The Way We Live
Ellen Fagg, editor
In the Shadows of Upshot-Knothole
[p.26]My mother and I ran away only one time, on a sunny May morning when the world was about to end. She didn’t know where we were running to, but my mother, Lorraine, was smart and she would have figured something out, a place for us to go-Cedar City or Tonopah. For a while after she met my father and married him, she said that she only thought between her legs, but time had passed and I’d come along and life had resumed its normal colors and my mother was trying to think with her head again. Lewis and Elly Barlow, our nearest neighbors, lived almost four miles away on a dirt road that cut through sagebrush and scruffy cedar, and since my mother was on foot and I was in a stroller, their house [p.28]was the first stop on our way to somewhere, to any place without movie stars.
We had left my father back at the house sitting sullenly on a kitchen chair, and even then he looked a little too much like Tony Curtis to my mother’s way of thinking. Black slick hair, a face that you remembered as cheekbones and clear eyes. He was all shoulders and tight waist and he had a raw, sleepy sexiness that he knew nothing about. That morning, though, his arms were folded over his chest and he sat in the chair tipped back on its two legs and he was staring at the wall, tired and angry. He said my mother didn’t understand him.
The breakfast dishes had just been washed-cups and bowls and plates stacked into the small artful piles that women can make of ordinary things. My mother had dried her hands, stepped over me on the floor where I had balled the rug up around me, and gone to my father’s side. “This is what I understand,” she said, her voice rising, straining, finally sending Lowry, our big nearsighted collie, slinking from the room. “You’d rather go off and play than stay here with your wife and daughter.”
My father had no response to that—sometimes he was tongue tied; sometimes he needed to filter things and kick some dirt before clarity rushed him—but it didn’t matter because my mother spun around, walked back to the bedroom and began to collect the odds-and-ends that would compose our survival kit: a hairbrush, a silver baby spoon, a Sears and Roebuck catalog, talcum powder, an [p.29]eyebrow pencil, diapers. She threw them into a waterstained overnight case and she did it loudly so that my father could hear in the next room, but he didn’t budge. They were at one of those impasses where husbands and wives sometimes find themselves—exhausted, speechless, the reckless fear that things will never be the same growing larger and more distinct by the second.
My mother didn’t say good-bye. She just walked out into the kitchen with me on her hip and we stood there like a last photograph for my father. He never looked away from the green-and-white wallpaper checks on the kitchen wall. I drooled and gurgled and reached for him, my mother tells me, my hands round and fat as little pin cushions, but he didn’t move. He had a point to make and he was serious about it, the chair tipped back, his silence stretching beyond the movies, beyond all the dark-haired leading men into our early morning reality.
My mother was in every way his match. She gathered our things like the slender tornado she could be. Gracefully she walked down the front steps of the house with all the future she could carry-me and an overloaded suitcase and a wobbly baby stroller—and when we were out in the yard, she put the suitcase down, wrestled the stroller with one hand, locked the legs into place, and slipped me in.
I was a year old, just a small flowing river of sounds, words that spun unrecognizable, but my mother and I [p.30]had complete conversations anyway. She says that she had been waiting her whole life for me. When I arrived, there was a lot for us to talk about.
With the suitcase in one hand and the stroller handle in the other, she pushed and explained. “Everything is going to be all right, sweetheart. These things just happen. Your dad has some silly idea stuck in his head and he can’t get rid of it.”
I reached up with one hand and batted the endless blue sky and jabbered a hundred things back to my mother, and she listened and sorted it out and understood.
“I know. I know,” she said. “He’s immature. More looks than brains.”
I took hold of the plastic stroller tray in front of me and shook it and it seemed to be just the advice my mother was looking for.
“You’re right,” she said. “I’ve gone weak and one-minded every time he turned those big blues on me. Putty in his hands. But no more. It’s time to get things rolling.” As if it were a pact we were keeping, she stopped and reached down and touched my head—a mass of curls that kept me prisoner until I was old enough to find the scissors and cut it myself. “Okay,” she said, “it’s agreed upon, love pie,” and when she started pushing the stroller again, the wheels went straighter and we moved faster, though on a rutted dirt road that even the county wouldn’t claim, there was no such thing as speed.
