Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sitting in the Rain

"Well, I called your father up a day this past week and said, 'I gotta get outta here. I've worked my butt off today and I can't go home and just sit down.' My legs wanted to, of course, but my mind was on the prowl. I had to get outta this constant doing the same thing over and over. All I've seen and thought about for days is shrimp. You'll never know the amount of shrimp I prepared today. Seven par sheets. Seven. Well, you don't know what that means, of course, but take my word for it, it's a lot." My mom works at the local Red Lobster where, according to her, all the stand-up comics in town work there for minimum wage. She means, 'stand-up' as in 'on your feet some twelve hours non-stop' and 'comics' as in 'who else but a comedian would get laughed at this way?' She's worked there for some six, seven years, since she left my father and got a place of her own. She's had three raises in those years. "A dime a piece. Tell me if that's not laughable!" She reminds me this every Sunday morning we talk on the phone, our weekly check into each other's lives, in case I could have forgotten.
            She continues in a pant, "You have to split them down the middle while you're deveining them.” Now she’s back on the shrimp par sheets again. “And our shrimper is broken, so this all has to be done by hand, and then you have to pound them, I mean, flat as a pancake, and then pass them on to the breading table. And with the new laws, the shrimp can be out on the sheets only so long before they have to be put back on ice, so you're under such ungodly pressure, all the time you're working, and the managers walk past non-stop, checking, you know. And, like I've said before, I never get a break. Never. You stand there upteen hours working your butt off without breaks. I don't even eat lunch till I get home most days after six." She pauses here and I hear her lean over and talk to her cat like I'm not on the line at all. "That's a good boy, no, no, I'm on the phone. No. No. Go away, Shaker. Go on now." I named her cat Shaker because he’s black and white, like salt and pepper. She wanted to call him Sheba after the expensive cat flood she feeds him and I put my foot down. She didn’t see the problem with gender twisting with a cat. With me, it was another matter. It took her some time to accept my lesbian ways, especially when I showed up at the first family reunion with Madeleine. It went very well, much to Mother’s relief. Dad didn’t care as long as Mother was sufficiently mollified.
            She breathes heavily into the receiver and I think she's talking to me again when she says, "I've fed you already. You can't be hungry." But then she says to me, changing her tone slightly, as though she suddenly remembers she’s on the line, "Maybe he knows what the word 'shrimp' means, you suppose?"
            I've learned to wait. It's the timetable of our history together. I've learned to wait until there's a pause long enough for me to say something. Sometimes this never happens. But I'm lucky today because she doesn't pick-up for a whole second or two, so I say, "I think it's more likely he smells  the shrimp, Mom."
            I see her shaking her head side to side. "I took a bath before I called you," she says, exasperated, as though my thinking she might not bathe after she’s worked in a seafood vat all day should be repulsive to both of us. "First thing I do when I get home," she adds as a trailing thought.
            "Mom..." I start but then wait while she rushes on. I don't figure out her pauses more often than I'd like to admit.
            "You know the song about washing the man outta your hair? Well, I try to wash my work outta everything! It's impossible to get that fishy smell off your skin. I've even used Clorox." I remember well how Clorox was the wonder chemical for everything in our house while my siblings and I were growing up. She clears her throat and then says, "Anyway, you don't want to hear about my work."
            And then, without skipping a beat, "So I just called him up, your father I mean, and sometimes he's really good for this, you know, we always could travel together and enjoy it. It's one of the things we did best together."
            "So where'd you go?" I interject, thinking they may have gone for a small over-night trip like they used to.
            "You're gonna laugh, but we went to El Reno."
            "El Reno?" I can't fathom this at first. El Reno is twenty miles
north of Oklahoma City, forty from where they live. But it's the only place on the planet where you can still get greasy hamburgers six for a dollar. When my brother Teddy used to visit from California, before he got married and had kids, going to Johnny's diner in El Reno was his last departing act with us before he hit the airport. He'd buy two dozen hamburgers with fried onions, mustard and pickles and carry them in his lap on dry ice in a styrofoam box back to his freezer in El Cajon, California.
