Fiction: “A Texas” by Laura Ellen Scott

Bonnie & Jack

Bonnie collects Jack from rehab. Fucking bougainvillea everywhere.

“Thanks.” He slides into the passenger seat, tosses a half-empty duffel into the back of the white pickup and says, “Jesus.”

He can’t believe it, the day, Bonnie, anything. He’s out.

She can’t really bring herself to it. It’s east Texas, wet and hot. Just like Louisiana but with mortal dread. Jack smells like hospital.

Bonnie and her brother were named after pirates. That hasn’t been a funny detail for thirty years or more. The both of them died but did not perish from drink; in fact the drink preserved them. They became spirits of spirits with nowhere to go, and who can remember these things? Not even the dead can catch a break. There is nothing supernatural or metaphorical about their condition. Bonnie and Jack are dead. They are dead.

Bonnie drives them out of the city double-fast. In the late afternoon, the sun has a pink ring around it. Her job and the apartment are gone, for the usual reasons. The truck bed is loaded with her shit. The dead, though the data is scant, seem to be fixed income types. Jack’s duffel caves in to fill a gap.

“We headed to the bay?”

“Where else?”

Their great-great grandfather built a rancher out of stone blocks on Aransas Bay. For a few years they called it the Light House, but not anymore. Fancy fades.

“What about the renter?”

“He’s out.”

They go about an hour without cracking wise.

“Slow down. We’re gonna hit a dildo you keep driving like this.” Jack means armadillos. He’s immature. By the time they stop the sky is stripy. No sign of much, they drink beers at a picnic table outside a drive-in snack shack. Sun’s going down but nothing is cooling off. The world is a battery, fully charged.

Jack eats. Bonnie thinks that’s a wasteful habit.

He wiggles a pickle spear at her.

“Shut up.”

They’re starting to feel better around each other. Jack buys a six from the bartender. They split it on the ride home. Texas.

 

Lily

Night drive. Headlights and reeking tar. Bonnie goes too fast. The windows are down and the beer tastes like breathing. There aren’t any other cars, just a couple of pickups going even faster, even crazier.

Grandma Lily left a little money.

“What happened? No one would tell me.”

“Her gallbladder. I’m the only woman left in the family with an intact gallbladder, you know that?”

“You win.”

“They found her crawling across the yard, trying to get to the neighbor’s house. That cock Bill didn’t believe her when she said how bad it hurt. He just laughed and went off to the job site.”

They pass a man walking against traffic. Caught in the headlights, as they say. It’s a little startling out here in the middle of nowhere.

“Never get sick on a Friday. She kept telling them her problem was her guts, but they tested everything else instead. By Monday a real doctor decided she needed her gallbladder out pronto. Then they killed her. Put her under anesthesia, and she never came out of it.”

Jack thinks, Sucks to be a woman. Better off dead.

Eventually they get to the edge of where they’re going, the boundary marked only by a change in bug song. The moon comes out to show them where the water is so they don’t drive into it.

Bonnie cuts the headlights before they reach the beginning of the long, crushed shell driveway to the bay house.

“Are you crazy?”

“I can see.” And by now she can. The stars have popped, and the bay glimmers. The rancher is a sort of erased spot in front of the water, and behind it a rickety fishing dock stretches out over the shallows to a square platform that probably still reeks of blood and scales.

Jack and Bonnie have the same memory at once: bait shrimp dumped into the water, phosphorescent and sinking away.

There’s one rosy light on in the house. A compact car parked out front. The renter hasn’t gone yet. Bonnie drives slow.

Grandma Lily buried three husbands before she got hooked up with that cock Bill. Once, when Bonnie was playing hooky, she watched Grampa Iz drag Grandma Lily across the lawn by the hair of her head. And it looked like they were both laughing.

“You know his name, even?”

“Uh-uh. What time is it?”

Jack shakes his head.

At Grandpa Iz’s wake, Lily grabbed Bonnie up and squeezed her and breathed wine into her hair. She said, “The best part of being in love is you don’t have to be good in bed.”

A shadow passes in the room where the rosy light burns. Jack giggles. “Cuidado.”

 

Door

Bonnie is shocked by her immediate physical response to the tenant. It’s like any time you come across a true blue light.

Warning: he’s one of those men who is nice to women.

