I believe it’s healthy to name all the inanimate objects that live in your house. At the very least for God’s sake name the patron saint statues in your garden, I tell my neighbors, which is how Verle and Pearl got to be named Verle and Pearl. They were out on the edge of the lawn when I moved into this place, the little lawn I’ve tilled for herbs and edible flowers and they are still Homeland Security for that garden. These kids, Dawn and Emily, from Unit 12 come over every day and they have all these little dramas for Verle and Pearl and they are wild about the concept of nasturtiums on salad and no-bake cookies. They are homely, pubescent little darlings and because of the damn no-bake cookies is why I got tangled up with Duane.

Because they’d made no-bake cookies every day at my house for a damn week and Wednesday I succeeded in telling them My Oven’s Broke but Thursday they were pounding on the door with No Bake Cookies Means No Oven (savvy little shits, only took them 24 hours) and I waited about 15 minutes in my bathtub and then I crept out to the bar. Which is almost smack dab in the middle of the trailer park, which is where I’ve been living for eighteen months exactly and which boasts the Coldest Beer in Town. And they painted the front like an American flag not so far back and at the bar, which is called Doris Day and Night, is where I met Duane. He was bad news right from the start I tell you. So don’t look so surprised when at the end of the night I sort of beg him to take me home, which was sort of a stupid point anyway because he had actually already thrown me over his shoulders and on his way out the bar and I was laughing. And Doris of Day and Night fame, drunk as I was, she’s 80 years old and I can tell you even drunk and upside down from a man’s shoulders across a dimlit bar I could tell she could tell he was bad news right from the start. He had all the stupid habits like chewing tobacco and breaking whiskey bottles that I’ve always said I don’t like in men and somehow always keep ending up in their beds. If they have any furniture, which Duane didn’t, exactly. He was actually my neighbor two doors down. Which meant twenty paces closer to the bar and I didn’t mind that a bit. I squealed like a pig til morning on an air mattress on the floor, but no, thank you very much, I am not exactly proud of that.

My first boyfriend Bobby Swisher, I called Swisher Sweet, slipped pieces of licorice in my mouth when we were kissing and I didn’t know enough about boys then to spit those pieces out. That disaster begat Sean Hoobery (really) begat Ted Trubeck begat Dick Peck (guess what happened to him) and it gets a little bit blurry after that. Actually it gets blurry at the beginning because they’re all kind of the same guy. Every single one of them too thin by half, and half-stupid and hilarious. Every single one of them playing all kinds stupid people tricks on stupid people like me all the time like throwing me over their shoulders and walking me like a dog. Every single one of them with some sort of clever stuff about them too that they probably read about in a magazine or better overheard somebody talking about in the shitter in Doris Day and Night. In addition to the licorice trick Bobby Swisher knew all sorts of crazy stuff about baseball cards and spy satellites, I’m not kidding. In high school after we’d long since left each other in the dust he started fucking the honor roll girls, and I heard he was pretty damn good at it. Ted Trubeck made and knew all sort of things about beer and the different kinds of beer, and I really liked getting him to talk about even though it sort of all tastes the same to me.

So anyway Duane’s thing, his medium I guess you call it, was the jukebox. He pumped five dollars into that baby, at three songs a buck and he had me at Song Number Three. Which was “American Girl” which even in high school I used to say, That’s my theme song, when we were driving around in our cars but nobody cared or heard me because they were singing too loud at the top of their lungs and we were also whacked out of our fucking skulls 24-7 in those days, especially when I was dating Dick Peck. Anyway when the song was playing and Duane asked me to dance he said something about this being my theme song.

For all I know he did his homework and knew that about me, but I figured him for my soul mate and figured the thunderstorm outside was some kind of good omen.

My sister, Trish, says the universe does throw people together like that on purpose, just exactly like what I thought was happening, but not because they’re destined to grow old and buy an old house in the good part of town and have a hundred thousand babies. She says the universe has a mean streak. My sister Trish is 15 years older than me and she lives in San Francisco, and goddammit, one of these Sundays I am going to give her a call.

In week two after I was avoiding them Dawn and Emily left a note on my door about sugar cookies so I decided to start letting them in. You got to appreciate that for the broken-down casino waitress with a chipped front tooth and all that I might have been, I was sort of their best shot at having a mother and I was also pretty glad I only had to do it a couple hours a day. Sometimes I meet people from the cities and they’re surprised at how many massage therapists we have here in our yellow pages. And they’re surprised I know what they mean when they do the fucking finger-air quotes and say “massage therapist” and surprised when I tell them there are three in my trailer park alone. Dawn and Emily’s mother is one of them. She’s not a bad gal, but beyond the whole hooker thing she must have had about seven screws loose if I looked so damn good by comparison.

I don’t have to work until six usually so the girls and I spend a lot of afternoons eating cookies and watching Oprah and tending the garden which, one day I realize I am the only person in the trailer park who has one. So no wonder.

Duane was big and blonde and bearded. He told really stupid jokes about blacks and gays and lesbians and Presidents and he always wore this hat for a trucking company that fired him three years ago on a DUI. Not kidding. Bad news right from the start. He screwed like a porn star though and sang like an opera star and even did the dishes occasionally. The air mattress wasn’t so bad. I told him that, in exactly the way he said working at Wal-Mart wasn’t so bad and exactly the way I said working at a casino wasn’t so bad. It sort of wasn’t. But really, you know, the mirrors everywhere stare you straight back in the face and they tell you, Sheila, you’re getting ugly. More so every day.

Duane got a ticket and he had to pay the ticket, which meant he missed the car payment in the car that got him in so much trouble in the first place. Which was, and I hope you are paying attention, a maroon and white Cadillac, which there are not many of those in the state of Oklahoma. And I didn’t have any money and he wasn’t about to go cooking and selling crank or anything because Duane’s one redeeming quality was he knew the damn trailer park was full of damn-near-orphan little kids who thought I was normal just because I had a goddamn rosemary patch. And payday loans didn’t occur to him either and as far as I know he didn’t have any parents. I suppose he could have just given up his car or whatever, but instead, Duane Thompson went and robbed a bank and I pretty much almost never saw him again. Not kidding. As far as I know he still has my copy of The Amityville Horror. (The book.)

I guess what happened is he put probably one of my stockings on his head and he got a gun, which was mine, no probably about it, and held up Wells Fargo at quarter till closing time. I’m not kidding. And he drove away in the maroon and white Cadillac. Which, the only other person the cops found about who had a maroon and white Cadillac, in our whole county was this great big black guy, which Duane Thompson actually was not. I mean not at all.

Then he made the car payment and nobody saw Duane Thompson for months after that, ‘til I found out he’d left me for another casino waitress in Jackpot, Nevada, where he went to burn off all his extra money or like destroy the evidence, whatever you call it when you rob a bank and you’ve got suspicious amounts of money in paper bags in the back of your Cadillac. He couldn’t stop winning, I’m not joking, they said he got like tens of thousands of dollars in a night.

He fished in Alaska for two months and then our other neighbor decided to call the cops and when he came back through Oklahoma, which he finally did, they took him away from me for the last time, red and blue lights sweeping the horizon.

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