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Authors: Joe R. Lansdale

Sunset and Sawdust (22 page)

BOOK: Sunset and Sawdust
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McBride let go, stepped back. Rooster, red as flame, stood up.

“Weren’t no call for that,” Rooster said. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Hell, Rooster, kissing my dick just sweetened up your day.”

When Rooster was gone, McBride called out to the blonde. She came in and he took her to the couch. When he was finished, she said, “I don’t know why I bother to put anything on.”

“I didn’t ask you to dress,” McBride said. “You go on, now. Go home.”

“I didn’t mean to make you mad. It’s just Two is making me nervous.”

“He’s up?”

“Yeah. I don’t want to stay back there with him. I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“You didn’t make me mad, I’m just sick of you. Go on now while I’m in the right mood about it.”

She went in the other room and put on her clothes. When she came out, McBride was stretched out on the couch.

She looked at him but didn’t speak.

When she was gone, he got up, locked the door behind her, had some coffee, fastened up his robe, went to the kitchen. He had just eaten, but he wanted to cook, and he figured he cooked what he wanted the right way, it would take a while. He put on his apron. It was a big one with short frilly sleeves and a bit of lace around the bottom and on the sides. He got down some pans and lit the kerosene stove and put a pot of water on to boil for spaghetti. He took a clove of garlic, tore it apart in his hands, placed the pieces on a cutting board, used a mallet to smash it. He did the job so well none of the garlic got away from him, but it made his eyes water.

He heard a noise, turned. In the doorway, standing in the shadows, was Two, wearing his long black Prince Albert coat. Way it fell around him, with the split tails, it made him look like a giant beetle, all black and thick and silent, with blazing green eyes. A nigger with those eyes and that Prince Albert coat. It didn’t seem right, but there he was.

McBride said, “I’m gonna have some food cooking. It’ll take a while, but I can make extra. You want I should fix you some?”

“We are not hungry,” said Two, and he went out.

26

Night before all the business with Rooster and McBride, Sunset drove home high on Hillbilly’s loving. She dropped Hillbilly at the campsite where he was staying, which was about two miles down the road from her tent. It was a simple place that he had built of sticks and such, had draped old shirts over to make a kind of hut. When she asked him where he got the shirts, he said Clyde had given them to him. When she asked him how they were getting along, he changed the subject. She parted from him with what she thought was the softest, sweetest kiss she had ever tasted.

She wanted to take Hillbilly home with her, but feared Marilyn might arrive the next morning with Karen, and that wouldn’t look too good, especially not with Karen pining for Hillbilly like a bitch dog in heat. Still, she thought maybe they could look into someplace better for him to stay. It would be nice if he had his own place and she could go there.

When she arrived home, Ben came out to meet her. She saw Clyde’s truck was parked by the big oak. She could see a boot on the dashboard. She opened the trunk, gathered up the box with the maps and things in it, went over to the truck. The windows were down, so she leaned in on the passenger’s side. Clyde was stretched out, that one foot on the dash. There was enough moonlight so she could see his face, and with his hair hanging in it, his eyes closed, snoring softly, he reminded her of a big boy. He really was sweet-looking, handsome really, just rough around the edges.

She went inside the tent with Ben at her heels, put the box on the table on the work side, tried to think about it, but all she could think about was Hillbilly, the way it had been up there on the overlook, the soft good-night kiss.

Then she thought: How dumb can I get, mooning around like a child, and I’m thought to have committed murder, not only on Jimmie Jo and her poor baby, but on Pete too. She figured Henry was making sure it was played out that way, that she had murdered Jimmie Jo because Pete was seeing her, and that, in turn, she had murdered Pete because of it and called it self-defense.

Worse yet, her daughter had a crush on the man she had just bedded in the front seat of her car. Clyde was out front in his pickup like a jilted teenager waiting for her to come home, and on top of all that, she had discovered some kind of plan to rob Zendo of his land, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

And there was something else. Something that kept working in the back of her mind. Something she could feel but couldn’t see or take hold of.

She thought she wanted coffee, but decided that wouldn’t be good. Not this late, and she felt too lazy to make it. She thought she might want a shot of whisky, even Bull’s moonshine, but she didn’t have any of that, and knew if she did she’d regret it pretty quick. She settled for going out to the pump and working the lever to fill a glass of water. Ben followed her out, and she pumped the pump so that some water went into the pan she kept under it for Ben. It was cold water and sweet and she stood out by the pump and drank it and used one hand to rub Ben’s head while he drank from the pan.

She heard the truck door open.

Clyde came out a little wobbly, said, “Howdy.”

“Howdy.”

“I was waiting on you.”

“I see that.”

“You’re pretty late.”

“How would you know? You been asleep.”