            "You went for the hamburgers, am I right?" I ask Darlene.
            "Well, eventually, yes. Remember what Teddy used to say about those? 'So little you either bite over or under 'em and either way, you miss!'" She laughs.
            "I did eat a couple and I shouldn't of," she says, "They almost killed me. I never learn. Fried onions probably.” Or a quarter can of Crisco, I’m thinking. “But actually, we didn't end up in El Reno for that. By the time Vern came over, I was waiting in the parking lot. I walked up to his car—I don't know if you know this, but he sold his truck and bought Kat's car before she left for Portland. Well, when he drove up, he rolled down his window and said, "What's up?" I guess because I didn't get in the car right away. He's bought himself some new glasses, I imagine because after I left, he didn't have any he could use to read the paper with. And you oughta see what he got. They're thick rimmed and almost white, for God's sakes. Where he got 'em I'll never know, probably from the Salvation Army Thrift Shop. They make him look like he's watching a 3-d movie. But he's got his own mind now, so what the hell."
            "Say that again?" I managed to say.
            But she disregards this, if she hears it at all. "'See that over there?'" I ask him."
            "’What? over where?’" he asks craning his neck around to where I'm pointing. This always irritates the hell outta me. He's always done that, the least amount. He always answers me the least amount. So I just stand there and I wait for him to get outta the car and take a look at where I'm looking, which he did after he saw my face and knew I wasn't gonna get in the car till he did.
            "Once he was standing beside me, looking in the direction I was, I said, 'There," pointing at this big black rain cloud. "I wanna go there, where it's raining. Where do you suppose that is?"
            "Well, about at El Reno," he says, taking his ball cap off and scratching his head.
            "Okay," I say back to him. "I wanna go to El Reno and sit in the rain because I wanna go where something is happening."
            "And this is one thing I like about him--it may be the only thing I like about him, but he doesn't ask boo-nor-baa-nor-kiss-my-behind. He just grins a little and says, 'Well, we can do that, if that's what you want.' And so we drove over to El Reno. We didn't say one other thing all the way over there. Blessed silence, you know? So I say to him, 'Wake me up when it starts to rain, okay?'
            "I just sat back with my eyes closed waiting till I thought I smelled the rain and pretty soon, he says, soft-like, like he doesn't want to wake me, ’It's the El Reno turn off, Darlene. We're almost there’. And then it starts to rain, against the windshield in little pitter-pats, and that struck us both funny, like it was raining on cue. But by the time we got in town, it was coming down so hard, he couldn't see where he was going, so he drives into this church parking lot and we sit there with the car running awhile, the air-conditioner on to keep the windows from fogging up, and the windshield wipers flapping back and forth at top speed."
            "This is nice," I say finally. "Why don't you turn the motor off."
So he does. And we sit there in the rain, just listening, the windshield wipers in an up position, but it doesn't matter cause it's raining so hard you couldn't see your hand up in front of you anyhow, well, if you outside, of course. He looks over at me once or twice, but keeps quiet. He rubs his legs up and down with his hands the way he always does. He's good this way, though, about waiting, letting me say things.
            "Then before I know it, I'm cryin. I just can't stop. Tears are coming outta my eyes before I know it, and I just sit there bawling like crazy. And your father just sits there, looking at me, then looking outta the windshield into the rain, back and forth like that. The rain was coming down so hard I couldn't even hear myself blubbering away, which was both our salvations, I guess. Finally when I'd had my cry, he says, "What's going on, Darlene?" He says this like he did when he drove up and saw me waiting in the parking lot at the apartment complex. I think I mystify this man. He doesn't know what the hell to do with me most the time. He hasn't a clue. I mean, not a clue."
            I hear her blow her nose and I wonder if she's crying now, but her voice has a lilt when she says, "So I put him off like I usually do, you know. I said, 'Oh, hell, it's too many hours on the shrimp boards or something like that, and he shakes his head and lets it be. We sat there, listening to the rain for, oh, I don’t know an hour or so. It was a while.
