Frankie waited until he could get a few thoughts together before he moved around too much. His eyes told him he was not at home, he had peed in his pants, and that overall things weren’t good at all. His eyes told him the jail was not a real good home away from home and that he needed to think of something quick. They needed to get out of there, all of them.
Frankie guessed it was early morning, but who could tell when locked up like an animal. He certainly didn’t deserve to be treated like this. No way.
Think back, think.
Bill had something to do with this. He hung up on him, Frankie remembered that, but why was he over at the house running around outside? Frankie couldn’t remember that part. He had been mowing, had a few drinks, even mowed the other people’s yards in good faith. Sure he had nicked that old car, but it was nothing worth getting upset about. You’d think the woman would be happy somebody was trying to help her out, what with all those kids she had and that husband who was always away at work. Oh and then the cops came. He remembered that now that he thought about it. Frankie guessed Bill must have told the woman to call them on him and then he must have still been mowing outside.
Frankie started hearing other noises. There were lights being switched on, could smell coffee a brewing, and heard voices. He heard them talking about a bad wreck just outside of town, towards Fort Worth, where some guy had caused a whole cattle truck to run off the road. The cows had to be shot right there on the spot because they were in such bad shape. The driver survived, but those poor damn cows didn’t stand a chance. They probably couldn’t even use them for meat given the circumstances.
He remembered his Daddy’s cows. He took better care of them than he did his boys. At least those cows ate every day. That certainly couldn’t be said for his daddy’s family. They starved themselves almost to death, waiting for a break, waiting for some money, waiting for a meal that didn’t ooze itself out of a can with ‘beans’ printed on the label. He wanted meat, gravy, bread. He wanted something to fill him up.
His momma worked at the motel during the day, washing people’s sheets and cleaning their rooms, so when she got home, she was tired. His daddy messed with the cows, repaired fences, put out salt blocks but didn’t really take an interest in the kids or their needs. He grew his hay, bailed it with the help of some workers living close by, people worse off than them, and then let the money slide. He let it go. He put every last penny he could jingle out of the grocery bill, the insurance company, the welfare, whoever, he used it all to feed the cows. It was always about the heifers, the bull, the fence, the damn feed pellets and how much per bag they cost and how many he needed to keep the herd alive. And his daddy certainly didn’t over spend. Those poor cows under his care looked about as bad off as he did. Frankie’s pants were never too tight, that was for sure, and the cow’s bellies were never too full. He had everyone on the verge of starvation, lest they forget where they came from.
One day, when Frankie’s tummy was growling more than usual, he watched his daddy dump a big bag of feed blocks out onto the lot with cows chasing him from behind like he was the most fantastic human specimen around, and he was, because they hadn’t seen any other people with feed. Frankie really, really watched him, and saw his daddy’s joy. His Daddy loved those dumb ass cows, loved to watch them hustle and bustle around. He watched his comfort with them eating up every bit of spare cash his family had and it made Frankie so mad. How could his daddy not get it? Here they were heating up cans of pork-n-beans on the pot burner at home when these cows were eating feed cubes like treats and loving it? Frankie wondered how good those pellets were. If his teeth were any stronger, he’d gnaw on one and see just what the cows were enjoying. They were bound to better than a can of ranch style beans.
Frankie’s stomach growled. Damn he was hungry and these jailers probably didn’t have nothing to eat except for day old biscuits and such, probably just as hard as those pellets his daddy fed the cows in the winter.
And man, those winters were cold growing up. The house they lived in didn’t have any central heat or air so in the winter they froze to death and in the summer they sweated to death. It was never comfortable. They were either standing by the wood burning stove or airing out on the porch. His momma did what she could to make them comfortable like laying their clothes out by the heater during the winter so that when they got out of bed, they could crawl into warm clothes before their walk to school. In the summer she would sometimes hook a sprinkler to the hose and let them run through it with their boxer shorts on. Then she’d get out a frozen treat from the freezer. She’d kiss Frankie and his brother and tell them she loved them and that she was sorry.
They would ask what she was sorry for.
And she would tell them she was just sorry for everything.
She would walk back into the house, rubbing her hands on her apron. Her eyes looked far away when she got like that, like she wasn’t there at all.
Frankie’s daddy would come home every evening and start drinking his beer. He would sit at the kitchen table telling them all to keep it down so he could think. He would get out his little notebook where he kept his notes.
His cows were closely watched. By each of their names he would write where he found them that day, if they were pregnant, when he thought they would give birth.
So he had “Sofa”, “Chair”, and “Christmas” all named after what he planned to buy for the family when he sold them. Each cow was marked for something bigger than them, not that he ever had any intention of following through with his ideas. He mainly just did it to get Frankie’s momma off his back. She never let him just live. She was always there telling him why they needed to sell the livestock, move into a house with central heat and air, and get a kitchen that had more than a pot burner.
Always nagging at him. It never stopped.
And she smoked almost every day of her life. She worked at the motel for as long as she could because she wanted her boys to have something more than empty promises from cows. She wanted them to be able to eat 3 meals a day and have a pair of shoes that fit, so she tried to keep things afloat. Frankie’s older brother Bruce started working for the feed store as soon as he turned 16 but that money mostly went back into feed for the cows. Frankie’s momma didn’t want to think it, but she suspected not all of the bags were actually “purchased” from the feed store but never said anything about it. With the government grabbing what it wanted out of her paycheck, she almost felt like if Bruce and his daddy could pull it off without getting caught, she could certainly look the other way while they did it. What comes around goes around and that’s how the world worked. Government stole from her, they could steal from the feed store.
Frankie never really took much of an interest in the cows, or work for that matter.
