by Shelly Weathers
From Spring 2018
My mother, at the cherry top of her register, our car packed to its dome light, we flew out of the West Texas flats. She predicted to Ruth and me how green and friendly we’d find the other end of this move, how we’d love staying with Aunt Collie and Uncle Ernst in the country, her side of the family for a change. She laid on about all the good we’d get from Ernst and his connections at the concrete plant where he welded sludge pipes. Mostly talking to Ruth who was furious about being pulled out of school three months from graduation, Ma said, “You don’t realize how steady factory jobs can be. We’re not leaving anything back there. We’re sowing prosperity through action with the blessing of the Holy Ghost.” Invisible as such blessings, my father and Sharon trailed miles behind us in a crammed-full U-Haul. I might have worried about Sharon being alone with him, but I was caught in the thrall of a pre-dawn Interstate, in the radiating heat of Ruth’s silent fury, in the cold blur of unpredictable momentum.
A week later, country life held all us at full stop. One of our first discoveries was our Aunt Collie’s disinterest in lunch. We made do with cans of Vienna sausages and stacks of saltine crackers, Fritos and Bugles. Like our barn-tucked U Haul, I sat stuffed full of junk and hidden, loaded with time to waste. Sleet shushed against windows. I watched soap operas, brushed inedibly small crumbs off and under the sofa, failed to care about how long we’d been out of school or what might happen next. So void fell the hours forward, I forgot my mother’s ninety mile an hour plan, holy benefits and all. Late winter cooled our heels in the middle of a thousand acres of unbordered farmland. We wore coats inside, slept in gloves and caps, dreamed of picnics on summer days.
Both Sharon and I suffered the same, unsatisfying, recurring, roasted-chicken-under-willow-trees dream. I know because we slept in the same bed in the attic. “We’re being forced into a rapport,” she said to me. And bearing her out, we were lumped together like we’d never been before and way beyond what either would have chosen—we watched aimless television together, handed oversized and too-tight sweaters back and forth, collaborated to invent Frito and cold spam sandwiches, gossiped about the impenetrable machinations of parents and relatives, lied to each other about how many friends we’d left behind, sat by each other at supper—the best time of day.
Collie fed us some kind of meal most nights. Evenings, stupefied by boredom and the inadequacy of corn chips, we knocked each other down running to the table where we got to watch Uncle Ernst eat steak for supper at least twice a week while the rest of us were eating fish sticks, tuna casserole, chopped patties with Del Monte canned corn, Hunts stewed tomatoes.
“Ernst makes the money, so he’s entitled. He has a very physical job,” my mother said. Collie simply seemed not to notice when he brought home extra food for only himself. She cooked it up with salt and Crisco, the way she cooked everything. Given our understanding of Collie’s cooking, the blunt sting of Ernst’s steak dinners diminished after a while. Still, the smell of pan-frying meat made me feel faint.
Once, later by decades, over a table so full of Thai curries our waiter brought a standing tray to hold our extra dishes, Ruth said to me, “Eating shit when you’re starving makes starving feel more official.” I’ll go further—eating shit when you’re starving makes it feel like starving is what you deserve, like it’s as natural to your condition as the color of your eyes or the part in your hair.
All I knew when we lived in the country with Ernst and Collie was my envy of the steak Ernst brought home, blunted by a confusing disgust for the charred saltlick on his plate after Collie cooked the steak.In a way, there was nothing much to hold against him except the aroma. In fact, I liked Ernst. He was rough as my father had ever been, but he was easier to read. More, he wore red coveralls like everybody else at the concrete plant. Like a work sodden Santa Clause dotting a white crest of snow, you could see him coming across the mostly muddy yard and run when you felt the need, but mostly, there wasn’t a need.
Fridays after Uncle Ernst’s shift, a couple carloads of concrete men came home with him from the CemTex plant. I wasn’t supposed to talk to them. I’d tuck into blind spots and watch them stomp on the back porch steps, right, left, a hulking dance. Caked sand fell in drifts and clots off their red coveralls, out of their hair, from under the collars of their coats in the cold. They’d slam each other on the back or the shoulders to make it fall faster and breathe it in and out of their mouths and noses. My uncle, last in, would look around and catch me behind the corner of the house, leaning off the edge of the porch roof, flattened under a wheelbarrow. He’d wink, his blue eyes burning like Christmas lights through grey fog.