            "Oh, we got a half dozen hamburgers and a couple of Orange Crushes before we left. Ate those out in the car in front of the restaurant. The inside of Johnny’s is always so smoky, you can't enjoy what you're eating inside."
            "They still sell Orange Crush in El Reno, Mom?" I ask, wanting to be a part of this. I wanted to hold her, like a child, my own child-mother.
            "Naw. I call anything I drink that's orange an Orange Crush. They probably stopped making those years ago. It was a Slice or something. I just know you have to have something wet and sweet to get all that grease down your throat. It's that and the fried-all-to-hell onions—what Vernon calls em."
            I sit still, not moving a muscle on the other end of the line, when she says, "After a couple of hours it started to get dark and the rain wasn't going to stop, so he started up the engine and we drove back home. We didn't talk most the way back. I just rolled down the window and let it rain all over me. So when we drove into the parking lot at my apartment complex and he killed the engine, I said," she says this so quiet, I almost can't hear her, "'Vernon, I just can't keep workin the way I am. It's killing me. I have to find another way and I was just wonderin if I could come back and live with you again. I was wonderin what you would say to that?
            "Well, you know your father, Caroline. He just looked at me so long I really thought he was going to say no; but then he said, 'You wanna come back home, Darlene, I don't mind. That's okay with me.' I didn't like too much how he said 'home,' like that, because you know how I feel about being hemmed in again and you know how he is, his jealousy and all. But I just don't know what else to do. But then he said, 'I'll do anything to help you that you want me to. You want to come back and live with me, I'd like that.'
            "So I tell him what I need, what I have to have in order to live with him again. I say I have to have my own place, maybe the back part of the house, you know? Like an apartment out of the extra bathroom and the two bedrooms to the back and side of the house. And I tell him we can eat together, if that's okay, but we aren't gonna be married so I don't intend to wait on him hand and foot like I used to. And I tell him, that I shouldn’t’ve done it back then. You know I thought he’d give me a hard time about some of this because I’m the one who left him, insisted we get a divorce and the house be left in my name. So I lay out all the ground rules and he sits there rubbing his legs and pushing his ballcap up and down over his head and saying, 'Sure, I can do that,' and "That's fine, Darlene, if that's what you need.'"
            She takes in her breath on the other end of the line and I know that it's my turn. I wait a second before I say, as even and soft as I can, "It sounds like he means it, Darlene. He's not been drinkin for years and he's had his own life for awhile. It sounds fine."
            I hear her breath come out in a rush, "I said 'yes,' not to him, not out loud right away. But I think I'm really going to, Caroline. It feels like I should."
            "Well, I declare," I try to sound like a distant relative, like I'm just hearing some gossip, "I can't wait to tell Kat about this! or you told her already?"
            "You can tell your sister if you want to, that's all right, I suppose," she says with a sigh. "But don't tell your brothers yet, okay? I gotta figure out first what I'm gonna say."
            “It’s Kat that you’ve got to convince. I know that Teddy and Timothy were upset with the divorce, but Kat was livid, Darlene. She’s going to be the hurdle you’ll have to jump, you know?”
            “One step at a time,” she says quietly.
            I know how hard this is. She’s told everybody he’s a jerk. Now she has to live with the jerk and not just like it but be grateful. It’s a handful. “One step at a time,” I say, thinking how many times Vernon must have thought and said this during his recovery.

The Ticket

"Well, how are ya?" my mother's voice rings out. It’s our weekly call, her turn.
            "Fine," my voice sounds flat. Sometimes it’s a chore to talk. The topic is usually her troubles at work. I have enough of that on my own during the week. I need week-ends to re-coop. I work a high stress job as an art therapist to severely emotionally-challenged children and young adults in schools that are overpopulated and under-staffed because of the economic recession. It’s all I can do to manage the day-to-day overload.
