Georgianna Starlington had won Miss Fried Okra, Miss Yoknapatawpha County, Best Sandra Dee Lookalike, and Miss Delta Deltoids before she was out of her teens. She would never be Miss America, but she had been Miss American Pie.
She had always thought she would take the state title, and when she didn’t, when she came in First Runner Up instead, she began to diss Miss Mississippi. “Her hair looked like it was spray painted,” she said. “By a hairdresser with palsy! Her boobs were held up by so much wire you could have called long distance on them. And those fish lips!”
She was hurting, and angry, and in what she vaguely considered revenge, she quit the pageant circuit and took a job as a photographer’s glamour model—but she found little glamorous about it. (There was nothing glamorous about it.) Seeking a little dignity, she called herself a photographer’s model on her business cards.
Her face and body were now on flyers and in the back pages of free newspapers all over Mississippi. The ads she appeared in were for gentlemen’s clubs, escort services, massage parlors, adult video stores, outfits with ampersanded names like Naughty & Nice and Hot & Wild and sex aid stores. She was on billboards and calendars. “I am darn disgusted,” her father said. “What the hell are you thinking?”
At first, her failure had felt like an asthma attack: It made it hard to breathe, blurred her vision, forced tears from her eyes. She knew she ought to sit down and let the feeling pass. Then she’d be able to make a reasonable decision about what to do with her life. But she couldn’t sit down, she was too hurt and angry and agitated, and all she could think about was the judges, the fat-ass judges who couldn’t tell silicone from saline from honest-to-god tits, which were what Georgianna had, no artificial sweetener in her goddamned coffee thank you! So she had wept and made an unreasonable, despairing decision, and now, five years later, she was a model for sleazy enterprises. An “artistic” model. An artistic model who would soon have enough bucks saved to go to Los Angeles and start her movie career, an artistic model who refused to take off all her clothes for the camera, but an artistic model all the same, with see-through tops and panties that never quite covered her ass.
The worst of it was, the hurt and anger were still there. They had settled in her chest like an unshakable cold.
One weekend in June she borrowed her parents’ cabin to get away from the rat race in Jackson. She stopped in at the general store on her way out there. Boxes of Wolverines and open-stock overalls lined the shelves. There was bait and tackle, ammunition, chewing tobacco, and USA Today. She bought toothpaste and a box of 30.06 ammo.
Georgianna had tucked her platinum hair under the elastic backstrap and bill of her Yankees baseball cap, but some of it had escaped, especially in the back. She wore a black tee-shirt in a size large, but her breasts were still very, very evident. She had on jeans and hiking shoes, which only made her look even more like a girl. At least, Hodder had no trouble recognizing her as a girl as she drove up the dirt road.
He was in the woods behind her cabin, where he’d come because he’d picked out a particular tree for the particular task of hanging himself. He was worn out from bad dreams and bad memories. He’d set an overturned thirty-gallon metal garbage can underneath the limb of the sweetgum, looped a rope over the limb, and knotted the rope around his neck. All he had to do was kick the garbage can out from under him. He took a last look at the world, a hawk circling in the sky, sun setting its wings on fire; a black snake rippling like water over the ground; and Georgianna in her Yankees cap in her pickup, tearing up the dirt road, her breasts bouncing with every rise and rut.
She was a girl who just looking at her could change your mind about calling it quits.
He yanked the rope off, undid the knot, and jumped down from the garbage can.
He wanted to meet her, but he was too shy just to go up to her and introduce himself. What would he say? “I’m Hodder and I think you’re the prettiest thing I ever saw and on account of catching sight of you I ain’t gone kill myself”? If she didn’t spit in his eye, she would shrug and turn her back on him. But he took notice of the license plate on her pickup.
Georgianna had been a good shot all her life. Her dad had taught her. He had started her with a BB gun. From the first time she pulled the trigger she could drill the slender metal posts holding up the garden fence. Her mother said, “Look at her, Millard. Take a real good look at your baby girl. She looks like Sandra Dee or Fawn Hall, somebody like that. Why does she have to shoot a gun?”
“All the more reason,” he said. “Kid needs to be able to protect herself.”
Her mother had already entered Georgianna in the Little Miss Five-Mile Creek Beauty Pageant. Her plans for her daughter included the state title, followed by stardom on stage and screen, followed by marriage to a doctor, lawyer, or movie mogul. Georgianna didn’t know if she wanted to be married and she didn’t care about doctors and lawyers, but she loved playacting and being in school plays and daydreamed all the time about what life would be like when she became a movie star. Sometimes she could see herself, as if there were a movie screen flitting in the air right in front of her and she was watching herself on it, and she imagined what it would be like to be loved by an audience, to know she was offering the audience something that was missing from their own lives, to be the special thing they were all looking for. At such times she knew that being beautiful was what made her special, that this was what she could do for the world and what the world would thank her for. Besides, it was a blunt fact: How she looked was her only possible ticket out of the Delta.
So Georgianna tried to please both her parents. Her father moved her to a single-shot .22, safe, he said, even for kids. He had her hit cans on posts from farther and farther away until, after a couple of years, she could hit the cans when hardly anyone else could even see them. By then she could shoot a fly on a counter with a BB gun. She liked it, and she liked pleasing her daddy. It made him feel less left out, she thought, from all the beauty stuff. He had been a legendary shooter in his day. “I used to could shoot flies out of the air with a BB gun,” he said, letting her know that if she was good, she could still get better. Eventually he taught her to shoot a shotgun, a .410. When she got older he moved her up to a 20-gauge and then a 12-gauge and then started her on high-powered rifles. He even taught her how to strip an M-14, a gun he’d used in the Vietnam War. Not the same actual gun, but the same kind, which could tear off a man’s arm if he was hit in the shoulder.
When she raised her 12-gauge to her shoulder to bring down a duck she moved as smoothly and effortlessly as the river itself.
The beauty pageants included talent competitions. Her talent had been field stripping the M-14. She could take an M-14 apart and put it back together in nothing flat. Blindfolded. In a beauty pageant, this talent was piquant. The male judges thought it was cute. The women judges thought it was a talent that they would have found rewarding, if only they had it. Tap dancing, everybody was tired of tap dancing. Everybody was tired of harpists.
Hodder didn’t want to scare her any. He was no stalker. It was just that he had been struck down by love, and he wasn’t going to be able to go on with (or end) his life until he declared it.
