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Authors: George Saunders

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BOOK: Pastoralia
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He wondered how Miss Hacienda would look in a silver bikini in slow motion. Although if she was knocked up she shouldn’t be riding a horse. She should be sitting down, taking it easy. Somebody should be bringing her a cup of tea. She should move in with him and Ma. He wouldn’t rub it in that she was knocked up. He’d be loving about it. He’d be a good friend to her and wouldn’t even try to screw her, and pretty soon she’d start wondering why not and start really wanting him. He’d be her labor coach and cheerfully change diapers in the wee hours and finally when she’d lost all the weight she’d come to his bed and screw his brains out in gratitude, after which he’d have a meditative smoke by the window and decide to marry her. He nearly got tears in his eyes thinking of how she’d get tears in her eyes as he went down on one knee to pop the question, a nice touch the dolt who’d knocked her up wouldn’t have thought of in a million years, the nimrod, and that SOB could drive by as often as he wanted, deeply regretting his foolishness as the baby frolicked in the yard, it was too late, they were a family, and nothing would ever break them up.

But he’d have to remember to stick a towel under the
door while meditatively smoking or Ma would have a cow, because after he smoked she always claimed everything smelled like smoke, and made him wash every piece of clothing in the house. And they’d better screw quietly if they weren’t married, because Ma was old-fashioned. It was sort of a pain living with Ma. But Miss Hacienda had better be prepared to tolerate Ma, who was actually pretty good company when she stayed on her meds, and so what if she was nearly eighty and went around the house flossing in her bra? It was her damn house. He’d better never hear Miss Hacienda say a word against Ma, who’d paid his way through barber college, like for example asking why Ma had thick sprays of gray hair growing out of her ears, because that would kill Ma, who was always reminding the gas man she’d been a dish in high school. How would Miss Hacienda like it if after a lifetime of hard work she got wrinkled and forgetful and some knocked-up slut dressed like a Mexican cowgirl moved in and started complaining about her ear hair? Who did Miss Hacienda think she was, the Queen of Sheba? She could go into labor in the damn Episcopal church for all he cared, he’d keep wanking it in the pantry on the little milking stool for the rest of his life before he’d let Ma be hurt, and that was final.

As Miss Hacienda came out of the church she saw a thick-waisted, beak-nosed, middle-aged man rise angrily from a wooden bench and stomp into Mickey’s Hairport, slamming the door behind him.

2.

Next morning Ma wanted an omelet. When he said he was running late she said never mind in a tone that made it clear she was going to accidentally/on purpose burn herself again while ostensibly making her own omelet. So he made the omelet. When he asked was it good, she said it was fine, which meant it was bad and he had to make pancakes. So he made pancakes. Then he kissed her cheek and flew out the door, very very late for Driving School.

Driving School was being held in what had been a trendy office park in the Carter years and was now a flat white overgrown stucco bunker with tinted windows and a towable signboard that said:
Dirving School
. Inside was a conference table that filled most of a room that smelled like a conference table sitting in direct sunlight with some spilled burned coffee on it.

“Latecomers will be beaten,” said the Driving School instructor.

“Sorry,” said the barber.

“Joking!” said the instructor, thrusting a disorderly wad of handouts at the barber, who was trying to get his clipons off. “What I was just saying was that, our aim is, we’re going to be looking at some things or aspects, in terms of driving? Meaning safety, meaning, is speeding something we do in a vacuum, or could it involve a pedestrian or fatality or a family out for a fun drive, and then here you come, speeding, with the safety or destiny of that family not held
firmly in your mind, and what happens next? Who knows?”

“A crash?” said someone.

“An accident?” said someone else.

“Crash or accident both could,” said the instructor. “Either one might or may. Because I’ve seen, in my CPR role, as a paramedic, when many times, and I’m sorry if you find this gross or too much, I’ve had to sit in our rescue vehicle with a cut-off arm or hand, even of a kid, a really small arm or even limb, just weeping as if I hadn’t been thoroughly trained, as I know none of you have, but I have, and why was I holding that small arm or limb and bawling? Because of someone like you yourselves, good people, I know you are, I’m not saying that, but you decided what? What did you decide? Or they. That person who cut off that kid’s arm I was carrying that day I was just saying?”

