Bee felt uneasy looking up at the portrait shed done of
Charlie when he was twenty-one, and she couldnt sleep for the life of her. Wearing
only her late husbands baby blue terry cloth robe, she walked around her spacious
bedroom looking for something, some secret clue in her paintings to help her understand
Each 3 x 2 gilt-framed painting was signed
Bee Nurble in the lower-left corner. Charlies portrait, over the mantel, was the
first one she had done (after reading manuals from the library and watching How-to shows
on TV). Next to Charlie, a portrait of Miss Doxum, Bees only friend. In fact, Miss
Doxum would be phoning in the morning, as she did every Monday. Miss Doxums loyalty
reminded Bee that she must be doing something right despite the problems with her son.
The other paintings in the room depicted Bigfoot, as
Bee remembered him, along with two other versions copied from books. For many years,
unexplained phenomena had been Bees subject of choice. Besides Bigfoot, there were
paintings of the Loch Ness monster, ghosts, space aliens, UFOs, Mokele-Mbembes,
leprechauns, goblins, brownies, and nine-headed Hydras.
For the past six months Bee hadnt painted
anything. For some reason shed been preoccupied, unsure of her lifes purpose,
and Charlies increasingly frequent tantrums certainly didnt help. Also, the
walls were crowded, she couldnt decide which paintings to take down, and furthermore
shed run out of subjects.
Books, potted palms and peace lilies, boxes of news
clippings, old magazines, and Oriental-style furniture cluttered her room.
A brown and pink Aubusson rug stretched from wall to
wall. Amber light bulbs gave off a warm magical glow. Her room, cozy and hermetic, was
where she spent most of her time. Not that she was a hermit; on the contrary, she ran
errands once a week and liked to take walks around the block at dusk. To the right of her
bed was the door to her private bathroom. To the left was the door to the hallway. And
along the far wall was a sliding glass door that opened onto her new garden at the side of
the house. She pressed her palm against the glass door. Where the hell was Charlie? Why
wasnt he home yet? And where, at that exact moment, was Dez? Was he thinking about
her? She thought of calling-- theyd yet to speak on the phone--but knew shed
see him in the morning. How perfect it would be, she thought, to wait for Dez to come home
for dinner instead of Charlie.
She went out to the kitchen and filled her glass with
ice. At the bar trolley in the living room she mixed a Prince Edward, a woozy concoction
of Drambuie, Lillet, and Scotch with a slice of orange-in-syrup, a Nurble family favorite,
and returned to her room. She sipped her cocktail, sweet and strong, looking at her
reflection in the sliding glass door. Over the years shed affixed thirty-one decals
to the glass, each one a different Indian totem pole. In the middle was her favorite, an
intricate Aleutian. She got down on her knees, crunching a piece of ice in her mouth, her
free hand nuzzled in the warm pocket of her robe. The Aleutian was significant; like Bee,
it had been through the wringer.
During Charlies difficult teen years the two of
them often took Sunday drives to an Indian trading post. Halfway up Mount Susanna, beside
a fast-moving stream deep in the forest, a trip to the White Eyes Trading Post & Totem
Garden was always a treat. Under giant redwood trees, at picnic benches scattered among
ferns and toadstools, they ate Cherokee Chili Dogs, Navaho potatoes, and ice cream
sandwiches in the cool mountain air. Once the treats were eaten, and Bee had taken the
trash to the dumpster, they sat very still, very quiet, their heads tilted back looking up
into the great trees, as sad extended birdcalls echoed off the mountain. After a while she
always excused herself to go to the rest room, a cinder-block hut behind the teepee
concession stand. While the other young mothers chatted between stalls, she sat quietly on
the bowl emptying her flask down her throat (vodka back then).
The two of them strolled the grounds pausing to look
at every teepee and totem pole. It was the same every trip. Charlie was precocious and
knew a lot about Indian customs. Inside White Eyes they slowly made their way up and down
the aisles packed with tom-tom drums, kachina dolls, fireworks, assorted gewgaws,
trinkets, Indian headdresses, beads, blankets, and rugs. She sometimes bought a pair of
beaded moccasins to wear around the house. The last stop was always the decal and sticker
counter where she chose a new totem pole.
