The Restless Kind
It was after midnight and Sunny was staring into the night sky. It was pin-cushioned with light and she sat alone on the swing her father had hung from the ceiling of their front porch. He died back in the spring.
She thought about Daryl and the last time they made love by the pond under an old Elm in the pasture north of the dirt road that led into town. She remembered how their sweat turned into oil as they pulled themselves so tightly together that there was no beginning of one and no end of the other. She could feel the grass wet beneath her back and could hear the moan of distant traffic. Afterwards they sat upright talking. With their backs pressed against one another they drank cold beer from a Styrofoam cooler, shared cigarettes, and were comforted by the sounds of bullfrogs and crickets.
“Hell,” she said. “With that face you made I thought you were gonna die on me.”
Her laughter sounded as erotic as her body looked to him. Her breasts were firm and smooth, not too big with perfect nipples. Her legs were long and tanned and her neck thin. The funny thing to Daryl was that what turned him on the most about Sunny were her lips. Really. He loved feeling them on his body. He loved kissing them.
“Shit, I ain’t gonna let some bull kill me, and I damn sure ain’t gonna let you kill me,” he said.
Daryl rode bulls in the Rodeo and left the day after they made love in the pasture. All Sunny could do was wonder when he would call or write or if he would at all. He had told her he just wanted to earn some good money, maybe win a buckle or two, then he would come back and they’d buy their own place. Raise some horses, maybe even rent out stables.
The night became cooler and Sunny’s mama brought out an old quilt from inside the house and wrapped it around Sunny’s shoulders. She had been up watching the late, late movie. The planks of the porch creaked as her mama went back inside without saying a word. Sunny looked again into the night sky and remembered how her mama had warned her about “them rodeo boys.” She told her they were restless, wild and untamed like “them damn bulls they ride.” Sunny didn’t care what her mama said. She had always been closer to her daddy and after he died the distance between her and her mother widened.
Sunny wrapped the quilt tighter around her shoulders and patted her stomach and then gently pushed against the floor of the porch with her bare feet and made the swing glide softly back and forth. She began to cry as she wondered if maybe Daryl knew it was more then her he left behind.
Early the next morning Sunny cranked her old rusted Mustang and headed into town. She was working now at the Bluebird Café just off the town square in Joiner. A once thriving stop on the Burlington Northern between Memphis and St. Louis, it was now just a dusty reminder of better times when the Mississippi River and train travel made the Arkansas Delta rich from the money of those headed West to seek fortune. Cletus Taylor owned the Bluebird and gave Sunny the job after rubbing on her ass for a while in what he called an interview. She needed the money so she didn’t say anything.
She got out of her car as a light mist began to fall. As she turned the lock on the front door of the restaurant she could feel a gentle breeze and smell the encroaching rain. Autumn was just around the corner.
Once inside she could tell that Miss Mabel had been there a while. She could smell bacon frying and could hear Mabel mixing up eggs in a metal bowl. Miss Mabel was a large black woman with patches of gray and black hair protruding from her chin and cheeks. She had worked for Taylor since Sunny was a little girl – when her daddy would take her to eat breakfast at the Bluebird on Sundays before Sunday school.
Sunny began making coffee on the four stainless steel Bunn machines. She made three pots of regular and one decaf. She prepared filters with fresh ground beans and stacked them beside the machines knowing that the three pots of regular would go quick. At five minutes to six she opened the dusty blinds that covered the windows and unlocked the doors.
Old man Taylor only believed in keeping the place open from six in the morning until three in the afternoon. Just one shift kept expenses down for the cheap bastard. That made for a long day for Sunny. She took orders from farmers that would come into town to drink coffee, talk about politics, farm equipment, pesticides and to avoid their wives cooking. They would dunk dark pieces of toast into the yellow yolk of their eggs and chase it with cup after cup of black coffee.
She waited tables, refilled empty cups, and kept the front clean while Miss Mabel did all the cooking and cleaned all of the dishes from breakfast and lunch. Cletus would sit at the booths with the men and would get up to run the cash register when someone wanted to pay. Of course he would check on things behind the counter from time to time, especially if Sunny was reaching for something or bending over to get staples from boxes stored in the cabinet below the coffee machines. He’d put his hands on the small of her back when he was talking to her and would give her ass a squeeze as he returned to the front. Sometimes he would act like he was trying to get past her and rub himself against her. She thought about her unborn child and the money she would need to support the baby and that kept her from jabbing a steak knife into his groin.
