is driving his new Ford van over Liberty Road on the way to visit
the Parleys. Louise observes, it sure does bob up and down somewhat
for a new vehicle. The last word is three distinct syllables.
road is like the looptiloop, Albert replies, mouth drawn to a thin,
determined line. You wanted to come on out here to see these people,
so I guess you shouldn't take on about the quality of the ride.
be happy to show off your van now Albert. We won't stay long. A little
conversation will do us good.
conversation, Albert allows, it's just talk. It's talk and more talk
that don't come to any point. It don't mean nothing.
it does too, Louise affirms. I just don't know where you come to this
high-horse idea of everything meaning something so very important.
Things mean a lot of things. There's no one way to it. Besides, I
always find it interesting, one way or the other.
meaning mean something to that tribe hardly amounts to much of an
accomplishment. Talk and talk.
falls off between Albert and Louise. The road improves past the Shiner
intersection while they do a few miles on route one-hunert. Even the
Parley home is newly black-topped until you get to the dirt drive
back through the overgrown Christmas tree plot that Pa Parley calls
the piney woods although it's barely thirty yards deep from the road.
Then the horse field, now without horses, and the remnants of an apple
orchard, then the house. Pa Parley built it bits at a time over the
last thirty years and it documents shifts in building materials and
styles all set together with a heavy hand and a preference for thick
are gathered on the screened porch which Pa built just before treated
lumber became commonplace. There are signs of decay heavily covered
over with thick redwood paint. But it's not a bad place to sit, and
it has some depth being almost square, and there is a double-wide
screen door above double-wide stairs of new spruce, this new lumber
properly treated. Albert and Louise climb the three steps to the porch,
and Louise does the greetings to Pa and his son Clint and Clint's
wife Talley. Albert takes a wicker chair and looks back out towards
van? Clint asks.
van, Albert allows, letting the sheer fact register. Then he says,
Pa, you got some screen out. Right over there. One screen out kind
of defeats the purpose of all the other screens, don't you think?
Albert, don't you go being critical from the outset, Louise admonishes
as she enters the kitchen .
it does. Maybe not, Pa replies. Cecelia cut that there screen out.
Left a nice fringe of screening all around. Cecelia claims that the
flies think that the whole screen is still there and so they don't
come through. We're testing that.
Albert muses, slapping his leg, the flies may think and they may think
that there is a screen where no screen is, but I don't think the mosquitoes
think that cause I just killed me one. Stained my trousers, right
enough. Probably been eatin' off of you folks all afternoon. Like
while you was watching for flies.
in through the door with you and Louise, Clint says defensively.
shrugs and watches a large gnat hover at the opening in the screen,
darting suddenly this way and that, then returning to hover in the
center, never entering the space of the porch. That there is a thinking
gnat, he tells the others. It thinks there is a screen and it's not
about to bump into it. Now, I've been meaning to ask why Cecelia thought
to cut the screen out like that.
says the screens stop the air. She says we get no air up top of the
porch and air is why we have a porch to sit on, so she cut her a square
in the screen to see if her theorizing is correct. You know, that
flies thinks there is a screen there because all the other windows
and the double doors has got them.
is kind of dumb, Clint observes, but then we're partial to Mom and
she always done crazy stuff. He gets up from his metal lounger and
retrieves a fly swatter from a hook by the kitchen door, pausing to
call in for some beers. I'll bring 'um, Talley says, heaving her body
out of the rocker. She has a thin face and torso which suddenly balloons
into broad hips and heavy thighs, buttocks like field clods. I'll
get your beers,
repeats, but you have more than three, then I'm designated, Clint.
You remember that.
are you designated, Albert asks, watching with undisguised awe as
she sidles her breadth through the kitchen door.
designated undrunk, Albert. As in not asking for a DUI citation. Louise
know how to drive that new van of yours?
don't get DUIs, Clint says, cause he don't ever look drunk, he just
looks Baptist. White-shirt Baptist. Republican Baptist.
don't even know who God is, Talley says as she completes her migration.
But God knows who Albert is, you can believe on that.
a long way from flies to God Almighty, Albert says. Is that someone
else coming down your road, Pa? That little blue car hain't got wheels
big enough to navigate your ruts. But I seen that car somewhere.
boy, Clint says, that'll be Thelma. Hey Talley? Talley. Thelma 's
is enough to bring the girls out, Talley maneuvering through the kitchen
door and holding it back with her broad bottom while Louise steps
past her and Cecelia leans out of the doorframe. Poor Thelma, Cecelia
says. That poor girl has had herself so much sorrow. It's not right
so much sorrow comes to one person.
sorrow? Louise asks.
broke off with Alec Kliner, the banker.
's no banker, is he? Louise wonders.
does something with money, Cecelia says.
a broker, Albert corrects disgustedly. Broke 'er heart did he?
that 's plain cruel.
pulls up behind the other vehicles and parks at an angle that blocks
them all from backing out. Thelma, park that damned car right, Pa
yells. Damn. Thelma never did know where she was at.
pauses, turns around, decides against re-parking, and comes to the
porch steps with red eyes and cheeks stained but colorless. Talley
hurries over to give her hugs and the other two women follow suit
while the men watch.
hello to Pa and Clint and Albert, Cecelia directs, and get you a seat
over there on the porch divan. Louise, come help me with the drinks.
