Mabel was standing by the stove when I came in the kitchen.
"Sit down and eat."
"I'm not staying."
She hesitated for a second. Without turning around, she said, "You can eat anyway."
The plate in front of my chair was full. It didn't smell as good as what I'd lost
onto the cement in back of Mama Ruiz's place, but at least there was plenty of it.
She sat down across from me. "Wendell…..your father's the reason-"
"I don't wanna talk about him."
"I grew up with him. I know what he is---"
"Yeah? You think so?" I stopped eating.
"Emma refused to listen to me---"
I pushed my plate at her; the food wasn't important any more. "There was nothing
wrong with my mother! She was a good person." Mabel wasn't good enough to tie my
mother's shoe. Just hearing the Bitch say her name made me feel like….like throwing
something. Or hitting something.
Mabel nodded her head. "Yes, she was. That's why I tried to keep her from getting
mixed up in this family---"
I slammed my fist on the table. "And YOU don't get to talk about her! It was my old
man that ruined everything-"
"---and you're not any different! You're just the same as him! You're both the same!
And I'm not gonna sit here and listen to anything!"
She flinched. I saw it. I felt it, like when you punch somebody, you can feel when
it connects, you can feel whether you hit him hard enough to hurt him. I knew, without
knowing why, that I'd hurt her. I'd found her weak spot, and hit her there. And I
was glad. When you're thirteen, revenge is sweet-at least for a minute or two.
"Some things are in the blood, Wendell." I didn't know what she meant, then. She
sighed and pressed her palms against her eyes. "Maybe you're right, maybe it's best
if you're not here with me."
She took some coins out of a tin on the shelf. She tried to hand them to me when I
grabbed my bundle of clothes off the floor. I pushed her hand away, and the coins
fell on the table, some of them into the plate of food I hadn't eaten. She reached
toward me. I thought maybe she was gonna try and grab me and make me stay after all,
and so I backed away. She let her hand drop.
"Stiff-necked---you get that from your mother. Your father would never turn down money."
I turned around once as I was walking down the street. She was standing just outside
the screen door, with her arms clasped around her own waist, watching me walk away.
The next day, when Beckmann picked me up, he said Mabel hadn't called the station about
me. "Or maybe she did, but it ain't come over the radio yet. It's OK, this'll save
time anyway." And him and Anderson drove right over to Mabel's house.
He said he was sorry again, when he told me he was gonna have to give me to the social
workers. I found out later he didn't even put it in his report that I punched him
in the stomach and made a run for it. He was a good guy.
I get tired of waking up in hospitals.
They kept me a coupla days. Some of the nurses remembered me, and so I had to take
some razzing, but it was OK.
Lynn stayed away.
Big Lilly was the night nurse while I was there. She came in my room about 3 A.M. the
first night and caught me feeling sorry for myself. She bullied the doctor on duty into
giving me stronger medication; I guess she thought the reason I couldn't sleep was
because of the pain in my head.
I went to see the lawyer when they let me out. I didn't have the guts yet to go back
to Bisbee and pick up my clothes. And I was thinking about all that stuff Ronnie said
before he went off the deep end. Couldn't figure it out.
Murchison confirmed that the money in the bankbook was mine and verified the amount,
but he said he knew nothing about it.
We talked about the house. I was telling the truth when I said to Lynn I was thinking
of burning it down, but the old guy talked me out of it. He said I could leave the
furniture in it if I wanted, he thought it wouldn't be too hard to sell. All I had to
do was clean the small stuff out. Give me something to do, too. So I picked up some boxes.
Our car was parked out front when I got there.
She was in Mabel's bedroom. One of the drawers was open, a bottom one, deep and wide;
it looked like it was full of notebooks. She was sitting on a pillow on the floor,
her bare feet tucked under her knees. There were a bunch of the notebooks spread out
around her, and one open in her hands.
I knew I was doing the right thing. And I thought I'd got to the place where I was
gonna be OK. I guess I was wrong. Didn't matter that I was doing it to myself. When
I saw the top of her pretty blonde head, the hurt was fresh, the ache was new again.
Her eyes widened when she looked up at me. I guess I didn't look too good; the bruises
on my face were still pretty dark, and one cheek was swollen from the wood splinters.