“It was late when I went to sleep. I heard the pump handle.”

“Sorry.”

“All right.”

“You learn anything out at Zendo’s?”

Clyde got the two chairs they left outside the tent and brought them over by the water pump. They sat and Clyde said, “I learned that land next to Zendo has oil on it.”

“Now some things are coming together,” Sunset said.

“Maybe you got some things I don’t know about. Only thing coming together on me is my ass cheeks from all the sweat I put out today.”

“Nothing I want to hear about more than your sticky ass,” Sunset said, “but, how about you tell me what you learned?”

“There’s a little house on the land too. Nobody lives there, but I went inside and found a dress I’ve seen Jimmie Jo wear. It was the kind of dress you seen on her once, you don’t never forget it.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“There’s a big oil pool not far from the house, and the grass is all dead around there, and the oil is seeping up from the ground. It’s even run into a pond over there. I figure the place is worth a fortune.”

“Can I suppose that’s the oil Jimmie Jo was soaked in?” Sunset said.

“Fits. Someone shot her, put her in it to send a kind of message, her and the baby, I think.”

“I think Jimmie Jo and Pete knew about the oil and were trying to run some kind of scam or something. I don’t know what, but something.”

“Why do you say that?”

“The maps. And me and Hillbilly found some other things at the courthouse. Come inside.”

In the tent, at the table, by lantern light, Clyde looked at what was in the box—the original maps and the ones Sunset had stolen.

“So some white men are trying to take Zendo’s land because it has oil on it,” Clyde said.

“Yes, and him being colored, they can do it easy.”

“Maybe Zendo sold them the land.”

“I don’t think so. But I’m not going to ask Zendo. Right now, less Zendo knows, better off he is.”

“Why ain’t they started drilling?”

“Just haven’t had time, I guess. It takes some work to get it all together. Maybe they need seed money.”

Clyde pondered that, said, “Maybe— I know the names on that paper, except for McBride. You know him?”

Sunset shook her head.

Clyde slid down in his chair. “You been all business tonight, Sunset?”

“No.”

Clyde nodded. “Go to the festival?”

“I did.”

“With Hillbilly?”

“I did.”

“You like him?”

“I do.”

“Anything else go on besides the festival?”

“Nothing that’s your business. You ought to be ashamed, asking a lady that kind of thing.”

“Karen at Marilyn’s, ain’t she?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t bring him back with you, so maybe it didn’t go so well.”

“It went well enough,” Sunset said. “And it ain’t none of your business.”

“You look kind of light on your feet.”

“I’m not on my feet.”

“It’s a saying. You know, like you’re on a cloud.”

“Don’t think too far ahead, Clyde. I think I’ll go to bed now, and you can go to hell.”

“Okay with you I skip hell and just sleep in the truck here? I ain’t really got nothing better back at my place. A tarp and skeeters.”

“Got mosquitoes here.”

“I ain’t been bit once tonight.”

“Suit yourself, Clyde.”

“Good night, Sunset.”

“Good night, Clyde, and it still ain’t none of your business.”

When Karen awoke the next morning, for a moment she didn’t know where she was, then remembered she was in bed in her grandmother’s spare bedroom. In the moment of awakening, she recalled the movie she had seen the day before in Holiday, her grandmother at her side, and it was a good memory, because the movie had been funny (her first movie), but it wasn’t a memory she had long to relish.

She sat up quickly, swung her legs over the side, and wearing only her slip, leaped out of bed, sprinted through the house, across the screened-in porch. She made it through the screen door and down the steps in time to spill vomit on the ground. It just kept coming, and she thought after a while she was going to throw her stomach up through her mouth, but finally she stopped heaving.

She sat down heavily on the porch step. The inside of her mouth tasted like someone had put peed-on mildewed socks in there, tamped them down with a shitty stick. The awful stench of the sawmill didn’t help any, and the color of the sky, yellow-green, was the color of the steaming vomit soaking into the ground.

She thought maybe she had a cold, or flu, but she didn’t feel bad all the time. Just in the mornings. Queasy. Like her insides were being boiled in hell’s kitchen. Then she would explode, get rid of it. Usually after lying down for five or ten minutes, she was good as new. It had been that way for several days now, and her appetite had at first been dull, then suddenly ravenous. She found herself craving fried and peppered pig skins, which she hadn’t had since she was a child. That and mustard. She hadn’t found any pig skins, but last night she’d made herself a mustard sandwich, thick with the stuff, on two slices of bread, and when she finished it, she ate another, and even now, after vomiting, the smell of mustard in the puke, she was craving it again.

She held her head in her hands until it quit trying to spin around, was about to get up, go back in the house, when Marilyn came out on the porch and sat down beside her.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I threw up.”

“I heard that.”

