Me and My Baby View the Eclipse

Me and My Baby View the Eclipse

by Lee Smith
     
 

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"Extremely powerful . . . ME AND MY BABY VIEW THE ECLIPSE is about the striving and the secret nobility of people who live in a small-town American South. In these stories — thank heaven — not everything fits: they are loose, they are sometimes awkward, but just about every one shines with revelation and awe in the face of momentary greatness and…  See more details below

Overview

"Extremely powerful . . . ME AND MY BABY VIEW THE ECLIPSE is about the striving and the secret nobility of people who live in a small-town American South. In these stories — thank heaven — not everything fits: they are loose, they are sometimes awkward, but just about every one shines with revelation and awe in the face of momentary greatness and tragedy . . . . Nearly every one of the stories could move a reader to tears, for in almost every one of them there is a moment of vision, or love, or unclothed wonder than transforms something plain into something transcendent."
— The New York Times Book Review
"Sparkles like diamonds . . . 'Tongues of Fire' is, quite simply, one of the best short stories I've ever read." — Chicago Tribune

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Smith's accurately portrayed South ( Fair and Tender Ladies ; Cakewalk ), class consciousness, tradition and a strong sense of place (anybody not born in the South is a ``foreigner'') are of vital importance. Her characters, in blue-collar or the lowest of white-collar jobs, live mundane lives illuminated by flashes of yearning. With few exceptions, the women in these nine short stories have seen one or more marriages collapse; in two of the tales, the protagonists are still stunned by their husbands' departures. These are women trained to be gallant and to carry on; to take care of elderly parents and be polite at all costs. On the other hand, they are inflexible in their desire to preserve the status quo, and are surprised when life runs away from them. Only one character dares to make a break from orderly existence; this is the male protagonist of the touching ``Intensive Care''--who leaves his wife and children and marries a waitress. One story, parodying a Silhouette romance, is unsuccessful; the others gain significance from Smith's insights and the graceful, effortless prose that places her characters firmly in their regional--yet universal--milieu. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Tiny explosion, little surprises, minor epiphanies pepper the lives of Smith's characters in her latest collection of stories. Supermarket owner Harold counts his blessings and his sins--a broken first marriage, an estranged family, and the disdain of the community--as his beloved second wife, Cherry Oxendine, the town bad girl, dies in ``Intensive Care''; 39-year-old Cheryl comes to terms with desertion by her husband and an unruly mutt in ``Bob, A Dog''; middle-aged and married Sharon rollicks with lover Raymond, the local oddball, in the title story, ``Me and My Baby View the Eclipse.'' But the most endearing character is the precocious adolescent Karen, who, while her father suffers a nervous breakdown, her mother ``rises above it all,'' and her older sister loses ``her most precious possession,'' yearns for, even tries to force, ``the call'' in ``Tongues of Fire.'' Revelatory writing from a master storyteller.--Michelle Lodge, New York
From the Publisher
More Praise for Me and My Baby View the Eclipse
 
“Sparkles like diamonds…Tongue of Fire is, quite simply, one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“Smith is at her best.…Peepholes of insight light up the best stories. Before we can blink, we’re dazzled.”—USA Today
 
“Revelatory writing from a master storyteller…Tiny explosion[s], little surprises, minor epiphanies pepper the lives of Smith’s characters in her latest collection.”—Library Journal
 
“Smith’s insights and the graceful, effortless prose place her characters firmly in their regional—yet universal—milieu.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“Rings so true you wonder if she doesn’t know your own mother.”—Greensboro Daily News & Record
 
“If you like her novels, you’ll love her short stories.”—The Charlotte Observer

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345419101
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/23/1997
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

CONTENTS

Bob, a Dog

It was early May, two days after his thirty-ninth birthday, when David left her forever. “Forever”—that’s what he said. He stood in the downstairs hallway turning an old brown hat around and around in his hands. Cheryl had never seen the hat before. She stood on the stairs above him, coming down, carrying towels. David said he needed a different life. Behind him, the door was wide open. It was sunny and windy outside. She had made him a carrot cake for his birthday, she was thinking—now what would she do with the rest? Nobody liked carrot cake except David and Angela, who was dieting. Angela was always dieting. David continued to talk in his calm, clipped way, but it was hard to hear what he said. He sounded like background noise, like somebody on the TV that Cheryl’s mother kept going all the time in the TV room now since she had retired from her job at the liquor store. David wore cutoff jeans and an old plaid shirt he’d had ever since she’d met him, nearly twenty years before. She must have washed that shirt a hundred times. Two hundred times. His knees were thin and square. He was losing his hair. At his back, the yard was a blaze of sun.

