Issue 82, Winter 1981
Willie and Liberty broke into a house on Crab Key and lived there for a week. Crab Key was tiny and exclusive, belonging to an association which had armed security patrol. The houses on Crab Key were owned by people so wealthy that they were hardly ever there. They were elsewhere.
Liberty and Willie saw the guard daily. He was an old, lonely man, rather glossy and puffed up, his jaw puckered in and his chest puffed out like a child concentrating on making a muscle. He told Willie he had a cancer but that grapefruit was curing it. Willie and Liberty must have reminded him of people be knew, people who must have looked appropriate living in a $300,000 cypress villa on the beach. He thought they were guests of the owners.
Willie did have a look to him. People would babble on to Willie as though in his implacability they would find their grace. Liberty couldn’t understand it herself. Willie’s detail was gone. He had a closed sleek face which did not transmit impressions. He was tight as a jar of jam. People were crazy about Willie.
“If I were young, I wouldn’t be here,” the guard said. “The big show is definitely not way out here.’’
“The big show is in our heads,’’ Willie said. Willie and the guard got along famously.
In the house, Clem was lying before the sliding glass doors, his breath making small parachuting souls on the glass. Clem was Liberty’s dog, a big white Alsatian with one blind eye. His good eye was open, watching his vacation.
The guard said, “You know, I’ll tell you, my name is Turnupseed.”
“Glad to know you,” Willie said.
“That name mean nothing to you?”
“I don’t believe it does,” Willie said.
The guard shook his head back and forth, back and forth.
“How quickly they forget,’’ he said to an imaginary person on his right.
Liberty said nothing. She supposed they were about to be arrested. She and Willie were young, but they had been breaking into other people’s houses for many years now. They were bound to get arrested someday.
“My nephew Donald Gene Turnupseed killed Jimmy Dean. You know, his car ran into Jimmy Dean’s car.”
“Well,” Willie said, “1955.”
“It seems like a long time ago, but I don’t see what difference that makes.” Turnupseed said. “We are talking about something immortal here. Young girls have made a cult of Dean even though he was a faggot,”
“Life is not a masterpiece,” Willie agreed.
“Life is a damn mess,” the guard said. He seemed genuinely outraged.
Turnupseed enjoyed cooking. In inclement weather, he could be seen sitting in his patrol car reading cookbooks. He loved reading cookbooks. He and Willie would speak with fervor about chili and cassoulets and pineapple glazed yams and pastry sucrée.
“Your wife looks sad,” Turnupseed said to Willie. “Has she had a loss recently?”
“She’s just one of those wives,” Willie said.
“What do women want, let me ask you that,” Turnupseed said. “My last two wives always maintained they were miserable even though they had every distraction and convenience. Number Two had a four-wheel drive vehicle with a personalized license plate. Every week she’d have her hair done. She died of a stroke, at the beauty shop, under the dryer.”
“Liberty isn’t distracted easily,” Willie said.
“What would our lives be without our distractions,” Turnupseed said, “that’s the question.”
The house that Liberty and Willie had taken as their own was simple and soaring, but it was cluttered within. The owners seemed to possess everything in triplicate except for reading material. The only thing to read was a newspaper seven weeks old. Liberty kept glancing at it. There were two items of considerable interest, she thought.
One was an article about trees. It said that each person in the world needs all the oxygen produced in a year by a tree with 30,000 leaves.
The other item was about babies. A nurse had made the first error. She had mixed up two newborn babies and given them to the wrong mother for nursing. A second nurse on a different shift switched them back again. The first nurse, realizing her initial error, switched them a third time, switched the little plastic bracelets on their chubby wrists, switched the coded scribbled plastic inserts on their rolling baskets. At this point, the situation had become hopelessly scrambled. Three days passed. The mothers went home with the wrong babies. This was not a Prince and Pauper type story. Both mothers had nice homes and fathers and siblings for the baby. Four months later, the hospital called and told the mothers that they had the wrong babies. They had proof. Toe prints and blood types. Chemical proof. They had done the things professionals do to prove that a person is the person he is supposed to be. The mothers were hysterical. They had fallen in love with the wrong baby and now they didn’t want to give their wrong baby up. But apparently it had to be done. It seemed to be the law.