Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence
Ghost Town Choir

 
One day Lawton was with us at the picnic and the next day he came to the trailer with his boom box and sang along with "What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana?" Not a good song. She was trying to ignore him at the sink, but he was outside with his foot up on a milk crate and he was singing. She did the same she does when she's mad at me, threw dishes into the water and banged the pans around. But with Lawton, she also stuck up her middle finger in the window and the look on her face said it was the end of good times. "What have you got planned tonight, Diana?" he sang, though my mom's name is Sheryl. "Would you consider lying in my arms?" "He doesn't give a fuck what I have planned," she said to me. "He just wants his records back." I didn't know what was happening. She was working on about six months of dishes that I was finding all over for her, with things on them I never remembered eating. I found Ball jars under her bed. "What is this, Bob - a spatula? You can't let these things sit." "Mom," I said. "Why are you mad at Lawton?" She opened the window above the sink and her figurines fell into the water. "Because I got an expiration date on my stupidity!" she screamed at him. "I love you more than ever now, Diana. I'm sure you're the reason I was born." Then she popped the screen out. One after another, she threw at him all the things we eat on. All the Ball jars. She threw butter knives. "Mom!" Then she moved to the doorway, to aim better. "Those are our dishes!" "I hate your ugly face!" she cried at him.

Lawton was laughing a little with his buck teeth. He did have an ugly face. His mustache moved like a centipede. He was watching the kitchen things collect all around him, until he got pelted on the collarbone with a I ♥ Florida mug. He quit singing like that and just looked at her. Then he picked up his boom box and his milk crate and carried them away.

Dishes were all over the lawn. She walked out after he left and put everything in a lawn-care trash bag. Then she did the same with the dishes that were still inside the trailer. "What are we going to eat on?" I asked. One bowl with oatmeal left in it, she held it over the bag and the spoon stayed stuck. "Bob," she said. "You have to rinse."

He came back later that night, knocking on our windows and calling her bitch and cunt and slut and whore. She was going to give his records back till he did that. People were looking out from their doorways doing nothing, because only for like a murder does anyone in Big Coppitt Key call the police.

 
Day after she throw that mug at me, her boy come by early on with his balls and toys and all manner of adolescence, and I got to holler at him from the sofa, "You cain't come around here no more." "How come?" he says. "I like it here." "Go on," I tell him. "Sing it somewhere else." Then, don't even ask - just climbs the two cinderblock stairs, enters the trailer and sits on the recliner like it's family hour. I got to remind myself to put a door on. "You not hear me, boy?" Seems he don't when he goes grabbing for my lighter. The boy does not tire of grabbing. If it is colored or shaped, he is sure to take it up and give it a toss or a flick. "Can I light a cigarette for you?" he asks. "Give me that, son," I say. "You're gonna let the whole house on fire." I have more than once expressed to his momma the need for a restraint of some kind - be it medical, or an old-fashioned collar. "Where were you born?" he asks. "Where was I born?" I take a seat myself on the sofa and light up a cigarette. "I was born in Kentucky," I tell him, "or else I was born in Arkansas." "You don't know which one?" "Tough to say," I tell him, "when you got memories of them both." "Well is your first memory in Kentucky," he says, "or Arkansas?" "My first memory? Shit, that's easy - we'd gather on a porch, and somebody'd ask for a little Wild Bill
Wills and the fiddler would take it from there." "Who's Wild Bill Wills?"

Who's Wild Bill Wills, he asks me. It's such ignorance as this reminds me just who it is I'm talking to. He's got a talent in life, and that's making people talk. "Listen, boy. You cain't hang out here no more. Your momma and me, we're done." "But how come I can't come by?" he asks. "'Cause that's just what happens, son, when a man tangles up with a woman," I say. "Shit gets lost." "What gets lost?" he asks. "Half the time it's things," I tell him, "other times it's people." "What have you lost?" "In my life? To a woman? Too much to count." "Like what, though?" he asks. "Like a two-thousand-dollar ten-gallon hat, for one," I tell him. "Gal's name was Cherie." "What else?" "Three dogs, just about." "Three dogs?" "I also lost my fourteen-karat gold belt buckle I got from the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Lost it to a woman cain't even remember her name." "How did you lose dogs?" he wants to know. I reach out and lift him up by the scrawny arms.