*   *   *

Cheryl could remember the first time she ever saw him like it was yesterday, David standing so stiff and straight in the next-to-back pew of the Methodist church, wearing a navy-blue suit, and everybody whispering about him and wondering who he was, him so prim and neat it never occurred to any of them he might be from the Peace Corps, which he was. He didn’t look like a northern hippie at all. He was real neat. Cheryl and her sister, Lisa, and her brother, Tom, were sitting right behind him, and after a while of looking at the careful part in his hair and his shoulder blades like wings beneath his navy suit, Cheryl leaned forward and gave him her program so he would know what was going on. He acted like somebody who had never been in a church before, which turned out to be almost true, while Cheryl’s own family was there of course every time they cracked the door.

But oh, it seemed like yesterday! He was dignified. And he sat so straight. He might have been a statue in a navy-blue suit, a figurine like all those in Mamaw’s collection. Cheryl had sucked in her breath and bitten her lip and thought, before she fell head over heels in love right then, that she ought to be careful. Because she had always been the kind of big, bouncy girl who jumps right in and breaks things without ever meaning to, a generous, sweet, well-meaning girl who was the apple of everybody’s eye.

Cheryl handed him the program, and touched his hand too long. After the recessional she took him into the fellowship hall for a cup of Kool-Aid and wrote her telephone number down on a paper napkin before he even asked for it. “He’s just my type,” she said to her mother, Netta, later. “Ha!” Netta said. Netta thought he looked nervous. But Cheryl liked that about him, because everybody else she knew was exactly like their parents were, exactly like everyone else. David was older, a college graduate. Cheryl, who had finished high school two years before, was working then at Fabric World. She thought David was like a young man in a book, or a movie. Whatever he said seemed important, as if it had been written down and he was reading it aloud.

Later, when she got to know him, she’d go to the room that he rented over Mrs. Bailey’s garage and lie with him on the mattress on the floor, where he slept—the mattress pulled over to the window where you could look right out on Thompson’s Esso and the back road and the river winding by—and sometimes afterward she’d open her eyes to find him looking out this window, over the river, and she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. She never knew what he thought. Then, Cheryl found this romantic.

But probably she should have gotten herself a big old man who could stand up to things, not that she didn’t have offers. Look at Jerry Jarvis, who had always loved her, or Kenny Purdue, who she was dating at the time. When she told Kenny she didn’t want to go out with him anymore because she was in love with David Stone from Baltimore, Maryland, Kenny went out and cried and rolled in the snow. That’s what his mother told Netta on the telephone: she said Kenny rolled in the snow. But David Stone had a kind of reserve about him, a sort of hollow in him, which just drove Cheryl wild. It was like she was always trying to make up to him for something, to make something be okay, or go away, but she never knew what it was.

David came from a small quiet family, one sister and a shy divorced mother with her hair in a little gray bun on the top of her head, and a father who was not mentioned. At the time she met David, Cheryl didn’t know anybody who was divorced. Now everybody was. Including her, it looked like. With David leaving forever, Cheryl would be divorced too. Should she put up her hair in a bun? Cheryl would be a divorcée. Like her sister, Lisa, like her best friend, Marie, like everyone on television.

This seemed totally crazy with all the towels she held in her arms, with how fresh and sweet they smelled. With the bedrooms upstairs behind her so full of all the children, of their shared life. Now Netta would say, “I told you so.” She’d swear up and down that she wasn’t a bit surprised. And even Cheryl knew—had known when she married him—that David wasn’t exactly a family man. She’d had four children knowing it, thinking that he would change. Because she loved him, and love conquers all. You can’t decide who you’re going to love.

And even though David didn’t really believe in God and made fun of their cousin Purcell, an evangelist, and taught at the community college all these years instead of getting a real job, and refused to help Louis make a car out of wood that time for the Pinewood Derby in Cub Scouts, even so, there were other things—good things—as well. He liked to cook, he read books to her out loud, he’d been the one who got up with the babies in the night. It was weird to find these traits in a man, although they were more common now since women’s lib than they had been when David and Cheryl got married, all those years ago.

Cheryl looked down the stairs at David, memorizing him.

