there with her yet, but she kept saying she was going to bring me to ride the horse someday. Mostly up that way it was just old mines that they had left, and it looked like the surface of the moon. West as far as you could see were the mines where they were still digging — miles and miles and miles of mines with their draglines and processing plants and float houses and water cannons and float crews and dams and chemical plants and pipelines and booster pumps and train tracks and open boxcars with the regular phosphate they carried over to the Port of Tampa to ship to where they made fertilizer and stuff, and the special cars for what they called Triple Super Phosphate, which Dad said was what they had when they mixed phosphate with sulfuric acid and which you couldn’t have be anywhere in the air or it would explode, so they shipped it in sealed tanks and Dad said it was funny that it was that dangerous, because if you ever saw it, it looked just like honey.
I don’t know what Darla was doing up there — probably dancing or something — but I was so tired when I finally made it to the top of Sand Mountain that I just waved to her and then fell right down on my cardboard and lay there looking up at the sky. The flat top of the mountain was about as big as my bedroom, so it was only a couple of seconds before Darla came over and I saw her face staring down at me.
“Are you following me?” she said. “Because if you are, I have a right to know why.”
I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, she was still there. “Well?” she said. “Well?”
I didn’t know what to say. I thought she’d be happy to see me so I said that: “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
Darla crossed her arms. “That depends.”
I sat up. “Depends on what?”
“On whether you’ll let me bury you.”
I said how about if I let her share my cardboard to ride down on instead. Darla sniffed and said she already had her own and did I think she was stupid or something that she would climb all the way to the top of Sand Mountain without her own cardboard, for goodness sake?
“OK,” I said. “You can bury me, I guess. But I wasn’t following you.”
“Oh, sure you weren’t,” Darla said. Then she said I had to help her dig the hole to bury me in, which I did, and pretty soon I was standing in a four-foot hole and she was covering me up until I just had my head sticking out of the sand. It was hot and sweaty and itchy everywhere, even the deep parts. I held my breath as long as I could while she packed sand up around my neck. I didn’t want to get it up my nose and in my mouth. I hadn’t even got to stand up and look around yet, but that’s just how it was with Darla.
She said, “You know my mom can hold her breath longer than anybody in the world.”
I asked how come?
She said because her mom used to be a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs, which I already knew, and all the mermaids had to do that, but her mom was the best. She said once her mom held her breath for five whole minutes. I said nobody could hold their breath for five minutes, not even the Great Houdini, who I had read a book about. Darla said did I want her to cover my whole head in sand, too? Then I better take back what I said. I said I wasn’t going to take it back and I tried to get my arms out, but she had piled too much sand and I couldn’t lift them, and she scooped more sand up to where it was right at the bottom of my lips and just about to go into my mouth.
“OK,” I said. “Maybe your mom did.”
I spit out some sand. “Definitely.”
Darla brushed away the sand from my mouth and stood up. “Now, what should I sing?”
I said, “How about ‘It’s Howdy Doody Time’?”
She gave me a look like I had just said the stupidest thing ever. “Maybe I should bury your head anyway.”
“You better not,” I said.
Darla said, “Oh, all right,” and then she sang the entire song of “Strangers in the Night,” while I blinked