"You were her cousin," I tell him, depositing his ass on the first stair, "then I might allow you to hang out down here from time to time, providing you had beer. But she shit in her own nest when she had you, and I cain't stand the smell of it. So go on, get out."

 
Right after Lawton came over calling her names, she started to clean like with a ball of fire up her butt. Since the last time she cleaned, it had been about six months. She started in the bathroom. She had on her big blue plastic gloves. "I'm sick of throwing away men's combs," she said. "I'm beginning to believe a free comb is about all they have to offer." When she got to the toilet bowl, she said, "Look at this. I'll be happy when it's just your hairs and my hairs again. There's nothing more nasty than a man's hairs." She reached out and turned the water on in the sink. "Can you think of a single man worth all these man hairs?" She showed me the sponge with the hairs on it. "The Cop," I said. "The Cop?" she said. "How do you even remember him? Only thing I remember about him was that he wasn't worth a single one of these man hairs." She ran the sponge under the water. "I liked Lawton." "Lawton? Good lord," she said. "How could you like Lawton?" "He has good arm veins," I said. "And he was a cowboy." She stopped cleaning for a minute and looked at me. "A cowboy? What ever made him a cowboy?" "I've seen his card," I said. "What card is that?" "His Cowboy Hall of Fame card. He keeps it in his wallet." She went back to cleaning. "Bob, you fall for what a man says easy as I do, and with about as little sense. Let me tell you something," she said. She stopped cleaning and took her gloves off. She grabbed my arms. "There's three things that man's done in his life approximating success." She let go of my arms so she could count off on her fingers. "He kicked dope, one. He won a paternity suit. And he switched to low-tar. Those are his three successes. Sure as shit he's no cowboy."

She stood up and went into the living room, even though the bathroom wasn't but half clean. She lifted all the sofa cushions and started collecting things. She pulled out three quarters, a fish stick, and a bottle of baby aspirin. I wanted the quarters for myself. Then she moved around the room, picking up things from the floor and putting it all into a lawn-care trash bag, including some of my stuff. "Mom, those are my tennis shoes." "Can I ask you please why I pay you an allowance?" she asked. "Take a look around, Bob. Does this place look clean to you?" She swooped down and came up with a tube sock and shook it at me. "Can't you at least put your stuff away?" "That's not mine," I said. "I don't have that big a foot." She considered it for a while before putting it in the bag. Then she moved over to Lawton's records. There were three yellow milk crates full. She took up a whole handful from one of the crates and put them in the lawn-care trash bag. "Mom, you can't throw those away." She heard that and swirled around fast. "Why do you stick up for him?" she asked me. "Why stick up for a man that won't even throw a Frisbee with you at a picnic, on account of the schedule of beer he's trying to keep to?" "You can't throw them away," I said. "Then he shouldn't come by calling people names," she said. She was throwing them all in now. "You heard those names he was calling me." "But Mom, they're his life." She picked up the lawn-care trash bag, and the record corners stretched out the plastic. "If these records are his life," she said, "then there's no better place for them than the dumpster, is there?"

