Looking around briefly to make sure there was no part of her left here, she turned and left the apartment. It wasn’t even a major decision to make; nothing at all like leaving the Bend. She could still remember that night. Grabbing the suitcases and sneaking out of town like a criminal. No, leaving this two-bit apartment wasn’t anything like that. She didn’t have any clothes here, so there was really nothing left to pack. There were no memories to pack either, just a sterile apartment where she once slept. With the eviction of her clothes, the apartment was the Doc’s once again. It was totally his. Even the idea of June Montgomery was gone now. She’d have to stay with her friends for a few days, and then go through with her plans to go back to west Texas where she had always belonged.
The Doc was her supervisor at work so she knew that her job wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans now, and she’d be unemployed anyway, but then she wasn’t really unemployed because she’d taken the “fast class” that Claudette had lined up for her, and renewed her real estate license in Texas during her trip. She’d gotten her real estate license the very moment she turned eighteen. Her renewal should have been at the end of the month of June because her birthday had been on June 21st, but she’d not done it and let her license lapse. She had to have Claudette arrange for her to take the necessary class and file the paperwork to renew the license. That had been the main order of business, and a principle reason for her trip to Texas. She could exist, just not here, that’s all. Mike would swallow his tongue but no matter, Claudette would side with her because of the baby and the fact that Mike could never pass the state test and even get a real estate license! Walking down the steps in front of the apartment with her baby on her hip and the cigar box under her right arm June saw that Lois was driving the car with Crystal sitting in the front passenger’s seat.
She walked up to the car and asked Crystal, “Did you get all my stuff from Fat Daddy last night?”
“All but a few things. He kept a pair of jeans, and a pair of red boots. He put them back in his room. He said that Mike called from Texas and wanted to talk to you when he got back from there.”
June bristled. In her conversation with Mike the night before she’d flown back to Memphis, he had considered her return to Texas, but then he turned and had rejected the idea. But, in typical “Mike” fashion he couldn’t make a decision and hold to it, and now was holding her clothes ransom just so he could talk to her. Why? Mike had always been like that. In June’s mind, she thought that he was trying to make sure he had a date over on Commerce Street back in her hometown, and if that date didn’t work out then he’d take her back, at least temporarily. In the part of her mind that was still young and romantic she’d thought that she and Mike had began reconciliation that final night in Texas but now, with the kidnapping of her two favorite items of clothing, it was apparent that Mike had just slept with her because she was there, and no other reason! It began to occur to her that there were now two men who could apparently do without her. Was she slipping? Back in west Texas not long ago men and boys fell over themselves to gain her attention. To add insult to injury he’d kept the exact items that her sister in law, Angie had given her as a wedding gift. He had kept her pair of “501’s” and red Justin boots. Angie had given her these so she’d look good on the River Walk in San Antonio during her honeymoon.
Memories of San Antonio flooded her mind. Somehow Ray was there! She felt that if she could go there again, back to the Alamo she’d find her stepfather’s spirit. Somehow he would still be there. She recalled the night she and her husband had been there. The walk from the River Walk up to the Alamo wasn’t that far. The building had an orange glow to it, almost surreal, that made it stand out among the more modern buildings in the downtown district. Sometimes the moonlight would make the Alamo seem to bleed, and turn red. Mike hadn’t understood a single thing she’d said that night. He just wanted to get her back to the hotel and get her clothes off.
Shaking these memories off, she opened the rear door of Lois’s car. The car was small, with not much room inside. Far different from the cars and large trucks she’d become accustomed to in the Bend. She put Little Mike over against the driver’s side of the rear seat. Looking at Lois she asked, “Didn’t you bring the car seat?”
“No, we’re just going a little ways and I couldn’t find it. I think they lost it or something. I didn’t see it last night. Forget it. Those things are such a pain. He’s over two, isn’t he?”
June looked back at the apartment, “But it was there the other day. I know it was. I saw it in the living room. Are you sure you didn’t see it at Fat Daddy’s place?”
“No. And that thing is so big! If it had been there I’d have seen it. Are you sure that the Doc didn’t just
throw it away? He’d do that to hurt you now, you know?”
“Yeah, forget it.” She scratched at a bump on her neck, “God, I hate mosquitoes!”
“Get eat up last night?” Crystal asked, laughing.
“Yeah. I found out the big mosquitoes don’t come and bite you. The big mosquitoes send the little mosquitoes to get you and bring you back to them. Memphis is one big mosquito nest! Elvis was an idiot for staying here!”