 

Door, part two

Jack has never seen a man dressed all in white after midnight. White shirt with the tails out, white jeans. Not like an orderly, though. More like a clubber, a Houston scion. Back of the room is a rough-hewn dining table (actually roughly hewn by one of the great uncles) where Jack has eaten too many bowls of shrimp and cheese grits. Right now there’s a big glass of white wine on it that sweats like a young, getting-her-GED-soon whore. Big ol’ glass, not one of Grandma Lily’s.

Dude was partying with himself.

“I’m sorry,” says Jack, not sorry at all.

The tenant takes a dance step back into the house, and the lamp lights his features so that he looks like a tall boy, all surprise and shame. Bare foot. Bonnie fucking falls for it.

“Oh, my,” says the tenant. Like a storybook man. Like a wolf. He then chatters about having lost track of the days, walking the razor’s edge of charm.

Jack gets the impression that the man who introduced himself as Tal—what the hell?—is acting like a fag, but not exactly. No, he’s acting how he thinks Jack thinks a fag is.

This is infuriating. Like everything else, about six times a day.

 

But anyone can be seduced. The big glass of wine looks like a crystal skull in Jack’s hand. Tal knew what they were—Jack and Bonnie—as soon as he opened the door. Classic Adult Children. Didn’t matter of what.

He thanks them more than he has to. Bonnie is already humping a sack of her possessions to one of the unused back bedrooms. They agreed to let Tal to remain in residence overnight. It is already past one in the morning.

Jack and Tal make the smallest talk possible, sipping cold wine while Bonnie makes several trips back and forth from the pickup. Tal brings out apples and cheese, but no one seems hungry. Jack says he’ll sleep out on the gallery where there’s a hammock and a permanent breeze. No one challenges him on this. That’s how they know they are all motherless.

“I’m in real estate,” says Tal. “And you?”

Jack swallows wine. “I’m dead.”

 

Sex

There’s roaring drunk and there’s snoring drunk. At some point Jack simply stops being there, having floated off to the gallery. He says something like, “The stars. Jesus.”

Tal and Bonnie wait. Tal puts on a station.

Bonnie hasn’t fucked a boy in the master bedroom of the bay house in twenty-five years. They’ve been listening to music. Music is bad for you. Jack is snoring like a freight train, so it’s as if he’s there in the room with them.

Before dawn, Tal slips out of Bonnie’s embrace like steam. He walks out to the gallery to watch Jack sleep. This bay house has stood for one hundred forty years. Tal won’t miss the master bedroom with its giant bed for breeding heirs. The entire place screeches like a Chinese opera, and there are framed photographs of ancient children on every pitted, pale yellow wall. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t imagine its utter destruction, the whole house reduced to powder.

At first light, Jack is broken. In Texas the days come in your face without asking. He wakes to a zipper of sound as a fishing boat guns it out across the bay, headed to the lip of the shipping channel where there used to be an abundance of redfish. Might as well be angling for ghosts.

The salt air has dried him stiff, top to bottom. His hips ache. He fights his way out of the hammock, uses the guest bath, no bigger than an airplane lavatory. Then he follows the scent of coffee. Bonnie is sitting at the kitchen table, braless in a SXSW T-shirt and long, ugly shorts. The mug in her hands looks permanent.

Her eyes are too blue.

Oh, who gives a shit? Jack grabs a mug, too carefully pours coffee into it. Nothing’s lining up yet.

Renter’s gone.

And then the feathery creak of the front door. It’s Wednesday. The cleaning lady lets herself in, rooms and rooms and hallways away. The old stone rancher was designed like a cave man’s idea of a municipal building.

Bonnie clears out, but Jack sits on the tiled kitchen counter when Marita comes in to mop the floor. She remembers these two, and she’s glad to be rid of the other. He made her nervous.

Marita never bends at the knees. How badly her back must hurt at the end of every day of cleaning Texan grime out of Texan houses.

The floor is wet. Apples are on the kitchen table, well out of reach. Jack passes the time by empathizing Marita’s multiple vulnerabilities.

“Marita,” says Jack, when he can find a voice.

She straightens, but only to dunk the mop head in the bucket. “Marla,” she corrects him.

He wants an apple in the worst way.