She opened the sliding glass door and slipped into her garden and the woozy scents of
nighttime. Citrus blossoms. Jasmine. Eucalyptus. Mahonia. Gardenia. The secret garden was
Dezs idea. She agreed to it, and then a few days later there it was outside her
bedroom at the side of the house. Even though she knew hed been working on it, she
was speechless when she saw how exotic and beautiful it turned out.
Cut off from the world by a tall hedge bordered on the
inside with pumpkin dahlias, the new garden was just large enough for a chaise lounge
along the sliding glass door, a gardenia bush, snapdragons, a dwarf loquat tree, and a few
other specimens, all selected by Dez. Outside the garden hed planted more trees and
flowers, all distinctively scented.
Bee reclined on the lounge with her cocktail and
crossed her legs. She watched the silvery clouds drift across the dark sky. It seemed
lower, closer to earth than usual. She held up her glass; through it she saw stars and
jets, and they too looked nearer than usual. The garden made everything peculiar,
including her thoughts. Before she knew it, she was riding along on the wing of a jet
headed for the North Pole. She tapped a window. Dez peered out. When he saw her he licked
the glass. Overcome with love, he shattered the window with a hammer and pulled her
Thirst nudged Bee out of dreamland. She sat up,
sniffed the air, and wiggled her toes into a mound of Irish moss on the ground as if it
was Dezs downy bum cheeks. She stirred her drink with her finger. Knowing a man had
recently been inside her body, a man she couldnt get out of her mind, a man thirty
years younger and half-Chinese, made her realize that for years, maybe even her entire
life, she had allowed herself to be unnie, as she called it, not particularly
unhappy, not particularly sad, just unnie.
A few minutes later she found herself staring at the
back of the Aleutian totem pole decal, and the memories of that day returned. To celebrate
Charlies fourteenth birthday theyd taken a Sunday drive to the trading post
for lunch, shopping, and the usual nature walk. Sitting at their favorite picnic table,
having just finished Anasazi butterscotch-walnut sundaes, Bee presented her son with a
gift. Charlie tore off the gift-wrap in uniform strips. She proudly noted to herself that
his mannerisms had become so methodical and precise hed probably turn out to be a
surgeon. The pattern on the paper, topless hula girls harpooning sharks, made him roll his
eyes and blush. (Occasionally, she left her late husbands old nudie-cutie magazines
lying around for him to find. An ideal introduction to the secrets of procreation, she
believed, as the thought of discussing sexual matters with her son frightened her to such
a degree she agonized over it in bed at night.) Charlie removed the expensive microscope
from its box, took a quick look, and then shoved it back in the box.
This isnt a real microscope, he
said, its a toy. Its junk. A minute later Bee dropped it on a bed
of crumpled gift-wrap in the trunk.
This was two years after Stans death, and up
until then hed been so good, so considerate, a real buddy to her. But hed
started hanging around with Hal Pope, Flogger Heightss golden son, and almost
overnight everything about him changed for the worse.
She could see him now, stretching his legs across the
back seat, pillows propped behind his back. At the time she drove a newish Cadillac, a
four-door emerald green sedan (one of the few pricey items shed bought with
Stans life insurance money; it was stolen a few years later). On the steep road
descending Mount Susanna, soaring around a narrow curve, Charlie reached over the seat,
grabbed her purse, and calmly flung it out the window.
After an initial moment of disbelief, she warbled a
strange, timid scream. In the rear-view mirror she could see her leather purse--big,
shabby, orange--lying in the road, and then a split second later she saw the van that had
been tailgating her further back run over it. In a panic, she hesitated as she flipped on
her emergency flashers, started to brake, and then skidded around another curve where she
finally pulled onto the shoulder.
How could you do such a thing? Run back there
right now and get my purse!
No, you get it. I toss, you fetch.
