was drunk. He sat in the white LTD outside his mother's trailer and thought
about the pink percussive pop of Angela's diaphragm case and the things
he had done wrong. He was drinking Cutty Sark, fisting the bottle up to
the lopsided hole in his head and pouring it in. He couldn't see it in
the dark but he knew. Color of piss it was, and warm too. He was drunk
but not drunk enough.
Billy wasn't a bad sort. He could sing a
bit and he made the National Honor Society on the second chance -he didn't
get in as a junior but they pinned him as a senior. He wasn't unpopular
in school, wasn't considered goofy or unathletic. He played second base
and had boxed a little at the YMCA before he discovered how fast black
boys could be with their hands. He took eleven straight three-rounders
before he walked into the real thing and got turned back. He was what
the guidance counselor called well-rounded; he was going to school at
Tech now. He was 75 miles away from his dorm room. His mother's trailer
just happened to be in a park that was next door to the Southpaw Club
where Billy liked to go and listen to his friend Hank's band play heavy-metal
music. It was sort of a coincidence that he was sitting outside his mother's
trailer in the white Ford.
The car was only nine years old, but it
was an old nine. You might call it bathtub white if you were generous.
The paint had taken on a kind of silky texture - like velour. Rust was
working its way through in spots. It was only nine years old - really
ten when Billy thought about how it was 1977 and already the 1978s were
out - but it was, in all fairness, a beater. None of Billy's friends had
cars as crappy as the white Ford. Not even Hank, who was piss poor, whose
Daddy was a worthless son-of-a-bitch that Hank might have to kill someday,
Nobody had such a piece-of-shit beater as Billy. Billy didn't mind though.
He didn't care about cars.
Besides, everybody liked Billy's beater.
At least they seemed to like it; it was big enough to hold everybody,
it had the best stereo - a Craig PowerPlay that was too big to fit in
the dash, so Billy mounted it on the floor with its mouth up, so that
it resembled a toaster . The cassettes popped up when he hit the eject
button. It was cool.
Angie liked Billy's car. She said she did.
Said she liked the bench seats, the round chromed plastic air conditioner
nozzles. Not nozzles. Billy couldn't think of the word. Billy was drunk.
But not drunk enough.
Billy knew he wasn't going to drive back
to Ruston. Not tonight. Not in his condition. He wasn't drunk enough to
go in yet but he was too drunk to drive. Billy's mom was hard of hearing.
Hell, Billy's mom was stone deaf. She wouldn't hear him when he came in,
she wouldn't know he was there until she looked out the window and saw
the white Ford LTD parked here in the morning.
It hurt. Sunshine and the sure knowledge
of wrongdoing. It came back to him slowly. Angie and the medical student.
Him in the bathroom, scraping his knuckles on the exposed pipes, punching
the concrete wall. Mike and Will pulling at him, pushing him through the
stainless steel kitchen. A bottle of Scotch. Out into the back alley.
Damn head like a condom full of urine.
It was coming back.
Oh fuck, it was coming back.
He lay in his narrow bed, looking up at
the seams in the ceiling and decided it was over with Angie. He loved
her but he couldn't put up with her shit. He knew it wasn't really her
fault, that it was really her upbringing. All that gothic Catholic weirdness
and the abortion and all. She was a good girl, and what she did with Billy
- and the guy before - was bad.
Billy understood this; she was a good girl
and good girls didn't really go out with guys like Billy. Billy was a
pussyhound. Billy was sweet and nice and all but in the end he wanted
you to put out. Third date. He'd try earlier.
Billy had trouble thinking about God and
religion and stuff; he guessed he was still a little drunk. He wanted
to hold his head still on the pillow, he wanted to flip the pillow over
to the cool side but it seemed like work. He just kept staring at the
seams in the ceiling. Not even piss poor Hank lived in as shitty a place
as Billy; even piss poor Hank lived in a real house. Granted, Hank's house
wasn't much of a house, but it was unmistakably not a trailer.
Billy could hear his mother scuffling around
in the kitchen. Sooner or later she'd look out the window and see his
car parked outside. Sooner or later she'd tip-toe back to Billy's end
of the trailer, ease open his door and peek her little mouse head in.
"Billy Wayne." She said this in kind of
a gruff whisper, meant to wake her sleeping boy.
"Yeah, momma? I'm home."
"What you doing home, Billy Wayne?"
"No class today, momma. Canceled."
"Canceled? They don't cancel college."
"Yes, m'am they do. All the time. They cancel
because a professor wants to go fishing, because somebody gets sick, because
somebody has emotional problems."
Billy knew his mother wasn't listening -
or rather, that she couldn't hear him. She had turned away from him, satisfied
that he was undamaged. Her trust was touching.