[p.31]Months before I was born, my mother had mail-ordered that stroller and x’ed off the days on Hinkley’s Feed and Grain calendar until it arrived. “You won’t be able to use it out here,” my father had told her, but my mother was determined to do things right, to push me in a stroller like any other baby, despite the fact that the nearest sidewalk or park was a rough forty miles away. She used to tell people that we lived an hour and a half from nowhere, on a rocky ranch headed for no good, and she was just about right. In the southwest comer of Utah, amidst backcountry that was hallucinogenic in its loneliness and landscape, my father’s family had slowly carved out a ranch.
The stroller proved difficult but not unmanageable out there, though my mother, that morning, had only one hand to use. When the wheels stopped in the ruts or hit loose dirt, she placed her hip against the handle, pushed hard with all of her one hundred and fifteen pounds, and got us moving again.
Who can really know the exact moment when something begins, but my mother’s opinion is that the real trouble with my father had started months before when Milo de Rossi’s car drove up, dust flying, the hom honking, two girls in the back seat tangled up with de Rossi in a way that was still illegal in this state. He introduced the girls as actresses.
Later, my mother looked at my father and scowled and, because her hands were full of wet laundry, blew a [p.32]piece of hair tiredly away from her forehead. “Warren,” she said, “let me ask you this. How many movies do you think those girls have been in?”
He stuck his hand in his back pocket, as if to get more room for thinking, and before he could answer, she continued. “Looks like they got the auditioning down.” Milo de Rossi had been looking for a place to film his next movie and he’d heard about our ranch and the land it sat on: red cliffs, deep canyons and the stark Bull Mountains in the distance. He found our land to be a cheap and ready-made set, just as other producers had discovered it and made it fit their needs. With a few props and the right camera angles, our ranch had been alternately transformed during the early 1950s into the Sahara, the moon, the Apache nation, and a hidden Mexican outpost filled with copper-faced desperados. In one of the lowest budget films ever, my father watched cavemen battle dinosaurs in the mock prehistoric valley just below our house, and everything in those ten days of filming would have been perfect, had my father not got into a shoving match with a caveman who, during a break, flirtingly lifted the edge of my mother’s skirt with his spear and then grunted.
Milo de Rossi was not the first director to visit us, to shake my father’s hand, and make a deal, but he was the first to tempt him. “And by the way,” he had said to him casually, “we might be able to use you in a few scenes that haven’t been fully written yet.” De Rossi backed up, [p.33]squared his hands out in front of his face to make a fleshy lens through which to look my father over. “Tum to the left, Warren, and lift your chin a little.” My father complied, looking straight into the sun, squinting in a way, that would later become Clint Eastwood’s searing trademark.
They say that acting is a bug that bites, and if that’s true, then my mother could tell you how that bite makes a person sick. My father didn’t run a fever after de Rossi left, but he was as hot and irrational as a child with the flu.
“Honey,” my mother tried to tell him, “the movies are a long shot. And you can’t trust those people.”
But my father had taken up staring at the horizon. He rode his horse and irrigated and cut hay and worked hard like he always did, though de Rossi had planted a tantalizing idea out in front of him. And around that time my mother noticed how often he was combing his hair. Any reflective surface would do: a fender, a piece of glass, the still surface of water. By then de Rossi and his crew were due back in three weeks.
We didn’t wait for bad news to collapse around us. When my father had turned ice cold that morning and said that his mind was made up, that he’d take whatever de Rossi would give him and that he’d work his way up from there, my mother set her shoulders, let him have one last look at us, and headed out.
The sun was warm and she had stopped to give me [p.34]a bottle of water. “Hey sweet meat, we’re doing fine,” she said, kissed both my arms, tickled the warm wet spot under my chin, and pushed the stroller on. The breeze quickened and the cedars waved. A sugar-fine pelting of dust blew over my mother’s ankles and between the stroller wheels, and from some indeterminate distance we heard a cow bellowing, low and sorrowful, then echoing back to itself off the high sandstone cliffs.
Some said the sky turned liquid; others, that it flexed and burned like at the beginning of time, but what we had seen from our ranch many times before were sudden long flashes as if a huge brilliant light had been turned on and then off in the distance. Ninety-eight miles away as the birds fly was the Nevada Test Site and in the middle of that was Yucca Flat, ground zero. From hillsides on our property, we had watched the explosions of test bombs Ruth, Dixie, Ray, Badger, and Simon. Sometimes we packed fruit or a small picnic to take along, we threw an old blanket on the ground, stretched out and waited, but we had grown bored with those events, stopped watching and accepted the bulletins which said everything was safe.
