Bobbie Ann Mason


My nubile niece, Cassandra, is going club­bing with her pup­py­ish pal Miranda. They are spend­ing the week­end at my house because they live over in the Valley and they will be out late. I am so con­ve­nient­ly locat­ed. They brought me a spray of freesias, a string of plas­tic tiki lights, and a pound of ham to say thanks.

Before they go out, I warn them, “Don’t you two come home shit-faced. I won’t be sur­prised if the vice squad raids that place.”

Aren’t you afraid the vice squad will come after you?” Cassandra says, laugh­ing. “Look at your vices, Aunt Joyce!”

Cassandra, going through my kitchen cab­i­nets, is teas­ing me. “All these Mexican lard products–the tor­tilla chips, the tacos, the refried beans.”

I don’t cook with lard. I use canola.”

Miranda finds this hilar­i­ous and laughs uncon­trol­lably. I won­der if she will pee on the rug.

And your cig­a­rettes!” Cassandra throws her hands in the air, then catch­es them with an after­thought.  “I am shocked.”

It’s just a habit,” I quip.

The tobac­co police, the obe­si­ty police, the trans-fat police–they’re all going to gang up on you one day.” Cassandra places her hands on her slim hips like a traf­fic cop.

The pal, Miranda, just stands around in her Spandex and glit­ter, moon­ing at me, maybe mock­ing me because my droopy boobs aren’t about to lunge out of my top. She and Cassandra are awk­ward with me because they think I am still in some kind of grief quarantine.

I don’t overeat,” I say. “Chocolate curbs my appetite.”

There were once choco­late police,” Cassandra says with author­i­ty.  “But they lost their con­tract, shift­ed to the good list.”

It has to be dark choco­late,” says Miranda, gig­gling. “Or it does­n’t count.”

Yeah, you can still get arrest­ed,” Cassandra says.

These two girls parade around my liv­ing room, bub­bling over in their skimpy club­bing outfits.

I get to the point. “Why don’t you girls go to these club places with a boy– a date?”

We meet guys there,” Miranda says, shrug­ging, her breasts lurch­ing. “All kinds.”

She and Cassandra exchange looks and die laughing.

It’s casu­al,” Cassandra says. “A bunch of us go, and one of us is the des­ig­nat­ed dri­ver. So we can get wast­ed with­out worry.”

No Magnolia Blitzes for him–or her!” screams Miranda.

It’s just whole­some fun,” Cassandra says.  “Like you and Uncle Bob used to have.”

She assumes things so reck­less­ly. She nev­er knew my depart­ed husband.

But she knows she struck a nerve, I can tell.


Before I climb into bed at ten forty-eight, I pick up a loose checker–red–that has fall­en onto the rug. I was play­ing check­ers this after­noon with Wilbur Knotts and it must have been in my pock­et since then.

This Wilbur Knotts bears some think­ing about.  He is scrap­py and shrunk­en and opin­ion­at­ed, always spout­ing off about the bud­get deficit, los­ing me in about five sec­onds. He has opin­ions on Medicare, abor­tion, guns, the debt ceil­ing, all the bank bailouts. He is obsessed with bailouts, treat­ing them as if they weren’t ancient his­to­ry. I nev­er inject an opin­ion on these top­ics. It just sets him off. I’d rather talk about movies, or cook­ing, or hol­ly­hocks, some­thing close at hand, some­thing real and not depress­ing. But I keep think­ing we are get­ting some­where, that there is some­where to get to. I caught a glimpse of his deep­er self the oth­er day when he let out a lit­tle cry of dis­tress, a whim­per of home­sick­ness for his dis­tant Kentucky past. It was fleet­ing, as though he had but­ton-holed him­self again as quick­ly as a dog snap­ping a gnat. But it told me worlds.

So I cooked for him yesterday–buffalo steak, slaw, green beans (leather-britch­es style, or as near as I could get to that), pota­toes au gratin, cran­ber­ry mold, and deep-dish cher­ry cob­bler. I did­n’t tell him the steak was from a buf­fa­lo, because then he would have got­ten start­ed on hunt­ing and all the God-giv­en rights there were to pro­claim. That exhausts me. Nothing can make me feel I am in prison more than peo­ple blath­er­ing uncon­trol­lably about their freedoms.

But I have an open mind.