            "You don't sound very fine," she says. "What's wrong?" When I pause, she attempts a more casual tone, "Anything wrong?"
            "Not really. I'm just tired. What's going on your way?"
            "Well, I got another speeding ticket. What I mean to say is that I almost got another ticket. Coming back from Chickasha yesterday. It's just ridiculous."
            "You gotta watch it, Mom. You have a red car and you're an older woman."
            She snorts defensively, "What's that got to do with anything?"
            "The police don't want to stop these young guys with gun racks and big monster trucks, Darlene. They gotta get their quotas somehow. You’re an easy mark."
            "Well, basically that's what I told him."
            I groan. I seem to do that a lot when I talk to my mother on the phone. "You told the policeman that you suspected he stopped you so that he could fill his quota for the day? Darlene...."
            "Not exactly that," she interrupts. "Well, I guess I did say as much. More actually. I didn’t say I suspected him of anything. I told him directly he was doing it."
            "I'm sure," I say barely audible, then wait. I just can’t take her on this morning.
            "I picked Vernon up because I had to get out of town. I had worked my butt off this week.” My mom works at the local Red Lobster as a food preparer, is divorced from my father but goes to his house—her old one with him—and does her laundry while they cook and have suppers together at least once a week. Occasionally, they go out on dates—my view, not theirs, at least not hers—picnics to the park, dining out at the Pizza Hut or some diner or cafeteria, day trips to Lexington Wildlife Area and state parks, shopping at the Salvation Army, Homeland Grocery or browsing the library for loaners and sharers. They are married in every way except for the sex and living quarters, and I’m not certain about either of those. “We had a Christmas in July special on seafood, and I peeled more shrimp this week than I care to count. I was exhausted so I just wanted to take a drive and get out in the country for awhile. So I called Vernon up and asked if he would like to go with me to that little diner in Chickasha we sometimes go to, he likes that, you know, so we went out there to eat and on the way back, this black and white stops me in New Castle."
            It wasn't in Oklahoma City like before, I thought. "Lucky," I say with a grin.
            "Oh sure. Right! Well, he makes with the flash—he came up from behind or I woulda seen him in time to hit the brakes—well, anyway, he stops me and comes over and leans on my window, peering in. You know Vernon. I looked over there and he was hunkered down in his bucket seat. This cop says to me that he has to see my license and all that stuff. Then while he's holding it like he's never going to give it back, he starts saying to me in this monotone about how I was doing excessive speeding etcetera, etcetera. So when he gets done, I ask him in a very civil tone, 'Can I say something to you?' And he says 'Sure.' So I say, 'You know if you drive the speed limit out here you can get killed? Nobody, I mean, nobody is driving 55 miles an hour on these highways and you guys know it. How the heck am I supposed to drive the speed limit without these people coming up on my bumper and riding my gas tank while they're waiting to go around me?'
            "So he squints over at Vernon, then back at me and says, 'I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to tell me here because I've never seen a report in my life that states that somebody ran over another driver because he was going 55 miles an hour.' Caroline, I want you to listen to that: 'Ran over another driver.' I say to him, 'Of course not. That's not what makes going 55 risky. It's these guys who want to go a 100 miles an hour behind you when you are going 55 miles an hour who are willing to take chances when they pass you. They're the ones who’re gonna make you a statistic.' Then he says to me, 'That's exactly what I am trying to do. I'm trying to keep you from becoming a statistic.' 'Don't make me laugh,' I'm thinking, but I say to him instead, 'My going 55 is going to
keep me from being a statistic, huh?' Caroline, all at once I was so mad at the stupidity of this conversation, I just thought, 'I'm not afraid of you guys, by God.' They think that because they wear these uniforms and have the power to write out tickets that they can say anything to you and you have to take it even if it's stupid and untrue. Well, I'm not about to take that kind of stuff anymore, so I said, 'What is going on here?' And you should have seen him look at me. I was very polite and all but I decided to just tell him the truth because if he decided to write a ticket he might as well be writing it after he heard what I had to say. 'You know as well as I do that everybody, I mean everybody, out here is driving 75 and 85 miles an hour.'
