“Here?” Morgan asks. She points to the Books-A-Million sign standing tall above a half-filled parking lot. I nod, and she pulls my van up to the bargain books carts outside the front door. I step out into the cold.
“Make it quick, I’ll be at Animal Friends visiting the puppies.” She pulls off before I can answer, leaving me in a hydrocarbons laced cloud of exhaust. She doesn’t see my one fingered salute.
This, to inquiring minds, was Dad’s idea. With Morgan’s car on the fritz, we’ll have to help her out. He’d actually said fritz, as if the concept of a ruptured radiator was beyond me. And Mom wasn’t much help. It will just be for a few weeks, she’d said, her hands already fishing my keys out of the key bowl. Where do you go anyways?
I’ve fumed at that one, like a teapot set to boil over. But instead of blowing my top I said nothing. What could I’ve said when the only word that came to me at the time was the truth, nowhere. That’s exactly where June and I are headed when we crisscross Greenville a few afternoons a week. “The joy,” a fortune cookie once told me, “is in the jouney.” But try explaining that to mom. It was a lost battle and I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction.
I try not to think about it as I search for the new Stephen King novel. He and J. K. Rowling are the only authors I’m willing to go hardcover for, something June Bug encourages for her own selfish reasons. She still hasn’t returned my first edition Under the Dome. It’s probably hidden away at her camper, dog eared and forgotten.
Mr. Mercedes is waiting for me in a four foot section labeled “Horror,” which is almost exclusively Stephen King with the exceptions of a few Dean Koontz’s and a massive tome of H. P. Lovecraft. I read the inside of the dust jacket and the first few pages to wet my appetite before taking it up to the checkout.
Its a miserable two-hundred yards to Animal Friends and even with a thick coat and scarf, one of Grandma Mimi’s tricolour monstrosities, the November wind whips like an drunken father, chilling me down to my bra straps.
An electronic bell rings as I enter the pet shop and I’m hit with the stink of a thousand different animals butts. Morgan is by the puppy pen, coddling two small yellow balls of fur. Beside the pen is a stack of old newspapers and a sign reading: Golden Retriever, $350, No Refunds!!!
“Done yet?” I ask, tone sharp as a steak knife.
“In a little bit.” Morgan says. She puts down the two pups and pick up another, a fat fellow with a dingle berry hanging from his butt. “Get your book?”
“What do you care?” Some steam jets out of the pot. She looks at me, eyes slanted like Charlie Chan. She’s unaware of the poop smeared over her tight blue jeans.
“Mom’s right,” she says, accusation in her voice, “you really are a brat.”
I step back. It’s like being told you have two heads and just haven’t noticed.
“Did you hear me?” Morgan asks, tone as subtle as a sledge hammer. She places the pup back in the pin and notices the brown streak across her leg. “S***.”
“So that’s what you two talking about,” I go on the offense, something June’s encouraged. Tener algunos cojones, have some balls. And honestly, I’ve been itching for a fight, a weave pulling, eye gouging black girl type of fight, “just about what a horrible daughter I am?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what we talk about.” Morgan uses some newspaper to clean her pants. I doubt the writers of the Greenville Tribune would be flattered. “You’re a selfish little brat and just don’t know it.” Then dismissively, as if she realized she was talking to someone from another planet, Mable IV, home of the Brats. “Of course you don’t.” She pumps some Purell into her hand from a courtesy dispenser. “You know Mom’s mother died when she was like fifteen right? That Ole Joseph was an a**?”
Small factoids filter in: breast cancer, a fifteen year old girl, Grandpa Joseph the alcoholic. Like other things you hear but never really piece together: Stalin and Hitler, the Iron Curtain, Tang in space. None of it goes together till Mr. Sibley lays it out on the dry erase board, threatening summer school to those who don’t listen.
“How am I suppose to know what she doesn’t tell me?” I say, guilt working me over with jabs and hooks.
Morgan’s anger melts and her hair line wrinkles, one’s that could have been Moms, curl into a frown. “Just talk to her. And don’t wait for her to come to you, because that’s not going to happen. And Dad’s no good for her either. She doesn’t have anyone.”
An employee walks by and asks if we need anything. Morgan shakes her head and we move towards the door.
We pull onto Frontage Street, passing several homeless men and a McDonalds advertising food that will kill you if you eat it often enough.
Morgan turns up the radio and I fight the urge to look at her. It would be like peering into the teachers lounge, some secret world where people use first names and talk about hopeless students and failing marriages. It seems easier to continue seeing Mom as an unfeeling hard a**, and Morgan as a dime-a-dozen college skank. But I can’t now. Things have gotten more complicated.