He was dead. And I’d lost Evert just outside of Angenent, and all I had to show for it was the flattened soda bottle caps he’d laid on the tracks that day he first kissed me. Those caps and the little trailer, with its seats that folded into a bed and its gas stove, and my dress—the one he’d picked out especially for me. That’s all I had in the world now. I didn’t even have my two dolls, Misty and Lucy, anymore. Evert, he saw to getting rid of them when he was sick of me acting like a baby.
Baby. Dewey. He was dead. Gone now, just like my dolls.
Red lights. I saw them coming, faint at first, twirling slow it looked, but as the lights came closer, I saw just how bright and fast they were. The lights spun and flashed in the closet-sized room (the only room) of our trailer, where I sat, looking at the end of the cigarette I was almost done smoking. The cigarette’s burn seemed so dim compared to the flashing red. I squashed the cigarette in the ashtray and wondered if it’d be my last. I never liked them much anyway, but Evert said they made me look sexy. When the cigarette died out, I could smell the baby powder then. A hint of sour milk.
A light knock on the door. I dropped the bottle caps in my dress pocket. The dress stuck to me. I tugged the cotton material loose and winced as my sensitive skin where I leaked from, where I fed him from, pulled against the powder-blue insides of my special dress.
The sheriff, Nate Wright, stood outside, hat in hand. He looked up at me but then turned away—embarrassed, I think—when he saw the wet spots on my chest. The desert was cold behind him. The wind threw sand up against the trailer. I heard it scraping, wanting to get in. It scratched at my face, wanting to rub me raw, away. The moon was dipping low, and the sun was just starting to peek out. My breath caught the mixture of their light and hung there for a second between me and the sheriff, who I knew felt nothing but pity for me. He just let me go when I got caught stealing food for me and Dewey. He couldn’t do the same now. I knew that much.
“Rachel, where’s your baby?” he asked, still not able to look up at me.
I told him my name wasn’t Rachel. That it was Cady. He asked me where my Dewey was again. “Where he likes it best,” I said.
Sheriff Wright put on his hat then, raised his eyes, skipping quick over my leaking chest, and looked at me straight on. “I need to look inside your trailer, okay?”
I stepped to the side and let him in. It didn’t take him long to look the trailer over, both inside and out, with his bright flashlight. He looked real good, too. In the cupboards. Under the seats.
“I’m going to have to take you with me, okay?” he said when he was done looking.
I held out my hands. I waited for the cold cuffs.
He took my elbow. “Just come on.” He closed the door behind me, gentle-like, and asked me if I wanted him to lock it up. I told him I was wearing the one thing I liked.
I followed him to his car, and while he went to open the back door, I saw the sun really warming up. Its light started to play with the baby swing I made, off that Joshua tree way out in the distance. I ran then. Not that I was scared about going to jail. I just wanted to see the sun come up full, burn the desert cold off one more time. Maybe it could burn the cold off my heart, too, I thought.
“Cady, come on now.” Sheriff Wright sounded tired. Maybe sad.
I ran. I could hear him running after me but slowly. He was giving me time, and I appreciated that. I ran to the big boulder—the giant nose, Evert called it—and leaned against its orange-and-pinkish roughness, breathing hard, watching the sun rise, turn the clouds red. It rattled at me then. The snake. It looked me dead-on, and I couldn’t help looking into its eyes, and I felt the coldness in my heart spread to every part of my body. Those pale-green eyes. I’d seen them before. So cool, but when the light hits them just right, they can seem like the warmest things in the world.
I was walking home from school, carrying all my books in my backpack. I brought them all home every night, thinking I’d study hard on them; I never did. I could never concentrate so good. My mind would take to wandering, wondering about where I’d end up, who I’d marry—a prince from some far-off place maybe.
I walked, lugging my books, and I didn’t even hear his car idling up alongside me. I was too busy thinking about something Mr. Haskell’d said that morning in social studies. He said everybody wanted things. The difference was that some people actually did the hard work to get what they wanted, while everybody else just sat on their butts, whining about how things could be. Mr. Haskell said a lot of things that didn’t make much sense, but that stuck in my head tight. Evert was one of those people who did things, whatever it took to get what he wanted. Like wanting my attention then. I turned when I heard him call out. I noticed his car, and when I first saw him, when I saw his green eyes focusing in on me intense-like, I knew right then I belonged to him.
“Hey, you know where Sarge Kysely’s station is?” he asked. His car had stopped now next to me. I could feel the heat of its engine through my overalls.
