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Authors: Elizabeth Hand

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BOOK: Last Summer at Mars Hill
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Which, incidentally by this time was worth about zero money. All that junk she stuck on it weighed it down, and of course kids started trying to pull off the Rat Fink key chains and the baby dolls, and the antennas got snagged on branches and broke off. And to tell you the absolute truth, Loretta’s driving wasn’t all that great to begin with, so you can just imagine how that poor car looked after a few years.

He would roll over in his grave if he could see what you’ve done to his nice car, I told her once.

I’d be surprised there was room in his grave for him to turn in, Loretta said. She never forgave him for getting fat and running around on his wife and those other nasty things. Truth was, I think she never forgave him for not coming back and getting her and taking her the hell out of Black Spot.

Besides, why should he care, she sniffled. He never really gave a shit about me. It was just a publicity stunt, like Don said.

She really started crying then. He did tell her that once, Don Thomas did. I thought it was a real mean thing for him to say to her. Loretta is a very sensitive person.

Oh, honey that’s not true, I told her. I was trying to fix that damn freezer again and she’d stayed late, to keep me company and also ’cause her license had been suspended and she didn’t want Sergeant Merdeck to see her driving. She thought in the dark he wouldn’t be able to tell it was her but there was no way you could sneak that thing around, no way. Plus she’d had a few. I didn’t say anything, but I could tell.

What?

Well, Alice Jean, all I can say is, if anyone ever had a good reason to drink, it was Loretta Dooley. I know some people do it just for fun. I cut back except for cookouts and parties sometimes. It just
ruins
your skin.

Why, thank you, Erika. I got it last quarter, for being Mary Rose’s Most Improved Salesperson in the Southern Mid-Atlantic Area. Ken Senior gave me the gold chain for our anniversary, so it’s sort of double special. The Mary Rose Cadillac is the same color, only kind of darker, sort of more purple. It’s got whitewalls, too. I could have the first one in the Southern Mid-Atlantic, if I get it.

Doesn’t that Aloe Vera feel nice, Alice Jean? I keep it in the fridge—makes it sort of a treat to get burned!

Anyway, as I was saying, Loretta was pretty upset that night. I guess it had just all sort of gotten her depressed. It was right after they shut down the Merriam Brick Plant in Petrol, and at the Blue Moon everybody’s hours were cut back, not that we were making any money to begin with. That was when I first started thinking about working for myself. Plus her landlord had given her notice, they were developing that part of Delbarton and he just figured he’d cash in, I guess. But I was only trying to be nice to her, cheer her up.

It’s not true, Loretta, I told her. I think he really meant it to be a nice thing. I think he truly appreciated the service you gave him.

Well, you are wrong, Terry Westerburgh, she said. You are wrong, ’cause he just did not give a shit, about me or anyone else. Her eyes got this kind of look sometimes when she was drinking, like if you were made of paper they would just burn you up. She crumpled her Dixie cup and threw it on the floor and said, There are two kinds of people in this world, the Haves and the Have-Nots. And I am a Have-Not, and you know what he was.

Well, I got sort of P.O.’d then. I mean, here I was on my hands and knees, trying to fix that damn refrigerator, and it wasn’t like Ken didn’t have to work nights at Big Jim’s Barbeque just so we’d get by, and here she was throwing Dixie cups on the floor like she was the Queen of Sheba.

Now you listen to me, Miss Dooley, I said. I was pretty aggravated. He worked for everything he ever got, that man did, he was poor as dirt when he started and until the day he died he never forgot where he came from.
That’s
why he gave you that car. But you just go ahead and listen to Don Thomas if you want and see where it gets you.

I see where it got me, she said, too mad herself by now to even care who it was she was talking to, Number One, her oldest friend Terry Westerburgh, Number Two, her boss. It got me a shitty job I can’t even work enough hours to make my rent, if I had a place to rent, which I don’t.

Well, then you just see if you can find another place where you’ll be happier, Miss Potty-mouth, I said, and I slammed the refrigerator shut and stomped out.

I was so mad. I shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of talk. That was when I decided I was going to really have my own business someday, not work for some person who owns a diner. Sort of the first step towards working for Mary Rose Cosmetics, only of course I didn’t know that then.