“Please don’t blame yourself,” he said formally. “I feel terrible about doing this.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Cheryl said without thinking, because she had gone for so long pleasing men.

David started to say something else, and didn’t. He turned sharp on his heel like a soldier and plunged out into the shiny day, right through Louis and his friends playing catch in the yard, and got in the Toyota and drove away. Cheryl stood in the doorway and watched him go and couldn’t imagine a different life. She wondered if David would wear the hat.

*   *   *

Netta did not say “I told you so.” Instead she cried and cried, sitting in her pink robe on the sofa in the TV room surrounded by blue clouds of Tareyton smoke. You would have thought that David Stone had left her, instead of her daughter Cheryl. But Netta, now sixty-two, had always been a dramatic woman. When her own husband, Cheryl’s father, Bill, died suddenly of a heart attack at forty-nine, Netta had almost died too. She referred to that time now as “when Bill was tragically taken from us,” but the truth was, it was tragic. Cheryl’s father had been a kindly, jovial man, a hard worker.

Not like David Stone, who was, as Cheryl’s friend Marie put it, an enigma. Marie came over a lot after David left, to help Cheryl cope. Marie was divorced too. She went to group therapy. “He was just an enigma,” she said. That seemed to settle it as far as Marie was concerned, only of course it didn’t.

For one thing, although David had left forever, he didn’t go very far, just about four miles out the Greensboro highway, where he rented an apartment in the Swiss Chalet Apartments, which looked like a row of gingerbread houses. At first the kids liked going over there, especially because of the pool, but then they didn’t because their daddy wouldn’t get a TV or buy soft drinks or meat. According to Angela, he said he was going to simplify his life.

“Isn’t it a little bit late for that?” Lisa asked when she heard this news. Lisa, who ran the La Coiffure salon in the mall, had had one so-so marriage and one big disaster, and always took a dim view of men anyway. She disagreed with Marie and felt that David was an asshole instead of an enigma.

Cheryl sat among these women—Lisa, Marie, and Netta—in her own velvet armchair in her own TV room, feeling like she wasn’t even there. What Angela said about David simplifying his life reminded Cheryl of the old days, the really old days, when she lay with him on that mattress pulled over to the window in the room over Mrs. Bailey’s garage, when the sun fell through the uncurtained windows in long yellow blocks of light, warming their bodies. She remembered the way the leaves looked, yellow and red and gold, floating on the river that October. David had loved her so much then. Whatever weird stuff he might be saying or doing now, David had loved her then.

“Good riddance, I say,” said Netta, lighting up. David had made no bones about how much he hated cigarettes. If they hadn’t been living in Netta’s own house, he’d have made her go out in the yard to smoke.

“It might just be the male menopause,” Marie offered. Marie was thin and pretty, with long pale legs and a brand-new perm which Lisa had just given her. Marie and Cheryl had been best friends since grade school. “He might turn right around and try to come back,” said Marie.

“Ha!” said Netta. “Never!”

But Cheryl seized on this, thinking, He might come back.

Marie’s other insight, seconded by their cousin Purcell, was that David’s sister’s dying of cancer so recently had a lot to do with this whole thing. Louise had died that January, before he left. She was forty-seven, a sweet shadowy English teacher who had never married. She was so shy. Yet it was surprising how many people had showed up at her funeral: ex-students, friends, people from their neighborhood in Baltimore. Cheryl, who never could find much to say to Louise, had been amazed. Louise had lived with David’s mother, and now David’s mother lived alone. David used to call them up every Sunday night. Now he probably called his mother. Cheryl bit her lip. David leaving was like him dying, was exactly like a death.

*   *   *

The first week, for instance, everybody in the neighborhood brought food. Mrs. Tindall brought her famous homemade vegetable soup, and Mr. and Mrs. Wright, across the street, sent a twenty-six-dollar platter of cold cuts from the Piggly Wiggly, where he was the manager. Helen Brown brought chicken and biscuits, Margaret Curry brought enough chili to feed a crowd. Other people brought other things. Then Johnnie Sue Elderberry came in bringing a carrot cake and Cheryl sat right down on the floor and burst into tears.

“Mama, get up,” Angela said. Since her daddy left, Angela had gone off her diet and started smoking, and nobody had the heart to tell her to quit. Angela was sixteen.

