Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Cathy S. Ulrich


Cowboy’s got murder on his mind. It swims round in there like a little fish.

He’s been like that since birth, says his momma. Born that way. Looked up at me with those mean little eyes, and I knew.

She’s always preferred Cowboy’s younger brother, sweet and slow.

Cowboy’s girlfriend, though, likes Cowboy best of all.

You ain’t so mean, she says when he’s kissing her in his pickup truck. They sit in the driveway and wait for the lights to come on in her house. Sometimes she lets Cowboy get his hands under her shirt. She likes the roughness of them against her tender skin, rubbing her own hands along her body in her oatmeal bath. When she was a girl, she took bubble baths, but she likes the way the oatmeal makes her skin smooth, and her father, knocking on the door: Come on out of there, Lily Sue.

In a minute, she calls to her father, in a minute, and she steps out of the bathtub and admires her naked body in the mirror, pink from her bath. Her father hasn’t seen her bare since she was an infant, and there is only a door between them.

Cowboy isn’t patient enough for baths; prefers showers, in and out, but his brother still gets baths from their momma, splashing water and playing peek-a-boo with Cowboy’s washcloth. He’s taller than Cowboy, and fatter, like an overgrown baby, and Cowboy says he’s the only thing in this world he’ll ever love.

What about me? says Lily Sue, pouting in the pickup truck seat, arms folded across her chest. Don’t you love me?

She wants Cowboy to take her to the homecoming dance, and she’ll wear a baby pink dress and her hair in an updo so Cowboy can unpin it later, in his pickup truck, where all of the romantic things in her life have occurred.

I’m not going back there, says Cowboy, who got kicked out of school for busting up some kid’s face for making fun of his little brother. Lily Sue would like for his fists to be for her, and daydreams about him walloping the boy in her social studies class that keeps snapping her bra.

Wallop him yourself, says Cowboy.

Girls ain’t supposed to, sighs Lily Sue. You know that.

While Lily Sue’s at school, Cowboy’s working down at the gas station, wiping off car windshields and smiling at people for fat tips.

Wipe the side windows too, say the ladies his momma’s age. Wipe slow.

Cowboy makes the rag go round and round on the windows, and the ladies sigh in a satisfied way.

Yes, they say, just like that.

Lily Sue’s own momma is one of them ladies having Cowboy wipe the windows on her car, real slow and circular, and watch out for the Mary Kay sticker on the back; it’s starting to peel.

Your boyfriend’s got a sweet little ass, she tells her daughter.

I’m not so old I can’t look, she says when Lily Sue complains. It’s all right to look.

All the ladies in their cars are looking. Cowboy knows it. Lily Sue knows it too, and the way the ladies say to her momma: That boy’ll never come to no good. It doesn’t stop them looking. And her mother looking now, out the front window, woken by the rattling of Cowboy’s truck, flicking on the entry lights.

Take me to homecoming, says Lily Sue. Take me to homecoming, and she’ll let him pull the pins out from her hair and slip the baby pink dress off her body, right there in her parents’ own driveway. And after that, they could run off together, like Bonnie and Clyde, and Cowboy would love her, only her.

It has to be you, says Lily Sue, you and nobody else, but Cowboy’s not even listening to her, turning the dial on the radio, waiting for her to get on out of his car.

I let your brother kiss me once, Lily Sue declares desperately.

Cowboy only shrugs. I know. He told me.

Oh, I hate you, sobs Lily Sue, oh, I hate you.

She did kiss Cowboy’s brother, or let him kiss her: Lily Sue stuck eating with him at lunch, now that Cowboy’s not in school anymore, someone’s got to do it, and the brother looking at her the way the ladies in their cars look at Cowboy.

You like me, don’t you, said Lily Sue silkily, and the brother’s head bobbed up and down. Like a puppy, she thought, and dragged him out of the lunchroom and into an empty classroom.

You can if you want to, she said, kiss me. You seen me kissing Cowboy, right? Like that.

The brother kissed her sloppily, and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut and thought how, if she married Cowboy, once his momma died, she’d be the one stuck washing the brother, and she accidentally bit down on his lip.

Don’t tell, said Lily Sue, never tell, but she thought he probably would, and Cowboy would be angry with her, or angry with his brother, but he just keeps turning the knob on the radio.

Are you about done? he says, and Lily Sue starts slapping at him and tugging on his hair, and he just sits there and takes it till she’s worn herself out, sobbing weakly.

There, he says. Now your parents’ll think I made you cry.

They won’t care, says Lily Sue. They won’t care and you don’t care.

No, agrees Cowboy, smiling grimly. I don’t.

I could do better, says Lily Sue. I could do better than you.

And Cowboy laughs, and Cowboy looks at her with those mean eyes of his, and Cowboy has never loved her, not even for a moment, and he says: You go on, then, and try.


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