            "'You were going 70," he says, smiling a little.
            "’I beg your pardon’," I say back, ‘I was going 65. I know because I keep track. I look at my speedometer often, and you know what? These people are going around me like I'm standing still. I just had a guy pass me before you stopped me that had to be going 80 or 85. He just now passed me. I don't see how you could have missed him. He cut me off because a car was coming up on the lane he was in when he was passing and Vern and I were just talking about it. So I'm not going to sit here and have you tell me that I'm going way over the speed limit and nobody else is. These people are driving around Oklahoma City on the by-pass 85 and 90 and you know it."
            "I'm from New Castle," he said with a smart-alecky edge to it, and
I was furious!"
            "I bet," I interjected even though I didn't need to.
            "Yeah," she said, revving herself up. "Liars. All this lying everywhere. It's just a goddang game with everybody anymore. It's just like at work. My manager, Larry Castleberry, forgot to write down the date and time like I told him to when I fell in January on their slick floor that I’d told them about twice already and I got the 'yeah, yeah, yeah' response. Now, their insurance company doesn't want to pay so according to contract—it was an accident due to their negligence—well, now they have to pay; and Larry's supervisor is really upset with him for not writing it down, plus not taking care of the slick floor problem. So here they both come to me, the supervisor driving all the way from Del City see, asking me when 'the accident occurred,' and 'what time I accidentally fell' they want to know, when it's their job, not mine to keep track of these things when they're reported. I can't remember now and I did the right thing when it happened so I say they can live with it. You can't believe how nice the manager is to me these days. Hooooo. I get the right hours, and lots of them, and you know how I had to fight like hell over each and every hour all summer and spring in order to make ends meet. It's all a goddang game and I'm sick of it. Do they think I'm stupid or something? So I say to this cop, 'I know you're from New Castle. I see it on your arm!’
            "Good God!" I say.
            "No, wait," she says to me, "he laughs. He laughs. At least it broke the ice. Then I say, 'Look at my car. I want you to really think about what I'm telling you. This car has a 120 mile-per-hour speedometer. Why is that? These cars are made to go fast. All these commercials on T.V. have them speeding around on racetracks or on Salt Lake or in and out of those obstacle courses with mud flying in the air and that's why most people buy them, because they're built for speed. Even the little ones, like mine. Now I bet if you looked it up, you would find that most congressmen are attempting to keep the speed limit at 55. I know because I listened to the whole oil embargo thing when Jimmy Carter was president back in the 70s and he lowered it to 55 for everyone. Now that the embargo is over with, only a handful of states are threatening to raise their speed limits. Why do you think that is? I don’t wait for an answer. I tell him. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Detroit and the government are in cahoots over this one. The car makers get to keep on making the cars they can sell—everybody wants one that goes way, way over 55—and the police can keep issuing  tickets on this kind of set-up any time they want. The government tries to tell us these lower speeds are all for our own safety and the national interest but it’s really just to help with states revenue, so they don’t have to give so much federal funds to help the states.' Well, his smile was gone now. I saw that he was getting a bit ticked again. Hey, these guys don't want to hear the truth, you know. So I said, 'Look I hear what you’re telling me and I will try to watch it, but...." And he slides in there real fast and says, 'That's what I want you to do. I want you to drive 55 miles an hour.' 