Five novelistic short stories by the acclaimed author of Come and Go, Molly Snow.
The New York Times Book Review
- Sarabande Books
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 6.46(w) x 9.33(h) x 0.93(d)
Read an Excerpt
Here comes Yo-Yo Man. He's doing walk the dog, he's doing rock the baby. His eyes are neon greenthey flash, they send off silver sparkles as they spin and loop the loop, they play "If You Got the Money, Honey," fast and high. In front of the Court House, he lets his yo-yo take off rolling down the sidewalk at the end of its tether, pulling him along after it, till with a flick of his long flat wrist he snaps it up into the palm of his hand again. "Good dog!" cries Yo-Yo Man, flashing his white teeth all around. "I'd rather have me a yo-yo than a hound dog," he sings out. "You know why? 'Cause it comes on home." He sends his yo-yo three times round the world. "I'd ten times rather fool with a yo-yo than a woman." It smacks back into his palm. "You fellers out there know what happens when you try to wind a string around a woman, don't you. End up with a mess of snarlsshe won't climb up and she won't shake on down either one.
"You'd be better off to put your money behind one of these round beauties in your choice of color, I got 'em allplus a star-spangle special plays `Say Can You See' going down and `Dawn's Early Light' coming back up again. We got raspberry Lucite with bubbles inside, or black with electric sparkles, which goes for a little more, but it does good in the dark, get you wide awake or sing you to sleep, ever which way you want to go. Just make a loop and slip it on your finger, like you was marrying it. You could do worse, and probably have, a time or two, if you're like me. You can sling it off to the side of you like so. Or flip it down backhanded while youthink over the world situation. Or you could have a pair of them for the price of a movie. Then you could send them two suckers down together like they was twins or roll one down while you're bringing the other on home, never be lonely again."
Undella stands in the middle of the crowd, wearing her pith helmet, on her way back home from the money machine, watching Yo-Yo Man shoot the moon with two separate yo-yos, like a gunslinger with a six-gun on each hip. Back they come to him, down he slings them, one then the other, whoop, whoop. There they stay put, spinning in place, till he's good and ready for them to jump back to him. She likes the glad way they go down, and the ready spring they have, coming back again. She can already feel that glow-in-the-dark gold one lying in her hand flashy, ready to roll, biding its time.
Undella thinks she might have yo-yos in the blood. Her daddy had many a tale of his yo-yo-throwing days, before he took up with hardware, dry goods, and Undella's mama. That's how he did worse. He got loose by going on to Glory, where he might have had some wild times again for half a dozen years or so, before Undella's mama got up there with him to lay down the law. Undella's sorry for her daddy, but glad for herself. She doesn't think of her mama as dead. Her load just shifted, leaving Undella freed up and out from under at last, down here in the land of Day-Glo yo-yos, at the age of twenty-one. She's lost out on her prime, but doesn't intend to lose out on anything else. She wants to see and do. It's not too late!
She's got the money, and she's got the time, too. She can buy her a yo-yo or two or three. She fishes her roll of five twenties, brand-new from the Jeanie Can Do machine, out of her pants pocket and steps right up to the front of the crowd, peeling off a billCan Do!to get the first sale in this town behind them. "I'll take your gold and your two-tone green," she says right out loud.
"You won't be sorry, I promise you, sister," he cries out, giving her his white-tooth smile of delight, while all around her the closed-tight faces are saying, Uh huh, uh huh, her mama's money. She'll not have it long. "You're making a good investment, you're not throwing your money away," he assures her, as if he knows what this crowd is thinking, too.
"And I don't intend to, either," says Undella, holding up her chin, pocketing her smooth new yo-yos, counting the change he gives her in flimsy been-around ones out of his cigar box. "Now all I need is yo-yo throwing lessons," she says, looking him straight in his spinny eyes, which, way back at the holding-still center, right while she's looking, get a bright idea. Get it, give it to her so fast her eyes get to spinning, too. Right there, for two or three seconds, it's like she's a helicopter, lifting off.
He gives her a happy smile. "It's a sin to need what you can get so easy," he says, winking at the crowd so fast she's not sure he did it. "You're looking at your lessons, sister."
She wants to see and do, but she's got a good head on her shoulders and knows when to use it. She's not the type to fall for a line and a look from some fly-by-nighter with a lot of teeth, especially a fellow that gives a wink he thinks she's too slow to see. He doesn't know she's every bit as sharp as he is, just not so showy. "How much will they put me back?" asks Undella, standing square under her sun helmet. She feels a lot of flat eyes on her, no spin in them whatsoever. She hears her mama's name murmured somewhere in back of her, Mrs. Cantrell Jones. Spinning in her grave. That girl. Screw loose. "Now, that depends on how far you want to go," he says, settling his shoulders to get serious. "I believe you're a born athlete, just to look at youI'm satisfied I could have you spinning doubles and cat's cradles by this time tomorrow."
Undella's heart jumps at the idea of it, but she holds onto business, like somebody in a high-water river holding onto a low-hanging branch. "I'm not signing up till I hear what you go for per hour."
He throws down backhand, calculating, then looks back up at her, all business himself in the way he squints his eyes. "This particular night, I go for a real nice chicken dinner."
