Nacogdoches Novel in Progress.pdf [Usta sharif Saidov]


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Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
143 
Hunk, a big guy—six-six at sixteen and as wide as my mother’s Kenmore refrigerator—
sang a raucous backup and lead on Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Born to Be Wild,” 
and he played a Fender bass through a black-padded Kustom stack, ate two or three Whataburgers 
a day, then popped at least many Black Mollies he’d stolen from his anesthesiologist stepfather’s 
medicine cabinet—just trying to lose weight, he said, grinning—like the SweeT
ART
s he was always 
sucking and crunching like cocktail ice.  Mostly, though, he just stayed wide-eyed wired and fast 
with a thumping, fat sound like the Whô’s John Entwhistle. 
A few months before, Hunk had dragged us all to a Restland Funeral Home auction, 
tripping on a four-way hit of Purple Microdot, and he’d bought a black ‘59 Cadillac hearse with 
his rich step-father’s money—the Hunkmobile, he called it—like a humpbacked Batmobile with 
chromed fins and a tiny steering wheel the size of a cereal bowl he’d installed himself, so we’d all 
have something other than my piece-of-crap truck to haul equipment around in, if we ever actually 
got ourselves a paying gig. 
Kenny, my next door neighbor, had sold me his older brother Ray’s white-pearl 
Slingerland kit for a measly $150, the same price I’d paid for my truck when Ray, a rooster-tail 
radioman, got shot in the head by a VC sniper near the Mekong Delta.  Kenny played a polished 
black Gibson, rhythm mostly, a clean, jazzy sound like Wes Montgomery’s keening through his 
blonde Fender Tremolux amp while Danny harangued him to crank up, damnit, and rock it, will 
you? 
In the short space of silence after the band’s screaming jam, my father’s gray-muzzled, 
three-legged Sheltie Reveille was doing his puppy routine again—a nervous tic that had inspired 
the band’s name—barking and circling us like a herd of sheep while the music blasted, then 
stopping when the music had stopped, chasing his tail in quick, tightening circles, till he’d caught it 
and just stood there, dizzy, unable to decide what to do next, his one back leg shivering to balance 

Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
144 
himself.  He’d chased snakes, too, as a pup, biting their tails and not letting go, even though they 
could whip around and snap at his nose, until he lost a back leg jumping from the back of my 
father’s speeding pickup to pounce on a fat water moccasin sunning itself on the hot asphalt on 
Goforth Road. 
Snake-chasing dog swallows tail. 
 
“Hey, guys, guess who finally popped his cherry?” Danny said a little too loud during a 
short break later that afternoon, pinging a ringing harmonic note, then tuning up his A string, 
glancing over at me and grinning. 
Hunk and Kenny both glanced at me, the only remaining candidate for the honor in the 
band. 
“Jesus, Danny, I told you not to say anything,” I said, clattering my sticks on my snare’s 
chrome rim.  “And keep it down, will you?  My mother’ll hear you.”  I nodded downstairs from 
the balcony to the kitchen and frowned. 
“I can hear you now,” my mother shouted up the stairs over the pops of the deep fat fryer.  
“You think I can’t hear you?” 
“Great,” I whispered.  “Thanks loads, Danny-o.” 
“Man, what’s your problem?” he whispered.  “You’d think you’d just lost your best friend 
instead of your—” 
“I will if you say another word.” 
“Whoa,” Danny said, his voice trembling low like Johnny Cash’s.  “I’m so scared.” 
Just then, Allyn and Maddie walked in through the front door and slammed it hard, 
rattling the window panes, laughing and singing The Isley Brother’s “It’s Your Thing,” a big hit on 
KLIF, the local AM station. 

Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
145 
“You seen Marilyn and Sherilyn?” Maddie asked me, she and Allyn dancing around in the 
front foyer like a couple of pixies.  “They’re supposed to meet up with us here.” 
“Nope,” I said.  “Go up to your room, will you?  We’re trying to practice.” 
Maddie and Allyn had hooked up like Siamese twins ever since Allyn had come back, like 
they’d only missed seeing each other by two days instead of two years, starting over right where 
they’d left off, singing along to my old scratched Yellow Submarine and Monkees Greatest Hits albums in 
Maddie’s room, whispering to each other and giggling and acting stupid like they were twelve 
again, hitching rides with Marilyn to Pier 1 to buy incense and scented candles for their new 
apartment, Allyn staying over two nights the week before just to keep from having to sleep on the 
apartment floor, ignoring me like our whole family ignored Reveille sleep-kicking day and night 
under our coffee table. 
“Travis, let me sing,” Maddie said, falling and sprawling on the couch along the wall 
behind my drums, her coarse red hair windblown and blowsy as a mimosa blossom. 
“No,” I said, swinging around to face her on my drum stool.  “How many times’ve I got 
to tell you?  You’re just fourteen.” 
“So?” Allyn said, her hands on her hips, refusing to look at me straight on, snooty as a 
Highland Park debutante.  “I’m fourteen, too.  We both can sing.  Come on, Maddie.”   
She tried to pull Maddie up from the couch but gave up, then danced over to Danny’s 
mike anyway, her blonde hair swinging out from her hips like willow leaves in a high wind, and she 
pulled his mike off its stand, knocking it over and almost tripping over the cord, the Shure mike 
feeding back a high-pitched howl like a gut-shot dog, as Allyn cat-scratched her crotch and sang, 
off key, “Itch your thing!  Do what you want to do.” 
Danny and Hunk and Kenny all clamped their hands over their ears and gaped at her and 
then they all started laughing. 

Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
146 
“It’s it’s, Allyn,” I said, shaking my head, still flinching from the feedback.  “‘It’s your 
thing.’” 
She stopped dead and stared down at her clogs, as Danny snatched the mike from her—
she’d been a tone-deaf, mishearing mangler of song lyrics ever since I could remember—and she 
looked at me straight on for the first time since I’d helped her and her sisters move in a week 
before.  “Oh.”  She glanced at Danny, then at Kenny, then at Hunk, and blood rose up into her 
face like mercury into a thermometer.  “I knew that.” 
“Right.”  Swiveling back around on my drum stool, I cued the band members for number 
four on our song list, then started in on the clanking cowbell intro to “Honky Tonk Woman,” but 
before Danny could come in on the guitar, Maddie’d hopped up from couch and snatched Hunk’s 
mike from his stand, her voice booming over the PA, “I know that one, Travis.  Come on.  Let me 
sing backup,” feedback screeching all around us. 
“Bug off, will you, little girl?” I said and threw down my sticks.  “Don’t you and Miss 
Priss have somewhere else to go?  Jesus, we’re trying to practice.” 
Just then, the doorbell rang, Allyn running to get it, and in walked Sherilyn and Marilyn.   
“Jesus,” I said again, until I saw who it was.  “Hey, now, here’s somebody who can sing.  
Danny, this’s that girl I was telling you about.  Sing something for these guys, will you, Marilyn?” 
“Sure thing,” Marilyn said, taking one look at Danny and smiling, Danny handing her the 
mike and smiling back, and she reeled out a long, winding note like she’d been practicing the song 
for months, a perfect imitation of Janis Joplin’s “‘Well, I’m gonna try, yeah, just a little bit 
harder.’” 
“Whoa,” Danny said, grinning like a proboscis monkey. 
“Damn,” said Kenny. 
“Mama,” Hunk said and thumb-thumped a low E string. 

Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
147 
“See?” I said.  “Did I tell you guys or what?  She’s a regular Billie Holliday.” 
“She the one who popped your—?” Danny asked me. 
“Shut up, will you?” I whispered and blushed, staring down at my Speed King kick pedal. 
Marilyn frowned at me and turned to Allyn asking her, “You ready to go home?” 
“Back to Nac?” Allyn said. 
Marilyn folded her arms, the fringes of her suede coat swinging at her elbows.  “No.” 
“I’m not going back to that apartment.  It’s cold in there and it stinks.  And I don’t have a 
bed to sleep on.” 
“Well, we got you an air mattress.” 
Allyn crossed her arms and shook her head, her long straight hair a wave of white. 
Pouting on the couch—no one had asked her to sing—Maddie said, “It’s all right, 
Marilyn.  My mom said Allyn can stay again tonight.” 
Downstairs, my mother stood in the kitchen doorway, her face still dolled up from the 
office.  She sold Mary Kay cosmetics on the side now, trying to win herself a pink Cadillac, saving 
up for a discounted facelift and breast job, too, taking at least an hour every morning before work, 
she said, to put on her face.  A white smudge of peppery flour dotted the tip of her nose, her hands 
gloved in flour like the pork chops she’d plopped into the deep fryer, her fingers still trembling a 
little from an hour of blaring music sandblasting her from the living room like a desert storm. 
“You girls want to stay over for supper?” she called up the stairs to the front door.  “I 
always make too much.  I’d invite you boys, too, but . . .”  She glanced up at Danny at the balcony 
rail and tried to smile, then frowned at me, her standard cue to start breaking down our equipment.  
“. . . your father’ll be home soon.” 
But then, just then—wouldn’t you know it?—the old man walked in. 