I’d imagine Ernst and his thudding friends at the concrete plant, but I had it all wrong. In my head, their factory looked like a burning, boiling oil refinery because I’d seen those, but I never laid eyes on their dust-swallowed factory until after I was grown and looking for a job of my own. By then, the company had built up the truck end of its railroad town into a miles-wide maze of jointed outbuildings, silos, slanting conveyor belts. Stacks spewed silt over the equipment, the workers, and the countryside. Miles beyond factory walls the skeletons of old cedars torqued in a long dead wind, too heavy to stir their stone shells of coagulated dust. The whole landscape was a blasted statuary, a relic of reverse metamorphosis, from grasses, trees, and scrub, to chipped but solid stone. Ernst must have cut a king’s path through the tomb-poured factory. My father would’ve faired more like the cedars—hard as he could be, under pressure he bowed and froze. I decided I would do about as well, and I left the application on a receptionist’s desk in the manager’s office, blank. All we knew in the country was that our father was supposed to get in tight with the concrete men, as if they held sway in something wonderful.
Like Ernst and Collie, the men who worked at the plant lived on rented lots surrounded by sorghum fields none of them owned. Live in the fields in old houses or trailers, work at the plant—Ernst harped on the beauty of this deal like he was trying out for a play and those were the lines. My mother, his first and most important convert to this scheme, had helped him sell it to our father while we were still previously situated out west, calling it “Ernst’s offer”. After we arrived, she went on acting as though it wasn’t obvious that Ernst had squat to offer anybody.
Over Collie’s suppers, my mother would say, “What do you hear from the bosses, Ernst? Are they putting on?”
He’d answer her with a kind of angry joy, “Yes ma’am, Marjorie Lynn, they gall danged sure will be.”
“You hear that, Carter?” she’d say, turning in breathless surprise to our father. This conversation played several nights a week. The scale of her delight measured how impenetrable our father would become afterward.
Ernst either didn’t know better or he liked wading into the space my parents defended between them. Sometimes I thought he just liked agreeing with my mother, and I would have wondered why if I’d known enough. He’d say, “You set the day, and I’ll take old Carter to see the job boss. Just wind me up, and I’ll spin.”
During those incessant cold days, I had the chance to see Ernst spin, in the flesh. Turned out, he liked to dance—something I’d never heard of an adult doing except on television. He’d have a Saturday afternoon beer—another revelation since our parents had never so much as used the words for alcohol—and put on KHBR out of Killeen. Between honkytonk songs, sometimes a CemTex commercial would run, and he’d stop to down his bottle of beer all at once before going back to swing-stepping.
Since Aunt Collie had “ruined her hips on having babies,” my mother stood in with Ernst. She didn’t seem to mind his beer breath or his ham hock elbows jutting everywhere. Ernst bumped into chairs and scuffed up the floor. They hopped around, clutching hands like a couple of chickens wired together for a fight, gasping for air during commercials or newsbreaks and then starting up again. About the time Buck Owens sang, “Well I betcha I’m gonna be a big star,” my mother would start to twist on the balls of her feet while Ernst would lift one arm over his head, a wobbly matador swishing the red cape, my mother.
“Ernst Carmichael,” she’d say, panting, “all you did in the war was learn how to dance like a Frenchy beatnik.”
“That’s what war’s for, Marjo,” he’d say back, still hoofing.
While the AM signal lasted, my father and Collie played cards together or he went outside to smoke and Collie went into the kitchen, saying it made her hip hurt to watch so much commotion. I enjoyed Ernst’s animation. He talked loud and moved in broad strokes, but no one got hurt.
My father, more of a fine line etched over and over itself, spent winter pacing back and forth between the house and the U-Haul. Maybe he worried it could be seen from the road, its orange letters leaking through old, gapped clapboards. Usually, if he worried, trouble started. He might get especially quiet, or start slamming doors. He might take off in the car or tell you to do something and then in the middle of you doing it, tell you not to.
His tension was all in his breathing, always. I could watch him and know. Sharon never seemed to notice him until he’d clobbered her. A week before we left Odessa, no sign of our leaving yet visible, Marjorie stood at the kitchen counter saying how our father was too lazy to mow the grass and too lazy to get a real job when he walked in and heard her. He said something about her running off at the mouth like bologna was the milkman. It was nonsensical, but as a goad, it worked. Marjorie threw a can of Clabber Girl at him. He quivered all over, shaking his arms above his head and knocking his knees together, “You’re scaring me now!”