At the end of the day she returned home to find the mailbox empty. Daryl had said he would write from the road and let her know how he was and when he would be home. It had been ten weeks now without a word.
“I told you not to mess with them kind of boys,” her mama said as Sunny walked in the house. “They ain’t nothing but trouble and look at what’s happened. You opened your legs for him and he left you pregnant and broke.”
“Go to hell mama, he didn’t know. Hell, I didn’t know for weeks after he’d been gone.” Sunny began to cry and her mother came to her and hugged her, but Sunny pulled away and went into the kitchen.
In the kitchen Sunny made a glass of iced tea and sat at the table. It had been over two months since she had done anything other than work and fight with her mama. She decided she was going to take a bath and go into town. Maybe stop by the 149 Club or the Eagles. Maybe she could dance or play some pool. Maybe find someone that would buy her a beer without wanting to take her out to the parking lot. She called her friend Crystal from the black phone on the kitchen wall and asked her if she wanted to go with her. Crystal told her about a barbeque her boyfriend and some of his friends were having down by the river and asked if Sunny wanted to go.
“Hell yeah,” Sunny said. “Do you want me to drive?”
“No,” Crystal said. I’ll pick you up around seven-thirty.”
Sunny made her way from the kitchen to the musty bathroom in the back of the house and turned on the hot water and waited for it to actually become hot. When it did, she twisted the cold lever until the water became touchable. She unzipped the tight pink polyester waitress uniform she had worn all day, relieving the pressure from her enlarged breasts. She had not yet begun to show but the signs of her condition were becoming more obvious to her and evidently to her mother. She wondered how much time she had before everyone in town would be able to tell and the rumors would start. But that night, as she lowered her body into the water she felt again like a child, clean and untouched.
Crystal pulled up in front of Sunny’s house in her boyfriend’s pickup honking the horn.
“Hop on in girl,” Crystal called through the open passenger window. “I got something to git the nite started off rite with.”
Sunny pulled at the stubborn door of the shabby old truck and jumped up on the passenger side of the deteriorated bench seat.
“What you talking about, I thought we were goin to a cookout?”
“We are honey but smoke a little of this and maybe you can loosen up your tight ass a lit’l bit.” “What’s been up with you lately?” Crystal asked Sunny. “Since Daryl left ain’t nobody seen you anywhere but at the diner.”
Sunny answered, “I been around…give me a hit of that.”
She knew it wasn’t good for the baby but she took a long draw off the joint. They rode down the dirt road into town and followed it out of town across the flat Mississippi River bottoms to the place where the barbeque was being held. The spot was called Brandywine Island. It was not really an Island – just a sandbar with thick woods to the north and dirty sand that bordered the Mississippi to the south. When they got there Sunny saw what looked like a hundred cars, pickups and ATV’s parked near the tree line just yards from a huge fire on the sandbar that cast the shadows of people drinking and dancing westward toward the flats of Arkansas and further toward the horizon. As Crystal brought the truck to a stop Sunny wondered what the night had in store for her. She wanted it. She needed it. She hoped that it was good.
Down near the water’s edge the red-hot bonfire, with flames that seemed to lick the sky was surrounded by several smoking pits that had been dug and filled with coals produced by the enormous inferno. Spicks and grill racks seared meat above the heat and thick smoke the coals created. One had a whole hog on it and another was covered with what seemed to be the ribs of a hundred pigs. There were also two barrel-shaped cookers with pork shoulders cooking in the heat of charcoal and mesquite chips. Coolers by the dozen lined the sand next to the rocks that jutted from the rivers false beaches and every one of them was filled with wine, beer and whiskey.
Sunny grabbed a beer, took off her shoes, and put them in the back of the pickup. She wore cutoffs tattered and short. Her thighs tight against the dangling strings the scissors had left behind, and the firm cheeks of her ass barely contained inside the remaining hem. She felt for the moment free and that coupled with the smell of smoke and moist air comforted her.
