Robert Leroy Jenks and Martha Lorraine Canary got married a month from the day they met. I asked why he was in such an all fired hurry to get hitched.
"Damn, Mr. Jenks a month ago you had two missions in life, to save up enough money to go live with your daughter in Oklahoma, and to warn everbody about the danger of using verbs in their speech. Now, here you are getting married. What's the hurry?"
I was helping with his collar after fixing his tie. He looked liked politician all dressed up with a suit and fresh shined shoes. Thurman had lathered him up good and proper and did the shaving so there were no tufts of stubborn beard sticking out of the crevices of his neck and face.
"Hell, I'm old, Billy John! I ain't got time to waste like a youngun trying to figure out if we are perfectly suited or not."
"Well, don't that give you no cause for worry? I mean she might be a little bit crazy or outright mean. Now, you'll be stuck with her."
"Naw, she ain't crazy, and she ain't mean either. She's old too. Everybody thinks when you get old all you lose is your physical skills, but what you really lose is your ability keep justifying why you ain't doing right about your life."
"You saying that I'll know what to do with my life when I get older."
"I'm wagering it'll be sooner rather than later. Don't think I ain't noticed you pining over that little girl."
I sighed, "Well, she ain't making shit easy. That's for damned sure."
He laughed and said, "Well, if you want things to be easy, you need stay away from women altogether."
"Yeah, but if I did that, I might end up out on the road shouting about how we need more prepositions or some adjectives.
He beamed when he got the joke and retorted, "Well, I'd not wish that fate on my worst enemy, but the world would be a much better place if we all used a few more adjectives, and one simply can never get enough prepositions." He wagged a finger at me as he spoke.
Out in back of the Corner Market, there was a huge cement slab. The Andersons volunteered it for the wedding. Everbody in the camp pitched in and decorated it all up with cloth covered tables, colored streamers, and colored lights strung from tree to tree, and brightly colored Chinese lanterns. Aunt Lou borrowed some folding chairs from the Concord Baptist Church, and Thurman and me fetched them and set them all up. The Reverend Cecil B. Johns did the marrying, and, all in all, it was a damn fine wedding.
Martha was wearing a brand new store bought dress and had her hair did up all fancy. She had even put on some lipstick and eyeshadow for the occasion. Mr. Jenks's face looked like a new morning sun. I had never seen a man's face so radiant and happy about getting hitched. Thurman stood in for the best man, and Burney served as the maid of honor. We had lifted a piano out of the Anderson's house and Mrs. Anderson played the wedding music on it. The weather cooperated immensely by providing a slight breeze that kept everthing nice and cool.
The people at the cardroom pitched in and hired a band of country pickers, so that everbody could dance, and Uncle Bill brought out a couple jugs of moonshine that he'd been saving for a special occasion.
He uncorked one and handed it to Thurman saying, "My daddy made that right before he got religion. These here jugs are the last whisky him and my uncle ever made. Hell, I bet you I could sell them for hundred bucks back home. They had quite the reputation for making that stuff.
Thurman was in a great mood and took a big swallow. He started choking and it was at least a minute before he could talk again. "Hot damn, Uncle Bill! That shit's smooth as hell going down, but once it hits bottom, it got a kick like a six legged mule."
It was magical evening. One of the best I ever knew, and I was really enjoying myself right up till the time that Sol and Susie Baker walked in and behind them came Jeannie Lazarus holding hands with with Sammie Ames. And let me tell, she had outdone herself in getting ready for this affair. Her long reddish brown hair was hanging down on her shoulders, and she must have brushed it a million strokes to make it shine the way it did. She had just enough make-up on to make her features stand out. I never could stand wanted that painted her face like a picture.
Jeannie was wearing a white peasant blouse that showed off her shoulders and an emerald necklace that matched her eyes. Her skirt was red and white and kind of tight and raised more than one eyebrow among the older folks. The younger ones were checking out how nice her legs looked in them red cowboy boots she was wearing. That damn Sammie Ames walked in looking like he was walking in with the prized peacock at a peacock judging contest.
The band kicked into a Emmett Miller song. I liked Emmett Miller. His music always made me want to dance. So, I stood up and walked over to where Linda Sue Lewis was sitting and asked her to dance. Linda Sue worked at the Five and Dime. She was blonde and pretty enough to be in pictures. She had always had a bit of a crush on me and was more than glad to dance. I think she was a little flattered that I had asked her first.
I saw the Bakers and Jeannie sit down at one of the tables on the opposite side from where I was sitting. Sammie appeared to be pulling on Jeannie's arm trying to get her to dance with him.
It ain't bragging to say that I was a pretty good dancer if I could back it up, and I could. I danced the hell out of that song and one more before I escorted Linda Sue back to her seat.
Thurman surprised us all by agreeing to sing a song. He got up on the makeshift stage and brought out his guitar and tuned it a bit before he started in strumming and singing an old blues song I knew called It Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do.
There ain't nothin' I can do nor nothin' I can say,
that folks don't criticize me
But I'm gonna do just as I want to anyway,
I don't care if they all despise me
Everbody got up and danced when he started singing. I saw Jenks and Martha tearing it up and even saw Aunt Lou and Uncle Bill waltzing around the floor. Then I saw Sammie Ames dancing with Linda Sue.
I looked across to the other side of floor and saw Jeannie sitting under a string of brightly colored Chinese lanterns looking forlornly back across at me.
A hundred damn thoughts at once ran through my head, not one of them stopping long enough to have a decent conversation. Our eyes linked for a moment. Then I got up from where I was sitting and walked into the darkness back towards home.
I didn't really want to go. There was nothing on this funny little planet that I wanted to do more than run grab her up and swing her around that dance floor, but I knew if I did that I would either have to cut her loose at some point, or put up with her childish ways for the length of our relationship. So, I did the one thing that was the hardest to do and left her sitting by herself. Truth be told, I was banking on the fact that she wasn't going to be too happy with Sammie for dancing with Linda Sue.
Feeling pretty sorry for myself, I trudged through the darkness mumbling to myself. Our cabin was only about a hundred yards away from the dancing, and I could still hear the music and the laughter. I was fighting myself the whole trying to not turn around and go back to the festivities. Then I saw something that I shouldn't oughta been seeing. There was flashlight moving around inside of our cabin!
I ran over to the corner of the cabin and snuck up to the bedroom window where I saw the light was moving around. I looked in a saw two figures. They were wearing dark masks, but it was easy to see that it was Oogie and Colton. There was another light coming from the living room, so I reckoned Oogie's dumbassed brother was with them. They were rummaging through the closets and the drawers looking for loot. I saw Colton reach into a drawer and pull out the pistol that Thurman had brought out from Oklahoma.
Normally, I would have done something rash and just barged in yelling and swinging, but there were three of them, so I figured it would be wiser if I went and got some help. I silently slid away from the window and started to head back to get Thurman when I bumped into the fourth thief, the one who was keeping guard and carrying a billy club.
I reckon it was him and that club that turned the lights out.
I got off of work and drove out to the cemetery northeast of town. I pulled in and got out of my car. I didn't go searching among the gravesites or anything. I just wanted to sit on my hood and look at the headstones with the names and dates on them,
It had been a strange day, one of them days when the universe seemed to be trying to getting my attention. There were a few times back in Oklahoma where it seemed to reach out and grab me by my collar and force me to pay attention, but it was nothing like today.
It started when I was shaving in the morning, Mr. Jenks was in kitchen cooking breakfast with the radio playing. A Gene Autry song came on called Tumbling Tumbleweeds. It had the words a new world is born at dawn in it, and I'll be damned if them weren't the same exact words that Thurman had said before turning in the night before. So, that kinda caught my attention.
Later, at work, I was taking out Mrs. Ruiz's groceries to her car, and the wind was blowing a little bit. We were talking as I placed her bags into her back seat, then she looked up and said, " Look at dem tumbleweeds, Bee-ly. Dey look kinda like people moving."
I looked up and sure as shit the wind was blowing a bunch of tumbleweeds across the empty field across the street. They didn't move all together though but kind of like one would roll and stop, and then a couple of others would go.
"They look a little lonely, don't they?"
She laughed and said, "Dey tumbleweeds, Bee-ly; dey don't got no feelings."
I watched them for a minute or two after she had left, and they still looked lonely to me. When I walked back in the store, I found that Mr. Anderson had been watching me while I looking at the tumbleweeds.
He spoke in that gravelly voice of his, "When I came out here from west Texas, I can't tell you how glad I was to get away from them damned tumbleweeds. Looked like that bunch over they might have followed me out here."
"I was just telling Bella that they looked awful lonesome to me. She laughed at me."
He was cleaning off the checkout counter, and he stopped and put down the wet rag and walked over to the window. " I hear ya, son. Loneliness is the feeling I get from them too. I used to have nightmares about waves of tumbleweeds rolling through our deserted little town. In the dream, I would come out of the house at midnight of a full moon and hear the coyotes howling. I'd get so scared I'd start calling out for my mama, and she never answered. I'd be crying and the wind would get so strong, and there's be so many tumbleweeds that I eventually get swept away."
I smiled at him and went back to stocking groceries. He stayed at that window over five minutes more, not saying anything else, just looking out across the street lost in some memory.
In Oklahoma, it was our little cemetery as much as anything that nailed me down to a time and place. I would play there sometimes and read the names of my forebearers written on the stones. One of my dad's grandpas buried there was born in the 1700s. I had at least three grandpas buried there with their wives and some of their kids.
The Concord cemetery however was pretty new and only had a few permanent residents. I guess that a lot of new people who came out west were not completely tied to the ground yet, and so they felt that they could share their dead with the rest of community. One day, I had did find one person there who was born in the early days of the 1800's.
Mr. Jenks had taught me this Greek word chthonic which was pronounced without the ch sound. He told me that the ancient Greeks used it to describe things that lie within or under the earth, like plant roots and stuff like that. He also said that them Greeks had a story about this guy who had swollen feet because someone had poke clean through them with a big nail.
Jenks said that on a different level this guy's swollen feet meant that he was tied to a set time and a place kind of like a plant growing up out of the ground. And because this particular guy was like that, the Greeks were saying that all of the human race is kinda swollen footed and tied to a specific time and a place. I don't rightly know why they would need a story like that to point out something so obvious like that . I mean hell, I ain't never met nobody with wings who could fly away from their sins and troubles, or anyone could go back and forth in time at their leisure.
And it didn't especially didn't seem to make much sense when it comes to a place like California where everbody seemed to have drifted in on the wind like they were a part of an exodus of tumbleweeds.
