John Oliver Hodges
Rebelee's friend Angel in itsy bitsy ham-huggers arrives. And Aqua the wobbly one walking
in the yard dirt cerebral-palsy-looking screwy. Save that, Aqua's normal: pretty face, blond hair, plump brown midriff between ham-hugger
and shirt. They walk and hobble to the yard table with Ronnie, Angel's ex-crackho mommy who last year lived next door. Once, Darling went
over there, knocked, and Ronnie opened wearing nothing but a pink towel. In the room were five black men.
Angel wants to know where's Rebelee?
Shain't even at her own party? she says mean-faced-scowly and calls Rebelee bitch.
That's selfish, I tell her. Rebelee ain't feeling good, I say. What she needs is a friend.
Yeah, I think that is what she needs, Boyl says.
Well dang, Angel says looks around cock-hipped with a foot out-twisted, Miss Authority. Letdown shines in her freckles and
upper lip sweat. She don't like pot smokers. Grownups suck.
Angel's ex-crackho mommy opens a photo album, shows it smiley-excited to
Granny, pictures taken during her eldest daughter's teenage birthing, the spread legs in stirrups and wet purple baby doctor-held and glossy
in the glossys, all this wet purple baby corded dripping purple juice. I see it want smoke, get the yearny feeling screwing up the heartbeat.
The girl's feet swollen against the steel, toenails bright red, intrigue. I can't see her face, only blond wisps of hair and wonder did she paint
her feet for the glossys, for the doctor and the nurses sterile-green-bibbed with white-plastic-gloved hands.
Oh, what treasures, Granny says, her varicose-gross leg swinging.
The guineas up top the coop squawk and Boyl says guineas are from Africa, that guineas flocked in massive hordes. In
flight guineas pinched out the sun and their noise deafened lions' ears. Like silverfish schools, Boyl says, each silverfish battling for entrance
into the core, and I think of us, we waggle-tailed streamers battling for the egg. Up the mother, down the mother, into the world. We've all
had sex with our mothers.
Boyl lights up.
I guzzle-throat beer heave the can at the guineas and miss.
You gone have to take you some lessons, Darling says.
Angel rolls her eyes, says they're off to play with the children on the bike path. Aqua climbs Angel's back and they leave
that way, the one carried by the other.
Oh, bless her heart, Granny says. She's so precious, so precious.
Aqua's got two spines and an extra bone, Darling says, raising her head up beetle-eyed from the Mr. Ugly's Hot Boiled
Peanuts sign she's painting the letters of bright red.
Oh bless her heart, Granny says.
And Darling gives us the what's-wrong-with-Aqua-story, Aqua's family historied in Siamese twins. Gets around in a chair,
but hates the chair so walks a lot, even though it hurts and worsens the problem. Darling says, That girl is strong, she's a fighter, she told her
doctor to cut off her leg and give her a prosthetic if it would make her walk right. That's courage. That's bravery. That girl is a fighter.
Aquafresh, Boyl says.
I hit the cooler and Granny says to cold her one too.
You need to get up and get your own damn beer, Darling says to her mother. You've been a ornament all your life. That's
why your health is so bad.
You never had a full hysterectomy, Granny says.
Goddamn, Boyl says, and plays a bit of drown-outage a la Bobular Dylan.
But Rebelee dropped off by the de-bubbled Nora Jane appears at the gate, no longer pouting. Is changed, at terms with
what made her grumpy unhappy on her birthday. Her buttermilk biscuits beam cheerful rays, and she marches proud through the yard-dirt,
eager to forgive. But Daddy don't notice no Rebelee, just pounds away on his hardtop Seagull, singing his globular Dylan, so she pulls his
Rebelee killed a Yankee, I say.
But Rebelee don't want my attention. She ponytails.
No, Boyl says, stopping globbing. I told you, I ain't getting you no damn bathing suit!
Shhhh, it's my birthday, Rebelee says.
Hey, Boyl says, annoyed at me, When you gonna pull out your box? And globs.
Rebelee picks an oyster shell off the picnic throws it at the goose.
I de-fiddle my case.
Our notes blend good, ask me. I've swallowed six brews, or eight. But not nine thanks to seven. I'm stoned. It's a real
jamboree going on back here.
Rolf Robertson, whose picture hangs in the Burger Cemetery post office, indicating that this man is a sex offender where
children are concerned, comes over with the fish, watches us play. The sky grows purple. The moon climbs the branches. Ding and Ling lick
beer cans, their tongues against the keys, and Granny says, Those are the lickenest dogs I ever seen in my life.
Even dogs like beer, Rolf says.
