I feel detached and yet my eyes can feel the motion of everyone’s body. I feel Hayden put both his hands under my bottom and he is lifting me up and he is putting my legs around his waist and we are dancing like we are pumping water from a well.
I feel electricity rising in my belly and I am coiling around it. I am moving through the crowd backwards and the faces and the bodies are flowing past me. I realize that Hayden is carrying me away. I can barely focus but the music and the light is going away. Now I am falling, falling slowly backwards and Hayden presses on top of me.
I hear Hayden breathe into my face, “You are so hot.” Yes, yes, I am hot, too hot, I am burning up, I must get out of these clothes, help me, help me.
I lift my head and I see that Hayden is holding a flaming silver sword. I cry out and I don’t recognize my voice when I ask, “What, what are you doing with that?”
Hayden stabs me in the belly. I cry out. He stabs me again, and again. I hear Hayden grunting, “Amish Mash. Amish Mash. My secret ingredient is cream, cream,” and then he groans again and again as he stabs me over and over. I think I am screaming.
Suddenly there is a loud crack and my face is covered with, yes it is, oh My Lord, I taste it: mashed potatoes. Hayden has cried out once and then he rolled off of me and I heard a loud thud and now, moaning.
A light above me comes on. I see a luminous cross through my eyelashes. My vision is clearing, growing steady again. I realize I am on a bed, oh Lord, I am naked.
I look to one side and I see Miriam standing over us, quaking, holding in each hand a thick broken fragment of my bowl of Amish mashed potatoes.
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