Me and Thurman had gotten in argument one night talking about family. I was of the opinion that our new California family consisted of me and him, Burney Bush, Uncle Billy, Aunt Lou, Mr. Jenks, Martha Canary, and Mr. and Mrs. Anderson from the store. I didn't think to include Colton Welles.
Thurman said, "You just don't get to decide who's family or not when they share the same blood as you."
"Well, I could just pick out any old hobo or worthless drunk and feel more kinship with him than I do Colton."
"That don't change the fact that he's Uncle Billy's boy. You go back a couple of generations and the same experiences that created you, created him."
"I don't give a damn about that. Shit ain't right. Sumbitch poked holes in my tires. Seem that would do some canceling out or something."
Mr. Jenks was listening in, and he picked that time to give us a long lecture about what he called the true meaning of the dispute between Cain and Abel. He explained it different though than the preacher's did. He said it had something to do with randomness, and the need to create new life energy. He said that one day in the distant future Cain was going to come back to the Garden of Eden, battle scarred and wiser, beaten down, and whole lot more humble, and his mama and daddy were going to run down to the gates of Eden and let him in and welcome him home with open arms.
I said, "I don't understand any of that. Seems to me that Abel's the one getting the short end of the stick. Also, how did Adam and Eve get back in there. I thought God had sent them away too." I looked over at Thurman, but he had gone quiet, and I knew that he was thinking about the time that Mama had ran out to the road to meet him.
I didn't include Jeannie Lazarus on the list of family members, but I working hard on getting her an invite. We had gone out on more than a few dates and had ourselves some pretty good times. She was a wild one and loved to dance and laugh. There were a lot of dance halls around, and we would go out and dance the night away.
One day, I went down early to the cafe to pick her up, and Sol Adams, the man who owned the place came out from the kitchen. He was still wearing his cooking clothes and a blue apron, but it looked like he had something on his mind that he wanted to tell me.
"Billy John, I wanted to give you a heads up on Jeannie."
"What kind of head's up, Sol?"
"Well, I like you a lot, son. You and your brother are good people, and I don't want to see you getting hurt. But that girl been working here four months and she's had a new beau for every month. They all start out strong, but she seems to get bored of them easy enough."
The words kind of knocked the wind right out my sails. I mean I really hadn't given much thought about whether I was her only beau or not. I was just having fun, but when Sol said I was just another in a long line of men vying for her attentions, I really didn't take to that idea too well.
Susie Adams, Sol's stocky, grayhaired wife and fellow cook came out of the kitchen next. She was drying her hands on a blue towel. "Sol, you leave Billy alone. If he likes Jeannie, he can make up his own mind what he should do."
Sol and Susie argued all of the time, but never in real anger. "Billy's a lot better person than them other fools. I just don't want him getting hurt."
"Billy, don't pay Sol no nevermind. Jeannie's a good girl. She's got a good heart. It's just she ain't had no raising that's all. Her mama's a full on she-bitch, and them two sisters of hers ain't worth the lard they made out of, but Jeannie's a lot different. She just needs someone to point it out to her."
Susie could see I was saddened by the conversation, and she brought me out some fresh baked apple pie. I ate it slowly, drank some coffee and waited. In fact, I waited thirty minutes past the time that Jeannie had said she'd meet me there.
I finally accepted that she wasn't coming, got up, and slowly and sadly walked out on the street intending to go home. When I shut the door behind me, I looked to my right down the street where I could see Jeannie getting out of Sammy Ames's car. She leaned down and kissed him on the lips, jumped up on the sidewalk and started walking up the street toward the cafe. She had her make-up on and was dressed real nice, but she was thinking real hard on something and didn't see me until she had walked about thirty feet.
I waited to see her reaction and then turned and walked away. I could hear her steps behind as she started running to catch up to me.
"Billy John. Where you going? I thought we had us a date."
I turned and faced her. "I thought we did too until I saw you getting out of the car and kissing on Sammie Ames."
"That? Sammie's just a friend. We just went for a ride over to Hartford and back. It didn't mean nothing. Sides, I don't know what you getting mad at. I didn't know we were going steady or nothing."
I waited until I cooled down a bit before I answered, "Jeannie, you remember what I told you the first time we met?"
She looked puzzled, "You said something foolish about you wouldn't date a woman with green eyeshadow on her face."
"Well, you should have fucking listened!" I quickly turned away and left her standing there in the middle of the sidewalk. I could see Sol and Susie looking sad and serious in the window of their cafe.
Tell the truth, I no more understood what I had just told her, than she did. But, damn it, I was hurt and more than a little bit confused. Way I saw it, I couldn't much be blamed if I didn't make any sense at all.
All I heard was her whining out one last frustrated, "But Billy...".
I got to my car and didn't even turn to look her way when I opened up my car door, slid in and slammed the door shut. When I started up the engine, I had left the radio on, and I swear it started playing Tumbling Tumbleweeds. I pulled out unto main street and rolled away slowly as I was being pushed along by a wind blowing over the plains of west Texas.
My cousin Colton Welles was starting to get up on Thurman's last nerve. Thurman and Burney's romance was heating up at a pretty good pace, and Colton didn't seem to want to notice. He was always over at her house and pestering her while hanging out with her brothers.
When she got up for breakfast in the morning, he was there eating with her brothers. When she came home at night, he'd be sitting out front with Oogie. She'd be at work, and he'd make it a habit to swing by there too.
One day, she'd gone to Hartford to buy some clothes, and Colton just happened to bump into her by accident in the women's clothing department of a store. He told her he had gotten lost while looking to buy himself some underwear. She told Thurman that Colton was the only male creature in whole store and gave off the appearance of starving wolf among a herd of sheep.
"There was this madness in his eyes that scared all the ladies who saw him."
Thurman asked, "Did he scare you too?"
"Hell no! He put a hand on me, and I would've scratched his damned eyes out."
It was making Thurman furious, but for Uncle Bill's sake, he was keeping his temper under control. One day though, he was coming off of work and happened to see Colton and Oogie standing out in front of Billy Lee's house. Billy Lee worked with Thurman at the Wellbos Farms's tractor shop. Thurman pulled over to the side of the road and flipped a U and headed back to where they were standing. Colton saw Thurman turn around, and he and Oogie beelined into the house, a tiny little two bedroom green painted cabin with a wide porch. When Thurman knocked on the scarred and battered red door of the house, Billy Lee acted like Colton wasn't there.
Thurman pounded on the door, and Billy Lee answered without opening the closed red door.
"Billy, this is Thurman. I want to talk to Colton."
"He ain't here, Thurm. I ain't seen him in a while."
"Then why's his car parked in your driveway?"
"I couldn't tell you. I just got up. Worked an all nighter."
"Fuck you say, I was there not ten minutes ago when you got off of work. Why don't open the door and talk to me face to face?'
"My wife would have my ass, Thurm. The house's a complete mess, man. She told me before she left for work a minute ago don't be letting nobody in."
"Billy Lee, I just saw Colton and Oogie both go in there."
There was a long silence before Billy answered. Thurman could hear the anxious whispering coming from inside. "I don't know about that, Thurm. Ain't nobody in here but me and my wife. Like I said, I ain't seen Colton in a good, long spell, or Oogie for that matter."
"You just told me your wife went to work. You do know that you going to have to face me tomorrow at work?"
There was another long silence. Billy Lee had to be weighing the consequences of his actions out. He worked at the same place Thurman worked and couldn't help running into him in the course of a day.
Thurman got tired of waiting for Billy to tell him another lie, "Billy Lee, you can deliver Colton a message from me if you see him?"
"Yeah! I can do that."
"Good. You can tell him he can keep his ass away from Burney Bush."
After a moment, he asked, "And iffn he don't?"
"Just give him the fucking message. Yeah, and tell him he got two fucking tires flat." With that Thurman stepped off of the porch and walked over to where Colton's car was parked. He pulled a tool out of the pocket of his work coat and removed the valve stem from the left front tire of Colton's green Ford sedan.
The door to Billy Lee's house suddenly jerked open and Colton came out on the porch followed by Oogie. A scared Billy Lee hung in the doorway. He was about 6'2" but was skinny as a rail, He was balding on top and wore his thin blond hair in comb over. He was still in his dirty work clothes.
"Don't you dare touch my car fucker!" Colton screamed from the porch. He had a hammer in his right hand.
Thurman went around to other side of the car and let the air out of that tire too. Then he acted like he hadn't heard Colton or noticed the hammer.
"What was that you was saying, Billy?"
The question caught Billy by surprise, " I didn't say nothing, Thurm. That was Colton talking."
"Now that kind of confuses me. I don't how Colton could be talking when he ain't here. You just swore that you ain't seen him."
Billy just stood there in the doorway with a dumbass look on his face. Colton was tense and gripping the hammer tightly. He didn't speak though but just stood there staring daggers at Thurman.
Thurman stared at him defiantly daring Colton to say something else. Colton was mad, but he was scared too. He knew about Thurman's reputation as a fighter and generally prefered to do his own fighting from the back or coming out of the dark. He looked over at Oogie, and, at that point in time, Oogie probably looked about as stupid as he had ever looked in his life, and that was a pretty high bar to beat.
Thurman took stock of the situation and finally turned on his heel and walked back to his truck. He opened the door, but before he stepped in, he turned back and said something. Thurman was looking right at Colton, but he was addressing Billy Lee, "Billy, whenever you see Colton. You might want to tell him to be careful where he parks his car. Someone poked two holes on Billy John's tires just the other night. There's surely some stupid people in this world."
Billy stepped out from the doorway, and started to tell Thurman that he could deliver the message to Colton hisself, as he was standing right in front of him, but before he could even get started, Colton raised the hammer at him.
Thurman lips curled into a grim smile, "Will you give him that message, Billy?"
Billy Lee looked over at Colton, and threw up his hands in frustration, "I'll see that he gets it."
That incident didn't stop Colton from bothering Burney though. He just went on about his business like it never happened. Uncle Bill came and mentioned it. He said that Colton told him that Thurman had flattened his tires out of spite and should be required to pay to fix them. Thurman explained how Colton had been bothering Burney and how he had poked holes in my tires. Thurman said that Uncle Billy came near to crying over the frustrations that his boy was causing him.
"I know the boy's a damned fool, Thurm, but he's my only son."
"Maybe he'll change some day, Uncle. Mama used to say that long as we draw breath, there's hope."
Uncle Billy smiled sadly and mumbled, "Your Mama was a good hearted woman, but a lot a good it did her." He then reached out and placed his hand on Thurman's shoulder, "You all be careful, Thurman. There's no telling what that crazy fool might do."
The whole mess got a little bit weirder that same night. Burney stopped by for breakfast the next morning and told us that Colton had woken her up about two in the morning by serenading her from under her bedroom window."