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Lex Williford 
 
 
 
148 
His Piet Mondrian tie swung loose around his stooped neck, his mouth skewed and tilted 
sideways after three or four happy-hour martinis at the Playboy Club in the Dallas Cowboys 
Building where he worked, and he shrugged off his gray sports coat and walked past Beck’s girls 
like they weren’t even there, hanging his coat up in the foyer closet and sighing hard.  Then he 
side-glanced all the music equipment on the balcony over the living room and spotted Danny with 
his battered Strat slung low from his shoulder, and he slammed the closet door and turned to me, 
his eyes bloodshot and glowing a molten blue. 
“What the hell’s he doing here?” 
“I told you already, Dad,” I said.  “He’s in the band, and we don’t have anywheres else to 
practice.” 
“I see,” he said.  Then, looking like someone had spent an hour heating him to a glowing 
red in a blast furnace, then beating him sparking-flat on an steel anvil, he turned into the master 
bedroom and slammed the door behind him till the floor-to-ceiling glass rattled in the window 
panes all around us. 
 
Supper was quiet, too quiet—my father coming downstairs after everyone had started 
eating, fixing himself a J & B on the rocks in a tall water glass, refusing to speak or even look at me 
or my mother or Maddie or Beck’s girls all sitting quiet around the table, clinking and scraping 
their knives and forks, eating like they hadn’t had eaten in months, my mother’s thick peppery 
pork chops with rinds of crunchy fat and cream gravy and lumpy mashed potatoes and fried okra 
and green beans—until the phone rang. 
It rang three or four times, no one getting up to answer it, everyone looking at everyone 
else to do the job, my father glaring at me, his flattop like the deck of an aircraft carrier, until my 
mother threw down her napkin and jumped up from the kitchen table and ran to the phone before 

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Lex Williford 
 
 
 
149 
I could, my father’s face growing redder with each ring, inflating like a water balloon filled to 
bursting. 
“Yes, this is the Truitt residence,” my mother said.  “Yes, well, we moved, you know, a 
couple years back.  Mrs. Dobson?  I’m afraid I don’t . . . .  oh, Mrs. Vanderbeck.  Of course, I 
remember you.”  My mother glanced at Marilyn and smiled, and all three girls stared at her, then 
back at each other, their mouths open, leaning forward into their chairs like they were getting ready 
to run, Marilyn’s eyes wide and pleading as she looked at me for help. 
“Mom?” I said.  “Don’t tell her—” 
My mother held out her hand like a traffic cop.  “Yes, would you believe it?  They’re all 
sitting right here, eating my famous pork chops.”  My mother laughed, then grew serious.  “No, 
no, they’re fine, just fine.” 
 “Mom,” I said again and stood from my chair. 
“My god, I had no idea,” my mother said, waving me away, turning her back to me at the 
supper table, then palming her other ear to listen.  “If I’d known they’d . . . run away, I’d’ve . . . .  
No, I just thought they’d moved back to Dallas with you.  No . . . no, I don’t know where they’re 
staying.  No one’s told me anything.  I’m always the last to know.” My mother turned to frown at 
me.  “Yes, of course,” she said, then palmed the mouthpiece and held the phone out to Marilyn.  
“It’s your mother.  Calling from Nacogdoches.” 
Marilyn squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head, pressing out tears between her lashes 
like the hard seeds of lemon she’d just squeezed into her sweet tea. 
“Mom,” I said the last time, then walked up to her, snatched the blue princess phone from 
her hand and hung it up with a ringing clang. 
My mother gasped.  “Travis!” 

Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
150 
“What?” I said, shaking my head, pissed at myself for not having answered the phone in 
the first place, for not having done something sooner. 
“Why in god’s name did you—?” 
But before I could say anything, my father had stood, inflating like a boxing clown, 
cracking his knee against the kitchen table as everyone reached for their tilting tea glasses, hurling 
himself in my direction, then grabbing my shirt into his fists and lifting my feet an inch off the 
floor, slamming my back hard into the refrigerator and shouting into my face, “What?  What?” 
“Deuce!” mother shouted at him, and Reveille clamped his teeth onto my father’s pants 
leg, shaking his head hard like he’d just been hosed down, till my father kicked him away, whining 
and skittering his claws across the Mexican tiles and under the kitchen table. 
“You don’t understand, Dad,” I said, stunned, my neck and the back of my head 
throbbing like I’d just been rear-ended, the shadow of a dent in my mother’s new refrigerator 
where my skull had struck it, the Kenmore nameplate loose and swiveling on one screw. 
 “No, I think I do,” my father told me, spitting in my eye, a mirage of smoky scotch 
shimmering in his breath.  “You think you can say or do any goddamn thing you want to around 
here.  You think you can be rude and hang up on people and backtalk your mother like she’s a 
goddamn maid.  Think you can disregard every goddamn thing I say and bring trash into my house 
any time you want.”  I glanced over at Beck’s girls, all red-faced and staring down at their plates 
still piled high with food.  “Well, I don’t give a good goddamn if you disrespect me, but you won’t 
disrespect your mother, get it?”  He shook me hard by the shirt, a button popping off and striking 
him in the eye. 
“Got it,” I said.  “But—” 
“But . . . what?” he said, blinking his eye, his lips quivering white.  “What?” 


Nacogdoches  
Lex Williford 
 
 
 
151 
After supper—Marilyn and Sherilyn and Allyn all three standing from their unfinished 
meals, their hair streaming out behind them like mermaids’ tails up the stairs as they got their 
coats, then rushed out the front door—my mother slipped into my dark room upstairs and sat 
next to me on my low mattress on the floor as I stared off at an M. C. Escher poster on my wall. 
“You want to tell me what’s going on around here?” she said, flinching at the splash and 
clatter downstairs of my father knocking dishes around in the sink.  “Is that girl in trouble?  Did 
you get her into trouble?” 
“No!  She’s got plenty enough trouble of her own.” 
“Don’t lie to me, Travis,” she said.  “Please.”  She rubbed the knot at the back of my head 
till I pushed her hand away. 
“You can’t tell anybody, Mom.  You’ve got to promise me you won’t.” 
 “All right,” she said.  “I promise.” 
I stared at my mother a long time, at the line of makeup along her jaws, her platinum-
bleached hair, ratted and stiff with Breck hairspray, her eyelashes thick with mascara, blurred and 
smeared in shadows under her eyes, only her brown eyes dark and clear and unflinching, still her 
own under her pretty-woman mask.  Then I told her everything, just spilled it all out, about Bob 
Dobson, about Marilyn’s being pregnant, about her taking Beck’s van and escaping with her sisters 
from Nacogdoches. 
My mother pressed her fingers into her eyes and dragged them down her face, shaking her 
head.  “And, after all that, you . . . take advantage of that girl?  What in god’s name’s wrong with 
you?” 
“I didn’t know, Mom.  It just . . . sort of happened, and then she told me.” 
“And you just had to go out and brag about it to your friends.” 
“I just told Danny.  And I wasn’t bragging.  I was just—” 

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152 
“No, of course not,” she said.  “Boys.  Got your cherry popped, huh?  Make you feel like a 
big man now?” 
“All right, Mom, I fucked up, okay?  I fucked up.” 
My mother turned her face away, her eyes fluttering like I’d just slapped her.   
“Where’re they staying now?” she said finally.  “Do you know?” 
I nodded.  “I helped them move in.  But if I tell you, what are you going to do?  Tell Dad?  
Call their mother?  Bob?  The cops?  It’ll just make things a lot worse.” 
“Take me to them,” she said.  “Now.” 
 