“Sometimes God provides us with these hidden opportunities for growth and change,” remarked Mr. Dodson Black, their minister. But Purcell, their cousin the evangelist, disagreed. “I’d like to get ahold of him,” Purcell said. “I’d like to wring his neck.” Purcell was a big blond man with a bright green tie. Lisa and Marie were putting all the extra food they couldn’t eat right then into white plastic containers and freezing it. They put labels on the tops of the containers. Finally Cheryl got up from the floor. “Don’t make any big decisions for the first year,” warned their cousin Inez Pate, who had come on the bus from Raleigh to see how they were holding up. “Try some of this meat-loaf,” said Marie. “You’ve got to keep up your strength.”

But Cheryl couldn’t eat a thing. She was losing weight fast. She was wearing some nice gray pants that hadn’t fit her for the last two years. She pushed the meatloaf away and said something to Marie and something to Purcell and went out the back door, under the porch light, which wasn’t working because Louis had shot it out with his BB gun. He was shooting everything these days. Cheryl couldn’t keep up with him. “It’s okay. He’s expressing his anger,” Marie had said. But Cheryl wouldn’t have a light fixture or a breakable thing left in the whole house, at this rate.

She sighed and wiped her forehead. It was hot. Every summer, her whole family had rented the same house at Morehead City for two weeks. This year what would they do? What would they ever do? It was almost dark. Shadows crept up from the base of the trees, from the hedge, from the snowball bush, from the nandina alongside the house. Cheryl had grown up in this very house, she’d played in this backyard. Her daddy used to bring packing boxes home from the store and help her cut windows and doors in them for playhouses.

Cheryl walked out in the yard and stood by the clothesline, looking back at the house which was black now against the paling sky, all its windows lighted, for all the world like one of those packing-box playhouses which she hadn’t thought about in years. It was her family, her house, she had opened all these doors and windows for David, had given it all to him like a present. It was crazy that he had left. He’ll come back, she thought.

But in the meantime she was going to have to go back to work, because even though David had simplified his life so much and even though Netta had a pension and they got some money all along from the rent of Daddy’s coal land, anyway, things were getting tight all around. Luckily Johnnie Sue was pregnant again, so Cheryl could fill in for her over at Fabric World while she thought about her options. One thing she was considering was starting up her own slipcover business. Slipcovers had come back in style, slipcovers were big now. Cheryl wished her mother would go out and get a job too. Her mother was driving Angela crazy. “Don’t make any big decisions,” said Inez Pate. Poor Inez was aging so fast, she put a blue rinse on her hair now, it looked just awful. Cheryl held on to the clothesline and wept. But she didn’t have to make any real big decisions, because of course he’d come back. It was just the male menopause, he’d come back. How could a man leave so many children?

And Cheryl thought of them now, of Angela too grown-up for her age, too big-breasted and smart-mouthed, smoking, suddenly too much like Lisa; of Louis, who’d always been edgy, getting in fights at school; of Mary Duke, only six, and whiny, who didn’t really understand; and of Sandy, who was most like his father, so sober and quiet his nick-name had always been too sporty for him.

Right after David left, Sandy had run away for four or five hours, and when Purcell finally found him down by the river he said he was sorry he was so bad, he knew his daddy had left because he was so bad. Purcell had brought him home in the rain coughing, and Sandy was still coughing, although Dr. Banks couldn’t find any reason for it. Dr. Banks said the cough was just nerves.

Suddenly Cheryl heard a funny, scraping noise. And speaking of Sandy, here he came up the driveway, dragging a box along the gravel, walking backward, coming slow.

“Mama?” he said.

Then suddenly Cheryl felt like she hadn’t actually seen Sandy, or any of her other children, for years and years, even though they had been right here. She had been too wrought up to pay them any mind. “What are you doing, honey?” she said.

Sandy pulled the box more easily across the grass and stopped when he reached her. “Lookie here,” he said, leaning over, reaching down. Netta opened the back door just then and hollered, “Cheryl?” Cheryl looked down in the darkness, down in the box. Sandy coughed. His hair caught the light for a minute, a blur of gold. Netta slammed the door. Sandy straightened up with something in his arms that made a snuffling, slurping noise.

“Mama, this is Bob,” he said.

*   *   *

There’s been something wrong with that dog from the word go,” Netta said later. “You never should have said yes in the first place. Yes was always your big mistake.”

