photo by Gregory Crewdson
A new short story, working title POOR SID
Part 1 (Deidre)
Deidre and I had taken turns driving our mothers on about half a dozen of these jaunts since I moved back from California. She was two years older than I was, so she didn’t pay much attention to me and my friends in high school. But I told her last night when we were planning this trip that I was a classmate of the two guys whose pictures had taken up half of yesterday’s front page. I confided to her that I was particularly uneasy about Timmy Reardon—I’d always felt pretty bad that I had snubbed a lot of people in those days when I decided I was going to California (never to return, of course), snubbed them on principle because they were still here, Deidre included, and I was ready to be anywhere but.
However, since I failed at what I went there to do, I came back to swallow my pride, and for the time being, live with my widowed mother.
Part 2 (Mom)
I shrugged at Deidre from the front porch where I had been holding the screen door open for about three minutes while my mother disputed something Aunt Cookie, Deidre’s mother, was saying in the kitchen.
Deidre was smart to be in the car. I was sure she already had the air conditioning on full blast because I saw dry wisps of blonde hair blowing straight back from her temples. The AC was so palpable that I almost smacked my lips in anticipation of it. When I stamped my foot impatiently, for Deidre’s benefit only, it was because I knew my mother would never be able to find her missing Cover Girl pressed-powder compact if she was preoccupied, so I prayed silently that Aunt Cookie would just shut up for a minute.
“You count your carbohydrates, not your calories,” Aunt Cookie said, explaining the diet for the second time.
“How do you lose weight if you don’t count calories?” My mother’s voice trailed from the kitchen to the hall, her eyes trained down to any surface where she might have left the compact.
Because you count your carbohydrates, Gracie,” Aunt Cookie insisted, as though my mother were missing the brain cells needed to understand her premise. Each time she repeated her new dieting mantra, her pitch rose and fell like the refrain from a nursery rhyme. Like jack and Jill went up the hill to count their carbohydrates. Like Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall, Humpty Dumpty counted them all.
Finally, my mother found her compact in her other purse, and they were out the door. We now had a two hour drive ahead of us through the flat Carolina piedmont to the old country road known as Antique Row. My sweet cousin Deidre smiled at me in the rear-view mirror, and I smiled back. I suddenly felt very tired. Deidre agreeably kept silent, and I sank down, wedging my head between the seat and the window so it wouldn’t do the dashboard-bobble-head-dog roll that it always did when I slept in cars or on the plane.
Part 3 (Timmy)
At two minutes after midnight the night before, the state electrocuted two men I’d known when I was younger. The two were executed for shooting a family in their station wagon—the mom, the dad, the three kids in the backseat—who happened to pull into the parking lot of the convenience store Tim and Sid had just robbed, momentarily blocking in the getaway car.
One of the men was Timmy Reardon. He had been a kind of thuggy kid that I once liked in that way that adolescent girls say they “like” someone. Tim wore his black hair long, and it separated into greasy strands where it broke against his shoulders. In seventh grade he wore zippered velour shirts that matched his Peter Max corduroy pants, a sure sign that his mother still picked out his clothes. He was my boyfriend for three glorious days that year until he found out my rival Kay Bradley had broken up with her beau. To this day, if I catch the scent of cheap musk cologne in a drug store, it reminds me of that moment with my face against Tim’s chest, the cologne making an odd caricature of the vestiges of baby fat that concealed his chest muscles, just before he walked away from me to Kay’s waiting arms across the school cafeteria. But Tim and I stayed friends, and that year at Christmas he gave me a tiny gold-plated cross on a delicate gold chain. He said that he’d asked his mother to help him pick it out. I wore it even though it turned my neck green, and eventually the little cross was completely encrusted with a pale husk of aquamarine brine.
To be continued…