Chippendale dogs, Granny says, her varicose a-grooving.
And Boyl, pissed, stops globbing. Boyl hates talk while he globs. Acts like he'll smash the Seagull on the smoker then sets
it down gentle, the baby. Me, I'm glad to stop globbing. Problem is look at everybody lighting up. I could bum one. Then I'd be wombed again
after de-wombing only a week ago. Stupid me.
I don't like beer, says Rebelee.
Good girls don't like beer, I say.
She's an adult now, Boyl says. A big girl.
No longer sweet sixteen, Rolf says.
A hundred and thirty pounds, Darling chortles. That's a little bit big to be huffing around in a G-string bikini, don't you
I never said I wanted one of—
She made the B honor roll, Boyl says.
Great, I say. What did you learn?
Rebelee calms herself, then thinks. Julius Caesar had epilepsy and was deaf in his left ear, she says.
Ronnie back from up front wants to know does anybody know where Angel and Aqua are.
No, everybody says.
And Ronnie marches off to find them.
And Boyl says: Caesar liked skinny girls in G-strings. Says: Darling's dumbass daughter Zilfa spends all this fuckin' money
buying bathing suits out of these catalogs. She came over the other day and threw this little wad of string on the table and said she paid a
hundred and twenty dollars for it. It was three bathing suits. Not one, but three. I told Zilfa she should give me the money, I'd get her a wine
cork and some kite string!
Boyl explodes into laughter.
Rebelee says: Shakespeare wrote a play about Caesar.
I know, Boyl says, recovering, and I bet you didn't know this, but back in Caesar's day when a woman got pregnant they'd
cut her open and if it was a boy they'd save it and let the mother die. If it was a girl they'd throw it out and try to save the mother. Which
reminds me, Boyl says, where's Sulie?
Sulie is Nora Jane's bubble-headed baby.
Sleeping, Rebelee says. Mom wouldn't take her so Nora Jane left her with me. She won't be back till tomorrow.
Well why don't you go inside and check on her, Boyl says, and waves her off.
We glob. We beer. We're moonbudding when Ronnie, Angel's ex-crackho mommy thin-lipped lurid returns from her
girl-search, out there somewheres in the dark. Word from the bike path kids is they took off with some boys.
In a car? I say.
I don't know, Ronnie says. It's been over two hours now. Two hours! Where the fuck are they? What kind of shit is Angel
Boyl says it happens all the time.
And Ronnie begins a-sobbing, and says: Where is she, goddamnit! With a crippled girl? How far could they go? I just drove
down Zoroho screaming their names out the window. They've disappeared.
I'm starving, Granny says, her varicose-gross leg just a-fanning away. When y'all gonna have supper made?
She's never done this before, Ronnie says.
Rolf Robertson says very soberly that we'd best get to frying, Boyl, and we transport ourselves to the trailer where Rebelee
kicked back in the couch with Nora Jane's bubble watches Meathead smile and Gloria laugh in living color, Archie Bunker fart-flapping his
tongue pink with screwbally eyes.
We cozy ourselves and, That's a cool necklace, Darling says about the brass doggie I gave Rebelee for her seventeenth
birthday. Where'd you get it, Fiddle Joe?
Ancient Chinese secret, I say, not so drunk as I act. I'm in the cozy next to Rebelee and the bubble's a-grabbing at her
breast. Doesn't seem unlikely, Rebelee letting the bubble suckle her some, a tryout when nobody's home.
They could be across the Georgia line by now, Boyl says from the kitchen.
And Ronnie sniffles, some serious freaking out going on here tonight in Burger Cemetery.
Darling says, I'm serious, Joe, that's a cool necklace, I never seen one like it, it's an original.
See the tail? Rebelee says. It swings.
I'm going to kill that girl, Ronnie says.
I'm sure they'll be back, Darling says, tosses back Busch coffees the can.
Granny says, A mother can't help but to feel worried about her own daughter. I'd be worried too.
Darling screws her face down into the wood, her cavity-curved teeth loose yet fierce: I ran away from home when I was
fourteen and you didn't call the cops till two weeks after I was gone!
Darling, Granny says dismissively.
I say, Darling's got her truth and you've got urine.
Granny nods approvingly.
What! Darling screams.
Ronnie starts a-bawling and me and Rebelee exchange eyes a-balls, and even Darling, Ronnie's panic cuts through her
gripes. Darling says, You can't control them girls. Girls'll do what girls'll do. That's the first lesson I learned when I had Zilfa.
Fast footfalls on the steps. Aqua's mom flings in wants to call the cops. It's been two and a half hours. She presses buttons.
