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  • April 14, 2014 : 15:04
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There’s some think she’s my daughter or I’m her pimp, but neither is true. We got married last summer in Las Vegas at a drive-through chapel that I rented a convertible for, thinking it would make the event a glamorous memory, but mainly it turned out hot and dusty. Worse, she burned the back of her legs on the vinyl seat so bad she threatened to divorce me on the spot. If she left me, I think I’d miss her anger the most. It’s a kind of attention and I’ve attached myself to the habit of having it around.

She’s a freckle-faced woman with a wispy-type mustache that you can’t hardly see. Last night she had a dream I said something unkind to her and she’s been mad all day, won’t even talk to me. One thing she don’t get mad about is how I treat her. I’ve been married four times, and I know what women want—they want to think their hair looks good, their behind isn’t big and their shoes are cute.

A week ago I got the idea of going back to Kentucky for the first time in 30 years, coming home in style with a new truck and a new wife and enough money to buy a piece of land. We drove two days and stopped at a roadhouse just over the county line. They didn’t used to have bars here. Every few years the bootleggers and the preachers got in cahoots to keep liquor out, but the wet vote finally won. This joint had a jukebox, a pool table and a sink in the men’s room patched with driveway caulk. I wanted to find out if my family name was still as bad as when I took off. There’s a gob of us Tollivers, good ones, bad ones and married-in ones. My branch was the worst.

My wife was still stubbed up over her bad dream and wouldn’t talk to me. I joined a Melungeon-looking man sitting alone, his hand pressed to the jukebox. He just smiled and nodded with his mouth clamped like somebody bored at church. I thought maybe he didn’t care for strangers, but the bartender said the man was deaf and liked to feel the vibrations. I played songs with a heavy bass beat and put my hand on the other end of the jukebox. We sat there looking at each other and I thought about the advantages of being deaf. For one thing I wouldn’t have to listen to my wife not talking to me. Her silence was loud as a bowling alley.

I ordered another bourbon and attempted conversation with the bartender, a big man wearing a T-shirt with a pocket puffed out from a can of dip. He moved to the far end of the bar to watch reality on TV. Me, I like my reality out in the world, but I kept that to myself. I tried talking to my wife, but she’d drawed back into herself. She is younger than me and wears halter tops with tattoos poking out of the cloth part. She’s got a wild streak that every fool before me tried to tamp down, but I don’t believe in that sort of thing. She has a right to live how she pleases. Out in El Paso one time she took her clothes off and went swimming at a backyard pool party. I’m pretty sure some cowboys wanted to put the blocks to her but were too scared to try it. They knew I went about armed with a snub-nose .38, nothing fancy, a gun you could find at any swap meet.

An older couple came through the door. The man wore a feed-store cap high enough on his head to show the bald spot he was trying to hide. They went straight to a table. He circled the chair twice like a dog ready to settle in while she unloaded her purse—a pack of long skinny cigarettes, a compact and a little plastic packet of photos. I told the bartender to put their drinks on my tab and raised my glass to them. He lifted a finger off his glass like a rural driver giving a wave. I figured I’d let them drink for a while before going over and seeing if they knew my family.

My wife got tired of sulking in the corner and sat beside me like we were old buddies. That storm raging through her head had moved on down the road. She looked at the couple and pursed her lips to point at them, a habit she picked up from living with Indians out West.

“You think they have sex?” she said.

“I don’t know. Probably not.”

“Then what’s the point of them being together?”

“Maybe they’re happy,” I said.

“You mean the reason why we have a lot of sex is we’re not happy?”

“No, I’m talking about them. Not us.”

“Are you happy?” she said.

I took a drink of bourbon and branch, thinking how best to go on. Her questions generally come in the yes or no variety, and either answer might set her off. It’s like talking to a cop, the only group of people I don’t much care for.

“Reckon I’m like anybody,” I said. “Happy when I got something I want. Not happy if I don’t. It comes and goes.”