 

Men

A week later, Jack is in Cici’s Grocery-Liquor leaned over a mini-cart half filled with toilet paper, lemons, magazines, candles, and dish soap. The other half of the cart is filled with alcohol. Jug wine and jug rum. There are three reasons for a cart of groceries like this. One is a party, two is a hurricane, or three is you’re Jack.

Cici’s is small for a grocery, just right for a liquor store. It’s dark and cramped and full of smells. They also sell bait and fried sandwiches to go. Bonnie needs pads.

Tal meets him in the aisle, swinging a shopping basket on his arm. Flip-flops for fuck’s sake.

Jack has options.

Tal is a quipper. “Pirate provisions?”

Jack grunts. “You get a new place okay?” Tal is wearing loose drawstring slacks, and Jack thinks, Kind of a relief not to see your package details today.

“A condo on the bay, fresh as a daisy. The ladies were still tidying it up when I moved in.”

Jack nods. He’s staring at a fat paperback in Tal’s basket, a girl’s book. Jack’s mind turns slowly, but his wit is impetuous. “Banging the cleaning lady is no substitute for a shower, dude. You smell like pussy and Fabuloso.”

Tal barely reacts. He smiles, all teeth. They are both men, after all. “We’ll get together for drinks.”

Jack nods, also smiling, but more to himself than anyone else. Utters those words he’s heard his male relatives say so many times before: “Take you out on the boat.” It’s more of an incantation than an offer.

There’s the dark current.

De-tected.

“Tell Bonnie I’m still around.”

But Jack is lost in waffle brained, wet brained thought. He wanders away from Tal as if he’s heard the name Jack whispered in another room.

 

Diving Knife

No. Tip keeps breaking off.

Bonnie moves quick over the wreck. Silted shards. Bottles of wine and sediment. A doll with no arms. In the dark she is still young with blades or some part of blades or something that reminds her of blades, flashing. The mystery is what, exactly? She can’t be left alone in the room with anyone.

Jagged tip.

Tal is a bloody villain. Beautiful even when there is no one to see it. She thinks of his hair, two inches too long, and how it spread brown and gold across the pillowcase. Like he was the girl and she wasn’t.

After a week at the bay house, Bonnie is nearly transformed. Her skin is brown, her heart beats slow. She imagines a breakfast she can’t possibly eat—a hard roll, goat cheese, and mango juice—like an adventure.

Sometimes whole days pass with no one to talk to but Jack, and he doesn’t count. Is today Marla’s day? She doesn’t miss it, except when she smells seafood—the shrimp, the flounder, ubiquitous. Even with the heads chopped off, she is always aware. The heads are gone. There were faces.

Apparently Tal has requested that Marla clean his condo. He asked for her in particular, even though Marla is afraid of him. But she is in no position to refuse. She’s in no position for anything. Bonnie expects that Tal will seduce/rape Marla, and that it won’t make any difference at all.

Bonnie tells Jack what she thinks, and he agrees. He drinks his coffee and agrees in the morning. Then he reminds her that she needs to check in with her new PO.

 

Jack decides he can be in love with Marla, the cleaning lady, if only to counter Tal’s predation. It feels natural. Marla has started to bring her son with her. He’s seventeen, and he sits in the car and smokes while she cleans Texan houses. Watches the windows for her shape, moving from room to room.

Still, Jack finds her. He nearly falls just trying to stand in a doorway like a handsome man. She’s in a bedroom, mopping the tile. He’s been drinking, so he says what’s on his mind: “I want to kiss you on the lips.”

Marla understands. She says, “No. In the pantry.”

 

Moon Jelly

Tal stands with the innocents gathered on the dock next to Cici’s. Jack tried to launch the family fishing boat from there, but the ramp was slick with algae and the boat pulled the pickup into the bay. The truck is half-submerged, and Jack dives under the front of it with a rope. An old-timer with a twenty-year-old town car says he can drag him out, but Jack has to do the wet work. The boat unhitched itself and now bumps gently against another boat. It’s not going anywhere.

The wipers on Jack’s truck are wiping. Tal doesn’t get it.

Jack stands up in the water and a couple of moon jellies slip down his shoulders with a splash. This part of the bay is infested with them.

If Tal finds himself drowned in the shallow waters, who will have put him there? It comes down to the ability to commit, to make a decision and act upon it, so his money is on Marla’s smoking boy.

