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• Chapter Three Jackson July 5–11 Somebody shook her. “Leave me alone.” “Sissy. Sissy. Wake up. You’re home.” She was cramped on the passenger side of Clayton’s front seat while Sonny stood outside with the door open, poking a finger into her ribs. She hauled herself upright. Sonny kept poking. “Stop it. I’m awake.” The sun, just above the horizon, shone through the tree branches that reached over the street in front of her house, lighting up the weeds that grew in most of the ditches next to the graveled street. It was too­ early for people to be up. She pushed her hair out of her eyes. Her head hurt. She didn’t drink much when she was playing, but afterward she usually drank a couple of beers. Last night she’d had more than a couple. “Come on, Sissy,” Clayton nudged her from the other side. “I gotta get home to my kids.” “Yeah. All right. Get out of the way, Sonny.” He moved aside with one of those swooping motions of his arms like he was welcoming royalty. He had never had a hangover in his life. Sissy opened the back door and got out her Gibson. As she started slogging up the steep driveway to the back door, Clayton yelled after her. “Practice on Wednesday!” She didn’t look back. The neighbor’s half cocker spaniel, half everything dog leaped at the fence barking and snarling, as he had done for the past five years. Taffy hated everyone. When he was a fluffball puppy, Sissy had tried to make friends with him, but he didn’t need friends, only a psychopathic need to bark and growl. The back door to the kitchen opened with a rattle. In the yellow light reflected off the walls, she stood a minute inhaling good home smells. 28 Chapter Three Her dad sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette while a pot of chili simmered on the stove with a big black cast-iron skillet next to it, a bowl of pancake batter on the countertop. “Hey, Sissy,” her dad said, motioning to a chair at the table. “I’m fixing breakfast.” Every Sunday morning for the thirty years her parents had been married , her father got up first and made breakfast so her mother could sleep in this one morning. Since they almost always made chili on Saturday night no matter the season, breakfast was pancakes topped with warmedover chili. This wasn’t Sunday morning, but Sissy’s mom had made chili last night for the Fourth of July, even though it was only Friday. She put her guitar in the hall next to the kitchen, poured a cup of strong coffee into a battered old blue ceramic mug and sat down. “You look like you been shot at and missed and shit at and hit,” he said with that little grin turning up the corners of his mouth. He was wearing his weekend clothes: pin-striped blue overalls over a wife beater undershirt and moccasins. “I’m glad to know that,” she said, taking short sips of the hot coffee. “Hard night?” She sighed. “About the usual. Pretty decent rodeo. A lot of drunks at the bar. Somebody started throwing beer bottles right at the last. Clayton says we aren’t playing there anymore unless Harley puts some chicken wire around the stage.” She rubbed her temples between a thumb and forefinger. Her father got up and drew a glass of water and put the water and a bottle of aspirin on the table between them. She gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks.” “Sissy, what are you going to do?” She swallowed a couple of pills and followed up with half the glass of water. Her dad turned on the heat under the skillet and gave the steaming chili a stir. “About what?” He raised his eyebrows and lowered his chin at her. “About what?” He held the bowl of pancake batter in the crook of his arm, beating the batter with a long-handled wooden spoon, making a womp-wompwomp sound that Sissy associated with Sunday mornings, with hot food and comfort. “I don’t know,” she said. Jackson 29 “Sissy, I know you want to go on in school. I want you to do that. I know how to wipe the blood off a skinned knee. I can listen to you cry when you can’t figure out how to...


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