Hodder made his living fishing the river. He also did a little truck farming. He didn’t need much, which worked out well, because he didn’t have much. He had a real mattress and springs, bought from the Salvation Army, but no bed frame. He had a refrigerator and a hot plate and an electric coffee pot. He had indoor plumbing and a mirror over the sink, and he had a wood-burning stove to keep warm by in winter time. He had all of his hair. Two of his teeth on one side he had lost in a fight, but he’d put the cocksucker who started it in the ER and the empty place didn’t show unless you were looking deep inside, and who was going to do that? He weren’t no horse up for sale.
In fact, he had his fair share of brains, and he knew he was not a man a woman like her would look at twice, or even hearken to once, but he wasn’t expecting his love to be reciprocated. He just wanted her to know about it. A man cannot experience such emotion mutely.
He ran his comb under the faucet and raked it through his hair, making
tracks in it. His hair was going gray at the temples; in fact, he thought—and it was
a thought that made him wince—he was beginning to look like his daddy, may the
son of a bitch rest in pieces. He attacked his stubble with a razor, nicking himself
twice. He stopped the bleeding with toilet paper, and with the toilet paper still stuck
to his face, he put on his cleanest shirt and pants. He remembered to peel the toilet
paper over his lip off before he left but forgot about the piece on his jaw, which clung
there like a moth on a lampshade.
When he arrived at her door, he was carrying a plastic container of stew.
She was around the back of the cabin, staying sharp with a bolt-action 30.06. As he came around to the back, she pointed it at him, sighted down the barrel, and asked who he was.
“Hodder,” he said. He paused a second and added, “Miss,” to be respectful.
“That your front name?”
He shrugged. “It’s what folks call me.”
“What do you want?”
He held out the container. “I brung you some stew.”
She kept the gun on him. “Do I look hungry to you?”
“Just bein’ neighborly,” he said.
“How do I know it’s not poisoned?”
“Why would it be poisoned?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re the kind of man who would poison his neighbor.”
She lowered the gun, slung the strap over her shoulder, and pried the lid off.
He noted that she had not turned the safety off, and that she had a pistol in her holster. “Made the real way, with squirrel, not chicken.”
“I don’t like squirrel.” She handed the container back to him and raised up her rifle again.
“Oh.” He’d not considered that she might not like squirrel. What was he going to do with it now? He’d have to stand there holding it, looking like a damn fool. “Oh now. I didn’t know that.”
“How would you? Say again who are you?”
“You cut yourself shaving, Hodder.” She reached out her hand and flicked the toilet paper off his jaw with a fingernail. “What do you want?”
Hodder cleared his throat. “I saw you driving up this way yesterday. You’re the prettiest thing—”
“Are you some kind of a pervert?”
He could feel his face getting red. At the same time, he admired her directness. “No, miss.”
“‘No, Miss Southern Comfort’ to you.”
Hodder was surprised. She didn’t look like a drinker.
“Miss Okra,” she continued. “Miss Fucking Junior Miss. Miss I Must Have Been Crazy to Think I Could Ever Go Somewhere.”
“Where was it you was fixing to go?” She still had a bead on him. He kept both guns in the corner of his eye just in case she was the rambunctious type.
She started to say Hollywood. Instead, she said, “Where I want to go, it’s more like a state of mind. Someplace where I’ll know I’m somebody. That’s where I want to go. Now get along before I blow your head off.” He felt he could understand why she might do that. Here he was, and she must think he was the world’s biggest dope in addition to being a stalking pervert. His arms felt too long for his sleeves, his legs too long for his blue jeans, his hair too long and scraggly for polite company. He’d been in the Army and afterwards he swore he’d never let a barber at him again.
She had green eyes, at least they looked green in the afternoon sun, and strands of her white-gold hair blew against her cheeks. Her nose was short and straight and her lips turned up so that she looked like she was smiling even though she wasn’t. Admiringly, with his heart like a stampede in his chest, Hodder said, “Hey, now! Ain’t you sumpin’! I do truly think you’re sumpin’!”
“What would you know,” she said. “You’re clearly some kind of a pervert.”
Hodder left, but hung around just out of sight. He stood behind a grove of thick-trunked pine trees and watched her shoot. She had hung strips of masking tape to the clothesline and stuck pennies and dimes to the tape that she proceeded to knock the pennies and dimes off of from better than fifty feet away. She brought that small change down bam, bam, bam, just like that, each bam followed by a ping when the bullet hit its mark. Ping, ping, ping, just like that. He’d never seen such shooting. No one he ever met in the Army would have been able to match her. But he was ashamed of his time in the Gulf and wouldn’t mention it to her. The Gulf War had been more about bombs and airplanes, and next to the Iraq War, it weren’t no more than a blip. The sun pinged off the clay pigeons and she lifted the shotgun to the sky like she was aiming straight for God Hisself.
He did not think that she was being mean to him; she was just looking out for herself, as a girl who looked like that had most likely found she had to do.
He’d always thought of the cabin she was staying in as the old Stillwater place. It took him a while, keeping his ears open at the filling station, to figure out that old Stillwater had been her mother’s brother. Seb had hanged himself from one of the cypresses that loomed up out of the dark, turbid swamp bordering the river. That was how he’d got the hanging notion. On foggy mornings, with the Spanish moss on the black limbs, and crooked knees made to dance by shifting light and sluggish water, you could think he was hanging there still.
Cattails poked up at the edge of the still water. The riverbanks sloped up to where reeds got a foothold and then honeysuckle and creeper vine, and finally the pines. There was space between the treetops where you could get a good look at the stars at night. It was good bottom land for growing things, visited at night by owls and gators and coons and all manner of mysterious life, and over at his place Hodder grew corn, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, collards, cabbage, beans, squash, and watermelons. At night a gator’s eyes would glow red when you shined a flashlight at them, but it didn’t bother you if you didn’t bother it.
To bail free from his father, Hodder had dropped out of high school to join the army—and wound up in the Gulf War, with its stinging sand and scorpions and insidious chemicals, and when he got out what he wanted most of all was to be left alone. He liked to look at seed catalogues and kept them in a row against the bottom of the wall. If he needed to learn something, like how to shore up a cracked foundation, he went to the library or Barnes & Noble in Jackson. He’d found this shack sinking into the earth and pulled it back up and made it livable, if just barely. Life in a shack had been educational. He knew bird calls, frog calls, the river and weather. His hearing grew acute: the least sound of a deer picking a path through undergrowth or a coon at the window and he was awake and listening. Some nights the only sounds were ones he dreamed, a soundtrack for the moving pictures in his head, every movie a horror show. Some nights the war and his father got mixed together like laundry and went round and round till he woke up feeling like it was him in the machine. When he woke up, the quiet would come as a shock, but he liked the quiet. He liked the smell of the country. The river and the dirt. The dirt was black and crumbly, and unlike people, it didn’t wear a watch.