No one knew.

“They decided to speed is what you did,” said the instructor sadly, with pity for both the armless child and the otherwise good people who on that fateful day had decided to speed, and now sat before him, lives ruined.

“I didn’t hit nobody,” said a girl in a T-shirt that said
Buggin’
. “Cop just stopped me.”

“But I’m talking the possibility aspect?” the instructor said kindly. “I’m talking what happens if you walk away from here a man or woman not changed in her thought patterns by the material I’m about to present you in terms of the visuals and graphics? Which some of the things are crashes and some are working wounds I myself have personally
dressed and some are wounds we downloaded off the Internet so you could have a chance to see wounds that are national? Because why? Because consequences. Because are we on this earth or an island?”

“Oh,” said the Buggin’ girl, who now seemed chastened and convinced.

Outside the tinted window were a little forest and a stream and an insurance agency and a FedEx drop-off tilted by some pipeline digging. There were six students. One was the barber. One was a country boy with a briefcase, who took laborious notes and kept asking questions with a furrowed brow, as if, having been caught speeding, he was now considering a career in law enforcement. Did radar work via sonar beams? How snotty did someone have to get before you could stun them with your stun gun? Next to the country boy was the Buggin’ girl. Next to the Buggin’ girl was a very very happy crew-cut older man in a cowboy shirt and bolo tie who laughed at everything and seemed to consider it a great privilege to be here at the Dirving School on this particular day with this particular bunch of excellent people, and who by the end of the session had proposed holding a monthly barbecue at his place so they wouldn’t lose touch. Across the table from the Happy Man was a white-haired woman about the barber’s age, who kept making sly references to films and books the barber had never heard of and rolling her eyes at things the instructor said, while writing
Help Me!
and
Beam Me Up!
on her notepad and shoving it across the table for the Happy Man to read, which seemed to make the Happy Man uncomfortable.

Next to the white-haired woman was a pretty girl. A very pretty girl. Wow. One of the prettiest girls the barber had ever seen. Boy was she pretty. Her hair was crimped and waist-length and her eyes were doelike and Egyptian and about her there was a sincerity and intelligence that made it hard for him to look away. She certainly looked out of place here at the conference table, with one hand before her in a strip of sunlight that shone on a very pretty turquoise ring that seemed to confirm her as someone exotic and darkish and schooled in things Eastern, someone you could easily imagine making love to on a barge on the Nile, say, surrounded by thousands of candles that smelled weird, or come to think of it maybe she was American Indian, and he saw her standing at the door of a tipi wearing that same sincere and intelligent expression as he came home from the hunt with a long string of dead rabbits, having been accepted into the tribe at her request after killing a cute white rabbit publicly to prove he was a man of the woods, or actually they had let him skip the rabbit part because he had spoken to them so frankly about the white man’s deviousness and given them secret information about an important fort after first making them promise not to kill any women or children. He pictured one of the braves saying to her, as she rubbed two corncobs together in the dying sunlight near a spectacular mesa, that she was lucky to have the barber, who had powerful medicine in terms of being a powerful medicine man, and silently she smiled, rubbing the corncobs together perhaps a little faster, remembering the barber naked in their tipi,
although on closer inspection it appeared she was actually probably Italian.

The girl looked up and caught him staring at her. He dropped his eyes and began leafing through his course materials.

After a number of slides of terrible wounds, the instructor asked did anyone know how many g’s a person pulled when he or she went through a windshield at eighty miles per after hitting a bridge abutment or cow. No one knew. The instructor said quite a few. The Happy Man said he’d had a feeling it was quite a few, which was why, wasn’t it, that people died? The instructor said either that or flying debris or having one’s torso absolutely crushed.

“I guess that would do it,” said the Happy Man, grinning.

“So what’s my point?” the instructor said, pointing with his pointer to an overhead of a cartoon man driving a little car toward a tombstone while talking gaily on a car phone. “Say we’re feeling good, very good, or bad, which is the opposite, say we’ve just had a death or a promotion or the birth of a child or a fight with our wife or spouse, but my point is, we’re experiencing an emotional peak? Because what we then maybe forget, whether happy or fighting or sad or glad, whatever, is that two tons of car is what, is the thing you are in, inside of, driving, and I hope not speeding or otherwise, although for the sake of this pretend example I’m afraid we have to assume yes, you are, which is how this next bad graphic occurs.”

