THINGS TO SEE IN TOUGHLAHOMA
When we say that all the good things to see are in Hoogieboogieland, and the rest of them are in Roughlahoma, we don't mean there are no good things to see in Toughlahoma. There is one good thing to see in Toughlahoma.
There is a pond, deep in the heart of the Toughlahoma Nature Theater, and a great blue whale rests at the edge of the pond. A slide slides out of the blue whale's great head into the pond, and children may slide down the slide. The blue whale's tail is a diving platform off of which children may dive. Into the pond. The guts of the whale also are hollow and blue.
Some say that when the Jesus of the Dakotas fed his blue ox Babe to the five thousand there were thirteen baskets of Babe-flesh left over, and the Babe-flesh was discarded beside a pond where it ossified or petrified or what have you, into a whale. A whale with a slide head and a diving board tail. But that's stupid.
The oldsters want you to believe that it's the very whale that spit out Ishmael when President Action Jackson ordered him to go preach to the savages, which is theologically unsound and also why I wish we had not abandoned the practice of sacrificing our oldsters to the Great Teen Spirit.
In other words, it's all a myth. The whale is concrete.
Concrete, the love mineral.
That might be why we get the way we get about the Widow Sharon whose name is Judy. She is more than a woman but not yet an oldster, with long horsey hair and a sharp face and a body all muscle and sinew except where the breasts are. Of the breasts I will say you can see almost all there is to them on days when she wears the older of the two bathing suits, but none of us men have ever seen more.
She wears the bathing suits one at a time to guard the lives of our children and the children of the vacationers as they slide down the slide or dive from the tail of the whale. Our children are mostly straw-headed and pinkish, Dennis the Menaces, Peppermint Patties, a Howdie-Doodie here and there. The other children, who can describe them? They are never around long enough for us to absorb their appearances. Most of us, at least.
But they, all of them, ours and the others, love the Widow Sharon, who they call Miss Judy because her name is Judy, and the Widow Sharon loves them too, maybe too much.
This is not to impugn the Widow's actions, or even her intentions. We can't get at the intentions so why bother? The actions are like this: She hollers at them to slow down when they bolt into the blue whale's gaping mouth. She sticks a child to a bandage when the child has scraped a limb. She keeps the time of their water-treading, counting a little faster than a clock would. Once, she even resurrected a girl with her own mouth. And we appreciate this, all of it.
But then there's the other thing. Once a season, maybe twice, a boy will come around, always one of the others, never one of ours, a boy waif with girlish black hair, skin green-tinted but probably porcelain in winter if there's winter where he's from, a voice like the tone of a pitchfork, and one of those names. We think it's the names that draw her to them. Exotic, musical, feminine despite their gender. Julian. Nathaniel. Sidney. When one of them shows up, the pond rings with the widow's intonation of his name. She repeats it like the refrain of her favorite song or like a lover's sigh. It's spooky, to tell the truth.
I will tell you what is not true: It's not true that we men, or any, even the smallest selection of us, ever got fed up with this and followed one of these boys back to the campground his family was staying at from a safe distance making sure that we weren't followed or seen. It's not true that we hid behind a row of bushes, waiting, hoping, that Anthony or Caleb or Carlton would awaken in the middle of the night and feel the call of nature, and would leave his family's camper or tent to stumble his way toward the communal restrooms, following the sickly purple light and the sound of the buglamps before it. It is patently false that anyone snatched him from the path before he ever reached the door to the restroom or that anyone snapped his skinny neck before he could even struggle, because it was not him, after all, we were or were not frustrated with. No one ever deposited a little body in the blue whale's belly, knowing the Widow Sharon whose name is Judy would be the first to see it, and as a warning.
None of it ever happened and noone has ever suggested otherwise. So why am I talking about it?
When I am down at the whale, I sit on my hands and watch the widow with the children. If I happen to catch the eye of another man with no good reason to be there, I hold his gaze so that he knows I've seen him, and then I look away. And if the pond should echo with the call of the widow to Samuel or Benji or Lawrence, I wonder if I'm the only one thinking what I'm thinking.
Amelia Gray assigned me to write about [this] for a reading series she runs in Austin, but Oklahoma sounded so made up that I set it in Toughlahoma, which I'm much more familiar with.