Chase and Larry Garrett’s father left home a year ago. This time last October, he took three suits on wooden hangars and a stack of shoe boxes, and he hasn’t been back since. Chase talked to his father once, over the phone. That was sometime in July. His father said something about visitation and coming by the house to pick Chase and Larry up for a weekend together at Corpus Christi. But the man never showed up.
Three months later, when he finally does come by the house, Chase’s father doesn’t come inside. Chase and Larry are both sitting cross-legged on the den floor watching The Fugitive when, through the picture window, Chase sees his father duck out of the passenger side of a blue Karmann Ghia and walk up the driveway to the house. Chase runs to the foyer to open the front door. Larry follows behind.
Their father stands on the porch under the yellow bug light, his balding forehead bruised and covered with tiny scratches, a wide Band-Aid crimped over the bridge of his nose, one of his eyes black and swollen shut. “Is your mother home?” he says, smiling, like a vacuum salesman.
“She’s washing dishes,” Chase says. “Hey, what happened? You get in a fight or something?”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
“No, I didn’t get in a fight.”
“So, hey,” Chase says, “you taking us somewhere, or what?”
“No, I just need to talk to your mother. Go get your mother, will you?”
Their mother shows up at the door drying her hands with a dishtowel. She tells Chase and Larry to go to their bedrooms, but instead they go back to the den and turn the TV down. On the screen the one-armed man squints in the shadows while their mother and father shout at each other.
“You’re three months late on your child support,” she starts off.
“I’m taking the station wagon,” he says.
“What? Why? What’s wrong with your car?”
“I totaled it on Central Expressway.”
“Why can’t you take her car?”
Their father glances back at the Karmann Ghia parked at the curb, then back to their mother. “Her insurance doesn’t cover me. Look, Ann, she doesn’t have anything to do with this. Leave her out of this, will you?”
“You can’t take my car, Gil,” their mother says. “How in God’s name am I supposed to get to work?”
“I’ve got to work, too, you know.”
“What, so you can pay your child support, right?”
“Look, I pay the house payments every month. I pay the payments on that station wagon. I just wanted to tell you I was taking it. I didn’t have to tell you, you know. I still have my keys.”
“I’m calling my lawyer,” their mother says.
“So call him.” Their father turns around and walks down the porch steps, cutting across the grass to the driveway.
“But, God, Gil, how am I supposed to get to work?” Their mother holds her head with her hands, the way she does sometimes.
“The bus,” he tells her. “Take the bus.”
That’s it, the last thing Chase hears his father say. The man doesn’t come inside and talk to Chase the way he’s imagined it would happen. His father opens the station wagon door and gets inside, slams the door shut and backs the car down the driveway. The woman sitting in the blue Karmann Ghia makes a U at the curb and follows the station wagon down the street.
Chase watches both sets of taillights pass behind the Nelsons’ willow at the corner of the block.
“Man, what a load of crap,” he says. “Jesus.”
“Yeah,” Larry says next to him.
Chase turns off The Fugitive and waits for the crying to start, but it never does. His mother just goes to bed. Next morning, she stays there. She doesn’t get up to go to work. She doesn’t get him and Larry up to fix them breakfast or to take them to school. Over the next few days, she gets up a few times to eat a bowl of tomato soup or to go to the bathroom, but a week later, when Fair Day comes at school, she’s still in bed.
That morning, Chase gets himself up and shakes Larry awake, like he’s been doing all week. He showers, dresses, and slaps his face with some Aramis his father left behind in the medicine cabinet. In the kitchen he sets down a bowl and a spoon, then the Fruit Loops and the carton of milk he bought the day before at the 7—11 down at the Casa Linda Shopping Center. He goes back to Larry’s room and shakes Larry awake again.
“Come on, man, get up, will you? We’ll be late for the bus. We’ll have to walk to school again.”
“Don’t want to get up,” Larry says. His left eye is glued shut. His eyelids peel open slowly from the corner of his eye.
“It’s Fair Day, man. You don’t want to miss Fair Day, do You?”
“Look, I’m counting to three, and if you don’t get up, I’m ripping your stupid face off.” Chase fists his knuckles up under Larry’s chin. “One. Two.”
“Go ‘head, hit me,” Larry says.