Boyl un-kitchens says hide the roaches, anything bespeaking evidence, and the bubble's grabbing twisting Rebelee's breast.
I decide it's time to car it get my camera.
Darling and Granny pop new brews when I re-trailer myself, not a whit worried over should the cops come see them drunk.
Granny's a lazy drunk, but Darling when drunk loses it, is already at that point where opinioning's all to matter. You never lifted a goddamn
finger! she screams, while Aqua-Mom speaks with affected calm to the plastic.
I snap Rebelee with her birthday bubble-headed baby, a wobbly Pillsbury Doughgirl, spittle-mouthed smiling. I notice its
toenails. There is dirt underneath them!
Then Ronnie and Aqua-Mom dithering de-trailer screaming their daughters' names to the night. I kitchen. Boyl says, Look
man, I've seen this time and again, those cops are going to project some shit onto this and next thing you know you got the HRS taking your
kids away. Calling the cops is like putting yourself in jail. I'm not saying anything more about it, but I guarantee you those kids are off in the
woods kissing or some shit.
Rolf Robertson nods. Or sticking fingers in each other, he says. Then, Have you some fries, Fiddle Joe. Don't hold back.
Is a pile of fries plated piled high next to the fried fish balls stacked up hot from the pot. I sneak a fry tongue it and that's
something! Salt like you don't know. I get a bunch in my mouth stuffing them in when gone want more grease, more salt. Fuck the cigarettes.
It's fish I want! Golden cobia fresh from the gulf! Balls of white meat oily and a-glisten. Calling. I can't wait. Grab one even though it's rude
Rolf Robertson laughs. Oh shit, he says, Little Fiddle can't restrain hisself. Go ahead, Fiddle, get you a plate.
I plate fries and cobia squirt ketchup and One-Drop and hot my plate to the cozy a nice cold Busch at my side going, all
those great tingly bubbles yellow and bubbly to clear the palate, start anew the wonderful taste coursing through the bowels.
Well, ain't you the first to get your plate going, Granny says miser-eyely. Saves things, watches me in my eatage always,
keeps tabs. A joint goes she's got her eye on the toker, takes note of the tokage toked. Granny smokes for need. Her osteoporosis and
bladder and veins, a pain expert raped by crowbar left for dead her younger years. Broke skull. Cuts her hair short so the hair don't pull. It's
not, tokage, to waste.
Rebelee laughs at me in my goodness. The bubble she back-beds gets her own good plate of goodness going.
And here we are, me Granny and Rebelee licking fingers in our eatage, the corn-batter crust crusty, the white meat
juicy-tender. I second, then third me, and see my plate, how I'm a greedy one. So put a cobia ball back re-cozy notice Granny's watchful
eye: Boy, that boy can eat, what a pig! But I don't care. I teeth, savor my chewage, each taste a tongue-tummy-slide-sliver of yum.
Done I say Darling ain't you gonna get you some?
Hell yeah, Darling says, but right now I'm drinkin'.
Ronnie comes in and's like, You got any gum or something I can put in my mouth? She's afraid the cops'll think she's
drunk, will smell her breath.
I ate all my candy, Rebelee says.
Fish in the kitchen, I say, and Ronnie beelines it snatches up one them cobias rips it open automatic. Could be eating an
apple, dog food, a Fig Newton. She's not thinking of the good quality. The fish is naught but a tool to cover the smell of bad mother. I got to
go look one more time for my daughter, she says, and she and Aqua-Mom down the steps to run another engine in their separate cars.
Angel and Aqua could be across the Georgia line by now.
It happens. To Terry after Slim Jim killed himself, some say got fucked by the boys in Coon Creek. Others by these
thirty-year-old white guys in Georgia. Either way Terry got back pregnant fourteen. Angel's a proud twelve absorbed by the power of her
postures on men and boys. Aware of its passing, what she'll grow to fit, look at Mommy ex-crackho fat stiff-haired and mustachioed. Flesh
pockets gather at the hems of Angel's itsy bitsy ham-huggers. It can no longer be called baby fat.
Granny shakes her head sad. I just don't know what that child's going to do without her wheelchair, she says.
Two spines and a extra bone, Darling says, eyelids glued to the tops of her sockets. She holds the pose a moment then
outpours a speech on the virtues of a two-spined girl who told her doctor to chop off her leg. So she could walk the way a normal person
walks. You'll never come across a more courageous girl than Aqua, Darling snarls.
And she's just the prettiest thing, Granny says, her varicose a-stirring that constant bucket-o-butter. Bless her heart,
Granny says. She's gorgeous.