"I'm snooping," she said. Her eyelashes were wet again.
"What are those?"
"Your aunt's journals."
"What're you reading them for?"
"I knew you weren't telling me everything. I knew you were hurting, baby, and you
wouldn't tell me. And then, when you did try to tell me, I didn't pay attention."
She held out her hand to me. "Come sit down here with me, and look at what she's written."
I shook my head and went to stand in the doorway.
"You've never told me very much about your aunt."
"She was my old man's sister. She beat the shit outta me when I stayed here. That's
about all there is."
"Somehow because she died, you've decided we don't belong together. Isn't it reasonable
for me to want to understand why?"
"Yeah." But I couldn't tell her. My throat was so tight, it was all I could do to
breathe. I picked up my boxes and headed for the kitchen. She followed me, of course;
she can't just let things be. If I didn't love her so much, it'd be annoying.
"I don't know what kind of problems you two had---"
"The problem was, she was a bitch." I reached up into the cupboard and swept the tins
down into a box. "I hated her. The best day of my life was when she told the cops she
didn't want me anymore." One of the tins opened as it fell off the shelf and coins
scattered all over the floor. "Dammit." I left them and went on to the next shelf.
Cups and glasses. I think some of them broke when I tossed them in the box, too.
"She was your family---"
"Yeah. Family." She wasn't touching me, she was across the room, but that bubble of
rage that I've had most of my life was rising up, getting bigger. "OK---you wanna
know so bad, you wanna hear about my fucking family? You want me to tell you?" I
threw the box at the window behind me--the crash was satisfying--and started walking
toward her. "I can tell you all about us Whites-we're a real swell bunch. Rapists
and murders, wife-beaters, thieves-it's a long list." I had a couple cups in my right
hand, the one that was still bandaged up, and I threw them, too, toward the cast-iron
sink. That crash was also satisfying. "Some of us got caught. And some of us didn't."
Lynn backed away from me as I came toward her, and every step she took made me angrier.
The sugar bowl on the counter thumped against the back door, but didn't break. Lynn
had to stop retreating when she backed up against the wall. I guess she coulda made a
run for the door, but she didn't.
"Maybe you wanna know how Cousin Ronnie's dad killed his first wife?"
The glass with the spoons that always sat on the table next to the shakers, smashed into
a million pieces in the sink, and the spoons flew everywhere. That felt good.
"Oh, and Uncle Randall, would you like to hear what he did to his women?"
I was standing right in front of her. "What's the matter, did you change your mind?
Don't you think you wanna know all about my terrific fucking family?" The rage was
like lava, burning me from the inside out, I was full of it. I felt like she must be
able to see the flames through my eyes. I was gonna explode.
"You're scaring me-"
"Yeah?" I pulled back my fist and smashed it into the wall beside her as hard as I
could. Same hand. It felt good. It hurt like hell, but it felt good, too. Can't
She jumped and actually looked scared now. "Scaring you, huh? Imagine that.
Did you bring your gun? No? Of course not. So what are you gonna do now?"
She shut her eyes, slid both arms around my neck, and hid her face against my collar.
Just like that, it was gone, the rage was gone. Kinda like a balloon and a pin. She
touched me and it just……went away.
For a while.
It wasn't really gone. It was still there……just quiet, for the moment.
"Oh, God. Oh, God, baby, I'm sorry." I probably squeezed her too tight; she made a
little noise and I let her go. Pushed her hair back from her face. "Jesus, I'm so
sorry." I didn't kiss her; I didn't deserve to kiss her.
She didn't push me away, she stood still and just held me for long minutes. There was
nothing to say.
I think I've said before that I'm not the kinda guy to stick my gun in my mouth and
pull the trigger. And I'm not. But if I'd had my gun with me just then…..I don't know,
probably I still wouldn't do that, but I mighta thought about it. Not because I lost
it and broke things-I've broken things before-not because I couldn't pull back on the
reins, but because I didn't know I oughta pull back on 'em. That rage burned
out any sense I mighta had, and I would rather put myself away than take the chance---
you know what I mean.
Going from overdrive right into reverse is hard on the machine. I started to shake.
Had to pull out a chair and sit down at the table. She pulled out another chair and
sat right next to me.
