Will pulled the visor down on his black baseball cap, the one that had "Free Willie" stitched on it in white -- his own private joke. He'd taken to wearing it after he got kicked out of fat camp last June, after the episode. He swung his backpack over his shoulder and felt its sweet weight as he headed out the door. An empty gun is a stupid thing, but he never went anywhere without it.
Dad explains the surprise party that awaits me at home. "They have no idea," he says. Beads of sweat quiver on his chin with the motion of the car then drop to stain the shoulder of his cotton shirt. I avoid his occasional glance, afraid of what’s visible in my pale winter face, in the circles under my eyes. I look out the window and see a sheet of black, drawn tight over the sky with flat lightning drawing moisture from the Everglades. It’s miles away, east of here where it’s hot, where the sun softens the pavement and warms the leather interior of Dad’s Cadillac. He tells me I’ll be all right, that I’ll have many more jobs, that money comes and goes, that the odds are high that I’ll be fired again.
At first, the barium enema cramped up Albert's gut so that he believed he really would rather die, but he had gotten used to worse feelings than that, and when the nurse tsk'ed and connected a second bag of solution, he pushed his face into the pillow to keep from laughing. Louise had told him plenty of times he was full of crap, and here was her proof. Later, in the office, Dr. Stoddard rested his thick hand on Albert's shoulder before he moved around behind the walnut desk. Alert as a bird to weather, Albert detected the trace of sadness in Tom's manner. It amazed him to think that they had known each other for forty years. "I'd appreciate it if you called me directly with the results," Albert said. "This is a rough time for Louise."
The daisies she ordered haven't come. The man who is supposed to bring them, the one they buy kale and lettuce and garlic from at the farmer's market all winter long, isn't answering her calls. It may be only eight in the morning, but she feels somehow sure that he's already awake and out in his greenhouse, placidly hand-picking bugs from the tomatoes, ignoring her messages. Maybe she would too, she thinks, if she were faced with the sound of her voice.
At ten o'clock exactly, I could hear my grandfather honking outside. I grabbed my "Nawlans" straw hat and ran out the kitchen door into the alley where he was waiting in the old van. The sweet honeysuckle along the back fence briefly conflicted with the putrid smell of the sun-heated trashcans in the alley. The big, black van reminded me of a hearse, but I climbed in beside Granddad every Saturday morning. It was my summer job.
Cindy, this white girl from school, sneaks into Paradise from Haven. Well, there ain’t much sneaking to it, since the only thing that separates Haven from Paradise is a wide two-lane street and a patch of trees, but it feels like a long way off. I know; I’ve gone to Haven a few times to pick up somebody or drop off somebody who works there. After you cross the street and make it up the hill, it opens into Haven.
You go out on a late summer morning at a commercial break to throw trash in containers closer to the cul-de-sac, containers that your husband built to be raccoon-proof and to keep the yard looking neat. Out of sight, two men slip out from the woods behind your house, the beautiful oak woods, the main reason the two of you bought this house. You stop to admire the play of sunlight on the chrysanthemums and then return through the back door. Hands grab; you're surprised; there's a smell of cigarette smoke and sweat, a look at tattoos, a sense of disaster.
The sign read, "Buster's Roadside Buffet," and there was movement behind the smoked windows. Sherman Gibbs was relieved to see "Open 24 Hours" scripted in orange neon in the window to the left of the door and "All You Can Eat $5.95" in the window to the right. Having spent the past five hours on unfamiliar highways and country roads, he was hungry for something deep-fried and dripping, thirsty for lots of coffee. With less than three hours before he reached Mama's new home near the Gulf, he saw no reason to waste money on a motel, especially these Bates Motel clones so far from the interstate. Besides, Mama would be waiting up for him, and it had been eight months since he had last seen her. A roadside restaurant, where he would not be out of place in jeans and scuffed cross trainers, was just what he needed.
That October, before my ninth birthday, Santa Ana winds blew the bark off eucalyptus trees and brought a wildness to the San Fernando Valley. At school, windows rattled and trash barrels bellowed across blacktop. The air smelled of acorn dust and asphalt, and everything, including me, twitched and sparked with static electricity.
"People get ready. There's a train a-comin." That's what Reverend Huntington said last Sunday at services. Did I tell you that I been going to services for awhile now? Been going to Calvary Pentecostal, over in Richmond Heights. Last Sunday the sermon was about boarding the train that God sends your way.