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Oh, girl, I been up for hours. I was in the kitchen. Maybe you should take some tonic.”

“I’m all right now.”

“Something you ate?”

“Probably . . . I don’t know . . . Grandma . . . Can you get pregnant . . . doing it the first time. I thought the first time didn’t take.”

“Oh, God. You didn’t?”

Karen turned to look at Marilyn, her face looking as if someone had sucked all the juice out with a straw.

“I did.”

“Hillbilly?”

Karen nodded. “How’d you know?”

“Figured immaculate conception was out. You been sick mornings, besides this one?”

“Couple, three days now. Mama didn’t even notice.”

“She’s got a few things on her mind these days. I don’t suppose you told her?”

Karen shook her head.

“I’m such a tramp.”

“No. No. You’re just a girl. He’s a grown man. He knew how to play you. Some men, they don’t care about anything but the feeling they get.”

“I liked it too.”

“Well, least you got that out of it, and you don’t always get that.”

“I love him so much.”

“You’re in love with love, baby, not him. He’s a man thinks he’s a play-boy. I knew soon as I saw him. And I think that’s good of me. I don’t know I pick men so good, and even if Pete was my son and your father, I don’t know Sunset picked so good either, or is picking good now.”

“What am I gonna do? I can’t tell Mama.”

“You have to tell her.”

“Then what?”

“Have the baby, or get Aunt Cary to take care of it.”

“Take care of it?”

“Get rid of it before it’s born.”

“I couldn’t do that.”

“Then you’ll have it. And you’ll raise it.”

“Won’t nothing ever be the same again.”

“No. But you can live with change. Me and your mama can live through what we’re living through, you can live through what’s gonna happen to you. And we can help you.”

“I did a bad thing.”

“I’ve done a bad thing or two in my time, honey. Some things I don’t even talk about. Sometimes, you get like a fever, and it just happens. All kinds of things can happen, and then you got to live with regrets. Some are easier to live with than others.”

“I can tell you things I can’t tell Mama.”

“That’s what grandmas are for. Hell, girl. You ain’t done so bad. Just followed the path all us animals want to follow. At your age, girl goes into heat, it don’t take a lot of persuading. Unlike a dog, we people stay in heat, and it’s at its hottest when we’re young. Get some pretty fella like Hillbilly saying the right things, it’s easy to do something you ought not. Ain’t a thing wrong with loving, girl, it’s who you love and what they want from you that matters.”

“He said I was pretty.”

“He didn’t lie. You got your father’s coloring, your mother’s bones. Did he tell you he’d marry you?”

“No. I thought about all that, and he didn’t ever make me any kind of promise. Just told me good things about myself, and he touched me, and when he did, I felt like I had to have him.”

“Like you wanted to be burned up by him.”

“That’s right. How’d you know?”

Marilyn laughed. “I haven’t always been this old. I ain’t been that hot in a time, but I know what it feels like. You keep a memory for it.”

“Grandma, I feel like I been put in a sack and shook up and throwed out.”

Marilyn took Karen in her arms and held her. “Relax now. We’ll figure this out.”

“You gonna tell Mama? She likes him, you know. I heard Willie say she kissed him.”

“I know she likes him. I don’t like that she does. And yeah, you got to tell her.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I’ll help you.”

That morning Sunset drove over to see Hillbilly in his camp, but the little hut he had built of limbs and leaves and old shirts wasn’t there anymore, and neither was he. It was as if he had been plucked up and toted off by the wind. She got out and looked around and found where he had dragged the little hut apart and thrown the pieces of it up into the woods. There was a kind of savage finality to the way it looked.

She drove home.

Back at the tent, Clyde and Ben were out front. Clyde had made coffee and was sitting in one of the chairs by the water pump, drinking a cup. Ben was sitting beside him, Clyde’s arm around his neck. When she drove up, Clyde went inside and came out with a cup of the same for her. They sat in the chairs and she sipped the coffee.

After a while, Clyde said, “Hillbilly coming in to work?”

“I don’t know.”

“Wasn’t at his spot, was he?”

“No.”

“Could have just moved it, found a better place.”

“You don’t think that, do you?”

“Nope.”

“You hope he’s gone on, don’t you?”

“Yep. And nope.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I hope he’s gone. But I don’t want him to lie to you and make you sad.”

Without looking at him, Sunset put her hand on his arm.

Clyde swallowed. He made himself relax so he could feel the warmth and weight of her hand through his shirt sleeve. He took a deep breath. She was wearing a bit of perfume, just enough to sweeten the air around her.

It wasn’t much, that hand on his arm, but it was something, a tidbit he could enjoy. Like a blind hog finding an acorn, it wasn’t filling, but it fed the appetite.

BOOK: Sunset and Sawdust
13.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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