But by then, by the time Netta got around to “I told you so,” it was way too late. Sandy just loved Bob to death. The first thing Sandy did after school every day was throw down his books on the hall floor and run into the TV room to see how Bob was doing. Every day Bob was doing the same. He lay between the sofa and the wall, hiding. When he heard Sandy coming, he thumped his tail. But he refused to stay outside. When they put him outside, he sank against the wall of the house and wailed, the longest wail, the most pitiful thing you ever heard. He sounded like Cheryl felt.

The kids thought that this was because he had been abused, and abandoned—Sandy had found him in the weeds along the interstate, near the overpass. Lisa said Bob wouldn’t go out because he was stupid. She said he’d never learn anything and said they should take him straight to the pound before they got too attached to him.

But by then it was clear that the kids, especially Sandy, were already too attached.

And if they took Bob to the pound, he’d never find another home. People want a watchdog, a hunting dog. Nobody wants a dog that won’t even go outside. Especially not one of this size. Because Bob was growing. It was clear he was getting big. Everybody had an opinion about what kind of dog he was, and although nobody knew for sure, Purcell felt certain he was at least half hound. He had that pretty red freckling, those long ears, and that kind of head. But he hung his head and walked sideways, getting behind the couch. He put his tail down between his legs. Bob looked ashamed, like he didn’t have any pride. And the TV room smelled awful, as Netta pointed out.

“It’s him or me,” she said.

“It’s him, then,” said Angela, who was tired of having her grandmother at home all the time.

But then Lisa offered Netta a job at La Coiffure, making appointments and keeping the books, so she was gone nine to five anyway. Bob had the TV room to himself. He used a newspaper, but he wouldn’t go outside. As he got older, his messes got bigger. This was supposed to be the children’s job, cleaning up after Bob, but before long Cheryl noticed she was doing it all by herself. She did it in the mornings before she left and again when she came back home from Fabric World. She sprayed the den with Pine-Sol all the time. She got a stakeout chain so the kids could put Bob out in the yard in the afternoon, so they could get in the den to watch TV. It was clear then that Purcell was right, that Bob had some hound in him for sure, because of the way he howled.

The neighbors, who had been nice about Louis’s shooting out all the streetlights and nice about Angela’s new boyfriend’s motorcycle, complained.

“He’ll get used to it,” Cheryl told them. “He’ll quit.”

But she didn’t believe it either. One problem was that Bob was so dumb he kept tangling himself in his stakeout chain. He’d tangle his chain around the lawn chair, or the barbecue grill, or the snowball bush.

“I guess I need to build him a pen,” Cheryl said.

“I think you need to get rid of him,” said Marie.

“Well . . .” Cheryl said in that slow, thinking way she had. She stared off into the purple dusk beyond the backyard, beyond Bob on his chain and Marie in a lawn chair, drinking a gin and tonic. Somehow it had gotten to be June. Now Marie was having dates with Len Fogle, a local Realtor. She came by every day after work for a gin and tonic and described these dates in detail: where they went, what she wore. When Cheryl sat back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes, listening, it was almost like she was the one on the date, and she could imagine herself back with David again. “Then he kissed me in the car,” Marie said. “He’s got this little Honda? Then he asked if he could come up for a nightcap and I said yes.” Nightcap was a dating word, a word Cheryl hadn’t heard for years and years. She imagined herself and David having a nightcap in Marie’s apartment, she imagined David putting his hand on her knee. “I was so glad I’d changed the sheets,” said Marie. Cheryl sighed.

The real David was dating somebody else, a frizzy-headed math teacher at the community college who didn’t even wear any makeup or shave her legs. Her name was Margaret Fine-Manning. She had been married before. But she was young. Last weekend her yellow Datsun had been parked at David’s Swiss Chalet apartment from eleven in the morning until nine or ten that night; Cheryl just happened to know this because she had formed the habit of driving past the Swiss Chalets on her way to work, and then maybe if she ran out to the highway to pick up a burger or what she usually got, a fish sandwich, on her lunch hour, and then maybe also on her way home.

David was growing a beard. He looked skinny and picturesque, like a scientist in a documentary, like Jacques Cousteau. He was getting a tan, from sitting by the apartment pool with Margaret Fine-Manning.

And furthermore, David, who used to be so quiet and considerate, was turning mean. He asked Cheryl not to drive by so much, for instance, and he was sarcastic about her making slipcovers. “That’s a perfect job for you,” David said. “Just making pretty new covers to cover up old rotten furniture. Just covering it all up, that’s all. Avoiding the issue.”

Cheryl had stared at him—this conversation took place in broad daylight in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Apartments, in early June. “You must be thinking about upholstery,” Cheryl had said. “I don’t do that.”

