“Ok, Pa,” she said, and took Mike’s hand to lead him away. They walked over the rise and she took him to a little man made pond surrounded by an embankment. She sat and pulled him down to the ground with her. He started to kiss her, but she pecked his cheek and said, “No, not here. Pa’ll be coming over that hill and see us. He’ll beat your butt good you messin’ with me out here. You like the joint?”
“I didn’t know you did dope.”
“Well, I don’t ‘do dope,’ I just smoke a little grass. How’d it make you feel?”
“He did ok.”
“Wow, like, two beers. I feel, real good.”
She laughed, “You ain’t a good liar, Mike. You didn’t smoke enough to make you feel much. Next time you’ll do better. How’d Pa treat you before I got here?”
“Thought he was gonna kick your ass, huh?”
“No, I wasn’t worried.”
“Liar! Everyone in town’s scared of my Pa. He’s
been in prison.”
“Well, ok, maybe I was a little. But I love you, and
it’s worth the risk.”
She smiled and leaned back on the Johnson grass
on the embankment. “My real Pa’s in Las Vegas.”
“Really? You ever meet him?”
“Nah. He left before I was born. They never got
married. She told me he came to town and was runnin’ card games all over the county. He was so good he decided to go to Vegas. He’s rich there, I bet! Ray’s my mom’s first husband. Boyfriends don’t’ count. Your mom’s divorced, ain’t she?”
“Yeah. My Real Daddy lives in Tennessee. You know that. I just got back from there!”
“I know, but your mom’s divorced. Ray says that’s like drinking a beer every day and then they shut down the brewery. The Bible says that if a man marries a divorced man he lies down in adultery. My mom’s always telling me that no matter how bad we seem at least we ain’t divorced.”
Mike’s face turned red, but he tried not to show it. His mom’s divorce was an embarrassment in the little town. He didn’t like to talk about it, and June was dragging it all out in the open, even if it was just around a bunch of cows and goats.
“Some day I’m gonna go and see him in Vegas, though. I know he loves me, and he’ll take care of me. I don’t like it here.”
“Why don’t you live out here instead of the shacks behind Fat Eddie’s?”
“Grandma don’t like mom. Says she’s a whore. She really don’t like her to come out here at all, but she lets her come out on Saturdays because Ray wants to see his mom. She needs him out here to keep this rat trap of a farm fixed up.”
“Fat Eddie is talking about tearing down the shacks so he can have a bigger parking lot for catfish night. Did you know that?”
“We heard. Guess we’ll have to move out here then. But one day I’ll be married, and I’ll leave here, and the shacks, and go to Vegas where I belong!” She was lying. She planned to go no farther than the Bend. She wanted to meet the man her mother had told her about, but she had no intention of living in Vegas.
“How’s Buddy doing?” she suddenly asked.
“Oh, he’s fine. He’s sleeping it off on the couch this morning. He ended up at Sabrina’s bar last night and drug in late.”
“He and Sabrina getting’ it on?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Anyway, she’s a Mexican girl. You know how that goes.”
“What does her being a Mexican have to do with anything?”
Mike was in a corner. In his arrogance of being a member of the Bend he’d started to insinuate that the little Mexican Bar-hop was somehow less chaste than an Anglo girl, but then he realized that it was a very small distance from the trailer park where Sabrina lived to the shacks behind Fat Eddie’s.
“Oh, I don’t know. Buddy say’s she’s Catholic, and I think that’s real important to him. You know, him and Tommy are Catholic.”
June eyed him, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably it. Catholics don’t get divorces you know. Did you ever stop to think that Buddy and Tommy don’t really think your mom is married to their dad? That means that you ain’t really any kind of brother; I mean like real brothers. Like for instance, if you and I should break up, and I was to date Buddy it wouldn’t be all that bad. That kind of thing.”
Mike was a little shook, but it was true. It wasn’t like they were real brothers. Still he’d never considered the possibility of little June dating Buddy. That seemed very remote and distant right now. Yet it seemed as if a seed had been planted.
“You ever think of Buddy in that way,” he asked?
June looked at Mike. She had him! Nothing makes a fish bite like taking the bait away a little bit. She could almost hear the pleading in his voice.
“No. Not really. I never think of him like that,” she said and let the subject pass.
They passed the rest of the afternoon walking around the tank and talking about life and family, and “getting out.” Then they heard Ray’s mother call them all in for supper. The little family gathered around the old woman’s table to eat brisket, beans, and corn bread. She’d marinated the meat and smoked it the night before, finishing with it in a broiler she had set up in the Florida room. She had cut it long ways to divide the “two briskets” that it contained. One was fat and coarse, and the other was leaner, and the grain of the meat ran across the top piece. There was very little conversation at the table. As soon as the meal was over, they loaded up and took Mike back to town.
He stayed off to himself most of that night, not talking with his brothers or mother, but Sunday morning he cornered his mother in the kitchen. “Why did you divorce my Real Daddy?”
She was surprised by the words “Real Daddy,” but asked back, “Why do you want to know?”
“Well, he is my Real Daddy, and I just wanted to know why you divorced him. June’s mom isn’t divorced.”
The woman could feel the hair rise on the back of her neck. This was the ever-present threat in the town. Divorced women still had a mark on them. “Your so called ‘Real Daddy’ was too stupid to make a living and too lazy to do anything about it.”
“June’s Real Daddy lives in Las Vegas.”
