Authors: Joseph Monninger
We nodded. I climbed in behind the wheel and started up the truck. It knocked a little but then found its idle. Julie stepped back, and we rocked slowly over the grass and hummocks. Before we turned onto the highway, we turned and waved. Julie watched us go. She raised her hand but she didn’t wave.
ELORES DID HER TOENAILS MOST OF THE MORNING
could take longer to do her nails than anyone I had ever known. She put on the radio, and we sang along when we knew the words. Delores said Ruby Red Party, her nail polish, smelled like old ladies. She waited until the road got
straight and flat to do the edges. She hated messing up the sides. When she finished, she screwed the top back onto the bottle and moved her feet around on the dash until the sun hit her toes.
“There,” she said. “I am more beautiful than ever.”
“You’re nuts,” I said.
“I’m going to turn on the phone,” she said. “Check to see if we have any bars. And maybe I can retrieve some messages.”
“Where are we, anyway?”
“We’re in Minnesota. We have been for a while.”
“What do we have? Two more days, maybe?”
I shrugged. Taking the back roads meant a longer trip.
“Here goes,” she said, flipping open her phone and putting it to her ear.
“Messages,” she whispered.
She listened for a while. At one point she leaned forward and turned off the radio. She flicked at something on her foot, keeping it away from her toes. She nodded. Then she touched my arm and nodded again.
“That’s awkward,” she said, flipping the phone closed.
“One message was from Paulette, going mental. Her
sister Regina is pregnant and her whole family is going nuts. She wants to come out and join us. She said she could fly and meet us somewhere.”
“That’s not happening,” I said.
Delores shook her head.
“Your mom called, too,” she said. “Just the usual stuff. She’s worried and wanted an update.”
“My dad notified the police. It’s turned into a big freaking showdown between my mom and him. I’m eighteen, though, so it’s not clear what they can do to us. You’re sixteen. That’s the problem. And my cousin Richard is being a dink about the horse trailer. Suddenly he needs it. He called and said he didn’t want to press charges, but he was thinking about it. What a bunch of ridiculous people.”
“Maybe we should just get to South Dakota,” I said.
“I have pretty toes,” Delores said, pointing to her feet. “No one can stop me.”
“Do you think your dad really notified the police, or is it just a trick to get us to turn around?”
“Hard saying, not knowing,” Delores said. “But here’s what I don’t get. No one cares when we’re around, but the minute we leave, we’re everyone’s top priority. It’s weird.”
“You want the thing you don’t have.”
“That’s for certain. I mean,” she said, shifting again to set her toes in the sun, “it’s not like we stole anything of value. Speed was heading to the glue factory. The stupid trailer was sitting behind Richard’s house with grass growing up through the floor. It’s all about power. Who can bully who.”
“They don’t like seeing us free,” I said, understanding something for the first time.
“That’s right. If one person wears a ball and chain, they want everyone to wear one. You know what I should do? I should call my dad and say, ‘Gee, you’re right, could you send me a couple thousand dollars and I’ll jump on a plane and come live with you?’ Then we’d see how important it all is to him.”
“They wouldn’t care if we were boys. If we were boys, they’d say we were boys being boys. But girls are supposed to be home sitting around. I hate that.”
“The history of Western society is one long attempt to control the sexual and reproductive autonomy of women,” Delores said. She looked at me and puffed out her cheeks and crossed her eyes. We both laughed hard.
“Where in the world did you come up with that one?” I asked her.
“It’s the only thing I remember from school. The
! Ms. Blankley. You remember. She was right out of
college and she spouted all this feminist junk, and everyone hated her. I did, too. But when you kind of stopped and listened, you realized she made sense about eighty percent of the time. And she said that. In fact, it was on the top of most of her handouts. We used to have these crazy arguments in her class about men and women and gender roles. You know, women as property, the whole white dress thing at weddings. We had about three fundamentalist Christians in the class, and they went cowabunga every time she got wound up. The school let her go that spring.”
“This kind of lit/sociology class called The Outsiders. Who was outside of whom. You know, groups within groups. It was interesting, sort of. We read a couple good books.”
The phone rang.
“I forgot to turn it off,” Delores said. “Should we answer?”
“Who is it?”
She looked at the phone cover.
“I don’t recognize the number. It might be my dad.”
“Your call,” I said. “No pun intended.”
“I haven’t talked to him in forever. And now he probably wants to yell at me.”
She reached forward and lowered the volume on the radio.
“Hello?” she asked, flicking open her phone.
Someone said something.
“Oh, hello, Dad,” she said, making her eyes big for my benefit. “How have you been?”
“Well,” she said after a little while, “that’s one way to see it. I don’t think that’s the only way. Mom has been fine.”
She listened some more.
Then, without saying anything else, she closed the phone. It rang again almost immediately.
“That was bad Daddy,” she said. “The angry idiot Daddy who doesn’t listen.”
“You hung up on him?”
“You can’t hang up a cell phone.”
“You know what I mean,” I said.
She opened the phone again.
“Listen,” she said when he apparently paused. “If you just want to call and yell, I’m going to hang up.… Yes. That’s right. I expect to discuss things rationally. You speak, then I speak. We come to a middle ground or something. I’m eighteen, as you just pointed out. I don’t want to be …”
She turned to me and raised her eyebrows in question.
“Berated?” I whispered.
“Berated,” she said into the phone.
Then she listened. He went on for a long time, but at least he didn’t seem to be yelling.
