Gods of Houston
What Nixon remembered most of
the vacation was Missy Elle’s nosedive into the canyon. Momma
Laurent had been driving, and everyone knew Momma Laurent was no
good since the deep scratch she’d gotten on her cornea weeks ago.
She had to wear a huge black eye patch that obscured half of her
face. She’d kneel, bare her fingers, and smile, flattening every
crease in her mouth.
“Arrggh. I’m the lost
pirate of the Indian Sea!” she’d scream to Nixon and Reagan, who
both jumped. “You boys scared of pirates, aren’t you?”
“We were just playing
pirates,” Nixon lied. He had really been telling Reagan about the
woman next door whom he’d seen her naked through her living room
window. She’d been watering plants, their leaves making patchwork
shadows on her back, folding nicely to her spine.
“You are scared of pirates,”
Momma Laurent said, producing a cigarette. “Pirates pillage
villages and make love to the women there.”
Reagan was about to say
something, but Nixon pressed hard on his stomach with the naked ball
of his foot. “I know. But you’re not a pirate. You’re just a
Momma with a bum eye.”
Momma Laurent laughed and
rubbed her eye shadow with her cigarette hand. “Well, I got this
eye shot out just like a pirate, didn’t I? So can’t I be a
pirate?” When she was met with no response, she took a long drag
and nodded to Nixon. She had scratched the eye out when it met with
a jagged edge of wood trying to fix the latch on the garden gate.
“Show me how you boys play pirates.”
Nixon made Reagan, who seemed
infinitely smaller and stupider than him, stand on his tiptoes and
pretend to walk a plank. Nixon never once moved his eyes from the
stern skyscraper of Momma Laurent.
“Walk the plank, matie!”
Reagan was walking back and
forth, trying to blink back tears. He looked forlornly at his toy
truck. He couldn’t seem to make the jump into the ocean.
Momma Laurent sat in the front
of the truck with Missy Elle. They were in Utah, Missy Elle having
decided that they could all benefit from mountain air because it was
supposed to do something to the lungs. The cab was small, and Reagan
kept on hiccupping. Nixon had held his finger-gun to Reagan’s
forehead, but apparently the idiot was no longer afraid of death.
The road was narrow, and Missy
Elle was consumed with the mountain vista. As they sidewinded up the
crest, she pointed several times to dried trees, ebbing hills of
pines or the occasional emaciated deer staring obliquely through the
white globe of an eye. Missy Elle was broad and beautiful; having
just eaten dinner, she was comfortable with sitting still and
observing. She wore heavy coveralls and heavier makeup. When she
pointed at something she liked, she always used the finger with the
warped, peeling fingernail. This unnerved Nixon.
“Look at that. Would you
look at it?” she pointed to a small brook meandering next to the
road. She turned to Momma Laurent. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
Momma Laurent shook her head
and clucked. “It’s all for you, baby. Momma can’t see nothing
with one eye. It’s all for you.”
Missy Elle turned back to the
boys and smiled. “Are you two enjoying it?”
Reagan pressed his face to the
cab window angrily. “Looky,” he sang quietly. “Looky, looky,
Nixon smiled. “He’s making
fun of you.”
“Who is?” asked Momma
“Reagan. He’s making fun
of Missy Elle.”
Reagan snapped back from the
window and raised both his middle fingers at Nixon; he couldn’t
raise the middle without the ring fingers joining in, so he looked
pathetic. Nixon clapped.
“Shut up! Momma….”
“Shut up, the both of you,”
Momma Laurent said. A cut of her face, her sequined eyes, appeared
in the rearview mirror. “Stop it now, both of you, or I’m going
to gut you like a pair of trout. I’m not kidding.”
“Look,” Missy Elle hummed.
Missy Elle was pointing at a
series of trees naked from controlled burning. “Pull into the rest
stop, Momma. I want to look at these trees and the valley.”
Momma Laurent navigated off
the road and stopped. Missy Elle emerged from the car and stood on
the very edge of the mountain, touching the leafless tree. There was
hardly room enough for her to leave the side of the car because the
cliff was so narrow. She was haloed by a break in the clouds, a thin
knife of sun, making her broad frame appear suddenly effulgent. She
raised her arms and called something incomprehensible into the
valley below her. When she lowered her arms, the skin behind her
“Come back in the car,”
Reagan said softly, his breath a dewy O on the windowpane. “Come
back in the car, bitch.”
“Don’t say that,” said
Nixon. He began poking at the back of Momma Laurent’s head, he was
so bored. Momma Laurent lit a cigarette.
“I don’t know how she’s
so interested in nothing,” she said. “I wish I could be more
Missy Elle called once more
into the deep valley. Nixon rolled his eyes. He could feel sweat
forming on the inside of his thighs. Before leaving for the drive,
he and Reagan had been eating vanilla ice cream in the hotel room.
He had left his unfinished bowl in the fridge and now ached for it.
“Hurry up,” Nixon said.