“Well that’s no big recommendation. He wasn’t no ‘count here, and he’s probably no ‘count there. What’s he do, deal cards there?” Claudette feigned disinterest. She knew all about the gambler and the story that Barbara wove around him to hide her history with old man Stillwell.
Mike got defensive and raised his voice, “I don’t want you talking about her family like that. He works at a job, that’s what he does. Anyway, he’s her Real Daddy, just like my Real Daddy.”
She glared at the boy, “Do you know how much child support your ‘Real Daddy’ owes you? Over forty thousand dollars!”
“It’s not his job to pay that when you got remarried.”
“Oh, he don’t have any obligation to his own kids? I never pushed it ‘cause he’s so worthless, but he still owes it. How many Christmas cards have you seen from him?”
“He didn’t know where we lived.”
“Wrong! My Grandma never moved! She lived right there with the same address and the same phone all the time we’ve been here in Texas. He found that house when we were married and he wanted to eat! Then, when she got down, and we moved her out here, he still knew how to contact her relatives in Tennessee, and I’m only the biggest Realtor in west Texas. HELLO! He can’t find the phone number to send a card, or a dollar?”
Mike began to look down and to the right. She slapped him. “Don’t you pull that stuff on me! You look at me when I’m talking to you. So that’s what you been doing out there on that farm. You and June talking about your ‘real daddies? Well, I hope the both of you get to live with your ‘real daddies!”
“It would be better than here,” he said rubbing his face, “Up there in Tennessee I get to do what I want.”
“Seems like you’re doing what you want down here, young man. You seem to get over to City Park often enough! Up there you’d be in jail!”
Mike’s eyes flared, but he backed off as his stepfather walked into the room. “What’s going on here,” he asked, as he got a Coke out of the refrigerator?
“Mike’s worried about his ‘Real Daddy,” his wife answered, and crossed her arms, staring at Mike.
The man looked at Mike as he opened the Coke. Taking a large gulp from it, he reached up in the cabinet and took out a bottle of whiskey with an auto- jigger on top. Holding it up he let the device dispense a shot of whiskey into the coke bottle. Placing the bottle back in its spot, he turned to the issue at hand. This had not really been a problem until Mike’s recent trip to Tennessee, but now “Real Daddy” was showing himself to be a “real pain.” The man sat on a stool at the island in the kitchen. He really didn’t know much about “Real Daddy,” nor did he “really” want to, but this was a problem that he felt must be addressed.
“Why don’t you just count all that child support he’s sent over the years?”
“Money don’t buy everything!”
“True, but I don’t see you selling off your weight set, or your golf clubs, now do I?”
“All I’m saying is that he is my Real Daddy, and I’d like to know why mom had to divorce him.”
The stepfather actually became angry, but didn’t let Mike know it. He knew that “Real Daddy” was an irresponsible boob, but he couldn’t just come out and say that. He had to prove “Real Daddy” wrong. What he didn’t know was that another agenda was at work here. Mike didn’t want this issue resolved because he needed the “Real Daddy” argument to escalate so that he could put it before June because she also had a “Real Daddy.”
“You both don’t understand!” And with that, Mike left through the front door, slamming it behind him as he went.
“Now what do you suppose brought that on?” the man asked.
“I don’t know, but I think it began out there at June’s grandmother’s farm. He came back all weird. I have no intention of showing any respect to his so called ‘Real Daddy!”
Bill smiled and went back into the study to watch TV for the rest of the day.
The days turned into weeks, and Mike and June continued their “cow tank” discussions, always picking up where the last one left off. The little chats seemed to always center on “real daddies,” and such. They never noticed the two entities listening in on every one of their meetings. Graduation day came and went, and Claudette got her one small victory in that he did get to walk across the stage at the football stadium and receive his diploma. June was there, with them in the stands that night, and then they all went out to eat catfish. Fat Eddie gave her the night off that one time because she was Mike’s guest, and she got to be served. She didn’t eat the catfish though, opting for the baby back ribs instead.
Veronica and her spirit guide talked one afternoon.
“Why did you want to see your biological father so badly?”
She sat on the grass watching Mike and June talking. “It wasn’t so much him as it was just wanting to leave this place.”
“You just wanted to leave?”
She lay back on the grass, and took a piece of it, put it into her mouth and chewed on it. “Not like for always, just for now, ya know? There’s a big exciting world out there, and I wanted to see at least something outside the county. You know I used to get so excited about going down to Austin, like that was a big deal. When I went on my honeymoon in San Antone, I took my very first escalator ride in a department store. Can you imagine such a little hayseed as that? Never even seen an escalator!”
“Did you love Mike?”
She looked sideways at him. He could tell that even now, in eternity, she was a fetching woman. Veronica studied his eyes determining just what kind of answer to give him. Then she simply said, “Ya, at first. Not like Ray.”
She sat up and looked at the couple sitting across the pond. “You see that little girl over there, Doctor Angel? Now look at me. She isn’t anywhere near what I am now. She has no mileage. That girl over there would be happy if he took her over to the county fair for sausage on a stick and a beer.” She looked him in the eye, “But I’m not!”
She got up and walked around the pond to where the couple was sitting. She knelt down and looked June right in the face. “Look at all that baby fat! You see that. This kid’s been eating nothing but Bubba burgers and fries her whole life. Her heart’s going to give out.”
She caught a glance of the man’s eyes as he looked down. “She’s not going to make it that long, is she?”
“I don’t know Veronica. That’s all up to you.”
“I wanted to find my real father so I would know who I really was! Is that so hard to understand?”
“Well, do you know who you really are?”
“I do now. I’m a bastard!”The Butcher Shop