She no longer knew her son. In retrospect, she
wondered if an evil spirit had taken over his body. Gingerly, she dislodged the ashtray
from the dash, turned around, and hit him across the forehead. Cigarette butts tumbled
down Charlies shirt into his lap. Blood ran down his face and dripped off his jaw.
I hate you! he sobbed, squeezing his head
between his knees. Daddys ghost said I can be mean to you anytime I
Are you hurt? Im sorry, baby, Im so
sorry! Just tell me if youre really hurt or just making a stink for attention. Tell
me, are you hurt? She tried to dab the blood with a tissue, but he cringed and sank
to the floor.
You bashed my head in! If you hit me ever again
Ill bash your head in with a bowling pin.
Oh please, dont talk to me that way,
Charlie. I did a terrible thing, please forgive me.
He looked up, his face dusted with gray ash and
smeared blood. Well, you better go get it.
Damn you, Charlie, Im waiting for the cars
to go by.
She slipped on her moccasins, sprang out the car door,
and ran up the steep mountain road. A hundred yards up, at the apex of the curve, she saw
her purse flattened in the middle of the road, dead in a puddle of its own liquids and
She felt sick, disturbed, like she might faint, or
worse, wet her pants. Her legs wobbled. The poor purse. It had always been a dear friend
to her, with its pockets, pouches, and flaps tucked inside the supple persimmon-orange
Bee checked for cars coming around the curve. The
coast was clear. Hesitant and weak she dashed out to the middle of the road. The edge of
the steep cliff was only a few feet away. She nudged the purse with her toe. Tire tracks
had scarred it, the shoulder strap was ripped. She picked it up and examined it closely.
How sad, she thought, what a pathetic transformation. She held the wounded, pitiful thing
out in front of her. Only minutes before it had been sitting on the seat right beside her,
spotless and perky, innocently doing the job of holding her important things. Now it was
squashed and unfamiliar. A hairless orange mammal, some exotic road kill.
Surprisingly, the zipper still worked. She looked
inside. It was disgusting in there. Her wallet, the bills she was supposed to have taken
to the post office, and a letter shed received that morning from Miss Doxum had been
thrown into a blender with her lipstick, foundation, rouge, hot English mustard (brought
from home for their Cherokee Chili Dogs), hairspray, anti-bug lotion, anti-itch cream,
shards of a hand mirror, a five-inch magnifying glass, and a fifth of vodka. A library
book, ESP For The Masses, was soaked and shredded. The only thing that survived
unharmed was her new Aleutian decal sealed in plastic.
She didnt know what caused it, but as she stood
there with her purse in her hands, a minor avalanche, mostly dust and gravel, started
cascading down the side of the mountain and out onto the road. Some of the rocks knocked
Bee in the ankles. She looked down and saw pink and yellow liquid leaking from her purse,
splattering her new moccasins.
She dug deeper into the muck till she found her
beloved silver flask, a Nurble family relic, flattened as thin as a quarter. Originally,
the flask belonged to Charlies grandfather, a former warden at Freelock
In the distance, many feet out from the cliff, a swarm
of wasps caught Bees attention. At first she thought it was a lost rain cloud,
off-course, drifting away from the fold. Quickly, radically, it changed size and shape,
from a wave of black hair, to a swollen kidney, the Loch Ness monster, and a figure eight.
Bee slurped her Prince Edward, nostalgic for that long ago afternoon when
she first left her body, a moment of truth in her life right up there with seeing Bigfoot.
Not to say she enjoyed leaving her body, she didnt, certainly not in any normal
sense, but she did come away from it with her mind and vision more in tune with the
Bee was concentrating on the wasps when a great wind enveloped her,
lifting her daffodil-print dress over her head. The trucks horn was immense. It
slammed on its brakes as it skidded toward her. Bee knew she didnt have time to run
to the side of the road. She collapsed face first on the asphalt, scratching and clawing
as if she could dig her way to safety.
