They will have emerged from their cars in the prattle of cool rain. They will have returned to his hometown—and theirs. Poplar leaves as big as palettes will have gusted around them in swirling funnels at graveside, tossing skirts and toupées, snatching cupcake wrappers, and making the little children blink and rub their eyes. On their way to the cemetery they will have breathed in bittersweet nostalgia, passing the ramshackle KRIX radio trailer and vintage Pepsi sign. As teenagers, they will have swerved down the cemetery road many times in pickups of horny pep clubbers, in Volkswagen convertibles on Halloween night, on ten-speed bikes for dawn paper routes, after dog attacks, fistfights, and post-homecoming game sexual roughhousing. As adults at the Shangri-La Reception Center they will have downed chicken cordon bleu and steamed broccoli in hooded silence. They will have stood in awkward ovals around the casket of bloodstone and stainless steel. With measured gestures and lowered eyes, they will have made guarded inquiries about school and health, corralled in hasty arrangements of family photos, World War II memorabilia, and gaudy clusters of purple zinnias and pink carnations in twisted vases of smoky amber glass. Approaching the burial site, they will have stumbled in aquamarine Gucci platform pumps, clutched maroon vinyl handbags from Dollar General, jockeyed with sprung umbrellas. They will have raised salmon mimeographed tracts from Upper Valley Nondenominational over their heads to escape the small armageddons of leafy November sky. Nearly all of them will have blown into town at some time to see if the old colonel composed a legal will before he went senile. They will have looked forward to seeing each other. They will have considered how to avoid forging new ties.
“Give me your arm,” one of the aunts will have said to her husband, picking a chunk of sod from her spiked heel.
“How long’s it going to be?” a girl with a French braid will have asked.
“Long as it takes,” her father will have said, limping at the back of the pack and smoothing his red Three Stooges tie. “Hush.”
At the open grave six uniformed men from the local VFW chapter—solemn, silver-headed, possessed with plump dignity—will have greeted them, heads bowed in a semicircle. The wind will have drummed the scabby oak limbs above the sturdy, fullback-shouldered form of Reverend Lucretia Chew.
Reverend Chew will have raised her clipboard of notes, each page rain-proofed in a vinyl slipcover. “Here we lie the remains of a glorious soul,” she will have intoned.
In answer to Reverend Chew’s invocation, sixteen-year old Monica Veilleux, who will have started demanding that everyone call her “Mooncalf,” will have listed in her mind the verb’s correct forms: lie, lay, lain. Lain in pain, she will have thought. Strain train. Retain main insane drain.
Corinne, Mooncalf’s mother—still the sapphire-eyed, red-headed triathlete with Irish temper and music box giggle—will have divorced Tomas Veilleux, Mooncalf’s birth father, over issues involving paramours and prostitutes in Paris and Houston. With Tomas’s squash tournament trophies and stuffed sailfish still adorning the stuccoed walls of their San Diego law office, Corinne will have started cohabiting with Lisa Draney, the blockish, blond thirty-five year old director of Light of Hope Homeless Shelter. In August the two women will have lounged in the office and drunk fizzy cranberry juice and lunched on turkey and bean sprout pita pockets. If not transformed, at least more relaxed, they will have gazed out the bay windows of Veilleux, Veilleux & Velocitus at the tankers and catamarans borne like lost toys on the opal sprawl of the Pacific. They will have used a mauve and walnut color scheme, with a fire-hydrants-and-cuckoo-clocks motif, to redecorate the office over Labor Day. They will have discussed Corinne’s re-adoption of her original surname: Turley. Slouched in recliners, they will have lapsed into afternoon reveries about Adam-less Edens of alpine springs and cozy bamboo Quonset huts. Ideal, they will have thought, but not said, this future free of men.
Years before the funeral, Corinne, having swallowed enough pricey California air pollution, will have stopped back in town to complete her new firm’s relocation. Though veiled, her reconnaissance trip will have been meant to ferret out the truth about what her father, Rupert, Jr., had said about his father’s will. Rupert Turley, Jr., in his second year of, as he put it, “dream retirement” from his post as a Milwaukee transportation director, will have been speeding west into Keokuk in his banana-cream Oldsmobile with his wife, Clara, when his third heart attack will have slumped him over the steering wheel. Their car will have lurched over the center median, hopped the guardrail, and plummeted into the unseasonably low Mississippi. After a Cowboy Omelet Platter at Me ‘n’ Stan’s, Corinne will have parked her car two blocks from the gabled white clapboard house in which she spent her childhood Christmases and summer breaks. In the distant blue bowl between Buck Mountain and Static Peak, the sun will have simmered in the orange fuel of dawn. She will have stood outside. Through filmy curtains she will have examined her grandfather’s profile as he watched the morning news in front of a wheeled walker and food tray. The outline of a tubby home healthcare nurse will have hovered near her grandfather’s skinny silhouette.
“Grandpa Turley,” she will have said to the house. “What didn’t you tell us?” Then she will have spun, walked to her car, and driven to the airport.
Lisa Draney, feeling scapegoatish and frumpy in her Buddy Holly glasses and overalls and purple Chuck Taylors, will have sucked in reservoirs of air and glanced at the traveling circus of strangers crowing the grave of Rupert Turley, Sr. Sensing Lisa’s distress, Corinne will have linked arms with her.
For the first time Lisa and Corinne will have noted Mooncalf’s drastic wardrobe change. Mooncalf will have bundled her clothes-hanger bones in a bulky sweater of suicidal rose. A vinyl miniskirt, executioner black, will have wrapped midnight mayhem around her hips. She will have sheathed her milky calves in shredded fishnet stockings and Doc Marten Phina boots. She will have used a cheese grater to shear her hair into a jagged mop, powdered her face eggshell white and stained her lips with beet juice. Chrome chain earrings will have dangled from her ears, flashing like daggers in the autumn light. She will have swiped a hundred dollars from Corinne to pay a piercing artist named Croz Bingby to a hook a cubic zirconia crescent moon barbell through her right eyebrow, a stud topped with a diamelle calf through her left—so one could jump over the other when she was looking contemplative. She will have painted teensy valentine bear traps on her fingernails.
“Loved by all,” Reverend Chew will have said. “Here and above, where love dwells and is most holy.”
In a smoky huff Mooncalf will have gnawed her bottom lip, eyes skyward. She will have cupped her elbow in her palm, cocked her hip in a pouty stance, and cast repeated glances at her brighter tomorrow—Trent Foster, her eighteen-year old boyfriend. Trent, in denim jacket and reversed red and blue Speedy Rental baseball cap, will have loitered on his BMX bike outside the cemetery’s chain-link fence. Like a spectator unable—and perhaps not caring—to see the passing parade he will have side-armed stones at magpies. His body language will have conveyed poorly faked nonchalance. More than once he will have caught Mooncalf’s eye and jerked his head as a signal for her to make a break from the company. Only recently will he have asked her to show him the steamer trunk of genuine Nazi relics in the attic of her late great-grandfather’s house.