"Serenading? Was he drunk?" Thurman asked loudly.
"Sure looked it. I heard this noise, and looked out of window, and there he was strumming on a guitar and singing."
I was curious, "What song was he singing?"
Burney laughed, "That song that Bing Crosby sings. It went like this, 'Someday, when I'm awfully low, And the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you, And the way you look tonight.'"
Thurman's eyes turn stormy then. I could almost see little flashes of lightning in them, and his cheeks turned fire red.
I thought the whole thing was kind of funny, "How did he sound?"
Burney saw how jealous Thurman was getting and decided to have a little fun with him. "I don't know. It sounded kinda nice, I guess. I really ain't got nothing to judge it by. I ain't never had nobody serenade me before. He woke daddy up too."
It kept getting better, "What did your daddy do?"
"He came out with a gun to see what was making the dogs bark, and when he saw it was Colton singing outside my window, he said, "Boy if you gonna sing, least sing something by Jimmy Rogers. Then he turned around and went back inside and turned the lights back off."
Thurman snapped, "Well, what did you do then?"
"I didn't know what else to do, so I just thanked him."
"You thanked him!"
"I was just being polite, Thurman." When that answer didn't suit Thurman, he grunted loudly and sat back hard in his chair with his arms folded tightly across his chest. Burney got a little mad herself and told him, "I didn't know what else to do. Like I said, I never been serenaded by a man before. It caught me a little off guard. It ain't like it ever crossed your mind that a gal would like to be serenaded a time or two in her life."
I thought that Thurman was going to blow a gasket then. Instead, he stood up, and threw his napkin down on the table, and stormed out of the room. It surprised the rest of us, Mr. Jenks watched the whole thing with his mouth hanging open. We heard a door slam, and then we started laughing at once.
That night Thurman woke me up out of a dead sleep and had me drive him over to Burney's house. When we pulled up, everthing was quiet and all the lights were out. He quietly opened the back door of the car and pulled out a guitar. I didn't know where the hell he had got one, or if he could even play one.
The rusty gate screeched a little when he opened it and walked over to the side of the house where Burney's upstairs bedroom was located. There was just enough of a moon that I could make him out. Damned if he didn't start strumming that guitar like he knew where he was going. He sang for a bit and nothing happened, so he started singing louder.
Then suddenly the lights came on in the window above his head. Seconds later, a window opened and Burney appeared. She was wearing a white gown, and her long brown hair hung down across her shoulders. I could make out her laughing eyes and her bright smile even in the dark.
Turns out my big brother had a surprisingly pleasant voice. He sang, " I'd sigh for you, yes, I'd even cry for you, yes, I'd tear the stars down from the skies for you, If that isn't love, well skip it, it'll have to do, until the real thing comes along."
I didn't even know that Thurman even liked music much less could play a guitar and sing. He never seemed to listen to any music on his own. I recognized the tune because it played on the radio at the cafe all the time, and Jeannie would sing along with it whenever it came on.
Thurman was still singing when the front door opened and Mr. Bush came outside in his pajamas and a dark blue bathrobe. He saw me sitting in the car and walked over to the fence.
"Billy John, how long you think this silliness is gonna last?"
"Wish I knew. I need some sleep."
"Well, if keeps up much longer, I might have to put up some bleachers and charge tickets." With that, he turned round and walked back, slipped inside the house and shut the door.
Thurman and Burney talked a while after he quit singing, and about ten minutes later, he gently placed the guitar back into the back seat, and jumped into the front beside me. He wearing a great big ol smile that lit up his face.
I just looked at him, "Damn, Thurman you just one big assed mystery, ain't you. I didn't know you could play the guitar. And how you know the words to a Fats Waller song?"
"There's a lot of things you don't know about me, baby brother. Now let's go home and get some sleep."
I backed slowly out of the driveway, pulled onto the road, and turned on the headlights. There was this big Eucalyptus tree on the corner of the Bush property. Damned if Colton Welles wasn't sitting astraddle in it with his angry eyes and unsmiling face just a screaming that he wasn't very happy at all.
I loved sitting outside in the morning before I went to work. I was determined to take in as many sights, smells and sounds, tastes and touches as it took to firmly lock the memory of those mornings into place.
It was becoming ever more clear that I had lost most of my memories of my life before we left Oklahoma and came out west. The memories of Stewie's lifeless body and of Guinnie's sad eyes were carved into my brain, as were the gray skies thick with grit, the tiny beads of sweat on Guinnie's feverish forehead, and the cold feel of the dirt that covered her grave. I could never forget the memories I had of Thurman helping me wrestle her casket up the hill using Stewie's rusty red wagon.
Then there were the sounds of tense silence broken only by our labored breathing as me and him sunk deeper inside of ourselves than someone should ever have to go. It was as if we were seeking permission from the absent Lord of All Creation just to make a simple decision about what we needed to do in order to survive the desolation with our ability to make some sense of this crazy fucking world intact.
The things I couldn't remember anymore were the good things of our life as they dealt strictly with Oklahoma. There was this little creek not far from our house that was straight out of a fairytale book. The water bubbled and laughed its way past an overhanging of tall trees; the water danced on top of rocks and slid around boulders as it ran down from the foot of the mountains, down unto the hill, past our little cemetery eventually emptying into a large pond about three miles south of our house.
I had set up a little temple in a small clearing. There were sunlit places to sit on warm white rocks and watch as the water waltzed, and also places where sunlight leaked through the forest canopy and created a church of light and shadow that often stole my breath away. It was holy there, a place where I could think that there was a lot more to life than the grim stare of a cold unfeeling father who never smiled, a place where the sounds of running water and singing birds rhymed with the soft-hearted voice of my mother.
It had been the cradle of my fondest memories, and yet, ever day I woke up in California, the less I remembered the things that made it holy. I could still describe how it looked to an artist, but I was losing my ability to take the memory and raise it over my head.
By taking my coffee outside and sitting on the back porch in the morning taking it all in, I knew I was trying my best to both recreate a small temple of my own, and to reestablish a sense of holiness in my life that would make living it a bit more meaningful and necessary.
Old man Jenks had proven to be something of a prophet, or maybe that tumble in the sack with Martha Canary had shook loose something inside of him that he never knew he had, but when he said that new life for me might be waiting tables in a restaurant on mainstreet, he proved to be a visionary.
Her name was Jeannie Lazarus. I first laid eyes on her when I went to eat breakfast at the Concord Cafe. I walked in and right away noticed a spunky little waitress in a tight white dress with a lightly freckled nose and a saucy tongue sassing a tall truck driver who was giving it back as good as he got.
I went and sat down at the end of the counter in the front. The six stools were covered with thick red vinyl that matched the red linoleum on the counter top. There were posters of the specials the cafe was running lining the sides walls alongside some pictures of country music stars like the Carters, Uncle Dave Macon, and Jimmy Rogers.
I picked up a light green, grease-stained paper menu and acted like I was reading it as I listened in on the spirited debate the waitress was having with the truck driver.
"Damn it all, Jeannie, I can see you ain't gonna be happy till you take every dime I got."
She laughed, "Not even then, Earl. I'm going to send you home and make you borrow more money from Edna, and I'm going to take that from ya too."
"Hell, if I get out of here alive what makes ya think I'ma comin back?"
"The pie, Earl. You know you love Susie's pie."
He laughed again, then rose from his seat and tossed two quarters down, "I can't argue with ya there. That's good pie." He looked over and saw me and told me, "Son, if ya know what you're doing. You'd hightail it on out of here. This un's crazy." He pointed at the waitress.
She made show up being upset, but she really wasn't. She pretended to hit him and shoo him out the door. He laughed and waved at her before disappearing out the door. When he walked in front of the big window in the front of the cafe, he bent over looked inside at me, pointed to the waitress and circled his right index finger around his ear like she was crazy. She made a gesture for him to leave.
"What can I do for you, Mister? How about some cherry pie?"
I looked up from the menu into the prettiest green eyes I'd ever seen. They were so pretty that they made the words I meant to say stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter. I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders and tried to calm myself down before speaking. In the second before I spoke, the words changed, and I decided to go bold.
"Let me think a bit on that there pie, Sweetie. But the first thing you can do for me is go to the lady's room and take off that silly green eyeshadow you're wearing."
She reacted like my words slapped her right across her cheeks and they instantly turned pink. They also took the sass right out of her, and it was her turn to be tongue-tied.
The best she could come up with was, "How rude! I never..."
I cut her off before she could finish, "Girl, you have prettiest damn green eyes I've ever seen on a woman, but that damn make up don't do a thing for them. Besides, I plan on asking you out on a date, and I don't date women who wear green make-up on their face."
It was risky move on my part, and I held my breath a little while I waited to see if it would work. I could tell that she wanted to get angry, but then she started thinking on the other things I told her and calmed down considerably.
I think she decided to give me a chance because she answered, " Well, I'll take that advice under consideration. In the meantime, can I take your order?"
I looked up straight into her eyes. It was a bluff. Inside, my heart was beating like a hummingbird's wings, "How's the biscuits in this place?"
She regained her composure, and I could plainly see a hint of mischief creep into her eyes, "They ain't as good as my Mama's, but they're passable I reckon."
"Well, since your Mama ain't cooking, they'll have to do, I guess. I take two eggs over easy, some bacon, a cup of coffee, and some of them biscuits that your mama didn't cook."
She wrote it all down and started to walk away. I couldn't help notice that she looked as nice leaving as she did on the approach.
I let her get almost to the open place in the wall that opened into the kitchen and called out, "You never did answer my question."
She turned around and gave me a smile that would have melted the butter in a cold box, "I don't believe you ever asked me a question."
There were times when spring back to the Oklahoma hills and juices and hidden energies came oozing up out of the cold ground. The trees would shed their wintry coats and start to stretch their arms and awake, and the grasses, and the pretty flowers too. The snow on the lakes would melt and the waters would resume their downhill journey.
There were no holy streams in Concord that I could see, just a bunch of irrigation ditches and a wide path of cracked, dark asphalt painted with white stripes that ran through the center of the town on its way past a small cafe where there was a girl with a lightly freckled nose, a pair of beautiful and mysterious green eyes, and a smile that could melt a heart of stone. Yet, it proved to me that those earthly forces that brought back the color to an Oklahoma hillside and made frozen water run down hill, could also perform their magic of bringing the dead back to life in the dusty villages and towns of California.
My right heel was throbbing like hell. I had been having some problems with gout flare-ups and had made the mistake of drinking a beer with dinner the night before.
