A date to die for
On Saturday night, by far, the best night in the otherwise stupefying summertime Valley, they headed for StarBrite, the only ozoner thereabouts, unless you dared a 90-mile drive west to Omaha and back in Rod’s gleaming Roadmaster with the chrome holes punched in the sides. Tonight, there were no deadbeats riding along, deadbeats who’d screw her bigger-than-life plans.
She’d waited forever for this moment … through grade school when Rod was more rib than muscle, and through junior high he’d explored the joys of Marlis Slattery, a.k.a., Slattery The Slut, who lost her life two nights back in a freak cheerleading accident at the football field. To celebrate Marlis’ demise, she wore rhinestone-trimmed sunglasses and stiffed her newly curled ice-blonde hair with StiffStuff. It had taken a long time to iron her square-dancing skirt and the white blouse with the plunging neckline edged in scratchy ribbons and knife-like pleats. The velvety slippers on her feet, the charm bracelet dangling memories, her ears touched with Moon Over Miami perfume … life was good. Doris was on a mission.
Tucked in her plastic purse was a sweet surprise for Rod. When he made his French kiss moves, she’d slip it to him. As they pulled in to StarBrite slot 7, Rod turned the speaker volume to extra loud, all the better to drown his groans when things got hot, though the movie would be enough to steam his owlish glasses. Only last week, the Rev. and Mrs. Carpenter had declared Garage Trash to be the filthiest of filth and had tried to run the StarBrite out of business, but folks came in droves anyway, arriving in station wagons stuffed with pajama-ed kids who were sent out to play in clouds of DDT spewed from the mosquito-eradicating truck. Doris remembered the good old days when her mom and pop set her loose to roam with packs of brats getting high on those clouds. Tonight, she felt high, too, because Orion, her favorite constellation, was visible through the fumes, the stars on his belt glittering like mad. To Doris’ way of thinking, this was a sweller-than-swell omen.
In the long ago, the StarBrite frequently invited a particular traveling preacher …. The Glorious Willie Ram … to say a few words on behalf of the Lord. Ram always appeared shrouded head-to-toe in a white satin cape with a pointy hood with eye-slits, and ranted only long enough for Loyal Ann Ruthie, his frizzy-haired wife, to tap car windows and inquire if the entwined occupants would drop a little something into the offering plate. Generous givers received a coupon for a free corn dawg, plus a Repent! sticker. Doris had saved her sticker from ’54, and tonight it was on the back bumper of the Roadmaster. The gold letters (Repent!) glowed in the dark and featured red snakes locked in licking black flames. It was impressive as hell.
But now was now, and at movie’s end, Doris, a newly licensed driver, took her rightful place behind the wheel to steer the Roadmaster home. She’d slipped Rod the gift hidden in her purse, a surprise so stunning that he slumped forward in her arms. Moving his muscled weight to the passenger seat was a bit of a problem, but all in all he looked near-normal sitting next to her in his John Deere cap and black-rimmed glasses that were cracked in the struggle.
Totally silent on the ride, his eyes wide open and glued to the eastern horizon dead ahead, Rod resembled a regular guy on a StarBrite date. Tucked in the bottom of Doris’ plastic purse (beneath a wad of Kleenex, a box cutter and a tube of Revlon lipstick) was his recently active tongue … a tongue that would tell no future tales.
Doris gunned the Roadmaster and thought about tomorrow’s cheerleading practice. As the keystone in the pyramid routine, she was determined to work on standing absolutely still so those above her wouldn’t tumble to the ground. Marlis Slattery had been at the tip-top of the pyramid when she plunged downward two days ago but, well, no one was actually blaming Doris for stepping two inches to the left at a crucial moment. Accidents happen, don’t they, even in the Nodaway Valley where nothing much ever happens.