She was all but deaf, unless she looked
right at you and cocked her head a certain way she couldn't make out what
you were saying. Only your tone of voice registered. She was like a dog
Sometimes, to amuse his friends, Billy would
smile at her and say, in a cheerful voice, "I'm going out to buy drugs
now, mama," and she would just smile and nod and not even look up from
Or he'd be on his way out to meet Hank and
Michael, waiting in the driveway in Hank's rumbling truck, and halfway
out the flimsy trailer door, she'd sing at him from the kitchen:
"Where you going, Billy Wayne?"
Billy would sing back:
"Just down to the corner to get a hooker,
mama. I need me a sweet piece of ass."
And she'd call back to her boy, pridefully
beaming behind those jelly jar lenses. "All right, but don't be gone too
long. I'll have supper in about an hour."
Billy did this, but Billy didn't do it to
be mean. Billy loved his mama and hated to disappoint her. He hated that
he wasn't achieving his potential. He hated that he felt the way he felt
but what could you do? He hated that he was skipping school today but
there wasn't anything he could do about that now.
Now was Angie. Now was what to do. Now was
a fuckin' gut cramp, like he had four kinds of shit backed up in his belly.
Now was pain.
Billy showered and dressed and felt better.
His knuckles were scraped, his hand was sore, but not too bad. He had
the sudden thought that if he'd really loved Angie he'd have broken his
hand on the wall - as it was he felt a little ashamed of his half-assed
hissy fit. If he'd been a man he wouldn't have punched the exposed plumbing
in the bathroom, he'd have punched that black-banged medical student.
Not that he had anything against him really, but that was the kind of
thing you were supposed to do when you were drunk and saw your girlfriend
out with her supposed ex.
He kissed his mama on the cheek and went
outside to the beater LTD and fired her up. He pressed a Journey tape
down the yaw and the speakers trembled with Steve Perry's high wuss plaint.
Billy didn't really like Journey all that
much but he knew some girls did. And he knew if he was careful with his
breath he could drop his voice in a notch so that he could sing along
with Steve Perry and it would sound pretty good. Angie had been amazed
that he could do that. Billy couldn't sing like Hank could, but he could
sing along with the radio - or with the Journey or with the Hall and Oates
tape (he had Daryl Hall's parts on Abandoned Lunchonette down pat)
- and he could make girls think he could sing.
He was just a fake shallow bastard, but
he could do.
Sara's off on a turnaround, Flying gamblin'
fools to the Holy Land Las Vegas and some girls would get all wet. He
knew this. He wasn't stupid.
He pulled out of the driveway, spit up a
few pieces of gravel with his tires, and turned left onto Texas Street,
U.S. Highway 80. He turned away from the strip, away from the strip joints
and the B-drinking clubs - away from Ruston and school too - and headed
for the bridge into Shreveport. He didn't know why. He didn't know where
he was going exactly. he was just resisting the urge to drive past Angie's
house where she wouldn't be anyway. But driving past her house made him
feel weak and sick to his stomach. His gut was settling, his head lightening,
he was opening into the day. He had a twenty-dollar bill and almost a
tank of gas. He had a Friday with no classes. He had a boner. He was almost
in love with his life, if he could just keep from thinking too much about
One thing to do was to ride out to LSU on
Youree Drive and try to catch Michael. He always parked his car - it was
a nice car, a year-old Trans Am - away from the rest of the students,
so it was easy enough to find. Billy could slip a note under the wiper
blade and Michael would meet him for a beer at The Cub after he got out
of class. Michael was reliable that way, he always showed up.
Or he could forget about Michael, who was
cool but after all a guy, and run out to Tammy's mother's dress shop in
Benton. It was eleven miles in the other direction, but chances were that
Tammy would be working there. And if she wasn't, Tammy's mother would
for sure be there. Billy liked to hang around the shop and talk to her;
Billy thought Tammy's mom liked Billy better than Tammy did.
But Billy liked Tammy too. Tammy liked sex
and when she wasn't dating anybody in particular, she'd call Billy and
they'd go out drinking and parking and she'd let Billy put his fingers
in her so long as he didn't think it meant anything. She'd reach down
his pants. She was a good friend to have, and even though she was a little
big, a little bit older, and had dropped out of college to go to Vo-Tech
to learn to cut hair but never really signed up for the classes, Billy
didn't mind being seen with her.
So when Billy reached the Shreveport side
of the Texas Street Bridge, he turned right rather than left and headed
north, looping back over the Red River toward the racetrack. He got off
on Airline and turnd north again, past the parish courthouse and jail,
past the Palmetto Country Club. His headache began to dissipate, he rolled
down his window and stuck out his elbow like a trucker. He ejected the
Journey - he hadn't been paying it any attention - and tossed on the seat
beside him. He fished Hall and Oates out of its case, pressed it down.
the hairy Italian-looking one, was singing:
Will you survive, learn to drive
I know you can't describe the dreams you
But either stay, or get away
"Awwwhh, pretty girl," Billy keened along
with the tape. He hit the notes dead on. He was definitely feeling better.
