There's Too Much News
That's a good one, they said.
One or the other of us on the extension, we said, "Trees here, there, and everywhere, like in Red Riding Hood and slasher films. Like one of those gangster movies—you know, the place where the bad guys take the snitch to rub him out so no one's going to find the body for a hundred years."
Yeah? they said.
Before, we sent photos.
Gorgeous, they said of the colors.
Don't judge a book by its jacket, we said.
Take the deer hunt. Hill-jacks, five of them flushing whitetails along a draw and out of the woods, into open territory along Township Road 41, tow of their buddies stationed in a field. Those two, they aimed, fired, and brought down a doe and a housewife who'd stepped into her backyard for a smoke, it being a fine sunny day and there being a baby inside. The numbnuts—clueless—were gutting the deer when the police arrived.
Some guy shotgunned his neighbor and dragged what was left of him onto the berm along Country Road 14. Another upstanding citizen stalked two hunters into a ravine and, using his own deer rifle, nailed them between the shoulder blads, a dispute having to do with a meth lab. Police found the men's dogs tracking along a dirt road. Report was, this was a repeat. Same thing happened last year.
Two nights ago, across from us, a hothead named Billy Fix beat up the woman he lived with. Paramedics, the paper said, found her in the garage, her car door open, keys in the ignition, radio on, engine off, a quilt thrown over her legs.
May, my wife, wasn't here for that. A couple of weeks ago, right around Thanksgiving, she said, "There's too much news," and she asked me to drive her to a place her psychiatrist recommended in West Virginia. Next day we drove down. Crossed the Ohio River at Pomeroy, took 62 along the river to Point Pleasant, and from there we followed a map they'd faxed us. On it were scribbled instructions about some place called Flat Iron, about a stone wishing well and drinking fountain at a crossroads where we'd have three choices (all of them eventually getting us to where we were going), followed closely by a narrow bridge where we'd have one choice. We pulled into a dirt-and-gravel parking lot, not sure we'd found the right place, no sign, but we'd followed directions to a T. The main building was a historical-looking two-story brick house, could easily have been your neighbor's. It was surrounded by a park. Cottages. I said, "I guess we made it," and May said. "by the skin of my chinny-chinny chin."
No phone calls for the first week, and afterwards only evey other day. Every third day would be most therapeutic. No visits for twenty-one days. Both mandatory commitments. For the sake of the patron. All parties had to agree or we might as well climb back in the car and drive home. I asked if twenty-one meant I could come on day twenty-one. "After day twenty-one," Dr. Clemens said. "It takes twenty-one days for wounds to heal." he capped his pen, said, "After is better."
May said, "Wounds?"
"It's a metaphor," Dr. Clemens said. "A factual one, though."
Patrons didn't ten-step or twelve-step. They springboarded. Here to here to here.
May's issues preceded us, a sweetheart teenage marriage, annulled. Darkness hatching guilt and crossbreeding into revenge. There was the usual stuff with her mother, only add a ton of intractability to each complaint. Loneliness, even at parties, particularly at family gatherings. Drinking, supposedly a thing of the past. Some OCD, spoon-stacking, toss rugs whose fringe must be splayed, chairs spotted up in rooms. Her feet, in conversation, set at eccentric angles.
May's father, a pharmacist, in order to teach her that life is chaos and must be tamed, painted object lessons on the walls of her bedroom. Imagine this, if you can: night, bedtime, May six or seven years old and already in her pajamas, she balked at brushing her teeth. That minute, he rolled onto the wall she faced when she slept a fresh coat of somekind of quick-dry flat-white paint. Half an hour later, he'd sketch in the story. He used a fold-up two-step stool he kept in a corner of her room. First, one big square he sub-divided into four smaller ones. Four frames. Frame one, a child—a girl—throwing a tantrum, refusing to brush her teeth. Frame two, the parents pleading, begging. Frame three, the child in bed, close-up detail of teeth decaying. Frame four, the child waking up, yawing, her teeth falling to the pillow. Always four frames, a cartoon panel, three-part cause followed by effect. To his way of thinking, how life itself spent its means.