I was on the wrong side of this scene, standing by the sink, the two of them between me and the kitchen door. I weighed the relative risks of standing where I was against the logistics of moving around the room to flank my father and scoot out the door. While I was figuring, my mother threw the electric hand mixer at my father. Its beater grazed the top of his bald head. Not the bloody skid mark, but the way his breathing altered from slow and natural to invisible—as if all the air around his body sucked inside him and stayed there, circulating—told me I needed to freeze. Don’t move. Don’t look directly at them. Don’t alter so much as the direction of toes or the position of arms. My glass of water stopped halfway to my mouth, hung in space like an astronaut, tethered, waiting for mission control to give some kind of go ahead. In walks Sharon, her feet slapping linoleum. Of course she caught it. Anyone who knew how to watch would’ve seen a hard time coming.
In the country, I kept on watching my father breathe, but by the time daylight lasted to supper, he hadn’t broken out at me or Sharon, or done anything much in ages. He’d only paced through a succession of weeks. I began to relax my awareness except to know where he was and when. When he went out to the barn, he’d smoke or idle the truck to keep the battery from dying, and sometimes he’d open the back of the truck and shift stuff around looking through boxes for whatever he was afraid we forgot to bring.
The first morning it finally stopped icing up, Ernst followed him out and tried to talk to him about the U-Haul.
“Best to not push luck, Carter” Ernst said. “All them Catholic business owners get shifty around Lent. They’d never bat an eye if the truck turned up. You should think about unpacking, leaving it parked out on a fire road.”
My father said, “Shame to have this barn here, stalls and all, no sign of stock for so long.”
I thought he’d acted rudely to Ernst by changing the subject, but Ernst started waxing on about livestock he’d known as a boy. Their talk turned boring—cows and mules—and I went in to look for chips and pickles.
“It’s called dissimulation,” Sharon told me at night, in our shared attic bed. “It means you act all interested in somebody and then you just treat them like nothing. They get confused and go along. It’s a way to belittle people you think are beneath you.” Actually, my father’d acted more interested in flicking his cigarette ash than in Ernst. Sharon, I thought, might also have been talking about the boy in her old class back in Odessa, the boy she’d written to our first afternoon in the country. Aunt Collie mailed the letter for Sharon, but he didn’t write back. He should have. I remembered how she always took an extra Bic in case he didn’t have one, how she coached him through some kind of springtime test they had to take. I wished I could find him and punch him in his forgetful heart. But he was, like my own forgetful friends, like Ruth’s high school diploma, out of reach behind us.
By the time I got comfortable following my father around within arm’s reach, the weather thawed and he wasn’t around as much. Warm days, subsoilers came to dredge the fields around the house, daylight to dark. Black dirt and white grit wheeled behind crappy, country pickups hauling to and from job sites on caliche roads between plowed-up fields. One road ran directly in front of the house, then joined up with a wider, gravel road a mile away, eventually butting into paved frontage beside a state highway.
One day of earnest sunshine, Ruth followed road to road, hitchhiked into town, and found a cash register job at a feed store. My mother said it was all part of the plan, and, a couple weeks later, she started work, too, answering phones in an office at a brickyard. My father drove Ruth and my mother to town every morning, then stayed out all day until they needed him to drive them all back in the evening around the time Ernst got home for dinner with his steaks. I wondered if this change in routine meant the job at the concrete plant had come through or was about to.
“Carter’s not really working. He’s probably just driving around smoking all day. Anyway, Ernst couldn’t get a crook arrested,” Sharon said. “No way he’s getting Carter a job. It’s another example of subterfuge.”
I appreciated Sharon’s talent for making sense of impenetrable mechanisms. She was no good on her feet, though, and still couldn’t read a room to save herself a smack, but between us, with her view of big issues and my quick read at arm’s length, I thought we could keep whatever was coming at a distance. Our anxious asymmetry seemed to make us a good team.
We worked opposite sides toward a middle where we’d both be better off than without each other. Sharon worried about being out of school so long. I worried about going back to a new school where teachers would yell at us for being truants. Sharon worried about her education. I worried about how many pork rinds it took before cramps were a given. Looking farther ahead, she worried about getting into a college. She did her part, reading everything she found with words, including the dictionary Collie kept under the coffee table. Sometimes Collie bragged on Sharon’s studiousness, school or no. I wasn’t jealous of this attention. Sharon was due something nice. I brought scrounged chips and crackers to the table, and Sharon taught me how to say paucity, seeing as how we ate it for lunch.
