Lebanon High School is a brick building on the corner of School and Main Streets. That morning she’d gotten up and to the school early, and she was waiting to meet him. There was a prep class for the SAT. She hadn’t washed her hair; she’d put it up. She often got comments on her hair, positive and negative. Some loved it, and others called her names. Her boyfriend liked it.
“Hey,” he said when they met. “You ready to get into this.”
They’d been studying together. She’d done everything she could do. Drill team, activities, studying, and practicing for the test. She was tired. Something about all this wasn’t right; it didn’t make sense, including him. He was too perfect. It was wrong.
“Yes,” she said. “We’re gonna kick this test’s ass!”
“Do you have to curse always,” he said. “I mean, you know.”
“Like saying ‘fuck you’ when you say shit like that?” she asked.
“Whatever,” he said.
They’d do well in the town if she could keep her family under control. There was a delicate balance in town. Everyone knew her dad and brothers. She knew everyone else’s dad and brothers. There was a currency here, a way of doing things, and it wasn’t more moral or wholesome than anywhere else. What they had was a system, and she was doing what she could to manage it.
That night, they drove in his truck out to the edge of town. It was what they did. They did everything but have sex.
“You love me right,” she asked.
“Of course, yes,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you do or not,” she said, stroking his hair. “It doesn’t even matter.”
They heard something loud hit the truck. It happened again. They heard voices.
“Hey, look,” someone said. “He’s out here with her. Are they fucking?”
There was laughter from a lot of voices. There was a crowd. A flashlight was shining through the windshield.
“There she is,” a voice said. “Nigger hair is in there with him!”
“Where’s you’re fucking gun,” she asked him. “Where’s the gun?”
“Hey, baby,” he said. “Let’s just get out of here.”
“Fuck that!” she said. “I’m tired of this shit.”
She reached behind the seat and searched around and pulled out a pistol.
“Fuck, honey,” he said. “No! Goddamit, no!”
She opened the door of the truck and got out.
“Hey you fuckers,” she yelled and fired a shot in the air.
She could see their faces in the glow of their flashlights. There was one kid she had heard from over and over, since middle school. She could see his fat face.
“Hey, you little shit,” she said. “Where’s you’re fucking mama?”
She fired over his head.
“Jesus Christ you stupid whore!” he yelled.
She ran at him and took the pistol and hit him in the face with it once, then again, then again, then again.
“Stop!” the boy cried.
“One of you stupid motherfuckers shine your light over here so I can get a clear shot at this fuckers head!” she said.
Her boyfriend was still in the truck, with the dome light on, watching.
All the lights shined on her. She held the gun pointed to the ground, blood on her hands.
“Beg, motherfucker,” she said. “Beg! Or I swear to God I’ll kill you!”
It was quiet except for crickets. The silence seemed to last forever.
“Please,” the boy said. “Please, you crazy fuck. Please.”
“Get up!” she said. “Get up and walk.”
He walked toward the others. Their flashlights followed them and the boy held his hands up as they all walked passed the truck.
“Now all you fuckers get the fuck outta here now!” and she fired over their heads.
The lights all scrambled away, the voices and laughter fading.
She climbed back in the truck and dropped the gun on the floor. She wiped her hands on her shirt.
“Those fuckin’ red neck motherfuckers have something to talk about now,” she said.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “What have you done?”
The dome light was still on. She could see his face. He was scared. He was angry.
“You’ve,” he stopped. “You’ve ruined me. You made me look like a fool, here.”
Lots of things went through her mind. For one, she felt like she’d dealt a well deserved blow to the monster that lived in the town, the one that stalked around and didn’t kill or stomp or squash but nibbled and ate and scratched. She felt like she’d kicked that motherfucker right in the nuts.
Then she looked at this cowering boy, worried, she knew, about his manhood and what he’d say tomorrow. Then she knew she’d lost. She’d pushed the monster back for a moment, she’d scared it, and she had even maybe worried it a bit about its existence. When she looked at this boy’s face, she knew it was not only alive, but this incident would feed it, make it stronger.
She wanted to take the gun and kill him, right there. Then she saw the headline. And she saw herself in prison, maybe on death row. And for less than a second, the time that it takes for one heartbeat, she was fine with that. Then she thought about the test, and her mother, and her future. And then, the desire switched off.
“Take me home,” she said. “Take me home.”
It wasn’t a long trip. She got out wordlessly and went through the door. Her dad was passed out on the couch. She went right to the bathroom and closed the door. Her dad had an electric razor with different settings to cut hair. She turned on the radio.
“Here’s another one from Waylon Jennings, this one is called, ‘What You’ll Do When I’m Gone,’” the voice said. “Remember tomorrow morning be the 10th caller and you’ll win tickets to his show in Kansas City.”
Staring at the door
Every night I’m thinking more and more
About walking out that door.I know some day I will
Although I’m standing still someday I will
I know someday I will.
She started shaving her head, right down to the root. She plunged the razor deeper and deeper, and the hair fell to the floor. She struggled a bit with some pieces, but she kept at it, and with each stroke she felt more and more free. It fell away. She looked at her face in the mirror, at her eyes, blazing green. She felt her scalp and it felt wonderful.
She gathered up the hair, and as she did she felt a jolt of regret, she felt something like falling, like she’d shot that kid in the face and buried him in the field. For a moment, like a lightening bolt, like that moment she’d wanted to kill someone, she felt like putting the hair back. But that feeling was like the lightening bugs she’d catch, on then off. It felt like forever, but it was gone.
She put all the hair in the garbage. She kept one strand and used a hair tie to hold it together. She took the garbage bag in her hand and walked out of the bathroom.
“Jesus Christ,” her dad said. “I’ve gotta piss. Thought you’d never get out of there.”
“Sorry,” she said, and let him go past.
She walked out into a warm evening. There were lots of Big Dipper bugs flashing and buzzing. She could see so many stars. She emptied the trash into a big bin and walked back to the house.
Her dad was bent over in the refrigerator.
“Goddamit,” he said. “Your mother left me without enough beer!”
He took one out and looked at her. He flicked on the kitchen light.
“What the hell have you done, honey,” he said. He opened the can. Then he reached into the refrigerator and pulled out another one.
“These are the last damned beers,” he said as he opened the second one and handed it to her.
He stood there and looked at her. He took his beer and held it up to her to toast. They touched beer cans.
“You’re as beautiful as ever,” he said. “Now all I can see is those goddamned eyes. The hair, well, that was a distraction.”
They both took a big drink.
“I can only imagine what happened,” he said.
“It’s quite the fucking story,” she said.