She walked for a while among the people gathered and spoke with friends and old high school acquaintances. She ate ribs and drank cold beer and even had a shot of tequila. She felt, in that instant, unburdened, alive and well in the changing season air. She believed for the first time in a while that everything was going to be okay. She watched as the sun cast its last light on Memphis and thought of a lawyer or accountant that would come home from the city to visit his parents and meet her in the grocery and take her away to a life in a nice house where she would do the ironing, take care of the children and make love to him after the ten o’clock news. She thought about these things long enough to begin missing Daryl and begin hating him in the same instant.
A good-looking man, who said his name was Randy, walked up to her as hesitant as a child and said “Hi.” His eyes were brown and his hair was as thick as fog.
“Would you like to take a walk along the riverside with me?” he asked.
“Sure, what the hell,” Sunny replied. “You seem nice enough.”
They started walking toward the old bridge along a path that took them past Engineers Beach and out of sight of the people at the barbeque. They walked along the muddy water as it slapped the sandy shore. They talked about the weather, the view and Crystal’s boyfriends, there seemed to be plenty, she was never alone. And for the moment, Sunny felt like she wasn’t either. Randy took her hand and unlike when others had tried it, it seemed innocent, like he was her guide into the encroaching evening.
She felt as though they had walked for miles, hand in hand. He complemented her on her eyes and she felt comfortable with the comment. For a moment, and for what she hoped would be longer, she felt pretty again, like she did when her daddy told her she was his angel, when they would sit on the porch swing late in the evening, before he died.
By the time they had reached the old bridge that stretched like an erecter set toward Arkansas and the purpled sky that accepted the falling sun, she was feeling something that made her uncomfortable. She was thinking about Daryl, and feeling guilty about carrying his baby while enjoying Randy’s company.
“If it’s okay with you I’d like to go back to the party,” Sunny said. “Crystal’s probably worried bout me by now.”
“Sure, no problem,” Randy said. “Let’s turn back.”
She felt like she could count on him to take her back to the barbeque. She felt safe with him and Randy took her hand in his again for the walk back along the river. As the sounds of the party came within earshot he stopped.
“Hey sweetness, I heard that rodeo clown you were doing left town. Give me a chance to make you forget about him. Why don’t we stay here for a bit, just you and me and the river?”
“No, I think I’d better be getting back,” she replied. “Maybe some other time.”
“We could just sit here and look at the skyline, or, if we wanted, at the Delta. Just you, me, and whatever.”
Sunny was beginning to lose her confidence in Randy and started walking back toward the light emanating from the party, and as she came into the light of the fires, Randy, not realizing people could see them now, grabbed her elbow and spun her around. His face was close to hers and she could feel the heat of his breath.
“Come on!” “I know what you want, and I’ve got it right here.”
He pulled her hand toward his crotch.
“Fuck you,” she said to him. “You ain’t man enough.”
He slapped her hard. His fingers stinging her face as she fell to the sand.
When Crystal’s boyfriend, and the other guys that had seen what happened, returned from the beach at the edge of the path, they drug Randy, bleeding and mumbling from the briars. He tried to apologize for what he had done, but the blood, missing teeth and his semi-consciousness kept him from making much sense. He passed out by the waterline with a trail of blood leading from his mouth, thickening in the sand before reaching the murky waters of the Mississippi.
Sunny hated what had happened to Randy but it made her feel better about the way Cletus and other men had treated her. It made her feel safe and defended like when her daddy was alive. It made her feel like she wasn’t the bad one.
Sunny returned to work the next morning, her head pounding. She made coffee and wiped down the tables and cleaned the booths. Miss Mabel stuck her head through the kitchen door to see if Cletus was in yet. He never allowed her up front when customers were there. Sunny didn’t understand it ‘cause you could see her through the food window – whiskers and all. Mabel called to Sunny.
“Come here chil. How you doin’ baby?”
“I’m fine,” Sunny said. “Why?’
“Yo eyes sure is all bloodshot and swollen,” Mabel replied. “And you ain’t movin’ as fast as you usually do in the monin.”
Sunny looked away from Miss Mabel. “I got drunk last night.”
Mabel turned Sunny’s head back and looked into her eyes. “Now child, you know you can’t be doin that. It ain’t good fo you or fo the baby.”
“What? What do you…how do you?”
Mabel pulled Sunny tight to her huge breasts and whispered, “Baby, Miss Mabel knows things, lots of things, and if you need me, I’ll be here fo ya.”