“Here to lay until the day of the ascension,” Reverend Chew will have pronounced. With poise, she will have blinked away a dash of rain and plucked a shovel-sized poplar leaf from her clipboard.
Lie, lay, lain, Mooncalf will have thought. Disdain, remain.
In the back of the crowd, Mitch, the Turley baby, still will not have found his life’s direction at the age of fifty-three. Tobacco-colored splotches will have flowered on his sunburned pate. His reddish-brown handlebar mustache, muttonchops, and Irish setter locks will have become streaked with regal—and therefore ironic—silver. He will have worn a hunter’s jacket, jeans, and dirty Adidas low-cuts. Two chipped teeth will have marred his yokel grin. He will have received one from a minor league hockey brawl in Wheeling, West Virginia, the other from a bloody police truncheon on the University of Madison-Wisconsin campus during the Dow Chemical protests. He will have stepped out of a battered sea-green Toyota Tercel and lit and smoked a Bailey’s to the filter by the time Reverend Chew will have cleared her throat. Since sidestepping the draft and fleeing to Alberta and a life of railcar hopping, he will have not seen his father or anyone else in the family except on two occasions.
Mitch will have stowed away on a salmon trawler in Anchorage, topped trees in Oregon, roughnecked on an offshore Galveston oilrig, and serviced diesel engines on Ragged Ass Road in Yellowknife. He will have floated The Rio Grande in cutoffs and an inner tube, had his pocket picked by a Vietnamese acupuncturist in Reno, and danced a nude Watusi in the streets of Sturgis in the beer-bottle dawn. He will have done ludes and The Who, Jack Daniels and Lynyrd Skynyrd, LSD and Grand Funk Railroad. Three days after Mardi Gras, Nav Bertolucci, his belligerent manager, will have booted him off a refrigerated Red Baron Pizza truck in Little Rock. In a daze, Mitch will have slumped on a curb outside an employment agency on Capitol Avenue for half a day before seizing on the gauzy notion of calling his father to see if he might be in line for some money.
Drunk on Schlitz he will have staggered to a pay phone, dialed his old home number, and listened to the drone of the dial tone. He will have dreamed of signed checks flitting around his castaway’s head like six-figure snow.
“Hello?” his sister, Felice, will have answered. Mitch will have stared at the phone then held it to his ear.
“Izzare a will?” he will have blurted.
After overcoming her shock and offering to pick up Mitch wherever he was, Felice will have mumbled, “Uh, think so, I—,” after which Mitch will have hung up and barfed on the sidewalk.
Four years before the funeral, after taking his lunch break and walking off the job as a flagger for the Utah Department of Transportation in Tooele, Mitch will have hitchhiked to his father’s house. He will have found the old man sharpening the lawnmower’s rotary blade on the back porch. In the south corner of the yard, against the fence, the blasted two-story tree house of Mitch’s childhood will have rotted to a pulp of splintered packing crate planks and ghost nails. Three rust-cankered horseshoes and a fly-fishing net will have hung under a pair of antelope antlers on the shed. Mossy rainwater will have glimmered in the tire swing. A trio of house sparrows will have bathed in it, ducking their heads and shaking ruffled feathers, droplets flying like shattered prisms.
“Hand me that wrench,” his father will have said, after nearly thirty years of separation.
Mitch will have handed his father the wrench. He will have smoked a GPC and watched the muscular old man pilot the jerky chain-driven mower around a lawn blanketed in willow leaves and soggy corpses of Hibernal apples. Even Mitch’s faded reason and lack of education will not have stopped him from noting the emerald coals of senility in his father’s eyes. Three days before making funeral and reception plans, Felice, having done some amateur sleuthing, will have called Mitch, who will have been holed up in a Missoula hostel. Mitch will have borrowed a rickety Tercel from the hostel’s owner and driven south the day of the service. He will have arrived late, having stopped at a roadside stand in Spencer (“Opal Capital of the World”) to buy a star garnet earring. Blustered by leaves and rain at graveside, Mitch—childless, vagrant, and no more Catholic than Ghandi—will have crossed himself, burrowed his hands in his pockets, and fired paranoid looks at the strangers who surrounded the final resting place of a man he hardly knew.
“The shadowy limits of yesterday and today cease,” Reverend Chew will have chanted. “All is union beyond the horizon of the endless tomorrow.”
Mooncalf will have stooped and snatched a brown poplar leaf from the grass and held it as if wielding a paper plate at the family barbecue. She will have fanned her fingers and pressed her palm to the crisp topography of veins. Reign and wane, she will have thought. Feign Plain Jane.
Felice, the oldest surviving Turley sibling, will have stepped forward to receive the folded U. S. flag from pigeon-toed George Bender, the lead VFW officer.
“Thank you,” George will have snuffled. “So much.”
Felice will have avoided eye contact with Reverend Chew. Laser surgery will have forced Felice to wear a pirate patch under her glasses. Combined with the Band-Aid on her nose, the patch will have given her the look of a haggard but noble woman battered by every one of her sixty-three years. George Bender, having hunted elk for fifteen summers with Rupert, Jr. and his father in the foothills around Packsaddle Lake, will have released the flag. He will have saluted, stepped back, and swiped his cuff across his bleary eyes.
“Thank you, George,” Felice will have said.
Mike Voss, Felice’s second husband, a land surveyor with a mandibular tic, will not have acknowledged the presence of their gay son, Cole. Cole, a student at Joffrey Ballet School, in response to George Bender’s military salute, will have raised a hand and touched the Bride-of-Frankenstein poliosis streak in his black hair. Bewildered, Mike Voss will have gawked at all six-foot-six-inches of Lloyd, Felice’s younger brother, who, during his Venice Beach bodybuilding days, will have narrowly missed being cast in Diana Ross’s “Muscles” music video. Lloyd’s twin teenagers, Redge and LeLaine, will have gleamed like carved idols in plaid prep school attire under monogrammed umbrellas of corporate black and gold. Lloyd’s astronomical success in health supplements will have bought his children futures at Yale, personal valets, tennis and polo coaches, Spanish and Russian tutors, and the flawless dental work of chewing-gum commercial models. Days before the funeral Mike will have overheard Felice speaking to Lloyd’s personal assistant on the phone about Lloyd’s pending arrival at the county airport in his private jet. Mike will have wandered out on the back deck. He will have flipped the burgers on the grill and shaken his head at the untrimmed lilac hedges.