Time was what he had plenty of, so he took to spending a part of each day watching her from out of sight. And no matter how good a shot she was, she was a girl. One day he watched her struggling to open a stuck window. Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer and emerged from his hiding place and went back up to the cabin. “Can I help?” he asked.
She tucked a lock of hair back under her cap. She was wearing one of those tight tops girls wore these days that looked like somebody forgot to sew on the bottom half. He saw that she had an outie, then quickly looked away as if he’d seen something he shouldn’t have.
“I thought I told you to get lost.”
“Yes’m,” he agreed. “You did.”
Hodder stood there, silent, his hands hanging slackly straight down by his pants, his face glowing.
She stood back from the window, which she was on the other side of. She was looking at him and considering. He saw her deciding he was harmless. “Hold on a minute,” she said, and went to let him in, but when he was inside, she stayed close by the door.
The window frame had swollen in the humidity. It didn’t come up as easily as he would have wished, but he tried not to let his face show it. “There you go,” he said.
“How did you know I was trying to get the window open? If you were watching me from that clump of trees”—he was impressed again by her smarts—“you know by now how good I am with a gun.”
“Yes’m,” he said. “I seen.”
“I could shoot you dead from half a mile away. More.”
“I could take your ear off at a hundred yards.”
“I believe you could.”
“Just so long as you understand that.”
“Well, all right then.”
“Is it anything else you need getting done?” he asked. “Neighbors got to help one another, what I say,” he clarified. Then he added, “I knew your uncle.”
“There’s a leak in the roof.”
“Won’t be for long,” he said. He looked up and studied the ceiling, as if he could see the roof and its leak right through it.
“Who was my uncle?” she asked, testing him.
“You just heard that at the store,” she said.
He had heard from the fellows at the filling station that Seb’s sister had married Millard Starlington, a loom technician and a sharpshooter with many blue ribbons who had taught his daughter to handle a piece.
Hodder kept his shack neat. He had learned neatness in the army, not from his old man, who had usually stunk of piss and booze. Maybe if Hodder’s mother had stuck around—if she hadn’t run off with the meter reader—things would have been different. His dad might have taken a bath now and again. Might’ve tucked in his shirttails, waited for company to leave before he scratched and shifted his balls. Might’ve hesitated before hitting Hodder with the two-by-four always within his reach. With a pig, a sloth, and an ape for a father, Hodder was proud of his hospital corners, the swept floor, his clothes hung from nails hammered into the wall. He had been four when his mother left, and he couldn’t remember anything about her except that she had brown eyes. He didn’t even remember exactly what they looked like, only that they were brown.
Someone had asked him once if he ever wondered why his mother hadn’t taken him with her, but there were so many answers that it was foolish to fret about them. She needed to save herself. The meterman didn’t want or require a son. His mother saw his father in him and was repulsed. Of course she was. He had repulsed himself until he shipped out.
He kept his keys on a nail just inside the front door. There was a small table for mail, which he did not get much of. His fishing rods waited in a corner.
As the days and then weeks went by he helped her out a lot, and it seemed to him that she had gotten used to his presence. When she closed up the cabin and went back to Jackson, he left the river and fishing behind and went too, by bus, though he didn’t tell her he was going. He paid nine dollars and got her address from the Department of Motor Vehicles, using her license plate number. The next thing he did was knock on her door and offer his help.
He watched her face play through a repertoire of reactions before she settled on one. He could have stood there and watched her face all day long.
“You are a stalker. I’m calling the cops. I’m going to take out a restraining order against you.”
As quickly as he could, he told her how his shack would get too cold in the winter (and it did get cold, though he had spent many winters in it) and that he had thought he could be her handyman in Jackson.
“Besides,” he said, somehow managing to hold his breath while he said the words, “I was worried you would miss me.” This was a risk. Would she admire his wit or be ticked off by his presumption?
She smiled. Not a big smile, but a smile all the same.
If he could have pressed her smile into an album, like a flower, he would have.
“Don’t go getting any ideas.”
“The only ideas I ever get is the ones I turn up at Barnes & Noble,” he said, feeling proud of being witty again, and then instantly feeling like an idiot for explaining to her that he was an idiot.
In Jackson Hodder kept a low profile, because Mr. and Mrs. Starlington might not countenance his presence in their daughter’s life.
Which was now regular and steady, almost like showing up for real work, except that being around Georgianna was never work in Hodder’s mind.
In Jackson Georgianna lived in an apartment over a garage. Sometimes it seemed to her that her landlord roared in and out underneath all night long, but the rent was low.
She perched on a stool at her kitchen counter and punched a number into her cell. She took a deep breath. “Pop, hi,” she said, when her father answered. “Happy Father’s Day, Pop.”
“What have I got to be happy about, for god’s sake?” He had still not forgiven her. “In my own state!” he’d said. “My cohorts see those ads.”
“Don’t start, Pop. Please.”
“You want me to say it’s all right for you to show yourself the way you do?”
“I’m not doing anything bad. You didn’t object when I wore a bathing suit on stage.”
“That was different. A bathing suit is not the same as the filmy stuff you wear that you can just about see through, for chrissake.”
“Different,” her father said, “and I only went along with it because your mother wanted it.”
“Hey, Pop, why don’t we do some target shooting together?”
“Not today, George. Some other Father’s Day.” He hung up.
Georgianna drank a glass of orange juice. She had a theory that her father called her George so he wouldn’t be bothered by her girlness. Or, she sometimes thought, frightened of it. By the time Hodder got back from the dump, she had a big smile on her face, the kind you had to have even when—especially when—you were losing. The first runner-up smile.
Georgianna found Hodder more and more useful. He did errands and took out the garbage. He was sweet and attentive and a little moony about her, but she didn’t have to doll herself up when it was just him around. He was a good listener, too. She had
wound up telling him more about herself than she intended, but she found it didn’t bother her that he knew what he knew, so she went ahead and told him even more. After all, she told herself, he had known her uncle.