Talley, you talk with Thelma. You two was always close.
talk turns to ruts in Pa's dirt driveway, and from there to the weather,
Lyme disease, and the recent hold-up at Shiners Mobil station. Clint
swats an occasional insect and Pa wonders out loud can he sew the
cut-out section of screen back into place, that is, if they decide
they ought to do that at the cost of air movement and dissatisfying
Cecelia. But everyone is waiting to hear from Thelma, and based on
past traumatic experience such as Thelma is given to having, there
will be something to tell and something told. Talley has turned her
rocker so as to be looking towards Thelma. Louise is beside Thelma
on the porch divan, hand on top of Thelma's hand on top of Thelma's
leg, and Cecelia is kind of fussing with things and saying something
of little importance from time to time.
waves for another beer and Albert nods that he'll have one too, and
Talley holds out her glass for more ice tea with a new piece of lemon
if you don't mind too much.
just didn't know, Thelma sobs, I just had no idea of it at all.
Alec was so
Albert corrects her audio spelling.
'd you know, Albert? Louise asks. How'd you know that about Alec Kliner?
all perverted one time or another, Talley interjects. Maybe you just
got him at the wrong time.
thank you so much, Mrs. Expert-on-perversions, Clint says. Perhaps
you'd like to tell us about your extended experience with pervert
men. God save me, Talley. You don't know nothing about nothing when
it comes to them things.
to, Talley says. It 's in the magazines and on the TV and the movies.
Well, I mean just forget about it in the movies. I have to take my
dictionary to the movies any more. I never heard all that called them
things called what things? Albert wants to know.
never you mind, Cecelia says.
everything was fine, Thelma says, some peeved that the topic of talk
might be changing, and we went over to Four Flags and had a good time,
and we saw each other near every day, and I was trying best I could
to be a good woman for him. I know he had a fancy wife but she died.
So I was trying to be fancy but not to copy too close on how she might
have been, you know, like to be me but to really work at what Alec
called the compatibility factor. I was working hard on the compatibility
factor. I think I gave a lot towards that factor of compatibilityness.
Albert says, don't tell me you gave him money to invest?
says, shush, Albert. Thelma 's no money to give him. It's something
tell us Thelma. You're trying to understand this thing he did. We
can understand for you. We're all your friends.
don't know how I can say it. I mean what he wants me to do. Not here.
I mean these men.
all married and if they get out of line we'll tame the sons of bitches,
Cecelia says, suddenly in her confrontational mode. Any you guys make
smart with Thelma's story'll answer to us, and you won't like the
answering. Now you tell us, honey.
Alec says he wants to pee on me. Can you imagine? We're like taking
this shower when we was up to the fairground at the motel, Fairgrounds
Motel it is, the place we were, and he's scrubbing my back and he
says right out, I want to pee on you, Thelma. Well, I just got all
confused. I didn't know what to say.
have said, pee on me buddy boy? Pee on you! Albert says, rolling his
eyes at Clint who is looking hard at Talley.
he actually did say something like that, Thelma adds between sobs,
rivulets of tears now visible on her cheeks. He said I could pee on
him. He said I could do like women do on the airplanes in the bathrooms
on those airplanes, where they just bend over and put their backsides
out. He said he'd like for me to do that, and by this time I
crying and looking to reach my towel, and I told him, I ain't never
went on no airplane let alone ever peed on one.
guffaws over a mouthful of beer.
Cecelia says, whacking him with the swatter she has taken from Clint.
is disgusting, Louise says. That is disgusting. Who would ever dream
up doing that? He want other strange things of you, Thelma?
I don't know exactly. You know, strange and like that.
don't know, Thelma says.
I don't know what to do, she continues after a long quiet, marked
by a fly droning at the kitchen door, Clint swiping at a mosquito
humming at his ear, with Albert watching the hovering gnat, still
there, still hovering and darting and hovering. I can't stand all
this here silence from you people. And I don't know what to say to
him. He still calls me, you know. He does. I tell him, Alec, I don't
know what to say to you after what you said to me.
should just say, Alec, lookie here Alec, just you piss off, Alec,
Albert suggests. He gets another whack from Cecelia who says, that's
enough. That is just enough from all of us. We don't help poor Thelma,
one little bit. We're just sitting here gawking at her and amazed
at Alec Kliner like we was at a dirty movie. And her sorrow grows,
Thelma's does. People what ought to commiserate is making fun instead.
So, t' subject's closed. You girls come on in and we womenfolk will
talk in the bedroom. Turn
the air conditioner. She waves at an insect and shakes her head. I
do believe it 's got buggy out here after all. I think it's awfully
buggy Pa, don't you think?
turns to Louise and says, not too quietly, maybe we should drive away
'fore they carry us away?
your dumb face, Clint says to Albert.
meant the bugs gonna carry us off, Louise says.
don't mean nothing, Clint, Talley adds. Albert's just words.
something means something, Pa concludes. I 'magine these bugs means
I get to fix Mom's experimental screen. First, I'm going to the piney
forest and take an out-of-doors leak. An honest piss.
nobody get too close to Pa in the pines, Albert chokes through a laugh.
And Pa, you can water on one of Thelma's tires if you can manage to
see one of them little things, but I don't want to find nary a droplet
about my new van. Not so much as a tear, mind you.