Here, you want to read my book? Rebelee says passes me the present Angel left behind, a book to fit the hand, dark
pastels with stars and a crescent moon called What Girls Like. On the cover girls in dresses fly kites through a nighttime sky. I
turn the page to girls in striped pajamas painting their toenails. The caption reads: Girls like bright colors on their feet and sparkles on
their cheeks. Girls like slumber parties and stealing sweetmeats from the kitchen to eat. There's cake on the bed, crumbs on the floor.
Oh yes, I say, this be a true book about girls.
Rolf Robertson has finished deep frying the bream, the fins and tails on still, but no heads. I figure I'm gonna head on back
to the house, Rolf says. Pulls his beard thoughtful.
Boyl says Take care Rolf, comes in cushions. Rebelee tries giving him What Girls Like.
I can't look at that shit now, Boyl says. Goddamn, I wish the cops weren't coming so I could roll a joint. I hate that shit.
Some commotion outside. We're thinking it's the cops, but it's Aqua hobbling toward the trailer through the dark while her
mother waits for her in the idling car.
Darling down-the-steps, wants to know where's Angel? I don't know, Aqua says. I walked after her to find her and got tired.
My bones, Aqua says. And says she laid down against a log. Darling stoops over and hugs her, tells her she did right, but she should never do
that to her mama. And they part, Aqua to her mother a-hobbling, Darling the trailer.
I trail Darling in couch it. Feel bad over not getting pictures of the girl with two spines and a extra bone, step right up, but
how could I? It'd be like, Okay, you, freak, stand still so I can get you on film. I say, Darling, what kind of bone is that extra bone?
And Angel steps in!
Where the hell were you? Darling begins. You abandoned your friend! Do you have any idea what you're doing to your
Angel cozys drained slumped over with lingering dreams in her eyes; and woman-wattle curves down through shirt-circle to
bare thighs flat on the cushion. I raise my Leica look through the window as Darling bitches. Press the button, lean closer press again. Inching
forward, violating a girl's privacy. Guilty. So ask her, say, You mind if I take your picture? Angel nods. I move closer make her melancholy
But Angel's ex-crackho mommy's back from driving up and down Zoroho looking for that damn child of hers. We hear the
car door slam. Ronnie enters fear-fissured hysterical sees Angel sitting there in perfect health nothing wrong with her, alive.
Angel raises her arms up to protect herself.
And Ronnie says, Goddamn you little fuckin' bitch!
Lifts her feet up rolls back into the cozy as Mommy smacks her on the head. I take a picture, but Ronnie don't see me.
Sees only the agony of having suffered what? Worry over what could have happened? A visit to the health center? Another granddaughter?
The thought of what people would think had Angel not returned: Bad Mother!?
I've never beat my children! Ronnie yells, using both arms now, both fists. I've never beat my children!
Mommy! Angel cries.
Ronnie backs away then, and I see Angel's lip's begun to bleed, a dark red dribble to stain her yellow shirt, some splashes
on her thighs. I'm sorry y'all, Ronnie says, but this child has fucked me over for the last time. I shouldn't have to stand for it. And with that
she grabs Angel's wrist. Angel is de-cozied by an infuriated yank. The last I see are the hems of her itsy bitsy ham-huggers the flesh there
dimpling as she passes over the threshold into the night, a raggedy doll to be punished by an overgrown vengeful self-pitying brat: off
with her legs, yank out her arms, twist her head around till it snaps off and throw it in a ditch.
Damn, Boyl says.
Granny shakes her head, her leg just a-varicosing. That's no way for a mother to treat her child, she says. I don't care
what Angel did.
Oh yeah? Darling screams. Well I remember Pappy hitting me in the breasts when I was fourteen and when I told you
about it you said I needed to be controlled!
Shutup! Boyl says.
Rebelee and me, we exchange eyes, a-balls: yikes!
Who the hell you telling to shutup motherfucker! Darling screams. You don't know my pain!
It's my birthday, Rebelee says. Peeps.
Darling eyes her like she's plum. There's more important things in this world than getting a goddamn bathing suit on your
fuckin' birthday, Rebelee, in case you haven't noticed, she says, and blinks her eyes fast for Rebelee to feel stupid.
I told you to shutup! Boyl says. It's my daughter's birthday and I ain't having you ruining it!
That's right, Granny says, slow, slow, the way Granny always talks. Granny looks to me, her varicose a-swanging. You
cain't hardly talk to a drunk person, she says. Drunk people are always right.
I'm gonna roll a joint, Boyl says, and I don't wanna hear another bullshit word to come out your mouth, got it!