“How can a guy have his own jet?” he will have said.
Before meeting Mike, Felice will have married and divorced Carl Lyons, a crooked financial advisor. She will have raised two daughters—Lara and Tess—on her dental assistant’s salary. Later, she will have bumped into Mike at an Upper Valley Nondenominational potluck, over steaming foil trays of asparagus spears and au gratin potatoes. Their casual Sunday conversations will have blossomed into love. One Saturday after the Fourth of July Dutch oven cook off and white elephant auction, a rift with Reverend Chew over the misuse of some minor church committee funds will have sent Felice stomping out the chapel door and straight into vigorous spates of transcendental meditation, yoga, Neo-Rosicrucianism, atheism, and, ultimately, the Tao coupled with TV dinners and the evening news.
Lara Lyons-Huffington, Felice’s oldest daughter—broad-shouldered, buxom, and braless—will have cropped her weedy blond hair and come ready to scale Diamond Peak with her freckled husband, Blake, in honor of their one-year anniversary. As a graduate student in accounting at UC-Davis, Lara will have fallen in love with Blake’s soccer-player physique, specifically his chiseled abs and softball-sized calves. Together, Lara and Blake will have begun breeding chocolate labs. One frisky bitch, Brie, will have strained at her leash and sniffed at Rupert Sr.’s grave, slobbering like a village idiot. Blake will have tugged her leash.
“Easy girl,” he will have murmured.
Though they will have told nobody—to avoid any arching eyebrows from the backward sector of the extended family—Blake and Lara will have agreed to remain childless to ensure the best possible destiny for themselves and the earth.
Tess Lyons, Felice’s second oldest daughter, still with the bad eyesight and bowling-pin figure from her junior high school days, will have married an Indianapolis native named Simon Burke. Simon will have been born with one arm. Committed to improving the lives of amputees and those with congenital birth defects, Simon and Tess will have formed an entrepreneurial duo obsessed with low-cost, high-performance prosthetics research, development, and marketing. At dinner in the Shangri-La Reception Center they will have noticed a high-school aged server with a titanium leg and will have traded whispered thoughts about expanding their upstart business—Burke Prosthetics: Why Spend an Arm and a Leg?—from Kansas City to the Rocky Mountain northwest.
At the moment Reverend Chew will have paused and the VFW officers will have stepped back so the casket could be lowered into the ground, Simon Burke will have reached his opposable hook down to hold Carmen Saskia, their Pomeranian, by her collar. Carmen will have started yapping at Brie, the descending casket, and three-year old Tootsie Rollins, Vada Turley’s adopted Haitian grandson, who will have scampered too close to the grave. On the verge of toppling in, Tootsie will have teetered back, tangling himself in Reverend Chew’s mulberry robes, a tragicomic actor lost in the curtains of his first and last performance. Unflappable, Reverend Chew will have taken Tootsie’s hand.
“We remain,” she will have recited.
Sprained refrain, Mooncalf will have thought, squinting sideways at Trent Foster. Trent, having pedaled over to gape at the gleaming silver bullet of Corinne’s Mercedes, will have returned Mooncalf’s anxious look. He will have raised his wrist and, for the second time, tapped his watch.
“Where time is no more,” Reverend Chew will have said, drawing a startled glance from Mooncalf. “Never to be divided.”
Mimi Turley, Rupert Sr.’s wife, will have discovered she was pregnant with Vada after her husband packed up his kit bag and shipped out to Camp Stewart, Georgia. Without fanfare, despite furloughs and letters home, 1943 will have draped a cloud of apple-blossom despair on the Turleys’ cramped three-bedroom home on Rolling Hills Drive. In the winter of ‘44, the coal furnace will have conked out. Like a small army Mimi and the kids will have fished the Little Bear River for cutthroats in spring, bottled homemade root beer, and canned peaches. They will have stockpiled wool scraps and hoarded buttons and mongrel strands of lace. They will have jumped rope, played fox and geese, sung “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in The Upper Valley Church of Christ Children’s Choir, planted a modest grove of Hibernal apple saplings, and read Black Beauty. They will have raised rabbits, killed mice with arsenic, and milked Gale Bender’s Jersey cow. Still, despite the campouts and puppet shows and shelves of chokecherry syrup, the strain of raising three kids on her own will have roused Mimi’s inner wolverine. The speed with which she will have switched from happy homemaker slinging oven-fresh Parker House rolls to a psychopathic ogre swinging a wooden spoon like a battle axe will have shocked and mystified nobody more than Mimi herself.
There will have been times when, with Rupert and Felice at school, Vada will have broken a dinner plate or dumped brown sugar on Mimi’s mopped kitchen floor. Mimi will have convulsed as if being electrocuted. She will have shrieked and brained Vada with a spatula, bread pan, or roundhouse slap.
“Jesus won’t bring your daddy home!” she will have screeched. “If you keep on this way!”
From January to June holocausts of rage will have swept through the house only to fade like artillery smoke over a field of slain infantry. Vada will have hid in the cellar under heaps of dirty bed linen and, on occasion, in the backyard tree house with a chattering mob of robins. In her citadel of scrap wood, twelve feet above the earth, she will have prayed.
“Jesus in the sky,” she will have uttered. “Help Daddy kill the Germans so he can come home and save me from Mommy.”
In answer to her prayers, she will have suffered bruised ribs, bite marks, and a gouge on the back of her head when Mimi zinged a pie tin at her like a discus thrower.
In July of 1945 she will have gimped across the platform at the Union Pacific Depot in Salt Lake City. The streetcars will have vanished, Kelly and Sinatra will have been held over at The Orpheum, and the drought will have left the foothills below Emigration Canyon yellow and parched. Vada will have watched Rupert and Felice scamper from her mother’s grip and hug and kiss a handsome dimple-chinned man in a colonel’s uniform. He will have set her brother and sister down, lumbered to Vada, bundled her in his arms, and smothered her in Aqua Velva kisses.
“How’s my baby!” he will have laughed, squeezing the air from her lungs.
Vada will have built bean terrariums in grade school, volunteered at the veterinarian’s hospital in middle school, and served as assistant editor for her high school newspaper, The Bobcat Bugle. In the garden shed her mother will have swatted her with a stringless tennis racquet. Her father, busy with a refrigerator or washing machine on the fritz, will have overlooked Vada’s pain. The spring before her graduation, with Rupert and Felice at college, and with her father on the porch sharpening the lawnmower’s rotary blade, her mother will have shoved her through the screen door and retreated into the house, weeping. The night before, Mimi will have learned that Vada had become pregnant with the baby of Cody Rollins, the son of Judd Rollins, who will have been promoted to manager at Mickelsen’s Hardware after a Shoshoni half-breed named Tiny Burnett had tried to burn it down. Vada, in lemon cardigan and floral print skirt and saddle shoes, will have shaken on the porch like a tenant farmer’s daughter summoned before the feudal lord. Across the alley from the Benders’ backyard, apricot blossoms will have released their bewitching gold perfume into the air. The glowing orange dusk will have surged behind the black skeletal shapes of red maples and bird feeders. Trembling, ankles crossed, Vada will have watched her father use a screwdriver to scrape the grass-caked innards of the lawnmower. She will have snuffed and gulped fearful tears.