He laughed. “I guess he don’t go by that no more. We used to call him that when we were kids. He was a bossy son of a bitch.”
“Oh, you mean Jim Kysely’s place?”
“That’s right. He’s my cousin. I’m helping him out awhile.”
“It’s just at the end of Main Street. Make a right up there and another one.”
I sucked my teeth. Kid? I already got my period. I had a decent-sized chest growing. Nothing too big, but compared to others in my class, I had a right to be proud.
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to call you ‘kid.’ I can see you ain’t one.”
I smiled. My cheeks got a little hot.
“What’s your name?” he asked me.
“Cady,” I told him.
“That’s a real nice name.”
He told me his name was Evert. I liked saying it. His name made my mouth feel funny, like it was letting loose and pulling back at the last second.
“You like my car? It’s a genuine 1972 Nova Super Sport. I fixed it up myself.”
“It looks good.” I couldn’t tell a truck from a golf cart, but he seemed real proud of it, so I had to say something nice.
“Maybe I’ll give you a ride in it someday.”
“You know, I hate it when people ask me really. Listen, I never say nothing unless I mean it, so you never ask me really again. Okay?”
He looked at my schoolbag. “Get home and study hard. Education’s real important. Don’t be wasting time like I did goofing off, okay?”
He looked at me hard, like he was memorizing me with them pale, green eyes of his. My face got even hotter. He smiled, drove off, and that night I tried hard to study. I really did.
Summer came and school ended. I started my days of freedom by going for a walk. Momma was suspicious at first. I was never one for outside activity, but being concerned about her own waistline, I convinced her that now that I was becoming a woman, I needed to make sure I got my exercise to stay fit. She seemed to relate to this concern real well. Those mornings I’d brush my hair, pinch my cheeks to give them a little color, and then I’d walk down Main Street and stroll past the gas station as if it weren’t there, and if Evert happened to be out fiddling with a car, he’d always say hello to me. Those were great days. I’d go home and tell my dolls, Misty and Lucy, how Evert looked so handsome, even with grease on his face.
One particularly sunny day Evert stopped me. “You wanna go for that ride?”
“Now, what did I say about asking me really?”
“Ah, that’s okay.” He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his arm. “I’ll be done with work in an hour. Come back by. We’ll take a couple of soda pops and head out. How does that sound?”
“Sounds great,” I tried to say. My tongue was fat and useless. I almost ran when I turned to walk away. When I reached the corner, I did run. All the way home. I brushed my teeth again to make sure my breath was fresh. I brushed my hair again, too, and whispered in Misty’s and Lucy’s ears that I was gonna kiss Evert that very afternoon. I shouted at Momma, who was just coming in from her job at the salon, that I was gonna be out for a while. She stopped me at the door and wanted to know where I’d be. I told her at school. I didn’t like lying, but I figured it’d be easier than trying to explain Evert. I told her a pick-up game of softball was going on, and I thought I’d join in. Her eyebrows shriveled. I wasn’t one to join in anything. There was a boy in my class at the game, I told her. Mel Hutchinson (all the girls in town, including their mommas, thought he was gorgeous; he couldn’t even compare to Evert). She smiled then—like she smiled when I hung up those Josh Hartnett posters in my room—and told me to have fun (but be careful). She was always telling me to be careful. Especially since Daddy left. I barely remembered him anymore.
The soda pop bottle was cold and wet in my hands, and I was grateful for that, because I felt so hot sitting there next to Evert in the front seat of his car. We had the windows open (but I couldn’t seem to feel any air) and the radio on. Some song came on I’d never heard before, but Evert knew all the words to it. He said he grew up on music like that, with his daddy being a Vietnam vet and all. He told me I was real pretty. That made me feel even hotter, so much so, I couldn’t talk. All I could do was laugh. And then he told me my laugh was pretty, too.
He drove us past the old rail yard, a bad-smelling place full of rusted train parts, delivery containers, and spooky shadows everywhere. He said he loved places like that, places where things were left to be forgotten. I told him I liked hearing living things, like trains actually running. Those were the first real words I said, and I guess they surprised him, because he took a quick look at me and laughed. I told him where we could go to listen to trains real good. Under a small bridge. My daddy used to take me there when I was real small, I said, surprising myself. I’d forgotten that memory altogether until just then.
A train roared overhead. I screamed and laughed as the car shook, as we watched the train rush over the rails and ties above. Evert threw back his head and hollered, too. I told him then about my mind wandering through all the places I might see someday, like the places the train was going, when I should really be studying. He told me studying was important but living was even more so. He told me he thought I was just born to live and see and experience things. He went on like that, and hearing him talk about me made me feel so much more real. If that makes any sense.