“All right. Okay. Jesus.” Chase rocks back on his heels and holds his head with his hands, then holds his hands down to his sides so he won’t use them. He paces around the room, stepping over Larry’s dirty sweatshirts and underwear and Tonka trucks. “Tell you what, man. This is the deal. You get up, and I’ll take you to the freak show. How’s that? They got all kinds of weird stuff in there.”
“Dead babies floating around in bottles, deformed people with their ears where their noses are supposed to go, shit like that.”
“Yeah,” Larry says, throws the sheets back.
Chase digs through the piles of overturned Hot Wheels and wadded Levi’s and half-naked G.I. Joes on the floor till he finds Larry’s favorite pair of bell bottoms, the ones he’s been wearing all week. They’re still stiff with dried mud and they’re too big for Larry, but Chase doesn’t want to argue with him again all morning over a pair of stupid bell bottoms. Chase holds them out while Larry steps into them and yawns and holds his arms up for the last clean sweatshirt in his dresser drawer. Then Larry sits on the bed swinging his legs, and Chase tells him to hold his legs still, so he can tie his stupid shoes. When he’s finished, Chase look up to see that Larry’s fallen back onto the bed, asleep again.
While Larry’s eating his bowl of Fruit Loops in the kitchen, Chase starts throwing all the clothes scattered around Larry’s room under the bed, until he uncovers the black bald spot next to the closet where Larry burned the shag rug with the kitchen matches a few days before. Then Chase remembers and pulls all the clothes out from under Larry’s bed again, tossing them into a pile over the carpet’s burnt spot, just in case their mother finally gets up today and wanders into Larry’s room.
Chase stops at Larry’s dresser to look at the laminated Mobil photo I.D. his father used to clip onto his shirt pocket mornings before he left for work. In the photo, his father is turning his head to look off at something, and his face is blurred like he’s underwater. Next to the I.D., leaning against Larry’s Creature of the Black Lagoon model on the dresser, is a smudged Polaroid of Larry squinting at the camera in the bright sun and holding up a tiny perch he caught with his Zebco at Lake Texoma. The shadow of his father, holding up the camera to snap the shot, stretches out on the beach at Larry’s bare feet.
In the kitchen, Chase puts Larry’s bowl and spoon into the sink, with all the other bowls and spoons, and drops the empty Fruit Loops box into the A & P sack under the sink. Then he leads Larry to their mother’s bedroom door, opens it to a crack, and looks inside.
“Up yet?” Larry whispers behind him.
“Don’t think so, man. Look, I’m going in. We got to get us some more cash. It’s the last twenty bucks, so we can’t spend it all, all right? We got to save some, for more Fruit Loops and shit.”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
Chase opens the purse on his mother’s dresser and gets her wallet out while Larry waits outside. Chase finds four five-dollar bills inside and some change. He takes out two of the bills and then gets an extra one just in case and then changes his mind again and puts the extra one back in her wallet. He’s careful when he snaps the wallet shut, but it makes too much noise anyway, and his mother moves in the bed behind him.
“You getting up?” Chase says.
“Maybe,” she says. “In a while.”
“It’s Fair Day at school,” he says.
“I didn’t take much but we needed some. That okay?”
“Fine,” she says.
“See you later.” He starts to leave, but then she sits up in the bed. She’s got pink creases on her face from the pillow, like a map of Africa. “Chase, you and Larry be careful, all right? You watch him close. And watch your language.”
“Sure thing, Mom. No sweat.”
Later that morning, when they’re riding in the school bus downtown, Chase tells Larry how they’ll meet up at the fair. Larry’s with the first-grade group and he’s with the sixth-grade group, and he tells Larry that when all the classes meet up at Big Tex around noon, the two of them will sneak off together.
“That way,” he tells Larry, “I can keep an eye on you.”
Chase pulls out one of the five-dollar bills wadded in his back pocket and hands it to Larry. “Now, look, man. Don’t spend this unless you got to. The Midway’s got a lot of stupid games, and I don’t want you spending this money on crap. The rides are free with our school tickets so just use this if you get hungry, okay?”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
The bus drives through East Dallas, past an old black man sitting on a car seat in the dirt yard of his leaning gray house. At an intersection, the bus turns left past a concrete-block building with an unlit neon sign over a padded black door that says, All Nude Girls. Then the bus passes under a sun-faded billboard with a balding man who smiles down at Chase and says in a big cartoon bubble, Smiling Joe’s Insurance. He Covers All Losses, Large and Small. The next block down, the bus turns under the State Fair of Texas arch and drives past the museums and the ponds where the willows hang down over the water and the families all sit on green benches with crumpled lunch sacks in their laps.