'Well, okay,' I say, 'but I don't know what you all are going to do about this exactly because you need to take a look at how this is working out for us out here on the road. The people driving are the ones losing out in this one because we’re caught in the middle, between the police and the car manufacturers.' He just sort of smiled and told me to wait right where I was a minute. Well, I turned to Vernon and said, 'Where am I gonna go? Take out down the road at 85 miles an hour like I'd like to do right now and leave New Castle standing there?' And you should have seen Vernon. During this entire conversation, he sat there moving back and forth in his seat, grunting an 'uh-huh' sound here and there like 'yeah, that's right,' every time this policeman said anything. He was scared half outta his mind, you could tell it plain as day. So when New Castle comes back he hands me my license and says, 'Here's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to give you a ticket or anything. Not even a warning. I'm just going to talk to you. It is my job to see to it that people out here are obeying the law. The law is that you’re supposed to be driving 55 miles an hour. I saw you disobeying that law and I am telling you that I want you to be safe by obeying that law. Speed kills.' Caroline, I thought I was going to throw up. I know it probably does kill; though I have to tell you there’s lots of talk about how this isn’t true. I know because I’ve read about it in the paper and watched it on TV. All these states that are challenging the national speed limit law are doing research because they want some leverage to combat this ridiculously low 55 speed law. So getting this lecture from this cop was more than I could take. I wanted to say something like 'You got to be kidding,' but I knew I would get a ticket if I did, so right here, this once, I stayed quiet. Then he leans through my window and looks at Vernon and says, "I think you know what I’m talking about," and he nods his way, like they have this male thing between them. And Vernon nods back real big like 'Yes I sure do!' I tell you, I could have slugged him. So then the cop looks back at me, held my eyes with this slick smile on his face, slaps the window frame of my door several times with his finger, like he is tapping a pencil on a pad, like I need a big reminder, right?, and he says, 'You folks have a nice day now.' And I said, 'Thank you,' big as you please. And then he says just before he leaves, 'Thanks for the input.' Can you believe that? Thanks for the input. Wonder if he will take all that input to his chief?"
            I laugh. "You know, Darlene. This is a lot like the reaction of the sheriff who handled your case when you got arrested for going into that old abandoned house and taking that stuff, you remember? Wasn't that in Chickasha? Wasn’t Chickasha the seat for your court hearing?”
            "Rush Springs, yeah. My God, I haven't thought of that in years." She laughs. “And Vern and I were on our way back from Chickasha when the New Castle cop stopped me. That’s hilarious, really.”
            "You talked your way out of that one too, remember, and the sheriff's reaction was very much like this cop's. It's like you get them to listen to what you have to say."
            "I'm telling them the truth, that's why. These cars are going around me out there like their tails're on fire. New Castle knows this. Oh, and I told him that too. I invited him to get in my car and take a drive down the highway with Vernon and me."
            "You said that to him? You're kidding! Why?"
            "No, I'm not kidding. I said to him, 'If you don't believe what I'm telling you, get in the car with us and go for a 55 mile an hour drive down this highway here and watch the cars speed by me. I can even go 65 miles an hour if you let me and you still will watch them speed by me. Course," I said, "you will have to take your hat off so they don't see you're a cop.'
            "Darlene, you're something," I say. She doesn't even know her magic. Of course that's what makes her work, I thought. If I said these same things to this cop, I'd be in jail in New Castle overnight.
            "I knew he wouldn't get in the car with us, of course. Probably figured we'd run him in the brush and slit his throat or worse," she laughs good-naturedly. She pauses a beat, then asks: "So you think he stopped me because I'm old, huh?"
            "Not old, exactly, Darlene," I said, feeling tender. "But with a little red car built for speed and with a guy like Dad by your side, he figured he had at least one tag for the day. It's not all his fault, you know. I wouldn't want to stop these guys out there either. They get in their big cars and trucks and they get mad anymore if you just want to make a left-hand turn. They think you're in their way. I'd hate to be the one to make them obey the rules! Remember that cop outside Oklahoma City who stopped us when you were coming off the by-pass ramp? He had his hand on his gun when he held his flashlight on the trunk while I opened it to get out your purse you'd left there and forgot to take it back out when we got in the car. We had to get it out of the trunk in order for him to see your license. He was nervous and rightly so. I was mad, Darlene, actually for the same reason you feel that New Castle stopped you this time. I could've had a gun in there and blown him away, you know. He was a kid. A rookie probably. It's a hard job, really."