“Come on. I wanna show you something neat.” He took our soda bottle tops and ran up the hill to the train tracks. He laid them on the rail and told me to sit with him to the side and wait awhile until a train came by again. He touched me—my fingers. I didn’t move. I didn’t wanna scare him away. A train’s whistle blew. He gripped my fingers tight. The train swooshed by. I laughed again, feeling the air pulling at me. When the train passed, he showed me the flattened bottle tops. He gave them to me and told me they were special, something to always remember the day by. He asked me if I thought he was handsome. I told him, despite feeling my face get hot again, that I thought he was handsomer than Josh Hartnett. He liked that. His eyes seemed to glow in that afternoon light.
“I wanna kiss you,” he said.
“Well, why don’t ya,” I said, trying to sound tough. I’d never been kissed before, but I didn’t want him thinking of me like I was some kid. He put his lips to mine. He put his tongue against mine. And that heat I felt all along, well, it just exploded, and the moment became a burning-hot blur.
We spent time at the train tracks a lot that summer. Momma just seemed happy I was out being social. Evert always got me home early, so she never had cause to wonder. When school was about to start up again, I told him I wouldn’t be able to see him as much. The thought made him sad, he said. He asked me to go away with him then. He was sick of his job, his cousin bossing him around, and he thought he and I were one and the same and should stick together. We were people born to live, to see things, to be things. He told me I made him feel smarter, more real. I knew what he meant. I told him yes without even thinking. That instinct—that gut reaction. Daddy probably felt that way, too, when he up and left. I never really blamed him none. I guess I always knew my daddy and me were more alike than different. I said yes again to Evert just to test my reaction, and it still felt right.
It wasn’t until later that night, as I lay in my bed alone, that I started to feel a little sad about the idea of leaving. I mean, Momma. What was she gonna do without me? Daddy leaving just tore her apart. Could I really do the same? I asked Evert this the next day. He looked up from the engine he was working on and told me everyone had to make their own decisions, and he wasn’t gonna force me to do nothing I didn’t wanna do, but he reminded me that my momma had made her own decisions, was living her own life, and that I really needed to start thinking about what it was I wanted my life to be. My life. No thinking was needed. I knew.
He came for me that night like we planned. I’d packed the one suitcase in the house—the suitcase Momma’d used on her honeymoon with Daddy in Niagara Falls. It hadn’t been used since. I put some clothes in it, my toothbrush, my hairbrush, Misty and Lucy, a picture of Momma, and my baby rattle (my daddy’d carved it out of wood himself; I wanted something to remember him by, too). I’d written my momma a note and left it on my pillow. In it I told her she was a wonderful momma, that I loved her a lot, that my leaving had nothing to do with her. I told her I needed to strike out and live. I didn’t mention Daddy in my note. Momma probably already knew Daddy and I were one and the same. I told her I’d send her a postcard from all the exciting places me and Evert were gonna visit. And I did, too, until we hit South Dakota. Evert didn’t want me writing no more then.
When his car broke over the town line that night, I looked back at the sign—“Welcome to Sauveterre, South Carolina”—and threw my hands up over my head and howled loud, like a wildcat let out of a cage. And that’s how I really felt, too. I don’t know why. I never felt like I was in a cage before that moment. Evert laughed and turned on the radio and sang, and we drove and drove, and then he found us a place to camp. A real nice place down by a river. He built us a fire, and he teased me some about the things I packed, like my dolls and my pink underwear. He thought my momma looked pretty in her picture (not as pretty as me, though). He laughed at my daddy’s rattle because he thought it was for my baby dolls. When I told him my daddy made it for me, he got quiet. He told me he was sorry my daddy leaving made me sad, but his daddy staying, he thought, had made him even sadder.
He kissed me, and we finally did it. Evert never touched me down there before. We’d kiss a lot, but he’d never let his hands wander. He always said he just couldn’t risk me getting into any kind of trouble so close to home, and he wanted our first time to be special (and it was). Feeling Evert so close, hearing the river rushing by, seeing the sun creeping up over the trees that seemed to be waving down at me, I finally stopped wondering about where I’d wander in life. In Evert, I found home.
We got up and drove even farther away from Sauveterre. Every day we drove, camping out at night, bathing in rivers and lakes, keeping warm by bright fires. We stopped in all kinds of cities and towns—some big, some small. I got Momma postcards from Memphis, Kansas City, Cedar Rapids. Evert didn’t have a particular direction in mind. We just kept moving. It was on a quiet interstate in Iowa that I started worrying.