Under a humming mercury-vapor light, a mattress lay upright against a parking lot 
dumpster outside Marilyn’s apartment, Beck’s van parked in the space on the other side.   
My mother got out of my vapor-locking truck and followed me up the enclosed stairwell.  
I hesitated, hearing Marilyn’s muffled shouts inside, then knocked on the peeling hollow-core 
door.  My mother, bundled up in her faux fox coat, pulled her collar up like a dead cat around her 
neck and shivered in the cold next to me, blowing white steam. 
The door opened, thumped up against the door chain, and Marilyn shouted from inside, 
“Don’t let the cat out!” and then I saw one of Allyn’s blue-green irises glowing through the gap in 
the door. 
“It’s me,” I said, glancing down the dark apartment breezeway, half-expecting to see the 
cops or Bob Dobson.  “My mother’s here, too.” 
Sherilyn held Ophelia back by her collar as Allyn closed the door, unchained it and then 
opened it again, and then my mother and I stepped inside a room that looked like a West Texas 
dust devil had twisted through it, wadded clothes and fast food wrappers and empty coke cans and 

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Lex Williford 
 
 
 
153 
little hard spirals of cat shit scattered everywhere on the carpet all around the living room, boxes 
still unpacked, the whole room heavy with the stink of patchouli and pot smoke and cat piss. 
“I’m sorry about what happened back at the house,” my mother said.  “My husband’s—” 
“—got an iron rod up his ass,” I said through my teeth. 
“Travis, please.” 
“I told her everything,” I told Marilyn, my breath seething steam in the freezing 
apartment.  “I had to tell somebody.  I’m sorry.” 
Marilyn sat wrapped in a frayed blanket on the makeshift couch—my brother Nate’s old 
box springs—blushing, unable to look at me or my mother. 
My mother stepped around the cat shit and clothes and sat next to Marilyn on the 
creaking low bunk springs and took her hand.  “Look, I’m not going to tell your mother where 
you are, all right?  I’m not going to tell anyone.  Not unless you want me to.” 
“You can’t tell Bob,” Marilyn said.  “You can’t tell her about Bob.” 
“It’s not my place tell her or anybody.  But maybe you should, honey.  One way or other, 
you got to call her, at least let her know you girls are all right.  She called again after you left, you 
know?  She’s got the police out looking for you.” 
“I don’t care,” Marilyn said, her face splotchy red, her eyes swollen.  “I won’t go back.  I 
won’t.” 
“Maybe the police should be looking for someone else,” my mother said, dark lines 
crossing at the corners of eyes, her face powder flaking.  “Maybe you’re protecting the wrong 
person here.  Have you thought about that?” 
Marilyn laughed, her bleeding mascara masking her eyes like tarantulas.  “You don’t know 
my mother.  You don’t know Bob.  He’d deny it all.”  She glanced at her sisters, who looked away, 
too, and blushed. 

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Lex Williford 
 
 
 
154 
My mother touched Marilyn’s long brown hair, smoothing and straightening it.  “What 
we talk about is between you and me.  Is there some place we could go, just the two of us?” 
Marilyn looked into my mother’s eyes for the first time, wiping at her wet face, smearing 
her mascara and lipstick with the sleeve of her suede jacket.  Then she nodded to the bedroom. 
My mother stood with Marilyn, held her hand and pulled her up, led her through the 
bedroom door, then turned to Sherilyn and Allyn for a moment in the doorway.  “Girls, could you 
clean up a bit in here while your sister and I talk?  That’d really help.”  She glanced at me with a 
plucked and tilted eyebrow that told me I might as well make myself useful, too.  Then she shut 
the door with the faintest click behind her. 
Sherilyn and Allyn and I all three stood around in our coats staring at each other, not 
knowing what to say or do, listening to the muffled talk coming from the bedroom.  Then I 
reached down for a handful of wadded clothes on the floor and handed them to Allyn, who 
shivered a little.  Then I walked into the hallway to turn the thermostat up to 68
˚. 
I turned into the kitchen, which reeked of green burger meat in a shrink-wrapped 
Styrofoam scattered in bits along the floor around a cat-clawed garbage bag, shredded and half-
chewed wax-paper wrappers scattered all across the linoleum, the sink filled with dishes covered in 
furzy mold, and I stuffed the torn trash back into the bag and put it into another and then came 
back with a crumpled handful of garbage bags still wadded from the girls’ unpacking.  I reached 
down with a paper towel and wiped up a still-warm cat turd, ripe and wet and smearing the shag 
rug, and I tried not to gag as I dropped it into an open bag.  Already Allyn was moving around me 
in the cold, picking up wadded paper and clothes, and Sherilyn was in the kitchen, turning on the 
faucet and filling up the sink with steaming suds. 


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155 
Outside the apartment, I stood next to the green dumpster in the parking lot and hurled a 
Hefty bag lumpy with rotting burger meat and cat shit over the top.  Then I upended the mattress 
leaning against the dumpster and looked it over, front and back.  It was torn in one corner, the 
bedsprings exposed and rain-rusty, but otherwise it looked all right.  I hesitated a moment, then 
sniffed the mattress—just a trace of must, the canvas yellow-stained and dusty. 
“Who knows who’s slept on that thing?” a voice said behind me.  “What things they’ve 
done to each other.” 
Allyn stood in the shadow of the apartment stairs.  She stepped under the humming 
parking lot light and tossed another trash bag over the dumpster top. 
“Looks all right to me,” I said, “but I’m not the one who has to sleep on it.”  I looked at 
her a long time, blinking, then kicked a Schlitz can clanking and spinning out across the parking 
lot.  “Look, I’m sorry, Allyn.  If I’d known Marilyn was in all this trouble, I wouldn’t’ve . . .  I 
never would’ve—” 
Allyn reached up and touched her fingertips to my lips, nothing more.  Then she took one 
end of the mattress and I took the other end, and she helped me carry it upstairs into the 
apartment. 
 
That night, my mother talked to Marilyn till midnight.  Then she and I stood shivering 
outside a phone booth at the abandoned Shell station catty-corner from Marilyn’s apartment 
complex while Marilyn fed nickels, dimes and quarters from my mother’s heavy coin purse into a 
payphone. 
“Call off the police or I’ll call them on you, I swear to god,” Marilyn told Bob, still half-
asleep and lying in bed next to her mother in Nacogdoches.  “No, I don’t want to talk to her.  I’ll 
call her later, when you get lost.  You tell her we’re just peachy, all right?  No need to worry.  Or 

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I’ll tell her everything.”  Then she cracked the receiver’s earpiece against the side of the payphone 
twice, change jangling inside the coin box, and hung up with a loud clack like she was striking a 
hammer into the man’s skull.  She took in a few breaths, her back to us, almost hyperventilating, 
then wiped at her eyes and stepped out of the phone booth, holding my mother hard like she was 
her own mother, like she belonged to her now. 
 
The only person other than me I know of who my mother ever talked to about Marilyn 
was Dr. Snitkin, the plastic surgeon she worked for.  Next day, he told her he knew of a doctor in 
Carrollton—my mother never said his name—who’d just been subpoenaed, along with a plaintiff 
named Jane Roe, for a felony count of abortion by Judge Henry Wade, the same man who’d 
convicted Jack Ruby of shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. 
“Your father’ll divorce me if he finds out what I’m doing,” she whispered to me in the 
kitchen that afternoon after school, shoving a fat roast into the oven. 
“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, Mom, you know?” 
She glared at me.  “You can’t tell him.” 
“All right,” I said.  “I won’t.  Why would I tell him?” 
 
Next morning, my father rushed out the front door, late for work, red-faced and huffing, 
wobbly and a little logy from a hangover, and the moment his blue ‘70 Maverick had bumped over 
the front curb and down the street, my mother took off in our ’66 Chevelle station wagon, dressed 
for work but taking half a day off, picking up Marilyn at her apartment near McCree Creek, then 
driving her fifteen miles north to Carrollton through rush-hour traffic on L. B. J. Freeway. 
A few hours later, she dropped Marilyn off at her apartment and put her to bed, pale and a 
little shaken, with an ice pack and a hot water bottle for her stomach, a 7-Up and a slow-heated 

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bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup.  That night, when I asked my mother what had 
happened, she told me Marilyn would be all right, nothing more, and she never said another word 
to me about what had happened again. 
 