“When we get away from here,” she said at least once every night before sleep, “we’ll start to school. They’ll probably give us a test, and we won’t have to get held back. It’ll be like it was in Odessa. We’ve all been diagnosed with high IQs. They’ll have our records. They’ll put me in accelerated classes, and you won’t have to repeat a grade.”
I agreed to all she said, said I knew it too. We all wanted things to be better than they’d been.
The day before we’d left Odessa, I sat by a girl named Ashley on the bus coming home. Christmas break was over and now the only thing to talk about was how many Valentines you had to get before you could say you were popular. The swampy smell of crude oil painted the wide open spaces familiar and homey. Sharon wasn’t on our bus, and I didn’t get it right away when Ashley said something mean about how my sister was the only middle schooler on our block without a boyfriend. I should’ve hit her, but I think I laughed along . Back then, I never thought about Sharon unless she did something horrible.
At Collie’s, noticing her was an assignment—she’d wake up a couple or three times a week, sick to her stomach, groaning with a headache, sleepwalking, breaking out in an itch so she’d claw her legs until they were streaked and raw. My mother called it hysteria. Ruth said it was anemia. My father didn’t have room to say a word about it. Younger than her, I was able by comparison, so I was supposed to get her a Tums or some aspirin, fetch her when she wandered, find the Jergens for her shins, keep a glass of water by our bed.
During the days, Sharon complained the same way she always had, stubborn about everything, even supper, which I thought of as an event. She’d say, “Can I just eat the roll? Gristle hurts my jaw.”
Instead of yelling, my mother would shrug, “That child will never fill out at this rate.” We’d all shrug with her, and Ernst would take the uneaten chop, even on his steak nights.
“I taste blood. There’s blood on my food now,” Sharon would rub her mouth with her sleeve. My father would look across the room, out the front window, so he probably never saw there wasn’t any blood. Maybe he was remembering when there was, and maybe she was, too.
Here’s a memory: One Friday, our mother lost a job. We didn’t know right away. We only knew she came back from the brickyard like usual and then at supper, with all the concrete men gathered around a meatloaf for their usual week-ender, she started up with more sour than usual.
She said, “What’s the word from the plant, Ernst? When they going to start hiring again?”
Ernst got all excited and talked loud for five minutes about how they needed strong arms on the pulverizing machines, on loading, on forklift. The men all started talking at once about how they’d gotten work for sons, nephews, wives’ sisters’ husbands, anybody with a broad back. My father had a slender back, but bony as he was, he listened.
Ernst said, “All a body’s got to do is ask.”
One of the concrete guys, a wall-sized redhead who chewed two bites at a time, said, “But don’t ask about no forklift. That’s a promotion. You can’t just walk in and expect to sit all day. Sitting jobs are for people who prove something first.”
My father stood up and went outside, I figured to smoke, to go silent for the rest of the night or longer. If there was going to be a blow up, this was it, but I couldn’t read whether we’d just heard good news or bad. My mother followed him out.
In the country, outside sounds mostly fly away into the emptiness of fields and dirt roads. On this damp night of late chill, our parents’ voices stood fast, leaned back in through the thin panes of the windows, through the drafts under doors, to sit with us again at the table while we all chewed or didn’t.
“It’s Odessa all over,” she said. “We went hungry. We lost the house. We had to run off in the middle of the night and put up here.”
He said, “You’re the one got fired today.”
She got louder. “You can’t get fired if you don’t have a job. Look at you sitting here, wallowing around doing nothing while that truck sits out there in Ernst’s barn. You aren’t even trying. That makes you a thief, a pure, lowlife, down in the dirt thief. The cops’ll come.”
Carter’s voice was loud but his next words began in a stir I couldn’t make out. I’m sure I heard him say, “—get in our car and go back to where I know somebody.”
When she answered him, everyone heard her. “We don’t have a car anymore. I sold it for cash to feed your kids. All we’ve got’s a hot U-Haul. I dare you to drive somewhere in that.”
Everyone gone and alone with Sharon, I asked about the standout word of the night—cops. I didn’t need her to recite to me from the dictionary, but the way she said “cops” was what had me snagged in worry. She said, “Don’t fret. If our parents go to jail for stealing a U-Haul, we’ll get adopted. We might even get sent back to Odessa.” She added, “If we get separated, I’ll find you when I’m eighteen. Or after college.”