“But, Evert, I’m real hungry.”
“What do you expect me to do, huh? God damn it. What do you want from me?”
I started to cry. He got mad and then felt sorry, I guess. Me crying really started all the bad things. I only have myself to blame. He drove us into a little town, parked the car behind a Maid Rite, and told me he had something under his seat he never did tell me about. A gun. He got it from his cousin before we left Sauveterre. He pulled it out and told me he’d be back quick. A few minutes go by, and out he comes, running back to the car. He jumped in, and off we drive. I didn’t ask him what he did. I knew it wasn’t good, but me not saying anything about it made it seem somehow right in my head.
He showed me the loose-meat sandwiches he got us and the big wad of bills. Over two hundred dollars. I’d never seen that much money before. I laughed. He told me he didn’t like seeing me cry. He got us a motel room that night. A nice one. I’d never been in a motel or a hotel before, and I could hardly wait to see its insides, but he made me sit in the car while he went and got us our key.
I took a long bath that night. Evert put the toilet lid down and sat, watching me enjoy the free soap and shampoo. He told me he liked taking care of me. He wanted to wash my hair again. I was like his doll, he said, like Misty and Lucy were mine. I was his. He made love to me, and after he was done, he lit a cigarette and asked me how I felt. I told him I liked being close to him, and I asked him if I could smoke, too. He said that with me being a woman now, he couldn’t see no reason why not. Besides, he told me, a cigarette right after making love was the best thing. I coughed with my first suck. He laughed and told me I looked so sexy with the cigarette in my fingers. I kept a pack with me all the time after that.
We kept driving, and whenever we ran low on money, he’d make a stop and get us some more. We stayed in hotels and motels most nights. Evert’d always get me them free postcards from the office when he was checking us in, and I’d write my momma and tell her about how good Evert was treating me.
Sometimes Evert felt like we needed to lie low, so we’d camp out. Eventually, Evert thought keeping his car was too dangerous. It was very recognizable, with all the work he’d put into it. Evert’s eyes looked wet when we left his car behind in a small town and stole another to take its place. That was the closest to crying I’d ever seen him come.
As we drove through South Dakota on a particularly gloomy, rainy day, I was feeling a little sad. I missed my momma. On rainy days like that, we’d watch black-and-white romance movies and paint each other’s nails. Evert was talking to me about the auto shop he was gonna open up someday (he loved cars more than anything), but I wasn’t really paying attention. I kept staring out my window, watching the wheat in the surrounding fields get beat up by the hard rain. He grabbed my chin and told me to pay attention. I told him I missed my momma. I wasn’t sure, for a minute, if he was gonna get mad. He let my chin go and stared at the road up ahead. He finally spoke. He told me he understood. He said he knew what would cheer me up.
He drove us into the next town off the highway. I can’t remember what the town’s name was, but it was a typical town, a lot like Sauveterre and all the other little towns we’ve driven through—a Main Street, a post office, a library, and a school. Quiet. Peaceful. There was a small clothing boutique next to the post office. Instead of parking in back, he parked right in front of the store, like a normal person would. He got out and opened my door for me and held out a hand, just like a gentleman. I couldn’t help giggling despite my hair getting wet in the rain. He pushed open the door to the boutique and told me to pick myself out a real nice dress. There were a lot to choose from. All of them were so pretty. I couldn’t decide. He decided for me. He had me try on a blue dress. The blue was so light it looked like baby powder with a drop of clear sky smudged through it. It fit me just right. I looked like a china doll with that dress on. He said that was the one for me. He looked at the price tag. Forty-four dollars. Five dollars more than we had. I told him it was all right, as I changed out of it. That I’d pick out another one.
But he wanted me to have that dress. He took my hand and led me up to the cashier. He smiled wide. He really was handsomer than Josh Hartnett. Even the cashier—a real old woman (you could see her pink scalp clear as day under her white hair)—saw how good-looking he was. She blushed and got a little fidgety. She must have been bored until we came in. Nobody else in the store. With all the dust on the shelves, nobody’d probably been in there shopping for ages. She talked and talked, trying to make up for all the quiet, I guess. She said it was a pretty dress for me, his kid sister (Evert didn’t correct her). Would do my pretty skin justice, and my blond hair in my braids would look so elegant (elegant, she said) brushing up against that baby blue. Evert talked and laughed with her. After she folded the dress and put it in a bag, Evert grabbed some hosiery and threw them on the counter, too. She rang up the stockings and put them in the bag with the dress. She told us the total—over fifty dollars, I think. Evert smiled wider, brought out his gun (he kept it against his back, tucked into his jeans, hidden under his jean jacket), and told her she was gonna give us a big discount. She opened her mouth to holler.