Weeks passed. Sunny’s stomach tightened and her breasts got bigger. It was becoming difficult to conceal her condition. She went to work everyday, made coffee, and ran plates of greasy food to tables occupied by men who looked at her as if she were opaque. She could hear them whisper as she walked away after refilling their coffee cups about how her Daddy would turn in his grave, but she didn’t care what they said. She knew if her daddy were still alive he’d love her no matter and would whip the shit out of the first son-of-a-bitch that said anything bad about her.
It had been a little more than three months since Daryl had left. She had almost given up on hearing from him. She’d sit on the porch in the early evening, watch the sunset, and think about where he might be. She wanted to see his pickup come up the drive that led to her mama’s house. She tried hard not to imagine him with another woman in some roadside motel. She tried not to imagine him dead. All she wanted was to be held by him again, to feel him next to her, his lips gently kissing her neck.
Sunny’s mama tried to make things right between the two of them and she even offered to turn the sewing room into a nursery. Maybe buy some paint and decorate the walls with balloons and teddy bears. It was hard for Sunny, but she tried too. She had never forgiven her mother for having an affair with the Methodist minister over in Bassett. It was two years before her daddy died, but he was already sick. Her mama had taken a job at the church as the preacher’s secretary to help buy groceries and pay the bank loan they had taken out to fix the roof. One afternoon the preacher’s wife walked unannounced into his office and found the two of them practicing missionary work, which prompted her to immediately call Sunny’s daddy, the church elders and her lawyer. Sunny peeked through her bedroom door that night and saw her mama crying and begging her father to forgive her. She remembers her father staring out the window like he was catatonic. She thought to herself that he was going to hit her for sure. But he didn’t.
Early one Friday morning while Sunny was rolling silverware, before Cletus got to the Bluebird, Miss Mabel called from the kitchen and Sunny went into the back to see what she wanted. Mabel was wearing a white apron stained with gravy and bacon grease. Her thinning gray hair was pinned tight against her head and her face was wet with sweat.
“How you doin lit’l bit?” Mabel asked with a subtle smile on her face.
Sunny had come to like Mabel. She was one of only a few people in the world she trusted and she looked forward to seeing her every morning.
“I guess I’m doin fine. How bout you?”
“Chil, I’m worse off than I was yesterday and better off than I’ll be tomorrow.”
“How long you spec you gonna keep working,” Mabel asked.
“I guess until Cletus thinks I’m too pregnant to work.”
“Long as you can pour coffee and take orders that mane ain’t gonna say nuthin. He still touchin’ on you?”
“Hell yes, I’ll be glad when I look more pregnant. Surely he’ll stop then.”
“He asked yet?’
“Bout me being pregnant?”
“You and yo mama gettin along?”
“I guess so. She ain’t bitchin at me all the time and she wants to turn the sewing room into a nursery.”
“I reckon it be time for you to put away dat grudge. Trust me, you gonna need yo mama.”
That afternoon Cletus told Sunny that if she stayed after work and cleaned the windows and the floors he’d pay her an extra thirty dollars. She needed the money so she told him that she’d do it.
Sunny got all the dishes in the back and cleaned the booths and wiped down the tables like she did every afternoon. Mabel finished the dishes and cleaned the grill and left. Sunny cleaned the windows with Windex and coffee filters. She took the blinds out back and sprayed them down with a water hose and scrubbed them with a toilet brush, dried them with kitchen towels and took them, one by one, back into the restaurant. From the top of a stepladder she struggled to put the blinds back in the place. She could feel Cletus watching her. When the blinds were in place and the windows clean she filled the mop bucket with hot water and bleach. Cletus had put all the chairs upside down on top of the tables and was back behind the cash register counting money. Sunny started mopping in the far corner of the restaurant, forcing the mop from side to side. She made her way backward toward the counter where the coffee machines were, then wheeled the mop bucket to the kitchen. When she returned she asked Cletus if that was all and he told her to close the blinds and go home. Sunny closed the blinds.
She kept her purse in the cabinet under the counter with the boxes of coffee. She kept it there because nobody but her ever went into the cabinet. She was the only one that ever made coffee. She thought it was safe there. She slid open the cabinet door and grabbed her purse and as she stood up she could feel him right behind her. She was afraid to turn around. He put his hand on her thigh and moved it slowly up her leg and around to her ass. He took his other hand and placed it on the small of her back. Suddenly he took his hand from her back and grabbed her throat. She tried to pull away but he pushed her head down hard against the counter top, the pressure of his hand around her throat almost smothering her. He pressed his weight against her back and pulled her dress up around her waist. She could barely breathe. She could feel the pressure of his weight pressing down on her – the counter against her stomach, against her baby.