In my book, the man had a lot of explaining to do when he reached the Pearly Gates. There was no excuse for it.
May was an only child.
We'd been married seven years, and this was the third time she'd gone for therapy. First time, I said, "You're in a bad marriage?"
She hugged me, said, "We'll see."
Second time I said, "Do we need to talk?"
"It's not us," she said. "Case closed. You and me, we're fine." She hugged me, said, "I've fallen overboard and need this lifesaver."
Our place in Ohio was built on top of a hill. I worked out of the house, my office three floors up, high enough I had an aerial view of the street, of the houses on the other side. From where I sat, now that it was fall and those leaves had dropped, I could see 33, the highway I'd eventually take to where May was. At night, one, two, three a.m., I watched taillights climb the steep grade, seem to hesitate, then fall out of sight. I heard the truckers down-gear. You know how sound travels when it's late.
The woman directly across from us—her name was Lee—she owned the house. Billy Fix moved in with her after we arrived. A couple of days before the incident, at work in my office, I watched Lee's daughter draw a stick figure on a cemented area of the front yard. She used chalk and drew a girl, hair, yellow as healthy corn, in pigtails, hot-red face, blue shirt and skirt, two different shades, that skirt a perfect isosceles triangle. She added hiking boots and colored them brown. A thunderstorm banged through that night and washed it away. Big, booming storms, they came and went and sounded like war here. On the lawn, snug to the cement, was a basketball standard, one of those whose base you fill with water. I sat here the day Billy Fix wrenched it together, watched him and Lee tossing a ball at it, neither of them any good. They aimed their shots, didn't know how to drop their weight to their legs. His style was jerky, and Lee followed suit, like they might have been jabbing at deadly snakes hanging from tree limbs.
Billy Fix, wouldn't his name be something like that? Can't you hear his friends calling him Fix or Always, as in Always in a Fix. It's an alias you'd have taken if you'd have ridden with Jesse James.
Lee's driveway swung downhill to a two-door garage under the house. Behind it, a ravine ran to the woods. Where the lawn met the trees, mostly birch, some sycamores, bright red-leafed bushes grew in a hedge. Every night, the same five deer came up the hollow, crossed the yard and the street, and hoofed it by our place, and headed for the woods behind us. One, a doe, was white, an albino. Some mornings, I spotted them nesting at the edge of the trees, curled in sleep, like stones.
They told me at the C&E down on Richland Avenue that the streets where we lived used to be deer trails. The builders simply took what was already laid out. When you drove up into the neighborhood, late, the moon did a three-sixty on you, met you where you least expected it to be.
About ten that night, the yelling started. I shut off the floor lamp at my shoulder. Could see some of what was happening from where I sat. Billy Fix kept coming out through the garage and ending up in the yard, huffing cold air. A movement-sensitive light'd come on, and he'd be pacing, one hand to his head, like bad acting. He yanked his truck into gear and slammed out of the garage. Sat in the cab, smoking. He killed the engine. He kicked a basketball into the trees. Mostly he walked around, passed in and out of shadows, like he was on a set of cards I was flicking to make him move. Once the light popped on, caught the deer in the open, and they retreated up the ravine. There was this sense I was watching it all through wicker.
It was because of the newspaper I know it was Lee the paramedics put on a gurney. Not that I couldn't have guessed. A cop drove away with her daughter. Billy was long gone. His truck, you saw it in daylight, first thing you noticed was it had a ram hood ornament, and across the front of the hood, above the grill, stuck to a hard plastic were the kind of reflector letters you see on mailboxes, the ones that catch light. These said, GET READY PEOPLE.
"The nuns are getting better," May said on the phone.
I said, "They're springboarding, are they?"
She said, " Would you announce, when you leave here, you've been sprungboarded?"
"Makes me think of leapfrog," I said.
She said, "Nuns at leapfrog. Picture them on the lawn after a game of croquet."