Evert moved quick. He slapped his hand over her mouth and told me to get him some more of that hosiery hanging off the rack near the counter. He had me rip the plastic wrapping open, and he shoved a pair of stockings into that old woman’s mouth, whispering the whole time to her that we really enjoyed shopping in her little store. She tripped and fell back and landed hard on the floor. Her head made a loud thud against the floor tiles. Her eyes were so wide. I’d never seen so much white in someone’s stare. Her face went purple. I told Evert to take them stockings out of her mouth, so she could breathe.
He just kept on watching her, doing nothing, his green eyes looking so pale. I don’t think he meant for it to happen. I think the shock of the moment, seeing her stop moving, her eyes so wide, locked up his joints and thoughts, just like it did me.
When we reached the interstate, I pulled Lucy and Misty from the back seat and sat them on my lap and started brushing their hair. I kept seeing that woman’s eyes. I couldn’t think of any other way to clear my mind of her. Seeing me with my dolls made Evert mad. He took them and threw them out the window. I asked him why he did that, but he wouldn’t answer. He looked straight on at the road and wouldn’t look at me. I started to cry, and he told me to stop acting like a baby. He was sick of it, he said. The way he said it—not hollering, not mean, but sort of even-like—made me be quiet fast. I’d never heard him talk like that. Even when he hollered before, I knew he liked me. I could tell in how much effort he was putting into hollering. But that voice—it was different. With that same cold tone, he told me he was gonna teach me how to drive, so I could start carrying my own weight. That’s the way he talked to me for a good long while.
I made a good driver. I guess because my brain had to wander and think about all the little things at once. My brain was good at wandering. It only took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it. I thought me learning quick would make Evert happy, but he didn’t seem to care one way or the other. After I was pretty good, he drove us into another town, a small town (he always picked the smallest towns for this), slapped a baseball cap on my head, and told me to tuck all my hair up in it. They’d be looking for two guys then, he said. He told me to slide over to the driver’s seat and be ready. I did like he told me. He strolled into the town’s grocery store, pulling on a stocking (some of the hosiery he got me at that boutique) over his head. He came out a few minutes later with a bag full of money. He ran to the car, yelling at me to go. I threw my cigarette out the window, and as soon as he was in the car, I drove like crazy. We traded cars and did it again. We started getting loads of money that way.
We went town to town, robbing their grocery stores, ditching our car, and getting a new one. I wanted to send my momma postcards from all the places we stopped in, but he said no. He never let me write my momma again after that day in South Dakota. He said there was no going back after what we did there. It just about broke my heart me not being able to write Momma, but Evert had started to warm up to me a little again, and that made things better. It was the excitement, I think, that made him pay more attention to me. He’d start talking fast, telling me how scared everyone looked. He liked that, making everyone scared. He liked it a lot until he got a little taste of fear himself. We were on our way across Texas when he decided to make another money run. I put on the baseball cap, tried to look tough like a guy, and I sat in the car, smoking, waiting for Evert. This time, when he came running out, a security guard was chasing him and shooting at him. Evert looked so scared. He jumped in the car, and I sped off. A bullet hit the back window, shattered it to pieces. I started to cry. Evert told me to quit.
After that, Evert decided we should take what we had, which was a lot—he never did let me count the money, but the dollars took up all of my suitcase—my clothes and things were kept in a garbage bag—and lie low for a long while. He got the idea then that we should pick out new names. I always liked Rachel. The prettiest girl in Sauveterre, the head cheerleader in high school, her name was Rachel. He kept Evert. Said no other name suited him. But he picked a new last name: Stewart. Because he never liked his daddy much, changing his last name didn’t bother him none, and he said Stewart sounded real American. I told him I’d take on Stewart, too. He just shrugged.
We traded our car again; this time for a pickup truck. He bought us an old Serro Scotty trailer in Arizona. Paid for it in cash. And we headed farther west into desert land. Evert decided we’d park the trailer and stay put for a while just outside of Angenent, California, a desert town with not much more in it than any other small town we’d been through.