Two weeks later, the band had a new place to practice and a new lead singer, Marilyn 
Vanderbeck. 
She’d just gotten a night job waitressing at the Pizza Hut on Audelia Road, just enough in 
tips to pay for groceries and most of the rent, she said, enough now to enroll Allyn and Sherilyn at 
Lake Highlands Junior High, though Marilyn had dropped out herself after the first couple of 
weeks, unable to study much with full-time work and the all-night partying she’d started just days 
after my mother drove her to the doctor in Carrollton.  All Marilyn asked from the band was a 
paying gig soon and $50 a month to set up our equipment cramped together in her tiny kitchen 
nook so she’d have enough to pay for her sisters’ lunch money. 
Before long she was pressing her lips to mikes and singing in her smoke-husky voice 
“Dazed and Confused” and “Ask Alice” and “Stormy Monday” until suppertime, when she had to 
dress in her Pizza Hut uniform to go to work, her downstairs neighbors thumping their ceilings 
with broom handles and threatening to call the police if we didn’t turn down all that racket. 
It’d been Danny’s idea to ask Marilyn to sing.  She could hit the raw, high notes he could 
never reach when he tried to sing Robert Plant’s “You Shook Me” and “Good Times, Bad 
Times,” and having her sing gave us a better shot at the audition he’d set up in two months for the 
Cellar Club downtown. 
For a while Marilyn seemed all right mocking other singers, as she called it, singing like 
the mad, tortured mockingbird that used to sing in the mimosa just outside her bedroom window 

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the summer before in Nacogdoches, keeping her up nights with a thousand confused birdsongs 
from midnight till dawn. 
“Mockingbird singing in my bed at night,” Allyn sang off-key the afternoon of our first 
practice, her voice flat as a blowout, as she sat next to Maddie and Sherilyn on the sagging 
dumpster mattress in her apartment living room, mooning over Danny and his fast-fingered 
fretwork in “Purple Haze” like a wide-eyed groupie. 
“It’s blackbird, Allyn,” I said, rolling my eyes, laying my sticks across my snare and wiping 
my face with a hand towel.  “In the dead of night.” 
“Oh,” she said. 
“I don’t know what you guys want me to sing for,” Marilyn said, gaunt and testy as a 
mockingbird strutting across a new-mown lawn, skinnier than I’d ever seen her before, down to 90 
pounds.  “I’m no damn good.  Just a pretender.  A parrot.”  She squawked and laughed.  
“Sherilyn’s the one with the voice.”  A sweet, serene voice, she said, like the meadowlarks and 
scissortails that sang from telephone wires across their grandfather’s cow pastures along Appleby 
Sand Road.  “Come on, Sherilyn, sing these guys a little Joni.” 
Shy Sherilyn frowned at Marilyn, blushing, then glanced down at her bruised shins and 
clogs and shook her head. 
“I can sing,” Maddie said next to her.  “Come on, you guys.  Let me sing.” 
“Bug off, little sis,” I said, kicking my bass pedal with a low thump. 
“Don’t be mean, Travis,” Sherilyn said.  Then, surprising everyone, she sang a high 
soprano note in a voice only her own, a cappella, a Joni Mitchell tune, nudging Maddie’s elbow until 
my sister joined in, in two-part harmony: 
Songs to aging children come,  
Aging children, I am one. 
 

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159 
“Damn,” Hunk said. 
“Sing it, girl,” said Kenny. 
“We don’t play that kind of music,” I said, kicking my bass pedal again and popping a rim 
shot like a gunshot.  “All right, can we quit screwing around and get back to Jimi?”   
I started to count out “Purple Haze” again, but Danny held up a hand to stop me and 
pulled a fat four-paper joint like a white Cuban cigar, wedged between a high string and the truss 
rod of his Strat head, and he took a deep-sucking hit, flipping his straight blond hair over his 
shoulders, smoke curling up from the corner of his mouth into a watery, winking eye, Marilyn 
seeming to swoon at his cool and his smile and the lilting croon of his voice. 
She reached for the joint and Danny handed it over to her and she took a long, deep hit 
like his and held it in, then, smiling, stuck the joint’s glowing ash backwards into her mouth and 
moved her lips close to his, blowing an explosion of smoke into his mouth.  Danny held back a 
cough, his eyes flooding, then clamped his front teeth around of the brown wet end of the joint 
still in her mouth, their lips just touching, and she opened her mouth and let the joint go, grinning. 
 “Hey, let me try that,” Allyn said. 
“You’re too young to be smoking dope, little miss teenybopper,” Marilyn said. 
“Yeah?  Well, you’re not my mother.” 
Allyn jumped up from her mattress and ran to Marilyn’s mike stand, laughing, shoving 
Marilyn out of the way and singing, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”—a high, flat note that fed 
back a needling screech that could shatter glass till we all covered our ears and Hunk jumped to 
turn the PA down.  Then Allyn snatched the joint from Danny and took a hit, grabbing Danny’s
 
“Are You Experienced?” t-shirt into her fists and pulling him to her, prying his mouth open with 
her tongue and blowing hard till smoke dribbled out his nose and his cheeks ballooned like Dizzy 
Gillespie’s. 

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160 
His eyes teary red, Danny coughed once and started to push her away, then smiled at her 
and shrugged and pulled her to him with a free arm and they both kissed a long time, blowing 
smoke back and forth into each other’s lungs, her small breasts pressing against his Strat’s shiny 
fretboard, until Marilyn pulled them apart, yelling at Danny to stay the hell away from her jailbait 
sister or she’d call the fucking pigs. 
Allyn wiped her flushed and fleshy mouth with a tanned forearm and stared at me behind 
the drums with that strange crooked smile I’d seen when she’d said, “Step on a crack and break 
your father’s back.”  
 “Excuse me, Allyn,” I said, “but it’s ‘kiss the sky.’” 
 
Word got around fast at Lake Highlands Junior High about Marilyn’s apartment, the best 
place to party down and get laid.  The live music after school was free and the drugs were plentiful 
and cheap.  You could score a joint or a matchbox or a lid or a pound of resiny homegrown from 
Danny Archer or hits of Orange Barrel, Windowpane or Purple Microdot without too much 
strychnine, even East Texas ‘shrooms and West Texas peyote from Hunk Dawkins, who stashed 
most of his dope in a hidden compartment he’d found in his Hunkmobile, under the Astroturf 
where coffins used to slide in back. 
When Marilyn got off work from the Pizza Hut at midnight, most people’d just be 
showing up, and they’d stay till three or four a.m. sometimes, even on school nights, especially 
hangers-on and losers like Roger Rogerson and Jack Doppler—who passed out once in Marilyn’s 
bathroom with a needle broken off in his arm and his face all mooshed into the kitty litter box—
most of them tripping or speeding on good pharmaceutical Black Mollies Hunk had lifted from 
the endless supply in his stepfather’s medicine cabinet or drinking Shiner longnecks Hunk had 
stolen by the case from his stepfather’s poolside fridge, smoking bubbling bongs and lounging 

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161 
around on ripped beanbag chairs Marilyn had lifted in the rain from a dumpster behind the Pier 1 
at the Medallion Shopping Center, guys and girls pairing up for an hour or two and going into 
Marilyn’s communal bedroom, knocking my old bedsprings against the wall for thirty minutes, 
then stumbling out, laughing, their long hair frazzle-ratted, their shirts and blouses buttoned 
lopsided or on backwards, their mouths and chins raw from making out for hours, fat purple 
hickeys spread across their necks like thumb prints on police ink blotters. 
No one seemed to mind that Marilyn’s place always reeked of cat shit and smoky jasmine, 
pot smoke and stale, flat beer in longneck bottles filled with floating cigarette butts lined up along 
the windowsills, the cat litter box almost never emptied, tar-yellow spider webs in the ceiling 
corners, dust bunnies and coughed-up hair balls coiled in the corners like freeze-dried mice, cat 
hair webbed with static everywhere to the claw-shredded furniture, mostly cast-offs from the 
Salvation Army or nearby apartment dumpsters, something as close to a bed for each of Beck’s girls 
to sleep on as they’d ever have for the short two months they’d be there, even when sleep on school 
nights was pretty much impossible. 
Sometimes, I worried the cops’d show up at any time to crash the non-stop party going on 
at Marilyn’s day and night, but I tried not to think about it too much, and finally I just decided I 
could never keep up with Danny and Hunk and Doppler and Marilyn and stayed away, going to 
bed at ten or eleven, especially on nights when Allyn started sleeping over week nights in Maddie’s 
room down the hall. 
 