The fishermen are judging Jack. Everyone in this county looks like Charlie Sexton, and that’s exciting. Even Jack is starting to look good. For a dead man.

It’s all so thrilling. Tal wades in.

 

Drag

They take the whole case out to the dock behind the bay house, lay down under the moon and drink. The wood beneath them smells like old blood because it’s soaked in old blood.

A dog they don’t know starts pounding up the dock, stops when he gets close enough to notice them. It’s a big yellow lab, balls intact. The dog slips over the side as if he’d rather not explain himself. He swims away towards the moon’s reflection on the rippled surface of the water.

Bonnie has a line out, baited with a strip of squid. The rod is in a piece of white plastic pipe bolted to the dock. She won’t catch anything.

Tal tries to get comfortable. He roots around in a bag of corn chips, and it looks odd. Jack and Bonnie share a glance behind the fancy man’s back.

Jack scratches his stomach. The boat is still tied up at Cici’s. The insurance woman made a lot of jokes on the phone, and so did the local cousin who brought him home. He should feel embarrassed, but he doesn’t. He just feels young and old at the same time.

“Did you check in?” he says to Bonnie.

Bonnie shrugs. “They’ll forget me. Pain in the ass.”

“Mortals.” It’s a joke that Tal doesn’t get.

They are too far from the house to notice what’s not right.

Bonnie’s rod nods four times in quick succession, so she stands to take it up. The reel starts to buzz, and the line goes out fast and far. She keeps the line tight, cranking it back in a little each time the thing on the other end lets her.

“Heavy,” she says, but she’s making progress.

Tal asks, “What do you think it is?”

Jack says, “Skate. Be nice if it was a flounder.” Bonnie snorts as if he’s just said something incredibly stupid.

She’s almost got it all the way in. Tal is excited, but Bonnie and Jack are struck by sudden sadness. Neither one knows why, but it’s the same feeling for both of them.

The thing comes to the surface. A white, flat part of it breaches in the moonlight, and for a moment it looks surrendered. Bonnie reels it closer, but then it goes black again, twisting and snapping the line. Monofilament curls float on top of the water.

“Shit,” says Tal. “What was it?”

Jack says, “We’ll never know,” as if that’s okay.

Bonnie attaches another weight, another leader, another hook. Puts a tougher bit of squid on, and throws her line out into the night. They can’t see where it lands, but they can hear it.

Around three in the morning, Bonnie’s rod starts dancing again. The line peels out and the rod handle bounces around in its holder. This time there are no pauses, no slowdowns at all—whatever she’s hooked is making a direct, strong run into oblivion.

Bonnie, Tal, and Jack have dozed off on the dock. Bonnie in Tal’s arms, and Tal with his narrow back against a piling. Jack is just down, on his side with his head on folded hands like a child.

The rod jiggers its way up the pipe, and then it’s out, banging across the dock, losing a few small pieces of the handle works. It smacks into the cardboard crate of empties and sends some bottles over the side before the rod is pulled into the water and away.

It will be a mystery if anyone notices.

The racket wakes Tal and Bonnie, and they decide to go to bed. Tal observes that Jack is one sleepy roll away from falling off the dock, but Bonnie says that’s okay.

The yellow dog swims back to the dock. The myth he’d fled into spat him out again. He cries a little because he can’t get back up to where it’s dry. Jack stirs, rolls over, wakes up under water. Goes back to sleep to dreams about being cold.

The tide goes out. The dog walks in. Summer will end, somehow.

 

Trousers

In the morning, Jack stands over the big bed and watches his sister and the faggot sleep. They are in a naked tangle, and neither one of them looks good in this light. Jack touches Bonnie’s shoulder; he knows she won’t jump. She’s practiced at waking up quiet.

Nevertheless, as soon as her eyes open he puts a finger to his lips.

Her brother smells like crabs. He points somewhere.

“Kids,” he whispers.

Bonnie holds her breath. She can almost hear them, it: the low rumble, like furniture being dragged across the floor rooms away.

Bonnie wakes Tal, her hand over his mouth until he settles. He’s upset but not surprised to see Jack looming over. Half his dreams these days are about waking up and seeing Jack standing there.