Being out in the desert seemed to calm Evert. He started smiling more. You could see rock and sand and stony hills and weird-looking Joshua trees in all directions. We’d go for long walks, and he’d tell me what the rocks and hills looked like to him—a toe, a nose, a finger. He picked me wildflowers, bright orange and blue ones that seemed to spring up in the hardest places. He even told me he was sorry about my dolls. He said he’d get me new ones. I told him not to, that he was right, that I needed to start being more grown-up. He said he liked me being his little girl. Things were good. He’d drive us into Angenent every week or so, and we’d fill up our plastic water cans and pick up supplies using the money we had. We were like two kids having fun.
I woke up each morning happy until I started feeling sick. I threw up a lot and my period stopped coming—every girl’s worst fear. I told Evert my suspicions. He didn’t look at me. He just looked out at the desert. His eyes seemed so faded in that desert light. He told me he’d get a job to earn some steady money. Hearing those words was some comfort, but him not showing me any affection broke my heart. I wanted him to kiss me and tell me this was the best thing that’d ever happened to him. He made love to me once more after that, and he didn’t look me in the eyes the whole time.
He got a job like he said he would at an auto shop in town. When my stomach started growing out, I think he downright found me gross. He didn’t look at me. He never touched me. Some nights he never came home. He came back to the trailer less and less. One day, when he came to get some of his clothes, I told him if he wasn’t gonna be around when this baby came, that I’d need a car, so I could at least get myself into town. He said fine. If it’d quit my whining, he’d get me a car. I rode with him into town. I started talking about all the good times we had. He looked at me once with the start of a smile, because he remembered the fun, too, but when he saw my stomach poking out, any idea of a smile disappeared.
He got me a car, a used Escort about ready to fall apart. He said I should drive myself back to my momma, to my home. I told him he was my home. He said nothing. I stole a pack of cigarettes off him (I only smoked one when I really needed it; I knew from TV things like smoking and drinking were bad for babies), and I drove back to the trailer alone. He never came back to our place in the desert again.
My stomach got so big. It got even hotter, if that was possible. I’d sit in the open door of the trailer, grabbing at every breeze, holding the battery-powered handheld fan Evert got for us a long while ago over my face, over my tummy (I worried about the baby boiling in there). Evert had given me some money. I used most of it to feed me. I did buy the baby some clothes. Cute things, like little socks and shirts. I couldn’t afford a crib (and the trailer couldn’t fit one neither), so I bought a nice, white laundry basket. I figured the baby would fit just fine in it. I wanted to call my momma. I almost did once, when I was in town getting things, but I didn’t want her worrying. I thought about writing instead, but Evert was right; we couldn’t risk anyone catching wind of where we were. I didn’t want anyone making me go back to Sauveterre. Evert wasn’t done with me. I just knew once the baby came, everything would be okay again. He refused to see me now, but he hadn’t left town. That meant something. He still loved me. I knew it.
The wind had kicked up into a storm the night Dewey came. I was asleep, and something woke me up. I thought it was the wind at first, but then I realized it was wetness. I thought I’d peed myself, but then the pain came, and I couldn’t think anymore about where that wetness came from. I couldn’t think about getting myself into town, about anything except getting him out of me. I know I screamed, probably as loud as the wind. I called for Momma. I remember that. I yelled for her over and over, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me. When he came out, I felt him tear at me. My muscles were shaking. I never felt so tired. He cried. I spent the rest of the night crying with him.
Dewey. I decided on that name because the next morning the wind had died down some, but it took a little longer than usual for the sun to heat things up. It had rained during the storm. I didn’t even know it. I’d seen thunderclouds a lot in the desert sky, but I never actually saw it rain before. There were droplets of water holding on tight to the outside of the small window above the bed. I remembered how droplets like that felt when you sat down on grass. The thought made me smile. I missed dew on grass. I looked down at the baby sleeping next to me on the small bed in the mess and blood I was still too tired to clean up and decided on Dewey.
Later that day, I managed to get us both washed. I cut through the slimy thing growing out of his belly button. I couldn’t get it all off, and when I tugged at the piece still stuck to him, he cried real hard, so I let it be, and it eventually dried up and fell off on its own. I showed him the picture of Momma and the rattle my daddy made me, and I told him about his daddy, Evert, what a handsome man he was and all that. I knew babies needed to eat a lot. I remembered hearing that on the TV, so I held Dewey close to my chest, and he sucked on me without any direction. That was amazing. Seeing him feed off me.
I needed to eat, too, but the jar of peanut butter was empty, and the water, after our wash, was near gone. And all I had left on me was two dollars. I needed more money from Evert.
