“I mean, it just irks me June.” I say, hands tight on the steering wheel, looking out through the Caravan’s cracked windshield. We’re parked beside a T-Rex Fill and Go, before us is a large empty field, a deteriorating single-wide trailer squating in the middle of it like a sullen, sulking child. “Morgan made a promise to God. We both did.”
Behind us, a large SUV pulls up to a gas pump and honks it’s horn. The lady behind the register, a tattooed grandmother, her face nearly obscured by Marlboro and Coors Light posters, motions for the driver to come inside. Prepay first b****, this ain’t 1998!
“Didn’t you hear me?” I ask June. She’s been watching the trailer for thirty minutes, a pair of ridiculously huge binoculars (Bushnell PermaFocus 10×50’s compliments of Oliver) raised up to her eyes in a marshal pose. “You look like Erwin Rommel.”
She lowers the binoculars and takes a sip of Dr. Pepper from her McDonald’s cup, finishing it off with one go. The wrappers from her quarter pounder with cheese and large fries, both devoured on the drive over, litter my floorboard. She raises the binoculars again.
“Rommel was a German general, case you didn’t know.” My words sound funny, spoken more to myself, or perhaps the driver of the SUV or the grandmother at the register than to June. Being on the war path, it’s hard to get her to focus on anything other than her prey. Ten-thousand years ago she’d join the men on mammoth hunts and left Grace and myself to watch the hairy, screaming cave children. “I read about him during my research for Mr. Singer’s class.”
“I know who Erwin Rommel was.” June says, binoculars still raised, eyes fixed on the trailer, “I know he lost North Africa for the Nazis, that he collected stamps and had an illegitimate daughter who was raised as his niece.” She lowers the binoculars and slides them onto the dash before turning to me with an angry, bee stung expression. “I’m smarter than you remember? And yes, I’ve heard you complaining about your punta sister for a week now. And I don’t care, so shut up about it!” She turns up the radio, now spouting a commercial for the city’s district three supervisory election-Vote Jimmy Sargent March 1st, Values We can Believe In!- and slumps back in the passenger seat.
Behind us, across the T-Rex parking lot, a short, blonde woman steps out of the SUV and heads for the gas station door. One of her kids, a boy with the same banana colored hair, begins honking the horn widely.
I tune the radio, settling on the first station I find, K102.3 The Kiss. “All about that Bass” begins pounding out of my factory speakers. I force a grin and bare it.
“Qué es esta mierda? What’s this crap?” June asks. Her hand moves to change the station, I slap it away.
“This is my favorite song.” I lie, attempting to control my gag reflex.
June gives me the stink eye before laying back in her seat, working it’s controls to give herself more legroom than I’d thought possible.
The blonde mom walks back to her SUV, pumps her gas and leaves. She’s replaced by a obese black woman driving a patched together Ford Focus. She, the definition of the word “overflowing”, waddles into the gas station with what looks like a bag full of change.
Moments turn into minutes. A fly buzzes around my rear view as “All about that Bass” changes into something hip-hop and slightly more bearable. The black woman makes it back to her car without having a heart attack and begins pumping some regular unleaded into her tank.
“Why didn’t you want Grace to come.” I ask. I don’t half expect an answer. From the looks of things (forearm over her eyes, breathing shallow) June’s either asleep or comatose.
“Because I can’t trust her.” Only her mouth moves, as if she’s become a fat Mexican puppet. Funny to think of someone’s hand up her butt, talking trash, though the thought of another human being having as coarse a mind as her is unnerving. “This might get ugly and she doesn’t have huevos, balls.”
Ahh, you think I have huevos!
I take the binoculars off the dash and find the trailer, a dilapidated mess of boarded up windows and warped vinyl siding. Mattresses litter the dirt yard and everywhere garbage bags bake in the sun like festering black boils. A few have been torn open by something unseen. A mangy stray come’s to mind, or perhaps a slobbering pitbull with a spiked collar and one mangled ear.
“What’s his name again?” I ask, focusing on the road beyond the trailer, Hwy 81 West. A bright green sign reads Leaving Greenville City Limits Goodbye.