They listen to the intruders bang their way through the bay house. Jack is more contemplative than worried. Then he remembers. He goes to the closet and reaches up to the hat shelf, pulls down a bat and a BB gun. Bonnie hasn’t seen him smile like that in years. Jack starts roaring like a bear, even before he’s left the bedroom. The kids start screaming like kids. Big things crash to the floor.

Tal gets up and gathers his clothes. It has been quite a weekend so far. The dynamic with Bonnie is shifting.

He says, “Sounds a little violent out there.”

It does for sure. Bonnie gets up and says, “Well, dammit.”

She goes out into the hallway, naked.

 

Bush

A kid named Dale spends his days in the rec room at the RV park playing the hell out of a grimy Lethal Weapon II pinball machine. It’s a Texas vacation, and the rec room is the only dark option in this raw, bleached territory. Dale is fifteen, good looking, but a little on the slow side. His mother is the only adult on site, and she’s in the RV posting comments on CNN articles. Everyone else’s parents are off fishing and drinking, tossing cigarette butts into the ocean.

There are only seven kids at the RV park, and they coalesce around Dale because he’s the oldest. He never smiles but he claims to like a lot of things. Dale is the one who told Bibs and Kelly to run the bay house. He likes that they actually did it. The girls make it back with a mostly empty plastic bottle of Albertson’s rum. They give some to a stray dog to see what happens.

Fishermen are worse than girls when it comes to shooting their mouths off, but girls are still pretty bad. The story burns through the small world. Kelly Turner tells everyone about how she and Bibs were chased off by a wild man and his sex slave. Oh, yeah? And the sex slave had a giant black snatch and she was covered in blood.

Dale takes a couple of days to mull that image, and by the time he decides he wants was to see the sex slave, Kelly and Bibs are gone, their vacation over. He doesn’t know where they went. He doesn’t know where anyone goes. He barely remembers his real home. It’s as if the RV park is the whole world, now.

Dale and Jack are alike that way. Back at the bay house Jack sees a man in the driveway getting out of a truck, and he knows: that man is someone’s dad. He couldn’t pick those trespassing brats out of a lineup, but he could paint a picture of their white pipe-cleaner legs pumping away down the shell driveway on their bikes.

 

The only consequence is an accident. After the kids, come the dads, and after dads, come the cops. And the cops don’t give a shit until they pick up on the fact that Bonnie’s in violation. She has to go, and Marla will stop cleaning houses. There is an explanation for the one, but not the other. Bonnie’s brother and Bonnie’s lover will miss her. They will miss Marla, too.

Dale is stuck in the rec room playing pinball, and it feels like it’s taking forever. Wondering what everything is like.

 

Tabasco

Dining at Cici’s means standing with a paper wrapped fish sandwich in one hand and a bottled beer in the other. Jack’s not really eating his sandwich but Tal doesn’t notice. He still doesn’t get it. For Jack (and Bonnie, too) eating is like jerking off. Not really that important.

They don’t talk much, except that Tal likes to ask questions no one cares about, questions meant to forge connections. Man-type questions. Fag-got. Jack answers what he can. He doesn’t feel free with Bonnie not around. The weird part is when one of the Dads shows up. He gets a sandwich, a beer. Eats standing up near Jack and Tal.

The Dad says, “I’m real sorry,” and buys them both a beer.

He means he’s sorry about Bonnie. That she had to go.

Dale’s dad is having a good time. Shit. Drinking beer, eating a fish sandwich standing up, and not really talking at all. He said his piece and it was established, done deal. Everybody is the same. There’s sports on a TV in Cici’s but no one even pretends to give a shit about that, either. No one knows who he is, what kind of money he makes. It’s all fish sandwich and beer.

He wonders what it would be like to beat Dale. To beat his wife. To have his wife beat Dale. To fuck this fella’s sister. To fight this dude. To beat this queer guy with this dude’s help. To burn something one of a kind. Fish sandwich, mother fuckers. We’re ON VACATION.

 

Yellow Ribbon

Bonnie’s new PO is brassy. Her name is Cargill, and she’s a strong-bodied redhead who looks hot at twenty paces, but up close she looks like a lake on fire. The parts of her, all her parts, are just a little larger than normal. When Bonnie is released, Cargill gets her a job cleaning houses. Not optional, so Bonnie cleans houses.