            "Okay but when they stop me instead of the guys with the Tonka trucks they don't have to get off on it, you know? What is that? This cop getting himself a ticket for the day with an older woman that he tries to intimidate. Not right."
            "There are days," I say to her then, "when Thelma and Louise seem a reality just around the corner for me."
            She giggles and says, "They want to play games, we might just change the rules around on them one of these days. My kind of thinking, exactly!"
            "Say hi to Dad for me," I joke toward a close.
            "Tell him yourself, if you want to. Right now I'm not wanting to hear his voice or see his face!"


Snow fell. His feet were getting very cold. He was practically covered now, in down, drifting feathers insulating him from the bitter wind.  During the battle, one night he had slept in a bathtub in an abandoned farmhouse without windows in a featherbed like this one. When he had fallen now, his gun had been thrown from him. It had discharged in a sudden burst. A deer nearby had bolted, leaving tracks no longer there. The gun was leaning oddly against a tree as though he’d placed it before lying down for a rest.
            As light faded he knew he had to get up but his body lay thickly inert. He could not see himself. When he looked down, he saw nothing but the cold, white blanket gathered in lumps where his body should have been. He could only move his neck in a small circle. He was resting on a pillow, studying where he was like children do when they first awaken in their rooms.
            Looking around he saw the faintest small place between the trees. The place moved in a rhythm that wasn't connected to him. It breathed in and out like some living image he should recognize but couldn't so he watched it rise and fall beyond him. "It is only space in the branches of the trees," he thought. But the life there suggested more.
            He lay transfixed, watching. The life-place grew brighter the longer he watched. It was coming to meet him in those intervals between the trees and himself. But then it retreated, advancing and retreating with his breath. It was a living thing suspended there, fluttering with wings about to take flight.
            He must have slept, his neck stretched out, craning toward what he had seen there in the trees, because when he awoke the snow had covered him, so
that he had sunken deeper into his pillow of leaves and dirt. Its starched fabric covered his cheeks. He took his hand and brushed the stiffness from his face. He could no longer see or feel much of anything outside his mind. His body was somewhere in-between his thoughts and the world swirling around him, a billowing shroud. When he was hungry, he chewed on his shroud. When he was thirsty, he stuffed it in his mouth my the handfuls, where it melted and slithered down his throat.
            He faced the life-place again and again, breathing in and breathing out with the swaying of the trees. Then after resting the night, he opened his eyes and saw that it was gone. He suspected that it was no longer there because he couldn't see the outline of the trees for the snowing. The entire panorama before him was white light. Maybe he was blind or maybe he was in it now. Maybe the life-place grew into him.
            He must not sleep anymore, he thought. He must get up but he couldn't because he had no feet or body. But he did sleep and when he awoke, the trees were there in front of him clear and alive. The snow had stopped and the sun had turned the world green. The grass swayed and sorrel and anemone lay just beyond him, dotted with dew. A fawn came, smelled his face, his hair and left. He heard the sound and smelled the breath of it long after it had fled.
            When he was finally found, he saw one of the young soldiers walk past him to the gun leaning against the tree. He lifted his head enough to see the space between the soldier’s body and his bending arm. The space there expanded into light as a shock drove his body deeper into the bed where he had been lying. He was being moved or perhaps finally flying away to the trees.
Weeks later in the hospital, when the doctors came again and again asking him to talk about it, he said nothing.
            "You can’t give up now,” they would say. “You must fight on. Nobody could survive what you have without a sense of destiny.” He said nothing
because he had nothing to say to them. He lay without moving, simply watching the comings and goings around him. It seemed they were children playing with life in their dollhouses.

“And how are you today," they said over and over weeks later, patting his hand. "You'll be fine," they would say, looking into his eyes gently with thin smiles. “You are recovering beautifully.” What they meant was that all his body parts were being restored. But what he understood and they did not was that he grew too cold there in that place where his life lives on.