“Now listen to me,” said Marie. “I’m trying to tell you something.” She stood up and got more gin. “It’s so satisfying to have a relationship with all the cards out on the table. You don’t have to be in love, Cheryl, is what I’m trying to tell you. It’s much better to have a relationship based on give-and-take, on honesty. No big promises, no big regrets. Pay as you go, cash ’n’ carry, as Lenny says.”

“I think that’s awful,” Cheryl said.

“Just think about it,” insisted Marie. “His needs are met, your needs are met. A mature, adult relationship. You’ve got to shed this high school attitude and get out in the real world, Cheryl.”

Cheryl sighed, stirring her drink with her fingers. She smiled to herself in the dark.

Because, speaking of high school, there was something that even Marie didn’t know. Cheryl’s mind went back to three days earlier at the hardware store, where she had gone to buy a new stakeout chain for Bob, he’d torn the old one up completely, you couldn’t even imagine how. Anyway, Cheryl had stepped up to the counter with Mary Duke in tow, and who should just happen to be there but Jerry Jarvis, the owner. Jerry Jarvis owned four stores now, he traveled from place to place. You rarely ever ran into him in town anymore.

“Hel-lo there!” Jerry had said. He ran his eyes over Cheryl and then slowly back over her again. Cheryl was feeling spacy and insubstantial—she wore shorts, that day.

“You’re looking wonderful as always,” Jerry Jarvis said. He probably hadn’t realized how fat she’d been. Cheryl hadn’t realized this either. “So how are things going?” he asked.

“Just fine,” Cheryl said.

“Daddy left us and went to live in the Swiss Chalets,” said Mary Duke.

Later, Cheryl could not figure out what had possessed the child. Normally Mary Duke was too quiet, and held too tight to your hand.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Jerry Jarvis. But it was plain as day from the way his eyes lit up that he wasn’t sorry at all. He’d always loved her—so he was glad! In fact, that very night he had called on the phone and asked Cheryl if she’d meet him at the bar at the Ramada Inn on Wednesday for a cocktail, he’d like to help her out in any way he could.

“Thanks but no thanks,” Cheryl said then. “You’re married.”

While this was of course true, Jerry Jarvis admitted, there were a lot of factors involved. He’d like to talk to her sometime, he’d like to explain these factors, that was all, he’d always thought so highly of Cheryl’s opinion. Finally Cheryl had agreed to meet him at the Deli Box for lunch, sometime when she felt up to it. The Deli Box was right in the middle of town, it proved his good intentions, Cheryl guessed. She couldn’t decide if she’d go or not.

Meanwhile a big truck had arrived the next day, from Jarvis Hardware and Building Supply, bringing a four-by-four wood frame and a load of sand to go in it. “For Mary Duke,” he had written on his business card. “See you soon? Your Friend, Jerry Jarvis,” as if she didn’t know his last name! Cheryl had told the men to unload it in the corner of the backyard, where it sat right now, in fact, looming up whitely at them from the darkness beyond Bob on his stakeout chain.

“You need to meet some men,” Marie was saying. “You ought to sign up for a course.”

“Listen—” Cheryl said suddenly. “Listen here—” and she started at the beginning and told Marie all about Jerry Jarvis and the Deli Box and his sending the sand. “Isn’t that something?” she asked at the end.

“Why, no,” Marie said. “I think it’s romantic.”

“But he’s married,” Cheryl said.

“So what?” asked Marie. “He might be on the verge of a divorce, you never know. We call those ‘men in transition’ in my group,” she said. “Anyway, you don’t have to be in love with him. You can’t marry anybody anyway, you haven’t even got a divorce. Plus you’ve got all these children. It sounds to me like he’s a real safe bet for you right now. I think you ought to go out with him.”

“What?” Cheryl couldn’t believe it.

“You know that old song?” said Marie.

“What old song?”

“Oh, you know the one I mean. It goes something about if you can’t have the one you love, then love the one you’re with.”

“I think that’s awful,” said Cheryl. But she sat out in the lawn chair for a while longer, thinking about it and missing David, after Marie left in her Buick, bound for romance. Lenny was coming by later for a nightcap, so she said. Cheryl wondered what David was doing right now.

And then, in that way he had of anticipating you, of knowing just how you felt, Bob started to howl, low at first like a howl in her own head, and then louder until she took him off the chain and put him in the TV room.