That morning, predawn, 1953, as part of the series of bombs codenamed Upshot-Knothole, Harry had been detonated, a shot that was named to sound as if you were talking about a friendly next-door neighbor. It hung from a 300-foot steel tower out there on Yucca Flat. At the end of the countdown, soldiers positioned three miles away [p.35]as first-hand observers heard a loud click and then felt the raving heat of a new sun. They had been ordered down on one knee, left arms tight over their closed eyes, heads tucked. In those first two seconds of Harry, some of them saw the bones in their own arms-everywhere a huge luminous x-ray spreading outward. The ground shook and then the shock wave hit, knocking some of the men back, a wave that they eerily felt pass right through their bodies, front to back. And then the sound.
Some soldiers put their hands over their ears, though they had been instructed to keep their eyes covered. Others held their heads against the intense pressure of the blast. They felt a sudden heat in places like their kneecaps and the backs of their hands, and a slow—almost pleasant—tingling in their crotches that shortly, however, turned to painful needling. A private first class jumped up, hollering, holding himself between his legs, but a buddy pulled him back down where he crouched and covered his head and moaned.
Little by little the roaring diminished and the soldiers’ heads came up. They uncovered their ears and were ordered to stand. By that time darkness was ebbing and against the mauve sky they saw a swirling golden fireball, alive, kinetic. The gaseous ring around it shimmered red, green, and blue and even the most nervous and frightened soldiers saw it as beautiful, mesmerizing. They watched as the fireball was lifted higher and higher in a [p.36]mass of roiling gray-black clouds, which didn’t mushroom as they usually did, but spread and then drifted.
A sergeant yelled for the men to doubletime it into nearby assault vehicles, and when loaded, they headed for ground zero. They drove past a line of mannequins that had been planted upright on metal poles. The mannequins had been suited up in utility jackets and helmets, and then placed in formation like a scraggly half-wit battalion. The helmets were blown off, the jackets burning, and the mannequin faces melted into flesh-colored pools onto the desert floor. The vehicles slowed. Some of the soldiers laughed as they went by, but most were quiet.
Not far from there they passed a small reconnaissance team already at work herding pigs out of an experimental trench. These were important pigs. They wore specially tailored uniforms that were made from a new synthetic fabric that the Army was testing, supposedly durable and lightweight, a promise for all future soldiers. The scientists were disappointed when they failed to train the pigs to stand on hind legs- more closely simulating humans-but the moment that Harry went off, the pigs were suddenly upright, standing, squealing, urinating, front hooves pawing the air. Dogs, monkeys and burros were also somewhere out there being monitored in dry underground bunkers.
Closing in on ground zero—less than half a mile—the sparse landscape turned empty. Trucks and equipment [p.37]that had been left there were gone, everything flash-burned into the minute particles that fell, ash-like, here and there as a strange rain. Five hundred yards out the assault vehicles stopped, the rear ramps lowered, the soldiers disembarked, and began to move in formation up the incline where the detonation tower, now vaporized, had stood. The ground everywhere was winter white, but hot. Above them, the desert dawn had been erased by heavy black clouds, smoke, floating debris.
Two hundred yards from center they stopped, and having fulfilled their orders and not knowing now exactly what to do, the sergeant stepped out front, smartly saluted ground zero, turned, and ordered the men to head back. With each heavy booted step, the snowy dust and ash floated up so that from a distance the men looked as if they were moving, knee-deep, through clouds.
Elly and Lewis Barlow, our neighbors, were card players—experts at Hearts and No Knock Rummy; tender for a game that they had taught my parents called Michigan. Winter nights the four of them would be hunched over a kitchen table, moaning about what they’d been dealt. My mother never held her cards in close enough and oftentimes my father got a peek at the Queen of Spades or at a run or he’d push her hand toward her chest and give her a warning. “Lorraine, you’re showing us everything.”
“Well, not everything,” she’d say, putting her cards [p.38]down and starting to unbutton her blouse. Lewis smacked his cards face down and clapped. Elly squealed and took the time to roll a cigarette—Prince Albert in a can. My father got up from the table, stood behind my mother and wrapped his arms around her, as if that was the only way she could be stopped. “Okay, okay,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
Actually, my parents were wrapped around each other like that almost half the time—embracing, clutching, hugging, pawing. With other men, my mother said she would have felt mauled, but with my father, she felt her heart race, she felt her shoes suddenly wanting to be thrown off. They had sex like animals and she was not ashamed to say so: on a living room chair, in the root cellar, in the orchard during spring when the ribbon grass was still soft enough to make a bed. Nearby, I dozed or chewed my fist and waited.
