As long as I can remember everyone’s always called me Honey Boy. It wasn’t Mama who gave me that name, she just mostly called me “Honey.” Mama Horne used to take care of me when I was little and Mama worked late at the tavern, and as soon as she saw us pull into her driveway she’d quick-walk all bowlegged out to us with her arms stretched wide, “Where’s my Honey Boy at?” My heart jumped every time she called to me. She would wrap me up in her arms, the smell of onions on her hands and lilac perfume in her hair, and coo, “Where is my baby? Where is my Honey Boy?” No matter how young or old a person is, the heart always knows who’s calling for true.
When I was almost thirteen, I don’t mind telling you, I worshipped my mama the way boys sometimes do. Something inside me rested when we were together even if by then we had already lived in half a dozen states. We had outrun bad men, bad jobs, and flat-out desperate situations. Mama talked sweet to the old Ford, “Aw, come on baby. Just a little bit more now.” She leaned in real close so her lips almost touched the dash and practically purred to the damned old thing. Her red lipstick so bright it made her lips look huge. The Ford wasn’t listening though, and it died out in front of Roy’s gas station just a block from the square, with bad luck and trouble still hanging over our heads.
Despite the sorry state of things a secret smile spread across her face. She was happy to be back home, but I remembered she once said Fairmont was the kind of small town heavy with all its secrets and it was that heaviness that depressed her. She pushed a strand of auburn hair out of her eyes. They were brown with a golden hue around the pupils. She used to wear her hair straight to her waist, but she had cut it off back in San Diego to her shoulder and I thought it looked nice. She had been born a twin, but the other her died at birth. She had two sides to her. There was the Mama I knew, and there was another woman I’d seen rattling around inside those eyes especially when men were around. No matter where we lived, her mind was looking down the interstate for what new dream might appear shimmery in the distance.
I was not happy about moving back. We’d been living with a woman named Beth Ann, a half-assed hippy, and her two towheaded kids in a little house at Ocean Beach. All I had to do was walk a couple of blocks down the street to see the Pacific, or hike along the sand cliffs, where a diver might appear like a sea creature stepping awkwardly toward the beach holding an angry green crab, though it wasn’t a pretty beach like the golden stretches of sand in front of the fancy hotels, it still beat looking out your window and seeing herefords chewing their cud and shitting all day out in a pasture. More often as not, there were bikers leaning on their Harleys at the end of the street talking to a neighborhood pot dealer.
Before we even hit the Nevada line, I’d vowed to leave the state of Misery forever as soon as I could. I tried to talk Mama out of leaving California by endlessly making fun of Misery. I talked about hicks sitting around in their overalls playing banjos; hillbillies drinking moonshine out of jugs like on the signs at the tourist traps down at the Lake of the Ozarks; goobers dry-humping their livestock. Mama finally got tired of it and corrected me much more sharply than usual: “It’s pronounced Missour-ah.” I heard pride in her voice the way she said it. Now that she had decided to come back it was a completely different story. She was sick of working at the local choke and puke, but I wondered how it would be any better back in Hooterville.
A couple of days earlier she fell asleep at a rest area. I unzipped my duffle bag and took out the old-timey pistol and rubbed the pearl handles in awe. It was the one I took from Sonny’s glove box. I imagined him scratching his chin, the way he did, and wondering where the pistol went. It made me think of the story, “The Frog King,” my fourth grade teacher, read to us once, except Sonny didn’t drop the gun in the water and I wasn’t a frog. I pretended that I was Billy the Kid, because it was a western-style pistol—and it was loaded.
Far Beyond the Pale, Daren Dean (Fiction Southeast Press, 2015)