“What I mean is are you happy in general. And with me?”

“In general, no. With you, mostly. With our sex, always.”

I grinned to myself, figuring I’d got out of that little trap pretty good. She finished her drink in one long swallow.

“Let’s have sex,” she said.

“The closest motel’s 20 miles away.”

“I was thinking of the truck.”

She gathered herself as if marching off to join a parade and headed straight for the door. I dropped a 20 on the bar and followed her into the yellow dirt parking lot. Dusk was drifting into the tree line, but the August heat draped over me like a heavy coat. My truck was full-size with a toolbox bolted in the bed. I had a gun rack for a while, but the strap gave out and if I braked hard, the fake mahogany swung forward and hit me in the back of the head. One night I’d had enough and threw it in the ditch and went on.

An old pickup eased in the lot, pulling a dented horse trailer, sending up a cloud of dust that coated the world with another layer of dirt. Two boys got out of the truck, brothers by the looks of them, long-haired with boots and jeans and sleeveless shirts. The driver checked on his load. The trailer was too small and the horse stood sideways with its head hunkered down. I felt sorry for the animal but figured that rig was the best those boys could do. The driver headed for the bar. The other one came toward us in a shambling walk like someone who’d forgotten how to use his legs then got cured by a preacher.

“Hidy,” he said. “I’m Bill. His retarded brother.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”

He stared at my wife, something she’s used to on account of that red hair and freckles spread over her face like little spots of clay. The driver joined us. He was about 16 and his clothes were too big on him. I wondered what it was like to wear hand-me-downs from a big brother like his.

“Don’t pay him any mind,” the young one said. “He’s Bill my retarded brother.”

“Yeah,” I said, “he was just telling me that.”

“Is that a mustache?” Bill said to my wife.

Quick as a lizard, the young one slapped Bill in the back of the head.

“Don’t talk that way,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” Bill said. “Okay, I’m sorry.” Then he turned to his brother. “Are you sorry you hit me?”

“Yes, I am. Come on now, let’s go in.”

The young one headed toward the bar with Bill following like a pup.

“Hey,” I said. “You ain’t going to let him drink, are you?”

“No,” the young one said. “But he’s old enough to buy for me.”

I half wanted to go inside with them, but my wife had the truck door open. The low sun streaked her skin like flame. I got in the passenger side and set one foot on the floorboards and stretched my other leg across the bench seat. The sun slid down the sky, leaving stripes of red above the tree line. The sound of katydids kicked in, and a rain crow moaned from a field.

My wife had my pants open and was working me pretty good, then got the notion to try and tickle my prostate. She’d mentioned it a time or two and I said no way. I’d had a medical exam along those lines, and that was all I needed of that particular matter. But she wouldn’t let the idea alone. Every couple of weeks she’d pick back up on it, reciting stuff she’d read on the internet—how it would increase the pleasure of orgasm. I told her I didn’t have no complaints about the regular kind.

I felt the pickup truck shift a little in the back. I kind of got distracted from my wife. The truck rocked again and I figured somebody had climbed into the bed. I stretched my neck to see out the rear window, while reaching for the glove box. I eased it open and took hold of the .38. The effort forced a little grunt out of me, and my wife must have took that as a sign of encouragement because she started whirling her finger where I didn’t want no whirling to happen. I felt the truck move slightly to the passenger side. A big hand pressed against the window, then the shadow of a face. I aimed my pistol and was getting ready to sing out a warning, when my wife shoved her finger right up my backside and I shot wild through the window. The sound was terrible in the cab. My wife stopped what she was doing.

“What the eff?” she said. “What the fucking eff?”

I got out and leveled my gun. Bill sat in the truck bed, staring at his bloody palm. Window glass lay in his hair like a chandelier. I sobered up quick because shooting somebody, even a retarded man in Kentucky, would put me crossways with the law.

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read more: entertainment, magazine, fiction, issue april 2014

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