Marla hasn’t quit, she’s gone missing. There are posters on the highway. Bonnie goes into houses, alone. Sometimes someone is home, but mostly not. The two days she was in jail, she read a lot and masturbated. Now she cleans houses, goes through Texan houses. Expects something truly horrible to happen each time.

To apologize for their kids, the moms and dads of the RV park invite Bonnie to karaoke night. The rec hall is dim except for the machine and a few strings of lights shaped like chili peppers. A giant bowl of murky punch keeps getting topped off with more vodka and more rum. They unplug Dale’s pinball so he can’t play. All the scores are lost.

Bonnie sings, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Tal sings “Delilah.”

Jack sings four songs in a row. He’s dead serious about this sort of thing. He never wants to stop. The moms and dads get mixed up.

After the singing is over, Dale’s dad wanders out to sit on a picnic table, drunk. He breathes in the rotten ocean breeze. Half-hard for no good reason. Bugs scream overhead, batting against a crummy security lamp. It’s not a moon. Damn, but it’s not.

Dale’s mom comes out to join her husband. Tomorrow she won’t remember posting this comment: Its meaning is for people because of its species. So it didn’t do anything like people that you just said. That big dog again, reeking and wet, walks out of the blackness like a ghost. He trots a wide circle around the kids and then cuts through the RV park as if he knows a back way out.

The next day will be exciting in a general way. Someone will fall off a boat, hit his head and drown. Then one of the moms will go into her trailer and find a rancid stranger sleeping on one of the bunks.

He’ll run off, and everyone will believe her when she says so.

 

Winds

All the RVs in the RV park that can move have gone somewhere. The whole place is just a crushed shell lot with hook-ups sticking up like desert flowers. And at CiCi’s all the beer is gone. All that’s left is flavored schnapps. The storm is coming, and then the storm comes. It passes right by like a presidential motorcade, and everyone drinks a lot of liquor, checks the ice, listens to radio stations. The missing person flyers are enchanted. They flap and crinkle in a breeze no one can feel. Chattering: all over, all over. Nothing will ever happen on vacation.

 

What follows the storm is a spreading cell of pink dread instead of sky that makes the days impossible.

 

Marla

Jack has started to walk at night, just for a half-hour or so in the dark, quite late. Just walking. Bonnie asks him what the hell he’s doing, really, and right off the top of his head it comes, “I’m looking for Marla.”

It’s such a good idea, he can’t believe he thought of it. Looking for Marla. Because he can do that, hold her name in his head and look. He walks to the RV park and sees that a handful of units have returned, plugged in and glowing like Christmas boxes.

The fire tip of a cigarette floats in front of a man-shaped void. Questions are crucial to an investigation of this sort, but Jack can’t think of any. The man nods, as if they’ve agreed to a set of terms, and Jack realizes that the people in the park have not come back after the storm. Jack’s never met any of them before, these are new people. New dads, moms, kids—dogs?

Jack is fixed, Bonnie is fixed, the bay house is fixed. Everything else is temporary. Jack wanders back to the dock behind the bay house and takes a walk under water, makes Marla Marla bubbles she can’t answer. He pretends he will find her, perhaps in a wedding gown.

 

Dog

Bonnie comes home at night from cleaning houses. She’s miserable but smells amazing. Tal tells her how he and Jack went out on the boat and that there were no fish but they fished anyway. Then Jack said he hooked a dog, and Tal thought it was that dog they always see. Then Jack showed him a baby shark instead.

Bonnie sinks into the couch, wants a beer. Tal excuses himself to use the downstairs bathroom, and when he comes back out, Jack goes to the bathroom and hollers, “Dude, crack a window!” None of it registers. Tal brings Bonnie her beer. He’s starting to feel wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful.

The habits of being alive don’t fade but fall off as they present inconveniently. Tal, once voracious about all things, makes a plate of food and then picks at it, arranging it on the plate by various orders—color, number, weight, viscosity. He doesn’t notice what he’s doing.

Jack wanders out the back of the bay house because he’s tired of company. He sees a shadow crouched below the side window. Another kid? Through the window anyone can see that Tal has his hand down Bonnie’s shirt, working it. Texas is too boring for kids, and they get dumb. Jack acts as if everyone and everything is always going on.

He says to the kid, “You know?”