"Silly girl, I'm just playing."
He pulled into the dust lot. Tammy's mother's
dress shop looked like it should be part of a strip mall, but the rest
of the mall was missing. It was just a little shoebox, with brick sides
and a glass front. Tammy's light blue - she called it "azure" - Mustang
II was the only vehicle parked there.
This was good - and bad. It meant Tammy
was there. But it also meant her mother wasn't - which meant that Billy
couldn't take her off for a milkshake and (he wished) a quick hand job.
It meant she had to watch the store. And every customer who came in would
be acquainted with Tammy's mother. And sometimes, just every now and then,
customers would come in.
Billy checked his reflection in the glass
just before pushing his way inside. He looked OK - he was wearing his
drapy terry cloth shirt with the hood, his 28-inch waist jeans, his black
belt with the Alaska pipeline buckle and his new Adidas Stan Smiths. His
platinum hair was parted in the middle and feathered back and sprayed
down. His red eyes were parked behind a pair of $6.99 Foster Grants he'd
lifted from the truck stop near Minden where he always stopped to pee
on his way to and from school. He was passably attractive. She'd be glad
to see him.
"Hey, Cyr," Tammy drawled, from behind the
counter, where she sat reading Glamour. "Why ain't you in school?
You flunk out you're going have to go back to work for Libbey Glass, break
your poor mama's heart. "
Billy had worked at Libbey Glass the summer
before. It was good money, hot work. He'd come home black and sooty and
nearly too tired to eat. He'd just drink his mama's sweet ice tea and
fall asleep in front of the TV like an old man. His mama had begged him
to quit, but he'd stuck it out all summer. He couldn't imagine going back
there. He'd told Tammy all about it; he'd told Tammy he was going to be
a structural engineer.
"Just got a day off, darlin', nothing to
fret about," Billy said. He shot her his best fake charming clamshell
smile. His Loozianny smile, his mama called it, the one he'd inherited
from his slick French daddy. He did a little side to side dance as he
threaded through the racks of dresses and pantsuits, his arms held out
parallel to the floor and crooked at the elbows. He minced like a queerboy.
"And to what do we owe the honor of your
prescence, Mr. Cyr?"
Billy put on his best Southern gayboy lisp
- he knew not to overdo it, not to play it too broad. Billy was a good
mimic and not hateful. Alvin Dumas, who was going out on tour with Up
With People, was a queer and Billy liked talking to Alvin. Alvin had talent,
he could sing better than Hank if it came right down to it. Alvin knew
about holding notes and breathing. As he thought this, Billy suddenly
realized it was Alvin's voice he was using.
"Oh, Ah'm just lookin'. Never know when
you might run cross a fine pretty pretty."
"Are you shopping for Miss Angelica?" She
pronounced it sorta French-Italian-Anj-el-eek-ah.
Bill stayed in character, as he felt the
hand of a viscose party dress, leftover from prom season, then let it
"Ahhh, no. Not today." He bit off the words,
and let his voice sing up at the end.
"What's wrong? Y'all break up?" There was
a note of genuine concern in Tammy's voice.
Billy dropped his fag act.
"Don't know. Maybe." He gave a little sigh.
He smiled, a smaller version of the Loozianny
special. Then he ducked his head and looked up at her over his Foster
"Shit, Cyr, what do you mean you don't know?
You dump a girl, you know. She dumps you, you for sure know. You thinking
about bailing? You think she's thinking about bailing? You didn't come
all the way up here to paw my mama's last season Victor Costas."
"No, m'am, I did not. And I guess if I have
to say right now, things ain't so great between Angie and me. She stood
me up last night and I saw her later on at the Mississippi River Company
with that sloe-eyed bastard who knocked her up."
"Shit is right." He spit the next word,
with a theatricality he didn't really feel. "Bitch."
"OK, so maybe she had to talk to him. Maybe
they had something important to discuss. Maybe it doesn't have anything
to do with you."
"Fuck that. She knows where I go, She knows
that unless we go out, I run down to the square and pretty much go back
and forth between Humphree's and Mississippi depending on who's playing.
It was a fuckin' Thursday night and I told her I was going to be in town.
She knew I'd run into her. Into them.
"Maybe she wanted me to kick his ass."
"Boy, remind me never to date you, Billy.
You're one possessive asshole."
Billy glared at her, but then he saw that
she was teasing and he smiled. He threw out his arms and pretended to
lunge for her throat. He reached over the counter and she stood up to
meet him and hugged him awkwardly. She smelled vaguely of pea soup and
gardenias and talcum powder. She felt pneumatic and safe, like one of
Billy's sister's old plastic baby dolls. He leaned in and ran his tongue
up the side of her neck. She giggled, and pushed him away.