I was sitting in a cool dive bar in the middle of Old Town San Diego waiting for Pancho Villa. I sat by the window and sipped a Scotch and water and prayed silently that it wouldn't make my painful heel feel any worse.
Pancho was late. He usually was. I had called him by this nickname ever since we were young. Whenever we played at war or outlaws, it was the name he chose to go by. We had argued several times over which of us had chosen the best nickname.
" He died, you do know that don't you?"
" Fuck you Billy. Everybody dies. At least he went out like a man. Besides your dude died too."
We were drinking sodas and shooting pool at Big Papa's Candy Store on the southern outskirts of Paradise, California, a small farming community in the San Joaquin Valley.
"At least my dude died in the arms of his lover."
"That's a lie and you know it. He got shot in her father's bedroom by a fake friend." He pointed the pool stick at me to make his point.
I gave up. I knew where he would go next; he was gonna say that his guy was a great military leader and my guy was just a lowly outlaw, and I didn't have a good answer for that. At least, not at the time. I've come up with one since then, but it involves mythology, hermetic knowledge and quantum physics. I would have to wait until he was drunk to use it.
Pancho and I always argued, but it was never a serious issue with us. It was just what we did. It was part of the friendship package. We liked to push each other to learn new things and to develop our reasoning skills. His real name was Raymond Rios, and I hadn't seen him in over ten years. He was living in Bakersfield when his wife left him, and he moved to San Diego. I almost never got South of Los Angeles. Then my daughter up and moved to San Diego for her job, and I suddenly had a reason to go there.
I saw him coming up the street in the walking in the swaggering way that he had adopted when we were in high school.
Embarrassed, I would ask him "Ray, why the fuck you swaggering like you Hugh Hefner or something? We live on a fucking dirt road, man, poorest side of town, neither one of us got any money. Need I go on?"
"No, You need to stop before you start running down our looks and even your musical choices."
"What's wrong with our musical choices?"
"I didn't say our choices. I said your choices."
"Don't me give that shit. I'm not the one who'll listen to a twenty minute jam by Rush, then follow it with something by Tommy Bolan."
He ignored the jab, "You just need to put a little something into your stride, dude. We know we ain't got nothing, but they don't need to know." He swept his arm across to indicate that by they, he meant everybody else in the school.
"You think that they don't know?"
He stopped and he looked me square in the eyes. We were stopped in right in the middle of the crosswalk in front of Paradise High School. " I'm telling them I don't give a fuck what they think. I ain't letting none of these people get off with thinking that they are better than me."
That argument must have struck home because about a week later I developed my own swagger and started using it. He watched me struggle with it for a couple of days then told me to stop doing it. He told me it made me look like I was hearing impaired. I didn't ask.
I was on my second scotch and water when he came through the door of the bar with a big smile on his face, "Billy the Kid! What it is?" I got up and we embraced . He looked the same with his long hair hanging down in a ponytail. He was wearing the same pressed Levis and huarache sandals that he had always wore with a black Rush t-shirt under a brown leather vest. The only concession to the aging process was a touch of gray on his temples.
"How long has it been, dude, eight, nine years?"
"It's been ten, man. Sandra left me, and I moved down here right afterwards. It's about time you came down here to see me."
"You are right, man. I should have come down a long time ago."
I went silent for a second, and he picked up on it right away.
"Aw, don't worry about it. I know you was going through some hard times with Jenny and all. I'm sorry for your loss. I wrote you a letter when I found out, but I never sent it. I just didn't want to sound stupid about something so serious. I wanted to come to the funeral, but I couldn't get away."
"Your Mom and Dad were there. They told me you were locked up. Man, what happened?"
"Being honest, it was my big fucking mouth. It was a little thing to start with, but this old fart of a judge just pushed my buttons. It started out as fifty dollar fine, and by the time I was through with him, it turned into thirty days in jail. I coulda used you holding me back and telling me to shut up like in the old days."
That made me think about the time outside of the Roundabout Bar in Hartford when I had gone to pull him away from a crowd of dudes who were threatening him. I told them that he was just drunk and didn't mean any harm, but when I reached out my hand to shake hands of them. He grabbed my hand and held it while the rest beat the shit out of me.
Ray had broken away and ran to his car. He was intending to run them all over, but they were gone by the time he came roaring down the alley in back of the bar. He got out, picked me up, and carried me to the car crying, "I'm sorry, Billy. I'm sorry."
I tried to put on a brave front knowing that it was what he would have done and cracked a joke, "You should've seen the other guy."
It didn't work because he just said, "I did see the other guy, Bro. He was kicking you in the fucking head." That's when we both laughed and on the way home argued about the need for humor in otherwise tragic situations.
I ordered him a beer and we sat back and talked over old times for about an hour. Then we decided to take a walk around Old Town. After walking three blocks west we found a bench and sat down by the edge of a park. There were a lot of pretty women walking by us.
"Look at that one, Billy. Ain't she sweet looking? I wonder what kind of underwear she's wearing?"
"What kind of underwear she's wearing? Man, you perverted."
He laughed and shook his head, "I don't think so. I mean I don't ever think about having sex with them. I don't know what it is, but ever since Sandra left, I don't look at pretty women wishing I could see them without their clothes off. I just want to know what kind of underwear they got on."
"That's still weird, man. Everybody would say so. You gotta admit that.
"I don't gotta admit shit. I just been in this weird place where I'm tripping about how most people are busy suppressing the sexual side of their nature. No one is being honest, everybody's tripping, but noone is saying what is really on their minds. That puts it all into the hands of the prudes and the government."
"The government is controlling our sexual lives?"
Yeah. They make the rules and people follow them blindly. Look, people not only cover up their bodies, but they then put a second layer of clothing over their most private parts like they're doubly ashamed of those area. Then the thing is that they often put a lot more thought into what they wear underneath than they do with what they wear on the outside. It's like a private little artistic expression that's being hidden from the world at large."
It was my turn to shake my head, "Still strange, dude. Damn. I bet that you'd run around all naked if you could get away with it?"
"Damn right I would, motherfucker. And I'm not the only one! It seems to me that the older I get, the less time I got for social conventions and hypocrisy."
"Wearing clothing makes a person into a hypocrite?"
"Hell yes, it does. People don't wear clothes because they like to wear clothes. They wear clothes because society tells them that they must wear clothes. Think about it; it's a 115 degrees outside, and you gonna put some clothes on to go the store.
"I'm guessing from all of this that Sandra complained about your sex life and told you that's one of the reason why she left you."
It was a highly personal question, but one I didn't hesitate in asking. It was completely in-line with all of the conversations we used to have when we slept out in my backyard in the summers, sharing secrets that we would carry to the grave.
He frowned, "I knew that you would figure it out. That's pretty much exactly what she said. It's got me all twisted up on the inside. I haven't dated a woman since she left me and if it's been three years. I sure needed someone to talk to back then, but I was devastated to ask. She waited until I came from work late one night. She wasn't in the house but sitting outside in the dark by the pool. Told me that she was leaving me for Ruben Montes. Remember that squirrely dude with the unibrow?"
I nodded, "I was just down the road, man, an hour away. I would have come running had I known. I didn't find out about it until three months later when I ran across Johnnie at the Taco Bell, and by that time you had moved."
"Naw. Don't feel bad. I ran away. There was really nothing you could do. It was a thing I had to go through on my own I guess. And what about you and Jennie? I know that must have been hard."
"Same thing. She wasn't happy, made my life miserable, and I I stuck it out for the kid's sake. Funny thing was that Lucy told me that they would have been better off if her mom and I had split. I blamed myself of course. The only thing that put any kind of fight in me was the day that she said that she said I wasn't good enough, and she deserved someone better than me. That finally pushed me over the edge, and I f released all the pent-up emotion in a burst of rage. I left the room telling her 'fuck you and your better than me.' I did try to copy your walk on the way out the door."
"No you fucking didn't!"
I held up my hand like I was giving a boy's scout oath, "I swear!"
He leaned into me, "Not the one where you looked all hearing impaired!"
I lost it when he said it, "No. The pimp walk."
We cried and we laughed the rest of the afternoon. I knew a lot of people passing by must have saw us and wondered about the two old guys sitting on that bench, but we didn't give a damn. It was like we were fourteen-year-old kids back at the candy store shooting pool while arguing about who had the best breasts, Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield.
We were still sitting there when the sun started sinking lower in the sky. We watched as a man came rolling down street behind the wheel of a cherried out 1937 two tone black and white sedan with suicide doors. Suavecito by Malo was blaring from the car's speakers.
We watched in silence as the car came to a stop before us. A young white dude with green hair and wearing LeBron Lakers jersey walking by with his wife and daughters smiled at the driver and gave him a big thumbs up. The guy raised his chin an inch and lifted the front end of the car. Someone behind us said, "Look, hydraulics," in a referential voice as if he had solved one of the great mysteries of the universe. The car then slowly turned left and made its way south down a side street.
"Fuck that pendejo," Ray murmured.
"Wha? That was a pretty cool car! I could see why someone would put all that time and effort into restoring a old classic car like that and want to take it out for a drive. It was beautiful, a piece of art."
"I can see that shit too. But did you see him nod to that kid with the green hair giving him the thumbs up? I don't understand the need to be acknowledged like that on either one of their parts, his music blaring out the ride and then the lift? I don't see working on something, no, putting your heart and soul into it, only to have your happiness determined by a thumbs up from some young, green-headed fool who ain't got near the imagination and creativity that you displayed in creating a work of art."
"Fuck, Ray, that's the nature of art, man. You want to people to feel the same way you do about something. You think that Carlos Santana doesn't get off on the crowd when he plays?"
"You think that if there were no crowds, he wouldn't play any more, or maybe he plays music for some the approval of a young knucklehead giving him a thumbs up, or that he would change the way he played if they didn't get that thumbs up?"
"I don't know, man. That shit with Rob Thomas was pretty fucking brutal, and then there's that shit with John McLaughlin."
He laughed, "You know what the fuck I'm talking about. All that I'm saying is if I met that dude on road where it was only him and me nose to nose, and he was looking for a thumbs up from me, I would just turn and walk the other way."
"In a crosswalk at midnight with only the streetlamp on?"
He grinned, "Exactly!"
"You fucking know it, Billy the Kid! You fucking know it!"
By the time the streetlights in Old Town turned on, we had finally talked ourselves out and had to go our separate ways. When he walked down the side of the same road that the car had traveled, he was swaggering, and then he turned and looked back and lowered his ass up and down like he had some hydraulics and waved.
He never even saw the thumbs up I gave him. He just knew it was there, so, without even turning around, he raised his right hand with an upraised middle finger and then turned the corner disappearing into the night lights and the gentle breezes of San Diego.