Later on I snuck out and took them out where she put them in the dumpster and all together they were heavy. I put them on my crappy wagon I gotta pull with a string because the handle broke. Each record was about a hundred years old. He must have had a total of like three hundred. I pulled the wagon past the playground that's been about a foot underwater since the end of the hurricanes, over the chicken bones and cigarette butts that were mixed in with the wood chips, and into the forest. It wasn't really a forest, more like a hundred trees. That was where my fort was. It was just some plywood nailed together, but that was where I took everything anybody ever left behind. She'd throw it away and I'd rescue it, all their stuff, like belts, and aftershave, and old pocketknives, and packs and packs of cigarettes. She'd say, "I'm beginning to think a half a pack of cigarettes is about all they have to offer," and then she'd put it in a lawn-care trash bag. I wondered did they know about the cigarettes they'd never finish? Did they think, Yep, this is the pack I'll leave behind in that old trailer? I wondered. Sometimes I'd put on some of their aftershave, and then I'd forget about it and go home, and when she came home from work that night, she'd look around and say, "Somebody stop by today?"

I took Lawton's records off my wagon and set them in the corner of the fort. I could almost smell him on them. The one I picked off the top was called Ghost Town Choir, by Bluford Tucker and the Abandon Boys. I bet if I looked long enough I could find one Lawton sang on. I didn't want to go home, I wanted to go over to Lawton's. I didn't care that she didn't want me over there, or him either. Whenever he finished a cigarette, he just opened the oven door and threw it in. He never cleaned.

 
The boy come by holding something behind his back. I cain't go but ten feet in any direction for the size of the trailer, but I try to ignore him best I can. "Believe it or not, boy, I got no time for games," I tell him. Not but three seconds later he jumps up on the second stair holding a record album before himself like it's proof of his existence on earth. "What you got there?" I ask, which he takes to mean as an invitation in. "Yeah, shit. Make yourself at home." Trying to get a little tequila in me before I have to see anyone, most of all him. But when he hands it to me, for what he's got there, I could just about hug his head.

"I got this for you," he says.

"I damn well see that," I say, taking it. "Ghost Town Choir by Bluford Tucker and them old Abandon Boys. Sure is beautiful. Beat to hell, cover art damn near rubbed off. But a dime to a dollar it still sings pretty." "Where'd you get it?" "Stole it from my mom." "Well you done good, didn't you?" "I tried," he says. "No, no, son, it's good. Shit, man needs his music." I take it with me over to the player. "Man's life depends on his music. Without the one, you might as well give the other six months." And I was happy to see it again, was eager for the sounds that are familiar and reassuring, and didn't even mind that the boy was there - until I take the record out and it becomes clear somebody's been fucking with my slip covers. "Where's the slip cover?" I ask him. He's got on the same distracted look as his mother's, the one that says you're speaking music again Lawton and I don't speak music. "All my records have slip covers, see. Keeps them from getting scratched all to hell. Where's this one's slip cover?" He don't say a damn thing - first time he's ever been silent. "You nervous, boy? You been fucking with my slip covers?" "No." "Must be your mother, then." "No," he says. "Then how do you explain it?" "Maybe you forgot to put it back on, last time you listened to it." "Now that is highly unlikely," I say. Just ignores me.

Next thing you know, he's standing over the player right next to me, breathing ugly. "Not too close, now," I say, backing his ass up with a forearm. But you can't stop him, soon enough he's right there again. "It's really nice," he says. "Is it expensive?" "Now don't tell nobody about it till I get that door on. Last thing I need is them crackheads at the 7-Eleven prowling around." "It looks like it's worth about a thousand dollars," he says. I give that a simple reply: "Does, don't it." I poise that pretty disk over the revolution rod, trying to line it up with the hole. "Can I put it on?" He's got his hands ready. "Hey hey ho," I tell him. "Only two people in this world get to use this machine, and that's myself and I. On occasion, I let me use it. I catch you so much as blowing the dust off, I'll turn your ankles inside out." He watches it fall on the slip mat and go spinning, set in orbit, like all things celestial. That's music, right there. A highlight in an otherwise low life. "Lawton," he says. "What happened between you and my mom?" I proffer the universal sign for shut your mouth now, son. "When you get a little bit of your music back with you," I tell him, "it's time just to listen."