She told Hodder how, having won Miss Magnolia of 1993, she had been invited to make a guest appearance at the 1994 festival to compete against a Marine champion in field stripping an M-14 and whipped his sorry ass hands down.
Didn’t she date in high school? he asked. Didn’t she ever go to the mall with her girlfriends?
She told him about the plays she’d been in at school and during the summers and that she was going to be an actress, about the crowns she’d won and the contests she’d lost, her dreams and fears, that her favorite ice cream was pralines-and-cream and that when she had enough money saved she was going to strike out for the big time. “That’s why I’ve never done nudes,” she said. “The suits in Hollywood think there are two kinds of women. Women who act, and women who—” She stopped, finding herself embarrassed to say the word in front of Hodder. She had learned about “suits” from TV movies.
She watched him wince. It was easy to make him wince. She did not know why she liked to torture him like this: She did not hate men in general, and she had grown fond of him, at least as fond as she would have been of a dog. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you don’t like language like that.”
“You don’t got to apologize to me,” he said.
More than a dog. He was soothing, made her feel like she had a partner. They played Monopoly, watched rented movies, and told each other things they’d never told anyone. She told him how she had wanted to be in movies ever since the third grade, when she played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. “My red shoes were Nikes. I sprayed them with glitter.” She told him about how bad she’d felt not winning Miss Mississippi.
“Them judges must of been blind.”
“The girl was a D-cup.”
“Size ain’t everything,” he said. “Personality counts for a lot.” He wished she’d stop worrying about winning every damn thing. It didn’t seem to him that there was anything special in a trophy. But if she wanted to be a movie star, he hoped she’d get what she wanted.
He did not tell her that he was living under an overpass, eating only when he was at her house. She had thought about asking him where he spent his nights but imagined that he might interpret her interest as an invitation. Though she also kind of
wished he’d invite himself.
Sleeping under the overpass, he dreamed about the vegetables in his garden by the river.
Before long, however, he was doing the cooking at her place and they dined together, both of them peaceable and absorbed at the secondhand table under the bright overhead light in the kitchen. Sometimes she dried the dishes.
Sometimes she was gone to a modeling gig, and she kept stacking up the dollars in her Hollywood fund.
Every so often she’d sit down to calculate what to—and if necessary back from— L.A. would cost, with the impossible-to-guess-at length of time it would take for her to break into movies. But where would she start, once she got out there? Where would she stay? She was talking to Hodder about this when he said, “Well, in the library they got phone books from all over. We’ll look up numbers and addresses.”
“Whose number? Whose address?”
Still, his straightforward approach got her thinking that she should just pick up and go. Once she was in Hollywood she’d find out where the library was and scope out the numbers to call for everything. She told Hodder.
“I’ll come with you,” he said.
He was sitting on the couch in her apartment, his big rough hands splayed on his knees, and the lamp at the end of the couch made what looked to her, standing in the kitchen, like a halo around his head.
“I don’t want you to come.”
“But I want to. You’ll need takin’ care of out there. It’s a hard place, Hollywood.
I see TV. I know what goes on out there. It’s a city of broken dreams.” There were
these words that came out of his mouth from time to time, and they always caused
her to ponder. She watched him working his hands, rubbing them, then cracking
his knuckles, then drumming his fingers on the couch, then untying and retying
his shoes, then smacking his fists on his thighs as if kneading dough.
“I’ll be all right, Hodder. You know me. I can take care of myself.”
“But I want to—”
“No, Hodder,” she said. “I need you to look after things here.” She told herself that it wasn’t that she would be ashamed to be seen with him, nor that she thought he would hold her back, but he wouldn’t fit in there. He wouldn’t be happy. He wasn’t suited for urban life.
She knew he wouldn’t do anything she didn’t want him to do, but she felt guilty about not letting him go with her, so that night she let him stay. They didn’t do anything, but he put his arms around her. She slept in the curve of his body. The landlord roared into the garage, and she pushed herself deeper into Hodder’s arms. Hodder couldn’t tell whether she wanted him to make a move or not. He put his arms around her, but she was asleep in a minute or two. He wanted to make a move but somehow it seemed wrong, now that they were kind of like friends. He stayed awake most of the night but at some point he fell asleep and was crawling around in the desert, sand biting into his face like shrapnel. The sand turned into sand flies, landing all over him and digging in; it felt like they were inside his skin and no matter how hard he scratched, he couldn’t get at them. “God,” Georgianna said in the morning, “were you ever tossing and turning.”
“Naw,” he said. “You imagined it. You must of been dreamin’.” He had gotten his shirt on before she woke up so she would not see the welts and scabs and fresh scratches on his arms.
Georgianna had been surprised by how nice it had felt to sleep next to him, despite the tossing and the turning.
That evening he was getting ready to head back to the overpass when she asked him to sleep with her. She pulled her tee-shirt over her head, pulled down her jeans, and stood in front of him wearing nothing but her thong. “What do you think?” she asked.
This had happened so fast that Hodder felt faint. He was afraid he might keel over. He almost wished she’d put her clothes back on. He tried to keep his eyes averted, but somehow he kept seeing her out of the corners of them. Finally he turned himself away from her and looked out the window, where he saw the landlord driving up.
“You got an outie,” he said.
“You know you want to.”
He couldn’t argue with that.
“Just once, for the road.” She felt she was giving him a going-away present, her beauty-contest-winning body. It would make up for not letting him go with her. Also, she had to admit she was feeling frisky. No, downright honky-tonk. Wait— like a she-cat in heat.
“I ain’t never seen anything as beautiful as you, Georgianna. You oughtn’t take yourself so cheap.”
She went over to him and turned him back around.
“I want you to make love to me,” she said.
She brought her mouth up to his, which meant she had to stand on her toes and lean forward, and that meant her breasts were touching his chest. He thought he’d die.
She wanted sex without obligation, a pinwheel of love, a quick whirl through outer space and a safe return to earth.
He wanted to marry her.
After they’d had sex (several times, because having it made her want more), Georgianna ran her fingers over his scratches and bruises. “Poor Hodder,” she said. “What can the war have been like, if this is what a dream about the war looks like.” He was going to say it was nothing, just a stupid habit, but something stopped him.
Georgianna started calling him “babe.” She’d say, “Babe, we’re out of cereal.” Or, “You wait, babe, my parents are going to be so fucking proud of me that they’ll tell their friends Oh yes, she did some risqué modeling once upon a time, but that was just to get her start.”