And me? I turned and limped away like a hearing impaired old fool trying to keep from crying over the throbbing pain in his right heel.
I was sitting in a coffee shop in Encinitas when I read a Facebook post from my daughter where she mentioned how depressed she was and went on to ask people about their own battles with depression. Now this is a very personal subject, yet she had a ton of responses in just a few minutes. This was a good thing, people willing to share their feelings on such an important subject, and letting others know that we are not alone in this world of ours.
Being a father, I tried to do what I always do which is try to lighten the mood and make her smile by telling her to go sit in a public place and practice squeezing her butt cheeks together until she laughs because she is sitting there squeezing her butt cheeks together in a public place, and, if it’s done right, no one knows. I went on to tell her I got the idea by analyzing a statue of Buddha and speculating about the source of his enigmatic facial expression.
The aforementioned practice was the only thing that made some sense. He had to be smiling on the inside for some reason, and I know he has this super serious reputation and all that, but he had to have a fun side too or else people would not relate to him the way they do. Spiritual leaders love their fellow creatures and people get that.
This also explains those people like Torquemada, Hitler, Stalin, and those religious fanatics who believe blowing up the innocent is an act of faith. People like them look at the same statue and identify more with the somewhat dour expression because it reverberates in the dark space behind their eyes.
This leads them to assume that everybody else in the world needs help in connecting this falsely presumed sour attitude of spiritual people to their own hidden source of the pickle face. By help, I mean the hot lead enema, or knife blade across the trachea, you know, people being so stubborn about recognizing what’s good for them and all.
It’s probably not like they didn’t try to get the humorous aspects of life. I am sure there must have been times where Torquemada went home and wrote a letter to a friend with a similar disposition, “You should have been there. Every time he got to place where he recited “as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I would signal Jorge to tickle his testicles with a red-hot poker. It was hilarious. I howled. So, did he. LOL.”
Some people just don’t have the gene for appreciating humor or for understanding how a human being is supposed to act. They don’t get it, so they just naturally think that everybody else is crazy and their sense of duty requires them to make sure that other people understand just how serious life on earth truly is.
I always wonder about how their young lives played into the creation of the hideous narcissistic belief that you have to poke someone’s eyes out in order to get them to see things right. Did their mothers scour their asses with Comet and a steel scouring pad when they pooped in their diapers? Did their fathers put their beers down and laugh while the butt scouring was going on? It had to be pretty bad to adopt the tonsure as a hairstyle, or to come to the belief that Jesus actually advocated cutting a weird looking ring around your head to prove your commitment to the cause.
This is the kind of shit that bounces around inside my head after my daughter posts something on Facebook about being depressed. I don’t know if it means I’m a crappy father or not. I know that my response was born somehow in my dealings with my late wife, yet it is even more than that. It’s how men respond to when women complain about things. Since the days of the cavemen, men have learned to try and fix everything that’s wrong. This goes against the truth that women are usually better at fixing things than we are. Women sometimes just want to be acknowledged and to know that they are being heard.
A therapist told me this one time. She told me to just shut-up and listen and nod my head from time to time. Maybe not in those exact words, but with the exact meaning. I found it odd that she didn't even say I had to actually empathize with my wife. In fact, she clearly inferred that I just listen.
For the life of me, I can’t just do that especially when it comes to my girls. But, I usually fix things like the Three Stooges fixed things. In my eagerness to be a good father, I often try to fix something that’s not broken. I also have a tendency to make things worse. Sometimes they just want me to fix myself.
I know that I should have called my daughter and just listened to what she had to say, only offered advice if it was requested, and finished by telling her how much I love her.
Life for men would be a lot damn easier if our caveman ancestors had had good therapists. They could have used a good body wash too, but that's a different story altogether.
There was scent of love in the air, and a whole lot of hatred too, but I was feeling kind of zombie like myself. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't anywhere near as dead on the inside as I was in those last few months in Oklahoma. I was dead clear down to the bone back then.
The way I thought about it, back then I had died almost the same as Guinnie. She died in a little bit more of a convincing fashion though while I was doing a better job of pretending to be alive. There's something about burying your only child and your loving wife that dissolves your insides into nothing. It's a very strange feeling because in order to keep on breathing you have to act like it didn't mean a whole damn lot. You almost got to pretend that you were almost okay with it.
But that's a lie, and it's such a lie that it makes you realize just how much of human life is built on pretending that life makes perfect sense. Thurman had brought a magazine home once that had a story about this place called Haiti where zombies would walk around scaring people half to death. The story said that they was alive in name only and were really dead people who hadn't been fully convinced that they were dead.
I talked about it to Mr. Jenks one day at breakfast. He told me he didn't put much faith in such stories, but he also talked about the beliefs of those people in the East (he called it the Far East; I don't why) who had a notion that life was just some kind of a dream that we were all living in it for the heck of it.
"So when I wake up in the morning, I'd actually be waking up inside of another dream?" He shook his head yes and lost me forever. There was no fucking way I would ever be able wrap my head around such an idea.
I couldn't help though but place some value in the notion of people moving around who were dead as hell on the inside, yet could walk around like they were alive. And if you added in all the people in the world who were just plain dumb as hell and couldn't string a few simple words together to make up a simple thought, it kind of made some sense in that there were a whole lot of people in this here world who looked and acted just like those zombies.
Thurman was gone that morning, and it was just Mr. Jenks and me for breakfast. I took the opportunity to pose Mr. Jenks a question, "Mr. Jenks, don't you ever get tired of being a zombie?"
The question took him very much by surprise, and, at first, I thought that he was going to protest, but he saw how serious my eyes were and stopped and thought about it for a moment. Then I guess he caught on to what I was really getting after, and he put his knife and fork down on the table beside his plate of bacon and eggs.
He wiped his mouth off with his napkin before answering, "Yes, Billy John. I get awful tired of pretending I got something to live for; my kids don't come around much, most of my friends are dead and buried, and my life has become like the song of a one armed violinist ever since my wife passed on. I think I know what you are asking, and the answer is yes, I am pretending that I am still here in the flesh and bone, but I'm more in the clouds most of the time."
"Is there any kind of cure for this? Do zombies ever wake up from a dream and suddenly feel like it's a brand new Saturday morning and say I'm as happy as a pig in mud to be alive?"
He laughed at the picture, "I don't rightly know, Billy John. I know that a lot of smart people have had thoughts on the subject?"
I was curious, "Tell me what one of them thought."
"Well, the great Russian writer Tolstoy felt a lot like us. He wrote a novel over a thousand pages long trying to reason it all out, and at the end of the book, he basically said that all we can do is to live our lives to the fullest, to constantly be amazed at the world and everything in it, and to love everything and everybody with all our hearts."
"Ain't that was Jesus said?"
He smiled a slight grin, "Pretty much."
I thought about it for a minute, "Well, it is kind of fucking amazing if you look at like that."
I guess the way I put it struck him funny as he blew some milk out his nose, "Young master, Billy John, you certainly have a colorful way of phrasing things.
As we cleaned the dishes up after breakfast, I talked him into going and playing cards with me that night. At first, he protested about how he was saving up money to go back to live with his daughter. I told him that I would loan him the money, but that only made him mad, and he said that a man who had to borrow money shouldn't be playing poker.
I didn't apologise for it though, and I turned around and did something that could have went very bad on me. I told him, "Mr. Jenks you know as well as I do that this going on about heading back east to live with your daughter is just because you don't what else to do. You going back there and sit on the porch all day wishing you'd took me up on this. We gotta both learn to quit pretending to be alive. If I have to stand amazed at ever little thing in this world to get shed of the smell of death that clings to me like mud, then God damn it, I'll stand amazed at the sight of two worms fucking or of my daddy wiping his ass with a picture of Clark Gable. And if I gotta love every dumb sumbitch in it including those trying to do me wrong, then I'll try that too. I'm fairly certain that it beats the hell out walking around here with my head up stuck up my ass."
I was feeling something; I must admit, I was feeling it strong. Mr. Jenks was moved too; I saw the light of understanding flow into his eyes and his cheeks grow red up on the top where the bones stuck out. His shoulders started shaking back and forth. Then he busted out laughing harder than I ever heard a human creature laugh before.
"Damn it Billy John, you should a been in the moving pictures! Two worms fucking!" He tried to talk some more, but kept on laughing. When he finally calmed down enough to talk, he said, "You're right. My daughter don't want me there anymore than I really want to be there. I just lost all hope and was going through the motions. We spoiled them kids rotten, and they ended up to be rotten too. By God, let's go play some cards tonight! I'm tired of living half in the grave and half out."
Turns out that Mr. Jenks was quite the poker player. He told a story at the table about how he made his way through college playing poker. His folks were poor and in order to get by, he took to playing in every pick up game that there was on campus. He said he only stopped playing because he felt bad taking all his friends money.
Martha Canary was a plump middle-aged lady who dealt the cards. She was red-faced and had long gray hair braided into a ponytail that fell to her waist. She wore a pair of gold wire-rimmed glasses that sat on the end of her nose as she played. She was seated on the east side of the table up against the wall. Jenks was seated to her right, and I sat to her left.
She asked Mr. Jenks, "Were your friends enjoying themselves?"
He nodded, "Yes. I think they were. We had some real fun times."
"Then you shouldn't felt bad. Anybody picks up a handful of cards and bets on them, ain't got nobody but themself to blame for anything that happens. Unless you were cheating. Were you cheating them, Jenksie?"
"No. I wasn't even that good a card player; it was just that they were so bad. I just paid more attention to what was going on than they did."
Mr. Jenks drank a couple of Scotches, and he loosened up quite a bit. He even told us a few jokes, and it was plain to see that he was trying his best to impress Martha.
We were all having a great time laughing and playing cards when Colton and Bush brothers walked into the bar. The bar was dimly lit and the card room was brightly lit. I could make out their outlines but really couldn't see their facial expressions as they sat at the far end of the bar and drank beer. The bathroom was at the southern end of the cardroom and Colton eventually felt the call of nature. He walked by heading toward the bathroom and acted like he didn't see me sitting at the table, but, on his way back, he made a big issue about spotting me.
"Damn it, there's by cousin Billy John. Hi there, cousin. Don't you be cheating these here men. They good people. You guys don't let him cheat you now. He's a sneaky little cuss." Then he spotted Mr. Jenks and lit into him too, "There's old man Jenks. Damn, Jenks, I thought you didn't have any money, and you up in here playing cards!"
I didn't respond, but I was seething on the inside. Mr. Jenks was embarrassed too and turned red for a minute. Colton slowly walked back into the barroom. I could hear them laughing, but after about twenty minutes they got up and left, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Carlton Brownlee, a tractor mechanic sitting to my left, whispered, "Damn it all, Billy, your cousin is sorry little ass, ain't he?"
