The ladies study the envelope like it was the body of a dead baby.
'Definitely one of those Italian cars, a Romeo and Juliet or whatever,' says George.
'I know,' says Betty, 'but why send the brochure to Doris's?'
'Honey, it doesn't say Doris on the front, it says Leona. Just the address is Doris's.'
George shakes her head. 'Loni wants us to know she's getting one of those sports cars, I guess.'
Betty tightens her lips, and tuts awhile. 'I know, but why doesn't she just e over, like always, or even just call? Maybe she went to have the implants after all '
George blows a plume of smoke, finishing with a ring that travels up and over the Central-Vac box on the rug. 'Betty, don't piss me off, okay? You know damn well why.'
'Oh Lord,' scowls Betty. 'But that's her ex-ex-husband, the tragedy was nothing to do with her . . .'
George rolls her eyes. 'I know, I know, but some people might question the quality of a marriage that left a man chasing teenage boys for kicks - you have to admit that's out there even for Marion Nuckles, never mind the phony shrink he hooked up with. And goddammit to hell, Betty, now you've got me saying "I know."'
George clicks her teeth. Then their eyes meet, and they start to froth with helpless laughter.
'Girls, it's here!' calls Mom through the kitchen. 'It's the side-by-side!' She tries to keep her mouth pointed down, in mourning for Lally, but her eyes give her away. My ole lady just loves being in mourning. It's one of her needs, I guess. Bent ole kitten.
I hear Brad hollering up the hall, so I slink into the kitchen where a pile of media paperwork sits on the bench, along with some contracts from my agent. On top of the pile is a faxed cover of next week's Time magazine - the headline reads: 'Stool's Out!' The picture shows the dried remains of my crap, wrapped in Nuckles's class papers, sitting in a scientific laboratory. Behind it, Abdini proudly holds up the note Jesus left in the den, for Nuckles and Goosens, the lovers and internet entrepreneurs. 'You sed it was love you batsards,' reads the note, in his ole baby scribble. My eyes drop for Jesus. One thing, though: his note inadvertently granted a big ole want for Nuckles and Goosens. Now they'll have all the boys they could wish for, up there in prison. Somehow you sense they might be doing a little more receiving than giving, though. But hell. As Nuckles himself would say - 'Beggars can't be choosers.'
Farther along the kitchen bench lies a copy of today's paper, with the headline: 'Old Familiar Feces.' The picture shows Leona out at Keeter's, holding lumps of ** in her hands. Farther down still is an article about Taylor. She'll be fine. Just maybe not filling her panties the way she used to. Maybe they can implant a silicon butt-cheek or something, who knows?
Mom bunts me over the porch and down to the wishing bench, where the man from the morgue hovers. 'Let me shake your hand, son,' he says, 'your daddy would've been mighty proud.'
'Thank you,' I say, breathing in the clear blue day.
'Yessir, that was some turnaround. What's your secret?'
'I went down on my knees and prayed, sir.'
'Mighty fine,' he says, turning to Mom. 'And ma'am - I think we can process that earlier insurance matter just now - the body clearly can't be found.'
'Well thank you, Tuck,' says Mom, running a hand over her wishing bench.
'Mr Wilmer!' calls George from the porch. 'See what you can do for that poor woman in Nacogdoches '
'Be my pleasure, Mrs Porkorney - you take care now, y'hear?'
After he turns away, Mom frowns at the fridge box being wheeled up the driveway. She frowns extra-hard, not just on account of being a double widow, but because Leona taught her not to show too much joy over new goods. You have to pretend they don't matter, that's what she taught her, that and how to throw her head back when she laughs. Doesn't fool me, though.
I lean over the bench and soak up Mom's clammy warmth. When the ladies join us, Mrs Lechuga es to her window across the street. She sends a little wave, and I realize who's missing, for the full set of dice in my life - Palmyra. But, hey - I guess it ain't every day you get to play pinball on Oprah.
'Vern,' says Betty, 'Brad's just desperate to show you his birthday present.'
I try to nod politely, but my eyes snag on some dappled pink flesh behind the willows up the street. It's Ella with her suitcase. She wears a wool sweater over a loose cotton dress that swishes full of honey breeze. She grins when she sees me watching her. I told her I'd send a car, but she insisted on taking one last walk through town, crazy girl. Anyway, we'll be back. Mexico ain't so far.
'Kurt, stay!' Ole Mrs Porter bangs through her screen, and struggles down the lawn with a table full of knitted toys. Then, as I cross the driveway to meet Ella, Brad thumps onto the porch behind us.
'B-ooom! Suck ** mutha**a!'
That better not be loaded,' says Betty. 'Bradley Pritchard! Don't you point that thing, or it'll go right back to the store!'
I ignore him by rubbing lips with Ella. Then we both turn to watch Mrs Porter stand her toys by the roadside. She's setting up a **en stall for chrissakes. We just swallow giggles.
'Ma'am,' I call over the road. 'Mrs Porter!'
She cocks her head, in a kindly way, and flaps a little wave.
'Everybody's gone, Mrs Porter. Everything's back to normal '