The truck, weighed down with a dozen massive redwoods,
sailed overhead, inches from her body. She felt its heat and weight suck her down a vacuum
into total darkness, into death, or so she thought. From the depths of the vacuum she
looked out and saw herself lying on the road, splayed out like a plucked chicken. Beyond
that she saw the truck roaring on by.
Not sure if she was dead of alive, she opened her eyes
and viewed her limp, unharmed arm sprawled on the road like a hollow plaster cast. Her
adrenaline was pumping. Cars were going to hit her. She jumped to her feet, arms flailing
, and ran to the edge of the road..
A car full of teenagers pulled alongside, following at
her speed. One girl poked her head out the window. Hey moron lady, you could have
caused a major deadly accident!
Light! Light! Let there be light! she
cried, her eyes fixed on the back of Charlies head inside the car. The kids sped off
Bee staggered, tripping over soda bottles and clumps
of wild sage
Charlie sat in the back of the sun-filled Cadillac
reading a book hed checked out from the adult section of the library on the subject
of animal anatomy. He lingered long on the color photos of dissected dogs and cows
udders sliced in two.
Bees fingers wrapped around the door handle, it
was hot. She got into the car, tossed her mangled purse on the floor, and collapsed across
the seat. Panting, she squeezed her shaky hands between her legs. After a few minutes she
couldnt take it any longer. Was Charlie going to apologize or not? She sat up and
looked in the rear-view mirror. Behind her, Charlie smirked as he smeared the blood from
his wound over his face.
Here they were, mother and son, both with bloodied,
filthy faces, staring each other down in a mirror.
Fumes rose up from her purse into her nostrils,
scouring her sinuses. She whinnied. The sound was so unusual it scared her. For a moment
she thought she might jump up and run back to the spot in the road where the truck had
gone over her.
Vodka, vodka, vodka rang through her mind as
she broke into a cold sweat.
Charlie ignored his mother. He sighed, flipping
through his book. He was always trying to get to her through humiliation or any act of
meanness, small or large, his mind could conceive. She never put up much of a fight, but
cried privately, furious at herself for letting him control her. She was afraid of her
son; Charlie knew it and had been using it to his advantage since he was little.
But for some unknown reason, the purse incident landed
Charlie on the straight and narrow for a few months. He spent more time reading in the
tree house or over at Hal Popes, and when he was around, he kept out of her hair and
even made an effort to show her a minimum of respect and courtesy.
Curled up in the lounge chair, a warm breeze puffed under her robe,
tickling her body. She slurped her drink, imagining a rainy day and Dez sitting at her
kitchen table eating a piece of cake. Not just any cake, but a three-layer red cake with
fudge filling, decorated with his favorite trees: coral, sequoia, and yucca.
One day soon, she promised herself as she rubbed her
collarbone, shed make it, although she wasnt sure she could render in frosting
the trees she saw in her mind. She would present it to Dez in the tree house as a gift of
appreciation for the garden she loved so much, a gift for having appeared in her life.
(Not to mention the thrill a sugar rush would lend to their boozy lovemaking.)
A rustling in the snapdragons startled her, a mouse
sniffing the freshly tilled soil. Then, through the thin hedge, she saw a shadow pass.
Hey baby, Dez whispered, squeezing through
the narrow space where the hedge met the house.
Holy smokes, you spooked the bejesus out of
Sorry, I didnt mean to. I missed you and I
wanted to make sure you were okay. He stood at the foot of the lounge proudly
inspecting the garden hed created. His gaze landed on a gardenia flower with
wide-open white petals that reflected the moonlight. Staring at the flower, he realized he
felt kind of awkward. Up until then, all of the time theyd spent together was during
work hours, time he was paid for by Charlie to build his bomb shelter. Now things were
From the corners of their eyes they looked at each
other shyly, trying to determine if the slightest change of heart had occurred in the last
fifty-two hours. The tension didnt last long, though, as the love they had for each
other was real and couldnt be suppressed.
So I guess you like your little garden, he
said, sitting at her feet.
I love it. I feel like Im on vacation in
another country. Its the most beautiful place I know. And its so
removed. She laughed. Its hard to believe Im sitting at the side
of the same house Ive lived in all these years . . . and with you.
