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In her signature style, Mason moves quietly through the lives of her Kentucky characters, capturing their tangeld ...
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In her signature style, Mason moves quietly through the lives of her Kentucky characters, capturing their tangeld aspirations and buried disappointments. Men and women struggle with the ironies of modern life in a traditional rural society, trying to cope with fractured families, television evangelism, women's lib, and MTV.
With an introduction by the author especially written for this new volume, this timeless collection chronicles the perplexed lives of contemporary people as they confront our everchanging society. As one character wryly puts it, "Nobody knows anything. The answers are always changing."
Steve leaves the supermarket and hits the sunlight. Blinking, he stands there a moment, then glances at his feet. He has on running shoes, but he was sure he had put on boots. He touches his face. He hasn't shaved. His car, illegally parked in the space for the handicapped, is deep blue and wicked. The rear has "Midnight Magic" painted on it in large pink curlicue letters with orange-and-red tails. Rays of color, fractured rainbows, spread out over the flanks. He picked the design from a thick book the custom painters had. The car's rear end is hiked up like a female cat in heat. Prowling in his car at night, he could be Dracula.
Sitting behind the wheel, he eats the chocolate-covered doughnuts he just bought and drinks from a carton of chocolate milk. The taste of the milk is off. They do something weird to chocolate milk now. His father used to drive a milk truck, before he got arrested for stealing a shipment of bowling shoes he found stacked up behind a shoe store. He had always told Steve to cover his tracks and accentuate the positive.
It is Sunday. Steve is a wreck, still half drunk. Last night, just after he and Karen quarreled and she retreated to his bathroom to sulk, the telephone rang. It was Steve's brother, Bud, wanting to know if Steve had seen Bud's dog, Big Red. Bud had been out hunting with Big Red and his two beagles, and Big Red had strayed. Steve hadn't seen the stupid dog. Where would he have seen him—strolling down Main Street? Bud lived several miles out in the country. Steve was annoyed with him for calling late on a Saturday night. He still hadn't forgiven Bud for the timehe shot a skunk and left it in Steve's garbage can. Steve popped another beer and watched some junk on television until Karen emerged from the bathroom and started gathering up her things.
"Why don't you get some decent dishes?" she said, pointing to the splotched paper plates littering the kitchen counter.
"Paper plates are simpler," he said. "Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy paper plates." He pulled her down on the couch and tousled her hair, then held her arms down, tickling her.
"Quit it!" she squealed, but he was sure she didn't mean it. He was just playing.
"You're like that old cat Mama used to have," she said, wrenching herself away from him. "He always got rough when you played with him, and then he'd start drumming with his hind legs. Cats do that when they want to rip out a rabbit's guts."
Steve will be glad when his friends Doran and Nancy get home. Whenever Doran wrestled Nancy down onto the couch at Steve's apartment and tickled her, she loved it. Doran and Nancy got married last week and went to Disney World, and Steve has promised to pick them up at the airport down in Nashville later today. Doran met Nancy only six weeks ago—at the Bluebird Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant, over in Paducah. Doran was with Steve and Karen, celebrating Karen's twenty-third birthday. Nancy and another waitress brought Karen's birthday cake to the table and sang "Happy Birthday." The cake was sizzling with lighted sparklers. Nancy wore clinging sports tights—hot pink, with black slashes across the calves—and a long aqua sweatshirt that reached just below her ass. Doran fell in love—suddenly and passionately. Steve knew Doran had never stayed with one girl long enough to get a deep relationship go ing, and suddenly he was in love. Steve was surprised and envious.
Nancy has a cute giggle, a note of encouragement in response to anything Doran says. Her hips are slender, her legs long and well proportioned. She wears contact lenses tinted blue. But she is not really any more attractive than Karen, who has blond hair and natural blue eyes. And Nancy doesn't know anything about cars. Karen has a working knowledge of crankshafts and fuel pumps. When her car stalls, she knows it's probably because the distributor cap is wet. Steve wishes he and Karen could cut up like Nancy and Doran. Nancy and Doran love "The New Newlywed Game." They make fun of it, trying to guess things they should know about each other if they were on that show. If Nancy learned that grilled steak was Doran's favorite food, she'd say, "Now, I'm going to remember that! That's the kind of thing you have to know on the 'Newlyweds:"
During those weeks of watching Doran and Nancy in love, Steve felt empty inside, doomed. When Karen was angry at him last night, it was as if a voice from another time had spoken through her and told him his fate. Karen believes in things like that. She is always telling him what Sardo says in the Sunday-night meetings she goes to at the converted dance hall, next to the bowling alley. Sardo is a thousand-year-old American Indian inhabiting the body of a teenage girl in Paducah. Until Karen started going to those meetings, she and Steve had been solid together—not deliriously in love, like Doran and Nancy, but reasonably happy. Now Steve feels confused and transparent, as though Karen has eyes that see right through him.
In his apartment, on the second floor of a big old house with a large landlady (gland problem), he searches for his laundry. Karen must have hidden his clothes. If he's lucky, she has taken them home with her to wash. The clipping about Nancy's wedding flutters from the stereo. He is saving it for her. "The bride wore a full-length offwhite dress with leg-of-mutton sleeves, dotted with seed pearls." There's a misprint in the story: "The bridgeroom, Doran Palmer, is employed at Johnson Sheet Metal Co." Steve smiles. Doran will get a kick out of that. Before he and Nancy left for Florida, Doran told Steve he felt as though he had won a sweepstakes. "She really makes me feel like somebody," Doran said. "Isn't that all anybody wants in the world—just to feel like somebody?"
|Introduction by Bobbie Ann Mason||ix|
|Big Bertha Stories||77|
|Residents and Transients||162|
|A New-Wave Format||227|
Posted November 21, 2011
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