Chapter Eight: Cowboy Boot Prophet

Chapter Eight: Cowboy Boot Prophet

– Are you scared yet Mommy?
– Not yet.
– You will be.

Her body buried in stuffed animals and her face the only part visible, Lena laid motionless in Ava’s bed and stared at the whale in Ava’s ceiling, red and blotchy, a remnant of one of the more intense rainstorms, and knew that letting Rob show Ava the original Star Wars trilogy (he had gasped in horror when, on their first date, Lena admitted to having never seen the films, an affront he rectified in a six-hour marathon on their second date that should have been the first indication that she was embarking on a journey of class-five emotional whitewater) so young was a mistake: Ava’s first words had been an impression of scary, throaty Yoda that only got scarier, throatier and more context-appropriate as she got older.

Chapter Seven: Snarf ‘N Barf

Chapter Seven: Snarf ‘N Barf

Lena made sure to get the Windex into the tiny nooks of the car’s rear door handle recess and capture the remnants of pancakes and blueberry syrup that had been spewed between exits 263 and 262. She threw the soaked paper towel into the plastic bag that said “thank you for letting us serve you.” The roll empty, she spit on her hand and wiped the edges of Ava’s mouth.

– Ew, Mommy.
– You’ll live. Now, go to sleep; we’re almost home.

Lena tied the bag tight and threw it into the trash can in front of the Welcome Center. She leaned against the car and fan-dryed the comic book, still wet from Ava’s pancakeial over-indulgence. As cars whizzed past on the freeway and Ava peeked around the driver-side headrest, Lena composed herself and drowned out the self-cursing that swarmed around her brain like flies to a garbage bin: she had wasted an entire day for a fucking comic book.

She gave up the taming, got into the car, threw the comic on the seat next to her and, after silent prayers to the ignition gods, started the car.

Chapter Six: Leashing Lochiel’s Dogs

Chapter Six: Leashing Lochiel’s Dogs

When Junior looked up from the string, her string, and saw the little girl’s plastic Triceratops, they were already gone; he and Triceratops were alone together in the mismatched, multi-patched pleather booth, empty spots of white wall and loose nails above him, drywall plaster trickling to his shoulder and coating Triceratops’s middle horn.

Chapter Five: Rahr, Pancakes

Chapter Five: Rahr, Pancakes

From his perch atop the rusty, dented and fingerprint-besmirched napkin dispenser, Triceratops returned the stares of the patrons of ene’s iner, their mouths agape and stuffed with borscht or chicken or burgers; their stares weren’t for him, rather they were directed at the Avasaur’s brutal attack on her third plate of three-high, syrup-drenched blueberry pancakes.

Each vibration of the Avasaur’s metal fork to porcelain plate made drywall dust fall from the empty nailholes in the center of bright white squares, eight by ten, that Lena was certain once held more black and white rememberances of the boxer with the badass handlebar mustache that filled up the other walls of the diner. The smell of musk and sweat dripped from the booth and the broken plaster. Lena flicked plaster speckles from Ava’s hair and offered a nervous smile to the counter jockies.

– Maybe you should slow down. Keep up the snarfdom and we’re going to have a mess in the car.

The Avasaur rolled her eyes at the ignominy of Lena’s caution.

Chapter Four: Unleashing Lochiel’s Dogs

Chapter Four: Unleashing Lochiel’s Dogs

The man behind the diner counter with the perfectly-waxed handlebar mustache, the grease-smeared white apron and the batter-smattered string wrapped around his fingers could feel that she was gone when he couldn’t leash Lochiel’s Dogs. She had taught him, or tried to teach him, that figure the last night her saw her; before she left with that punk in the nice jacket; before she came back a few hours later with a rolled up comic book in her hand, blood on her shirt and a purple ring around her eye; before she disappeared for good and lived only in his dreams, forever frozen as the pretty waitress with curly hair who taught him string figures.