“Deshawn Kanawhan Cannon.” June laughs. She repeats the name several times, savoring the syllables. “What a n***** name!” She leans forward and turns the radio off. I pretend not to notice. “He goes to the black school on this side of town. Just bikes over to Hunter Estates every now and then to give Sunny s***.”
“For how long?” I wonder if Oliver’s had trouble too, if he’s become another statistic the news won’t report on. Black on white violence is something the libs don’t like talking about.
“A couple of weeks.” June says. “He didn’t want to tell me at first, said I’d call him a wennie.”
“I called him a p****.” She sits up, shifting her butt around, tryng to get comfortable. Honestly, I don’t think she’s ever been comfortable in her life, her subconscious won’t allow it. There’s something primal in there, ever fearful, perpetually angry and hungry. Comfort would weaken her.
“And?” I ask.
“And I told him to handle it,” Working with the seat controls again, June brings the seat back up, “that if he didn’t, I’d do it myself then kick his own a** afterword for the trouble.”
“He’s here.” I say. Through the Bushnell’s, the Ford Focus (weird huh?) pulls up the dirt driveway and parks over an oily patch by the trailer’s front door. The obese women steps out followed by a light skinned black kid wearing a stained wife beater t-shirt and gym shorts. June snatches the binoculars from me.
“Es nuestro conejito.” She mutters, adjusting the focus. Apparently she wants every nose hair to be crystal clear. She laughs. “Our bunny’s a runt!”
“His mom’s wearing scrubs.” I say, eyeing the gigantic women as she moves up the wooden steps to the trailer door, slowly, grasping a handrail for balance. Ignoring her, Deshawn strolls into the yard. “She might be a nurse or something.”
“Or a janitor.” June hands me the binoculars and leans back, rubbing her forehead with her short brown fingers. I can almost see the gears turning.
I look again at Deshawn, studying him for any defects, any hidden weaknesses. He’s shorter than either Sunny or Oliver, leaner too, as if a strong wind could blow him over. Along his left cheek and down his neck runs a large dark birthmark. June said it’d look like Florida like all birthmarks do, but it doesn’t. And it doesn’t look like California or Vietnam either. Instead, it looks painful, a dripping black stain, as if someone tried to tar and feather the boy but forgot the feathers. I want to feel sorry for him, is that ok?
He picks up a basketball, a Wilson covered in peeling leather strips, and begins dribbling it in the dirt, creating a small dust storm. He doesn’t have a hoop to shoot into and several times the ball gets away from him, bouncing off a knee and into the brush. He has the hand-eye coordination of a two year old. I do feel sorry for him.
“Mable,” June puts her hand on my shoulder, “how do you stop four black guys from raping a white woman?”
“How?” I hate my curiosity.
“Toss them a basketball.” June grins and I burp out a guilty, nervous laugh. We’re not suppose to make jokes like that are we?
Deshawn loses interest in the basketball and hops onto a pink bike made for someone half his size and of the opposite sex. He pedals towards the road, turns onto Hwy 81 and aims for T-Rex’s.
“I’ll give Sunny a couple of weeks to handle this.” June says, tapping her temple.
“What if he gets beat up?” I ask, concerned now, not only for Sunny but for Oliver. I doubt Opie would last very long in any scrap.
“Doesn’t matter.” June buckles up and turns the radio back on. “Counting Stars” by One Republic pours into the van like water into a goldfish bowl. “It won’t be fun for Richard Wright over there and he’ll move on to his next unsuspecting victim.” She ponders for a moment. “Little f*** probably doesn’t even know who Richard Wright was.”
“How do you know?” I ask, quickly scanning my own memory for clues. I’m satisfied to come up with the words: black author. “Mr. Cannon here might when the next Pulitzer Prize.”
June ignores my question and leans her head out the passenger window, eyeing Deshawn as he pedals past. She smiles. He doesn’t smile back.
I crank the engine and we pull out of the parking lot onto Hwy 81 and head back into Greenville. June says I can start b******* about Morgan again if I want, but I don’t. That righteous fire has smoldered down for now, leaving only embers.