When my daddy told me I wouldn’t have to wear a dress on Easter Sunday anymore I thought he’d gone crazy and my granddad threw a fit. But he always said that these are modern times now and women can wear what they want and if I wanna wear the flower dress mom bought for me I can, but if I want to wear pants and a tie like him that’s okay too. He was funny like that. He always poked me in the stomach and even though I told him I wasn’t ticklish he knew that I was.
He had a scar that ran from his bottom lip to his Adam’s apple and it made him look dangerous even though he wasn’t. He never told me where he got that scar. I never asked. It was just a part of the way he looked. But my friends always asked about it and said they had heard he killed someone and that he got that scar in jail. They would make up all sorts of stories, but I would just smile and nod my head because that’s what daddy always said to do. Just smile and nod and they’ll get bored and move on quick enough.
I remember the day he told me I would start thinking about boys soon and that I needed to be careful because boys are nothing but a bunch of hungry dogs that try and take more than what you give them. But none of the boys at school looked like dogs. Most of them were pretty quiet. You couldn’t even really talk to them about anything important.
“What’s so scary about a boy?” I asked.
Daddy shook his head and told me I would find out soon enough.
The first dance I ever went to was in the school gymnasium. I was in the seventh grade, which means I was twelve years old and just starting to show. Like my mom said she did at the same age. An older boy named Ernie asked me to go to the dance with him and I said yes even though I didn’t really want to. I just didn’t want to be the only girl who went to the dance without with a date and so I went with Ernie. He wore a bow tie and he tried to kiss me when we slow danced. I pushed him away and almost threw up on his shoes.
Daddy didn’t seem too happy about Ernie trying to kiss me, and I was scared for a second that he wasn’t going to let me go to any more dances, or ever even leave the house again for-that-matter. Mom called from the kitchen for him to calm down, said “Boys will be boys,” but it wasn’t until I told him that I didn’t really want to go with boys to the school dance anyway, that I really just wanted to go with my friends, that he calmed down and ran his hand through my hair and smiled again.
I didn’t know my town was a poor town, what in the big city they called a ghost town, until I was much older than that. I dropped out of school when I was fifteen to help work in my granddad’s factory. My daddy was so mad about that he put his fist through a wall. But at the end of the day he knew that we needed the extra help more than I needed another couple years of school, and I think we all knew that I wasn’t going to go to college. One thing that I could do was work, and I was a good worker. I liked the smell of dirt and sweat. My daddy laughed and said, “She’s never going to have to worry about boys the way she’s covered in soot.”
Mom didn’t think it was as funny. Neither did granddad. Grandmom had passed away a long time before and he lived all alone and I think he liked the thought of a fat little great-grandkid running around and getting into trouble.
But it didn’t matter anyhow. A man in a black suit came down one day to take a look at my granddad’s factory. We were fixing machine parts and stamping metal and he nodded and mumbled a few things, my granddad signed a few papers, and then what seemed like the next day the factory was closed and granddad was moving down to Florida to retire. He gave us some money, and that kept us going for a while, but it was hard to keep going and I wished all the while we could move down to Florida with him. It seemed so nice there from the pictures. Daddy told me that they were just pictures though, and that Florida was hot and humid as hell with a hundred animals that would eat me up in just one bite and that I better pray for granddad. But I wanted to move away from our dying town where men in black suits could walk in and do whatever they liked.
I was 18 when the factory closed.
I didn’t realize until later that the man in black suit was Ernie all grown up. He had moved away to the city and started working for some firm with three men’s names and he came back and started buying up all the land for them. All the places we used to play as kids. And I don’t know for sure but I think he was still salty about my not wanting to kiss him at the dance.
That’s just how these things go sometimes.
My dad died a year later in an accident on Highway 169. His Ford truck got caught under the front tires of a semi, one of those road trains that always scared me as a kid. I finally understood why after they pulled his body out from the wreckage. There wasn’t much left of his truck, but somehow the radio was still playing and I remember it was a song he hated, Walking in Memphis, by some singer that for some reason my daddy couldn’t stand.
There wasn’t much left of my daddy either. He was all tore up, his arms hanging limp and his legs so mangled they didn’t even look like legs anymore. There was so much blood we coulda swam in it. They didn’t want me to look. They didn’t want anyone to look, but of course all the passing cars slowed down and people stuck their heads out from their windows with long necks like chickens to see what was going on.
I wanted to turn off the radio so bad, but they wouldn’t let anyone near the wreck. They were scared of fire, I guess. So that song played all the way through to the end. I guess he couldn’t hear it anymore anyway, or unless angels are real, then he could but I like to think he wouldn’t care anymore. These earthly pleasures. If there is a heaven then he most certainly is there, but I’ve never believed in heaven really. Or angels for that matter. But even if there isn’t anything after death at least I know that all the time we spent together was real and special and I think that’s enough for me.
I’m 22 now. I work on an oil field in North Dakota, welding and whatnot. It’s another small town I live in, one that is living today but might be full of ghosts tomorrow, built so quick it looks like it’s made out of toothpicks. They needed places quick for workers to sleep and eat. But it’s not a nice place and they say that the oil money won’t last forever. Men get in fights and women get in fights, but there are fewer women than men and most of the time the men tell me I could be making more money doing that other thing with my hands. Then they chuckle and hold their stomachs and I remember what my daddy always said: Just smile and nod and go about my business. And so I do.
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