The kid screams. He’s a generic little peeper, the pinball player. The screams sound normal. Jack’s laughter sounds normal. Like every night will sound the same.

Tal and Bonnie go off to bed, and Bonnie asks him if he knows where Marla is. Tal acts shifty, blows off the question with a joke, and she knows. She knows he’s acting. Acting like a guy who wants her to think he has secrets. She doesn’t follow up.

She thinks, I had more sex in the last two weeks than in the last two years, and after this I’m done for a while.

Tal says, “Not than anyone has asked, but my name is Talmadge.”

 

After he falls asleep, Bonnie finds a hatpin of all things, in with Grandma Lily’s junk. It has a tiny jeweled chicken on the end that makes it seem even more violent.

She pushes the pin through Tal’s throat.

 

When Jack returns from one of his long walks, reeking of the bay, he points out that the pin might not have been sufficient. Tal is still sleeping like a baby.

It’s a problem for the dead, devising methods. No one likes to kill.

Jack removes the pin with care, and both he and his sister lean over Tal like scientists. A gorgeous blot of blood comes from the hole, small and singular—a decent indicator, but not definitive.

Tal wakes. It’s Jack and Bonnie, over him again. Bonnie looks perturbed. Jack looks embarrassed. Tal puts his hand to his throat, comes away with stained fingers.

Jack explains, “You might be dead, now.”

“Dead?” Tal’s voice is different.

“Sorry about that,” Bonnie says. She means the pin. She means him being dead. She also means they don’t know for sure.

Tal is pissed, understandably. He feels like he’s been a really good sport all summer, and now he might be dead? How is that fair?

He lets Bonnie and Jack put plastic wrap over his face. Several minutes in they are sure, and Tal’s already bored with the whole thing. He’s not at all interested in being their child. Bonnie is gentler than usual, pointing out how no one gets to choose.

 

Fairy

Summer’s almost over, and the money is running out. School has started up, and no one is on vacation anymore. All the moms and dads are back at work, themselves again. All the kids have immediately forgotten Texas. They think they had a great summer.

Jack still walks all night, every night, and sleeps in the big bed during the day when Bonnie and Tal are out of it. He leaves a few grains of sand behind every time. It’s Tal’s idea to solve the problem by bringing even more sand to bed. Bury the bed in a dune and sleep on top of that. It’s in these rare moments that he proves himself.

Bonnie takes the sand better than Jack or Tal. She’s covered in it, sparkling sometimes with shards of bottles and the cellophane tabs from cigarette packs. They’ve opened every door and window of the bay house to let the crabs in, and that big yellow dog is leaving clumps of fur in the kitchen and drinking from the toilets. Every man, woman, and creature is waking up, trying to do its very best now.

 

Rescue

It’s hard to run in a wet wedding dress, but cleaning vacation homes makes a body tough. Marla runs up to the first house she sees, starts banging on the doors and windows. She does this at three houses, and no one comes out.

She never notices her own fading face on a utility pole. She is missing.

She runs through the RV park. She hollers, pounds, and zigzags.

Sets off the dogs and becomes a legend.

 

There’s nowhere left to go, so she goes to the bay house. Marla sees the three of them inside, standing too closely to each other, like they’ve been lassoed together at the knees. The slut, the drunk, the fag. They need to turn their heads to speak to one another.

She can tell by the wicked one’s whiskers that they have been like this for days, growing into each other, entwining like fig trees. She can also see how filthy the bay house has become while she’s been gone. There are rocks and sticks all over the sitting room.

Marla bangs on the window. It’s her last chance.

They are slow to notice, but when they do they seem oblivious to her dress and her bruises. She knows that early in every monster story, the first person who discovers the true form of evil will either die or be disbelieved. This is something like that.

They seem so happy to see her. She is the first person in the world. There are no more houses in Texas, so she runs away to the next one forever.

 

 

***

Laura Ellen Scott’s mother claims that she saw her daughter struggling to copy letters and words from a dictionary before she could even read. When asked what she was doing, Laura explained, “I’m writing a book,” marking the first and last time she would be eligible for The New Yorker’s Writers Under 40 list. She is the author of Death Wishing, The Juliet, and The Mean Bone in Her Body. She is a Term Full Professor in the English Department of George Mason University, where she has taught creative writing since 1993.

Image source: onthewater.com

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