In less than two months, the short time we’d had to work up four forty-five minute sets 
for our audition at the Cellar Club downtown, Marilyn had pretty much bedded every guy in the 
band. 

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162 
Danny was the first.  At the end of practice one afternoon, Danny wiped down his Strat 
neck and strings with a smooth chamois cloth and lay it into his guitar case like a dead lover into a 
satin-lined casket and said, “Later,” then started out the apartment door just as Marilyn stopped 
him and took his hand, shooting Allyn a look and smirking, leading Danny into her bedroom 
without a word. 
For three or four practices over the next two weeks, Marilyn kept asking me if Danny ever 
talked about her when he and I were at school—Did he like her?  Did he think she was pretty?  
Did he think she was too fat?—clinging to him like she wanted someone, anyone, to hold her safe 
in her bed.  Then, one afternoon, Danny brought Rhonda Rossi along to practice, smoking a fat 
joint between them and making out with her on a beanbag chair between sets while Marilyn looked 
on, turning away and swiping at her eyes, then stamping out through the sliding glass door to her 
balcony overlooking McCree Creek, leaning over to far like she just might jump. 
 
“That wasn’t cool, bringing that girl to practice,” I told Danny a day later as we played 
Dodge Ball in the Lake Highlands Junior High gym. 
“Man, ain’t she beautiful?  Rhonda.  Rhonda Rossi,” he said, closing his eyes, all dreamy 
like he was singing the Moody Blues’ “OhmOhm, Heaven.”  He hefted the heavy ball from hand to 
hand, ready to lob it at Kenny on the other team across the basketball courts.  “Look, man, don’t 
get me wrong, okay?  Marilyn’s all right”—he grinned—“if you don’t mind screwing a scarecrow.” 
I snatched the big leather ball out of his hands like an outsize pumpkin and hurled it as 
hard as I could at his winter-tanned face and missed, hitting the wooden bleachers behind him 
instead, Coach Boggs tossing me out of the game and saying, “Truitt, you idiot, don’t you know 
you’re supposed to throw at the other team?” 
 

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163 
Kenny was next, poor Kenny.  About the time his mother’d been diagnosed with bone 
cancer in ‘67, he’d gotten himself and Debra Darly matching going-steady bracelets at the 
Northpark Zales’ Jewelers with his name and hers etched forever in gold, money he’d earn stacking 
grain and dog food sacks for over a year at his stepfather Bill Sherrod’s feed and seed.  Debra and 
he’d been going together ever since Lake Highlands Elementary, swearing they’d get married when 
they graduated from Lake Highlands High, sleeping with each other some nights since they were 
fifteen like a regular married couple—until Kenny found her fucking his brother B. J., the star 
quarterback of the Lake Highlands Wildcats, in the bed of their sniper-dead brother, Ray. 
Next time Danny brought Rhonda Rossi along with him to practice, Marilyn waited till 
Danny’d lit up another joint during break and started making out with Rhonda again on one of 
her beanbag chairs.  Then she walked up to Kenny and surprised him with a long, breathless kiss in 
full view of Danny and Rhonda, grabbing Kenny by a belt loop at the back of his Levi’s and 
pulling him stumbling backwards into her bedroom for a quickie, then coming back out in ten 
minutes, just in time to practice the second set, and Kenny slipped his guitar strap over his 
shoulder and stared down at his feet, splayed like Charlie Chaplin’s, smiling a goofy penguin grin. 
 
“Don’t you think you should, like, kind of take it easy?” I asked Marilyn after everyone 
had left practice that afternoon. 
“My voice’s a little sore, yeah,” she said and laughed, her voice thin and reedy as Janis’s.  
She lit a Marlboro from the one she’d been smoking and wheezed, skinnier by the day, her skin a 
pale yellow tinge, like cigarette tar. 
“No, I mean with the guys, Marilyn.  I mean, Jesus, it’s only been a month since my 
mother took you to the—” 

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164 
“Shut up!” she said, smoke exploding from her mouth in a cough.  “You shut your 
fucking mouth!” 
“Hey, I just don’t want you getting—” 
“Knocked up?  Who says it’s any of your goddamn business what I do, huh?” she said, a 
slurry of muddy words spilling out her mouth.  “What?  You think I’m a slut?  Like you got any 
room to judge me?  I’m on the pill, okay?  Your mother got me on the pill.” 
“Hurt,” I said, finishing what I’d meant to say.  Then I left her apartment, rattling my bag 
of sticks. 
 
Marilyn hooked up with Hunk not long after that and stayed with him for a month, Hunk 
sleeping over at her apartment most nights, his Hunkmobile stash stuffed into Glad sandwich bags 
under my old bedsprings in Marilyn’s bedroom, but I could never understand why she chose him, 
Hunk with a face and voice like Fred Flintstone’s and a body like Frankenstein’s—maybe, I 
thought, because of all the free speed and acid Hunk gave her, maybe because Hunk made her feel 
safe in his giant’s shadow, big enough to beat up Bob Dobson if he ever showed up at her door 
unannounced, like all the times Hunk had beat me up on the practice fields until I asked him to 
join the band and he became my fiercest protector.  But I couldn’t understand anything Marilyn 
did by then.  Or what I did.  What any of us did. 
Those were crazy days.  On a whim, after smoking and drinking and popping a few 
Mollies, all of us loopy and hazed and wired as a high-power line after practice, Danny and Hunk 
and Kenny and Jack Doppler and I’d jump a high chain-link fence at Flag Pole Hill long after dark 
and climb the 800-foot WRR FM tower, microwaves buzzing our teeth and warming our blood 
in the icy wind as we sat huddled in our coats smoking joints and looking out at the Conoco 
Building’s red Pegasus on the Dallas skyline, or we’d do Danny’s mad version of a Chinese Fire 

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165 
Drill in my truck going seventy or eighty miles an hour down L. B. J. Freeway: I’d let go of my 
steering wheel just long enough for the guy in the front seat next to me to take it and jam a foot 
down on the gas.  Then he’d move over into my place as I climbed out the driver’s side window 
and crawled out on my belly across my truck cab, holding on tight as the wind hit me like I was an 
X-15 test pilot, and then I’d crawl across the top of the cab and slip down, my feet and my legs 
wobbly as I slid back inside through the passenger-side window, and the next guy in the cab seat 
moved left and did the same drill. 
We stole, I couldn’t count many times, stacks of new LPs or eight-tracks or cassettes or 
stereo equipment, cassette recorders and turntables and FM tuners tucked under our big coats at 
the Preston Center Sanger Harris, or musical equipment—an Echoplex and fuzz box and a Shure 
mike for Marilyn; cowbells, cymbal stands, high hat cymbals and a new Ludwig Speed King bass 
drum pedal for me; dozens of packages of coiled Ernie Ball Super Slinky Guitar Strings for Kenny 
and Danny and Fender Super Bass Strings for Hunk from Arnold Morgan Music or the 
Northpark Mall Melody Shop—one of us always on the lookout, all of us walking out in a group 
like mob freaks when we were done, our long heavy coats bulging at our bellies and backs, our 
hearts kicking in our chests like Ginger Baker’s double-bass drum solo in “Toad.” 
One time on our way back from one of our raids on Arnold Morgan Music, I complained 
about my truck with its bald, slick tires, and Hunk said, “No problem.  Turn here.”  I pulled up 
behind the big Firestone Tire Center at the corner of Garland Road and Northwest Highway.  
When the tire installer had turned his back to go to the office, his air-drill spinning out a 
deafening whir like a 100-pound cicada, Hunk and Danny and Kenny and I all walked into the 
garage, checked the tire racks for the right size and hefted four heavy new tires with blue-tinted 
white walls, then dropped them into my truck bed as Hunk ran back into the garage one more 
time for a spare. 