This made Netta furious. “I work all day and what thanks do I get?” Netta said. “I can’t even watch my program.” Netta’s program was Dynasty, which was on now. Netta had gotten bitchier and bitchier since she had started working for Lisa, who was real hard to work for. Cheryl sighed. She knew her mother was difficult too. Lisa said Netta insisted on sweeping up hair all the time instead of waiting until the girls were through for the day. It made both the girls and the customers nervous. But Netta said she couldn’t stand to see that hair just laying all over the floor, she had to get it up. Then Lisa would yell at her, and then Netta would cry. It was really bad for business, Lisa had told Marie, to have your own mother in your shop crying and sweeping up hair. Now Netta was crying again. “Don’t bring that dog in here,” Netta begged. “Just let me watch my program in peace.”

“I can’t leave him out on the chain anymore, Mama,” Cheryl said. “You can hear how he’s started that howling. I guess I’ll have to go ahead and hire Billy Majors to build him a pen.”

Bob hung his head and scuttled sideways toward the sofa, panting.

“Well,” Netta said. “Just do what you want to, then, you always do anyway, both you and your sister, Lisa.”

“Mama,” Cheryl said. It wasn’t fair. They were driving her crazy. All of them: her mother and Lisa and Bob and the kids too, oh especially the kids, summer was awful with them out of school. Except for Louis, who had flunked ninth-grade math and Spanish—he’d almost flunked everything—and now had to take summer school. Meanwhile David just sat by the pool at the Swiss Chalet Apartments getting browner and younger-looking, with Margaret Fine-Manning. Cheryl didn’t see how Margaret could get any sun at all on her legs, she had so much hair on them. It wasn’t fair. Joan Collins got out of a car on TV, Bob thumped his tail on the floor. “Good night, Mother,” Cheryl said.

*   *   *

July was a busy month with a lot of things happening. The first one was that Louis passed math but flunked Spanish, and had to take it again in the second semester of summer school. The second thing was that Mr. and Mrs. Wright across the street, who had always acted so nice, showed their true colors at last. They started calling up on the telephone every time Bob howled and then they started calling the police. They swore out a warrant calling Bob a pernicious nuisance, which wasn’t true at all, and enjoined him from howling. But Bob refused to be enjoined. If he stayed inside too long, he messed on the floor, but if he stayed outside on the chain too long, he howled. Cheryl was at her wits’ end. So she called Billy Majors and asked him to build her a dog pen, and Billy Majors said okay, but she’d have to go to Jarvis Supply and sign for the materials.

As soon as Cheryl walked in the door she saw him, Jerry Jarvis, behind a big computer. He stood up right away and stared at Cheryl, hard, across the store. Their eyes locked. Then he came hurrying over and asked her what he could do for her today. Somehow what he said sounded dirty, and Cheryl blushed. “Oh, I didn’t mean anything like that, honest, swear to God,” Jerry said. Jerry had thinning red hair and beautiful big brown eyes.

Cheryl believed him. She believed that the reason he was still so crazy about her was that in all their years of dating they’d never actually done it. Cheryl had been so religious in high school, plus they all wore panty girdles in those days.

Now, Jerry was trying hard to make conversation. He asked her about playing tennis and Cheryl told him that no, she did not play tennis, and she needed to sign a note for whatever Billy Majors might require to build a pen for Bob.

“Billy Majors?” Jerry Jarvis acted amazed. He said he’d come over and build the pen himself, how about that?

Cheryl looked at his seersucker suit, his nice white shirt, his bright red tie. “No, Jerry, I don’t think so,” was all she said.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
More Praise for Me and My Baby View the Eclipse
 
“Sparkles like diamonds…Tongue of Fire is, quite simply, one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“Smith is at her best.…Peepholes of insight light up the best stories. Before we can blink, we’re dazzled.”—USA Today
 
“Revelatory writing from a master storyteller…Tiny explosion[s], little surprises, minor epiphanies pepper the lives of Smith’s characters in her latest collection.”—Library Journal
 
“Smith’s insights and the graceful, effortless prose place her characters firmly in their regional—yet universal—milieu.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“Rings so true you wonder if she doesn’t know your own mother.”—Greensboro Daily News & Record
 
“If you like her novels, you’ll love her short stories.”—The Charlotte Observer

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Meet the Author

Lee Smith was born in Grundy, VA. She is author of many novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Last Girls, and most recently Guests On Earth. She is a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

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