I started feeling anxious about getting arrested, but nothing else changed. I realized I hadn’t noticed when our own car had disappeared or when my father started using Collie’s car to drive Ruth into town, but Collie didn’t need it, so what was the difference? Sometimes my mother rode along to apply for new jobs. Ernst still brought home steaks on fish stick nights. Sometimes my mother and Ernst still danced until their faces turned red and wet with sweat. Collie would say, “Isn’t it nearly past dancing season, you two?” Days had warmed all the way up.
The week I first noticed green heads poking up through the rows between ruts in every direction, Ernst came home on Friday night without his concrete crew. He came in alone and slammed the door. He looked cleaned up, no dust, no coveralls, but a plain, buttoned shirt, blue as his eyes. He smelled like soap and Sundays. Pretty soon, my mother pulled up out front in Collie’s car without Ruth or Carter. She came in wearing a dress I hadn’t seen before, a deeper blue than Ernst’s shirt, dotted with red flowers, tied with a belt so her waistline showed. I thought she must’ve gotten a job. But instead of announcements and celebrations, she tugged off earrings as new as her dress and fretted around the house, snapping at Sharon and me to get up and move, to sit down and stop messing around.
“Her nails are polished. She’s wearing perfume—Cotillion,” Sharon whispered to me before our mother told her to stop acting like a little sneak. Sharon nearly asked how Ruth and Carter were getting home, but I persuaded her into silence with meaningful frowns. I wondered about the car situation, too, but getting slapped by a hand with maroon fingernails wouldn’t help anybody find a ride back from town.
Collie waited the meal for a while as if she expected the missing two would eventually arrive on their own, Ernst’s absent CemTex boys in tow. Finally, she put food on the table, and we started without them. Nobody grown asked how they were getting home or why our mother left them there without a way back. Everyone stayed silent. Knives gritted across Corning Ware. Nobody passed the bowls like they ought to, so we all had what was closest. I ate corn and gravy. Sharon had a roll and a potato. She kept looking over at me, making faces like she was going to ask questions or make comments, and I stared back at her hard and hoped this told her all she needed to know about what else can happen when adults are too tied up with something to pass food to each other. I guess it worked because she didn’t even sigh overly loud, which might have saved her if she wasn’t such an easy target.
After a while, Collie said, “Sharon chews with her mouth hanging open. It’s disgusting.”
Sharon, making an “I’m tired of potatoes” face, let some boiled potato drop from her mouth. For a few seconds, I thought my mother was going to backhand Sharon, finish her front teeth off to match the back ones.
As if mercy existed, right then a car swung up in front of the house and slowed to idle. Doors slammed and the car drove off. Our father and Ruth walked in. You’d think they’d say something, like, “Hey, you forgot us,” or, “We’re incredibly mad at you because you forgot us,” or, “Where’s the Friday guys. Did you forget them, too?” They didn’t. None of us said anything, either. Nobody remarked about the blue shirt, the new dress, the belt, none of it. They came over quietly, gliding so their feet barely seemed to move. They sat down at their empty plates and ate what they could reach.
A few bites more and Ernst swigged half a bottle of beer in one mouthful, said, “Seems to me all three of these girls is getting big enough to eat right through my goddamned table.”
Quick as a punch, my mother said, “Everything somebody might want isn’t on the table, and it never was. Just because you can see it doesn’t mean you can have it.”
Collie said, “Oh, Lord, stop it.” Everyone except my father looked at her, so she added, “Make that child stop eating like a dog.” She pointed at Sharon, but she wasn’t looking at Sharon.
As if in answer to a call, my mother threw her fork. For a second I thought she’d thrown it at Collie, but it hit Sharon, who had failed to dodge.
Sharon said, “I’m bleeding.”
She wasn’t, but a reddening mark connected a welt from eyebrow to eyebrow, so she became a scowling caricature, the very eye of disapprobation. Our parents, our aunt, our uncle all got up and left separately. Ruth moved to Ernst’s chair, drank the last of his beer, reached for more food, all the food. The three of us, free to move our arms and pass bowls, scraped off their plates, filled up on chicken, potatoes, corn, rolls, and gravy cooked for the plant men who hadn’t come. We stuffed ourselves on their helpings and took what we couldn’t finish to our rooms with us wrapped up in wax paper Ruth fetched from Collie’s kitchen.
That night, stomachs nearly bursting, Sharon smeared her eyebrow bump with Vaseline.
“It was all Holy Ghost and jitterbug a couple months ago,” she said. “Now they’re worse than Bathshebas.” I didn’t understand how there could be more than one Bathsheba and couldn’t guess why the police would care. She leaned close to say, “I’m considering calling the police to report them myself. Then we’d be free.”
