WHERE YOU BEGIN
Sad to say, but dogs get killed sometimes. Take a city like Houston, four million people and all those cars, sometimes it’s bound to happen, but if you’re like I used to be, it doesn’t bother you so much. Anyway, before this is over there’s one less dog in the world, so in case you’re not like I was, fair warning.
But if you’re like I used to be, when your fiancée of five months gets home from a day of slaving for that lawyer downtown, the guy who cuts her a check twice a month for the privilege of telling her what to do and watching her cleavage go red with splotches the way it does sometimes when she’s flustered; when she makes it through the door and finds you scribbling your latest on a legal pad, still in your boxers with the newspaper untouched on the porch in its plastic wrap, the classifieds still tucked inside without a single job listing circled; and when a few minutes later she comes half naked and frowning into the hallway, as red-faced and eager for her evening shower as would be a farm wife after bleeding a hog, you know you’re history.
Kaput. Finito. It’s over and you don’t even ask for that ring back. All you think is, Well, dip my dog, because that’s a quarter-carat solitaire with not too damn bad color and clarity. Even so, you just let it go, chalk it up to a learning experience, like the time you bought a quarter ounce of oregano outside the Texaco station from a pock-faced Mexican kid with jeans about half fallen off his illegal brown ass. You chalk it up. You say, “That there’s a loss.” All it can be. Next time — smell the weed before you finish the deed, that’s all.
But this time — this time, when Gloria Jean Thibedeux tells your worthless, workless leeching ass to hit the road and never even mind all that stuff about getting married, that’s exactly what you do. You hit the road. You hit it with all the plop and flourish of a horse turd dropped from a disgruntled gelding on the downtown leg of the rodeo trail ride.
Of course, Gloria ain’t making this easy. No, she’s got to strip right down to nothing but pink satin and the soft white skin that’s been penned up all day behind her lawyer-want-some-coffee? business suit, and when she tells you where to get off, it’s suddenly clear that this here’s no warning. Nope. Turns out you’re on the receiving end of a full-blown pink slip, pink as those panties she’s reaching back to pull out of her rear. Yes, sir, there she stands in some of God’s finest creations: satin bikini bottoms and one of those clasp-in-front bras that even you can get right in the dark. Your Gloria, nothing else on but that ring you maxed out the plastic for, and for once you don’t even think about the bills rolling in.
“Baby,” she says, her hands perched on those breeder’s hips you’ve thought at times might make any stints in the delivery room as easy as lying back for a nap on Sunday, “if you ain’t landed a job out at one of them refineries today — that or sold one of your precious ‘Drama in Real Life’ stories to Reader’s Digest — then it don’t matter how it breaks my heart clean in two, you gonna need another place to stay tonight.”
Nothing altogether new, of course. This ain’t the first time. You’ve been warned before, maybe a dozen times over the past four months, and sure, you’ve been writing, but you’ve got thirty-three stories and so far not a single cash cow. And now — now there’s no sense in begging, so you sit there for a while in the kitchenette, biding time with your elbows propped on the yellow Formica tabletop. The new story you’ve written — a real ringer about a retarded kid trapped underwater in an upside-down school bus at the bottom of a ravine — is almost finished, and guaranteed, you think, to bring home the cash money Reader’s Digest is doling out for this stuff on a monthly basis. You watch Gloria’s pale little hands and those wide-slung hips and somehow none of this surprises you — not the way she’s staring, lips in a tight puckered O like you’ve farted and accidentally drawn mud in your drawers, not the way the a/c snaps to life in the attic and spills its cool rush of air into the room, not even the way four months back you lost your job at Exxon, where you’d spent three years loading fifty-five-gallon drums of Varsall into tractor trailers. Hell, not even the guilt-like squeeze in your conscience you’d felt growing steadily tighter when, to pay your share of this month’s rent, you sold the old El Camino you’d had since high school. Anymore, nothing’s a surprise, but they say the expected ain’t always easy, and now there’s that slow grandfather clock of a feeling you get in your guts, like your heart’s swinging way too low on a thin wet string in the wide-open empty insides of you.
“You best snap out of it,” Gloria says, flipping that long black hair over her shoulder, and you can’t help thinking it — looks like a horse’s tail swatting flies. “I’m serious as murder one,” she says. “Piddle-farting around in your underpants. Home all day writing your little stories. Out with Jimmy two nights already this week doing God knows what. Sweet Jesus, legal pads stacked up everywhere. You can’t even clean up after yourself, let alone scrub a toilet or do a load of laundry. Let alone take care of a wife.
“You better go,” she says, crossing her arms over the mess of red splotches on her chest. “For good. Right goddamn now.”
Still you’re waiting, leaning on the table like it needs holding down and waiting until it comes, the end-all to your be-all: “Toot sweet,” she says, the thoroughbred Cajun twang alive in her voice, and you reckon that’s all she wrote, so there ain’t nothing left but to call your pal Jimmy Love, tell him to come do his duty as your only real friend, former coworker, and owner of the ’92 Chevy truck that’s seen you riding shotgun while drinking off no less than three major league cases of what Jimmy always calls the post-poon blues.
What happens next, you might say, is about as predictable and necessary as a toothpick after corn on the cob. There’s your father’s old army duffel bag on the street beside you and you’re kicking the curb, flipping pages of your legal pad when Jimmy Love comes rumbling up. Reaching over, he swings the passenger door open and pulls the hairs of his mustache down over his lips with a cupped hand.
“Well,” Jimmy says, “don’t know about you, but I’m picking me up a little hint of that déjà vu,” and when you toss the duffel into the back and climb in he pats the two six-packs beside him as if they’re the fair-haired heads of sons who just caught a greased pig at the state fair. “This make four?” he says. “Damn. Four women? In two years? And your sorry ass actually wanted to marry this one? Level with me, man. You having problems getting it up?”
Jimmy can be like this, all that sprawl-on-the-couch-and-tell-me-all-about-it bullshit. “Just drive,” you say, slamming the door, because you get it up just fine, and besides, the details ain’t none of his business. “Do th...