“Hand me that wrench,” he will have said.
At Valley Community College Vada will have earned an associate’s degree in secretarial skills and stenography. Cody, who will have signed on the swing shift at the fertilizer plant, will have moved with Vada across town to an avocado bungalow with a sunken roof and sun-scorched lawn on Barney Dairy Road. Their baby’s birth—a boy, John James, named after the “Sons of Thunder” because he will have arrived during an April downpour, kicking and swinging like a drunken marine—will have slashed hot shears through the velvet curtain of her soul. She will have healed, and at first Mimi will have helped Vada with the baby during the day. After fifteen months of frosty monogamy, Cody will have driven out on a rainy night for diapers at Simerly’s Market and will not have stopped until an empty gas tank stranded him in the parking lot of a San Jose army recruitment office. He will have joined up, served his time, and settled in Escondido to collect retirement benefits, body surf, harass strippers, and sell life insurance. Torn between the sour histories of two surnames, Vada will have chosen, inexplicably, to keep the latter. Without ceremony she will have settled into a regimen of survival: secretarial work at the engineering offices of Forsgren Associates, sporadic waves of day care, the Upper Valley Church of Christ Women’s League, and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.
Vada will have joined the Women’s League the day Reverend Lucretia Chew—then cinnamon-haired, shy, fresh from Fort Worth—will have replaced the jiggly-joweled Reverend Marshall Aspenwell. Reverend Aspenwell’s dip into Alzheimer’s will have peaked, fatally, at the annual Cowboy Cookout and Pennies-by-the-Inch retreat on the banks of Warm River. To the shocked cries of widows and children, Reverend Aspenwell will have waded barefoot into the tricky current and slipped below the surface, sweeping mock fly-fishing casts toward the cattails on the opposite bank and muttering curses about being a “fisher of men.”
With the help of the Women’s League Vada will have run to the YWCA for bursts of community classes and eclectic escapism: tole painting, basic computer skills, Ziploc bag cooking, and New York Hustle lessons to “Disco Duck.” She will have sung alto in the choir and enrolled John James in summer Bible camp. John James—a licorice-haired, pearl-eyed whippersnapper with a TNT temper—will have idolized Super Grover, jumped off the roof with a pillowcase around his neck, and shattered his collarbone. He will have hoarded Six-Million-Dollar Man and Super Joe Commander action figures, played Christopher Columbus in his sixth-grade musical at Jefferson Elementary, and solved The Rubik’s cube in twenty-two seconds.
One Tuesday morning, following first recess, his fourth-grade principal, pirate-nosed Bonnie Kornbluth, will have summoned him to the office and told him his mother wanted to take him to The Wrangler Drive-Thru for lunch.
“Really?” John James will have said.
Miss Kornbluth will have smiled, her jaw jutting like a cash register drawer. “Just called.”
At a quarter to noon John James will have launched a running leap from the school’s front steps, a jubilant windsong in his heart, his multiplication test flapping in his hand with a perfect score—to find his grim-faced mother waiting for him at the curb in their junky orange Impala.
“Hi, Mom,” he will have said.
Staring ahead, she will have said, “Get in.”
At first her strange behavior will not have unnerved him. Especially after a cheeseburger, fries, and root beer float at The Wrangler. At home, though, she will have slammed the door. She will have clamped vise-grip arms on his shoulders and rammed him into a sitting position on the couch. She will have clawed the air.
“Why didn’t you take out the trash like I asked!”
Two slaps will have rapped his cheeks raw. She will have wrenched his quaking body out behind the house, all the while shrieking for him to pray to Jesus for forgiveness, and dumped cereal boxes and banana peels and cans of coffee grounds on the driveway. She will have commanded him to refill the trash cans by hand and haul them to the curb.
“When you start being a good boy,” she will have declared, “God’ll get us out of our situation!”
Cheeks scorched with tears, choking on snotty sobs, John James will have lowered himself to all fours. “Okay, Mom!” he will have cried. “Sorry!”
Then with the meticulous ardor of a wounded prospector picking gold dust from a dry riverbed, he will have returned the garbage to the cans.
Vada will have battered John James with brooms, encyclopedias, and jumper cables. Forced counseling in Reverend Chew’s office will have pushed him not to dress as an apostle on Halloween but, with the help of two old Gnip Gnop balls and a milk jug papier-mâché mask, as Enoch, the future-primitive time-traveling guru Sleestak from Land of the Lost. He will have done dope and Styx, coke and The Cure, meth and Ministry. He will have been elected student body vice president with the slogan “Carpe Do ‘em!” Spray painted skulls, headless chickens, and dried cow pies will have been the calling cards he left after vandalizing the choir room with his secret society, The Deltas. He will have hacked the school’s security system and liberated the caged ferrets and horny toads belonging to whiskery Casper Coupe, the biology teacher. At halftime during the Snake River game, he will have streaked across center court wearing only a Philadelphia 76’ers tube sock and a plastic Jimmy Carter mask.
Then there will have a come a day—the August after his high school graduation, a week after he returned from a three-day hitchhiking odyssey to see Oingo Boingo in Los Angeles—that she will have hit him for the last time. He will have been washing and drying dishes at her side. They will have been staring at the world through stained-glass doves and sun-topped crucifixes suction-cupped to the kitchen window. The crews at the railway granaries will have been working overtime, and the busy finger of the wind will have been tracing designs in the blond chaff that powdered the street.
“Things are hard,” she will have said, wiping a dish. “But God’s watching over us.”
“Then God must be the biggest idiot alive,” he will have said.
Her dish will have clanked in the sink. Her blunt hand will have slammed the base of his skull. He will have rocked, forward and back, eyes closed, swaying to a hypnotist’s command. He will have set down the gravy boat and Bill the Cat dish towel in his hands. After tromping to his room he will have returned in his faded royal-blue Dr. Demento sweatshirt, his battered black King’s Dominion backpack slung over his shoulder. Without speaking he will have walked out.
“Johnny,” she will have said. “John James.”