“I’ll keep an eye on things here,” he said, as she was packing her bags, which
Hodder lifted into the bed of her pickup. “Just remember you already got a star in
In Hollywood Georgianna answered an ad that said two girls were looking for a third to share their apartment. They looked her over while she looked at the studio apartment, and then they showed her where she would sleep, which shelf of the refrigerator was hers, and gave her a key. Vera had a small role in a theater troupe and was gone at night. Marilee waited tables at a restaurant in Brentwood. They both took acting lessons, dancing lessons, singing lessons. They told Georgianna she’d better take elocution lessons to rid herself of her Southern accent.
“An agent could fall asleep before you finish a sentence,” Marilee said. “And wake up and fall asleep again,” Vera said. “Don’t get us wrong, you’re not boring, but it takes a long time for you to get a sentence out.” At an internet café Vera told
her about, Georgianna looked up agents’ addresses. Her roommates had warned her about the scams and fronts. She read the notices in Variety and showed up at cattle calls. Despite all this, no one offered her a part in a movie.
She didn’t understand it. She was at least as pretty as Michelle Pfeiffer. Her figure was a million times better than Bridget Fonda’s. But everyone in California was pretty. Even the men. It occurred to her that trying to break into the movies meant feeling like a runner-up every single day. Finally, one of the directors she lined up for gave her a short screen test, before taking her aside and saying, “Listen, it’s not you, it’s the camera. The camera just doesn’t see what I see when I look at you.”
“The camera likes me just fine. I’m a photographic model.” She used the smile.
“Those are stills. This is a movie camera.”
She didn’t want him to know that his comment was like a boot in her face, so she gave him her profile and stared at the movie posters on the wall. Lately she’d begun to have thoughts of a kind she would never have suspected she could have, and she had one now. California dreaming, my eye, she thought. Dreams were for girls living in small towns in the South. L.A. was strictly broad daylight, carcinogenic sun glaring down on a city full of accountants totaling the week’s box office. She went to the next interview, leaving one of her business cards on the director’s desk.
“You’re a bit old to be starting out,” this fellow said.
“I’m only twenty-five. And I look twenty!”
“Honey, when your face is five feet tall, everything shows.”
She left another card.
She was too short for glossy-magazine or runway modeling.
“I’m beautiful,” she said, timidly belligerent, to an agent who had gotten her hopes up by agreeing to see her. If only she had an agent, he would send her portfolio to people who would actually look at it.
“So what. There are a lot of beautiful women. Beautiful women are a dime a dozen.”
She slapped down a card.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” the agent said, handing her a tissue from the box on his desk. “It’s a lousy business. I’d take you on if I could, but it’s better to know the truth. Go home and find a nice guy.”
She thought about the nice guy at home. That she missed Hodder, the steady reassurance of him, was something she hadn’t anticipated. She worried about him, but she didn’t call because she didn’t want to lead him on when, if she ever snagged a part, she was going to stay here. And would she give up so easily? No. By god, no.
Sure that she did not need an acting class and running out of money fast, she enrolled in one because Vera told her it would “keep her in the loop.” Notices of casting calls were push-pinned to a bulletin board. She followed up on all of them— only to hear someone say “No.”
Or, “You’re not right.”
“Your skin’s the wrong shade for the shot.”
“Go get some experience.” Where?
“Not pretty enough.”
Even, “Too pretty.”
At some point, she found she was numb. It was as if someone had injected her brain with Botox. While Marilee and Vera were out, she hung around the apartment, wearing her bed socks and pajamas, and trying to think but her Botoxed brain wouldn’t cooperate. She sat down at the tiny kitchen table to drink a cup of hot tea, leaning over the steaming cup to give herself an impromptu minifacial, fanning the steam from the cup back onto her face. The steam prised open her throat and she breathed a breath in all the way down to her chest and oh! she fell apart and cried and cried.
In her early enthusiasm, she had gone to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, walked on the sidewalk of stars. She’d even gone to Frederick’s of Hollywood, whose lingerie ads she’d seen for years—it turned out to be a seedy mob scene, with merchandise grimy from customers’ hands. There were edible panties, peekaboo panties, and G-strings and all of it looked dingy and touristy, while outside the sun exposed the essential shabbiness of life, how it was all dog-eat-dog, everybody butting heads against everybody else. Sometimes a limo would glide down the street and it would seem to be gliding in a bubble, like the Good Witch Glinda, but then it turned a corner and the bubble burst, revealing the city as a collection of claws, all of them trying to climb up. And among them herself, kicking and scratching and clawing for a foothold. It was, she realized, a kind of pageant, but there was nothing beautiful about it.
Something seemed to have gone out of her, like a sigh: the self that had believed in the importance of success. What did it matter if she failed? What did it matter if she stopped trying? She could go back to Hodder. If she couldn’t make her own dream come true, she could fulfill his. There had to be some honor in that, some merit, something relatively pure.
She missed real trees like mayhaw and tupelo and silverbell. She missed longleaf and slash pine, and live oak. Palm trees were a poor substitute. She missed rain. Back home, the humidity had gentled the heat; here, where traffic was always stalled, the heat was mean, a glaring thing that scratched at your eyes, not at all like the caressing aromatic languor of medians planted with azalea or pear trees, hibiscus or bougainvillea. She missed the deep and dappled drowse of southern streets at noon.
She missed having someone to play Monopoly with.
When she called Hodder, he wanted to go to her, or her to him, whichever was faster. He wanted to wrap her in his arms this minute and tell her what he’d known all along: that fame wasn’t real. It was about image, not the self. The self went right on having dental appointments and using deodorant while the image played itself out on screen and in magazines. There was no such thing as fame. The closest to it anybody could get was famousness.
Where were the words he needed to say this? He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read his speech to her. “I wrote it out at Barnes & Noble,” he said. “Do you know what a chimera is?” He told her that her dream was a chimera. “And how do you know that?” she asked. She couldn’t resist a little dig. “It’s not like you’re famous yourself, babe.”
“Sugar Foot,” he said, “I’ve been thinking about it all this time because I want you to be happy. You know by now I ain’t a idiot.”
“I guess I do,” she said.
But Vera said, “Don’t quit now! Here, try this place,” and handed her a card with the name of yet another agent on it. Georgianna punched in the number and was told to send a photograph and a résumé. The agent called and asked her to come in. It wasn’t even an audition, and she had another of the “bad thoughts,” as she had decided to call the self-defeating side of her. Pop would say I got too big for my britches and I guess he was right. I am going home in disgrace. Her money was running out.