The kids file out of the bus, and Chase watches from behind as Larry walks off with the first-grade group. Larry’s jeans hang low on his hips so that Chase can see the striped elastic band of his skivvies and the crease between his cheeks. The seat of his drooping jeans is black with flaky clay, the bells on his jeans are all muddy around the edges where they drag the ground, and they’re frayed behind where he keeps stepping on them with the heels of his loafers, pulling them down even farther.
“Jesus,” Chase says. He decides to catch up with Larry to pull his pants up, but then he sees Larry hitch them up himself and hears Mr. Henley, the sixth-grade teacher, shout, “Let’s all stick together, troops. Don’t want any missing persons around here.”
Chase falls in behind his class. Under his shoes the street is sticky with chewing gum and bubbles of hot asphalt and smears of ketchup and mustard and spilled Coke. Everything smells of corn dog grease and cotton candy and his father’s old workshirts. Big Tex stands high up above the Midway holding his arm straight out and pointing at nothing, his giant cowboy hat and boots painted concrete, his huge red cowboy shirt billowing and flapping in the wind like sheets on a clothesline, the hinge of his jaw broken and hanging open. A shadow passes overhead like a cloud. Chase looks up at the cable cars with the people inside laughing down at him, and he wonders if he could spit from that high up.
Mr. Henley leads the sixth-grade class to the Exposition Center, where hundreds of shining cars rotate on stands with girls who can’t stop smiling in their red mini-skirts and their plastic go-go boots. They run their fingers along the cars’ sharp fenders and try to make their voices sound throaty through microphones that feed back and echo down the long aisles to the stage. Mr. Henley stops the group at the display of a see-through engine. He points at the spinning radiator fan, at the pistons that move up and down, and tries to explain how everything works.
A country band finishes playing “Waltz across Texas” on the bandstand, and the bald emcee walks up to the mike. “Remember, folks, to sign up now for the grand prize. The drawing is at seven o’clock tonight and”—the emcee shouts—”you must be present to win.” Below the bandstand is a new ‘68 Shelby Cobra GT convertible with wide stripes and an air scoop on the hood and a spoiler in the back, and next to that is a go-cart with a Fiberglas Mustang body like the car’s. Two tumblers are covered with chicken wire and filled with white sweepstakes forms, one next to the car, the other next to the go-cart. A fat junior high kid sits inside the go-cart with his knees rammed in up to his chest.
Mr. Henley turns around, and Chase leaves his group to give the go-cart a closer look. He finds a stubby pencil next to the entry box, picks up a few sweepstakes forms for the go-cart, and fills in his name and address. Then he writes out one for Larry and stands on his toes to drop it into the tumbler next to the go-cart. He feels a hand on his shoulder and turns around.
“Stay with the group, will you?” Mr. Henley says, then takes the sixth-grade class to the Midway to ride the Texas Tornado and the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Martian Spider. When Chase’s class comes back to Big Tex at noon, the first-grade group is there but Larry isn’t. Larry’s teacher doesn’t seem to notice he’s gone. Chase waits till Mr. Henley looks the other way and goes back to the Midway to look for Larry.
At the freak tent, the hawker stands under the sagging canvas signs and barks at the crowd, “He crawled out of the bayou, and they tried to civilize him. Come see the Alligator Man. Only one dollar.” The opening into the tent is dark, the sawdust scattered onto the ground inside is yellow and damp, and the place smells like a horse stall. Chase doesn’t see Larry and decides not to go in.
After a while he stops looking and watches a kid turn a crank to move a little crane behind a glass box full of pocket radios and watches with plastic wristbands. The crane’s three-fingered hand opens over an imitation survival knife, then jerks and drops and snaps closed around the pile next to the knife. When the kid cranks the crane up, a cast metal car comes up with it, but then the car slips out of the crane’s steel fingers and the kid shouts, “Dad!”
Just then, Chase sees Larry under the striped awning of a tent across the Midway, throwing rings from behind a long table.
“Hey, man, where you been?” Chase says, winded from running through the crowd.
Larry doesn’t look at him but throws a metal ring towards rows of Coke bottles spray-painted blue and red and green. The ring misses the bottles and falls to the concrete floor, spinning to a stop like a mayonnaise lid, Larry kicks the leg of the long table, and the tabletop shivers.