A warm wind will have whirled the orange legs of a roadrunner windmill in Vada’s flowerbeds. Before turning at the bottom of the driveway, John James will have stomped the wiry roadrunner into the weeds. He will have punted a grinning garden gnome into the street. Dust devils and airborne grocery bags will have escorted him past a curious brown-haired girl on a Barbie tricycle. Without a backward glance he will have left Vada weeping at the window. She will have shaken and clutched her ringing hand to her breast. Her vision blurred by tears and rainbow window art, she will have watched the trim form of her son trudge down Barney Dairy Road, witnessing his rose-tinted exodus through the smiling stained-glass face of Jesus.
The long years will have unrolled and unraveled and one late autumn afternoon she will have returned home from scavenging bottles and aluminum cans on the shoulder of Highway 25 with the Women’s League. A cold snap two weeks before Halloween will have littered the streets with a golden blizzard of poplar leaves. A sourpuss bedsheet-and-magic-marker ghost will have swayed from the rain gutter over her porch. Melancholy wind chimes and a hard frost will have chiseled an atonal melody in the air. She will have just removed her reflective orange vest and leather gloves when a knock will have announced a visitor at her door.
“Hello?” a confident voice will have called.
Vada, heavier, visibly gray at her temples, will have opened the door to find a young woman standing on her step.
“Mrs. Rollins?” the young woman will have said. “I’m Bo Metzger.”
Vada will have been put off by Bo’s lumberjack look, her blond Pippi Longstocking braids, hand-knitted ski cap with ear flaps, russet sleeveless vest, and long underwear top. Bo, like a butch Goldilocks, will have swung a bundled burden at her side—a dark baby in a bassinet. Vada will have swiped a T. V. Guide and Ritz cracker box from her couch.
“Sit down,” she will have mumbled. “Please.”
Repeatedly, Vada will have glanced at the toffee-colored infant squirming in the powder-blue straitjacket of his elephants-and-duckies blanket. Bo will have talked, and Vada, a coin of tarnished light in the slack purse of her hands, will have listened. As Bo’s story will have progressed Vada’s face will have lengthened with the warm bars of autumn sunlight lengthening across the chipped windowsill.
John James—or Jamal, as Bo will have called him—will have joined the Peace Corps. He will have dug wells in Ghana, taught English in the Marshall Islands, and, after converting to Islam, served as a sub-director in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. There he will have met and married an environmental journalist and political activist named Josefine Mystere, with whom he will have had a son they will have never named. Two weeks after the baby’s birth, Josephine and Jamal will have heard firecrackers popping outside their orphanage. On stepping out to see the source of the noise, they will have been slain in the crossfire of an anti-Aristide paramilitary uprising.
Bo, Jamal’s long-time friend and fellow volunteer, will have used a spare key to smuggle the baby from Jamal’s apartment. She will have rescued his belongings and vital papers from a rack of cinderblock shelves the morning before rioters ransacked his place. With the help of easily bribed sympathizers Bo will have traveled to the U. S., hopscotching from cargo freighter to fishing trawler, feeding the baby stolen milk from the ships’ larders. On her drive back to start managing her grandfather’s ranch in Star Valley she will have stopped to return the baby to its blood grandmother, a woman Bo will have heard Jamal refer to many times as “strong but wrong-headed.” Vada will have shifted on the couch. Bo will have flashed a threadbare smile.
“He talked about you a lot,” she will have said.
“I can imagine.”
Bo will have placed a Gerber diaper bag decorated with mint and magenta stripes on the floor next to the baby. She will have stood and rubbed heat between her palms.
“He isn’t really fussy,” she will have added. Then she will have excused herself and shut the screen door behind her.
Vada’s universe will have shrunk into a pocket of nothingness. The numb red bulb of her heart will have flared on a frayed electrical cord. She will have watched her curly-headed, cocoa-skinned grandson try to wriggle from his cloth sarcophagus. Names will have come to her: Peter Paul, Zacharias, Simon. Curdled puke will have jetted from the boy’s glossy pucker. He will have begun to whine. Vada will have waddled to the cellar and rummaged through heaps of junk for John James’s old car seat. She will have driven the baby to Albertson’s for baby wipes and formula. She will have brought him home, bathed him, diapered him, fed him, and put him in John James’s springy crib. She will have sat on the couch and stared outside until night turned the living room window into a portrait of blackness.
“So, Lord,” she will have said. “The circle closes.”
Reverend Chew, divorced from a trucker named Dobson “Doobie” McCabe whose shiftless free-love ideals will have given him an internet porn addiction and a statutory rape charge three days before Christmas, will have assisted Vada in getting temporary custody of her grandson. Vada will have named him Haven, but his creamed-coffee skin and hankering for the miniature Tootsie Rolls she used to keep him in quiet in church will have earned him the nickname Tootsie Rollins. Vada will have accepted her grandson as a cross to bear. She will have used babysitters, neighbors, the Women’s League, and a nearby daycare—Tiny Tots Academy (owned and managed by Fenix Armstrong, her home aromatherapy supplier)—to help her muddle through. Mike Forsgren, her boss, a former navy seal with a passion for armchair ornithology, will have let her work flexible hours.
Still, when Tootsie will have run a fever and Vada will have had to miss work, she will have spanked his fat thigh with a spatula after sliding his German chocolate birthday cake into the oven. She will have flicked his skull with her middle finger after Marion and Carson Bower, two empty nesters from church, will have bought a time share in Boca Raton and invited her for a two-week junket, forgetting in a tactless “senior moment” Vada’s need to care for him. Vada will have hugged Tootsie then dumped him in a bin of dirty laundry, face down, for a nap. She will have kissed him and kicked him into the broom closet after unloading groceries, tickled his tubby belly and strapped his mouth shut with duct tape. The one time she will have shaken him—when he refused to sleep, three months after his second birthday, the midnight after Easter—she will have cried straight through his frightened shrieks. Unfazed, she will have screamed and throttled his body until his little head bobbled like the head of a dead pheasant.
“Shut it!” she will have bellowed. “Just be quiet!”
Hysterical, inconsolable, she will have scurried with him to her car in sweat pants and a sky-blue Upper Valley Walk Against Cancer T-shirt, her hand clamped across his mouth. He will have kicked and wailed as she buckled him into his car seat. She will have run to the house and returned with a Coleman cooler packed with licorice, canned tomatoes, crackers, apples, carrots, juice drink boxes, bottled water, almonds, dried prunes, candied pineapple, toilet paper, and baby wipes. She will have sat in her rocket car, waiting, wishing for it to explode and torch their souls to carbon on the pavement. Her jaw will have clenched, her arms rigid, her claws fastened to the steering wheel. She will have rocked back and forth, her shrill cries blending with Tootsie’s shrieks, her body twitching as if she might wrench the steering column from the dashboard like a carnivore tearing a limb from its socket.
Then she will have driven.