Nuns in rehab. We'd already done most of the jokes. It was day seventeen, and we'd talked every other day since the first week. You tried to sneak in an extra call and they had records they referred you to. "Sir," they said, and then gave you the dates you'd talked. Begging wouldn't have fazed them. I need her would have been embarrassing and meant nothing to them.
Nuns rehabiting. Under-the-cover nuns. I had said one night, "Nuns in rehab, it's, what? Redundant?" Not quite the word.
And May had said, "Tautological."
Now I said, "How can you tell they're on the improve?"
"They changed their habits," she said.
I said, "They stopped flying so high."
"Have you noticed," May said, "everything's a competition?"
Our joking? I thought, and I felt guilty, the way you feel when you bad-mouthed some slowpoke on the highway or in a grocery aisle and then you realized they're syndromed in some way. I said, "It's how the world does its business."
"The orange juice I drank this morning," she said, "it claims it has as much calcium as milk."
"They're bragging so you'll drink it. For your bones. They're betting on you wanting something other than wholesome trustworthy milk. Variety is the spice of life."
"Why all the bragging?"
"If it's true, it ain't bragging."
I said, "Tell me seriously about the nuns."
"They smoke like a house afire. You see this group of them moving along like a choo-choo train, a cloud of smoke drifting up and away. Puff puff puff."
"So you're saying they aren't there to quit smoking?"
"Their sins are bigger. Weightier."
"The weightiest," I said. Thinking, Sins?
"See," May said. "What I said about competition?"
"But they're getting better otherwise."
"It seems so."
Our doorbell rang. It was after eight, dark, and someone had crossed the lawn where I couldn't see them. I said to May, "There's someone at the door."
"I heard it," she said.
"They'll go away," I said.
"Answer it," she said. "It'll be an adventure."
I hesitated. Though, Adventure? Not dressed for one.
She said, "Go. Go. You can do it."
I picked up the cordless, which I hated, its sounds from deep space, its nastiness about its battery, its sudden way of quitting on me. I punched it on, said, "You there?"
"I'm here," May said.
I said, "I switched phones."
"Hurry," she said. "You don't want to miss them. Make believe it's Beggar's Night. Have whoever it is do a trick." Her talking like she was an actual person in my ear, fully dressed, wearing shoes, a hat, gloves, hair combed.
"You wouldn't make them do a trick, " I said.
"I'm not there. You are."
I flicked on the porch light and pulled open the door, felt it resist and then suck the air from the entryway. A boy—seven, maybe eight—stood there. A woman was behind him and off to the side, like this was a stage, her in the wings. She could have been a child or she could have been forty. Their clothes were thrift-store simple. She said to the boy, "Say it."
"What's going on?" May said in my ear.
"Say it," the mother said. The boy looked at her, then me.
I said, "Can I help you?" The phone was tilted so May could hear. I wanted to tell her it was trick-or-treat all right, only in reverse. The boy was holding a plastic see-through zip-lock bag. Inside it, a Snickers and a Mars bar, both of them king-sized. I said, "Do you want food?"
"Say it," the woman said to the boy.
I heard May say, "What's up?"
The woman said, "Do you want to buy a candy bar for a dollar?"
I said, "No," then got in my pants pocket, saying, "Wait." I fished out a five-dollar bill and handed it to them.
"Say it," the woman said to the boy.
He said, "Thank you," and he started to hand me a candy bar.
"No," I said. "Have a good night."
I watched through the screen until they crossed the grass toward our neighbor's, all the time May saying, "What's going on?" until I filled her in. I said, "I'm turning out the lights."
Before I hung up, I told her about Billy Fix and lee, about the cop and Lee's daughter, and May said, "What did you do?"
What had I done?
That night I had turned out the light for a better look. Telling her that seemed dumb. Saying I didn't really know what happened was rationalizing at best, disingenuous at its worst. Describing where I sat in relation to what was going on was hairsplitting.
She said, "Even in Ohio there are numbers you could call."