He rested his feet in her lap. She rubbed his toes
through his damp socks.
I know how you like magic stuff. Secret gardens
are one of the most magic things of all, he said, combing his fingers through his
long hair, feeling tranquil despite the methamphetamine coursing through in his body.
Bee nodded in agreement. Oh yes, this is a magic
spot, thats for sure. You lose track of time. I couldnt tell you how long
Ive been out here. She paused for a moment. I was remembering some
things from the past, from Charlies terrible teens, she said forlornly.
What things? he asked.
Oh . . . never mind, its
complicated, she said. Anyway, now that youre here I feel great. Do you
know the song Never on a Sunday? Its been in my head and thats how
I feel, like that song.
Dont know it. But I do know Where
Have All the Flowers Gone? in Cantonese.
She nibbled his feet and tickled his legs as they both
giggled. I love that song, she said. Sing it!
He sang a few bars of the Peter, Paul & Mary song
in the foreign tongue.
Hearing the familiar tune translated into Chinese was
a bit shocking at first, but then she immediately fell under the spell of his singing.
What a harmonious voice you have . . . youre taking me back to ancient times,
you really are.
A grim look washed over Dezs face.
Whats wrong? Ive never seen you look
so scrunched up before.
I didnt want to tell you, but--
Tell me what.
Oh, Bee said, looking up to the stars.
Yeah, well, I just came from Bagshaws . .
. um, he went bonkers or something.
Bonkers? You mean he was drunk as a skunk?
He threw a glass, Bee, the heavy kind you drink
whisky in, he threw it at a lady. Hit her right in the head. Blood, everything.
No, thats ridiculous. Charlie takes his
anger out on himself, Dr. Marrs said so.
Bee, Im telling you, it happened and it
Who? What lady?
Beats me. Some foxy Chinese broad. The mayor was
sitting next to her.
Oh good God. Bees eyes filled with
tears. Doesnt he know hell get in trouble if he acts out? she said
more to herself than to Dez. Charlie cant go to jail, he needs me, I need him.
Hes too smart for jail. Anyway, hes the Controller. The city needs him.
Gee, Bee, I was in jail. What, you think
Oh, no, youre different, you burglarized
for your son.
Yeah, youre right, he said caressing
her wrist. Come on, baby, its okay. Maybe the ladys not really hurt, you
know, maybe it just looked bad; it was pretty dark.
Where is he? Do you know?
Beats me. He ran out of Bagshaws, some
guys chased him.
Oh good lord, whatll I do?
Here, baby, watch my fingers, relax, think about
clouds, ancient China, magic, me. He waved his index finger back and forth in front
of her face. A few minutes later she calmed down. He wiped her tears away and kissed her,
How do you feel now? he asked.
Better. Much better, thank you. When Charlie
comes home . . . I dont know--
Its his problem, Bee, Jesus. Let him
figure out his own fucking mistakes. I did.
They cuddled in silence for a little while looking up
at the clouds in the night sky. The longer she sat with him the better she felt. Dez had
powers and they were changing her life for the better.
Dez rested the side of his head against the sliding
glass door. I think I like this better than the tree house. Come on, I wanna mount
you, open up.
She liked that sex was constantly on his mind.
Not now, I mean, Id like to, Im in the mood, but what with, you know,
Charlie might come home, she said, its not right.
He touched her nose. This is the first time
Ive ever seen you at night.
I usually wear clothes, a nightgown, under my
He took hold of her feet and gradually spread her
legs. In the moonlight youre a vision.
But in the sunlight Im a mess.
Dont say that. In sunlight youre a
wisp of smoke, pale golden smoke.
Smoke? You know Im not smoky, Im
more the self-conscious clumsy type.
Self-conscious a little, sexy a lot. The
two go together, theyre pretty much the same if you think about it. He brushed
his fingertips over her wiry pubic hair.
