Cowtown

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I should have known I’d make a good fool the first time I put on that stupid fucking paper ice cream cone hat.

Summertime in this thriving strip mall/dying farm town is rough. There is nothing much to do—all of the kids that can afford to fly home and sleep 12 hour nights in beds they don’t make do so. The rest of us look down the barrel of three hot months that smell like manure (the dying farms), chemical-laden asphalt (from the all the new parking lots and shit) and exhaust (from the interstate).   You know, come to think of it, the first wave of departures in June doesn’t feel bad at all. It’s nice to imagine life without racket of dum-dums at the fraternity next door—a dying fucking tradition anyway, I mean, Jesus, how do you have ONE fraternity? I guess you just have to come to Cowtown for that.

Cecilia and I had been broken up since late spring and I knew she was lurking around for the summer, not because she couldn’t afford to go home, but because she had real bad issues with her stepfather.   And possibly because she wanted to stay close to me.

I’d been working at “The Scoop Soda Fountain” in the town’s only “Legitimate (Mini) Mall!” for a few months when I was still dating Cecilia, so when she appeared that day in August with her mascara all smeared, trembling under the Food Court’s enthusiastic AC, Clarence hollered a greeting before he saw her state. Then he ducked his head and shouldered close to me. I was sweating, suddenly, standing over the sorbets.

“I think that’s your cue, dog,” he whisper-ordered, and since he was my boss, I folded up the hat and by some pre-arranged drama narrative arc, met Cecilia at a sticky round table off to the side.

She cleaned herself up and tried at a smile and I’m half-southern, so I had to smile back, even if I felt like sprinting for the north exit. But as I felt my face muscles work, I was seeing, in my mind, the night that Cecilia tried to throw herself into traffic because I broke up with her (I broke up with her because she had broken up with me, fucked this corn-fed wide receiver and then convinced me to get back together). And right at that same moment at that sticky table, I swear to God, a faux-farmer (actor, I imagine) in cartoonish overalls walked by leading a very well-groomed, very cute Holstein calf on a leash, swarmed by cooing toddlers. And Cecilia did this thing that she knows how to do where she giggles in a perfectly delighted, impulsive, young way, right through her red eyes and over her smeared cheeks, and I don’t care if you just lost your pet calf, you smile.

So I smiled.

And she leaned in and hooked my wrists and wrestled our noses close and started in on a monologue that combined erotic promise and tearful plea and I felt my heart sink and other parts rise and then Clarence appears with a banana fucking split (there was an actual cherry on top) singing in his goddam gospel baritone “Reunited—and it feels so good,” and Cecilia is smile-crying now and I took a spoonful of hot fudge that she pushed toward me to earn time because I’m pumping my brain like brakes gone out to stop this and then, I swear to God, Sinead O’Connor is singing through the mini-mall megaphone speakers (so I can’t even blame Clarence), “Nothing Compares,” and Cecilia doesn’t even have to work at it anymore, Clarence is watching, big arms folded, nodding along, and some large stroller pushing mothers who have parked for milkshakes are weepy and grinning at us and I know that the following chapter of time in Cowtown—however long it turns out to be—is going to feel a whole lot more torturous than the summer ever did.

And so I kiss her.

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