 
When I got home she was pulling up the kitchen floor. She had on her tool belt and about a hundred tools were everywhere except for in her tool belt, and her bangs were sticking to her forehead like how they do when she cleans. About half the floor had been peeled away. "Mom, what are you doing?" "What does it look like?" she asked, without looking up. "Okay, but why?" "Because it's brown," she said. I didn't understand. She looked up finally and swept her hand across the trailer. "Just look around you, Bob," she said. "Everything's so fucking brown. Aren't you sick of it?" I didn't know what she meant other than the TV and the lamps. And the fridge was brown. And the carpet. I guess I never noticed before how much brown we had with us in that trailer. "How come you don't like brown?" I asked. Then she pulled up the floor really hard with some kind of gripper tool. Her face was scrunched up from it. That strip tore like salt-water taffy all the way across the floor to the carpet. Then she breathed.

"Brown," she said, leaning back on her knees, "is the color of men." She started to count off on her fingers again. "Brown smiles, because their teeth are brown. Brown mustaches from their tobacco. Brown penises swinging all over the place, standing up to say hi under the brown sheets. I'm sick of those fucking sheets, too," she said. "They're going. We're starting all over again at the Wal-Mart."

I went out to play in my fort, and when I came home, she had painted some of the house. I went in for some bologna, and my hand came back all cold and wet and white. She was at the kitchen sink, cleaning off the paintbrushes. "Oh, Bob," she said. "I just finished with that. Now look what you've done." "Mom," I said. "You painted the fridge?" She took one of the paintbrushes and smoothed out the handle of the fridge where my handprint was. "Why'd you paint the fridge?" I asked. "Weren't you sick of putting your food in a cold turd?" she asked. "Don't you want a fridge that's white, like in the commercials?" I looked at it up close. It looked dirty still because the brown showed through the new paint. "Don't you ever just get sick of your old life?" she asked me. "Don't you ever want change? Even if it's just a color? Just some stupid change?" "Mom," I said. "The handle's dripping."

 
He come by the next day with some manner of athletic equipment, what looks to be a basketball, though I'm no such expert. I've given up by now trying to keep him out. He starts in again on his new favorite topic of conversation. "Didn't you like her?" he asks. "Things about her I liked." "Like what?" "Well, let's see," I say, firing a new cigarette off the cherry of the old. "Your momma's a smoker. I like that about a woman. Appreciates a beer now and again. She, uh, hmmm . . . she's handy, on account of being a roofer. I did like that. Liked to see her in that pair of knee pads." "So if you liked her so much, what happened?" "Some things I didn't like about her." "Like what?" "Like what's that ball you got there?" I ask him.

The boy's treatment of his basketball is more like what you'd expect from a rare coin dealer, how he holds it with just his fingertips. "It's signed by Larry Bird," he tells me. "Larry who?" "You don't know Larry Bird? He's a basketball player." "I no longer follow basketball," I tell him. "Haven't followed basketball since old Catfish Hunter left the Majors." "You can see it," he says, "if you be careful." He hands me the ball and I consider giving it a dirty bounce, right on the ink. "Looks like a forgery to me," I tell him. He grabs at it. I make him wrestle for it. "Looks like Henry Turd," I say. "Give it back! A ball's round!" "Where'd you get it?" "My dad gave it to me. Give it back! A ball's round, it isn't easy signing." "How'd your dad ever get Henry Turd to sign you a ball?" "Give it back!" he says. First thing he does when he gets it back is pin it between his arm and body so as to hide the signature. "I want you to tell me something and be honest," he says. "What was it you didn't like about my mom?" "Same thing I don't like about you, boy. All the goddamn questions."

"No, what really?" he says.

"Thing I dislike most about your momma is," I tell him honest, "she's got all my goddamn records."