Erika honey, I know you would love it. You can set your own hours, sleep late as you want, plus you get all your makeup free! And you-know-who would like
that
!

But you know I felt terrible about five minutes after yelling at her. I went into the back room, but she was gone. I heard her leaving, that poor old car scraping along the ground like some dog that got run over. It’s funny but I even had started to like that car in a way. I mean it really
did
get your attention. The kids loved it. We got so we’d save old toys, dolls and things, and parts from Ken’s Buick and the lawnmower, and I’d bring them over and give them to Loretta and they’d all end up on her car. She had this giant Mr. Potato Head she put on the roof and these colored tennis balls she stuck on all the antennas and really, it was a hoot. Plus her nephew had rigged up some kind of lights that blinked all around the rearview window and Jocelyn’s son Peter gave her this funny moose horn she could honk. It was really from the football team but none of us was supposed to know that.

I went outside but it was too late. I really felt terrible. Like Ann Landers says, you should always make your words sweet, ’cause you never know when you’ll have to eat them. If I had to eat my words right then I would have thrown up. And so right then I decided to quit the Blue Moon. If it was making me into this mean unkind person, well then it wasn’t the job for me.

Alice Jean, you should kind of dab that Aloe Vera stuff off now, I think, honey, otherwise your pores turn a funny color. Here, use this—these are specially formulated for removing deep-down dirt and grime. Doesn’t it smell refreshing!

Okay, this is the good part now So Loretta is gone, and I felt real bad. I felt guilty, too, because I knew she’d had a few and all I could think of was her and her famous car going off the bridge into the reservoir. I thought of calling Bud Merdeck but then I thought, well, Loretta’s not going to feel any better spending the night in the drunk tank, so I decided I’d go after her. She was supposed to get all moved out the next day, she was supposed to have started packing stuff that night. Her sister was going to let her stay with her until she found another place. And you know, she really was in a tight spot, because where are you going to find a decent place to live on what you make working fifteen hours a week at the Blue Moon?

So I got in my car and drove to her house. It was dark by then, and a bad night. It had been raining off and on and now it had finally stopped but it was so foggy, I drove with my low beams on the whole way. Once I even slowed down and opened the window and stuck my head out, ’cause I couldn’t see otherwise.

You know where she used to live. Where those Hunters Glen condos are now. That used to be all fields, just these three mobile homes that Gus Brinzer used to rent out. Loretta had the nicest one but that’s not saying much. After they sold them they found out the Hell’s Angels used one of the others to make LSD in.

Well, I finally got there, but there was nobody home. I would’ve let myself in but when I peeked in the windows I saw all these boxes, and stuff thrown around everywhere, and—well, to tell you the truth, it was a terrible mess. I mean, it looked like the Hell’s Angels had been living
there.
And I knew then, things were worse with Loretta than I’d known. I mean, here she was, my oldest friend plus I was her supervisor, but I just had no idea. If I’d known I would’ve done something, she had a lot of friends, really, but I just had no idea at all.

So I waited outside. There was a kind of metal stairs in front of the trailer but that was broken so I sat on my car. I was there for a long time. It was cold, the fog was real damp and just sank into you after a while. I was starting to worry, too; I mean I was starting to get so worried I was afraid I’d start to scream, thinking of all the horrible things that might’ve happened to Loretta and I was nasty to her. I was just getting ready to let myself in and call Ken, when I heard somebody walking down the road.

I turned around and it was her. She looked awful, like when you see movies and there’s people been in a car wreck. There was no blood or anything but she was wet and her hair was wet and she had mud on her face and oh, I just screamed and ran over and started hugging her.

Loretta, thank god you’re all right! What happened?

She made a noise like she was embarrassed and then she started to cry.

I wrecked it, she said. I put my arms around her, I didn’t even care I had already changed out of my uniform. She said, I went down Lee Highway and rolled it into the reservoir.

Oh, my god! I said. You could have killed yourself, Loretta!

I know, she said. I had to swim out. It’s in there so deep they’ll never get it out. She really started crying then.

Why’d you do
that?
I said and started crying, too, but I stopped. I only had one clean tissue left, and I gave it to her.