All the way she will have yelled at highway patrolmen, flipped off images of giant happy people on billboards, and bawled perverse medleys of lullabies, hymns, and drill cadences her father had sung while mowing the lawn. She will have roared through two states in thirteen hours, through the loveless myth of night and the savage crescendo of dawn. She will have stopped only to gas up and stock the cooler with apples, trail mix, sports drinks, Dum Dums, and Yard O’ Beef. She will have bought diapers at a twenty-four hour drugstore in Nampa and a floppy map at the Quik-Stop in Pendleton. She will have howled like a mother wolf and thrashed behind the wheel, a one-woman prairie storm of fury, a demon stagecoach driver thundering through town after weary town.
Through the postlude of a misty rain shower—bleary-eyed, hoarse, and sleep-deprived—she will have tooled through cloudy Tillamook, along coastal fishing roads, past herds of sturdy black cows, and ground to a halt in the sloped parking area on the beach at Oceanside. Two locals will have marked her arrival: the droopy, ponytailed manager at Brewin’ in the Wind and the fire chief in the tiny station at the end of Pacific Avenue. As quickly as they glanced up, both men will have buried their noses in newspapers. Vada will have yanked on the parking brake and left the keys dangling in the ignition. She will have booted the door open, the cries of seagulls sending a primordial plea through the rushing roll of the surf. With Tootsie zonked out and mummified in his blanket, she will have lugged him to the limit of the land, dragging the cooler across the smooth gray beach, the brisk salt of the sea mingling with the aroma of coffee and caramel waffles. Behind her, the cooler will have carved a wayward trail, like that of a giant prehistoric bug, in the damp sand. The dewy ringlets of her hair will have clung like seaweed to her neck and shoulders.
“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” she will have said, lumbering toward the tide. “Like everything else.”
A slashing downpour will have soaked the coast. A shredded arc of stratus clouds will have marred the slate blue of the early afternoon sky. Half a mile up the coast a bearded man in a scarlet windbreaker will have danced along the breakwater, straining his body into the wind in an effort to control his double-handled racing kite. The kite, a wedge of lime and lavender, will have zipped in tight figure eights, skimmed the ground, and soared to a point of tension in the sky, ruffling and bulging.
Ankle-deep in icy tide pools, facing the rugged monuments of dark mossy rock jutting from the sea, Vada will have dropped to her knees and called on God to account for himself.
“Where’s my life!” she will have roared to the waves. The tuck and roll of the universe will have drowned her voice. “The one I worked for—and you promised!”
The fresh mist, combined with Vada’s tirade, will have stirred Tootsie from his drooling slumber. He will have tumbled like a groggy gnome from his blanket to the chilly sand. Startled, disoriented, he will have begun to whimper then bawl. Spindly seagulls, cheering and croaking, will have teetered on the rough air and landed like puffs of sky-foam on the whitened rock domes. Steady squadrons of brown pelicans will have skimmed the curling surf. Gritty tangles of bullwhip kelp, glistening and tasseled and black, will have scribbled gibberish across the shore.
“Why!” Vada will have raged at the sky. Then, with resignation, “Tell me some time.”
Before hitching Tootsie on her hip and walking into the sea, she will have reached down and opened the cooler to give her grandson one last Chicken-in-a-Biskit cracker and cherry Juicy Juice drink box. With a fierce right hook she will have knocked away the lid and found the cooler empty. She will have stared at the gaping white tub. The cooler’s chamber, streaked with olive juice and peppered with cracker crumbs, will have returned her empty stare. Having bashed open the world’s skull, she will have gazed into the void of tomorrow, listening to the churning crash of the sea, the lament of seagulls. She will have looked, looked. The empty cooler will have looked back.
Then she will have laughed.
Long and loud.
Bearhugging Tootsie to her breast, she will have laughed with the rolling ocean and toppled backwards, making a plump butt print in the sand. Tootsie, dazed and confounded, will have cried and wiggled free. She will have clambered after him on hands and knees.
“Come here, you!” she will have called, woofing like a St. Bernard. “Wait’ll I get you!”
She will have kissed her tears on the paunchy folds of his neck, tickled his armpits, and cycled his Michelin Man legs until he giggled and his belly jiggled.
“Thank you,” she will have wept. “So much.”
Clawing a fist of sopping sand, she will have raised her face to the sky and whooped in praise of the wild and beautiful beach. She will have thanked the universe for crabs and jellyfish and driftwood, for skywriting terns, for the salty breeze that shocked her lungs and senses with life. Begging Tootsie for forgiveness, she will have shivered and squeezed his body in a mama-bear hug and sworn never to leave him. She will have thanked God for sending her the gift of an innocent grandson. She will have chuckled and squinted at the horizon then sniffled and swiped sand from her arms and legs. In mock sincerity she will have placed her hand on her heart and christened the cooler The Empty Bounty and punted it into the waves. Before departing she will have glanced at the kite-flying man, who, like a stranded parachutist, will have stood and stared at her with his kite bundled to his chest. She will have waved. Unsure, shoulders slumped, he will have waved back.
With Tootsie in her arms Vada will have labored up the path to her car. She will have blinked at the steep tiers of luxury condos and bungalows, the sandy cliffs, the thick overgrowth of evergreen trees and thorny blackberry hedges. The fire chief and the Brewin’ in the Wind manager will have popped their pipes in their mouths, turned, and sauntered back to their window seats.
After her father’s death Vada will have appeared at the funeral among the rest of her family, wearing a tireless smile no one could decode. She will have dressed Tootsie in new Spiderman turtleneck and jeans. She will have hugged the women and children, shaken hands with the men, guilt-tripped the moneyed set into sharing phone numbers and email addresses, wondered about the impossibility of being lost in somewhere better than the present moment. The dogs, Brie and Carmen Saskia, will have yipped in chorus at the caretakers who will have begun to spade rich, wormy soil into the grave.
“No pain,” Reverend Chew will have finished, patting Tootsie’s head and steering him toward Vada.
The rain in Spain falls mainly like a chain from a crane on my brain, Mooncalf will have thought. Unseen by the others, she will have widened her eyes at Trent. Trent will have jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the highway.
Up to the day he died, no one will have discovered where Rupert “Rip” Turley got his money. Not even Mimi Turock, the woman he will have fallen for after he dumped a load of sugar beets on the back of her dad’s Model T flatbed. At that moment Rip will have glanced up at the driver’s seat and will have been shocked to see a dazzling young woman in dungarees behind the wheel, a watermelon bandana binding her mane of chestnut curls, the wind rippling through her work shirt, showcasing her buoyant bust. After Rip’s return in 1945, the local rumor mill over the counters of Summers Upholstery and J. R.’s Country Cafe will have concocted lavish fables about how he singlehandedly stormed a Nazi gold vault à la Kelly’s Heroes and shipped the bars home. Some stories will have featured a nutty but miserly grandfather, an untapped silver mine near Sheep Falls, a shrewd but low-profile investment portfolio. Claims about roulette jackpots in Morocco and huggermugger deals in the human slave trade will have been whispered over the punchbowl during the opening minutes of Oddfellows and Optimist Club meetings.