Late afternoon, the day before Lee came home from the hospital—I'd heard talk about a broken arm, skull fracture, some kind of trouble with her vision—Billy Fix parked in Lee's driveway, and Billy and a boy unloaded bags of peat, wood chips, and sand. They piled flat rocks along the path to the front door. They'd spent the morning raking leaves to the gutter in front of the house, building a hedge of them the length of the yard, knee-deep, thick and high enough a big dog could get lost in the piles. Couple hours later a city truck rolled by and sucked them from the gutter. The kid, Billy guiding him, climbed a maple and cut limbs womb worms had infested. Check at the C&E told me if you let them go they kill the tree. Billy and the kid cleared and mulched the flower beds and sculpted a new one along both sides of the walkway. Dry-stacked the edges. hey planted bulbs. Bill'd take a break, sit on the grass, light up, and the boy'd shoot hoops. Like Billy, he had no game, everything about him was short-circuited. He pounded his dribble into the driveway, as if the basketball wouldn't return if he didn't wail on it. If he didn't air-ball his outside shot, he banged it off the backboard and ended up chasing the ball down the hill and into the ravine. Nine times out of ten he tripped when he drove for a lay-up. Billy crossed his legs and smoked. I thought about shutting down the cost analysis I was doing and going over. maybe offer to help. Take a minute and how the kid how you use your fingers when you dribble.
You wonder about people like Billy Fix, if they have thoughts, or if they can just sit and be.
Fix and the kid drove away and returned with an ornate cement pedestal and a gazing ball, this one the shimmering blue of a rock-singer's dress. They cleared an oval in the grass, placed the pedestal dead center in it, topped it with the ball. Disco in the front yard. They unloaded an iron bench—wood slats for the seat—and positioned it at a slant to the ball in the oval. Billy Fix sat a cloth doll at one end, tall as a five-year-old. Looked like it was dressed for a party.
Next morning, Billy was alone in the yard, a do-rag on his head and stripped to his Marlon Brando t-shirt. A black no-nonsense Buick pulled up, and a woman helped Lee out of the passenger's side. I could see her daughter in the back seat. She wasn't budging. Billy could have been the yardboy the way he stood by. He dropped his shovel, took a couple of steps toward the women, then stopped. Lit up. I don't think anyone had said anything.
The woman returned to the car and walked lee's daughter into the house. No real coaxing, just being there, like a sidecar.
Billy got in his truck and drove west toward the highway.
Then, later, after dark, I heard him stop in front. didn't hear his truck door open or shut. Imagined Billy in the cab, smoking, wearing his own skin inside out. The woman's car was still there, and from where I was there were no lights on inside the house.
I shut down the computer—realized I hadn't turned any lights on in my own place—and descended to the kitchen, hitting switches as I walked. I hadn't eaten since nine in the morning. Hadn't showered. Was still in my sweats from my morning run. I dumped tomato soup in a pan, thinned it with milk, and, stirring slowly, dialed May. Three transfers after someone picked up, I was told she was out on the grounds. I said, "It's night there, isn't it?", trying to orient myself to which way it was the sun dragged itself across the heavens. Could it still be up where May was? No. East to west is how it goes. The East Coast beats the West Coast, is alive and kicking first.
"We're well lighted, sir," a man said. "He said his name was Alan, that he was an attendant.
I said, "Is it cold?"
"Unseasonably warm," he said. "Still sixty. I'll tell her you phoned, sir."
May wasn't allowed to make calls. I never did get the rationale behind that commitment. Easy enough to bill us, no? And there's always collect.
I heard Billy's truck sputter and choke itself off. Its door opened and shut. I reached our living room, my soup on a tray, in time to see him pivot on a cigarette and start up the walkway to Lee's. Then the motion-sensitive light winked on. He stepped sideways, his sharp shadow on the grass. Next he walked right in.
An hour later, I reported all this to May, and she said, "I guess yard work is what they do here instead of roses."