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166 
And sometimes, after my father and I’d gone at it over some petty, stupid thing like my 
not carrying out the trash or doing the dishes or cleaning up my room or fixing something at just 
the moment he decided I should do it, I did my chores and played Mr. Fixit—the chair leg that 
he’d broked at the kitchen table when he leaned back too far, his third J & B shattering on the 
Mexican tiles; the hole he’d kicked in my bedroom wall when I snuck out one night to Marilyn’s 
with Danny and Hunk and came back blitzed at four a.m.; the dog-chewed lamp cord that 
exploded when Reveille bit down on it, kicking the dog, halfway across the living room, half-dead; 
the Dispose-All always stopped up with my father’s chicken bones; my mother’s fifteen-year-old 
Kenmore washing machine always backing up sudsy water into the utility room—and I kept my 
head down like a leashed, kicked and tongue-lashed dog.   
And when I was done, finally, finished with my stupid chores, I played my drums for 
hours, loud and hard, till I was sore all over and half-deaf and covered in sweat, my sisters shouting 
the whole time for me to stop.  Then I jumped into my truck alone and drove to the local 7-11 to 
steal packs of Marlboro Menthols and SweeT
ART
s like Hunk, then sped off to Pecan Park down 
the block from my father’s house, smoking one joint or cigarette after another, popping and 
crunching sour sugar pills till my teeth hurt, ramming my F-100 like a tank into trees as pecans 
clanked and clattered against the truck cab and windshield like the machinegun fire that mowed 
down Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.
 
And, after all the stupid things I did, I never once got busted. 
 
Allyn had been staying over with Maddie two or three nights a week and most weekends 
for a over month, saying she could never sleep or get her any homework done with all the partying 
going on at her sister’s apartment, and she warmed up to my family, especially my old man, like a 
long-lost daughter. 

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167 
At the supper table, she ate my mother’s gristly chicken fried steak and lima beans and 
mashed potatoes with thick peppery gravy and laughed at my father’s Aggie jokes and all the 
stories he told about his glory days in the mid-fifties as a Cadet in the Texas A & M Corps of 
Cadets, all the times he’d hazed the Fish or his superior officers, putting their feet in buckets of 
warm water while they slept till they’d pissed their beds, then caught him hours later, feigning sleep 
in his bunk with a wet bucket or damp towel under his pillow, then giving him hard-flung licks 
with hole-punched boards for every letter of his name—William Barret Travis Truitt, Junior—an extra 
lick for each space, an extra lick to dot each and cross each t
One night, as I turned kicking in my bed, unable to sleep, my little brother Nate snoring 
and grinding his teeth on the twin mattress next to mine, I heard my bedroom door open in the 
dark and stiffened in my bed, thinking it was my old man walking through the house barefoot 
again in the middle of the night with an ice-clinking glass of J & B, until I felt the cold air of the 
blankets and sheets being turned back, then a small warm body sidling in next to me like my sister 
Maddie had done the long year after my brother Jesse’d died, saying, “Travis, can I sleep with 
you?” and then I touched a soft hip under a cotton nightgown, then long, straight hair slippery as 
oil. 
“Allyn?” I said. 
“Sssh,” she whispered and said nothing else, and she held me hard till we’d both fallen 
asleep. 
 
During the band’s audition at The Cellar Club, we didn’t even make it through the first 
set, barely thirty minutes, not even getting started till two-thirty a. m. after the house band, dressed 
like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, had played four sets to a packed house, and everyone had pretty 
much cleared out.   

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168 
At three a.m. on a rainy Thursday morning during a school week in early March, only two 
black-jacketed bikers still in the dark club sitting in the shadows like cave-dwellers behind beer-
sticky tables, I had to play on the club’s house kit, an old Sonar set with duct tape everywhere on 
the heads and cymbals thumping and plinking like I was playing on cardboard boxes and trash can 
lids, and Marilyn was stoned and wired and woozy drunk on Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, hoarse 
as a crow from smoking day and night, running to the bathroom right before we started to throw 
up one of Hunk’s late-night Whataburgers—“Got to fatten up my little mockingbird,” he’d 
said—Marilyn refusing to talk to or even look at Hunk or Danny on stage when she came back, 
pale as a thin-skinned gecko. 
Then Danny and Hunk played too loud and Kenny didn’t play loud enough, and Hunk 
and Marilyn had been shouting at each other ever since they’d come into the club twenty minutes 
late, and now here they were going at it again between songs, something about being late again, 
something about meth and needles and that loser Jack Doppler.  We’d only gotten about halfway 
through the third song, Janet Joplin’s “Down on Me,” Marilyn’s voice cracking and shattering all 
the high notes, when the club owner ran out of his office at the back of the club, waving his arms 
and shouting, “All right, Jesus, that’s enough,” and he walked up to the tiny stage, squinting at us 
in the bright lights, and said, “How old’d you kids say you are?  Christ, you couldn’t be over 
sixteen, any of you.  Ain’t it past your bedtime?” 
 
Outside the Cellar at four a.m., Marilyn threw a tire-crushed malt liquor can at the 
Hunkmobile in the rain as Hunk drove off spinning his tires out in the slick, blind alley behind the 
club, her hair limp and wet and stuck to her forehead, her bangs dripping into her eyes. 
“There goes my ride,” she said, her eyes swollen as dog ticks. 
“Come on,” I said.  “I’ll take you home.” 

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169 
She sat quiet, hunkered over in my truck most of the way to her apartment, sick to her 
stomach, warning me once to pull over downtown when she needed throw up at curbside, then 
pressing her cheek against the cold glass of the passenger window, unable to look at me, her face 
pale and gaunt, skull-shadowed under her heavy makeup as she smoked one Marlboro after 
another, blowing smoke out, then gulping cold air in through the dripping window crack, until 
she’d started to sniffle and swipe at her eyes again. 
“God,” she said, “I fucked up.” 
“Hey, you did fine, just fine,” I said over the scritch and slap of the windshield wipers, 
reaching over to rub her bony back while she cried, flinching away, then leaning forward to squint 
out at Central Expressway in the wobbling yellow headlights ahead of us, big semi-tractor trailers 
shooping past and blinding me in their rainy wake.  “Jesus, did you hear me play?” I said and 
laughed, trying to cheer her up.  “I sounded worse than this piece-of-shit truck.”  I drummed on 
the steering wheel along with the syncopated beat of the windshield wipers and the engine’s ticking 
valve rockers, reaching across the seat to touch her arm as she flinched away.  “Look, it’s no big 
deal, okay?  We’ll get us another gig.  We just need more practice, is all.  Besides, who’d want to 
play in that dump anyway?” 
“I’m fucked, Travis,” she said, staring out the rain-streaming windshield.  “I’m knocked up 
again.” 
I shot her a look. “What?”   
“Don’t look at me like that.”  She raised one shoulder of her leather coat, then the other, 
wiping at each eye and leaving little streaked epaulets of mascara on each shoulder, swallowing hard 
to keep from crying again.  “That fucking Hunk, I knew I shouldn’t’ve told him I was—” 
“What?  I don’t get it.  I thought you said my mother got you on the pill.” 

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170 
“She did.  I just couldn’t buy more when I ran out.  And I didn’t like the way they made 
me feel, kept forgetting to take them.” 
“Jesus, Marilyn, what the hell were you thinking—?” 
“Don’t yell at me, Travis, please.”  She pressed her thin fingers into her eyes and shook her 
head again, wiping her nose and weeping into a leather-tasseled sleeve, saying she didn’t have any 
idea who the father was, Danny, Kenny, Hunk, maybe even my cousin Bobby Truitt. 
“Bobby?” I said.  “You were with Bobby?” 
“Just once.  Remember that night you brought him over from Richardson?  He’s a sweet 
one, your cousin.”  She was crying a good jag now.  “God, I really thought I could make a go of it 
with him.” 
“Hey, it’s okay.  I’ll talk to my mom tomorrow, and she can take you back to the—” 
“No.  The doc said he wouldn’t see me again, all right?  Not ever.  ‘Don’t you ever come 
back, little girl,’ he said.  You can’t tell your mom, Travis.  Please.  You got to promise me you 
won’t.  She was so good to me and—” 
“Don’t worry about it,” I said and tried to touch her shoulder again across the truck cab.  
“I won’t tell anybody if you don’t want me to, and I’ll help you figure out something.   
Everything’ll be fine, just fine, you’ll see.” 
“God, easy for you to say,” she said and flinched away again.  “I hate being a girl.  
Nothing worse than being a girl.  Anyway, it’s not your problem.” 
“No?  Well, fuck you,” I said.  “You’re my friend.” 
 
