I jolt as another June bug meets its electrifyin’ demise in Towanda’s bug zapper.
“I hate that thing! It’s so cruel,” Towanda shivers.
“Then why don’t you take it down for cryin’ out loud?”
“‘Cause Delbert wired it all up through the porch light somehow. I can’t take it down and I can’t shut it off neither.”
Towanda smacks a mosquito with her magazine.
“That thing’s cruel, but killin’ ’em with a magazine is humane?”
“The June bugs and moths didn’t do nothin’. These mosquitos on the other hand are suckin’ the life right outta me.”
Towanda’s a saint. More like a martyr. She’s sufferin’ through the suckin’ on my account. Well, really on Daddy’s account. We always sit outside her camper after Dallas. Just in case Daddy starts hollerin’ or stumblin’ around or what not. It’s closer to home without bein’ too close.
“It says here Dolly does all her own wigs.” Towanda tosses me an article with a giant chop outta Ms. Parton’s midsection. There musta been somethin’ “speakin’’” on the backside of her boobs.
I lick the last of the orange cheese puff dust off my fingers before pickin’ it up.
“I’m sure she does. I just love her. I really wanna see that 9 to 5. I seen pieces of it a while back, over the fence out by the drive-in, but I mean I wanna see it in a real theater with sound and all and red velvet curtains and fancy flip-down seats.”
“Ooh la la! And just what were you doin’ over by the Sky-Vu?” Towanda presses.
“Nothin’ interestin’ believe me. Just walkin’. Stretchin’ my legs.” And avoidin’ Daddy’s wrath. “Don’t worry, I’ll confess ya all my sins if ever I get a chance to have any worth confessin’.”
“Well, don’t have too much fun. Everything’s forgivable. But everything’s got consequences,” Towanda quips as she snips.
“Where’d you pick up that little nugget? Cosmo?”
“Well, that’s a miracle! A piece of wisdom that didn’t fly your way on F5 whirlwinds or on the backside of a Velveeta cheese coupon.”
She points her scissors in my direction for emphasis. “It was on the backside of a feature they were runnin’ about that new rocket space shuttle thing.”
“I shoulda known you meant the magazine and not the real thing. I spose you coulda meant the board game or the cereal box. Or don’t Milton Bradley and General Mills know the Lord?” I tease tippin’ my lawn chair and reachin’ for the radio.
“Oh you can laugh all you like, but the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“But yours are always in black and white, with color photo spreads.”
She smiles and smacks me with her magazine.
“Uh, oh. Does that make me a mosquito?”
“Nah, you’re more of a moth type, drawn to the flame. If I really wanted to squash ya, you’d be squished by now. You’re lucky I like ya.” She giggles smearin’ rubber cement over another page of her giant 1978 Sears Christmas Catalogue. It’s the literal glue that binds the bible of her whole quazi-consumer-Christain belief together. The pages contain her collection of prayer cards, pop culture, and pages from a Gideons motel Bible that survived a tornado. You see Towanda is convinced those pages are the only ones worth their words ’cause they’re the ones the Lord left her with. But over the years she found them a little light on personal revelation, so she started supplementin’. She figures if the Lord led her to those words, he must be leadin’ her to all of the other stuff that resonates. Sears just provides a convenient bindin’ for free.
“I’m just lucky regardless. You are the best friend there ever could be,” I strain as Lookin’ for Love reaches through the static clearer and clearer with each twist of the dial.
“What did you have to go and say that for?”
“‘Cause it’s true.”
Towanda puts her hand over her face, sniffles, and runs into her camper.
“Towanda? Are you cryin’?”
I ain’t never seen Towanda cryin’ before. This just ain’t her style. Typically she’s so light, you could put one of those 110 negative strips up to her and she’d just project the positive images.
“What on earth for?”
Towanda’s sniffley voice drizzles outa the camper.
“Cause I ain’t a good friend. I ain’t even a good person.”
I get up and go into the camper where Towanda’s face is buried in her arms on her little flip up table. I put my hands on her heavin’ shoulders.
“Towanda, that ain’t true. You’re always doin’ nice things for me, like the chicken, and the sweepin’, and lettin’ me keep all of the good perfume samples from your magazines for special occasions.”