“I don’t see how calling the police will help anyone,” she said after a few minutes. “It’s not going to improve the situation to have us arrested somewhere. If you think that will teach us a big lesson or something, I guess you can do it. But I’m here to tell you that it won’t be a lesson. It will just make things more difficult for everyone. And if Richard needs the trailer, you can tell him to rent one and I will reimburse him for any costs. I’ve got waitressing money left over.”
I heard his voice come loudly and abruptly over the phone.
“Then what is the point? Is it that this trailer is so incredibly valuable? He can take a horse from here to there in a rented trailer. It will probably be a nicer trailer if he rents one. You’re grabbing at something to make it into an issue, and it really isn’t an issue. You’re just trying to find some kind of leverage.”
Then he yelled again. She snapped the phone closed.
“You were amazing,” I said.
“If you stay real calm with people, you can usually poke holes through whatever they’re doing to you.”
“Still,” I said.
“He’s just threatening. I don’t know, maybe he’ll go
ahead and do it, but he hasn’t yet. Alerted the police, I mean. But it’s going to sound pretty flimsy. He’s being a big freaking buzz kill.”
“Is your mom freaking?”
“Just because he’s involved,” Delores said. “She digs the attention. Are you kidding? Mom is an attention sponge, especially from men.”
“Father issues,” I said, and we both laughed.
“The long and the short of it is,” Delores said, “they can’t stand not having us under their power. They can’t stand that we’re doing something spur-of-the-moment. They don’t say a word about Speed anymore. They stopped playing that card.”
“Speed’s the whole reason for the trip.”
“Speed’s part of the reason,” Delores said. “We’ve got to be honest about that. There’s other stuff, and we both know it.”
“True. I’ll give you that.”
“Just stuff. Just yearning.”
“We’re in Minnesota,” I said. “That’s got to count for something.”
ELORES SAID, SHAKING MY KNEE
to see this.”
I woke slowly. Rain hit against the windshield. I couldn’t tell how long I had been asleep. It felt like late afternoon. We had stopped too much and made herky-jerky time. I rubbed my face and tilted the rearview mirror to see my reflection. I looked swollen and squinty at the same time. “Ugh,” I said, and dug out a brush from the space between the seat cushions. I ran the brush through my hair until I didn’t have nap head. Then I drank a big gulp of cherry water. When I finished, I put my head back against the seat and tried to wake
up. But my brain buzzed, and the windshield wipers hypnotized me.
“We’re taking a little break,” Delores said. “We’re going to have a cultural experience.”
“Oh?” I said, not really getting into it.
She veered off the highway. She tilted the rearview mirror back to where she could use it.
“We’ve got to get Speed out for a while, anyway. And we have to see this.”
“You’ll see. Kiss my hand in gratitude,” she said, holding out her right hand like a princess.
“You will when you see what I’ve found. You will.”
“I’m hungry,” I said.
“Oh, I’ll take care of that, too,” she said.
“You’ve done all this while I was sleeping?”
“You moaned in your sleep. I think you were having a sex dream.”
“What, you never have sex dreams?”
“Oh, Lord, don’t start on your sex chats.”
“Hold on,” she said. “I have to see where I’m going.”
I saw the sign when she did.
“You’re kidding me,” I said.
“Did I say you would want to kiss my hand?” she asked, holding it out again.
“It’s got to be.”
I sat up.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“What time is it? Will it be open?”
“It’s like four-fifteen. I figure it’s open until five at least.”
We followed the signs. The parking lot was nearly empty. Delores parked as close to the door as she could. I jumped out, checked on Speed, told him we weren’t delivering him to the SPAM factory, then grabbed Delores’s hand and sprinted with her to the entrance.
A slender young black guy in a red jacket took our money. He told us we only had thirty minutes, but if we wanted to buy anything from the shop, they would let us browse awhile longer. We thanked him and ran through the enormous SPAM can that served as the front door. The lobby had a wall of SPAM cans stacked to the ceiling. Delores took out her cell phone and made me stand in front of it while she took
three pictures. Then I took three of her. The ticket guy saw we wanted a picture together and came out from behind his booth window and snapped two for us.
“That’s a SPAM dandy shot,” Delores said, looking at the picture when he handed back the phone.
“You better move it along,” he said, heading back to his booth.
“SPAM you very much,” Delores said.
I grabbed her hand and yanked her into the museum. We had trouble slowing down. Each new display was more delicious. We stayed awhile in front of an exhibit on the history of Hormel meats. We read about Slammin’ Spammy, a bomb-throwing pig from World War II, and Hormel Dog Dessert in a tube, and Wimpy’s eight-ounce hamburger in a can. We watched a clip of the Hormel Girls, a group of young women who traveled the country singing and dancing and promoting SPAM, and read a few pages of
, the Hormel meatpacking magazine. Delores sighed and said she wished she could be a Hormel Girl, dancing around the country in a crazy outfit. Then we moved faster, because the single docent—a large, bright red woman who cleared her throat a couple times and began moving a chair to where it apparently spent the night—seemed to be readying to close. We read a quick article about a SPAM-carving contest in
Seattle and watched a three-minute Monty Python skit about SPAM in Britain.
“I want a T-shirt,” Delores said.
“It’s not in our budget.”
“To heck with the budget. This is the SPAM Museum, for goodness’ sakes, Hattie.”
We shopped. The shop had coffee cups, postcards, stationery, calendars, alarm clocks, and wastebaskets—everything SPAM themed. We spent a long time searching through the T-shirts. Delores debated between a pale yellow shirt that said
over a faded picture of a SPAM can, and a second shirt that said
SPAM Saved the Russian Army, Nikita Khrushchev
. The Russian army marched clockwise around the shirt.