Tom Hanson arches his stiff back and lifts the faded shirt off the fencepost to
blot his damp forehead, watching a cloud of dust boil from the rear wheels of
an approaching pickup truck.
It’s been a while since anyone’s paid a visit.
He lifts his sun-bronzed face to the sky. Mid July in southern New
Mexico; the sun has browned his skin above the waist, and grit clings as the
warm dry air evaporates the sweat on his body. He’s been setting new fence
posts off the south side of the barn. He doesn’t recognize the truck.
Whoever it is, their cautious driving tells him they’re not familiar with the
gravel roads around here. Maybe they took a wrong turn.
Tom heads across the crusty earth to the pump, reaches for his drinking
cup, pumps the handle, pours the first cup down the back of his neck. He
downs the second in two gulps. The third cup goes on the ground for Lady,
one of seven born to a Collie. Her daddy must have been Labrador, those
irresistible, attentive eyes. The dog becomes alert as the truck draws closer.
The sound of the tires crunching over the gravel reaches his ears. Still doesn’t
recognize the truck, a Ford, late eighties model, lot of miles according to the
sluggish whine of the engine.
Some twenty feet away, two females pull to a stop, suitcases and boxes
piled in the bed. The driver’s side door opens. A foot in brown sandals, a
long thin leg, blue jeans too tight for a decent woman. She’s aged. Lot of
miles etched on her face. The girl stays in the cab, her feet propped on the
“This place ain’t easy to find, big brother, not after all these years.”
He remembers how youthful she looked at their father’s funeral. She looks
harder now, too many trips around the block.
“You grew up here, Sis.”
She looks the place over. “Nothin’s changed.” She grabs hold of the front
of her blouse, puffs it up and down to fan her neck. “Reminds me why I
left,” she says looking toward the river; she sees just a glimpse. Between here
and the river, the land, grown over with scattered creosote brush and yuccas,
drops several feet. She remembers the day she got caught swimming naked
with Juan Garcia.
“What’re you doin’ here, Charlene?” His voice isn’t harsh, but wary.
She lowers her head and looks inside the cab. “You gonna sit in that hot
truck all day?” The girl looks out the window the other way.
Charlene’s eyes return to Tom. She shakes her head. “Been nothin’ but
trouble since she turned sixteen.” She strides closer, scans the barn and pecan
grove. “Looks like you’re still scratchin’ a livin’ out of those damned pecan
“That and a few head of cattle.” Tom looks inside the truck. “That Celia?”
“Yeah. She’s pissed off about leavin’ Folsom.”
“Why’d you leave?”
Charlene shrugs, nods at the house. “Got any beer in there?”
Tom hears the truck door slam. Celia pads to this side of the truck, leans
back against the hot fender. He studies her: too much makeup, too much skin
showing, shorts cut off at her crotch, frayed leg seams. A skin-tight tube-top
reveals her nipples. “Sixteen. Guess she was about four when I last saw
her.” Charlene never told anyone who the father was.
“About that. Let’s get out of this heat.”
The screen door slams behind them as they walk into the kitchen. The
yellowed sheers hang motionless in the open windows. Charlene recognizes
the oil cloth that covers the kitchen table, still burned where Momma set the
hot iron. A fly buzzes the crumbs of pumpkin bread Tom left on the plate
after breakfast. The linoleum floor creaks as she approaches the counter,
where she lifts the cookie jar lid and takes out a peanut butter cookie. Tom
takes two bottles of Mexican beer to the table, sits down and waits for her to
His gaze takes her in: long red hair that needs washing, sleeveless blouse
half unbuttoned, knotted beneath her breasts, exposing her belly. Her hips are
broader than he remembers, a little more belly and noticeably bigger breasts,
pushed together and purposefully displayed. He doesn’t see many women
wearing eye-liner and rouge around here; it makes her face look oily.
The creaking screen door draws his attention. Lady lopes in followed by
Celia. The dog curls up under the table. Celia looks around as if she doesn’t
remember ever being in her grandfather’s house, walks into the den and plops
down on the couch.
“There’s peanut butter cookies over here,” her mother says.
Celia ignores her, reaches for an old magazine, slouches against the sofa back
and props her feet on the low table.
“We didn’t eat breakfast,” Charlene says, taking another cookie.
“Run out of money?”
She leans against the counter, looks at him. The question reminds her of
more reasons why she went to California. “You always think the worst of
“Don’t mean to, Sis. I know you do your best.”
“It ain’t easy with a kid to worry about.”
“What’ve you been doin’ out there?”
“Waitressin’. The truck stop out on the Interstate. Twelve to eight shift.”
She doesn’t think he needs to know about the adult movies she had been in,
or the countless eighteen-wheelers she had spent the night in.
Tom leans back against the chair, feeling sad for her. What else would she
do, having dropped out of school at fifteen when she got pregnant with Celia?
“Don’t eat too many. I’ll make some sandwiches here in a minute.”
She walks to the sink, runs a glass of water, stares out the open window
while she drinks. “Why don’t you air-condition this place? Don’t this heat
“I’m not in here during the day and it’s cool at nights.” He looks at her
ass, doesn’t want to think about what she’s put it through. “You takin’ a
vacation or did you decide to come home?”
She finishes off the water, turns and leans against the sink. “I’ve been
thinkin’ about comin’ back.”
“You wanna move back in here?”
“Just ‘til I get started.”
As he contemplates the consequences, his concerned gaze shifts to the
teenager in the living room; a carbon copy of her mother at that age. “You can
have your old room. Celia can have mine. I’ve been sleepin’ in Pa’s room.”
“They hirin’ over at Shorty’s?”
“Wouldn’t know,” he says, thinking about the run-down truck-stop over on
the state highway. He usually stops there for lunch when he goes into town.
“See new faces workin’ in there all the time.”
“Maybe he’ll remember me.”
“Everyone remembers you, Charlene.”