My mother knew that leaving wouldn’t be easy, and maybe that’s another reason we headed for the Barlows that morning: comfort and an understanding shoulder. Elly and Lewis had lived a fairly bumpy life themselves—fast times and booze in Vegas casinos—and they looked on other people’s trouble with gentle eyes.
My mother gauged that we had gone over two miles and were more than halfway there. We had passed the S-curve in the road a while back and she thought we must be close to Carpenter ash, but time and long brown vistas mingled and distorted both. She prodded the [p.39]stroller to the side of the road, found a flat rock and we sat facing each other.
“Huh, movies,” she said. “What baloney. What trash.”
Months before at a nearby filming site where my father was caring for the horses used in breakneck cavalry scenes, my mother had met a brawny blonde named Jeff Cantrell, an in-demand lead for B Movies, and she was thoroughly unimpressed. Brusque and egotistical, he spent too much time dabbing perspiration from his face and yelling for someone to bring him iced tea, and when she learned that his real name was Ira Kaufmann, she was even more disgusted. “What, is he ashamed to use his real name?” she wanted to know.
All the hubbub and shouting around the set didn’t seem to foster any character in those people as far as she was concerned. Everyone was either whining or cussing or laughing with the fake high-pitched laughter that she identified as Hollywood.
Milo de Rossi hadn’t shown her anything different. My father had escorted him around our ranch for several days, pointing out box canyons and high rocky fortresses, and by the second day de Rossi was convinced that this was the place for his movie, Apache Sunset. He already had Audie Murphy lined up, he said. He hoped for Anthony Quinn or Lee Marvin as the sad-eyed Apache leader who would glimpse the future and see the pain for which his people were bound. De Rossi was still new [p.40]enough in the business to be regarded with hope, but his lack of financial foresight and his thudding story lines would finally catch up with him, and in the years ahead he was destined for junk.
Smoking fat Havana Cristo’s, he took pleasure in confiding to everyone at dinner each night: William Holden had a drinking problem; sometimes had to be thrown in a shower before he could complete his scenes.
My mother shook her head as she served the venison or roast she had carefully prepared. Everyone ate as if they’d been deprived for months.
“Kirk Douglas?” he asked. “Know him? Gotta hire a full-time tutor to teach him his lines. Sorta like training a dog, I guess. A little thin between the old ears. Of course, this is only what I hear. I’m just passing it along.”
My mother couldn’t stand de Rossi’s feral gaze when anything female moved past him. “Call me Milo, my dear,” he had told her as she bent over the oven pulling out hot rolls.
“If I had the chance, I’d call him a lot worse than that,” she told me as we sat at the side of the road. Her shoulder-length dark hair blew forward around her face, and with one hand she quickly gathered it up and held it at the back of her neck. With the other, she moved the stroller back and forth, gently rocking me in the sunshine. I babbled my heart out to her, kicked my feet, and squirmed in the cotton netting of the seat and these things she understood as my wanting to get back on the [p.41]road. She picked up the suitcase, turned the stroller around and shoved us forward.
By then, in the far-off distance ahead, the sky was changing and at first my mother wasn’t concerned—a hundred changes rolled by each day in that enormous unpredictable sky—but as the disturbance came closer, she pushed more firmly against the stroller. From the first good look, she could see that it was not the deep pouting gray of a thunderhead. It was another one of those churning purple-black clouds from the test site, but it was larger this time and lower. In it, she saw sparks of light, glimmerings, electricity, she didn’t know what.
“Nothing to worry about,” she told me, though I wasn’t worried. I was happy, totally entertained. The scenery slipped by, right and left, like wavy blue-and-brown streamers. I pointed randomly and screeched.
“Tree,” she said. “Rock.” “Fence.” “Horse.” “Mountain.” She reeled off a vocabulary that I was at least a good six months away from, but she encouraged me to try anyway. She loved the sound of me, unlike Miss Lud, my third-grade teacher who years later put tape over my mouth. “Miss Yakety Yak” she called me, and my schoolmates picked it up, chanted it at recess, whispered it down the rows at the spelling bee.