Now on the overhead the cartoon man’s body parts
were scattered and his car phone was flying up to heaven on little angel wings. The barber looked at the pretty girl again. She smiled at him. His heart began to race. This never happened. They never smiled back. Well, she was young. Maybe she didn’t know better than to smile back at an older guy you didn’t want. Or maybe she wanted him. It was possible. Maybe she’d had it with young horny guys just out for quick rolls in the hay. Maybe she wanted someone old enough to really appreciate her, who didn’t come too quickly and owned his own business and knew how to pick up after himself. He hoped she was a very strict religious virgin who’d never even had a roll in the hay. Not that he hoped she was frigid. He hoped she was the kind of strict religious virgin who, once married, would let it all hang out, and when not letting it all hang out would move with quiet dignity in conservative clothes so that no one would suspect how completely and totally she could let it all hang out when she chose to, and that she came from a poor family and could therefore really appreciate the hard work that went into running a small business, and maybe even had some accounting experience and could help with the books. Although truthfully, even if she’d had hundreds of rolls in the hay and couldn’t add a stinking row of figures, he didn’t care, she was so pretty, they’d work it out, assuming of course she’d have him, and with a sinking heart he remembered his missing toes. He remembered that day at the lake with Mary Ellen Kovski, when it had been over a hundred and he’d sat on a beach chair fully dressed, claiming to be chilly. A crowd of Mary Ellen’s friends had gathered to
help her undress him and throw him in, and in desperation he’d whispered to her about his toes, and she’d gone white and called off her friends and two months later married Phil Anpesto, that idiotic beanpole. Oh, he was tired of hiding his toes. He wanted to be open about them. He wanted to be loved in spite of them. Maybe this girl had a wisdom beyond her years. Maybe her father had a deformity, a glass eye or facial scar, maybe through long years of loving this kindly but deformed man she had come to almost need the man she loved to be somewhat deformed. Not that he liked the idea of her trotting after a bunch of deformed guys, and also not that he considered himself deformed, exactly, although, admittedly, ten barely discernible bright-pink nubs were no picnic. He pictured her lying nude in front of a fireplace, so comfortable with his feet that she’d given each nub a pet name, and maybe sometimes during lovemaking she got a little carried away and tried to kiss or lick his nubs, although certainly he didn’t expect that, and in fact found it sort of disgusting, and for a split second thought somewhat less of her, then pictured himself gently pulling her up, away from his feet, and the slightly shamed look on her face made him forgive her completely for the disgusting thing she’d been about to do out of her deep deep love for him.

The instructor held up a small bloodied baby doll, which he then tossed across the room into a trunk.

“Blammo,” he said. “Let’s let that trunk represent a crypt or tomb, and it’s your fault, from speeding, how then do you feel?”

“Bad,” said the Buggin’ girl.

The pretty girl passed the barber the Attendance Log, which had to be signed to obtain Course Credit and Associated Conviction Waivers / Point Reductions.

They looked frankly at each other for what felt like a very long time.

“Hokay!” the instructor said brightly. “I suppose I don’t have to grind you into absolute putty, so now it’s a break, so you don’t view me as some sort of Marquis de Sade or harsh taskmaster requiring you to watch gross visuals and graphics until your mind rots out.”

The barber took a deep breath. He would speak to her. Maybe buy her a soda. The girl stood up. The barber got a shock. Her face was the same lovely exotic intelligent slim Cleopatran face, but her body seemed scaled to a head twice the size of the one she had. She was a big girl. Her arms were round and thick. Her mannerisms were a big girl’s mannerisms. She hunched her shoulders and tugged at her smock. He felt a little miffed at her for having misled him and a little miffed at himself for having ogled such a fatty. Well, not a fatty, exactly, her body was okay, it seemed solid enough, it was just too big for her head. If you could somehow reduce the body to put it in scale with the head, or enlarge the head and shrink down the entire package, then you’d have a body that would do justice to that beautiful beautiful face that, even now, tidying up his handouts, he was regretting having lost.

BOOK: Pastoralia
4.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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