Rip’s true beginnings will have been far from epic. He will have worked his father’s potato farm in Ashton, played defensive end on the Huskies football team, read Tennyson, bred hogs and Holstein cows. For two years he will have studied physics and mathematics at Valley Community College (then Bonneville Academy) before launching a string of dry cleaning outlets and earning enough to move into a red brick house on Center Street next to Schaefer’s Market. In 1932, The Depression will have booted the bottom out of his business, and he will have entered the ROTC program at Utah State Agricultural College. From the accelerated program, he will have emerged a second lieutenant with a commission of fifteen dollars a month. He will have been stationed at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City (where the flu and a high heart rate will have almost barred him from service), Fort Monroe in Virginia (where he will have eaten raw oysters), and Fort Bliss in El Paso (where he will have watched the Seventh Cavalry Division drill with horse-drawn caissons). With Felice laid low with the chicken pox in a hotel along with Rupert, Jr. and Mimi, he will have dug in with his gunnery unit to defend the Los Angeles International Airport during Pearl Harbor.
The year after Hitler will have rumbled into Poland, he will have shipped out with the Allied arsenal to battle for a worldwide future free of the Nazi scourge. He will have crossed the Atlantic in fourteen days on the USS Thurston and thrown candy to Algerians on the way to Lion Mountain. He will have seen women auctioned to sheiks and traded for donkeys. Outside Morocco he will have hunted gazelle with an M1 mounted on a jeep. Between enemy engagements he will have played softball in Naples, hunted wild pigeons around Balbo Castle, and devoured Thanksgiving dinner in Marseilles. His unit, for bravery, will have won the presidential citation. Under apocalyptic fire he will have pushed with The Four-Forty-Second across the dragon’s teeth at the Siegfried Line, over the Rhine on a pontoon bridge into Worms, and into Gunzburg over the Danube on a shaky railroad bridge. He will have been furloughed at Camp Lucky Strike in France and Camp Miles Standish in Boston before lumbering across a train platform in Utah to meet two children he remembered and one he had never met. As a colonel, he will have returned with a star-shaped shrapnel wound in his thigh, an ammunition can of souvenirs (including a luger), and the tacit belief that family life should run like the army.
At home the Turleys will have waded through bouts of delight and brooding estrangement. Mitch, named after Rip’s favorite gunnery sergeant, will have been born on Independence Day. As the years passed, Rip will have lapsed into long stretches of elk hunting in the Beaverhead Mountains and weeks of fishing around Palisades Reservoir. His army benefits will have paid dividends, which, once turned into investments, will have stacked up interest. At different stages he will have paid cash for a Bel Aire, Coupe de Ville, Winnebago, and Lincoln Continental. He will have chartered big game trips to North Africa, bought land in Virginia and Texas, and, years after his children moved out, drawn up a legal will, had it notarized, slid it in a manila envelope, and stashed it in a memorable place—in the sock and underwear drawer of a pine bureau he later hauled upstairs and stored in the attic. Then he will have slipped into a bottomless trough of senility.
A year after her divorce Corinne will have returned for a house-cleaning visit and stashed the manila envelope and other mementos into the old ammo can for safekeeping. Shortly before Rip’s death, with Felice in the house for a brief stay to help with medication, Rip will have received a call from Mitch concerning the existence of a will. Rip’s reply will have surprised Felice, as she stood in the hallway with the receiver muted against her shoulder.
“There is,” Rip will have snorted. “Tell that candy-ass draft-dodger to try to claim some.”
“Hello?” Felice will have said into the phone. “Uh, think so, I—He’s gone, Daddy.”
The summer before the funeral (Mimi will have developed renal cancer and drowned in the bathtub during a fainting spell), Rip will have loped into his backyard and tiptoed through the apple landmines, glancing fearfully at the hedges, scanning the clouds for dive-bombing war birds.
“Retreat!” he will have shouted over his neighbors’ fences. “Back, you bastards!”
He will have yelled for a herd of Italian prostitutes to clear the barracks before he started shooting up the place. In October, Lindon Martch, his fly-tying buddy from next door, will have ambled over to show Rip a new Apache peacock model. On the Turley’s back deck Lindon will have halted to find Rip slumped over the lawn mower, a bullet clot in his heart, a wrench clutched like the earth’s axis in his fist.
At the end of the graveside service veils of rain will have dissolved into sunshine. The clouds will have flown north and left behind a sky of innocent blue. The last few poplar leaves will have broken loose and drifted to the wet grass where they will have rested like a fleet of sunken sampans. Those family members closest to the grave will have coughed, checked their watches, and made clipped references to plane departure times. Mooncalf will have thought, Candy cane legerdemain.
“Mom, I need to do something,” she will have said.
“Dinner’s at seven,” Corinne will have answered, watching her daughter stalk toward a boy on a bike on the other side of the fence.
Heels out, like a rodeo queen spurring a horse, Mooncalf will have ridden behind Trent on his bike seat. He will have stood in the pedals and labored down Center Street past the staggering townhouses to the simple home that had belonged to Mooncalf’s late great-grandfather, where Felice will have invited many of the guests to stay. They will have passed the Maverik on Main Street, Arctic Circle, Standard Plumbing. In the parking lot of Premier Audio, a car speaker sale will have drawn a crowd around a stout cotton candy and hot dog vendor in a purple hoodie, oil-smeared A’s cap, and Lakers Nike high tops with the tongues pulled outside the cuffs of his shabby jeans. A blazing red cartoon-faced air dancer figure bearing the eagle-winged Premier Audio logo will have boogied a spastic arm-waggling, body jerking tribute to Bob Seger.
At Smith Park Trent and Mooncalf will have leaned like bobsledders into a right turn. Many of the Turley adults and cousins will have felt pressure to linger and get reacquainted, so the two teenagers will have found the old house unlocked and empty. Upstairs in a musty attic of Zephyr Airkooler fans, gangly lamps, and bedsprings, they will have held hands and looked around, mesmerized by the choral chant of their pulses. Bookcases will have overflowed with illustrated Bibles, encyclopedias, Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, Hot Rod, and National Geographic. The walls will have been dressed in fake wood paneling, the floor with marbled oxblood-and-vanilla tile, the pattern interspersed with solid orange, blue, green, and red squares. Years ago someone will have covered the walls with kitsch prints of ballerinas, Italian clowns, and warped photos of Yellowstone bears, elk, and moose. Dust will have coated a framed snapshot of Rip Turley mounted over the headboard of the only functional bed. The picture will have shown him in a faded cinnamon sweatshirt, tan cap, and olive-green waders, a fly rod like a buggy whip in his hand, his thumb slung through the bloody gills of a monster trout, his gold-capped teeth glinting like dawn on the river.
