The Inside Out
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 inside 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."