Because it doesn’t matter, she said. My whole life and nothing matters. I live
here
—she bent and picked up a rock and threw it and broke a window, I heard it—in this
dump,
and now I don’t even live here anymore. I had a husband and a baby for three days, and twenty-seven years ago someone famous gave me a goddamn Cadillac as a tip, and that’s it. That’s my whole life. That’s it, Terry. My whole life is right there.

Well, you know I wished I could of said something to her, but she was right. That was her whole life, right there.

I just wish I could’ve kept my baby, she said. She was crying so I could hardly hear what she said. If they’d of left me my baby girl I would’ve felt like I had something. Like you have Ken and Little Kenny. I would have had Eloise.

I started crying again then, too. I mean, god! It was just so
sad.
So then we sat for a little while but we didn’t say anything. It was all just too depressing.

But after a while I started to think, Well, we have got to do something, we can’t sit here all night in the mud, and I thought maybe I’d call Ken and see was it okay if Loretta came back with me and could stay at our house. I was just thinking of standing up and asking Loretta was it okay if I went inside to use the phone, when we heard it. It had started raining again, a little, and we had sat on that broken step in front of the trailer, ’cause there’s an awning there.

Loretta stood up first. Oh, my god, she said. Shit.

I listened and stood, too. Shit, I said.

It was her car. That was obvious, I mean you couldn’t mistake that car for anything else in the world. It sounded like it was having trouble getting over the last hill, where it was always overgrown and muddy anyway. And you figure a car that was in the bottom of the reservoir, it probably wouldn’t run too well.

Shit, Loretta said again. That’s it.

I knew just what she meant. I was thinking that Bud Merdeck had found it somehow and gotten Lynnwood Gentry to tow it out, and now how was Loretta going to pay for it, not to mention they could have arrested her, probably, for rolling a car into the reservoir on purpose. Especially that car.

And then it made this grinding noise, and suddenly it popped over the rise. The headlights were on, at least one of them was. The wheel that used to have the Trolls on it and now had this Big Bird sort of tied to it was all bent up and the antennas were all mashed together. Whoever was driving it tried to honk the moose horn but it hardly made a noise at all. It was just about the saddest car you ever saw.

Loretta and I looked at each other and she rubbed at her face, trying to get some of the mud off.

We better go see who it is, I whispered. If it’s Lynnwood I’ll call Ken and he’ll talk to him.

Thank you, Terry, she said. She knew that was my way of making up with her.

We started walking to the car, slowly because of the rain and it was sloppy going. The car had stopped at the edge of the drive and waited with the motor running. It didn’t sound too good either. Maybe better than you’d expect, but it was pretty sad, to think that car had come to this. As we walked up to it the door on the passenger side popped open.

Hello? It was this woman’s voice, nobody we knew.

Hi, I said. I stopped, wondering if maybe Lynnwood brought along his girlfriend Donna. He stays at the shop all night sometimes and on weekends she usually keeps him company

But it wasn’t Donna. It wasn’t anybody that I recognized at all. This short woman, with dyed blonde hair. She stepped out of the car, jumping over the water. She had on nice clothes, not expensive or designer, clothes but like a secretary’s clothes, like she hadn’t changed from work yet. She had a nice smile, and nice eyes—I know you wouldn’t think you’d notice something like that in the dark but I did, I have a good eye for things like that. Mary Rose says that a great saleswoman needs an eye for detail.

Are you—? The woman started to say something, then she turned around and leaned back into the car, liked she was asking the driver something. Then she turned around again and said, Is one of you Loretta Dooley?

That’s me, said Loretta. She had this squinched-up tone. I knew she was nervous they were going to ask, Have you been drinking?

Instead the girl says, My name is Noreen Marcus.

Marcus? Loretta says.

That’s right, says the girl. She glances back at the car, sort of nervously, but then it was like whoever was inside told her it was okay, so she goes on.

Noreen Marcus. My parents are Lowell and Angeline Marcus, in Richmond. I hitchhiked here. This man gave me a ride out by the reservoir. I’m your daughter.

BOOK: Last Summer at Mars Hill
4.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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