A little after 4:30 a.m., I drove into Marilyn’s apartment complex to drop her off but 
stopped my truck short of her building and shut off my headlights and windshield wipers, backing 
up fast behind a dumpster and cutting off the engine. 

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171 
“Shit,” I whispered and thumped the steering wheel with the heel of my palm. 
Marilyn, asleep across the cab seat with her head in my lap, jolted up, bumping her 
forehead on the steering wheel.  “What is it?” said too loud, rubbing between her eyes. 
“Shhh.” 
I pointed out at the blue and red lights flashing in her apartment lot cul-de-sac, two Dallas 
police cars parked behind Beck’s VW bus, their doors cocked open in the rain, their radios 
crackling and hissing at the bottom of the stairs to her apartment. 
 “My sisters,” she said, then reached for passenger door as I grabbed her wrist. 
“Wait.” 
A uniformed cop walked off the last step out of the enclosed stairwell carrying a heavy 
black garbage bag, lumpy at the bottom, so that he had to hold it with both hands swinging into 
his knees. 
“There goes Hunk’s stash,” I said.  “Oh, man.” 
Another cop behind the first opened a black umbrella over Allyn and Sherilyn, both 
dressed but still half asleep, and he walked them down the stairs just in front of him, their long 
hair tangled, their eyes wild.  Sherilyn shouted up the stairs, and then I saw another man stepping 
down behind the second cop from the top of the stairwell, a big man with thick black hair and a 
dark shine of beard and a pressed white dress shirt tight against his muscled chest and arms, a 
triangle of hair tufting out his open collar like the back of a hackling cat. 
“Bob,” Marilyn said.  “I knew that son of a bitch’d find us.”  And she tried to wriggle free 
from my grip.  “Let me go, will you?  I got to stop him.” 
“Yeah?” I said in a hissing whisper.  “And how’re you going to do that, huh?” 
“I told him I’d tell the pigs and that’s just what I’m going to do.” 

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172 
“And you think they’d believe you now?”  I pulled her to me in the cab and held her wrists 
with both hands.  “Listen to me.  You’re busted, okay?  Busted.  You go back to that apartment 
now, and they’ll just take you to juvy.  And then what’re you going to do for your sisters?”  She 
pulled one wrist free and cuffed my chest hard with the heel of her palm, knocking the wind out of 
me, then wailed like a cat, and I put my hand over her mouth and pulled her to me and held her 
until she’d quieted down. 
One of the cops glanced in our direction at the sound of Marilyn’s sobbing.  I waited till 
he’d turned away to talk to other cop, pointing in our direction, then started my truck behind the 
dumpster and backed it up into an open parking space, turning around and driving fast out the 
apartment complex entrance, running a red light at the intersection and driving behind the 
abandoned Shell station where Marilyn had called Bob two months before. 
Marilyn opened the passenger door and dry-heaved a long time, long bubbling tusks of 
spit drooling out her mouth to the pavement. 
I handed her my handkerchief and she wiped at her mouth and nose.  I reached across the 
cab to rub her back. 
She palmed her mouth with my handkerchief and took in a breath, retching, trying to keep 
from throwing up again. 
“Give me the keys to your apartment,” I said. 
 “What?”  She coughed, retched again. 
“Just give them to me.  I need to go over there.  Find out what the hell happened.  Maybe 
they didn’t find Hunk’s stash, and you’re okay.” 
“But they’ll catch you.” 
“No they won’t.  They don’t have shit on me.” 

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She pulled out a key ring from her small blue-beaded purse, a pink plastic mermaid and a 
faded blue rabbit’s foot dangling from the keychain, and she fumbled for her apartment key. 
“Stay here,” I said, her keys jangling in my hand.  “Lie down in the seat till you feel better.  
And don’t leave this truck till I come back.” 
“You got to find ‘Phelia,” she said as I kicked open the driver’s side door.  “She’s in heat 
again—” 
“I’ll find her,” I said. 
 
I ran across Plano Road in the downpour, then down a muddy embankment, tripping and 
sliding down to the creek on my ass in the dark rain, sinking into mud-sucking steps and almost 
losing a Hush Puppy along the slippery creek bank where Allyn and I’d hunted crawfish as kids 
with kite strings and strips of raw bacon.  Then I crossed the creek and climbed up another 
embankment, my muddy shoes slipping under me as I grabbed at looping dead vines to pull myself 
up.  Under Marilyn’s apartment balcony, I climbed up her downstairs neighbors’ patio fence and 
stood on the top fence rail, my legs wobbly under me, then reached up for the balcony edge, my 
muddy shoes slipping into a fall just as I caught the bottom balcony rail and pulled myself up, 
straining, my abs jittering in spasms. 
I moved Marilyn’s sliding glass door, already open a crack, slow and quiet across its tracks 
in the steady hiss of rain, pulling back the dusty curtains an inch to peer into the dark apartment.  
Not a sound, no one inside. 
I stepped across the living room carpet with heavy, mud-bulky shoes and looked down 
through the window facing the empty parking lot, the police cars and Sherilyn and Allyn and Bob 
all gone now, Marilyn’s van sitting low to the asphalt on four flat tires.  Allyn’s dumpster mattress 
lay overturned on the living room floor and, next to it, her cotton nightgown, wadded like a white 

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174 
cat curled into itself asleep.  I thought it was Ophelia at first in the dark, then picked it up and 
held it to my face, hoping for the clean scent of Allyn’s hair I remembered from the nights she’d 
slept with me like a frightened child, but there was just the faint smell of laundry detergent and dry 
cotton, and I pressed the cloth against my wet face and eyes. 
“’Phelia?” I whispered, calling for Marilyn’s cat, feeling my way into her bedroom in the 
dark, afraid to turn on the lights, my old box springs overturned against the wall with mattress 
stuffing scattered across the carpet in the blue shadows of the bedroom window.   
Hunk’s stash was gone.  All of it. 
“Shit.” 
At the sound of my whisper, the cat hissed a low, growing mewl and growl from inside the 
dark closet, and I flipped on the closet light and saw her hiding behind a liquor box full of Beck’s 
old LPs and shut the door fast behind me inside so the light and cat couldn’t escape. 
 
Back at my truck behind the Shell station, shivering, my wet coat and shirt clinging to my 
back, I knocked on the passenger window, spitting rain, and Marilyn just lay there, dead asleep, 
sprawled across the truck cab’s long seat. 
I panicked a moment and knocked again—“Marilyn!”—and she jolted up from my truck 
seat and rolled the window down. 
“Scared the hell out of me,” she said, glancing around, her eyes wild.  “My god, you’re 
bleeding.  What happened to your face?” 
“It’s just a few scratches,” I said, then, “Here.  The cat’s in the bag.”  And through the 
open truck window I handed her Ophelia, wrapped in Allyn’s dripping cotton nightgown, the cat’s 
head poking out of the tight-buttoned collar, her eyes wide, her ears back flat against her head, the 
nightgown’s sleeves tied together around her like a straightjacket, knotted under her feet like a 

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175 
sack, the cat squirming and hissing and growling inside, frantic to get out, her claws poking 
through and ripping little tears in the wet cloth. 
“Here’s a change of clothes,” I said and handed Marilyn a garbage bag through the cab 
window, clothes I’d unhooked at random from closet hangars.  “Just hope they’re yours.” 
“We all wear each other’s clothes,” she said and smiled, then palmed her eyes and hid her 
face from me as she cried. 
In my truck, I laid my head on my arms across the steering wheel, my long hair dripping 
into my lap, trickling down my back like melting sleet, and I tried to catch my breath from 
running, shivering and exhausted from no sleep. 
Marilyn unbuttoned the nightgown wrapped around Ophelia and tried to untangle her 
claws from the cloth.  “What’d you have to go and tie her up for?” 
I held up my bleeding wrists, covered in scratches, like the crisscrossed Xs of razor blades. 
“Took me a while to catch her.” 
“Sorry,” she said. 
“No, I’m sorry.  Sorry I ever brought my stupid friends over to your place.  I should’ve 
known the pigs’d be looking for you.  What the hell was I thinking?”  I punched the metal 
dashboard and waved out my hand, sucking on a bruised knuckle.  The cops had taken everything, 
I told her, Hunk’s stash, the hand-blown blue-glass bong Danny’d stolen from a Preston Center 
head shop, everything, and the cops had left everything else, even Allyn and Sherilyn’s clothes and 
shoes.  “None of this would’ve ever happened if I hadn’t—” 
“It’s not your fault, okay?” Marilyn said, staring out at the rain, her voice flat, her face 
slack.  The cat, free from the nightgown, clawed at Marilyn and clung, then lurched toward the 
open passenger window until Marilyn grabbed her by the loose skin at the back of her neck and 

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176 
rolled the window back up, rubbing and whispering into the cat’s cocked ear to calm her down.  
“Take me to my dad’s van,” she told me.  “I’m going back to get them.  Back to Nacogdoches.” 
I leaked out a sigh.  “Your tires are all flat.  Somebody cut them.” 
“Bob,” Marilyn said, and she pressed her face into the ratted wet fur hackling at Ophelia’s 
neck.  “God, Travis, what’m I going to do now?” 
I looked at her straight on.  “I’ve got a big test in four hours and I’m dog tired, but fuck 
the test, fuck school, fuck sleep.  I’ll drive you there now.  Just cross your fingers my piece-of-crap 
truck makes it that far.  Think you could help me out with gas money?  I think I got maybe two 
bucks in dimes and quarters.” 
“Sure,” she said, hopeful for a moment, like she still had her whole life ahead of her. 
 
