They haggled out the terms.
“You know I like to go fishing,” Ten said, “at least once a week. I do not like to work indoors. I won’t make much money.”
“Well, but I like to have nice things.”
“And I understand that, Joley, and you’ll have as good as I can provide you with, but you’ll also just have to be reasonable.”
Joley sipped her beer. The night felt oily, cold and good, on her bare arms.
“Where’ll we live?”
Ten dug a thumbnail into the pop tab of a Busch can. The white spray flew up at Joley. She receded, blinking in outrage her eyelashes now dewed with shattered foam; Ten snickered.
“What’s wrong with my place, the one I got now?” Ten asked.
Joley bugged her eyes and slumped accusingly.
“Ten,” she said. “It’s a dirty, single-wide trailerhouse. It’s falling apart. There’s a big hole right in the middle of the living room floor. Nuh-uh.”
Ten shrugged. “All right. We’ll move.”
“As soon’s you get moved in with me, we’ll move.”
“Why do we have to wait until then to move? That’s moving twice.”
“Because,” Ten said. “Married people move together.”
The real truth was that in his heart, and for years, Ten had imagined the entry into his marriage house as a romantic thing. Drinking beer all day, hauling boxes with his shirt off. Cussing and farting around, laughing with his friends, who’d help him out. Taking breaks to eat delivery pizza—standing up, no napkins—while his pretty wife stayed in the house, unloading and organizing the marital estate. She’d wear a sundress, order the pizza, go on the beer runs–and when they were done for the day, she’d sit on his lap on a chair in the lawn and listen to his buddies’ stories and laugh at his jokes, at his own stories. Laugh when he and his friends started play-wrestling late at night, when the beer got ahold of them. Then she’d drag him into the house by the buckle of his belt while the boys hollered and catcalled from the circle of lawn chairs. Tickling his belly with her fingers, kissing him, loving him, holding him, sending fire through his brains–and she’d fall asleep and he’d go back outside to continue drinking beer, and the boys would roll their eyes and make their bawdy comments, and she’d be waiting in bed for him when he returned at dawn. That’s how he’d always seen it.
“But I’ll have to move once,” Joley said, “then move again.”
“Hon, we can’t get married and you still be living with your parents. Not even for a little while.”
“Dammit Joley, there’s just a way things are.”
Joley’s mother, Larissa, encouraged the marriage.
“He’s just so good-lookin’,” she said.
“You two’d have such good-lookin’ babies.”
“Mama! Do you like Ten, Daddy?”
“Sure I do,” her father said. He was reading a Playboy magazine at the kitchen table. He was happy at the prospect of getting Joley out of his house: the grocery bill, the phone bill, the gas bill, her car payments, insurance, her clothes …
Ten’s full name was Brandon Mustang Bass. He was the tenth child of Penelope Ruth Bass and Chason Bass, Jr.
The bobber hit the pond and made a thwock sound like a tennis ball.
“Good lay,” Jason said.
“That’s what they tell me,” Ten said.
They sat in Jason’s dad’s motorboat on swivelchairs that went the full three-sixty, on seat-cushions that wheezed and dripped old water. The pond’s surface was peaceful and reflected the sun and the image of the boat. They drank beer for three hours without saying hardly a word, without catching a fish, each silently withdrawing his line from the water and replacing the dead or mangled or escaped minnows out of the tin bucket sitting between them at their feet.
Beery, contemplative, half-jubilant from a day of rest and perfected desire, Jason opened the talks.
“You gonna marry Joley Scudder?”
There came a long pause while Ten cleared out his throat.
“Yeah I believe I will.”
“You love her?”
“Yep I think I do.”
“Well. I see that.”
Jason now paused. He watched the pond face shudder.
“She’s got her that sweet little rear-end now.”
The night fell and they returned to the shore and became like wild hogs: snorting, barking, pounding the earth in search of what fueled them.
There was a rickety church in Red Oak, Oklahoma where Joley’s mother had learned the manners of Christian living. The crowd who gathered inside its wood-paneled walls to serve as witnesses to the Scudder-Bass Wedding were, by and large, sunburnt, for they were a youthful crowd, and there had been a joint bachelor-bachelorette party held on the beach at Sardis Lake twenty-four hours earlier. They did things to each other at that party you’d never believe. There were seventeen girls there, and four of them got pregnant. That party had a pregnancy rate.
So everyone was sunburnt and hanged over—all with nagging senses of shame at being in church after what they’d done the day before—and the fabric of rented tuxedos and rented dresses scratched at the burned and waterless flesh of the young. The wedding went by in a shout. The principals blew all the big lines.
When it was done, the kids stripped out into play clothes, gobbled up barbecue brisket and wedding cake, got drunk, and resumed the fornicative spirit.
Joley woke the next morning in a hotel near Fort Smith, Arkansas, her new husband naked beside her under the stiff hotel sheets. She explored his bones and cartilage until he waked up. They showered together, dressed, and went out to the mall. He bought her a bottle of perfume and a pair of sandals, a cassette tape of Garth Brooks’s Ropin’ the Wind, a Mexican food lunch, two dresses, and a ticket to see A League of their Own. She cried and cried against his shoulder during the last fifteen minutes of the show.
Ten Bass had four hundred dollars hidden in the only book he owned, a copy of The Book of Mormon he’d ordered free from the LDS church when he was sixteen, understanding it to be a kind of western starring Jesus Christ and featuring Indians.