Im none of that, Im a clumsy girl,
always have been. At the age of ten I broke my leg, this leg, she said, clutching
her left kneecap. Then five years later I broke this one in four places when my dad
ran me over with his ambulance. Oh goodness, tug the flaps again, the lips, Dez, more
inside. That was utter clumsiness on my part, entirely my own fault. I was walking
around in a daze and then look what happened. The pain was horrific. Thinking about it
makes me laugh.
Bee handed him her drink. He finished what was left.
When I was young I never paid attention, she said, pulling off his socks,
folding them in half, and tossing them on the gardenia bush. I never looked both
ways when I crossed the street. There were many near misses. I was spacey, you could say.
But I was lucky to be the daughter of the only ambulance driver in Hinshaw City. He always
told me, right up until his death two months after Charlies birth, he told me that
if he hadnt run me over, someone else wouldve owing to my clumsiness and being
out to lunch, and it wouldnt have been an ambulance since he had the only one.
So, youre a little clumsy, thats
okay, baby. Are you going to fix another drink? I only had one beer at Bagshaws.
Ive never been in Bagshaws before. I
hear they have gambling in the back room, and hookers, too.
Maybe they do. Dez shrugged. I just
go there for the beer.
Dez, Im sorry to bring it up, but did you
talk to Charlie?
Nope. I dont think he saw me.
Come on, Bee, change the subject. Who cares what
Charlie did? Dont let him ruin our fun.
I wish I could put him out of my mind but at my
age . . . Im just used to it.
Thats why big daddy Buddha sent me to
change your life.
Charlie pounded on Bees bedroom door. They
jumped. Mother, let me in, goddamnit, open this door!
Oh shoot! she whispered. Go on, go
on, Ill see you tomorrow.
Dez yanked his pants up from around his ankles,
stuffed his socks in his pockets, grabbed his shoes, and slipped through the hedge into
Bee tightened her robe and ducked inside.
Come on goddamnit, open the door. My door! My
Im coming. Hold on, Im asleep.
She unlocked the door and Charlie thrust himself inside.
Towering above her with his bloodshot eyes and empty
face wet with sweat, he looked liked a scarecrow. His work clothes and always-perfect hair
were a mess. He smelled sour and drunk. His skin was pale and his hands were quivering.
Bee sat stiffly in the Chinese-style chair beside her
bed. Charlie paced the room. Whats wrong now, what is it? she begged.
Charlie slowly collapsed in a heap on the Aubusson
Oh my Godfathers, Bee said, moving to help
Im fine, get your hands off me.
Bee returned to the chair. Of course she knew what
hed done, but chose to pretend otherwise; she could only handle so much
confrontation at one time.
You said you were sleeping but your beds
I was reading and fell asleep on the bed.
You go drink some milk and go to sleep. Your behavior is atrocious. Im your
Charlie stood up and walked the perimeter of the room,
bumping into everything, moaning and groaning. He stopped under the portrait of himself.
You silly old hen. Ive had about as hard a day I think I can stomach trying to
make enough money to support you. If it werent for you Id be home on Sunday
enjoying myself, not working. Id be out in the garage taking inventory, getting
ready for war.
Thats nice . . . I hope you know I
dont hear any of that junk that comes out of you. I dont care. My minds
been pondering other things since you came in. Things that interest me.
Charlie found a bottle of Drambuie on the credenza in
the far corner of the bedroom, and poured some in a teacup. He darted around, pausing
before each painting for the thousandth time, as he slurped the liquor like hot broth. The
Bigfoot paintings made him nauseous; he imagined the hideous creature violently raping his
Will you please let me go back to sleep?
Charlie sat on the edge of Bees bed with his
legs crossed. Not till you guess who I met today.
Bee wondered if he was going to reveal what happened.
I dont know, honey, Im tired.
Try, come on, Charlie whined like a ten
year old, just guess.
I need a hint.
Okay. This someone is related to someone very
close to me.
One of your fathers nephews from Hinshaw
City? Was it little Gordon?
Charlie shook his head in disgust. Of course
not. I wouldnt waste my time if it was. This someone was born eons after dad dropped
dead. In fact, anyone who knew dad is probably long dead or living off the government in
one of those sandnigger motels.