I tried to fill in the crime between truancy officers and U-Haul bills, and cousins. However darkly our troubles lit the summer coming on, I couldn’t think they amounted to much. Okay, I nodded. Yes, I told her, that sounded great. I promised not to tell anyone it was her who turned them in—I’d plead the fifth if anyone pressed me. She smiled, and the ridge of her brow dipped like a shelf under too much weight. I didn’t question exactly what she was glad about, but only hoped she enjoyed it. Not in the plush dark of the sorghum night, thunder sounding over distant fields, did I imagine police would care about broken teeth or welted faces. Sharon never called anyone, and I forgot we talked about it.
The season moved to regular thunder. There’d be a crash followed by the popping of hail on the roof—which thanks to a waning dread of police, I still always at first took for gunfire—and we’d be up, crouched in the hall, listening for a sound like a train, not the Amtrak or endless groaning grain cars, but a bellowing threat to pull the old house apart without the bother of touching down. Only Ernst refused to get out of bed and hole up in relative safety from flying glass should a something give way under the pressure.
He said, “God hasn’t made the hurricane with my name on it yet.”
I had to pinch Sharon to keep her from howling every time he called a tornado a hurricane. Either way, we were scheduled to die in piles of rickety lumber and didn’t need a single other piece of trouble. “Hick talk from hicks,” she’d say in my ear while we waited for calm to return. I’d be momentarily thankful for thunder or the roar of a great wind overhead to drown her out.
Our third week of storms, we sat listening for the shingles to fly off after a low swipe of bass-shrieking wind. Pros at waiting by now, expecting a pass over, expecting fireworks but no game, we were alert but not so fearful. I sat between Ruth and Sharon, floorboards biting my hip bones, then my shins and knees, then my hips again until Ruth pinched me and told me to sit still. My father squatted with his back to us, crouched over a transistor radio, dialing static. The green sea of half-grown sorghum around the house flapped and whistled under the rumbling gale as pressure gathered in a knot to surge upward.
The doors between rooms began to rattle. Thunder sounded like helicopters dropping bombs, explosive, unstopping. All storm noises sounded together, rain, wind, green sea, and the crashing elements. At the end of the hall, a bang followed by shattering glass as a window buckled in Collie’s and Ernst’s room. Finally something forced Ernst out of his bed and into the hall in his shorts and undershirt. We glimpsed rain flying around the room behind him, flashing light, full-shining as lamps, sunshine. The bedroom door nearly ripped off its hinges as he struggled to close it.
“Ernst, Ernst,” Collie said from where she sat beside Carter and his transistor.
“Oh, Ernst,” our mother said, too, crying from the far end of the hall.
Ernst laughed and swore, shook his head to shed raindrops on us. He stood there, taking his time deciding where to step, where to sit, and the problem appeared to strike him as a prize.
By morning, the damage came clear. The house was leaky but fixable, the yard, nearly untouched, hardly a leaf out of place. But the barn took a hit and fell, weathered boards blooming outward from its foundation like opened petals. Our U-Haul stood in the middle of its ring, exposed, orange as the sun. No way to put it back. No way to fit it inside the shredded box of the barn. Anyone could see it over the tops of the rising tide of the crops, probably from miles away, from the road traveled by trucks and deputies. It didn’t fit anymore. It couldn’t be covered anymore.
Ernst said. “I’ll be good-goddamned if we aren’t done here.”
We found a place to stay with some relatives of Carter’s up the highway in a bigger town. By nightfall of the barn falling day, we didn’t live in the country anymore, just as fast as we hadn’t lived in Odessa, as fast as Ruth hadn’t graduated, and faster than my father hadn’t worked at the concrete plant. In town, the U-Haul under wraps in a garage, paper taped over the little windows facing the street, Carter’s relatives talked for hours a day about the glass factory where they both worked, how the hiring season was around the corner. Both men and women worked there, they said. No need to shop around and drive all over town. Marjorie toured the plant and came back quiet as she’d ever been. We continued to stay off the street in daytime, avoid windows or the phone or the door in case of truancy officers who would surely be more plentiful on city streets than in the green-field boonies. Ruth spent a lot of time with the want ads. Sharon and I slept in separate rooms again. Her welt healed a bit and left a bruise, eventually her bruise disappeared, and the next one, and by then we’d made a few more changes. Storms continued into summer.