"You ain't getting any argument out of me on that point."
"I don't know anyone who likes that guy. He's done pissed off this whole town." He threw his hand in and continued, "I'd pay good money to whip Oogie Bush's ass. I really hate that sorry sumbitch."
"You and me both." I felt kind of bad saying so, my mama would have scolded me for saying out loud that I hated anybody. She always said it was an unchristian thing to do, and besides I'd just told Mr. Jenks and myself that I was going to try and love ever body like that Russian guy said.
At about ten o'clock, I cashed out my chips and got ready to go. Mr. Jenks told me that he'd get a ride home from someone. He was on a winning streak and wanted to ride it out. When I left, he was up a hundred dollars.
I cracked the back door of the barroom opened, and looked around before I stepped out into the alley in case Colton and his buddies were waiting for me. They weren't, so I quickly scooted across the alley where the truck was parked under a street lamp. That was when I saw that the right front tire had been slashed. It took me about fifteen minutes to get the spare on.
Thurman was already asleep when I got to the house, and I was still a little bit antsy, so I went outside and sat down on the bench we had on the front porch. I looked up at the night sky, and it looked like a blanket of dazzling stars so beautiful it completely took my breath away. It was so amazing, and I had promised to be amazed. The fact that I was keeping that promise to myself made me smile. I fell asleep.
When I woke up, I saw a car parked at the side of Mr. Jenk's house and a soft golden light on in the back room where he slept. I didn't know whose car it was, so I decided to check things out.
I slipped across the alley in the dark and silently explored the dark areas around the house. I didn't see nothing out of the ordinary. When I got to the back where the light was shining, I saw that the window was half opened; that made me even more suspicious. I quietly crept closer and I heard a man's voice.
"I'd completely forgotten just pleasurable this could be."
Then I heard a woman's laughter, "It was pleasurable wasn't it? I ain't even resorted to none of my tricks yet. So, you better get ready, Jenksie, we're going for a little ride."
I had heard too much. The woman's voice belonged to Martha Canary from the poker room, and from the sounds coming out of that room, Mr. Jenks, or Jenksie as I resolved to call him thereafter, was busy being amazed his own damn self. I smiled as I slipped silently back across the alley. As I went through the front door to go sleep, I heard a loud sound of female laughter coming out of Jenksie's rear window.
The smell of coffee and bacon woke me up bright and early. I could hear voices in the kitchen and surmised that Thurman was already and up and about. When I stepped into the hallway, I saw Martha Canary sitting at the table talking to my brother. Mr. Jenks was standing at the stove gesturing with a spatula and adding his two cents to the conversation.
Thurman was in a very good mood, "Hey there, sleepy head. This here's Martha. She's a friend of Mr. Jenks."
Mr. Jenks turned my way and asked, "You don't mind me inviting Martha to share our breakfast, do you Billy John?"
I rolled my eyes and waved the question off, went and got some coffee and sat down at the table, "Morning, Martha. How did you come out last night?"
"Well, I broke even, but Jenksie here won about a hunnert and fifty dollars, didn't ya, Robert?"
"Sure did. Had a great time too. I'm sure glad you talked me into going with you, Billy. It was great fun."
"Well, glad you enjoyed it. Did us both good, I reckon." I told them about the flat tire and Thurman cursed a bit, but he was in too good a mood to let it take over things.
He was all excited and told me, "I was telling Martha here, that Wild Bill Hickok had a girlfriend named Martha Canary, and it turns out that she's a relative, ain't that right, Martha."
"It sure is. I got a picture somewheres where she was sitting with my great-great grandmother. She signed it too."
It was too early in the morning to for a history lecture by Thurman, so I changed the subject. We ate breakfast together, drank some coffee, laughed a lot, and a good time was had by all.
The only bad thing that marred the morning was my realization that it wouldn't be too awful long before I would have to rustle up another cook, and maybe even start cooking for myself. That thought was pretty damn amazing all by itself.
When I was locking the door and leaving to got to work, I saw Jenksie sitting outside on his porch. Martha's car was gone. I got up and walked across the alley.
"I wanted to thank you again, Billy John."
"Thank me for what, Jenksie?"
The intimacy made him smile, "It makes me feel kind of crazy that happiness was that close, and I would have missed it completely wasn't for that kick in the ass you gave me."
"Yeah. That is kind of crazy come to think on it. I done some thinking about it and come to realize that we all living in this crazy world and you got have a good take on it to get any kind of good out of it. Nobody else can tell you that it's got goodness in it, you gotta know that for yourself."
We stood like that for about a minute. two lost souls standing at the worn-out and frayed edges of paradise.
Jenksie finally broke the silence, "Maybe it's time for you to put some flowers down beside the graves of your wife and child and leave the cemetery. A whole new world for you could be waiting on tables less than mile away from where we are standing."
I raised my chin up and scratched my neck then placed my thumb and my forefinger on the side of my nose. I finally exhaled some air out of my mouth, " I laid the flowers down at the side of their their graves. Picked them fresh myself that very morning, and I left the cemetery and sat in the passenger side of a truck all the way out to California. That's not the part that bothers me. It's the filling in the grave that's stopping me from living. Throwing on the dirt, that's the hard part."
Jenksie reached out and shook my hand and started to head back across the alley. He stopped midway and turned, "Got to be done though. A man can't live his life staring down at a grave even if does got fresh flowers."
I think that I could have guessed that Colton Welles would fall in love with Burney Bush well before it happened. I don't know what it is about life, but it always has this strange way of taking a simple thing and making it more complicated than it should be.
The three of us Burney, Thurman, and myself had gone out to eat Chinese food at the Bamboo Garden. When we went to drop her off at her house, Colton and her brothers Cain and Abel were standing around Cain's battered Ford pick-up truck. Colton was shirtless and had his foot up on the bumper. Abel Bush, or Oogie as he was known, had his foot up on the bumper on the other side. Cain was leaned up again the side of the truck looking about as mean and dumb as a human could possibly be.
In fact, I would have swore a oath that he was the meanest dumbest looking person in the whole damn world if it weren't for the fact that Oogie was standing next to him taking that look to an unworldly level. He looked like the meanest and ugliest thing to ever come out of Mars.
Colton looked like and sounded like a snake. He acted like he was trying to be pleasant and inviting, but I could sense his rattles shaking, and it made me aware that I needed to stay as far as way from him as I could get to avoid being poisoned with his venom.
Thurman tensed up a bit when we pulled in the driveway and saw them standing there. The sun had begun to set and there were some shadows forming, but the three men were standing smack dab in the last dying light of the day. If Thurman was scared in anyway, he did a damned good job of covering it up. He got out the truck and helped Burney down. Much as I didn't want to get out, I had to just in case he needed my help.
Oogie greeted us, "Well, lookie what we fucking got here. My darling little sister and her personal Prince Fucking Charming. What do we owe the pleasure?"
Burney spat, "Shut the hell up, Oogie. Thurman's just bringing me home, so don't start any shit."
The men started laughing with Colton laughing the loudest, and he hissed, "Damn, Oogie, she done told you! That's what I like about your little sister. She got a lot of fire in her!" Then turned to Burnie, "Damn girl. You lookin mighty fine. Here I been asking you for a date for weeks, and then you come waltzing right up in front of me with my own damned cousin. The very, same cousin who has been trying to replace me in my Daddy's affections. "
You could tell he had been drinking. His pupils were little dark dots, and there was a strange greenish glow about his face. He looked like evil incarnate as he spoke. Colton always looked evil, even when he was trying to play nice, but now the liquor had stripped away anything that would have hid that evil from being visible to general public.
I know that Thurman heard him, but he acted like he didn't. He took a hold of Burney's right arm and guided her toward the front door of the house. Oogie took his foot off the bumper, opened up, and kind of blocked the path between the truck and the gate.
Thurman stopped and looked up at him for a second, Oogie looked into his eyes, thought about it, and then stepped out of the way. Thurman opened the gate and took Burney up the red brick steps that led up to the green door.
As they said their goodbyes, it left me standing there by myself. The men turned their gaze upon me. I didn't know what else to do, so I focused my gaze upon Cain and asked, "You been finding any more bugs?"
He didn't laugh. The others just looked at him to see what I was talking about. His face flushed, "He tyrna make a joke on me. He caught me messing with Missy the other day and threatened to tell Cilla on me." They turned to look at me.
Oogie spoke first, "That right? You was gonna rat out my brother for having a little fun."
Colton quickly followed suit, "Damn, Billy John. I didn't know what a little piss ant you was. I'm shamed of you, boy. My cousin the rat"
"Cain's a damned liar! And he is a fat-assed, ugly damned liar! And Oogie you look just like him, so you're also a ugly, fat-assed liar too," Then I turned to Colton, "Fuck you and your being ashamed, Colton Welles. You ain't never done nothing in your life but bring shame upon your daddy!"
A second before I was real scared of what might happen, but hearing Colton turn on me was more than I was willing to bear. I saw Thurman gently nudge Burney into the house before shutting the door and coming down the steps. I'd had quickly resolved that I was going after Colton with both hands when a suddenly the whole scene was bathed in a light coming off a pair of headlights that had just turned into the driveway. It was Burney's mom and daddy coming home from church.
Mr. Bush, a short but powerfully built man nodded at me as he walked by, he said hi to Thurman, then looked at the others, "You boys ain't been drinking again have ya?"
Oogie's eyes never left me as he mumbled, "No, Daddy, we was just sitting here talking. Weren't we Colton?"
"That's a fact, Mr. Bush. Just talking."
Mr. Bush looked them over and then asked me, "That's so? What were you boys talking on, Billy John?"
"Bugs. We was talking on how annoying these little flying insects are. Cain said he got bit by one on his leg the other day."
Mr. Bush turned and looked a question at his son. Cain glared at me before answering, "Hurt real bad, Daddy. I had to put some lotion down there to stop it from itching."
Mr. Bush, " I don't know what you was doing to let a bug get at your leg like that boy, but I suggest you quit doing it. Hear me?"
Cain nodded in response. Mr. Bush surveyed us all again then turned and started walking toward the house leaving us with, " You men, try to stay out of trouble. It wouldn't hurt none of ya to get yourself right with Jesus."
Mrs. Thurman, a slender gray-haired woman with fine features was a very sweet lady. I never could understand how she gave birth to the likes of Cain and Abel. She stopped and put her hand on Thurman's arm, "Thurman, how is your aunty and your Uncle Billy? I ain't seen them a while."