 
That night my mom and me watched some TV on the pull-out sofa. That was where I slept. Sometimes she fell asleep there, and I took her bed in the one bedroom. "Mom," I said, "what's for dinner?" "I'm too tired, Bob," she said. "Take my purse and go up to the Citgo." "I'm sick of hotdogs." "They got burritos." "I'm sick of damn burritos." "Hey," she said. "Shhhh. Watch your mouth."

It was too late at night to be cussing, she thought. She thought late at night was when God heard us.

I got up and handed her her purse, so she could give me money for the Citgo. "How come you didn't marry Lawton?" I asked. "Marry Lawton?" She said it like I was crazy. "But how come?" "Marry Lawton," she said, this time like I had said something sad. "I don't know, Bob. Probably because of the astrological charts." "No, really. How come?" "Because I'm a bitch," she said finally. "And he's a son of a bitch. And that combination never works." "Do you think he's a good singer at least?" I asked. "Bob, I told you," she said. "No more hanging out with Lawton. You hear me? No more going down to his trailer. He don't want you any more than I want him." She rummaged around for awhile, pulling out makeup. "But do you?" I asked. "Do I what?" She put on some of her lipstick. "Think he's a good singer," I said. "That's all he ever did," she said, mushing her lips together, "was sing his one sad song." She put her lipstick back in the purse and set the purse on the ground. She forgot to give me Citgo money. "But did you like it when he sang?" I asked. "It was singing," she said. She picked up the remote. "So you did, then? You did like it?" "It's about the worse voice you ever heard, Bob," she said, turning to look at me. "But it was still singing."

 
Next day he come by with a handful more records and asks me if I won't play a couple for him. "How come you like music so much?" he asks. I'm over by the player with the new albums he brought me. "How come you like basketball?" I ask him. "There are just some things a man likes. I had some of these albums since I was a boy. Connects me to memories, I guess." "What kind of memories?" "Memories of my momma. Other memories." "Memories of your dad?" "Had a couple reminded me of my dad, till they got burned up in a fire." "How did that happen?" he asks. "I set a match to them." "You didn't like your dad?" "Come over here, boy. Let me give you your first lesson in how to be an American." And for the next hour I tried to teach him what's a fiddler's song and what's a slide guitar and how to close your eyes and give yourself over to it so the voice can sneak up on you at a moment you never imagined, and how it can damn near make you forget the four walls you're in. Most times he sat there looking for what he could pick up and flick or spin or whatever, but he got one-fourth of my talk, I expect. Toward the end, he says, "My mom likes the way you sing." I look over at him. "Is that right?" "Yeah," he says. "She thinks you got a good voice." "Now as far as I could ever tell," I begin, but I stop short of saying his momma does not give a shit about this voice or the other. "Well you tell your momma that hillbilly music don't require you to have a good voice. You tell her with hillbilly music, a broken voice does you much better." "Have you ever sang on any record?" he asks. "What do you mean? You mean on a recording?" "I don't know," he says. "What record album do you have in mind?" I ask. "I don't know," he says. Just throws up a shrug and waits for an answer. "On a couple I did," I tell him. "A couple record albums. How else you think I got into the Cowboy Hall of Fame?" "If you love your records so much," he asks, "how come you left them over at our house?" I don't know what to tell the boy. "I forgot about them, momentarily," I say. "But they're your life," he says. And I agree they are. "But I got distracted," I tell him. "My mind was on other things." "Like what?"

Like his momma, for one. I wanted to give her something to listen to, on the occasion we might be sitting around together, enjoying ourselves. But she didn't care all that much for music. That's how you know she ain't gonna last, when a woman don't care about the finer things. "Did you love her?" he asks. "You never let up, do you, son?" "But did you?" That's when I decide hell, what's the point in not telling it straight? "In a way I did," I say. "And for a time. But not anymore." "How come?" "How come? Because she's got my records. And she's fucking with my slip covers." "But I’m bringing them over." "Three at a time don't cut it." "How many do you want?" "Every damn one," I say. "Okay," he says. "I'll bring you every one."