I’m lis­ten­ing for the return of the girls and can’t get to sleep. Who could sleep with the thought of those pret­ty girls danc­ing in some decrepit, dark fire­trap ware­house, where the music sounds like jet engines revving in an air­plane hangar? So they meet guys.  It’s casu­al. The girls say the music makes them feel free. I won­der if I should go clubbing–if they would let me. I’m not very old, real­ly. Not even forty! I can hear them hooting.

Bob and I nev­er went danc­ing. Except once, on our hon­ey­moon, in Mexico. In the lit­tle hotel on a plaza, there was a wed­ding going on. It went on night and day for the whole week we were there. A mari­achi band ser­e­nad­ed the hon­ey­moon cou­ple. When the hotel found out we were also on our hon­ey­moon, the band ser­e­nad­ed us too–at three a.m. Everyone in the vil­lage showed up to cel­e­brate us. People were drunk, danc­ing on the plaza at all hours. The seño­ra at the desk gave us a cake and some fruit. Every day, some­thing.  We could­n’t escape the music, the danc­ing, the feasts, the tequi­la. Both of us hat­ed the music and did­n’t know how to dance to it. The noise hurt Bob’s ears. Tequila made me sick. What had been so roman­tic about a Mexican hon­ey­moon any­way? And then there was the inci­dent of the large spi­der nest­ing in a cor­ner of the ceil­ing.  The seño­ra dis­patched it non­cha­lant­ly. It was a jumper.  Bob got Montezuma’s revenge. I got a vagi­nal infection.

Our hon­ey­moon of clichés, we called it ever after, and it became a fond, fun­ny memory–even the music, even the spider.

We were O.K. together–nothing elec­tric, noth­ing dis­as­trous.  Easy.  And fast.…how fast the days went by. All the days were so much the same, and there was lit­tle to dis­tin­guish them. I would think when he kissed me good­bye at the door each morn­ing, did­n’t we just do this five min­utes ago? But we were still feel­ing our way into mar­riage. We were still ten­ta­tive, too young to know what to think when the Grim Reaper knocks at the door and does­n’t even say hel­lo, just mum­bles obscure ver­biage about the pancreas.

Bob. At first I did­n’t miss him.  It seemed so much less trou­ble with­out him. It was a relief.  They came and got the hos­pi­tal bed, and I took the walk­er back to the drug store and picked up his ash­es in the same trip. So weird to be haul­ing Bob around like that. I put him in the back seat, so I was a chauf­feur. Really, it was busi­ness as usu­al, deliv­er­ing him to the doc­tor all those times, tak­ing him for treat­ments.  And he was so sto­ic, so qui­et, as if speak­ing would be impolite.

I put him on a shelf in the clos­et, next to the lit­tle box that con­tained Britches, our Bichon. Funny how I cried so much more over Britches.  It was so much eas­i­er to cry over a dog. After that, there was just a long, dark vacan­cy. I don’t even know how long it went on. Sometimes I don’t know how I got back here. I still can’t believe this hap­pened to Bob.  To me. It was as though we did­n’t look both ways before cross­ing the street.

Cassandra told me that at a club the young peo­ple are packed so close­ly togeth­er they are almost swim­ming. There is no talk­ing, just squeal­ing and shout­ing.  I visu­al­ize them like des­per­ate fish in a tank, swim­ming in cir­cles.  I’m imag­in­ing the young bod­ies, drip­ping with sex, bare­ly clothed, mov­ing all against each oth­er in a rapid rhythm, like a large group mak­ing a toast, rais­ing the glass and then every­body touch­ing every­body’s glass.  Maybe that is how they are danc­ing, all swim­ming, slip­pery togeth­er in the water. It is a thought too deli­cious to bear.

Back to Wilbur Knotts.  If he would only stop talking…if I could catch him between the cost of edu­ca­tion and the evil of taxation…somewhere in there might be a for­bid­den crevice, a moist niche I could swim into–fleet of foot, danc­ing, doing the Highland Fling.

Bobbie Ann Mason’s first book of fic­tion, Shiloh & Other Stories, (1982) won the PEN/​Hemingway Award and was nom­i­nat­ed for the American Book Award, the PEN/​Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her nov­el, In Country, (1985) is taught wide­ly in class­es and was made into a Norman Jewison film. Mason’s newest nov­el, The Girl in the Blue Beret, ven­tures into World War II and the ways it is remem­bered. Her mem­oir, Clear Springs, is about an American farm fam­i­ly through­out the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, and was a final­ist for the Pulitzer Prize.