"They doing fine, Miss Elly. I'll let them know you was asking about them."
With that she followed her husband to the door. While they were walking away. Thurman and I used the opportunity to get in the truck. As we pulled the way, our lights outlined the three figures standing motionless in the driveway, a snake and two fairly large baboons. Colton's angry eyes could have cut diamond in two.
"Sorry, Thurman. I ain't having nobody telling lies on me. I lose all sense of control."
He put the truck into a forward gear, "Don't fret on it none. It don't matter how straight forward you are with some people. They don't understand honesty or nice and never will."
Later, after we got home, we sat out on the porch a bit, drinking a beer, and talking quietly in the light of beautiful full moon. I was in a wondering mood and asked my brother a bunch of pesky questions. I know he was trying to gather his own thoughts on the matter, but I couldn't help it.
"Don't it just seem to too dang weird that we drive all the way out here from Oklahoma for you to fall in love with the same woman that our shit head, no account cousin had his sights set on?"
Thurman was stroking his chin, a sign I knew that he was thinking deeply on something. He had always done that when his mind was troubling him, even as a boy.
"I reckon that it has to be this way. I ran away when I should have stood up for Sersie that day in church. I was all embarrassed, Mama was there, and we was in Church. It felt like God his own self was looking down on the whole pathetic scene. I didn't know what else to do?"
I was puzzled by his words, "What was you supposed to do? That was all Pa's doing."
"I loved Sersie, and she loved me. And I don't care what anybody else said on it. I should have stood up and fought for her, even if I had punch my own daddy in the head, or the preacher, or God himself for that matter. I might have saved her had I made that stand. Running away from it just guaranteed her fateful end on that lonely road outside of Fort Sumner."
He was on a roll, so I didn't say nothing even though he'd touched on things that I wanted to know about. Eventually, he resumed telling me what what he was thinking, "You got to stand up to life, Buddy. If ya don't it'll keep coming back and start pushing on you until either you fight back or you fall down and stay down. And when that happens, they might as well start tossing dirt on your head."
I thought about it for a minute then answered, "You remember when Bobby Eakins and Sonny Dawes jumped me in our pasture. I ran away thinking it was the smart thing to do. Daddy was looking out the barn and saw me run. That night he took me out in the barn and whipped my ass for shaming him. I hear what you're saying, Thurm. I been thinking on it myself. I should have fought harder for Guinnie too. I should have never had made her do all that work, but I didn't know what else to do."
"Don't go putting that on yourself. You was standing up to life and she was helping too. That's the way it's supposed to be. It was losing Stewie that killed her. And there was nothing you could have done to prevent that."
"We could come to California the moment I first saw a dark, dust cloud."
That one stunned him for a moment then he let out a soft chuckle, "Damned, Bud. I don't know if you noticed. They got some damned, dark clouds out here too."
That made me laugh. Then a voice and a light appeared out of the night. It was Mr. Jenk's dressed in his nightgown and carrying a flashlight. He even had a hat on his head and looked like a character out of that book by Charles Dickens.
"What you boys doing out this late at night?"
Thurman answered, " We just sitting out here laughing on the way that life is."
"Good. That's the way it oughta be," and then, "Night boys."
We chimed, "Night, Mr. Jenks."
Then right before I closed the door, Mr. Jenks called from across the way, "Billy John, you get that coffee?"
I called back, "Yep! I even got us some cinnamon rolls."
There was a little porch right outside our back door. It got the full effect of the morning sun, and I loved to take me a cup of coffee and go sit there and bask in the glow of the soft morning light. It reminded me of the days when I was younger and used to sit outside our cabin with my dog Poochie by my side.
Mr. Jenks had already done the morning dishes. It turned out that living on his own for so long had made him into a first class cook. He wanted to contribute something to the meals, so we gave him a key and he started coming in the morning before we got up. Thurman and I would wake to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and frying bacon. The best thing was that he even cleaned the dishes.
I was sitting on a little white chair. It had this little red line that followed about a half inch on the inside of the sitting area. Looking at that little splash of color made me start to thinking about how all the chairs I noticed in California were store bought and painted. Maybe they didn't know how to make chairs from scratch out here.
There was this chair I was sitting on, the red chair that wouldn't let loose of Cain Bush's ass that day, the green chairs that Mr. Jenks and his company would sit on outside, and the blue chairs that Thurman and I used with the kitchen table that was painted green and orange.
Back home, if you needed a chair, you made it yourself or you had someone make it for you, and if you would have suggested to the craftsman that he paint it too, he would have spit tobacco juice on your feet, commented on your ancestry, and sneered at you like you was a Northerner or something worse.
And thinking about these chairs got me thinking about Mama and how hard she tried to make our lives more livable. Daddy ruled over our farm like an Oriental despot. He was to be obeyed in all things. I know he must have had some reasons for being that way, but it was kind of hard to swallow nevertheless.
I started thinking about how Colton had mentioned that he remembered voiding his bowels in our outhouse. The fact that he remembered taking a shit still made me smile. I thought it was such a odd thing to remember out of all the things in the world that should stick in your mind.
It also made me remember of the time that Mama tried to bring some culture into our austere little world. She had bought some paints. That fact alone was exceptional as Daddy would rather have pulled out all of our mule's teeth than spend money on anything frivolous, or what he considered frivolous. But Mama did some sewing on the side, and he let her keep the money which also surprised me quite a bit.
Anyways, she painted the seat of our outhouse purple and painted some pretty yellow and blue flowers on the walls. I remember watching her do it. It was special, magical morning. Daddy had gone into town, and she just came out of the house with some paints and some brushes and started painting.
I didn't even know there was such a thing as the color purple. I saw it nature, but no one had ever explained it to me. I noticed that she had no color purple either, and she patiently informed me how she mixed colors together to make it. While she was talking, she was sitting on the ground smiling, and her smile was so lovely that I still tear up when I think on it. It is that smile that I remember most whenever I think about her.
Daddy came home and eventually had to go use the outhouse. I saw Mama look out the window in anticipation of his reaction. She didn't have to wait long. He no more than entered the place before he came storming out with his eyes blazing and his face as red as a tomato.
"What in the blazes have you done, you stupid woman. The outhouse is place to perform our bodily functions and nothing else! Do you understand me!"
Mama tried her best to explain that she just wanted things a little nicer, but he wasn't hearing none of it. After he shamed her, he went back in and slammed the door shut. He never did make her cover it up though which I thought was strange in itself. I came to believe that deep down he kind of liked it his own self but could never admit it. And that's the single most important fact that I remember the most about my Daddy.
My Mama grew a little emboldened by the fact that he left the flowers on the outhouse walls and never did nothing about the purple seats either. The one thing that Mama truly loved besides us and her pretty colors was movie star magazines. I wasn't around when her and Daddy got into it over them. She bought them with her sewing money though. Thurman told me later that she had flat out told him that it was her money, and she wanted to read them magazines and that's all there was to it. I had a hard time believing that as she generally put up such little resistance to his rages.
She got to putting them magazines in a little special built tray inside the outhouse. Painted flowers on an outhouse wall were one thing, but having Clark Gable staring at him while he was taking a shit was too much for Daddy. So, he tore off a piece of the cover with a picture of Clark Gable, Mama's favorite actor, and used it to wipe his butt.
That night, Daddy had gone over to my Great-Uncle Eb's to drink moonshine and discuss church politics. I could tell by Mama's pacing that something big was going to happen, so Thurman and I pretended to be asleep and snuck into a closet off the main room and cracked the door to watch the fireworks when Daddy came home.
He came stumbling in the door and saw her standing defiantly in the doorway of the kitchen and instantly grew enraged. I saw him raise his hand over his head and start to bellow like he was drunk assed Biblical prophet from back in the day. He looked like Moses must have looked coming off the mountain, only drunker.
But before he could get a word out his mouth, Mama reached behind her and brought forth a can of store bought beets and beaned him right between the eyes with it. Blood gushed forth from a three inch gash in his forehead, and he stumbled and almost fell. He regained his footing by grabbing the door with both hands, but he was on shaky pins the rest of the way.
I had never, ever seen my Mama angry, and it scared me terribly. I can still see the look on Thurman's shocked face as it was illuminated by a tiny sliver of light coming through the cracked closet door. I learned that night that my Daddy wasn't like Jehovah, God of Old Testament, afterall. I learned he bled as easily as a doomed pig on butchering day and that a simple can of beets could bring him down. Thurman told me after she'd died that he had brought a smile to her face one day when he called her Goliath. I didn't think that shit was too funny because it conjured up an image of Mama hacking on Daddy's neck with a butcher knife.
On the other hand, I learned that my sweet, darling Mama wasn't all sunshine and light either. It took an awful lot to make her angry, but she had bit of rattlesnake in her too, and if you kept poking at her with a stick, she would eventually sink a tooth or two into you.
And I have wondered ever since what it was about Clark Gable's big old toothy grin that would make her go off like that. And I use to wonder a lot about Daddy tearing off a piece of the cover of the magazine because it was stiffer paper, and the pages on the inside of magazine were a lot softer. Did he really have something against the actor that I should have known about?
I sat outside until I finished my coffee and then took my cup, washed it in the sink, and sat it on the counter top to dry. I noticed that Mr. Jenks had written Get more coffee on a piece paper. I made a note on it.
It was sure nice having Mr. Jenks around and Burney Bush too. It was like we was starting to put together a new family. I knew it wouldn't be long before Thurman and Burney got married and we would have to come up with a new living plan, but for the moment I was contented the way that things were going.
This state of affairs somewhat scared me, for in my short experience at romance and domestic bliss, when you think that things are going well, things change, and sometimes they change pretty damned dramatically.
But then again, Guinnie and I never had a whole hell of a lot domestic bliss anyway. Things went south on us pretty quick. It was sweet while it lasted though, and I wondered if I would ever be as happy as I was when I came home from a hard day's work and Guinnie and little Stewie would be out on the porch waiting, and he would come running towards me with arms outstretched saying, "Daddy! Daddy!" I'd pick him up and plant kisses on both his red cheeks and then step and up and kiss Guinnie hard on the lips. Them were days when I didn't have two dimes in my pockets, but, at such moments, I was richer than Clark Gable ever thought about being, and no one that I knew of was using my picture to wipe their ass.
I was two years back in Oklahoma inside of my head, but in this reality, the one that seems to matter most, I was looking out of the kitchen window on a beautiful California morning, and I saw a bluebird perch on one of Mr. Jenk's green chairs, and it was staring in my direction. I stared back at it and suddenly gasped for air and cried out loudly, breaking the thin silence, "My God! My God! Will I ever be that happy again?"
