The Whole Town's Sleeping
He was trying to drive me insane. It was the only reason I could think of for why he treated me the way he did: one day all beery and friendly, him and Isaac working together on fixing up my room, letting me sit and listen in on their jam session; then the next morning a maniac again, telling me hands off the stereo and his stupid tools, assigning me chapters in some prehistoric cowboy book I'd never heard of, like I'd landed in remedial reading in summer school. I should have just stayed in Dallas and taken my chances. I should have sat down in the middle of the driveway and refused to get in the car with Ma. Nothing could be worse than this. Except, maybe, one thing; now, all of a sudden, Lucy was in on it, too. When she snatched that Pop-Tart out of my hand I just about died. I know she was just trying to keep me from asking about stuff that was none of my business, but still. I felt stabbed, like she'd all of a sudden switched sides and lined herself up with the devil.
I ran out the door with Dad hollering my name, but he didn't keep it up or come after me, which only proved my point, that he cared more about exerting his brand-new parental supremacy than he did about the actual welfare of me, his daughter. I kept on going, across the road and into the woods, the dogs at my heels.
When I was sure no one was following me, I sat down on a stump and listened. I realized I was close enough to the house to hear what was going on. Sure enough, not two minutes after I left, Dad's truck started up and drove away, and about ten minutes later Lucy's Buick did the same. It was the first time I'd been alone since I'd landed in Mooney, almost a whole week before. I got a little chill of excitement. I could do whatever I wanted. I had no money, no car; to tell the truth, I didn't know how to drive. But I was on my own.
It was nice there, in the woods. I slipped off my headphones and put my Walkman in the pocket of my sweatshirt. High over my head the trees made a canopy of sweet-smelling green, and the ground under my feet was soft with crushed pine needles, and after awhile I could make out the sounds of three or four different birds. The dogs had gotten on the scent of something and started running in circles, then all of a sudden dashed deeper into the woods. I decided to go after them.
I lost sight of them pretty quick, but I could hear them moving around in the underbrush, and I kept going until I came out in a little clearing. I poked around and found the remains of an old building: crumbling steps, a couple of blackened cornerstones, the charred-out hulk of a pot-bellied stove. Everything else, it looked like, the woods had reclaimed.
Then, just beyond the ruined foundation, I discovered an old graveyard. It wasn't much more, really, than a patch of ground, set off by a border of broad, flat stones, but the space inside had been neatly cleared, and the markers, though they looked ancient, were upright and mostly legible. I walked slowly among the stones and read the names and the dates out loud. Eustice Washington had died in 1927, at the age of a hundred and two. Alvin Getty, born 1912, had only lived four days. The most recent stone was 1943, two whole generations ago. There was no question it was a place for spirits, but I felt welcome there. They probably didn't get that many visitors; I figured they were glad to see me.
I sat down on the stone border and looked around. It was a pretty place, with a slash of blue sky overhead and the clean scent of pine all around, and I listened to the dogs and the birds and the wind in the trees until I realized that my heart had stopped pounding and I didn't feel like I needed to cry anymore.
Part of my brain, the sensible part, was telling me to go back to the empty house and throw my stuff into my duffel bag and just get the hell away. But I was less than two months from my fifteenth birthday; my heart, most of the time, felt too small for all the things it was trying to hold. The fact was, I was a little bit in love with East Texas, and with my father and Lucy, too. As confused and sad as I felt, this had in some ways been one of the best weeks of my life. I had been in a honky-tonk, a guitar store, a garden full of Buddhist trinkets, a Baptist church, an old country cemetery. I'd gotten my first lipstickChanel, to boot -- and learned to two-step. I'd eaten more fried chicken in a week than I had the whole rest of my life. My father had turned out to be a better musician than I could have hoped for. There was more music, I knew, where that came from; somewhere were the songs he'd written for me as a colicky baby. Wasn't that proof, no matter how shabby, that he'd loved me once? How could I leave until I had that in my hand?
The dogs came crashing back through the woods into the clearing, looking depressed. Actually, just Booker looked depressed; Steve Cropper wasn't smart enough, I don't think, to realize they'd been after anything, he'd only been along for the ride ...