He tore at her panties until the seams gave way and she could feel nothing against her skin but air and his sweat. He let go of her throat, wrapped his hand in her hair, and pulled her head up from the counter. His face was up close to hers. She could smell his breath, thick with coffee and cigarettes.
“Keep your fucking mouth shut, you hear,” he said. “I been wantin’ this for a long time.”
He pushed her head back down to the counter top. She could hear him grunt when he went inside her. He hunched on her fast. She could feel the tears run down her cheek. Cletus let out a long low moan and began slowing his hunching. When he finished he turned her around and grabbed her tight by her shoulders.
“Now that wasn’t so bad was it?” he asked. “You give it easier next time and maybe you can earn yourself thirty extra dollars every week.”
He still had Sunny tight by the shoulders and his pants were around his ankles.
“You just remember, ain’t nobody gonna believe a white trash slut like you over a fine upstanding businessman like me,” he said. “You best just keep this to yourself.”
He let her go and Sunny pulled her dress down. She picked her torn panties up from the floor and put them in her purse, then ran out the back door.
When she got home her mama was gone. Sunny ran hot water in the tub and poured shampoo in the water to make it soapy. She scrubbed herself with a washrag. Her mouth, her chest, her stomach and every part of her he had touched. She scrubbed over and over until her entire body was red from the scrubbing and the hot, hot water.
Sunny sat up late that night crying in her room and trying to figure out what to do. She couldn’t go to work at the new spark plug factory. She knew she wouldn’t be able to hide her condition, but maybe for another couple of weeks, and OSHA wasn’t going to let a factory keep a pregnant woman on the payroll. She could take in ironing, but that wasn’t going to be enough to take care of her and the baby. She felt trapped. She didn’t know where to turn and with her daddy and Daryl gone she felt as alone as she ever had. She felt like dying. She curled up like a fetus in her bed, her salty tears finding the corner of her mouth. She cried and then she slept.
Sunny awoke to the distant sound of the kitchen phone ringing. It stopped before she could get out of bed. She rubbed her eyes and stood up and went into the kitchen. It was nearly three in the morning and her mother was still not home. She took the percolator from the cabinet above the stove and filled it with water. She scooped coffee from a mason jar into the basket, put on the lid and plugged it in. As she reached for a cup hanging from a rusted hook screwed to the underside of the cabinet the phone rang again.
“Hey,” she answered, in a still-asleep voice.
“I thought you weren’t at home sugar,” the voice on the other end replied.
“Daryl, my god, where the hell, why ain’t I heard from you goddamit?”
“Honey, I’m sorry. Really. I love you so much. It’s been a wild tour but I’m comin’ home – for good. I swear,” he said.
“Where are you,” she asked as she began to cry and laugh at the same time.
“Tucson. I’m in third place in the point standings and I hope to bring home enough money to get us that place we’ve been wantin’ and make it so we can start our own ranch. Maybe even have a baby.”
“Really,” she asked. You promise? I thought you had…”
“I’m sorry I ain’t been in touch. But I ain’t never forgot about you – not for one day. I been ridin’ like I ain’t never rode before and all I wanted to do was finish the tour, come home, grab you up and never let you go.”
Sunny didn’t know what to say. She could tell him about the baby later. Maybe she’d never tell him about Cletus, but she’d definitely tell Cletus that she would. Let his asshole tighten up until the very day Daryl got back to town and then some. Right now all she wanted was to know when Daryl would be home. She wanted to feel his hand touch her stomach and feel the baby growing inside of her.
“I’ll be home Monday, Sunny. I gotta ride tomorrow and after I’m done, I’ll get in my truck and come home. I love you. Goodnight sweetheart.”
Sunny sat in the kitchen holding the phone receiver close to her heart. She could rest now. She could tell old Cletus to fuck off and hopefully help Mabel get out of the Bluebird once and for all. She could hire her to help out with the house and the baby. She owed her that. Mabel had been more of a mother to Sunny than the one God had given her. She could hardly wait until morning when she could see Mabel and tell her the news. She pictured them both walking out and leaving old man Taylor to explain to his old bastard redneck customers why there was no coffee and no eggs. She imagined them having to go to their wives’ kitchens and act as if they wanted to be there. It made her happy.