 
Then she came home in a truck I'd never seen before, with two thin blue stripes and one thick one that went all the way around it. Instead of a gate, there was a bungee cord that was supposed to keep stuff in, I guess. There were some empty boxes in back, and she asked me to help carry them in. "Mom, where's your car?" She went inside without answering. When I went in with her I asked her again. "I sold it," she said. "How come?" "'Cause I was sick of it. Weren't you sick of it?" "I liked it," I said. "It had air conditioning." "I thought we'd be more like cowboys," she said, "driving a truck around. I know how much you like cowboys." She opened the cabinets in the kitchen and started packing things away inside the boxes. "Bob, will you ever eat these Spirals & Cheese?" she asked me. "Mom, are we moving again?" "I don't know, don't you want to?" "No," I said. "Don't you ever just want to get out of here?" "I don't want to move, Mom." "Come on," she said. "Won't it be fun? You can't like sleeping on that pull-out, anyway." She said that whenever she sleeps there, she wakes up with a sore back from the metal bar. "When we get to where we're going, I'll buy you a mattress with a box spring," she promised me. "But I don't want to move," I told her. "Why don't you, huh? Why should we stay?" "Because." "Because why?" "My fort," I said. "It's got all my stuff in it." "I'll build you a new one." "But what about how you just painted?" "Look at it," she said, pointing at the fridge. "I botched it. Looks like shit." "How come we always have to move?" I asked. She set the tuna cans down hard on the counter. "Because I hate this goddamn life," she said to me. "Don't you? Don't you hate living in the same place everyday?" "But what about Lawton?" I ask. "What about him, Bob? What about Lawton? He's a piece of shit. And I told you I didn't want you hanging out down there." "Don't you want to know what he said about you?" "No more hanging out down there. You understand me?" "He said he loved you."

Just then, that's when Lawton came in swinging the aluminum bat.

 
I take it up from where it leans on the siding, the boy's bat, I figure, and come in there swinging so as to frighten her into submission. No intention of hurting nobody, none at all. "Where are my records, Sheryl Lynn?" I holler. First thing she does is throw a box of food at me. I manage to block it with what they call in the Majors a bunt. "Now don't throw shit at me or it's going to make me mad, Sheryl Lynn. I just want my goddamn records back." I clobber the floor again and feel the whole thing might just give way. The boy's there, though I can't recall how, exactly, maybe sitting on a stool. I remember those days myself, trying to figure what it is between two grown people and one of them's carrying a bat and the other's throwing food. Real soon he'd stand up for his momma, when he come of a certain age. But on this day he just looks back and forth at the two of us. "Go ahead," she hollers. "Go ahead, break everything. See if I give a fuck."

So I start with a big can of paint nearby and a good deal of it goes on the sofa where the boy sleeps. I hadn't given much thought to the prospect such a thing would erupt in all manner of white. Only afterwards did I consider what might have become of my albums had they been anywhere near. She come up and starts hitting on me with her fists. Something I always admired about her, she's feisty. "Get out! Get the fuck out!" "Where are my records, Sheryl Lynn?" "I threw your goddamn bullshit away!" she hollers, fists trying hard as they can. The boy jumps off the stool. "I have them, Lawton!" he shouts. "I have them!"

I don't remember much of anything after that but heading outside and aiming for the houseplants hanging from the trailer and not stopping till every bit of vase was broke and the soil was on the ground.

 
Next day he come by carrying the rest of them on a child's wagon down the path of wood chips. He pulls up and straightens them out every couple feet, careful so as not to let them spill off. I can see it from the window. As he comes on I feign a busyness by sitting down on the sofa. He stands there some time, not so much as stepping foot on the first stair, until I got no choice but to say, "Don't just stand in front of a man's castle. Liable to get shot doing that." "I brought the rest of them," he says.

A boy his size has some trial lifting a crate so heavy, but he does it, three times, from the wagon to the trailer.

