T E R E S E    S V O B O D A



Book Excerpt

I talk like a lady who knows what she wants, and other things which I would mention, but Ernie's charging over here with kids behind, screaming like they are chasing him and not vice versa and him whipping a cut aerial like a wildman.

I get the tea instead.

My hands hold the tea and a can and an opener as I make my way backward, rear first, out the front end and down the cinderblock pile that is my stair. I heap it all onto my card table and yell, What's the story?
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Ernie is huffing and puffing all the way down my trailer-side and the aerial is bowing for or against me. I duck.
Those kids, he says, and almost gets one.
But they disappear. There's no thin air around here, but kids have a way with the edges of things. By the time Ernie's huffed and puffed his buttoned-down self across the four corners of my frontage, they've high- tailed it, they've gone.
See this? They broke it off, clean off the front. It's not that the truck was ever going to win any fancy costume contest or even turn over again, but to take the aerial--
Tea? I ask, being that the water I got going on the card table is boiling away and I do want a drop before it's gone.
No thank you, he says. Then he says, Why don't you get the fence barb clean, that's what you're here for. But not nasty, no, just in a kind of drone that he goes into when being the guy-in-charge comes over him and he has to say something, especially when his first something doesn't mount up the way it should, given his position, and the kids and theirs, and the aerial now down.
I think out my answer so I don't jerk back at his backhanded harping. I will clean the fence on Tuesday, I say, and I put my already-used-three-times tea bag into my cup and pour the hot water all over it, missing with some, drenching the dirt, why I keep my table outside in the first place. Is Tuesday okay?
Tuesday is soon I guess, he says, and he walks right up to the fence and pokes at the barb with the aerial. Nothing of the stuff stuck to it comes off but he keeps on poking.
I open my can a turn and four cats show. Want some? I say to Ernie instead of to the cats or me, which is who this is for, a nice hot catfood lunch in a pot on a hotplate.
Ernie sees the tossed can and his nose wrinkles his whole face. Instead of saying, he produces what? from his back pants pocket, from under that buttoned flap men sometimes get there, he produces a wad all stapled together of tickets. Tuesday is when these are due, he says, and he flattens the wad on my table, smiles up at me with my tea in front of my catfood cooking. How about a chance?
I sip. Behind me tacked to the jigged-open front flap of a door hang plenty of chances, some for girl scouts, some for jamborees, some just chances taken like a turn at the slot machine -- for anybody.
I shoo the cat that's pawing the pot. Do I have to be present?
They say no but it never hurts. It's only in town, for the clinic in town. You know these places, they need these things to keep on with what they do do.
I know these places, I say. I look around my breast front with my finger for money being in an institution brings, for a while. It isn't real money anyway, money that I make or must keep. Two please, I say. As long as I don't have to be present.
Two is good. They're giving away hams and a Frigidaire at this one. You could use a Frigidaire.
He is looking at the hole in my trailer where glass should be that I have plugged with bags you can see through. I have this trailer for free because of that hole. But I know he is not really looking that long into my trailer because he is casting his eyes down again over the shelf of my bosom where the money came from, and it isn't so much the money he is interested in.
He gives me my chances.
I put them up on the board with the others, move a tack off one, and stick the two under it.
He puts my money in a clip, then in his pocket.
The kids giggle from somewhere, one, then two of them.
He grabs the aerial where it has been lying between the green bottles of my bottle garden, and turns to face the giggling so fast the aerial slaps him. This causes him to say many things which the kids, although used to hearing a lot of everything, stop giggling to hear and thereby, with their silence as a frame, give themselves and their whereabouts away. Ernie's off with the next giggle, tearing through the court like his buttoned-down pants pocket spouts fire.
His leaving fast like that, aerial whipping, dislodges some of the chances tacked to my door. There they go, in flight out over the fence that is so full of other stuff that the wind here works to stick to it, but the chances don't stop and stick, they fluff up and then go off over the gully.
It is the gully where the cows stand, with the wild girl.

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