Fine, Darling says. Flings up her hand guzzles her beer fridges it for a fresh one. Re-cozies lights a Doral 100 flips through
Boyl rolls. Fires we pass it. I'm in the womb, afloat in the womb-juice of my mother. There's just nothing like smoke, even
if it isn't from a cigarette. It makes you bleed into the world.
Want some birthday cake? Rebelee says, waving off smoke.
Lovely, I say.
I love yellow cake, Rebelee says. We've got chocolate ice-cream too. I love chocolate ice-cream.
And corn on the cob, I say.
I love all good things to eat, Rebelee says, and Boyl cuts the lights comes in with her cake: seventeen candles a-flicker
under the alligator hide nailed above.
Make a wish, I whisper.
Rebelee sucks lungs blows and we cheer. Eat, have a great time sucking frosting off wax ends. And the girls are all safe in
the world. The girls did not cross the Georgia line. The girls can brush their hair now, alone in their rooms, and climb into bed, dream of
driving and cake and babies and men.
Done Rebelee leans deep into the cushions full of eatage, and I think this birthday story will have a nice end, but Darling
says: I'm getting fifty dollars apiece for them Mr. Ugly signs I'm paintin'. That's a hundred and fifty dollars. That motherfucker, he ain't had a
job in seven years. He gets all his money from his dad, who is dead, a check in the mail every month. Well, I earn my money. I got
seventy-five dollars last week for baby sittin'. He wants to say that I'm a lazy no good bitch. You've heard the things he's called me, Fiddle
Joe. Well, who's been buying the beer lately? That's what I want to know.
It's my birthday, Rebelee says. Peeps.
Don't you even start, Boyl says. You've sat on your fat ass for the last goddamn seven years, that's all you've done, trying
to make people think you're some kind of artist or some goddamn shit, but you ain't shit and you know it. Just shut your goddamn fuckin'
trap you drunk bitch and we'll all be fine.
Oh, Granny says, I ain't standing for this again, and her varicose leg unplugs. I'll have to see y'all in the morning, she says.
Goodnight Darling, goodnight Boyl.
Goodnight Granny, I say, and watch her slumped over in her osteoporosis and rape-ghost disappear.
You know what else! Darling says, looking to me now, a-smile with her little nut, the juicy bit of insult she's about to
release. She says: You know his girls don't love him none. They're just waiting around for him to die so that they can pick up on the trust
Then Rebelee disappears.
It once amused me the way they carry on for hours without tiring. I thought it was funny. They argued over the most
trivial things. But I'm just depressed now. I see Angel popped in the face by her mother, her little girl's blood dropping onto her thigh, and
there's even blood on the floor. It makes me sick. I oughta turn the bitch in. I got evidence. Got it on film. It's worn me down. I'm
disappearing, I tell my friends.
But Boyl's in a rage.
And Darling's raving.
I leave them in their devices, in their beautiful boat sailing under the moon and stars arustle in the branches of the
sweetgums above. I down the steps into the yard where Rebelee on the ground in the dirt sobs. Hey, I say.
Hey, she sniffles, looks up, her face laced in wet moon.
Happy birthday, I say.
Thanks, she sniffles, and Boyl de-trailers thunks down the steps. Rebelee dog-crawls to a little bucket, moves around it as
if it could hide her, but Boyl just passes us by into Granny's acre.
You want me to kidnap you? I say.
Rebelee is bunched into a ball now, a squashy ball of girl in the dirt. She shakes her head a vigorous no. She wants to stay
here in the dirt, here with her loved ones.
We could have us a slumber party, I tell her. I'll cook you some pork chops. And can smell the burn of the meat, see the fat
bubble in the pan, sizzle, steaming in my mind's eye. I see Rebelee with grease all over her face, there she is in my kitchen satisfied in the
weight of all things fried, all that grease all over her face as she chews, chewing, stuffing cooked animal parts into her face.
Go away, she sobs.
And I car. Don't flip the lights, nothing to expose her in her birthday sobbing times. Light the Camel I stole from Boyl's
pack, and breathe it in deep, hold it. Smoke clouds the windshield when I blow it, and her life as a girl as I disappear, back out of her father's
dusty drive and shift gears, the sweet gums growing smaller in the mirror.
John Oliver Hodges, nomadic, picks scraps of paper off the ground. The scrap he picked up today in Corona Park
says: "Hello, I am your purse, I wrote you a letter. Stop putting dildos in here. Please, it smells like tampons in here. PS: Don't throw up in
me. Love, Brown Purse." When he is not folding trash to put into his pocket, he is eating it, or smoking it..