When he finally graduated from high school, Bruce helped him get on with the Deck Boat plant in town. Thus his fiberglass career began, not a long career of course, but he did work for a few years. His momma died that same year. He guessed she felt like she could pass on now that her kids were on their own two feet. Frankie’s daddy had a small service for her. He changed the name of the Christmas cow to Funeral cow and sold her to pay for the burial. He was officially on his own, and happy about it. No kids to feed, no wife to have to listen to, just cows. He ran about 25 head up until the day he had an unfortunate accident with the tractor. He had driven over that creek a million times but on this particular day the rocks underneath moved, his tractor shifted, he lost control and it fell on top of him. He drowned underneath a load of steel, tires and rubber hoses.
By the time Bruce found his daddy, the body had become pretty bloated and some of his clothes had washed on down the creek. He went back to the house, called the sheriff then waited on the porch for the authorities. He didn’t want to sit by his dead daddy all by himself.
After the second funeral in 6 months, Frankie and Bruce decided to sell all the cows, the 4 room farm house they grew up in as well as the 50 acres it sat on. Bruce wanted to take his momma’s car which was in pretty good shape since she just went to the motel, the grocery store and home. That was fine with Frankie. He wanted his daddy’s old blue truck and knew a lot about working on it. After taxes, they each had a little money to put in the bank. Nothing to get excited about but it was more than either one of them had ever had before.
Frankie bought a trailer intending on staying in Maypearle but Bruce decided to leave Texas. He drove off in his momma’s car and went straight to Las Vegas. He played the slots until he decided the Craps table was really where the money was made. And he did win for a while. He doubled, tripled his money. He sent Frankie a couple of postcards he had made of himself in the casino. In both of them, he had a good looking girl wrapped around him and piles of chips stacked up at his place at the table. He had different girls of course in each picture, but the same smile was on his face. He wrote “Frankie, I’m in paradise! Come out here if you can. I can set you up in the hotel. Hell, I might even be able to set you up with a girl too. They’re not that picky here! Later man, Bruce.”
“Frankie, this is a hell of a lot better than running cows or throwing around feed sacks. These girls are hot and I am on fire! Cheers man!”
Frankie thought about it too. Here Bruce was wheeling and a dealing in Vegas while Frankie was on the fiberglass line building boats, not rolling in the dough. But if he left the plant, that would be it. They wouldn’t hire him back and he had pissed off several of the other establishments in town with his hell raising. Nope. He just better find his entertainment down at the Happy Trails Honky Tonk he frequented every Friday and Saturday night. He usually managed to score a dance and every now and then, sometimes a little more than that. And he had a paycheck. There’s a lot to be said for steadiness and 3 meals a day. Vegas just didn’t seem like the place for him.
A few months later, Bruce sent a letter instead of a postcard.
“Hey, Frankie. I just wanted you to know things kind of took a turn for the worse. Lady Luck decided to take a big shit on me so I’m going to give Reno a try. I got a few people looking for me so I don’t have a phone number right now. I’ll let you know where I’m staying when I think it’s safe. Stay in Maypearle. This may have not been such a great idea but I’m going to give it one more try. If I can get a couple of wins, I’ll be set and will quit while I’m ahead. If I don’t, I’m screwed man, and I don’t mean by just a little bit either. But I can’t come back with nothing. I just can’t. I’ll write you later with the good news. And I don’t mean to be weird, but I love you brother. If something happens to me, I want you to know you were always my favorite person out of our whole screwed up family. Keep it clean brother, Bruce.”
Well, that worried Frankie. So far he’d lost his momma, his daddy, not that that was a huge loss, and now his brother was on the run. He knew those gambling bosses could get pretty serious when they were collecting their money and he’d heard in Vegas, one minute you’re up then the next you’re down and that’s just how it goes there. And no one cares about the losers except the ones wanting them to pay up. He couldn’t imagine being the only one out of his family still alive. He didn’t see that coming at all.
He went to work every day, thought about Bruce, what he must be going through. He was probably driving at night, sleeping during the day, probably feeling lonely. And Frankie really hated that. They had survived their childhood. Life should be better for them now. Frankie came home every evening, went straight to the mailbox, ate his frozen dinner and drank his beer wishing he had heard something by now.
Two and a half months since the first letter, the second arrived. Frankie pulled it out of the box hopeful because that meant Bruce was still alive enough to put words on paper. Frankie waited until he got inside and got his beer before he ripped it open.
“Frankie, it’s me. This is probably the last letter you’re going to get from me for a while, a long while. I’ve got to go down to Mexico for a bit, let things cool off here in Reno. I was winning again but then it happened. I lost, big time, so I borrowed a little knowing I could pay it back just as soon as the tables turned, but they didn’t and now I’ve pissed this guy off so bad he wants to kill me and has even taken steps to ensure that happens and quick. I’m leaving tonight in momma’s old car. Yeah, it’s still running as good as ever. I’m taking my girlfriend Maria with me and I’m going to spend some time on the beach drinking beer and margaritas. She’s got family there so I think we’ll be fine. If we can make it across the border, we’ll be home free. I will call you when I can. Don’t worry about us. Oh, and congratulations, you’re about to be an uncle. Maria is 2 months along. I think it’s going to be a girl and she does too. Things are going to work out, I just know it. Adios amigo, Bruce.”
Frankie grabbed the envelope. It was post marked El Paso, Texas 3 days ago. Man, he hoped they made it across. And he had gotten a girl pregnant. Frankie shook his head. Bruce was living large, that was for sure.
As Frankie slowly sat up on his jailhouse cot, he still wondered if Bruce made it across and if the baby really was a girl and if he’d had any more kids with Maria. He hoped to hell they hadn’t killed him. Bruce deserved a break since he’d never gotten one growing up.