As Sunny drove toward the café the next morning all she could think of was seeing the expression on Cletus’ face when she told him Daryl was coming home and she was quitting and taking Miss Mabel with her. It made the drive into town enjoyable.
When she turned from Walnut onto Main she saw an explosion of flashing lights in front of the diner and what seemed like the entire population of Joiner looking on. She pulled the Mustang as close as she could and got out and walked toward the yellow tape that cordoned off the Bluebird and several businesses around it. Sunny noticed the coroner shaking his head as he talked to the Chief of Police. She wondered what had happened. A few minutes later she saw a gurney being led to an ambulance with a body covered by a white sheet that was soaked with blood. She knew by the shape of the form under the sheet that it was not Mabel. The ambulance made its way through the Police cars and fire trucks and then the on-looking crowd and headed east toward the hospital.
A few minutes later a police cruiser passed by Sunny and the others that looked on. In the back Mabel sat with her head down. Sunny ran toward the car and Mabel looked up to see her, smiled a mother’s smile, and then bowed her head. The last thing Sunny heard before she drove home was an old man in overalls asking a police officer “Did that old nigger woman kill Cletus?”
When Sunny got home she was shaking and couldn’t stop. What had happened? Why? She didn’t understand. What could make someone like Mabel hurt anyone, even that sick old piece of shit Taylor? She looked through the house and found no sign of her mother. It had been over 24 hours and no sign of her. Sunny was worried. She went to her room, took off her dress and bra, put on a sweatshirt and some pajama bottoms and got a beer from the refrigerator and walked to the front porch to figure things out.
Sunny spent the best part of the day on the porch wondering about Daryl, Mabel, and her mama. What had happened? When would Daryl be home and what did Miss Mabel do – and why?
Around two in the afternoon Crystal showed up and told her that Mabel had shot Cletus with a double-barrel Derringer that had been in her family for fifty years. She shot him once in the dick and once in the head. People in town said that after Mabel had shot him in his pitiful penis, his screams could be heard in the Courthouse two blocks away. Then Mabel shot him directly in the temple.
Sunny wondered why Mabel had killed Cletus. Then she remembered what Miss Mabel had said. “Miss Mabel knows things baby.” Sunny wondered if Mabel knew what Cletus had done to her. She wondered if he had done it to her when she was younger. She missed Mabel.
Months passed. Daryl hadn’t come home that Monday, but was calling regularly. He had taken first place in Tucson and had decided to stay on the tour until it ended in December. He would be home by Christmas. Miss Mabel died in her sleep in the women’s unit of the Mississippi County Detention Facility awaiting trial and Sunny’s mama ran off the with the ex-Methodist preacher and moved to Jonesboro. Sunny was alone but hopeful.
Sunny was working for the new owner of the Bluebird, a nice lady from Wilson named Adalah who had inherited some money from her deceased husband who had made a lot of cash by selling automobile insurance to poor black folks. Sunny worked and took care of the house, painted the sewing room and turned it into a nursery complete with a Jenny Lind crib she found at Salvation Army Thrift Store and little stuffed teddy bears she bought at Wal-Mart. She had Crystal’s boyfriend and a couple of his buddies knock the wall out between her room and the room her daddy and her mama once shared to create a master suite for her and Daryl. She made new drapes and cleaned and painted the house until it looked almost like new. And, she talked to Daryl twice a week on the telephone.
Crystal came over one Friday evening and she and Sunny sat on the porch and talked about the baby, men and Christmas. Crystal smoked cigarettes, drawing hard on them with her thick red lips. She exhaled the smoke through her nose as she talked.
“So, when’s Daryl coming home?”
“I think the tour ends in Phoenix next week,” Sunny replied. “ Then he says he’s gonna drive straight here – it should take him ‘bout twenty-six hours or so.”
“You really believe he’s coming back?”
“You ask me, he ain’t gonna do shit but move on to somewhere else.”
“Really, well ain’t nobody asked you,” Sunny said. “Damn Crystal, I don’t need this shit – especially from my best friend.”