I drove us into Angenent with the empty water cans thudding together in the back seat. Dewey slept in the seat next to me. I drove by the auto shop Evert worked at. It was closed already for the day. He never did tell me where he was staying. Dewey was depending on me. I had to make the two dollars work. I stopped behind the diner and used the hose coiled by the back door like Evert did to fill up the water cans. I went to the Grand Mart next. What was I gonna do with just two dollars? Dewey could do with diapers, but using the T-shirts Evert left behind seemed okay. I could wash and reuse them, I figured. Baby food. Maybe Dewey needed baby food. I held him to my chest, letting him sleep, while I looked at the shelves of mushed-up food. Jars of peas, peaches, pears—you name it, they had it. And each jar was sixty cents. I got two. One apricot and one carrot. I thought he’d like them best. I looked at the peanut butter. The cheapest jar was ninety-nine cents. I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I took the smallest jar they had and wrapped it in Dewey’s blanket (a beach towel I got on sale that same day I got his basket). He didn’t like the feeling of that jar. He started to cry. I tried to hush him, and as I bounced him, the peanut butter fell loose and rolled along the floor. The manager of the store happened to be there at the end of the aisle. He asked me if I was trying to steal that peanut butter. He caught me outright. I couldn’t lie. I started to cry.
That’s when I first met Sheriff Wright. He told me stealing was bad. He asked me twice how old I was. Nineteen, I told him firmly both times. I didn’t like lying, but I knew I had to. I told him we were just passing through, that we were on our way to see his daddy in San Diego because that’s where he got a job working on boat motors (I couldn’t think of any other story to tell). When he asked to see my ID, I told him I’d lost my purse at some rest stop along the way. That’s why I was so desperate. I’d lost all my money. I could tell he had no idea what to make of me, so I smiled real big and told him I was awfully sorry. Dewey was so good. He’d gotten all his crying out earlier, and he just slept.
Sheriff Wright finally sighed and made me promise I wouldn’t try stealing again, and then, even with the manager complaining, he bought me two full bags of groceries, including diapers and baby powder for Dewey and peanut butter for me, gave me ten dollars for gas, and told me to get on my way. I heard him telling the manager that it wasn’t a sin being poor.
I moved quick through that parking lot and made sure Sheriff Wright and the store manager weren’t looking before I got in my car. I couldn’t risk them tracking me; I couldn’t risk them sending me back or Evert being found and getting into any kind of trouble on my account.
Dewey and I did okay for another week or so, but I started running out of food again, and boy, was I hungry all the time. It seemed like the more Dewey ate from me, the more I needed to eat. I didn’t know what I was gonna do. Dewey was so good. No matter how mad or scared I got, he tried his best not to cry. He only cried when he had good reason to, like when his T-shirt needed changing or something. I loved that he didn’t cry or fuss. I’d heard babies could be bad like that. He didn’t laugh none either, though. And that got me worried. I thought babies were supposed to laugh. He’d smile once in a while, but I could never get a giggle out of him, so I built him that swing off that Joshua tree. We had to walk far, but it was a good spot on a hill. You could see real good in all directions (I always had an eye out for Evert’s truck), and the desert, with its pinkish and gold colors, could seem real pretty from that spot. I threw clothesline over a branch and tied it tight to an old wood crate I’d found out in the desert (dropped and forgotten). I put Evert’s flannel shirt inside the crate. I could tell Dewey liked being in that swing. He smiled a lot. I think the swinging and being in Evert’s fuzzy shirt, being in his daddy’s smell, is what he liked. We spent most of our late afternoons at the swing under the little shade the Joshua tree gave us. When we’d get too hot, we went back to the trailer, and I’d run the handheld fan over Dewey’s tummy. He smiled at that, too. I’d let him stretch out on the floor, on my bed, in his laundry basket. I’d tell him about all the places in the world we could wander through. I’d sing him the parts of songs I knew (I never could remember all the words like Evert), and I’d shake my rattle. He gurgled at the sound. I think maybe he was trying to laugh.
I’d never been hungrier. And Dewey was having a hard time eating from me. I don’t think I was giving him enough. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about calling Momma again, but I still held out hope that Evert’d come back, that he’d come around to loving me again. I decided to take Dewey and try to see him again. I knew he’d be angry, but I was sure he’d get over it fast. The thought of seeing Evert got me excited. I washed up best I could. I put on that dress he liked me in so much—the light, light blue one from the boutique. I brushed my hair. I cleaned Dewey up, too. Dewey looked so cute now. I just knew Evert would crumple when he saw him. I put the empty water cans in the back seat and Dewey in the front seat next to me, and I drove us back to Angenent. I talked the whole way, telling Dewey about his daddy, about how handsome he was, how smart he was, too, with the ways of life, and how I was sure he was real sorry for being gone for so long.