“How much you spent so far?” Chase says, hiking Larry’s drooping bell bottoms up from behind.
“Still got some.”
“I told you not to spend money on this shit,” Chase says.
Larry points at a monkey doll almost as big as he is that grins down from the shelf above the rows of bottles. “Trying to get that,” he says.
“Here, let me give it a try.” Chase buys three rings from a woman with a light gray mustache that curls out over the corners of her mouth. “Which one?” Chase asks her, and she points at the red bottle in the middle. “No sweat,” Chase says.
Twenty minutes later, after he’s already spent most of his five dollars, he’s rung only one bottle, a green one in front. “One more try, man, and that’s it.” He buys his last three rings and hooks one of the blue bottles in the front row.
“Yeah,” Larry says. “More.”
“No, that’s it, that’s all.” Chase turns to the lady with the mustache and asks her, “Okay, so what we get?” She hands him a palm-sized plastic monkey that smokes pin-sized cigarettes.
“What a crock,” he says.
“Yeah,” Larry says.
Chase slips the monkey into his back pocket. “All right, okay, let’s go to the fun house or something. Jesus.”
“Want to go to the freak tent,” Larry says, kicking the table leg again.
“We can’t go there now, man. We just blew all our money. Now, let’s go. And stick with me, will you?”
They thread through the crowd. When Chase gets to the Bavarian Fun House, he looks back to check on Larry, but Larry’s not behind him anymore. Chase hurries to the freak show and sees Larry run behind the tent and slip under one of the tent’s closed flaps. Chase ducks under the rope and slides under the flap himself, then waits for his eyes to get used to the dark, for his nose to get used to the horse-stall smell.
He looks around inside for Larry. In the stall behind the first canvas partition, he sees a goat with gnarled and scabby wings, but the wings looks like they’ve been glued on. Behind the next partition he finds Larry alone, looking up at the Alligator Man.
“I swear to God, man,” Chase says, “I’m going to tear your stupid face off.”
Larry doesn’t look at him. “Doesn’t look like a al-gator.”
Chase looks at the Alligator Man in his dark stall. Half his face hangs over itself in bumpy folds like the deflated moldy grapefruit Chase found in the back of the refrigerator six months after his father left. The Alligator Man reaches a curled hand out of the shadows and scratches himself on the knee. Chase looks away and pulls Larry’s pants up by the beltloops from behind. “Let’s go. It stinks like shit in here.”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
At the Bavarian Fun House, Chase and Larry tumble inside the rolling beer barrels, then wait a long time for the air jets to blow up the girls’ dresses, but no girls in dresses show up. Then they dig around in their pockets and split a foot-long corn dog and a Dr. Pepper with the change they have left over. An hour later, it’s their turn in line for the cable car. The attendant swings a car around and latches the door behind them. They have the car all to themselves.
The car jerks up at an angle, swings back and forth on the steel cable. Larry holds onto the window bars and shouts, “Yeah,” down at the people. Then the car levels off and the wind picks up, and they hang out and look down at the Cotton Bowl and Big Tex and the Midway below.
Chase spits out over the side in a long arc, but his spit scatters in the wind.
“Shit,” he says, “too far down.”
Larry spits over the side, too, and says, “Yeah.”
As the cable car passes over the freak tent below, Chase looks out at the skyline. He spots the Southland Life building downtown, then the winged red horse flying on the scaffolding over the roof of the Mobil building. He points it out to Larry.
“See that red horse over there? That’s where he works.”
Larry looks at him.
“He took us up there one time,” Chase says. “Up to his office. It was up on the 25th floor, I remember. Then he took us up on the roof to see that big red horse. Remember that?”
Larry shakes his head.
“Didn’t think so, man. You were just a kid.”
Larry looks down at the cable car floor. He shuffles his feet and looks at his loafers awhile. The he kicks the cable car door, and the window bars rattle in their frames.
“Hate him,” Larry says. “Hate his guts.” He spits again, but this time the spit dribbles down his chin and onto his shirt. He looks down at the spit on his shirt and wipes at it and smears it all over the front of his shirt with the back of his hand.
“Oh, man,” Chase says. “Here. Come here.” He pulls his handkerchief out of his back pocket and wipes the spit off Larry’s face and shirt. Then he gives Larry his handkerchief and pulls Larry’s bell bottoms up by the beltloops in front. “Jesus, man, can’t you keep your stupid pants up?”