Joley Bass had no idea this was the extent of her new marital estate. She carried into Ten’s decrepit trailerhouse a set of pink luggage filled up with dresses, panties, trinkets, County Fair ribbons, stuffed animals, a denim-jacketed Bible, all of her makeup, and one large magnification mirror. She never even unpacked all the way. They were there together four months when she ran out one night, after a fight over how to slice onions.
“What the fuckin’ hell does it matter?”
“You’re stupid as shit, just stupid as shit.”
“You’re a dumb bitch. God!”
“Why wouldn’t you do it that way?”
“Because it DOESN’T MATTER!”
“YES IT DOES!”
“NO IT DOESN’T!”
“YES IT DOES!”
Ten had severed the ends, peeled the skin, and set the onion on the flat side for bisection.
“That’s against the grain,” Joley had pointed out
“You don’t need to cut it against the grain like that. You need to cut it with the grain.”
“Yes it does.”
“Yes, it does.”
“It really doesn’t.”
And so on. And so forth.
Joley was bawling when she slammed the trailer door and bawled as she walked the half-mile through town, from the bare lot of scrub grasses where Ten kept his trailer, to the home shared by her high school friend Margie Diller and Margie’s husband, Phil.
Phil stirred a pot of pinto beans while Margie sat on the couch, holding Joley around the shoulders.
“I just want to go out tonight and have fun and FORGET him,” Joley said.
Margie sneaked a look back at Phil.
“It’s all right with me,” Phil said. He just wanted to eat his beans and watch his TV in peace for once.
They got ready using Margie’s makeup and left the house at eight-thirty in a wake of hairspray fumes. They bought a bottle of Everclear from the liquor store and two extra-large fountain drink Dr. Peppers from the convenience store. They drove back and forth through town. They rolled the windows down and sang along with the radio.
Casey Green and Shane Lawson were two young men who’d grown up in Talihina but had left for the oil fields. They were just home that night to get laundry done and visit their folks. They were sitting in the grocery store parking lot with a pint of rye whisky on shares when they noticed Phil and Margie’s car. They saw the women through the rolled-down window, singing their lungs out and bouncing in the seats.
Casey started up the motor and handed over the whisky.
They trailed the girls to the north end of town. Margie hooked Phil’s car around the marquee-stand of the Circle H Restaurant. They were idling there when Shane and Casey pulled up beside them.
“Hey!” Casey yelled out, elbow on the door.
Shane leaned over from the shotgun seat, to let the girls appreciate their numbers.
Ten heated up a can of black beans and a can of Ranch Style pinto beans and ate them using slices of white onion like spooning chips. He didn’t know where Joley was, and he didn’t give three shits on a slaughterhouse floor. He listened to baseball on the radio and went to bed.
Joley stank of curdled hairspray, liquor, beer, sweat, smoke, dirt (from a fall on her ass in a watershed pasture), dry, mingled venereal fluids and fading perfume; her breath was chunky from all of the above, and from having not brushed her teeth after three hours of sleep in the cab of Casey’s pickup truck, and then from having eaten a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for breakfast. She had chewed up all her lipstick. She’d wrinkled her clothes. She could not have answered with definitiveness which of the two men had put her arms and legs akimbo with hasty leverage in the pickup truck’s front seat. Margie dropped her at the curb near Ten’s trailerhouse and pulled away, off to give her own dark accountings.
Joley limped up the rusty stairs (she’d twisted her ankle somehow) and went inside.
The living room air was stale, the morning sun gray and broken. She stood there a second, letting all the lights adjust.
Suddenly, she heard a brief whistle and a loud thunk. She flinched and saw an arrow in the wall behind her. It thrummed at the fletching, like a shook pencil.
Ten sat on a footstool in the corner—his face pale, his body shivering. He was holding a crossbow.
“Get right the fuck out of here,” he said.
He stood and reached for the pile of arrows at his feet.
“Get out,” he said. His voice lifted and rolled, mad and grave.
He squatted and fumbled for an arrow and Joley was out the door, screaming like an ambulance.
Ten paid a three hundred dollar fine and moved to Ada, Oklahoma. He lived there for the next four years, working construction. Joley went back to her parents, and her father watched his monthly overhead rise like a mercury thermometer on a hot afternoon.
There was almost no sun left in the day, just a little orange leafing out by the horizon, reflected in the water like night’s afterthought, a burn of color to set off the vast and glasslike darkness of the lake.
Ten and Jason sat in the boat. They kicked a beer can every time they moved their feet, they were that drunk.
“Herrnnh!” Ten said, before a loud and difficult fart plopped out his backside.
“I second that ee-motion,” Jason said, and copied Ten.
The grass on the bank sizzled with the mating calls, conversation, gossip and war cries of the wetland insects. The air was so clean, so cool and aromatic, it touched their nostrils and lips like fingers made of camphor. Fireflies were starting up. The balding sky laid bare a crown of stars, hitched together by purple space.
“You ever feel,” Ten asked, “like there’s jus’ somethin’ wrong with bein’ a man these days?”
“If you’re gonna ask me,” Jason said, “to do that thing, the … the what’s it called … that … choppin’ off people’s dicks thing … what’s it called?”
“If you’re gonna ask me to castrate you, so you can live out your lifelong dream of bein’ a woman, with a vagina and all—well then, you know I’d do it for you, man. I’d do anything for you.”
Jason stretched out his leg and reached for his pocketknife.
“Give me a second here.”