"So what you going to do?"
"Don't know. Get used to jerking off. Not
that I ever got out of practice. Maybe turn queer. Maybe find myself a
rock 'n' roll band, that needs a helping hand. "
"Billy, I swear, you're 'bout half queer
"Oh, ever seen a queer do this?"
He stepped back into his boxing stance,
threw a flurry of lefts and rights, skipped his feet back and forth, bobbing
Tammy laughed heartily, and put her hand
up to her face.
"Boy, you ought to be on TV. You ought to
have your own show."
"I am my own show, sweetheart, I am my own
The burst of physical activity hadn't done
Billy much good. He felt a warm wave of queasiness rising, he felt his
gut cramp. He made a face and held up one finger and stepped past the
counter into the back room, into the "Employees Only" bathroom and was
Tammy didn't come after him. She just sat
on her stool behind the counter, picked up her magazine and counted the
cars that passed her window while Billy was away. Six of them passed in
the ten minutes or so he was gone, and she knew five of the drivers and
the other one looked familiar to her. Might have been Clayton Dooley,
all grown up.
Damn damn damn. The faucet water wasn't
cold enough, Billy slapped it on his face anyway. He was sweating. He
could taste the sick in the back of his mouth, smell it on his hands.
No more fuckin' Scotch. Never again.
He finally pulled himself together enough
to go back out. Tammy didn't move.
"You all right?"
"Chipper, love." His English accent.
"Damn, Billy you're just no damn good to
anyone." She waited a beat. "I feel sorry for you, hon."
"I feel sorry for me too."
"We all got that problem, don't we?"
"Yeah, probably so."
"You want to talk about Angie some more?"
"No. I really don't. I really don't think
I have anything else to say about her. It's funny, if you'd asked me yesterday,
I probably would have told you I was in love with her and that there was
half a chance I'd marry her. Now, I don't feel anything for her at all.
I'm just pissed that she acted the way she did, you know, I thought she'd
have a little more respect."
"But Billy, you knew she had problems. She'd
had an abortion after all - and her parents were so Catholic. Bet if you
talked to her you'd find out that this didn't have much to do with you.
Maybe she's been in love with that guy all along. Maybe she didn't even
know it. Maybe she just wanted to tell him something. Maybe he won't leave
her alone - there's all kinds of possibilities."
"I can feel that it's over and it don't
matter. I'm all right. Really. I just got too drunk. Now it feels like
I puked her out of my system. Did I tell you I beat up a bathroom last
He held out his raw hand, an offering. Pathetic.
"Aw, sweetie, does it hurt? Here, let Tammy
She walked over, took his wounded paw and
lifted it to her mouth. Then she looked into his eyes and shook her head.
Billy looked at her with genuine curiosity. She left him, walked to the
front of the store, locked the door and propped the "Closed" sign up beside
"Mama's in Dallas, at market." Tammy sighed.
Looked him up and down. "She won't mind. Nobody comes in on Friday afternoon
She took his hand again and led Billy into
the back room.
Afterwards, he looked up into her wide face,
grateful as a dog.
"Let's get married," he said. "Let's get
married and move to Arizona. I could get work there, I could work constuction.
I could be a roofer. I could stand it, a lot of guys can't. I could do
it. We could. We really could."
"Not a chance, Billy. You're too damn pretty,
darling. And I couldn't take the heat."
"You think I'm kiddin', don't you?"
"Nope. Sure don't. This is how them things
happen, Billy. I've seen it before."
"Mistakes, mostly. Mistakes."
Billy nodded. He stood and pulled up his
pants. He didn't look at her.
"I meant it."
"I know you did, baby. And I appreciate
it. But it's not like I don't get offers. I'm not worried about me, I'm
worried about you."
"Yeah. Me too."
It was near midnight when he pulled the
LTD up beside his mama's trailer. He could see the light in her bedroom
was on, he figured she was up reading her stories in the World Weekly
News. She didn't believe that stuff, just found it entertaining.
He cut the engine and sat there listening
to the Hall and Oates tape purr on for a second before ejecting it. He
got out of the car and stood in the cool dim and suddenly felt very sleepy.
He was quiet on the steps even though he knew that she was up and also
that she was also deaf and whether or not he made any noise would have
no bearing on whether she noticed him coming in or not. The flimsy door
was unlocked, the trailer vibrated when he stepped inside. That she could
"Is that Billy Wayne or some bad man come
to kill me and steal my treasure?" His mother half-shouted from within
her wedge of molten lemon light. "I saved you supper, hon. It's in the
oven, just heat it up."
"It's just me, mama," Billy answered, though
he knew she didn't hear. "It's just me."