Larry kicks him hard in the shin, then pushes him away.
Chase looks down at his leg, like it belongs to somebody else. Then he looks back at Larry and limps to the other side of the cable car. He bends over to rub his shin and starts to roll his pants leg up to look at the red scraped welt rising on the skin over the bone, but he changes his mind and lets his arms dangle out the side of the cable car instead. He looks down at the crowds of people, at the rows of seats in the Cotton Bowl, at the rows of cars in the parking lots. His leg throbs, and the people below all look like ants, like the people looked on the sidewalks downtown when he looked down with his father from the roof of the Mobil building.
In a while, the cable car passes over the blue water of a long reflecting pool leading to the Exposition Center, and Chase shouts out over the wind, “Hey, man, you guys see that go-cart they got down at the Auto Show?” He looks back at Larry over his shoulder.
Larry shakes his head. The handkerchief is wadded in his mouth.
“It’s cool as shit,” Chase says. “And the car—”
Larry walks up to Chase, pulls the handkerchief out of his mouth, holds it out to him.
“No thanks, man,” Chase says. “You keep it.”
Larry sits on the cable car’s scuffed floor, holds onto his ankles, hugs his knees up against his chest.
“Look,” Chase says, folding his arms against the wind, “he’s not coming back, all right?”
Larry puts his head between his knees and stares down at the toes of his loafers.
“The man’s a jerk. You need to forget about him, okay? All right?”
Larry doesn’t look at Chase. He doesn’t say anything. He rocks himself.
The cable car bumps over the pulley at the top of the last steel pillar and swings in the wind as the car starts down; Chase looks over the side and watches the shadow of the cable car pass over the roof of the Exposition Center. He looks back at Larry.
“Listen, man, I got an idea.”
Hours later, at five-thirty p. m. , long after the school buses have left without them, Chase has already filled out forty sweepstakes forms, and Larry twice that many. Chase stands on a folding metal chair and stuffs all his forms into the slot at the top of the chicken-wire tumbler next to the Shelby Cobra GT. He looks over at the other tumbler and thinks maybe he has time now to fill out a few more forms for the go-cart, maybe one or two for Larry, maybe a few more for himself. Then he sees Larry scribble something onto a blank form and toss it into a pile of forms on the table next to the bandstand.
Chase walks to the table. He picks up one of the sweepstakes forms from Larry’s pile, then another form, and another.
Except for the name Larry, with the r’s reversed, Chase can’t read any of the writing. It’s all loops and spikes, radio waves, lightning bolts, pigs’ tails. He looks at Larry, who’s still writing fast, biting his tongue between his teeth.
“Man, what are you doing?” Chase holds up one of Larry’s forms. “How’s somebody supposed to read this?”
Larry doesn’t look at him. “Don’t know,” he says. “It’s cursive,”
Chase grabs the sleeve of Larry’s sweatshirt and points to the tumbler. “You didn’t put any of these in there, did you?”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
Larry shrugs free of Chase’s grip and lays both hands palm down onto his pile of sweepstakes forms. “These many.”
“Jesus.” Chase sweeps Larry’s pile of forms onto the floor, then prints out his mother’s name and address onto a blank form and holds it out to Larry. “This is how you do it, man. Like this.”
Larry looks at the form but doesn’t take it. He looks down at the forms scattered all over the floor, kicks at them, stands on them, shuffles his feet in them.
Chase grabs Larry hard by the shoulders. “Look, this is important, you understand? If us two don’t get Mom that car, she’ll never get out of bed. You want her to get out of bed, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
“All right, then, here.” Chase hands Larry the form. “Just print. And no cursive, all right?”
Larry picks up a blank form and prints out their mother’s name and address, copying from the form Chase has already filled out for him, curling his tongue up over his lip, taking his time. The r’s are still reversed, but Chase can almost read the writing now.
He looks back at the go-cart for a moment, then at the girl with the shiny legs who can’t stop smiling on the rotating auto display. He takes a stubby new pencil from the box on the table and starts filling out more forms for the Shelby Cobra GT.
An hour later, Chase shakes the cramp out of his hand and watches as the band tunes up. The fiddleplayer taps the microphone and blows into it, then hands it over to the bald emcee.