My mother and I passed Carpenter Wash and then the wind grew stronger and came in bursts. My mother’s skirt clung to the front of her legs and flared out in back, [p.42]waving behind her. She stopped, dug through the suitcase, took out a lacy white bonnet and put it on me, drawing it down low over my forehead, tying the straps firmly beneath my soft clefted chins, which she couldn’t resist pinching. My mother loved all of me, but it was my head that she had high hopes for and therefore protected—a bonnet, a scarf, a ratty straw hat used for gardening. Sometimes, in the heat, she put a wet cloth on my head, water dripping down my neck and shoulders, my face scrunching up into a good cry, but she hushed me without any sympathy. She wanted me to be able to think, to reason, which is where the trouble lay for her.
My mother didn’t have to reason that morning, however. A mother simply tastes trouble; she feels it in the small of her back or in her blood or somewhere along her jangly nerves. Even ten miles off and blowing toward her, trouble was about as discreet as an ocean liner full of singing drunks. My mother said she suddenly smelled something carried on the wind: lye and dust and burnt liver or kidney beans, an awful combination that made her gasp. She hadn’t eaten much that morning, and her stomach turned once and then she got ahold of herself. She dropped the suitcase right there in the road as if it was something that had become crude and pointless, and with both hands on the stroller, she started running, barreling into the wind, pushing us madly up a small ridge from where, she hoped, we might be able to see [p.43]the Barlows’ windmill. The stroller wheels kept hitting rocks and ruts, but she powered through, sending the stroller sideways and the front end off the ground. I slid down in the seat, crumpled formless as a pillow, laughed and squealed and did my best to kick away my shoes.
On the broad Lincoln County range that runs from Nevada head-on into western Utah, sheep were grazing. The bells they wore jingled like a soft stuttering music out in no-man’s land. These were Western sheep, medium-sized and perseverant, muzzles down in sagebrush and galleta grass. Though spread out and foraging, they still moved as a loose, ever-present herd.
The cloud blew over about nine that morning. The wind came with it, blowing to the east and then suddenly shifting north, stirring up dust devils, rolling tumbleweeds across the desert into the midst of the feeding sheep. They scattered with the noise and sudden movement. As the sky overhead turned dark, sheep dashed for cover that wasn’t there. The bells on their necks clattered wildly, bringing more confusion and panic. A fine dusty mist began to fall from the cloud, and like rain, covered and penetrated: the dense layered wool of the sheep, the heavy leafed sage. The sheep veered right and left, stumbled and doubled back on themselves, and even after the cloud had passed, the bleating continued. They hopped and skittered at a falling rock, at a shadow, at a waving branch. Finally they lowered their heads again, though the ground and plants were now covered with a film of [p. 44]ash which lent a strange new taste to sagebrush. Slowly they grazed their way into the next valley.
Not far away in Elgin, Nevada, three children came out of a trailer house and played in what they imagined to be snow. They spread their arms, ran in circles, and turned their faces up into the gray-white storm. The oldest one—the only one who could write—used her finger to trace her name through the snow collecting on the hood of a junked car in the driveway. She licked her finger to clean it and then cartwheeled while the two younger ones, in wet drooping diapers, made themselves dizzy spinning.
From there the cloud moved due east-Nevada into Utah, though there was no marked change from one place to the other. It was all just dry unrelenting terrain. Here and there, almost like accidents, a tarpapered house sprang up and next to it the rotted posts of an abandoned corral, and in those lonely places, a Basque shepherd or a used car salesman holding a geiger counter looked up, wondered to himself, and shrugged.
A young husband, hauling furniture in his truck from Veyo to Santa Clara, was surprised by how the cloud seemed to engulf him and even to move with him down Highway 18. He’d driven in weather before, sometimes been able to outrun the big spring and summer cloudbursts if he caught them far enough on the horizon in time. Ten miles out of Veyo, though, this cloud had caught him, surrounding the truck in whirling sand. [p.45]Particles hit the windshield and seeped through every crevice of the old Ford until even his clothes were covered with a fine light soot.
When he finally turned off the side road and moved onto Highway 91, which led into Santa Clara and then on into Las Vegas, he was surprised to find a roadblock set up at a Texaco station. He shifted down, idled forward, then stopped his truck and got out. Hours later, before the young man was allowed to go, the deputies burned his clothes, patted his shoulder to reassure him, and let him borrow a Texaco uniform to wear home. Even with her own furniture in the back of the truck, his wife didn’t know him when he drove up to their house and stepped out of the cab.
My mother’s lungs burned from running. Her arms and shoulders felt disconnected and one of her ankles was swelling, and by then she realized the stroller wasn’t worth the trouble. She picked me up out of it, wrapped me in her arms and she wished, for once, that there was more of her to cradle and cover me. She had run herself out, so she trotted on from there, off balance and heavy footed, alternately watching the sky and the road and me.
