THIS POST IS AN EXCERPT FROM A SHORT STORY I’M WORKING ON TENTATIVELY TITLED “THE KING OF BOONE COUNTY”
She knows nothing of her childhood except for flashes of the dim compositions of men’s faces, and the hollow, wretched inspiration of her mother’s loneliness.
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Rascal said he’d be down there in about a month, but a month passed and then another, until six years went by and Rascal still had other business to attend to. Well, that’s no entirely true. Rascal did come down once. But Waylon decided the timing was off, so he hid away, some spot about thirty miles south on 118, and he kept the girl with him, close to him, in his line of sight the entire time, and in the four or five days they spent together in that motel room, he saw her become beautiful.
It was not because he was alone with her. He’d been living with her, just them two, for the entire six years. But it was being alone with her in a different space that did something to her appearance, or, it did something, at least, to his perception of her.
She’d never learned her birthday.
When he acquired her she looked to him to be six or seven, maybe younger. She was small, anyway. Frail and nearly translucently pale, the darkest part of her were her eyes. And not knowing what else to say, in the fragile moments of their first isolated meeting, he asked her how old she was, and she said she didn’t know.
So they’ve been guessing. He lets her pick her birthday every year. Whatever day she wants is hers. And every year she’s content with eating a nice steak and an apple cobbler and having Waylon sing to her as he strums on that old guitar of his, which he stole from a shop down in Tuscaloosa, and which has two of the six strings missing, and which he never learned to play in the first place.
He sings and he smiles at her. She claps and says, Another Waylon, another. And he gives it to her.
These are the long days they spend together.
They’re usually up with the sun and devising some way to turn a profit. They travel. All up and down the coast they ride together in that calm, immutable silence that exists for each of them, in him, at a spot inside his chest, and for her, in a radiance that starts in her stomach and moves down through her legs—a warmth, a dull peacefulness. They ride in the easiness of company that you know will not harm you.
When a thing or two inspires him, Waylon talks. And he won’t stop talking until he feels he’s got it all out. Too many stories he’s got pent up inside him. May Ellen, the girl, doesn’t mind listening. She likes his stories because she doesn’t have any of her own. She knows nothing of her childhood except for flashes of the dim compositions of men’s faces, and the hollow, wretched inspiration of her mother’s loneliness.
She remembers her mother’s face, that is all.
She recalls the way that face was built and the shapes it assumed in its myriad compositions. And she knows her father is man she’s never met, because her mother always said so, and she called him a no-good downright moocher, a leech, a bottom feeder, the human equivalent of a catfish. A man that can’t provide is no man at all. Or so it goes.
Her mother told her to always distrust men, yet she herself was always with one, and they were all different, except they shared a similar unpleasant animal jolt, an awakening of sorts, a shift from man to donkey as their eyes filled with lust and their bodies fell from their control. These are the faces she remembers. The donkey-like dumbness that takes over them when they’re alone with a woman.
These memories are not memories. They are images that fall on her in dreams. In the bad dreams she sees the men’s faces and she hears echoing from a distance behind them the strained voice of her mother in moans, pleas, wails, and laughter, and sometimes commands. In the good dreams she is young and small and the world is tremendous in size.
Waylon often looks at her. He’s looking at her now while her her eyes are fixed at some point in the distance, the river, possibly. The river has distended in size with the recent rain. But the weather’s grown colder and soon the snow will come. The mountain tops are already white. A wind rattles the trailer walls.
What’re you thinking? Waylon says.
Nothing, says May Ellen.
It looks like you were thinking something, Waylon says.
No, nothing, May Ellen says.
They’re in his trailer. The pale light of winter is on everything, including the television screen, which, in this light, can barely be seen through the glare falling on it.
She became beautiful to him in that motel room years ago and she has not stopped being beautiful to him, only he’s not sure what to do about it.
Let’s go for a walk, she says. It’s a nice day for a walk.
Alright, Waylon says. Let me grab my jacket.
He drives them into town. They stroll alone the sidewalks and look into the shop windows and look at all the cars and the people, and the people look at them and they say, There he goes, and they say, Poor girl.
I have not touched her, Waylon thinks. Your eyes are wasting their time. There’s nothing I’ve done but care for her.
And how do they know, besides, that she’s not his daughter? She just might be, Waylon thinks. How would you know?
It doesn’t help that she looks nothing like him. His skin is dark, worked in by the sun and years of cigarette smoke from the cigarettes he lets dangle out the side of his mouth, the smoke whipping up to his face and eyes and not disturbing him at all. He prefers to stare through the smoke when conducting business. Where she’s got skin like birch bark and white hair, and her paleness is a part of her that bespeaks the missing things inside, the maladies, deformities, vacancies, the sheer bloodless emptiness that her gaze projects.