"Believe it or not," I tell him, "I don't even want them anymore."

He climbs up the cinderblock stairs, grabs a hold of the first crate, and with his body pulls all them records across the linoleum, toward the player. All three crates, pulling them with such carefulness I can't think of what to say, except, "You must of learned your manners from your daddy." It might be that wasn't called for, another jab at his momma. It quick brought yesterday to mind, something I'd rather forget. He goes back and stands in the doorway, like making ready to leave. "You ain't coming in?" I ask him. "I can't stay," he says. "You just come by to drop them off?" He does nothing but stand there. "Imagine your momma don't want you spending too much time down here, is that right?" "How come you said you don't want your records anymore?" he asks.

"'Cause time's past," I tell him.

"What's that mean?"

"It means time's past. There was a time I wanted them, now that time's past. I'm not saying another word more till you come in here from that doorway and have a seat."

Reluctant, he comes sits on the edge of the recliner. "There you go." There's a lighter right there in front of him for him to pick up and flick, but he don't touch it. "So how come you don't want them anymore?" he says. "'Cause when you part from a woman, see," I explain to him, "it's what you do is you play your records. No better time for it. It's your company. But after a while, time passes, and so does the need for them."

"How come?" he asks.

"Because you get over the woman," I say.

It's a brooding look that comes over him on the recliner that I'd never seen before and has me rethinking. That I didn't want them was only a partial half-truth anyhow.

"But I suppose that's not the only time a man listens to them. Truth is you got to have your records around you. What if you get the calling to hear a particular selection? You haven't sung to a song in thirty years when it comes out at you from the church of old dead voices and you don't have much of a choice but to hunt it down and turn it on." "So you're glad you have them?" "I'm glad," I say. "Sure, I'm glad. That's me. Me glad." Not exactly the truth, try as I might. "How about you? You glad?" "Me glad, too," says the boy. He gets up off the recliner. It rocks but a single time on account of the bad springs. He joins me on the sofa, picks up my wallet, opens it, and points. "Can I have this?" he asks. And I have never told the boy a truer thing. It's what happens when a man tangles up with a woman. Shit just gets lost.

 
When I came home she was waiting for me in the truck. All the boxes were in back, and they were full up and folded. She was just sitting in there, waiting, but she didn't have the engine turned on. "What you got there?" she asked. "Nothing." "I can see it's something," she said. I showed it to her. "Cowboy Hall of Fame card," she said. "Huh." She turned away and punched the lighter in. "I thought I told you not to hang out down there." "I wasn't." "Where'd you get it then?" "I was giving him his records back," I said.

I stood there looking at her till the lighter punched out, but she didn't even have a cigarette to light. "Are you mad at me for giving them back?" I asked.

She looked out the front window. "What's a cowboy," she said, "without theme music."

Something was a little bit different with her hair. I reached through the window and touched it. "How come you changed it?" She grabbed for the rearview mirror. "I can't decide if I like it or not. It's just highlights. Do you like it?" Really, she looked just about the same to me. "It's pretty," I said. "Where are we going?" "For a drive," she said. "Where to?" "Why do boys always have destinations on their minds? Can't we just go for a drive?" "How come the boxes are packed?" I asked. "Are we leaving?" "Just get in, Bob."

I walked around. The passenger-side door wouldn't open, so I knocked on the glass. She unlocked it, then tried to open it from the inside. "Must be broke," she said. "Come around this side." She opened the door for me and I crawled over her and slid across the seat. "Mom, does this have air-conditioning?" She turned the ignition. "How come it's not starting?" I asked. She kept turning the ignition and turning it, until she gave up. "It's just flooded," she said. "Give it a minute." She punched the cigarette lighter in again. "Think of us like cowboys in our new truck," she said. "Only difference is, we're not going into the sunset. I'm sick of the sunset, aren't you?" "Why don't you like the sunset?" I asked. The cigarette lighter popped out again. We sat there a long time.