Coming in fast from the southwest, the cloud grew larger, its edges spreading like thin fingers. In the midmorning sky, it appeared to be a piece of boiling twilight that had broken away from somewhere else. Instinctively my mother moved over to the far side of the road, putting a little more distance between it and us.
[p.46]I worked my arm away from my mother’s chest and touched her chin and talked to her in code-coos and broken syllables and among them she was almost positive that she heard the name John. Had the moment been different, she would have stopped, sat me in her lap, and we would have had a heart-to-heart, but as it was, we kept going.
My mother had shaken John Wayne’s hand and that was about all. He was making arrangements for his upcoming movie, The Conqueror, in which he would play Genghis Khan and tempt Susan Hayward with his made-up almond eyes. It would be filmed not far from our ranch and he wanted to look things over, make some plans for his sons who would accompany him. Someone had given him a cup of coffee. My mother remembered Wayne stirring in two teaspoons of sugar and drinking the coffee so slowly that it had to be ice cold when he got to the bottom. He nodded his head shyly when they were introduced, stood up out of his chair and extended his hand and she could see that he was a big, sensitive meatblock of a man.
Sometimes in panic and in trying to protect our life, my mother forgot things about the movies: the sweet temperate nature of John Wayne, the way Milo de Rossi had written father a large check for his and my mother’s hospitality and it was that very check that gave us Christmas that year. My mother unwrapped her dream of a sewing machine and cried on and off all day.
[p.47]A mother’s intuition is seldom wrong and my mother’s was always right about her babies. If she was mostly right about Milo de Rossi, she was absolutely right about that cloud. We had to find shelter.
She had taken only two steps off the road-toward a feeble overhang in the rocks-when she heard the long frantic blasts of a horn. My father, like a man driven by deep stinging forces that we couldn’t understand, had ingeniously spliced the ignition on the old Dodge flatbed and gunned his way to find us. His puzzlement and fear had grown by leaps as he found first the suitcase in the road and then the abandoned stroller.
At the sound of the horn my mother turned and scanned the road behind until finally she could see the grill and the familiar green hood and the brown trail of road dust. She put her arm in the air and waved.
When finally he was next to us, my father opened his door, the engine still running, and came around and opened the other door for us. They didn’t say a word, didn’t give each other the cool slender glance of people still carrying grudges. With me held closer than ever to her chest, my mother skip-hopped onto the running board and then up onto the seat, looked straight ahead and waited for my father to slam the door.
He, of course, thought she was coming back for him. He couldn’t stand two hours without her and he thought she felt the same, and in a while, she did. But at the moment when she had jumped into the truck, she was [p.48]all mother, all pounding heart, and she didn’t for one second analyze our escape.
We drove back to the house while behind us, in the valley to the west, in the very spot where The Conqueror would be filmed the next year, the cloud unloaded sheer white dust and here and there glassy particles that would end up driving the camera men wild, sudden glints and glarings appearing in the uncut footage. Sitting in the truck that day, we didn’t know it, but my father would be there at that filming, too, maybe not a star but at least an extra. For weeks, dressed in blousy Mongol pants and wearing snow boots, he was destined to ride a skiddish buckskin a hundred times across the same stretch of red sand until someone finally yelled that they had a take.
My father, glad to have his wife and daughter back that day, drove carefully and watched in his rearview mirror; my mother kept turning around. They didn’t know exactly what they were seeing back there, but they were spooked, and in no time she had slid across the seat and partnered back up with him. The cloud hung low for a while and didn’t seem to move. Beneath it, wind and dust and fallout created a turbulent hothouse that we could see and would hear about on the radio the next day.
Maybe to calm herself, my mother started—right there in the truck—by kissing my father’s cheek, even though it was a little too smooth for her taste, a little too much like a young James Stewart’s. Then things fell into [p.49]place: a kiss, a hug, and my mother’s skirt coming up over her legs.
As my father was trying to drive with one hand, trying to sneak quick views of the road ahead, I told him, in the only way that I could—with grunts and aaahs and jibberish—that I loved him, whatever he was going to be.
In the months and years that followed after we safely arrived home, Telsa was exploded, Priscilla, Diablo, and Hood. There were others we didn’t learn the names of. They drifted overhead, engraving a darkness in the sky, but in time they only appeared to pass and move into the shimmering distance.