Chapter Three: Out Carousing With Bacon Duct Tape

Chapter Three: Out Carousing With Bacon Duct Tape

Lena kicked off her shoes, the oh-so-comfortable ones whose discovery during a President’s Day sale briefly made her the hero of the Fredrickstown service world, in a perfect arc; they landed with a silent thunk on the multi-colored throw rug that Lena had insisted be part of the purchase agreement on the house. A collection of outside-the-line, dot-connected (sort of),Pollock-in-waiting paper kid placemats jutted from the top of her purse, refrigerator-bound. Ava snored and drooled on her shoulder. Triceratops dangled from Ava’s fingers. Lena tip-toed up the stairs, hitting the wooden steps at just the right point to avoid creakage; she knew the house’s nuances: the noises beckoned by each footfall; the precise, to the quarter-milimeter, height of doorknob-lift for the side door to latch; the exact amount of turn on the reversed hot-and-cold faucet to reach optimal handwash temperature. The house was a part of her and she a part of a house, something she never anticipated on that first viewing a lifetime ago, the realtor’s eyes sparkling upon the first taste of sales blood as Lena and Rob fell in love with the unfinished attic that had “potential,” in spite of the ancient, combustable window fan that sort of pulled hot air from the four corners of the roof.

Chapter Two: On the Dot

Chapter Two: On the Dot

Lena waved goodbye to Claire and stared at the mailbox: the flag was down, the door partially opened, the latch never gripping. She reached for the knob, she pulled back. Golfer’s feet and collection agency calls she could handle, the tyranny of the mailbox she could not. The promise of more passive-agressive paper, signed by the faceless creatures who signed their names Bob or Karen or Amanda or Alan on Courier-font form letters, made her hands shake.

Chapter One: The Sugar Packet Tower of Awesome

Chapter One: The Sugar Packet Tower of Awesome

The reek of coconut oil, octogenarian golfer feet and carbon paper wafted to Lena’s nose and conspired to break her lead stomach. The feet and coconut oil belonged to the esteemed Mr. Lawson, who, after a cartless–a point of which he made sure to inform Lena as he flexed a flaccid muscle in his left arm and eased himself onto the massage table–18 holes at the Black Diamond’s notorious all-hill course, was in desperate need of a foot rub at the Calming Waves Spa, her first employ of the day. Lena’s subsequent lateness to The Parlor Grille, her second employ, the source of carbon paper in the reek cocktail and the resultant dramatics from her hyperbole and histrionics-prone boss, Piero, too, was owed to the overworked piggies of Mr. Lawson and the all-hill Black Diamond golf course. Lena stifled the gag reflex long enough to scribble the neon-dry-erase-penned-specials on her waiter’s pad.

At 4:36PM on the dot, the crack of a rolled-up newspaper to her ass and the unmistakable smell of multiple blue-ribbon apple sauce, Nat Shermans and Chanel woke Lena from her olfactory and neon-dry-erase-penned-special hypnosis.

– You smell like feet.
– It’s the notepad. Want your usual?
– Make it a margarita. I’m celebrating.
– Celebrating?
– You know it. And a Bud back.
– And a Bud back. Got it.

The old woman walked towards the dining room.

– Watch your -
– Step. I know, dear. I know. And you do smell like feet.

Chapter Eight: A Magic Bandage

Chapter Eight: A Magic Bandage

Tonight has to be the night.

She turns onto the road with a screech. Frank sits up. He pulls the knife from his stomach. He feels the fire in his eyes as the color disappears from his face and the blood seeps into his hands. Home.

Chapter Seven: Told You So, Mister

Chapter Seven: Told You So, Mister

She whispers her shouts of elation. The first rays of early sunlight peek through her cupped hand. Mooreston is beautiful in the morning. The Jackhammer’s firing up a plate of pancakes. She pats Frank on the shoulder, a pat of rapturous victory, of being right.

–– There it is! There it is! See? Told you so. Angry tracks. Beady was right, he knows where everything is, where everyone is. If you ask him right.

Frank sees it: the brownstone and the black Plymouth. The headlight is missing. The car isn’t engulfed in flames. It sits, parked in front of the fire hydrant, up on the curb a little, as though the events of the night hadn’t happened, as though nothing had happened between its doors, as though the girl standing next to him wasn’t wearing a mask of powder and thread. He sees the fire through her mask. Angry tracks.

–– It’s not gonna explode so we don’t have to worry about you jumping me again. You’re not gonna jump me again, are you Mister?

Frank shakes his head.

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