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¦alLan NeIJk: a nû\/el excerpí 5rad Watson In a dense patch of palmettos about ten yards off the nature trail, she lay still and stared up at the broad, blue April sky. A Gulf breeze swayed the high tufts of thin longleaf pines, rustled through the small hard leaves of gnarly dwarf oaks, through the long grasses and cattails, clacked the palmetto fronds. Across the glinting lagoon, sand skittered grain by grain over little green pads of milkwort in the striated shadows of sea oats. Beyond the tall, broad, hoary dunes, surf popped and crushed on the beach's gentle slope, but she could not see or hear it. Well, she would never see or hear it again. She must have been there earlier, though, judging by the sand between her crimped toes, and the skimpy flowered swimsuit she wore, a suit for a younger, more shapely woman. She wasn't homely or ugly, just not as pretty as she must once have been. Her skin looked tired, a little weather-worn, a sallowness her tan didn't quite disguise. Her mouth had begun to pinch up a bit. Her nose a little veiny, red. You'd almost mistake the small black hole in her forehead for a browsing insect or a tiny smudge. The wound on her shoulder, gnawed tentatively by some small animal, blood congealed and darkening, would be somehow more disturbing at first, until the notion of what must be wrong here began to sink in. Hard to tell about her age, seeing her like this. She was one of those people anywhere between thirty-two and fifty. You just guessed she probably lived it hard. She looked stunned, now, by its swift departure, hard pale-blue eyes staring up at the scarcely drifting horsetail clouds that resembled the kind of hairpiece girls wore in the sixties, when she'd have first dreamed of dating boys from the high school, the older boys who populated her fantasies of being older, freed from the humiliation of being a powerless, sexless child. She would have shadowed them already by the time she was twelve, younger than the other bad girls but bolder, too, and that only made her more attractive, dangerous . She was maybe a girl who would act on a dare. A wild girl who'd 86 Brad Watson reach out the window of the car and snatch a flying bug from the air and put her little buzzing fist, with its ragged chewed nails at the ends of little soiled fingers, right up to your ear. She'd put her tongue in your ear while you were driving seventy on a two-lane. Her tongue in your ear and her hand on your cock, daring you to leave the road at high speed. A fall. That's what they called the hairpiece back then. Pinned it on their crowns and let the long lock pooch up and fall away down the back. She'd sat on the bed in the room she and her mother shared at grandmama's house and watched her mother pin one to the top of her head, poof it up, turn her head this way and that in the mirror to check it out. And then pecked her on the cheek and left with that man, whose name was Porter something. Longest date she'd ever heard of. A postcard arrived from Missouri, a snapshot from Oklahoma, twenty dollars from some little town in Washington state. She sent a finger-length lock of her hair. Some fingernail clippings, for some odd reason, faded red, hard and dry thick crescents. Her Alabama driver's license, expired. Good riddance, her grandmother finally said one night, tired of hearing Nellie cry. Get her out of your system like a piece of bad meat, she's my child but was never any good, we're better off this way, just think of me as your mama and grandmama, too, I ain't going nowhere, I'm tough as an old pine knot, I am. Grandmama didn't turn on her or give up when she started acting just like her mama had, going wild with...


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pp. 86-90
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