“Where’s the ammo cans?” Trent will have asked. “The Nazi stuff.”
Mooncalf will have moved toward a cavernous walk-in closet. “All in here!”
With her heart sloshing a cocktail of adrenaline and desire, she will have pulled open the door and tunneled her thin body into the packrat hovel of curled maps, striped I. Magnin & Co. hatboxes, croquet sets, and French dress frames. She will have emerged with the ammo can aloft.
“Hand me that wrench,” Trent will have said.
Mooncalf will have passed him a wrench from the closet floor. He will have used it to force the ammo can open. With the delicate lust of a curator he will have eyed the limp cherry armbands barbed with licorice swastikas, the SS officer’s stiletto with Alles for Deutschland stamped in elegant script on the narrow blade under a speckled patina.
Mooncalf’s tongue will have grown tumid and moist. Trent’s chest will have heaved. A tomb-raider’s sense of forbidden entry, combined with Trent’s deft fondling of the weapon, will have aroused them both. They will have stripped and slid under the covers of the bed. The four-pronged star they will have made with their bodies will have rocked the bed across the floor. In the luxurious aftermath, Trent will have sagged in dreamy sleep, his arm flung across Mooncalf’s chest.
“Thank you,” he will have breathed. “So much.”
Sprawled on their backs under the patchwork quilt Mimi Turley will have sewn the summer Rip’s unit reached the Bavarian Alps, Trent and Mooncalf, toes intertwined, will have toyed with each other’s hair and reviewed their plan. They will have stolen a key to Lisa Draney’s Ford truck. They will have made Mooncalf the driver and the meeting place the Sky Vu Drive-In. During the funeral Trent will have stockpiled Lisa’s Ford with beef jerky, canned heat, flashlights, Del Monte fruit cups, sleeping bags, cheese puffs, rain ponchos, raisins, matches, D batteries, and a stolen Beretta sub-compact pistol with “Shirley” carved into the barrel. He will have crammed a wad of oily bills from the Speedy Rental cash register into a business envelope and stuffed it in his pocket.
They will have decided to clean houses in Las Vegas, caddy in Phoenix, and ultimately thumb their way to Cancun to join the cruise ship circuit. This failsafe scheme for a new and better life will have bloomed in their twin imaginations the Friday afternoon before their school’s Harvest Ball, when Lisa Draney and Corinne will have begun making Mooncalf finish her homework and clean her room before going out on the weekends. Shivering in the attic air, Trent will have risen, dressed, and kissed Mooncalf.
“See you at the pickup,” he will have said, laughing at his pun.
At the same time Corinne will have swallowed a forkful of braised salmon and asparagus and checked her watch at the Shangri-La, Trent Foster will have tucked the ammo can under his arm like a fullback, dumped it in his backpack, and slung it over his shoulder. He will have pedaled his bike north of town. Weaving through utopian visions, dopey retrievers, and the headlights of dawdling trucks, he will have passed the Dyson quarter horse corrals. Along the river where pickets of ripe cattails will have exploded in cottony clumps, he will have sped two miles beyond the Sky Vu Drive-In and, past Schofield’s Grocery, soared over the whoop-de-doo’s behind Moody Creek Produce where two eighteen-wheelers will have moldered like abandoned tanks between heaps of broken pallets. He will have pedaled across the highway a quarter mile past two Sioux grain silos. He will have hounded the rhythm of his drumming blood through the violet darkness and the sibilant swashbuckling of horsetail grass. Anxious he might be late, he will have pedaled faster, racing the rabid ghost pack of his many lives to come past yellow farmhouse windows and the bothered groans of cattle waiting for death in their pastures.
“Moo!” he will have called.
At an unmarked side road he will have veered his bike off asphalt and bumped over soft ruts to a weathered barn with a gambrel roof. Behind the barn a huddle of seven older men will have circled a bonfire, into which they will have begun to toss trash and grumbled epithets. Trent will have jumped from his bike and let it clatter to the ground. He will have jogged toward the gang of men, sidestepping puddles of rain and fire. With relish he will have flipped open the ammo can and distributed the armbands, daggers, flags—and dumped the remainder of its contents, the papers, journal pages, postcards of half-dressed French cabaret dancers, and the only copy of a faded but notarized document in a manila folder—into the blaze. The inferno will have bathed the scene in flourishes of bloody light: tilted hay bales, chicken coops, sway-backed tractors, oil drums, and two nosy buckskin mares jailed behind a high fence. The men will have shaved their heads in silvery crew cuts. They will have dressed against the cold in wool-lined denim jackets. They will have wrapped a scrap-lumber crucifix in burlap and bailing twine, soaked it in lighter fluid, then flicked lit matches at it and watched it explode in a roaring tower of flame. Around the fiery doomsday cross they will have raised their arms and with solemn droning curses damned the invasion of gays and black babies in the community. They will have pledged their throats to the promise of a pure race in the years ahead.
The next morning in Nevada, with Trent driving—his scruffy chin cocked up, cap low over his sunglasses, thumb tapping the wheel to “Lay Down Sally”—Mooncalf will have awakened in the passenger’s seat. Her sticky arms and the sweaty backs of her knees will have peeled from the seat cover, making the sound of duct tape being torn from the roll. She will have blinked and rubbed her eyes and stared at the plateaus of pink earth, the Joshua trees reaching for the lowest heavens like thousands of strange underwater hands, the heavy equipment auction lots and billboard lawyers with gelled hair and maniac grins, who looked like they couldn’t wait to sue the people who had just dropped bowling balls on their toes. Tossed bottles and car parts and shards of green and amber glass will have twinkled like rare gems in the iron-rich desert. Dawn will have drenched the world in the light of the sky’s orange candy stain. On glimpsing the desert landscape, the wide-open freedom of it, she will have uttered a cry of pleasure.
Then she will have clapped her hand over her mouth and rummaged in the jockey box. She will have found a fossil piece of Dubble Bubble, popped it in her mouth, and, on the wrapper, started penciling the first lines of an original song—“Slain Against the Grain (Mundane)”—a catchy philosophical tune ideal for her acoustic guitar, crowded street corners, and the thrilling renaissance of her life, which she could feel herself entering, as if by closing her eyes she could fly from the prison of the present into the flawless world of what would always be coming next.