I bet youre right about that. Not many
people around here know us from when we were a young family starting out. Its a
shame, but we cant be stuck in the past all the time. I welcome new friends and so
should you. So who was it? Someone interesting? A cheerful lady? A strange man from
Charlie shook the empty teacup at his mother.
Im trying to have a conversation, stupid old cluck.
Bee covered her ears. Paraguay has lots of
strange men and they all think theyre Casanova. Some poll gave them an ego complex,
and for good reason, it said theyre the number one lovers south of the border.
Charlie paused, glaring into his mothers eyes.
Come on sweetie, lets be friends, you keep saying.
Lets talk about current events, you keep saying. Well, I am. Im
trying. But you never listen. You dont talk to me, you talk to some imaginary pile
of nothing in your head. I might as well be dead, hanging from the chandelier, wrists
slit, neck broken, my skin all blue . . . youd just walk on by, la-de-dada-dum.
Calm down right now, Ive had enough for
I wish I could be like you, off in
daisyland, but I cant, Im stuck here, stuck in a place that shuns me. Im
a foreigner in Flogger Heights and I hate it. Where have all the white people gone?
Everyone here, every goddamned person at City Hall is fucking Chinese.
Charlie stood up and stamped his feet.
If sometimes I dont listen its
because everything you say is mean and cruel. I work my fingers to the bone taking care of
you and all I get in return is a bad case of sinusitis.
Charlies face turned red, the veins in his
forehead swelled, tears streamed down his cheeks.
Come now, Bee said, holding out her hand.
You dont do shit around here. You
didnt even wash my socks and underwear today like I told you.
If you arent happy with me, Charlie, then
I suppose I should move away. Miss Doxum says I can come live with her anytime I
Do it, fine. And the next time you see
mell be at the funeral home. Charlies bawling grew louder, more out of
control. Or maybe itll be you. Maybe Ill see you at the funeral home
strangled to death like a chicken too old to eat.
Charlie, dont cry. Im sorry.
Bee got up and put her arms around her son. He pushed her away.
Charlie looked at her, his eyes bugged out with fear.
Or I could run you over and no one would blame me. No one would even know. People
here cant live without me. Im responsible for 23,599 citizens. This city runs
because of me. No one would even know if you were dead, no one would give a damn.
Sit down and stop this nonsense. Youre the
most high-strung young man in the world. Sit here on the bed and relax. Tell me who you
met today. Please, Charlie, tell me..
Charlie wiped his tears and sat on the bed next to his
mother. She poured Drambuie in his teacup and dropped a Nat King Cole tape in the player.
The booze and romantic music helped to calm them.
Isnt that better? You know, Im so
relaxed tonight every awful thing you say bounces right off me, blammo, like a
trampoline. Bee folded down the sheets, got into bed, and pulled the covers up to
her chin. With her cheek on the pillow, she stared at the sliding glass door thinking of
Dez, and how wonderful life had been only thirty minutes earlier. Whod you
Charlie lay on his back across the foot of the bed.
I met Hal Pope, Jr.
From high school?
He was a terrible boy. I hope his son has a more
How should I know anything about the kids
soul? He thought of the sharp-tongued boy sitting on his bike. I met him at
the barber shop. He lied, believing it best to keep her in the dark about his
excursions down into the wash. I was getting my shoes shined and in he walked.
How did you know it was him?
When he came in off the street the barber called
him Mr. Pope in a joking way, hes just in his early teens or around there. Then when
he was getting the down shaved off the back of his neck, the barber called him Hal.
Thats when I realized it was Hal Popes boy.
And what about Hal Pope, Sr.? He was a real
boob, always giving you such a miserable time.
I deserved it, following him around all the time
like a stupid puppy. But we were close, he was my best friend, mother.
Thats not what my memory tells me. I
remember those black eyes you had and the clumps of hair you brought home in your pocket.
What sort of friend is that?
What the hell do you know about friends,
youve never had one.