“All right, folks,” the emcee says, “just a reminder that the drawing tonight is at seven o’clock. That’s just another thirty minutes from now. One other announcement, and then we’ll have us some more music.” The emcee unfolds a piece of paper he’s taken from his coat pocket. “Let’s see here, looks like we’ve got us a couple of missing kids. Chase and Larry Garrett, if you boys are wandering around out there somewhere in the hall, please go to the information booth at the park entrance. The law’s been looking all over for you.” The bald emcee squints out at the audience, then hands the mike back over to the fiddleplayer.
Just then, Chase looks over to see a security guard say something into a walkie-talkie and sidestep through the crowd toward Larry. Chase walks to Larry’s table and takes him by the sleeve.
“Let’s get out of here.”
In the public men’s room, Chase sits on the cold U-shaped seat with his pants down around his ankles. He ducks down to look under the stall partition between him and Larry, and Larry’s feet have disappeared again. Chase pulls his pants up, walks over to the next stall, and opens the stall door. Larry’s standing balanced on the rim of the toilet, unrolling the tissue paper from the dispenser and wrapping it around his head like a turban.
“Man, don’t you ever stop? Get down from there.”
Larry starts to step down, but then his foot slips on the ceramic rim, and a moment later he’s standing with one foot in the toilet bowl, the clear water up to his ankle, the white paper hanging down over his left eye.
“Just sit,” Chase says. “That’s all I’m asking you to do. You don’t have to go or anything. Just sit down till I tell you to get up, okay?”
“Yeah,” Larry says. He pulls his dripping loafer out of the toilet and stomps his shoe on the concrete floor, his foot squelching inside.
After Chase takes a seat on the toilet again, a man opens the plywood door to his stall. The man’s long sleeve is folded in half, safety-pinned to his armless shoulder, and creased flat at the elbow like it’s been ironed. The man looks at Chase a moment, then lets the stall door swing shut. A few minutes later, another man opens the stall door. The skin on his face is knobby like tree bark, pocked and stubbly with wiry black hair. The man smiles at Chase a long time, and his eyes don’t look away. Chase crosses his arms over his bare knees. Then the spring on the stall door sings, and the door claps shut.
When Chase hears one of the men make a coughing grunt, he whispers, “Jesus,” then stands to pull up his pants and walks to one of the sinks along the wall to wash his hands.
“All right, we can go now,” he tells Larry over his shoulder.
He looks up into the long mirror and watches Larry walk down the row of stalls, opening one door after another, letting each one slam shut with a loud pop.
“Cut that out, will you?”Chase says.
Larry doesn’t look at him. When he opens the last stall door, he doesn’t let it go. He looks inside the stall.
Chase turns the crank on the paper towel dispenser but no paper comes out. He slings the water off his hands, wipes his hands on his trousers, then starts for the exit.
“Come on,” he tells Larry. “Let’s get going, man.”
Larry’s still holding open the door to the last stall. His mouth is open a little.
“What?” Chase says. “What are you looking at?”
Just then, the man with the knobby skin looks out past the last stall’s open door, and he runs by Chase, out the men’s room exit. Then the man with the empty sleeve pinned to his shoulder stumbles out the same stall, his shirttail hanging out, a long white banner of tissue paper stuck to the heel of his shoe and streaming along the floor behind him till it catches in the exit door and the man’s gone.
Larry lets go of the stall door and it slaps shut. He looks at Chase, His eyes are big.
“Freak show,” he says.
Chase and Larry shoulder their way through the crowd gathered at the stage.
At one corner of the stage, the fat junior high kid Chase saw earlier watches his father and the security guard each take one end of the go-cart and carry it down the stage steps.
At the opposite corner of the stage, Chase steps up onto one of the stage’s two-by-four crossbraces and leans on his elbows against the stage floor. Larry steps up onto the crossbrace next to him.
“They gave the go-cart away,” Chase says. “Man, what a load.”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
Centerstage, the bald emcee spins the tumbler, and the sweepstakes forms flutter and fall like white birds in a wire cage. The emcee stops the tumbler, turns it over to unlatch the door at the top, then reaches an arm inside, riffles through the jumble of forms with his hand, then pulls out a form and walks up to the mike.
“All right, folks, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The winner of the all new Shelby Cobra GT convertible is—” The band’s drummer starts a roll on his snare. The emcee squints at the form in his palm, holds it up a little closer, and shakes his head. He hands it over to the fiddleplayer, who looks at the form, shakes his head, too, and hands it back to the emcee. The emcee gives the drummer a look behind him, and the drum roll stops.