Me on the highway, I was listening to local talk radio the next morning debate whether or not Jesus would have carried a handgun. I was driving 33 north to a truck stop I like. Great hash browns. Even greater omelets. On the radio one lady—she sounded elderly, maybe in her seventies—she said jesus didn't need to. She said, "He used a cat-of-nines-tails to chase the money changers out of the temple."
"He's God almighty," some guy said. "What would God almighty need a gun for?"
The host interrupted the talk to say he'd gotten a fax telling him he'd been wrong earlier. Jesus, the fax said, wasn't a fisherman. He was a fisher of men.
"got a joke for you," one guy said.
The host said, "If it's clean, we're ready."
Guy said, "I'm sitting in my house, all the windows open. Know why?"
"Can't guess," host said.
Guy said, "It's the deer hunt. I can hear the bullets whizzing by and I don't want them busting my windows."
"That's your punch line?"
Next guy wanted to discuss sex, how to spice things up in the bedroom. Said, "I'm afraid I see things in magazines and see them in the movies."
Host cut him off.
The truck stop looked like a crew hauled in three houses, bolted them together, and aluminum-sided the hybrid they'd jerry-rigged. What I liked about it, what got me to stop the first time, was there was a sign in one of the three big windows that fronted the place. It said EAT. Neon. Red letters two feet high. EAT. Can you get to the point quicker? Not in my book.
So, first time by, I ate.
Along the sill at the bottom of the windows were potted cactuses, a mixed bag, fat, bent and browned, all of them scraggly. Inside there were two rows of tables that looked like they belonged outside a Taco Bell in the West, the kind of booths you take your fast food to on a day the sun is shining. There were three round dining sets, hand-me-downs and leftovers, you'd think, from moves, from relatives who'd gotten a bonus and purchased new furniture. No lunch counter.
Now I sat in a corner and didn't realize Billy Fix was here until he was standing next to me. I'd already ordered. He said, "I see you up there at your place."
"It's where I do my work," I said.
He nodded and took out a pack of cigarettes, said, "You mind?" He withdrew a cigarette. Pocketed his pack.
"I do," I said.
"How about I take a load off?" he said.
"If you want."
He settled in across from me, fingering his cigarette. A part of me wondered if he'd tailed me. If I'd have looked, would I have seen his truck in my rearview mirror? GET READY PEOPLE backwards. He said, "Not that it's any of my business, but what is it you do up there all day?"
I said, "It's where my computer is."
He tapped his cigarette on the table, kinked its tip. "I see you watching me," he said.
"I'm thinking," I said. "I sit where I do by the window to think. It helps me. Sometimes I notice. But what I'm doing is solving a problem in my head."
"you want to know, I drive cab in the winter," Billy Fix said. "The rest of the year I'm out at Lake Snowden in a camper I own. No heat." He waved the woman who ran the restaurant over, and she brought him a cup of coffee, a tin creamer. She said, "You eating, Billy?" Everyone called her Bea.
He shook her off, said to me, "It gets cold and I start staying at Lee's. She's not much for the camper herself."
I said, "That your boy with you the other day?"
I said, "Billy, I don't want to be rude but is there something you want?"
My food arrived, Bea saying, "Excuse me," asking if I'd like ketchup and finding some when I said yes. Billy studied his bent cigarette, said, "Lee, she started smoking because of the cat." He leaned back. "I found it at the lake," he said. "You can bet someone dumped it out. Said to it, Good luck, puss."
I said, "A campground's the kind of place they do that."
"The smoke kept it off Lee's lap," he said. "See, the cat'd come sashaying toward her, and she'd light up."
I said, "I'm going to eat."
"You go ahead." Billy stayed put.
"I'm not spying on you," I said.
He said, "I understand you."
"I'm up there, and I'm mulling things over."
I dover into my omelet.
"People say I can draw anything," he aid. He lit that cigarette, blowing smoke away from me, saying, "I'm certified by Disney, one of those courses they used to offer around the country through the mail. Only trouble I have is filling in the colors, which could be one of those disorders like when you can't read words."
"So you're an artist?"
"I'm anything but."
I was swiping jam on toast and didn't answer.
