Two East Texas Tales
She did all the laundry now, so she heard nothing about missing stains. Her first periods had been impossible to hide from her mother. Now she had nothing to hide. Nothing yet. But some days now her mother didn’t even know her. It would be easier on one of those days.
Weeks she had taken off the top of the egg money, more from her mother’s purse. She sold her stereo, three rounded white plastic boxes, hand me downs from Donnie Mack. One night a pickup truck backed up the drive and she helped load the head and footboards of her bed, gold plastic over the iron posts of it, into the back of the truck. More money for running. The legless mattress and box springs sat on upturned boxes almost as high as before, the past homes of lost worms for sale washed and dried in the sun and sprayed with perfume. The bed now swayed when she lay down on it, but it held. The old woman never noticed.
From the shed, she first sold DM’s old motorcycle parts, then the parts of mowers, cars, tractors, and light and heavy trucks into the veins of the country economy of yard sales, shade tree garages, and one buyer from Dallas she found in the Tyler paper. She might have built her way to Dallas from DM’s parts, maybe a full shovelhead, but on a bike like that she’d get pulled over before she got out of the county. She had learned repairs on engines where vacuum hoses had not yet completely entangled basic movements of gasoline and air to exhaust. But to piece together an engine for some abandoned truck took parts she didn’t have. So she sold everything that could be carried off.
Each morning the shed and the barn sounded hollower, the walls thinner between her and the noises of chickens and songbirds and the few passing cars. The smells of oil and metals burning to rust lingered and in long lines now between the planks of the wall the sun reached over the barbwired fields and spoked through the barn’s columns of dusted air.
She stood where they had done it in the barn one morning pounding her belly with numb fists, the next squatted in the dirt eating small handfuls of it and crying to the child growing inside her, smaller than in her mind, curled like an unborn cat asleep in the dark liquid of her, safe yet from even its mother’s fears. Then she avoided the barn and went back to her smoking perch in the shed, the smaller space less obviously empty of anything except her breath and smoke and tears.
First the barn and the shed went empty, then her closet. Her mother never went into these places, never talked on the telephone to anyone who would know. If her poor head was emptying out all recognition of her own daughter—though somehow not the son—what difference would it make to empty the actual house?
Finally, she sold her high school ring, purchased prematurely and overdue in its payment plan, to a man in town who melted whatever gold he could find into a fine slurry for covering license plates visiting Canton from Dallas or Houston every First Monday. The ring had occasioned talk of a GED, but that would have to wait.
One day DM appeared in the barn door, then the shed, but did not find her. He stood looking into the emptiness of each for a long time, but said nothing and did not come to either door of the house. From the crack between the plastic roll-down shade and the air conditioner in the living room’s side window she watched him leave. She watched him go the way she wanted, away from the highway. If she walked she could make Canton by dark and if she hitched, maybe all the way to Dallas.
She went to kiss her mother sitting at the radio turned so low she wondered if the old woman even heard it.
“What are you doin?”
“Nothin, Mama. Just saying goodbye.”
“Goodbye? Who are you? Where’s—where’s? Mama? I never had no children. Who are you to be kissin on me?”
The old eyes darted in panic, and she turned to leave before it would get worse. She closed the door before the screaming started, and took the road toward the highway without looking back.
Someone cursing a barking little dog. The windows curtained blind to the outside but the front window leaking blue light, soundtrack gunfire. All from strangers. Strangers living in their old home not six months since mother was buried, strangers paying him the rent. She crouched near the sweetgum tree at the mailbox post until the dog gave up, and she moved past the side of the house close as she could to the barbwire fence along the empty field.
At the shed she dug up the shells feeling for them blindly in the damp sandy earth not looking down lest she miss anyone coming outside. She found only three but these felt heavy in her pocket and as she walked her fingers found nothing marring the high brass shells and plastic jackets.
Moonlight faded behind a cloud bank so the ground looked unmarked, but she stared until a shallow trough appeared, a bucket’s width where remainders of slops uneaten by the raccoons had moldered into a strange row between the graves of half-owned dogs and cats her father allowed but her mother never let inside. She stepped through the wire she held up with one hand as she gathered her hair in the other. Then she found the half sheet of plywood buried under mossy pine straw and sand peppered from the day’s rains, and beneath it, the tarp suffering more holes than she expected. The shotgun still oiled and swaddled in its soaked blanket shroud. She took it up and the blonde stock shone dully wet in the moonlight.
Against crossing the property again, she went along the edge of the woods and then deeper into them. The wet ground quiet. By childhood habit she carried the gun broken open but something moved in the half-lit woods and she stopped, had a shell in the breech snapped shut and the hammer back and the butt into her shoulder before she could think. A backlit shadow fluttered between trees to nothing, without sound. She held the hammer and squeezed the trigger to ease it down, heart cleaving her chest.
She had walked far enough past the house to circle the tar pit and walk the pumpjack path. Then she cut down the highline to the road behind the waiting car. She broke open the gun and lifted the shell and slid it back in her pocket, then from habit looked down the barrel to a circle of moonlit road below. She snapped it shut and felt the receiver where paint had flaked loose and a little rust crept in. The rubber recoil pad had stiffened in its burial, but it looked all right otherwise. She laid the gun in the trunk naked against the inflatable spare. Then she opened the wide driver’s door, nested the shells in the console tray as if the proof of their existence and what they would do might disappear in her pocket, and drove after him.
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