“We’re sorry about the delay here, folks, but we’re having trouble making out much of this chicken scratching. Must be some kind of practical joke.” The emcee holds the form out for the audience to see. “Looks like we’ll just have to draw again.” The emcee drops the form, which feathers back and forth in the air and settles onto the stage floor.
“Wait,” Chase shouts and pulls himself up onto the stage. He starts for the emcee, who’s already turning the tumbler again, but Larry has Chase by the ankle.
“Want up,” Larry says.
“Stay there,” Chase tell him. “Let go of my leg.”
Larry shakes his head.
“All right. Okay.” Chase takes Larry by the hand and pulls him up onto the stage, then picks up the form the emcee’s dropped onto the stage floor. He looks at the writing—all lightning bolts, radio waves, pigs’ tails—then steps out in front of the emcee, who’s already pulled another form from the tumbler and started for the mike.
“This is my brother’s,” Chase says, blocking the emcee’s way, holding the form up under the emcee’s nose. “He’s the one that wrote this. He’s the one that won that car.”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
The emcee smiles out at the audience and whispers to Chase, “Listen, son, why don’t you and your brother just get down off here? Don’t be a pain in the ass.” He steps around Chase and Larry and strides up to the mike. He glances at the sweepstakes form he’s pulled from the tumbler and starts to speak into the mike again, but this time Chase runs around in front of him and knocks the mike stand to the stage floor.
The microphone bounces, echoing out and feeding back over the public address system. Chase picks up the mike and points over to the Shelby Cobra GT rotating on the auto display next to the stage.
“Listen, man,” he tells the audience, hearing his own strange voice boom out all around him, “that car over there belongs to my brother. Really, it’s for my mom, but she won’t get out of bed.”
Just then the emcee snatches the mike from Chase’s hand and starts to speak, but before he can say anything Larry’s kicked the emcee hard in the shin. The emcee drops the mike onto the stage floor, holds onto his leg, and hops around awhile on the stage. Larry picks up the mike and shouts, “Yeah,” over the loudspeakers, then hands the mike back over to Chase.
But then the security guard has Chase by the waist, has dragged him down the stage steps, is carrying him upside down through the crowd. All Chase can see are hundreds of feet. All he can hear is the hiss of his own blood spilling down into his head.
“No fair,” he shouts out at all the people’s feet. “Hey, man, let me down.”
In the Exposition Center’s main office, the security guard drops Chase onto the reception room couch. The fiddleplayer drops Larry next to him and walks out of the room.
“All right,” the guard says, “what’s you boys’ names?”
Chase tells him.
The guard nods his head, then tells Chase he’s got a phone call to make and leaves the room.
When the guard comes back, Chase hands him the crumpled sweepstakes form with Larry’s scribbling all over it.
“That’s our car,” Chase says. “They’re giving our car away, right now.”
The guard looks at the form awhile, turns it over a few times, grinning. He leaves the room again, and when he comes back a second time a few minutes later, he hands Chase a red plastic snap-together model of a Shelby Cobra GT convertible.
“It’s something anyway,” the guard says.
Chase runs his finger along the stick-on racing stripe that runs over the air scoop on the hood of the plastic car. He finds one corner of the decal, peels it back a little, then presses it back down. He hands the model over to Larry, who spins the front wheels, runs the car along the arm of the couch, then gets down on his knees and pushes the car along the linoleum floor.
“We better get going,” the guard says.
Outside, it’s night already, and Chase sees the lights blinking along the tracks of the Texas Tornado, then hears people scream as the rollercoaster car slows at the top of the high tracks and falls down the steep incline. The guard opens the door to his patrol car, waits until Chase and Larry have gotten into the back seat.
“You taking us to prison?” Chase says as the guard turns the car out of the fair grounds. It’s a dumb thing to ask, he knows, the minute he says it.
“Not this time.” The guard looks back at Chase for a moment, then looks ahead and turns another corner at the end of the block. “Looks like I’m the only one around who can take you boys home. Your mom says she doesn’t have a car.”
Chase looks at the guard, but he can’t think of anything to say back, the man’s so stupid. He glances out the window as the patrol car passes the concrete-block building with the red neon sign that flashes, All Nude Girls. All Nude Girls. Then he looks up at the billboard of Smiling Joe grinning down at him across the street.
In the back seat next to him, Larry runs the model car over the passenger door, then up and across the window glass.