He wiggled his fingers in the air, left hand, said, "I use only chopsticks to eat with. Learned that from a real artist. From a man who can call himself an artist. It's for the dexterity."
I had a mouth full. Just nodded.
"You and your wife have children?" he said.
"Brothers? he said.
I didn't answer him.
"You don't have to answer," he said. He tapped ash into an empty cup on a table next to us. Now I was just looking at him. He'd turned sideways to me, was resting his pointy elbows on his knees. "You know how to make a Doberman mean," he said. Bea signaled him to get rid of the cigarette. He took a last drag, crushed it. I'd stopped chewing. "You put gunpowder in its food. See, like that omelet you're eating. You could sprinkle some in while you're cooking, and it swells up the dog's brain." He curled his hands like he was holding a dog's brain. Then he expanded the space. "Dog'll get crazy. Tear your dick off, you come close."
I sat back.
"I offend you?" he said. "I apologize." He raised his hands. Innocent from his head to his toes.
I said, "Billy, you're ruining my breakfast."
"Am I?" he said. He said, "Let me pay for it."
"You got any pals?" he said. "You go in a bar, and you sit by yourself? Like in here? You come and go by yourself? My bet is you never bought another man a drink. You never said to a buddy, What's yours? Bourbon or whiskey?"
"If you say so." Truth was, I hadn't. Fix was right.
"My second bet is you spent your life sitting around talking to women," he said. "Like Lee. You could probably talk to her all day. Am I right?"
I set my fork aside and got up.
"Your wife is gone, sire," Billy said. "Life is one inch one way or the other."
I said, "Whatever you say," and tossed a tip on the table.
He picked up a dollar of it, snapped the bill, said, "You understand me, don't you?" It would have been clear to an astronaut on the moon I didn't. Had no idea to his point. Felt like I was in a tough-guy skit. This was improv, and I was clueless, couldn't come up with any lines. He said, "Thing is, you wouldn't want to live near a mad dog."
At the C&E, stocking up for May's return, wheeling a cart, I almost sideswiped the woman and the boy who'd come to the door. The boy turned out to be a girl. Her bad haircut did terrible things to her face. They were in the candy aisle, and I was after chocolate, dark with almonds, May's guilty pleasure. They were two-fisting candy bars into a handbasket.
Met them again at the registers. No basket with them. The girl was checking out a display of Picnic Barbie, Barbie in red-checkerboard pedal pushers, a denim vest, her hair platinum. She was outfitted for a picnic, tiny six-pack of Coca-Cola, tiny Coca-Cola cooler, tiny Coca-Cola Frisbee. The girl's mother, in front of her, stared straight out the front windows, one Milky Way in her hand. The girl turned the Barbie box over. There were cutouts on the back—a tablecloth, mustard, ketchup, four meals on their plates.
I unloaded, and the mother paid, the girl slipping behind her, drifting toward the doors. I bought a Barbie, a joke I'd pass along to May. Grown-ups playing dolls. We'd go on our own picnic, take Barbie along.
The woman and the girl, walking, were halfway up the hill that wound me into our neighborhood. I downshifted and lowed, a car coming the other way, and I watched the girl fetch candy bar after candy bar from her pockets. It was marvelous to see. It was art. She was ambidextrous, as herky-jerky and agile as the squirrels we fed. It was genius. I swerved, then caught her in the side mirror. More candy bars, one, I swear, plucked from behind her ear.
You'd have forked over good money to see it.
Day twenty-one, and I was on 33 again, going south. Plan was I'd drive down the night before May checked herself out and find somewhere to stay. Be there bright and early next day. She'd decided she'd had enough. Her wounds had healed. Maybe we'd drive over to D.C. for a week. We hadn't been yet. Or New York. Why not? We moved here and we got in the mail this packet of information that told us what we were in driving distance of. D.C., Great Lakes, Chicago in one day, New York City itself, beaches that had been only names to us.