There is a general gasp from the crowd. She looks at him steady and says, "Then you've come to the right place," with all the mean eyes in the crowd sliding sidewaysthere's Lanta Pollard, who once was a majorette and can't forget it, giving Donnie Burgess a secret tight smile of knowing all about it, somebody behind her snorting a laugh through his nose, a sound Undella hateswhy can't they open their mouths and laugh like they were tickled instead of just confirmed in their suspicions? Mr Danzell from the drugstore with his blue almost-crossed eyes stares outraged down his long narrow nose.
Yo-Yo Man nods at her, a substitute handshake, done deal, then jerks his head up, leaps onto the bench dedicated to the Korean War, and gathers that crowd's attention back to him by whooshing his yo-yo out in a semicircle around him, like clearing a swath with a scythe, catching it backhanded, twisty wristy, on the other side of him. "Now then, who all else is going to be happy before the sun goes down?"
Undella stands back nowshe was already happy at ten o'clock in the morning, that's what he doesn't yet know about her, along with much else. For instance, Undella can do things with a chicken this boy never heard of. He's thinking KFC but she's thinking Joy of Cooking. She bought that cookbook for a dime out of the library sale. She wants to educate herself, make up for the years she watched her mama cooking the beans olive green and the pork chops gray and plain, or covered in white gravy. She always knew there must be more to life than that.
More to life than Bible Study class every Sunday morning. Than that patch of lawn, with marigolds and begonias scrunched up along the edge, more to life than the plaid old-lady dresses her mama sewed for her all through high school, when the other girls had on their tight peekaboo jeans.
She needs to get back to the situation she walked off from, but she can't tear herself away from him pulling dollars out of this tightfisted crowd, giving yo-yos in return. It's an education, just to watch the way he sizes up someone and guesses what kind of yo-yo they can't live without and then he gets down into his sack and finds it, throws it right to them and winds it on back, like he was casting live bait to a big old smallmouth bass, setting his heels and his jaw to reel them on in.
Besides, they haven't agreed on the time and the place.
While she's watching him, one trick tumbling out after another, she tries her best to imagine a life for such a one. Where does he put that burlap sack down in the evening, for instance? What would it take for him to go to sleep a happy man? Not muchhe looks like he's happy all day long and far into the night, just like her. She doubts an unhappy man could do those round the worldsshe can tell they call for a loose and joyful spirit. She looks him overhe's a long drink of water in his low-slung blue jeans and satiny black cowboy shirt with mother-of-pearl in the studs, but those boots are walkers not riders, from the dusty scuffs of them. He's got a white straw cowboy hat tipped back on his head and yellow flowers around his neck like those leis the hula girls of Hawaii wear, only his are plastic. She wonders where he's fromnot Oxford County, Kentucky, is all she knows. If anything as out of the ordinary as Yo-Yo Man came from within thirty miles of here, she'd surely have heard.
She would like to find out exactly what type of bed a fellow like that would need to make him sleep sound. He has tall bones and restless sharp moves that probably give out fast and without much notice underneath him. He looks flashy and temporary. What kind of mattress would settle him down? He's got an edgy manner, like he's been sleeping rough and not enough. But some fellows, she guesses, easy living might make them lose their snappy edge.
What Undella left off from when she decided to take a break and walk the four blocks up from her house to the bankand it shows in her shirttail hanging out and her dirty-kneed work pantswas stone-wall building, which is the most opposite you could get from yo-yo throwing, because in stone-wall building, what you put down stays down, makes something out of itself besides just thin air and fancy memories. Now, that tall skinny number looks like he's ready to climb his own string up to heaven selling yo-yos to the angels all the way, and that's fine, that's pretty, but what good would pretty do her, and a string of plastic flowers, if it couldn't heave a stone to her when she got up over her head on that wall she's building between her and the parking lot of the Macedonia Baptist Church? She wants it high as a Baptist's eyes. That's all the higher it needs to be. But now she's made an investment in yo-yos, and she owes it to herself to follow up on this other side of life where things rise up pretty much on their own, just because you want them to, with no effort on your part except a come-here with your finger.
When there's finally not a soul left to sell to, he gets back around to her, making a toy revolver out of his forefinger and thumb and pointing at her, clicking. "Now then, pretty lady," he calls out, "what about this lesson you was wanting?" Pretty lady, my foot, she thinks, but when he calls her that, joy rolls up Undella in a big slow wave. He hoists up his sack and crosses the grass toward where she's waiting, in the shade. "Name your where and your when," he says, "and I'll be there. People call me Slip, what do they call you?"
"They call me Stony," she says, right back at him, because two can play that game. "Whenever suits you, after four."
"I still got to go work the Big Lots. Let's say five, seeing how hard these folks around here hang on to their cash money. And if you want two lessons, Stony, you better book now. Because once I'm gone from here you won't see me again for a while." He says it like he's warning her to get used to it.
"What'll the second one cost?"
He tips his hat at Undella. "Same as the first, if you pass the test."
He must be as hungry as he looks. "You talking breakfast now?"
"Whatever you want to call it. Something to hold me till I make Mt. Sterling."
"I'll fix you something to hold you till you pretty near make West Virginia, if you get me spinning yo-yos. I'll meet you at five in the parking lot of the Baptist Church back yonder in there," she tells him, waving her hand.
He gives her a look with his lit-up eyes and teasy grin. "Sounds holy," he says.
Undella looks right back. "Could be holy."
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