Crystal began to cry. “I’m sorry honey. I just can’t stand to think of you going through all you been through and ending up alone. You and that baby deserve more.”
“Well don’t you worry, when Daryl gets home everything is going to be fine – just fine.”
After Crystal left that night Sunny sat on the porch wrapped in the quilt her mama had left behind. She listened as the sounds of the night played their tune and she thought about her daddy. She hoped he could see that things were getting better for her. She hoped that the fact she had the house he had worked so hard to keep pleased him. She believed that he was watching over her.
The sun was bright but the air had become cold. Sunny awoke on the porch the next morning shivering underneath the quilt. She stood and stumbled half-asleep inside the house and crawled into the bed that would be the place where she would make love to Daryl when he returned – the place where they would come together each night. The place their child would crawl into when she was scared of the night.
Sunny slept long into the afternoon and when she awoke the day was full of promise. She made coffee and eggs with bacon and grits. She sat at the kitchen table and enjoyed the food. And for the first time she felt the baby kick inside her like it never had before. She thought to herself that the baby must like a good Southern breakfast. It made her laugh. She showered and got dressed and went into town.
Main Street was somber. The shops were almost empty. Most folks had ventured into Memphis for their Christmas shopping. The Christmas decorations that adorned the streetlamps in Joiner were complete with burnt out bulbs and tattered garland. For Sunny however, it was like what she had dreamed it must be like in New York City, dazzling and cheerful – alive with the joy of the season. She took in every breath slowly and enjoyed the life inside her, and the knowledge that Daryl would be home to enjoy the first Christmas of many their new family would celebrate together. She found it almost impossible to believe that where Daryl was it was warm, and that even though he was there, he would soon be home.
That last night in Phoenix was long. Daryl barely slept a wink. He awoke at four-thirty, called Sunny, and told her he would be leaving by three that afternoon. He told her about the money he had saved and how he wanted to make a good life for the two of them. She had to tell him that there were three.
“Baby, I been wantin’ to tell you – but I didn’t. You’re gonna be a daddy next spring.”
“No shit…really?” I’m gonna be a daddy?”
“Yeah – you mad at me?”
“Hell no – I’m proud of you. Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I didn’t know if you were comin home.”
“I am. I’ll see you the day after tomorrow – promise.”
Daryl packed up his saddle and gloves and the clothes he had in the drawer of the room he had at the Single Shot Motel and loaded them into his truck. He went to the front desk and paid the money he owed, ignoring the flirting big-tittied clerk who had been trying to get him to notice her all week, and drove off toward the Phoenix State Fairgrounds.
At the fairgrounds he parked his pickup, grabbed his gear, made it to the big white tent and registered himself in the bull riding competition. He had done well all year in the event and believed he could take the first-prize buckle along with the $6,500 in prize money home to Sunny and his unborn baby. He thought about how his season had put him in a place where he could go back to Joiner and hold his head up high. He thought about building a ranch with Sunny and eventually passing it along to his son or maybe even to his daughter. He felt good. He felt relaxed, ready to ride and ready to get home.
Daryl drew Cyclone, a bull he had history with. Cyclone had thrown him twice and he had successfully lasted the eight seconds on Cyclone’s back twice. It was a tie. Daryl felt that he could hang on, win, and break the tie.
In the stall Cyclone snorted and butted his head against the iron slats of the cage as Daryl mounted him. Daryl steadied himself on the beast, pulled the cinch rope tight against the glove that covered his hand, pulled his hat down far on his forehead, and nodded to the crew that he was ready.
Cyclone spun out of the gate, thrashed up and down and spun from side to side. Right, and then left. Daryl fought to hold on – the seconds seeming like hours. He could feel the blood seep from his palm through his glove. He felt like he was just a second away from greatness. He knew it was almost over and he could go home to Sunny.
He felt the bull tire and knew he would soon hear the bell. At that point it became much like a ride on a merry-go-round. All sound was absent and all he could see was Cyclone’s head and the fast-paced panoramic of faces looking at him. No sound. Just around and around.
Everything was peaceful and kindly until he felt gravity bring him back – thrusting him forward. He felt a solid blow to his chest and heard the bell sound.
On the ground Daryl could hear the foot sounds and voices of rodeo clowns distracting the bull, the awes of the crowd and the sound of a distant siren.
(photo by August)