“Great name,” the man said. “Have you done any acting?”
“I’ve done a lot.” She listed her credits for him: plays in elementary, junior, and high school. A youth group that staged something or other every summer.
“Nothing professional?” he asked her, almost as if he were pleading.
“Beauty pageants. A lot of pretending goes into that.”
“Well,” he said, after a pause, “what makes you think you can act?”
“Can you give me five more minutes?”
“Sure,” he said. “I’m in no rush.”
Not in a rush! She wanted to kiss him on the cheek.
She got up from her chair and gave him Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She knew the speech by heart from the senior-class play and Maggie was still in her. She let it come up out of her body as if she were the cat, and she was the cat, claws and all, the soul of feline fury yowling against rejection. Her father wanted her to be a boy? Her mother wanted her to be an Ur-girl? She was done with marauding and seduction, she would blast them into space with her ray gun. For Maggie, she threw away everything she’d learned in the damn elocution class. If Maggie didn’t have a southern accent, it would be like she’d been fixed.
When it was over, he said he’d be in touch.
“I can field strip an M-14,” she said, “if you get a part for a woman GI.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, shuffling her card into a deck of them in his inbox.
The agent didn’t call, and when her money had nearly run out, she spent the rest of it on gas and motels and greasy-spoon food back to Jackson. On the way home she began to think on Hodder and the closer to home she got, the gladder she was that he would be waiting there at the bus stop. She could imagine his high spirits, how he’d act like a puppy dog with his tongue hanging out and his paws on her blue jeans but in an amiable way.
He barbecued ribs for dinner, had gotten pralines-and-cream ice cream for dessert. He sat at the table, watching her eat. It tore his heart apart to think she was so unhappy. “There ain’t nothin’ I wouldn’t do for you,” he said, like taking a vow.
“I know,” she said. “I know that’s true.”
“Tell me,” he said. “Just tell me what to do.”
Her voice was low, sarcastic, unaccented. “You could kill Miss Mississippi, I guess,” she said.
He knew she meant the one from the year she had lost.
“By god,” he said, “if that’s what you want, that’s what I’ll do. Is that what you want?”
“Don’t be silly.” Her voice softened. “It’s not her fault that the camera doesn’t like me.”
“It was a painful long time you was away,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “It was.”
He thought they would carry on where they left off and be sleeping together again. He hung around after dinner, waiting to be invited to bed. When she didn’t say anything about it, he grabbed her and kissed her. She put her small hands on his chest and held him off. “My god, Hodder, you got to let a girl catch her breath now and then!”
He wondered if he would have to go back to the overpass, when he’d been here for months in her absence.
“I’m depressed,” she said. “I can’t help it that I’m depressed.”
He took her by the hand and led her to the bed. When they were in bed he gave her a deep, slow kiss. “Have you got your breath now?” he asked, and then he made love to her. She didn’t seem all that involved, and when it was over, he asked, “Why did you let me do that if you didn’t want it?”
“You’re a nice guy, Hodder,” she said. “You’re not a pervert at all.”
“I love you, Georgianna.”
“Can’t you be just a little bit happy about that?”
“I am,” she said. “I am just a little bit happy about that.” It was not the same as having the world fall in love with you—he was just one person, and one that was screwed up, a run-down raggedy loner hiding out from his past—but he was a nice guy. “I think we should move into the cabin together. I’ll tell my folks I want to quit modeling. They’ll be pleased and they don’t have to know I’m living with someone.”
“I’m not just someone. I’m me.”
“Yes, of course, babe,” she said.
She hung curtains in the cabin.
He could not believe his luck and thought maybe with time she would learn to be as happy with him as he was with her.
But—it was strange, but—she was slowing down. Way, way down, as if the batteries in her were dying. With her dreams of Hollywood behind her, she couldn’t think of anything to do. She even spoke more slowly, because getting words out of her mouth was really hard, they weighed so much, boulders clamping down her tongue. She had mostly quit eating, too. Getting something out, getting something in, it was too much effort in either direction. Hodder said, “Let me take you to a doctor, I think you need to see a doctor,” but she hardly had the energy to shake her head.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Hodder said, trying a different tactic. “It’s lots of folks worse off than you. How many girls ever get to be First Runner Up?”
Her eyes filled up at that. Green eyes inundated by tears.
“You think I don’t know that, Hodder? You think I’m not disgusted with myself? I know you’d be better off without me. The world would be better off.”
“Hush,” he said. “Don’t talk like that. I won’t allow it.”
He began to think half seriously about locating the Miss Mississippi of the year she had lost and shooting her dead. He tried to convince Georgianna that being Miss Mississippi wasn’t so important. What did you get if you were Miss Mississippi? You got a tiara, which when would you ever wear it again? You got a ribbon. You got to walk the walk. For a year you were in the news every now and again and maybe people thought you were special but then the year was over, just the way every year was over when it was over. But he wished she had won, just because she wished she had won.
“You won’t allow it. Oh, babe,” she said, “there is nothing you wouldn’t allow me to do, is there? Nothing. If I said I wanted to sleep with ten men right here and now, with you standing right there, you wouldn’t move from that spot. I could cut my wrists and you would think I was doing it to be sweet.”
“That ain’t true,” he objected. “I’d stop you. If I had to I’d kick the shit out of you.”
“Yeah? Well, do it then!”
He gave her a long look and left the room.
He wanted to get rid of the guns. He was afraid she might harm herself. “No,” she said. “Don’t you dare take my guns away. I might want to shoot again sometime.”
Georgianna had decided that she was ugly, stupid, and a nuisance. She looked in the hand mirror that had belonged to her grandmother and sought to see what it was the camera saw, but all she could see was what she saw. She saw a woman who was never going to be anything more than a model for strip-club fliers.
It amazed and even awed her to look back and follow the trail from when she was winning beauty pageants to now. It had seemed like a long time, but actually it had happened so fast. So fast! That was life for you, she told herself, wanting to shed all sentimentality and deluded hope: A person had a dream, whatever it was, and then it was over and you woke up, and then you were awake for the rest of your life and the dream was gone forever. She did not see how she could bear to be awake for the rest of her life.
She watched television news all day long. The politicians were just like prostitutes, selling themselves to this lobbyist or that, anything for a buck or a vote. This was what it meant to live in America, she thought. It meant selling yourself to somebody or something. What if no one was buying, what if what you could supply wasn’t in demand?