Bee turned up the music. The song Slow
Down was one of her favorites. But you hated Hal, I remember. And I remember
when Hals parents died in that terrible car wreck. What a tragedy that was. Still .
. . dont forget, Lander Pope treated your father in a bad way down at the plant.
When daddy died, we almost didnt get his pension because Lander Pope was so greedy,
despite what all the boobs in this town think.
Charlie stood beside the bed. Mother!
Bee looked up.
Charlie stuck his tongue out, and kept it there as he
pointed at her.
She focused on her sons foolish tongue. In the
past, she would have taken a swing at him, burst into tears, threatened to call Dr.
Marrs clinic, but she had started to feel an indifference to her son that both
scared and excited her.
Drenched in sweat, Charlie withdrew his tongue and
left the room.
Bee ducked into her walk-in closet and burrowed through the drawers
searching for that pack of cigarettes Miss Doxum had left behind when she last visited two
years before. What is it with me? she said again and again. Oh, sweet
sunshine, here they are. The cigarettes were in the cup of a bra she hadnt
worn in twenty years, a pink padded bra with perspiration stains. She touched the padding
and made a mental note to wear it for Dez. Right there in the closet she lit up a stale
cigarette, not caring that her pantsuits and culottes would stink. She smoked to the
filter then dropped the butt into an almost empty bottle of violet toilet water.
When she walked out of the closet and found Dez
standing in the middle of her room she practically jumped through the ceiling. They both
Be very quiet.
He nodded. I went out to the truck and fell
asleep. In my dream I crawled inside your purse and you carried me around.
Youre so funny. Ive never heard such
an oddball dream.
You been smoking?
I was, yes. My dear friend Miss Doxum,
thats her in the painting over there, she said, pointing, theyre
hers. Would you like one?
Yeah, love one.
Bee got two more stale cigarettes from the pack and
they stepped out to the garden.
Did asshole lose his temper?
Yeah, but I dont care. I was thinking
about you the whole time.
Did he tell you what happened?
No, not a word.
He better never lay a hand on you, Ill
And right back to prison you go. Charlie has
emotional and mental problems, thats all. He gets upset, but I can handle it.
Remember, were very close.
Well you should have seen him at
Im glad I didnt, thank you very
He leaned over, stuck his tongue in her ear.
She shivered head to toe. It couldnt have
been too bad. The girls probably all right, dont you think?
I dont know. She might need a stitch or
two. Head wounds are funny. Small things can turn out to be big, he said, guiding
her hand to the erection in his pants.
You are so naughty, she said, squeezing
his penis. I just hope it doesnt all blow up out of proportion and Charlie
gets into trouble.
It all depends, baby, on how the law looks at
things. When the old lady next door to me slapped a kid on Halloween, I called the cops.
They talked to her, but it was no big deal.
She shuddered. At least he didnt expose
Not his family jewels, if thats what you
Bee, I just want you to know that the son
youre so rah-rah about is a nut. And that nut is keeping me from having you.
Easy does it. Youve got me, you do, just
not full-time. You dont have enough money for both of us, not to say you would have
to support me, thats outrageous, its just that I dont know the first
thing about jobs, and anyway Charlie would fall to pieces if I left.
Listen, I saw everything tonight. His eyes were
huge, insane, all spinning around.
Come now. You said not to talk about it.
I know, but shit, Bee, I just dont want
him hurting you.
Hes troubled, thats for sure. But he
hasnt laid a hand on me before . . . Maybe I should send some flowers to this
injured person and sign Charlies name. Hed be just crushed if he lost his
Dont get involved, baby. Please, come live
with me. Im tired of trouble, its all Ive even known. Dez opened
Bees robe, kissed her neck, slipped his tongue in her mouth. Lie down,
he whispered. Come on, no more Charlie, no more bullshit problems, just us, please
baby, just us.
Bees robe dropped to the ground as she sank back
on the lounge chair. Dez got naked and climbed on top of her. Speed had rendered his dick
limp, but his drive was at an all -time high. For close to an hour he pumped and pumped.
Bee didnt mention it, so neither did he.