June couldn’t hide her concern. She was very strict about the car seat. It was still on her mind. Had the Doc really dumped that too? It worried her. She’d have to buy a new one. It hadn’t been in the apartment, but Mike’s father hadn’t given it to the girls either. Fat Daddy was an asshole, but he wouldn’t have kept the car seat. He wouldn’t hurt little Mike. There seemed to be something very wrong with the car seat being gone like this. Details like this troubled June. Actually, what really troubled her was the fact that it would be so easy to lose something at Mike’s father’s house. Maybe he hadn’t noticed it. Entire sofas had been lost there! What chance did little Mike’s car seat have? And her two friends just blowing off the whole thing really irritated her. These girls didn’t have a baby so they didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, but she was just too stressed and tired to worry, and besides, it was only a few blocks, and it was Christmas morning and she had enough problems to consider already. She slid Little Mike back to the middle and belted him in. The belt in the center fit better than the straps on either side of the rear seat, but no matter how much she tried to “snug” him the belts remained loose. Finally, she just shoved him as tightly as she could up against the rear of the seat.
She slid in and put her own belt on, sitting in the passenger’s side of the rear seat. Closing the door and taking one last look at Doc’s place, she placed her cigar box on the seat beside Little Mike. As the car pulled off, her eyes turned away and saw Crystal looking at her. “Mad?”
“Hell yeah, I’m mad. He dumps me like a whore just because I went home for Christmas. Throws my things on the porch, and loses my baby’s car seat. Yeah, I’m mad. I’m really glad to be free of him.”
Crystal casually watched the driveway go by and said, “Hey, he was a twerp anyway. Always talking about how much his family in Little Rock had. He thinks he’s better than everybody else He is always looking down his nose at everybody else. You’d think that he doesn’t know that he’s working at Wal-Mart too!. I’m gonna quit soon. I can’t stand working for him.”
“I never liked him, June,” Lois, who was driving now, joined in. “He just didn’t strike me as your type.”
The two girls were actually trying to make June feel better. Even though she had hoped for some measure of security from him, the Doc never could quite measure up to what she’d left in Texas. Not her marriage. Heavens no! At least the Doc was a man. Her husband, Mike was jealous of her relationship with the Doc but he was too cowardly to do anything about it. Still, she remembered the last night in Texas before flying back here. Mike seemed to be the old “Mike” she’d known years ago at Fat Eddie’s catfish house. She considered that if Mike could just stay like that, her life would have been, would still be perfect! She was preparing to mend fences with Mike but then he “flip-flopped” on her and she realized that Mike was still Mike and Fat Daddy was still Fat Daddy.
Still, all was not lost! She had an ace in the hole. She had a ready ally in her mother in law, Claudette. Claudette was not about to let go of her grandson, little Mike, and with that hold, June knew she would soon be a member of the Bend once again. Lois and Crystal had never known the status that June had enjoyed and in reality they never would! They had never seen the power wielded by Claudette. They had never been to a wedding reception where a drunken judge convened court right there in the living room. Her two friends in the car had never seen that world. They were just two Memphis hillbillies trying to make her feel better about her break up with her boyfriend.
All three of these girls had worked the same shift. The two Memphis natives had the opportunity to date the Doc but he’d never taken an interest in either of them. However, when June came on the scene there was something about the little west Texas girl that caught his eye. She had beauty, and she had a form of “class,” though it was a type the Doc had never seen before. It was a dry and sandy type of culture that made her know the right fork to use and then turn and drink whiskey from a Mason jar. She normally spoke with a California clip, but she had a soft Texas drawl that she turned on at will and would melt a heart with, and she had the passion of a true west Texas firecracker, and when that fire was blazing she’d keep it on high until the very last bit of it burned out, throwing all caution to the wind.
This diversity of culture was one of the problems between June and her boyfriend. The Doc did come from a good family, but they were nowhere near the wealth that was wielded by Claudette back in west Texas. Claudette had taken a patch of Texas sand near the only river for miles around and turned it into an exclusive resort for the rich and famous. Then, when that was done she took off to the Middle East and rebuilt entire nations from the ground up! She’d made even the hard-nosed Muslims bow and scrape, and June held the only grandson! The heir! The apple of the power broker’s eye! Yes, she was beginning to realize that the problem between her and the Doc was just as much on her side as his! Even as weak as Mike was he was still richer than the Doc, and June knew that to get the grandson back in Texas Claudette would rope and tie Mike.
Crystal and June had been friends for almost two years now. They’d met at work and had even gotten matching rose tattoos on their ankles. June was going to have to stay with Crystal and her parents for a few days until she went home to Texas. Crystal’s little sister looked after the baby for her when she worked. It wasn’t bad there, but it would only be a stopping place for her on her way home. June knew with the way Crystal’s father had looked at her she could stay as long as she liked. She’d seen that look before. She knew how to play him for a place to stay. She’d stay a bit, but the move back to the Bend was inevitable. It wasn’t like a defeat. She had nothing to fear in Texas, and besides that, at least she would be around people she grew up with. Her own lawyer had stressed the futility of fighting her husband for divorce and custody of her child. Her Mother in law would allow the money that she deemed necessary to assure the outcome of any custody suit. June knew the old broker would win, but what the hell? She could win! All that would do is bring June back to west Texas, and the Bend. It would bring her home! She could try and fight, and go up against Claudette, but she’d just get crushed, and Mike would marry some prom queen, leaving her out of the loop. Just like her mother, fat, stupid and broke in a few years with everybody whispering behind her back. And to avoid that all she had to do was give in and go back to the Bend. Deep within her heart she knew that Claudette would take her back in to be near little Mike and that her husband would have to just “eat it,” one spoonful at a time! June was a licensed Real Estate Agent, even at this young age. Part of the reason for the trip back to Texas was to take a class to renew that license. She knew that sitting in the little office in west Texas was far better than stocking shelves at a Wal-Mart in Memphis!