Came a day, in the fullness of time, she turned off the television. Hodder was running the mower, the drone constant but distant. Bluebottle flies bounced off the screens like off of trampolines. A huge bee was fumbling at the windowsill. The pines made long black shadows that flowed across the yard as if they were water. A red-tailed hawk swooped toward some prey on the ground. The willow tree seemed to have been lightly sketched against the sky in green pencil. A long white cloud fringed on both sides looked like an enormous feather. The world wasn’t going to stop being a world. She told herself to get off her duff and look for work. Hodder needed her help around the place.
She went back to the photographer who had used her before. “I’m back,” she said, smiling to show her white teeth, her friendly mouth. “Hi, everybody.” Billy Lee invited her into his office and shut the door.
“Well, now, Georgianna. It’s good to see you again. You’re looking lovely, as always. Where’ve you been?”
“Here and there,” she said. “I was just traveling to see what’s out there in these United States.”
“We missed you.”
“And I missed y’all,” she said. “In fact, I’d like to come back to work.” As definite as she was aiming to be, her voice wobbled a bit on the words “come back to work.”
“The thing is,” he said, “I’ve got another girl now.”
There was a pause while she tried to find her footing. “I’ll teach her the ropes, Billy,” she said. “There’s enough work for both of us.”
“To tell the truth,” he said, “I’ve got a couple of other girls now.”
He was looking at his fingernails. (She had a view of his scalp. He’d had plugs put in.) She wanted to say, Look me in the eye when you say that, but she didn’t. Then she did. It came out exactly the way she had thought it. “Look me in the eye when you say that,” she said.
He drew his hands behind the desk and looked her in the eye. “This gentleman’s club”—he brought a business card out of the drawer and slid it in her direction over the desk—“is looking for dancers. Why don’t you try there? I’ll say I sent you.”
She had tapped all the bounce and oomph she had on hand daring him to look her in the eye. She picked up the card and closed the door on her way out.
It was twilight in the parking lot at the club. The blue neon lights were the color of the sky. A neon woman in a red neon bikini bottom flashed on and off. The neon woman would be hugging the pole up high one moment and down low the next. Georgianna started to climb out of the car and then got back in, floored the pedal, and roared out of there, the neon tubes behind her flickering like hellfire.
“Lap dancing,” she said to Hodder. “He knows me better than that!”
Hodder let her blow off. It was good that she was angry. Better than being depressed.
The phone rang.
“Maybe he’s calling to apologize,” she said, picking up the receiver. “You better believe he knows he damn well should.”
It was the agent who had listened to her Maggie. “It’s three minutes,” he said. “You could end up on the cutting room floor. But it’s a foot in the door.”
“I don’t have any money left.”
“I’ll advance you the airfare.”
While she was still on the phone, Hodder slipped outside.
Would she have stayed in Mississippi if he had asked her? He thought she might have, but she might not ever forgive him for it. He waited until the plane took off, just in case she changed her mind at the last minute.
Driving home in her truck, he thought about moving back to his shack, but the vegetables would be either dead or rioting, the hot plate and his few rickety pieces of furniture covered with dust.
He stayed where he was and kept it tidy. He changed the bed sheets once a week, in case she showed up suddenly. She could do that; she could show up suddenly.
He went to bed thinking about her, and fell asleep thinking about her, but when he woke up in the middle of the night it was always because of the war. Sometimes he’d find himself on the Highway of Death, trying to get across all those dead Iraqi soldiers missing heads or legs and burned black. They sat stockstill behind steering wheels or were draped like fallen flags on the tops of tanks they had been trying to get out of when the bombs fell. The ones who did get out were no more than scattered bits and pieces and crows and feral dogs and suchlike had found them. They had been told they could safely retreat and then American airplanes had strafed the road with explosives and machine guns. He had been deployed after the fact, assigned to the job of checking vehicles for survivors. But the Iraqis were all dead—hundreds, thousands. In the dream, getting across them was a problem, because if he so much as brushed the sleeve of an Iraqi corpse with the hem of his pants leg he would die, infected with death. Sometimes he dreamed about venomous spiders, or rats the size of rhinos.
He woke up in a sweat. He had trouble concentrating, not all the time but often enough. His head would be fuzzy with stuff he couldn’t quite remember but that he knew had been there in his sleep or even while he was awake but not thinking about being awake. Minutes would go by and he’d be somewhere in his mind—he had to have been, didn’t he—but goddamn if he knew where.
Every so often there was a postcard from Georgianna. Once she phoned, but it was hard to talk on the phone. She sounded like a whole new person, different, and in a way deeper than just a change in accent. He had so much to say to her but when the pressure was on like that he couldn’t help clamming up.
A year went by. The movie came out. She called to tell him she was letting the garage apartment go. “You can stay in the cabin,” she told him, hoping to ease the shock.
“When are you coming back?” he asked, fearing that just asking the question was to jinx the answer.
“I don’t know,” she said.
He didn’t ask if she was going to stay away forever, but probably part of him knew it. He loaded the pickup with their belongings, which were mostly her belongings, and drove them to the cabin.
Georgianna’s three minutes had grown to five, the director liked her so much. The movie was called As It Is. When it finally came out Hodder took the truck to Jackson to see it. He was so full of pride that he thought he would explode and wished there was someone he could talk to about her. She wrote him that her scene had brought her another job, in a movie starring Sandra Bullock. They would shoot in Montana. Georgianna was excited by this because Sandy (as she wrote) Bullock had previously played a beauty pageant contestant. She wanted to tell Sandy that they had something in common, her card said.
Drinking coffee with one of those morning talk shows on the radio, to which he was paying not the least attention, he heard the front door opening and jumped out of his chair, hoping with every bone in his body that it was her. It wasn’t. “What are
you doing here?” the man said.
“I live here,” Hodder said.
“I own this place,” the man said. “My name is Millard Starlington. This here’s my wife, Serena. You’re going to be gone before the day is out, mister.”
“Hodder,” Hodder said. “I been living here with your daughter, Georgianna.”
Millard looked him over, looked over the room. “Georgianna don’t live here,” he said. “She lived in town. And now she’s out of town.”
“She let the town place go and I come out here to—to wait for her, and see to things. And, um, and—”
Mrs. Starlington tugged at her husband’s arm. “Let’s go,” she said.
He shook her off. “I want to hear more about why this man is living in my cabin.”