Towanda dabs her eyes with a little embroidered handkerchief. Towanda has an endless supply of little embroidered handkerchiefs all with different flowers and figs and fanciness. Even though she lives in a camper, she’s always had all the little necessities of proper lady life.
“No, I ain’t!” Towanda throws up her hands. “ I wasn’t sposta be the one gettin’ promoted to the grandeur of Fine Jewelry. I was sposta get bumped up to register three, when Lynnette got promoted to the grandeur of Fine Jewelry.”
I move a stack of mangled magazines and sit in the booth beside her.
“Towanda, it is not your fault that they picked you for the job. They thought you’d be the right one on accounta you been such a good worker and so reliable at your duties.”
“No they didn’t.” Towanda sniffles again and starts flippin’ through a copy of Good Housekeeping.
“Sure they did.”
“Nope.” Towanda insists. “They picked me on accounta Lynette’s been swipin’ from the till. And I told.”
“But that was the right thing to do. That don’t make you a bad person, it makes you a good person.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t tell ’cause I wanted to do the right thing. I told ’cause I wanted the grandeur of Fine Jewelry. I’m a selfish, awful Judas.” She melts back into the temporary tabletop.
“I think you’ve got somethin’ mixed around here. Lynette was the one that took the money.”
“That’s true.” Towanda straightens her spine feelin’ better. Maybe even a little justified.
“She’s the thief that had no intention of makin’ reparations.”
“Oh no, she did. She gave it all back but twenty dollars.”
“Why didn’t she give it all back?’
“‘Cause she had consequences. She gave me twenty dollars not to tell but I told anyway ’cause, as you said, it was the right thing to do and I kept the twenty to teach her a lesson.”
“But Towanda, that was stolen money.”
“Where she got it ain’t my problem, it’s hers and the Lord made sure I came out $20 ahead for doin’ the right thing. I’m so glad we talked this through. I was beginin’ to wonder where he was in all of this and now I see he was there the whole time!”
I shake my head and smile. Her logic may be a little screwy, but her intentions are not.
“Besides, I used that twenty dollars for good works. Your daddy’s been pretty calm all night.”
And that, I thank the Lord for myself.
“Twyla Shane, honey, I know it ain’t my business, but why on earth do you stick around and let your daddy treat you like that? Why do you put up with it?”
I look down at the spotless wood laminate tablette in front of me searchin’ for any other answer than the truth. But I find none.
“‘Cause my mama ain’t alive to put up with it herself and somebody has to.”
Towanda stops her flippin’ and takes my face in her hands.
“Nobody has to do nothin’ of the sort. And you don’t have to be livin’ in a broke down school bus in a KOA. You’re better than that.”
“But you live here.”
“I do not live here. I’m just passin’ through. This is my temporary residence. An exit ramp from the wrong expressway. A place to get myself together and get on outa here. Just like everybody else. Honey, everybody’s gone and your daddy’s stayin’ is his choice, not yours.”
And I see that she has a point. In truth, Daddy and I are the only ones I know that have stayed. Sure sometimes people stay for a year or so, but everybody’s on wheels and they eventually drive on outa here, except us. Ours went flat long ago and Daddy never sought nobody out to fix ’em up.
“But Towanda, I don’t know the first thing about leavin’. I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t know where I’d go.”
“Well, you just leave that to me sugar. I do it all the time.”
And it’s true. Towanda’s been everywhere. She’s even been to the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know much about it, but every once in a while she’ll tell me about somewhere she went. She always mentions where, but she never mentions with who. I’m pretty sure it wadn’t Delbert, ’cause when they first arrived here, they were newlyweds. They had to get married on accounta Towanda was against sex outsida marriage, so she insisted they get married first. Then she was just kinda against sex with Delbert. He’d been married before which Towanda didn’t have a problem with, it was the not bein’ divorced that teed her off. They’d only been here two months when the truth came out and it’s been about two more since Delbert up and left, or got kicked out, or however exactly it occurred. One day he was here. And then one day, he just wudn’t.