In five minutes, we were rising up the entry ramp to L. B. J. Freeway.  In another five, 
she’d be dead.  It wasn’t anything I could’ve ever imagined happening and it happened so fast I 
couldn’t do anything to stop it.  To stop her. 
I merged onto the freeway in the heavy downpour, tired as hell but as wired like I’d just 
swallowed a handful of Hunk’s Mollies, and I took one of Marilyn’s Marlboros from her 
crumpled pack on the dash and lit it up, then handed it over to her, lighting up another for myself 
and smoking my cigarette fast, hot-boxing it till I was coughing, the red coal as long and pointed 
as the glowing tip of a soldering iron, as we planned what to do next. 
Marilyn stared out the passenger window, her cheeks sunken into shadow, and I said, 
“We’ll get them back, okay?  It’s no big deal.  Cheer up, for chrissake, will you?  It’ll be all right.” 
But she wouldn’t look at me.  She just shook her head and closed her eyes, then pressed 
her face against the cool glass of the passenger window, her face dripping in the rain shadows of 
passing taillights. 

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177 
“Just imagine it,” I told her, trying to convince myself.   
In just a couple of hours, I said, we’d be parking my truck a block away from her old 
house on Pearl Street.  Then she and I’d be walking down the block and around to the screened-in 
porch in back, using her old house key to get into the back door, sneaking upstairs to Allyn and 
Sherilyn’s rooms and waking them up—“Shhh, quiet now”—then sneaking them both out the 
back door, all of us running up the block, then piling, cramped together and laughing—one guy, 
three girls and a cat—into my truck cab, then stopping off at the Mabank Dairy Queen drive-thru 
after an hour on the road for a round of coffee and Dilly Bars to celebrate.  Back at their old 
apartment by noon, I’d sneak inside again for their clothes and anything else they needed and toss 
it to them off the balcony, and then Marilyn could look for a new place where they could all stay, a 
safe place where no one would ever find them again. 
“You think?” she said, her eyes filled with a light I’d hadn’t seen for years, the same lovely 
light in her eyes whenever I’d kissed her in her father’s dark tool closet. 
“Sure,” I said and grinned.  “Simple and easy.”  
Simple and easy, say, as driving my truck a safe sixty miles an hour east on L. B. J. 
Freeway, feeling tired but happy now, grinning at how easy it’d all be to make things right, then 
rolling down the driver’s side window all down the way without thinking to flick my sparking 
cigarette butt out into the rain. 
A simple mistake. 
At just the moment I rolled my window, turning my face into the cold rain, to shock 
myself awake a moment for the long drive ahead, Marilyn glanced at me and said, “Don’t, Travis!” 
but when I’d turn to ask her, “What?” the cat had already leapt from her lap and shot across mine, 
a streak of smoky fur, out through my open window and tumbling onto the freeway in the dark 
rain. 

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I slammed my brakes into a long skirling skid, a speeding car whooshing past, its horn 
blaring as it hydroplaned in the next lane, Marilyn’s face and the sparks of the cigarette in her 
mouth flying into the dashboard.  I grabbed her shirt and pulled her back into the seat and then 
turned one-handed into the skid, turning back with both hands gripping the steering wheel, then 
straightened the truck, pumping my brakes, hanging on as the truck fishtailed, until it had slowed 
enough for me to pull over to the gravel shoulder. 
“Jesus,” I whispered, my going like a hummingbird’s. 
My hands, my whole body shook as Marilyn shouted, “Phelia!” and I stuck my head out 
my window a moment, squinting behind us to look for a cat mashed onto the freeway or trying to 
dodge speeding cars, blinded by white rain slashing down into the oncoming headlights. 
Marilyn tried to open her door and I grabbed her wrists and shouted at her, “You hurt?” 
and she shook her head, her shout lolling into a long wailing, and I turned on the cab light 
overhead to look her over, nothing wrong with her, not even a scratch from her cat. 
“Stay here,” I said.  “You hear me?  Don’t leave this truck.  I’m going after her.”  Then, 
without thinking or looking before I stepped out, I opened the driver’s side door just as another 
car blared its horn past, splashing a low, flooded spot in the freeway and soaking me, almost 
knocking me to the pavement in its wake. 
I ran as fast as I could around my truck, then along the flooding shoulder, splashing and 
tripping through pooled water in the dark, hard fat drops of rain like ice cubes battering my face 
and back, and when I’d gotten to the place I guessed the cat had jumped tumbling out, I looked 
along the shoulder and into the flooded muddy ditch flowing fast below it, not seeing the cat 
anywhere, then waited for an opening in the dawn traffic and sprinted across the highway in the 
dark, jumping the concrete median like a hurdle, then dodging traffic coming from the opposite 
direction, cars honking at me like I was a madman, and I ran fast to the other side of the freeway. 

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The cat sat there in the grass just on the other side of the gravel shoulder, unharmed 
somehow, her wet hackles sticking out like porcupine quills, hissing at me as I approached her, her 
paw in the air, her claws extended. 
“Come here,” I said and crouched down with my hands out.  “Come on.  It’s okay.”  And 
she streaked away from me, across a flooding muddy ditch, then shot halfway up a sloping grass 
berm, turning her head back to glare at me with the slit pupils of her yellow eyes glowing in the 
passing headlights.  “Come here, you crazy goddamn cat.”  And I leapt after her, across the ditch, 
then up the berm, and pounced on her like a cat on a hamster.  “Got you!”  I grabbed her by the 
scruff as she slashed at my hands and arms and face.  “Ouch!  Son of a bitch!” 
I held her squirming to my chest, clenching her front claws in one hand and her back paws 
in the other, and she bit at my wrists with her sharp teeth just as I jumped the flooding ditch to 
start back to my truck, shouting in the dark, “I got her, Marilyn!  She’s okay!” 
I couldn’t see Marilyn in my truck a few hundred yards ahead across both lanes of traffic, 
and I took my time waiting for a gap in the cars flashing past me on my side of the freeway, then 
walked fast across, squeezing the clawing cat to my chest. 
But when I reached the concrete median I stopped dead. 
Marilyn stood there in a middle lane of the freeway, her head back, her face up to the sky, 
rain pouring across her cheeks, her grackle-black hair dripping down her back, her eyes closed in 
the rain. 
“What are you doing, Marilyn?” I shouted, blinking and spitting a spray of rain.  “I’ve got 
your cat right here!” 
Marilyn ignored me or couldn’t hear me over the horn-blaring roar of the Peterbilt 
swerving away from her in the middle lane, giant concrete sewer pipes stacked into a pyramid 

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180 
strapped to the long flatbed behind it, its headlights growing like the circle of stage lights in the 
Cellar Club closing around her. 
Then, staring at her like a lightning-struck tree, too far away to run to her in time, I 
guessed at what she’d decided to do, her cat and her sisters lost to her now, she must’ve thought, if 
only for a moment, one life inside her that she’d never wanted and another—her own—she didn’t 
want anymore. 
“What the hell are you doing?” I shouted at her from the median.  “Are you nutso?  Get 
out of the fucking road!” 
But as her wet cat clawed my eyes, she flew. 
 
 
 

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