“Sorry, sir. Georgianna thought it’d be all right.”
“She did, did she? And what might your relationship to her be, if you please?”
“I want to marry her,” Hodder said.
He watched as Millard Starlington made a big show of hooing and hahing.
“Son,” Starlington said, “you are dee-lusional. George is never coming back to Mississippi. She’s got another life now, and whoever you are, it don’t include you.”
Hodder didn’t know what to say. “I knew your brother, ma’am,” he said to Serena.
“You knew Seb?” Her voice more like a shadow than a real sound.
“She sends me postcards,” he said, speaking to her husband again. “I can show you them.”
“Show away,” Millard said. “She’s practically a movie star now, and she ain’t coming back to Mississippi and we’re selling the cabin. Real estate agent’s got somebody to look at it next week. Don’t even have the sign up yet.”
So Hodder moved back into his shack. It was a mess, inside and out, and the rainy season was upon it. Thunder crackled like pig skin and then settled down to grousing like a chronic complainer. Lightning lit up the sky like scud missiles and brought down the big hackberry tree.
He took her guns with him, all of them—rifles, shotguns, and two pistols, for safekeeping, and her Yankees baseball cap. If the old man wanted them, he’d have to fight him. He hung the cap on a nail. He put together a gun rack and affixed it to the wall and every gun had its rightful place on the rack.
At first he tried to get back into the habit of fishing, but he didn’t really feel like fishing. In the shack he paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The sameness of the pacing calmed him. He could spend an entire morning sitting on the mattress and staring at the pile of her clothes that he needed to buy hangers for.
As the leaves fell he took long walks and sometimes he’d swing near the cabin and see what the new residents were up to. The curtains Georgianna had hung—a long time ago now—stayed for a while and then were taken down and replaced. He never got near enough to be seen. All winter he kept to himself, stoking the wood stove, thinking about her. He slept a lot, as if he were part bear and hibernating, but there wasn’t much else to do in the winter. The days were short. It didn’t snow but now and again ice glazed the branches in the mornings, and in the early evening, when their coats blurred into everything else, deer stole out of the forest to forage in the garden, but the garden had gone to tangle and rot.
All winter he thought about what he could have done different. Lying in bed, he realized there were a lot of things he wished he had done. He wished he had tracked down Miss Mississippi and shot her dead. He wished he had gone to L.A. so when men told Georgianna that the camera didn’t like her he could have at least beat the shit out of them. He halfway wished he had shot Millard Starlington. He all-the-way wished he had shot his daddy before he died and made that impossible. He had got himself a blue tick hound and at first she slept outside, scrabbling dirt as she made her bed, but after a while he let her in, and before long she was sleeping on the bed with him. Sometimes she’d butt her muzzle right into his face. He’d scratch the top of her head for her. They kept each other warm through the cold nights.
He took to talking to her. She paced with him, back and forth, back and forth. He had named her Georgie and sometimes he forgot she was a dog and thought he was talking to Georgianna. Sometimes he’d catch himself talking to his army buds.
Sometimes he thought about his prick father, and once he could have sworn he’d seen him standing right outside the door. Just for a second, but it scared him. He wondered if he was going crazy.
On a night past the coldest time he woke up from a dream filled with dead men. Still in his long johns, he pulled the blankets from the bed and carried them outside, spreading them out flat on the ground. He went back inside and came out with Georgianna’s 9-millimeter pistol. Georgie had followed him, looking at him wonderingly as he wrapped himself in the blankets on the ground. “Come on, girl,” he said, patting the blanket beside him. She curled next to him and he pulled the blanket over her, too.
He lay there, looking at the stars and thinking that Georgianna would have her own someday. Once he said, out loud, “My darling.” He had never before used the word darling and it sounded foreign on his tongue, stiff, but right. Georgie’s ears pricked at the sound, but her eyes didn’t open.
After a while he picked up the pistol, put the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
His body wasn’t found until someone recognized Georgie rooting in an overturned garbage can out by the general store. Reckoning that Georgie was lost and Hodder would be wanting her back to his place, he took her there. She began to whine as they approached the shack.
Georgianna heard about it first from her mother, who waited until Millard was out of the house to call her daughter.
“The police are going to be calling you. They asked me for your phone number. You don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to. Honeybunch? Are you there, honeybunch?”
It wasn’t until this point in the conversation that the news got past her ears and through to Georgianna’s heart and a sense of loss engulfed her so completely and so deeply that she felt like the lowest of the low, a blind creature on the bottom of the ocean, a speck of worm shit. What had she been thinking? What had she been doing? “I might just as well have killed him,” she said, thinking, With my gun and my traitorous ways.
She remembered Hodder’s kisses and his pride in her. She had been nothing to be proud of.
She remembered his laugh and that he always helped and never harmed her, even when she did things that must have hurt him. “Hush,” Serena said, and her voice had gone guttural and harsh while Georgianna’s was pale and hollow and unsouthern. “Whatever you did, whoever he was to you, the man killed himself. You can feel sad if you want to, but don’t go getting worked up over it. You’ve got your life to live.”
Her mother rattled on, but Georgianna was no longer listening. She turned the cell off and walked to the window of her motel room. In her head she was saying Hodder, Hodder, Hodder, over and over. She hadn’t been in love with him, but—but what was love? What if love was that companionability and easygoing affection they had had? What if it was the feeling of having a special place in a certain bed where you and your loved one lost yourselves in each other? And the world stayed outside through the night. And your dreams were harmonious. What if?
There was a knock on her door. She opened it. Some of the crew were there, wanting to know if she was joining them for dinner.
She had a small but real part this time out. When the movie was released six months later, she was noticed, as she had not been before. Critics applauded the newcomer’s arrival. She herself had watched the rushes and saw that shame and a stinging sense of fallibility had transfigured her face. They refined her features, gave her a hesitancy that was gentle and grave. The critics and directors could not put their finger on what was different about her, how she was unlike other actresses; shame was not an emotion with which they were familiar. Fallibility they dreaded to recognize, of shame they said not a word. But they knew she was box-office gold. They knew she had something.
Kelly Cherry is the author of twenty-two full-length books, nine chapbooks, and two translations of classical drama. Her most recent title is A Kind of Dream, a collection of linked stories, selected as a Best Indie book. A Kelly Cherry Reader is forthcoming.
“Famousness” originally appeared in Women’s Studies (TLR, Winter 2015).