While these thoughts were racing through her mind, the car eased down the dirt driveway approaching Sherman Road. Little Mike squirmed in his loose-fitting seat belt, and June reached to settle him. The dirt of the driveway turned into the gravel of Sherman Road. The car left a cloud of red dust behind it as it rushed down the hill toward the highway.
“How’d Fat Daddy act last night?”
“Fat Daddy” was Mike’s father. His “biological father.” “Real Daddy!” This had been a big issue with her and her husband when they were dating. Both came from split families and to find “Real Daddy,” had been very important to the both of them. Both had been led to disappointment, and June was beginning to understand why “Real Daddies” should remain the material of myth and memory. She couldn’t have foreseen this on that day, long ago, when she and Mike had talked beside the cow pond back in Texas. “Real Daddies” seemed to hold all the mystery, and romance that the current husbands and stepfathers failed to provide.
Fat Daddy, Mikes Father, lived in a shack on the outskirts of town. The grass was never mowed. In fact, there was an old bathtub hidden out in the back yard. Talk was that a jealous husband had killed some woman there and that the previous owner of the house had thrown it out in the yard. In true southern white trash tradition, Fat Daddy had never moved it or taken it away. He just let the grass grow up and it sat there, hidden in the yard like a macabre grotto to the poor dead woman.
Fat Daddy’s shack was a maze of old pizza boxes and candy wrappers. There was actually a room that no one could ever get into again, it being so full of trash. A large “Lazy Boy,” recliner, that he called his ‘cliner, was situated directly in front of the only new and well-kept item in the shack; his television set. The large chair was surrounded by the remnants of meals he’d known in the past. Pizza bits and chicken bones lay on the floor and Fat Daddy, oblivious to the smell, would sit there each night and fall asleep eating because he had become too fat to lie down and sleep anymore!
He would rise from the dead each morning and after turning off the television (which stayed on all night) he’d scurry down to work and not return until dusk where he would commence the same ritual again. Fat Daddy saw no reason to change. His world was intact and complete!
“Oh, he was ok. He really kinda enjoyed keeping some of your clothes. Like he knew it would tick you off.”
“Just like him! He’d do that…keep my clothes! He did just what he knew would hurt me the most! He’s hated me ever since I came to Tennessee! Guess I’m lucky he didn’t keep my panties.”
All three girls laughed about that one. Fat Daddy had a reputation of ogling the young girls. Everyone in the area knew it. He never molested any girls, but he was a sneak. When she’d stayed with him for a while she’d become accustomed to his “accidental” intrusions into the bathroom while she was there.
“Yeah, but I still think there’s more to it than that,” Crystal added as the car came near the intersection of Sherman Road and the highway leading into town, “he didn’t want to let me take them because, like I said, I think Mike called and told him that he wanted to talk to you again. What did you two talk about down in Texas?”
“How great his momma is!” June stared out through the window. “That, and what a whore I am. I thought that men who sucked up to their mommas were supposed to be such good husbands. Wonder what happened to him.” The other two girls laughed again.
Lois pressed the gas pedal and moved the speed up to about forty-five miles an hour. June watched the trees begin to rush by. Through the pines in the distance, she could just barely make out the Wal-Mart where she worked. Just then, a thought crossed her mind and she reached up and poked Lois with her finger, “Hey, run by Fat Daddy’s, ok? He’s not there right now, and I can get my clothes.”
“You’re not going to break in, are you?” Lois asked.
“Hey, the wind doesn’t have to break into that place, why should I?”
Crystal looked straight ahead and said, “I don’t think that’s what we need to be doing right now, June. Maybe you need to talk to Mike about this. I think there are some unresolved issues here. He was holding on to a little bit of you when he kept the boots and jeans. He was really using the clothes just to get you to come back over.”
“Then why didn’t he say that in Texas? I’m not going to meet him in that shack.”
Lois half turned, and continued to drive down the road, but she noticed that something was wrong in the back seat now. The baby was not fastened into his seatbelt anymore and June was just looking at her with a slight smile on her face.
“Where’s the baby?” Lois asked, taking her attention away from the road. From her vantage point as driver, she could tell that the child was nowhere in the back seat, or even in the floorboard. “Where’s the baby, June?” she raised her voice a bit more.
With the smile still on her face, June simply said, “We’re gonna teach the angels how to fly.”
The Butcher Shop