I couldn't look at her. Staring at the floor was safer. "We'll get you a motel room
and you can go back to Bisbee in the morning."
"Are you coming with me?"
"You're kidding, right?"
I felt her hair brush my shoulder as she shook her head "I'm not going until you go
"Damn, baby, you see why I can't. You won't do anything to protect yourself. What
if I hurt you the next time?"
"You didn't hurt me. You wouldn't hurt me. Yes, you did once," she said before I
could, "but that was different. I hurt you first. And I truly think it hurt you more
than it did me, anyway. I know you love me. You can't seem to say it to me, but I
know you do. And now I understand a little bit what's been going on. It'd be easier
if you'd just tell me these things, you know?" And she pushed my head back and kissed
me, just a quick promise kiss, but sweet, like all her kisses.
Lynn spread a blanket outside on the grass, in the shadows on the east side of the
house, and made me come out with her.
"I'm still mad at you, you know," she said. We were looking up at the sky. It was
a little cloudy. The stars were few and far between. "Leaving like that and not
letting me know you were all right. I was worried."
We listened to the crickets in the grass, and watched the clouds drift across the dark
sky, across the moon after it came up. I thought maybe she fell asleep; she almost
never goes so long without saying something.
"She loved you, you know."
"Your Aunt Mabel."
I sat up. I'd been pretty relaxed; not now. "Is that so? She loved me, huh? That
why she tried to starve me to death? 'Cause she loved me? That why she beat the crap
outta me all the time? If she'da loved me any more, I'd be dead."
"And so you hate her."
"Yeah. Wouldn't you?"
"So what does this have to do with you and me? How come you have to leave me now?"
"It's in the blood. Look at my family. All the same. Even me and Mabel, we're the
same; I realized that when I started thinking about it. And look what happened tonight.
I don't care what you say, I coulda hurt you."
"And you don't want to do that."
"Because you love me."
I lay down again on my side and pulled her up next to me. She snuggled up close; she's
a helluva snuggler. I sighed. "Yeah…….Yeah."
"Well, then you won't."
"You just said Mabel loved me."
"She did. I think she didn't know how to show it; I think she never had anybody love
her, so she didn't know how to do it right. But she loved you all the same, and that
should count for something."
"It means that love isn't enough." I hugged her tight and kissed her hair
She was quiet for a while. "Did you know she loved you?"
"It doesn't matter. I can't forgive her." I hated the Bitch. It was the best day of
my life, when she told the cops she didn't want me anymore. There was something, though-
it's stupid, but for some reason, hearing the words out loud……I wondered if she meant
that to be a fist in the gut, if that was my payback for telling her she was like my
old man. Stupid. It's not like I expected her to cry and tell me she'd miss me. I
didn't even want that. It was just….hearing it..…Stupid.
"Bud?" Lynn reached between us and unbuttoned my shirt. She pulled the undershirt
down and put a kiss below my collarbone, where the scar was. "There's a difference
between you and Mabel. You know how to love me. You don't say the words, but I can
tell it anyway, because you know how to do it. Maybe you got that from your
mother, I don't know. I just know it's so." Her fingers worked at my belt buckle.
I slid my hand under her shirt, up her backbone. The tip of her tongue, teasing me,
gave me the shivers; almost sent me over the edge right then.
Those cute little trousers of hers weren't as easy to get off as mine were. OK, so
I'm easy. So sue me. If she wants me, anytime, anywhere, I don't care---if she wants
me, she can have me.
"Maybe you're right, maybe sometimes love isn't enough," she said as she raised herself
up over me. Her eyes closed. "But, oh, baby, sometimes it is. Sometimes it is."
Except for the quick kiss in the kitchen tonight, I hadn't tasted her mouth for about a
week. I was starving.
I pulled her head down to mine and fed on her lips. Rolled her over and ate and drank
from her mouth, and couldn't get enough. Took her where she needed to go, and came back
to her lips. Spoke, like I do sometimes, unconsidered and unremembered words into that
softness. Grunted out my own ease against those lips. Comforted myself there after.
Felt like I could stay right there like that forever, and never want anything else.
It would kill me to live without her kisses.
"You win, baby," I whispered in her ear. "As long as you want me……."