The Final Cure

Dolls. God, I hate dolls. Why do people give kids dolls? Kids, shit! Why do people give girls dolls? Ever see a boy playin with a fuckin doll? Those freckled-faced boys ya see on Post Toastie boxes don’t play with dolls. They play with airplanes that shoot half way across the livin room when ya pull em with a rubber band or they play with those painted frogs that click ya get outta Cracker Jacks.
            God, I hate people who give me dolls. They give me dolls because they think I oughta play with em. And that’s it, isn’t it? They think I should play with dolls. They know I don’t want dolls, but they’re afraid of what that might mean. That something’s wrong with me.
            This one story I’ve heard over and over till I could puke: about when I was little, this one Christmas, how my mom and dad bought me this doll, the one I’ve wanted to strangle the most, and a crib with a little closet full of hand-stitched clothes that my Aunt Sally made just for it, and me, too.
            My momma says to anybody listenin, “Her Auntie Sally spent months, ’positively months,’ sewin for her and her doll.” She’s talking about the matchin outfits. What the fuck do you think was behind all that? I’m sure I don’t have to tell ya.
            Well, as this story goes, they put this fuckin doll and her crib in the dinin room where it was dark as molasses so that when we all came home from church Christmas Eve, I wouldn’t see it right off. This way, they got to switch on the light and yell “surprise,” and ever time they tell the story, they tell how thrilled they were when I ran to the crib just “squealing with delight!” Well, my dad had made a fatal mistake. On his way home from work Christmas Eve he’d seen this football in the winda of a hardware store, went in and bought it, and threw it in the crib as a joke. It was the football I was so thrilled to get. He tells this laughing to my uncles and my mother like it just seems impossible. But the part of the story they never tell is how all day that Christmas, they followed me around pointing out how cute “the baby” was in her “little crib” and didn’t I just want to hold her or rock her or somethin? I wanted to say “Hell, no! Let her cry her eyes out,” or “Why don’t you give her a bottle if it bothers you so much?” They were upset with me, I could see that plain enough, but what was I supposed to do? They wanted me to lie to them?
            What if I’d said what I really wanted was a Little Red Ryder B-B Gun, a year’s subscription to Captain Marvel comics and some of those thick books like the boys had in the neighborhood that they bought with their allowances, The Black Stallion or The Adventures of Tarzan? What then? I’da never heard the end of it! It’s been bad enough as is. For years they’ve been handin me this doll’s hairbrush and sayin stuff like “All you little girls are lookin pretty messy, ya know. Don’tcha think ya oughta fix their hair up? Company’s comin.” Then they always go over a little ways and stand and watch to see what I’m gonna do about it.
            And of course, the fuckin dumb broads these dolls are, they keep right on being themselves, with their glassy-eyed stares and eye lids that click up and down and hair that feels real but looks like shit because I never brush it.
            So then, finally when I’d had enough, I didn’t do like I usually did. You know, gather em up and take em back in the house past my Momma’s smiling face and throw them in a wad next to my bed when she wasn’t lookin. This time, I grabbed Beverly by the back of the neck and told her, “it’s over, our little momma-daughter thing” and I pulled her head right outta her shoulders and jumped all over her pretty dress. And then I mangled Shirley and Doreen along with her.
            Now, for the past two Saturdays, I get bathed and dressed like I’m goin to church but they take me instead to the doctor’s office in the Medical Building in Oklahoma City where I look at dozens of strange pictures and tell them what I think they mean and finish hundreds of sentences this stupid doctor starts and stops. Then he puts a bunch of boy and girl dolls in front of me and has me play house and family and doctor while he asked me questions about what I’m doing with them. Sometimes I just stare at him for most the time and he sighs and says, “You don’t want to play today?” When I shake my head and stare some more, he finally says, “Well, maybe next time.”
            Now Momma walks around at home between visits, dabbing at her eyes with her hankie. I keep telling them all over and over that all I wanna do is play football and read some comics, but nobody’s listenin. All they wanna know is stuff like whether my babies cried or not when I killed em.