“Roooom,” Larry says.
When the guard’s patrol car pulls up next to the curb, their mother is standing in the front yard with her arms folded. She thanks the guard and waves his car off, then points down the street to the Nelsons’ willow at the street corner.
“Pick yourselves a green one,” she says.
“We won you a car, Mom,” Chase says. “Really. But then they took it away.”
“Yeah,” Larry says.
Their mother takes the model from Larry’s hands and points down the street corner again.
“Now,” she says.
Down the street, standing under the willow’s dangling branches, Larry holds out a switch he’s stripped for Chase to look at. It’s only about three inches long.
“Not good enough,” Chase says, then hands Larry the one he’s stripped for himself. Chase looks back up the street at his mother. Her arms are still folded. Chase reaches up, pulls down another long branch, and breaks it off. It’s too stiff and bumpy, but his mother’s in a hurry, he knows.
“Let’s go,” he tells Larry. “Jesus, man.”
In the house, their mother leads them down the hall to Larry’s room. There aren’t any shoes or shirts or trucks on the floor. The bed’s been made. Their mother takes Larry by the elbow, leads him up to his closet, points at the black bald spot on the shag rug next to the closet door.
“Who did this?” she asks him.
Larry looks down at his loafers.
She looks at Chase. “Who did this?” she asks again.
Chase doesn’t say anything.
“You scared me,” their mother shouts at him all of a sudden, and Chase jumps in his shoes. She waits a moment, breathes out a long sigh, then shouts at Larry, “I thought something might’ve happened to you.”
Chase and Larry stand there awhile, say nothing, wait.
“All right,” she says, “drop your drawers.”
After Chase has stepped out of his skivvies, he grips the switch in his wet fist and stands on his toes a little, thinking about the switch against his ankles. He looks down at himself, hoping she doesn’t hit him there. Then he looks back at his mother, holds his switch out for her to take.
“No,” she says.
She picks up the wastepaper basket next to Larry’s dresser and holds it out in front of Chase.
He looks at her, then down at the wastebasket, and drops his switch inside. He stoops to pick up his skivvies and trousers, steps into them before she can change her mind again.
She holds the basket out for Larry, and he drops his switch in, too. Then she says, “Hold your arms up,” and she helps Larry pull his sweatshirt over his head. “Now, take these nasty jeans to the utility room,” she tells him. “Now.”
Larry picks up his muddy bell bottoms and runs naked out of his room. Their mother puts the Shelby Cobra GT model on top of Larry’s dresser. She looks at Chase.
“I’ve not been very—” she says but doesn’t finish. “I bet you’re hungry,” she says. “Listen, are you hungry?”
Thirty minutes later, Chase walks by Larry’s room and sees Larry standing by his dresser, looking at the plastic photo I.D. their father used to clip onto his shirt pocket each morning before he went to work.
In the kitchen down the hall, their mother is pan-frying pork chops, sitting on a barstool next to the stove, talking to somebody on the phone. “No, Jacob,” she says, “I don’t need a restraining order. I need my car. The bastard took my car.”
When Larry sees Chase watching him from the hallway, Chase walks into his room, picks up the wastepaper basket next to Larry’s dresser, and holds it out.
Larry looks a moment at the two switches sticking out of the basket, then drops the I.D. inside. Then he takes his Creature of the Black Lagoon model down from his dresser and shakes it in front of Chase’s nose.
“Arrgggghhh,” Larry says.
Chase takes the Shelby Cobra GT model down from Larry’s dresser, turns it over a few times to look at it, then puts it back up.
He sits lopsided on Larry’s bed, stands back up to look at what he’s sat on but sees nothing there on the bedspread. Then he reaches back into his hip pocket and takes out the plastic monkey he won at the fair. Its belly is smashed in a little, but otherwise it looks all right.
He stands the monkey up in the front seat of the Shelby Cobra GT model on Larry’s dresser, stands back to look at it. “I wonder if this stupid thing really smokes.” Chase pulls out one of the pin-sized cigarettes taped to the monkey’s backside and sticks it into the monkey’s mouth.
He and Larry both wait, but no smoke comes out.
“Man, what a load,” Chase says.
“Yeah,” Larry says.
Chase looks at his brother. “Anyway, least she didn’t whack us.”
“Least she got out of bed.”
“Yeah,” Larry says. At that moment, the monkey blows out a tiny puff of smoke.