I drove us to the auto shop. It was open this time. I held Dewey and a big smile and walked around the garage, looking for Evert. I didn’t see him. Even though I promised Evert I’d never talk to nobody at his shop, I asked one of the men there if he knew where I could find him. The man wanted to know who was asking. Seeing how I had his baby and we had the same last name now, wife seemed real appropriate. The man laughed. Real hard. Still laughing, he finally told me I could probably find Evert taking a nap at the Sunset Motel at the other end of town.
I drove to the end of town and saw the two-level motel sitting there on the edge of the road, looking like it was just about ready to fall in on itself. A sun-bleached sign advertised vacancies and extended stays. I saw Evert’s car—the pickup. I knew it was his because of the peeling bumper sticker on it. We never could figure out what it used to say. Only the last two red letters—an “o” and a big “Y”—were left. There was an office. I went inside, bouncing Dewey in my arms, and asked the overweight guy behind a desk stacked with comics if he knew where I could find the man who belonged to that truck. Not looking up from the comic he was thumbing through, he said he couldn’t disclose that sort of information. So, I went back outside and watched the doors to the lower and upper levels, wondering how I was gonna pick the right door, and maybe God (or the devil) heard me just then, because a door on the upper level opened, and out came Evert with his shirt open and an ice bucket in his hand. He didn’t see me or Dewey. He got ice at the machine at the end of the floor and walked back to his room and kicked the door shut behind him.
“I found your daddy,” I whispered to Dewey. He seemed to smile. I climbed the rusting stairs and went to Evert’s door and knocked. I was so nervous I couldn’t breathe. Evert opened the door. His eyes looked lighter, colder than I’d ever seen them. I looked at the empty room behind him. Ice settled and cracked in a glass of soda pop on the table next to the made bed. The ice bucket sat on the floor. Cartoon voices chattered on the TV. I kept looking at the room behind him. I half expected someone else to be there. I always got scared thinking he might have picked someone else over me. Happy now to see that all my worrying was for nothing, I smiled and held Dewey up. Evert didn’t look at him.
“Evert, this is Dewey.”
“Dewey,” he mumbled, still looking away. “What kind of stupid name’s that?”
I kissed Dewey’s head. I knew Evert didn’t mean no harm. I asked him if he were coming home soon. He said he couldn’t believe I was still hanging around.
“But you stayed,” I said.
He told me to go back to my momma. That’s why he got me the car, he said. I started to cry. I didn’t mean to. He told me to stop being a baby. Dewey started crying, too, then. I told Evert to just hold Dewey and look at him and see him, because I just knew he wouldn’t be able to help loving him. I held Dewey up again. Evert tried to close the door. I pushed the door back open. Evert pushed me. Not too hard, but hard enough. I stumbled back. Dewey slipped from my hands. I lost him. I let him go. Dewey fell over the railing and down to the pavement below and his crying stopped.
Evert looked at me so mean then. “Look what you did,” he said.
I ran down the stairs, scooped my Dewey up, and got into my car. Evert stood, looking down at me. The guy in the office stood in the door, looking at me. Everyone except for Dewey was looking at me as I cried and drove away. Dewey lay still next to me with his eyes closed the whole way back to the trailer. I parked the car and ran with him to his swing. I asked him to laugh for me. I wanted so much to hear him laugh. I pushed the swing and looked down at him. I sat with him until it got so cold I had to go inside. Through chattering teeth and icy tears, I told Dewey goodbye. I told him I was sorry, and I felt a coldness in my heart I’d never felt before.
“Don’t move,” Sheriff Wright whispers to me. I see him pulling out his gun. “Don’t move, okay?”
The snake rattles, hisses. I squeeze the flat bottle caps in my pocket, and I lunge at the snake. Its fangs rip into my leg. The sheriff hollers and stomps on the ground. The snake lashes back and bites me again. The sheriff shoots at it. He misses, but he scares it good. The snake, still rattling its tail, slithers away.
He rips off his belt and ties it tight around my leg. He picks me up, and I can’t help dropping my head against his chest. “Why would you go and do a stupid thing like that?” he says.
I look over his shoulder at the Joshua tree far out in the distance. I watch it shrink as Sheriff Wright carries me all the way to his car. He lays me down in the back seat and says something into his radio that I can’t understand. The car starts to move. I look up at the ceiling, watch the sunlight play across its tan surface, and I realize I can take his poison. I reach down and let loose the sheriff’s belt. I can take it. Because I love him, and we are one and the same.