“Well it’s all a nice idea, but I mean, I have a job workin’ for Tanya and I can’t just leave her like that after all she’d done for me. And I gotta finish beauty school, once I pay what I already owe so I can go back. And what’s gonna happen to Daddy if I go?”
“Consequences!” Towanda blurts, then buries her nose in a Lady’s Home Journal. Her signal that she’s reached her limit with my naysayin’ negativity. Part of why Towanda has such a positive outlook on life is ’cause she just refuses to hear anything that won’t reconcile with her reasoning’.
Towanda slams her magazine down on the table in a state of full revelation and drives her finger right into the glossy smile on the right hand page in the middle of an add for Personal Touch Razors.
“Now that woman’s got hair!”
I look over at Crystal Gayle’ blue eyes, that were once supposedly so brown, smilin’ up from the pressed down page.
“Twyla Shane, you are gonna do her hair. You have been called by God.” Towanda snaps her eyes shut searchin’ the insides of her eyelids for something’.
“Yep. It’s confirmed. You have definitely been called by the everlastin’ Lord, to give Loretta Lynn’s little sister a brand new do!” She throws the magazine in my direction and starts busyin’ herself around the kitchen, foldin’ down the table and clearin’ off counter tops.
“But why? Why on earth would God Almighty need me for somethin’ like that?”
“Twyla Shane, it is not our place to ask why. Only what.”
“But I didn’t ask what.”
“But I did. And the Lord heard my prayer. And he answered. He told me exactly what you needed to do.”
“But why didn’t he tell me? Why is he only always tellin’ you?”
Towanda stops her battenin’ down and burns her eyes right through me. “You’re jealous aren’t you?”
“Yep. Of my close relationship with the Lord.”
“Wait, am I supposed to be jealous of you? Or jealous of the Lord?”
“I don’t know. It’s not my problem. It’s yours. You figure it out!”
“Right now I don’t think jealousy is my problem. I think you are. I never heard God say one word about headin’ out to hack off Crystal Gayle’s hair. You did. It only came from you.”
“‘Cause you’re not listenin’.”
“Oh, I’m listenin’ to plenty. I’m listenin’ to what sounds like a really bad idea. One that’s half baked right outa your brain.”
“You just don’t know what you need Twyla Shane.”
“Oh, and you do?”
“Well right now I need a cigarette!”
I blow out the camper door with Towanda hot on my tail.
“I cannot believe we are havin’ our first fight over somethin’ so stupid!” I snap as I start flippin’ down my tri-fold banana lounger. There is no way I am leavin’ it here with this wing nut.
“It’s not a fight. It’s a misundertandin’.”
“What on earth is there to misunderstand? I am understandin’ when you find your way in Women’s Day. And that’s fine for you Towanda. If it brings you comfort. Do what you do. But now you’re bossin’ me. In my life. And I already got plenty uh that. I don’t need no more. Especially from my friend. Maybe the only real one I got.”
“Then listen! Twyla Shane, it is time to get outta here. For once in your life just listen!”
And suddenly, without explanation, through the cracklin’ static of the radio with the faintest of reception “You’ve been talkin’ in your sleep…” reverberates in the undeniable voice of Crystal Gayle. And I stop so still, mid click, right in mid foldin’ chair foldown, that you could push me over with a feather.
“This is no coincidence.” Towanda whispers, stunned by the sudden confirmation of her kooky convictions. She grabs my shoulders and stares straight through my skull. “Nothin’ ever is. We are leavin’ here now. Tonight.”
“Twila Shhhhhhane!” My daddy’s undeniable slur slithers through the night, across the campground and right down my spine. “You get your asssh home. Now!”
“It’s not comin’ in all the way. How can we even be sure?”
“Did you hear me?” He slams the bus doors open with a slap.
“We have to track down Crystal Gayle.” Towanda determines. “That’s the only way we can ever know.”
“I sssaid now!” He stumbles down the steps before fallin’ face first in the dirt at the end of our drive.
I’m about to do somethin’ that makes not one lick of sense. But aside from a drunk daddy in a broke down school bus with flat tires goin’ nowhere, at a KOA on the edge of Oklahoma City, what have I got to lose?