Then Thurman up and fell in love. There was this Pentecostal girl named Burney Bush whose daddy owned the labor camp where Colton was staying. Her real name was Belinda Burning Bush. Her daddy was a preacher and named her after the famous bush that had helped St. Paul achieve his religious conversion. He was at least a little merciful in that he allowed her to go by her nickname most of the time.
Burney dressed like a typical Pentecostal woman wearing long skirts and piling her long brunette hair on top of her head. She had pretty eyes, and they were the first thing that caught Thurman's attention.
By this time, the Jazz Age and movie pictures had generally took hold and changed the way that women dressed and acted. They cut their hair and dyed it blonde and started wearing short skirts and tight sweaters. Some of them had even taken to dancing in barrooms while those women still clinging to their piety and upbringing hissed like angry snakes and sucked on their bottom teeth as they watched them sashay down the street without a shame.
My mom came from a Pentecostal background too. Her daddy, my PaPa, took to talking in tongues so much he lost the ability to speak reasonable language. When I tried to get him to explain something to me so that I would know what he was saying, he would just say, "You just wait you whelp, you'll understand one of these days." Well, I was starting to get up into my twenties, and still didn't have nary a clue what the hell he was talking about.
Mama used to dress like Burney too, but one day, Daddy brought her home and told her, "God-damn woman we are fucking Baptists; start dressing like a damn Baptist." I felt real bad for Mama cause she wasn't a worldly woman and didn't have one idea how a Baptist woman was supposed to dress. She did let her hair down though and bought a couple of shorter dresses to wear to Church. Daddy drew the line at lipstick though and literally slapped a tube of it out of her hands in front of us boys before church one Sunday.
While Mama picked the tube up off the floor mumbling an apology, Daddy turned to us and fiercely warned, "Boys never trust a woman who paints her lips red. They're all trying to tempt you into sin. The first time I caught Thurman turning back to look at Sersie Miller in church and her wearing green eyeshadow and bright red lipstick both, I knew right then that Thurman no more put any stock in Daddy's warning than Columbus did in Ptolemy's view on the flatness of the Earth.
And just because I take time to mention that Burney's daddy was a con-man, I ain't saying that all preachers are crooked and no account; I'm just noting for the record that I knew far more preachers who wouldn't recognize Jesus if was walking around town carrying a cross on his back and displaying the wound in his side.
Thurman told me that he could see the future in her eyes. I didn't press him too much on the point cause it sounded kind of crazy, but I'd never been in love to the point that I sounded crazy, so I didn't know for sure.
For a while, ever time I got around her after that I would try to look in her eyes and see if I could see anything. I had this funny thing worked out in my head that if I looked in them I might could get a heads up on who would win the next year's World Series and be able to make some money.
I really liked Burney a lot. Her dad and brothers were as disreputable and shady as the area under a fat man's belly, but her experiences with dealing with the men folk in her life had made her wise beyond her years and patient to a ridiculous degree. Least, that's way Thurman put it. I liked her because when we met, she smiled and it lit up the room that we were in. She took right away to calling me Billy Boy, and though I knew she was teasing when she done it, it was something that nobody else did, and I liked it. I was disappointed though in that I didn't see nothing but sensibility and good humor in her eyes. Hell, I was going to bet on the Cardinals anyway.
Her daddy Beaumont Bush was another story altogether. Ever body in our part of Oklahoma had known of the Bush family because of him and his daddy. Old man Buford Bush had ran a cathouse in St. Louis before he had a falling out with the people who ran the city. He had some family near Elk Grove and came and hid out with them. His uncle was an uppity-up in the Klan and the authorities in those parts didn't go nosing around in their business if they could help it. Buford somehow married a girl from a respectable family named Talley and started farming.
To hear my daddy tell the story, Beaumont Bush was always a sneaky little weasel. Daddy said that he used to sneak into the school house and steal stuff out of the other kid's lunch boxes. When he got older, he was supposedly sniffing out the locations of the moonshine stills in those parts and would sell the information to the Law. Daddy said he ratted out one of daddy's Missouri cousins and was fixing to get his ass murdered when he ran in a revival meeting to hide and suddenly found God.
I had my own issues with Burney's family. Her brothers Cain and Abel, I ain't shitting- those were their names, were two of the biggest, most ignorant and sorry excuses for a human being that I had ever ran across, and in my general experience, ignorant excuses for human beings were as common as weeds.
I had gone into the Waycross Saloon one time out north of town and discovered Cain Bush being sexually pleasured behind the bar by the blonde waitress who worked in the kitchen in the rear of the place. I knew a lot of guys who would think of this as something that needed to be seen to be believed, but I'm not one of them. It really painted an ugly picture of the human condition in my view of things. The floor behind the bar was sticky and filthy and Cain sat there in a broken red chair grunting like a boar hog stuck under a fence.
I didn't know what else to do. I thought about turning around and leaving, but usually when I get into odd situations like that I try to act normal as much as possible. It's a response I have developed over the years that speaks volumes about how many times I ran face first into strange events, weird folks, and odd situations.
Besides, I had been outside in the heat working on the truck all day, and I was pretty thirsty, so I wandered over to a stool and waited patiently hoping that rutting season would soon be over, and I could order a beer.
The waitress went about the job enthusiastically and eventually got up off her knees, straightened her clothes, and went back to the restaurant to work. Cain rose up out of the chair which stuck to his butt for a while before cutting his fat ass loose, buttoned up his pants and went and poured me a beer and slid it down the bar. I swear he looked big as a black bear standing behind that bar. He had shaved his head completely bald and wasn't so much as ugly as dumb and mean looking. I never understood why John Waycross hired him as a bartender until I learned that Cain's daddy owned the building.
"Sorry, for the wait, BJ. Missy was trying to help me find out what it was biting me on my leg."
I just laughed, "Look like Missy was doing the biting."
I don't know what it was about what I said, but fire leaped into his eyes immediately.
"You calling me a liar? I said she was looking for a bug that was biting me. It was hurting me something fierce, and she was helping me find out what it was."
He acted like he expected me to take his word for it. I didn't much like being told that what I saw wasn't actually what I saw. Stuff like that always made me angry, and I mean angry enough to risk a beating at the hands of a big dumbass who looked like bear. I repeated, "It looked like she was helping you alright," but this time I didn't laugh.
The big dumb bear began to growl. His features changed, and his face became a mask of gathering anger. His eyes didn't look so much like a bear then but more like a savage wolf's.
"Lookahere, asshole. I gots myself a wife and a couple kids. Cilla wouldn't take it too damned good if some no good pissant was going round sinuatin that her husband was a cheatin on her with some trampy little waitress."
That explained it. He was worried, as he rightly should have been, because his wife Priscilla was much bigger and much meaner than he was. She was also a damned sight uglier. Cilla Bush had a head about the size of the end of a beer barrel and arms like a gorilla. A rumor going around said that she had stabbed her first husband in his sleep.
Truth be told. The situation scared the bejeezus out of me, but as scared as I was, I was even more determined not to be told what I was allowed to think and what I wasn't.
Cain was standing right in front of me and only the dark polished wood of the bar separated our angers. I looked him right square into this hot, beady, little eyes before speaking, 'Then maybe you shouldn't oughta been diddling a trampy waitress at your place of work where anybody in the whole damn world could walk in and see it. Some of them might not be as close-lipped as me."
I thought for a moment that my days on this earth was over. Cain gave me his most frightening expression, and he was pretty damned good at performing that particular skill. But just as the storm was gathering towards full strength, he suddenly smiled and started laughing, "How bout that? That was pretty damn stupid of me! Drink up, BJ. Beer's on me."
I stayed there most of the afternoon drinking, and ever time he came by me, he'd say, "Lookin for a bug, " and start laughing.
I asked Thurman later that night what it was he saw in Burney Bush. That was when he told me about her eyes and how he could see things in them. He said that her eyes were like an ocean, a source of calm and that her being brought up on the inside of such a strange, chaotic household had given her some common sense wisdom and patience beyond her years. He finished with, "Besides, I think she's beautiful."
He could tell that I had some doubts about the last statement, so he continued, "She don't always dress like that. When we get outta sight of her house, she lets her hair down and puts on a little make-up. You wouldn't believe the difference it makes."
"Well, I ain't saying she's ugly, Thurm. She's cute enough, she just looks kind of plain compared to most the women round here; that's all. I mean she dresses like them Amish girls back home."
"Like I said, she cleans up real nice, Billy John. You just looking at one side of her anyway."
"One side? I'm looking at the side ever one else is seeing."
"There's your problem. People got two sides to them you know.
You only looking at the outside, and it's pretty enough. But she really glows on the inside."
I wanted to have some fun with him, so I laughed, "You saying that I got to develop some kind of x-ray vision to judge if a woman is beautiful or not?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, puzzled.
"It's like the machines that lets you see through human skin. You can read about them in the paper."
"It ain't like seeing through skin. It's like looking at what they are really like under the surface of things. How they act on the outside might not be what they are really like."
I gave him a puzzled look and asked, "They run around doing things on their insides that is different from what they are doing on the outside?"
He returned a look of disgust and started to say something smart but stopped. "You just acting stupid trying to get me all riled. I know what you're up to. You're the one who reads all them damn books about people who are thinking shit on the inside but doing different things in in their real life."
He thought about it for a minute and then spoke again, "When I was in jail they brought in this guy who had killed his mama and his daddy. Ever one thought he was crazy and didn't want to be anywhere near him. They stuck him in my cell, so I didn't have a choice. I didn't talk to him for the first couple of days; then one day, he offered me a cigarette, and we started up a conversation. Turns out his parents had starved and beaten him and his brother and sister for years. One day, he walked into a room and they were putting hot coals on his sister's back. He flew into a rage and killed them both. One of the nicest people I ever met."
He was right about one thing. I understood perfectly what he was getting at, but I was playing dumb trying to get him to talk it out. I thought about what he said about the man in the jail. People got a whole mess of things going on inside of them, and it pretty much determines what they do on the outside, but it is also the things going on in the outside world that pretty much determines what is going on in the inside of them too.
"I know how mad you got at Pa when he threw you down on the church floor. Do you think you could have really killed him?"
"I never really allowed myself to think on it. I'd get angry up till that point but never crossed that line." He went silent for a bit then went on, "Mr. Jenks told me that some wise men think that we were placed in this world to sift through it all and come up with a judgement about which parts are real and which parts ain't."
"How we supposed to know that? I ain't never seen a dinosaur, but I think they were real."
"He said if we never think on it, it ain't real. The only things that matter are the ones we think about."
"It's thinking that makes it real?" He shrugged at the question. "Damned, I better start watching what I think then."