Still on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, I swirled the car through an S in the highway, emerged out of some woods, and saw more yard art than you imagine anyone could stand to see in one lifetime. There was a house off the road, quarter of a mile up a slope of lawn, huddled in the trees. From the front porch to the road, nothing but yard art. Black plow horses in red harnesses. A unicorn. Lawn jockeys. A guy in a sombrero taking a siesta. Your ducks and geese. Cardinals big as dogs. And a pair of hands. These cupped hands, upright, painted bubble-gum pink. Huge.
"What's with the hands?" I said.
The owner'd come out when I pulled up the lane to his place. The hands were taller than I was.
He said, "Four hundred pounds each. They're solid concrete."
I shoved a pair. Might as well have been pushing on a building.
"You won't be budging them," he said. "You want to buy a set, I got a forklift out to the back."
As if my car could have dealt with a pair of four-hundred-pound concrete hands. I shook my head. "Who does buy them?" I said.
"People got different names for them," he said. "Some call them prayer hands. Some say they're blessing hands." He cupped his own, acting like he was pouring water from them. "People say they're for baptizing."
I said, "But four hundred pounds."
Temptation was to ship a pair to the family out there in Nevada. Maybe my brother and his wife. Have them arrive out of the blue. Big truck pulls up in front. Backs in. Beep beep beep. Two guys unload a crate. Prove a courtesy crowbar. More family gathers. here come the neighbors. The delivery guys hang around, curious.
I bought a cactus. He had one he'd spray-painted gree. Its base was the color of the desert, and, in what was supposed to be sand, there was a cow's head molded out of the cement, a skull, just bones, like you see in the movies.
I said, "It's a saguaro."
"I knew that," he said.
We were cross-armed, carrying it to my car. It weighed close to a hundred pounds. No way would it fit in the truck with the luggage, so we set it in the back seat. Propped it up with some pillows I kept in the truck. Tell you the truth, I had in mind Billy and Lee. I'd haul it over myself, show him I had something to offer in the manhood department. May'd be there, and the four of us, Billy and lee arm in arm, lee completely herself again, we'd move the cactus around the front yard, stand back, stroke our chins. In the end, Billy'd decide where. We'd let him.
Next morning, there I was. Indian summer. Great day.
I was about to the front door when I saw the nuns drive by. A van load, one of them at the wheel, another one riding shotgun, smoking, twisting in her seat to light the cigarette of a nun who was leaning into the flame.
Had they springboarded—been sprung, going home—or was it just a day out?
Inside, they told me she was on the grounds, probably had walked to the lake. She had a favorite spot, they said. Alan gave me another map. Muddy paths led me through the trees, most of them bare, scraggly and sad looking, but also enough conifers to keep the place pretty. Cones and leaves thick on the ground. Where there was grass it was spongy. There were gaps you couldn't have gotten through except on foot. Deep dark sunless areas. I followed those wooden signs, distance and directional arrows carved into them. I crossed a footbridge, a grove opened up, and I could see May. Beyond her, in the shallows, was a white bird the size of a child. It was mirrored int he water so when it stepped its reflection led it. It dipped for whatever it was it was feeding on.
There was so much to tell May. The Barbie doll, for one. Maybe we could hunt down the girl and her mother, give it as a gift. There was the cactus riding in the back seat. How was I going to explain that? It's be fun trying. Welcome home, I'd say.
Didn't want to forget the magic with the candy bars. I'd demonstrate, pull one from behind my own ear. I'd just take some practice. Was a simple matter of misdirection. Everyone understands how you do it.
I was about to call out May's name, and she did something with her hands. Raised them, then slowly brought them to her chest. Could have been a prayer or exasperation or a celebration or utter despair. Was something she took to her heart. Was a gesture I knew I'd see over and over in the days ahead.
Whatever, she got the bird's attention.
It looked up at us, May and me, May not aware yet that I was behind her.
Had to tell her about the big letters, the neon-red EAT. But not Fix and the cafe, except to let her know he's an artist. I had no plan to tell May about the gunpowder and the Doberman.
If I did, she'd ask, What did you say?