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Daughter of the Yard
By Peter Cooper
Friday, September 19, 2003
They're young, in love, pregnant, and out of money. Can she ask her lumberyard owner of a father--without telling him why they need his help?
The trouble with lovers has nothing to do with the fact they are lovers. It's what lovers do that brings so much consternation to the world around them.
Every story ought to begin with a maybe. Don was short, Peggy was tall, and they were lovers. Peggy's father sold lumber. The bed that Peggy and Don slept on was made out of stolen two by fours. Pine, Southern Pine, White Pine; there was something fine about the wood. There was something not so fine about what her father would do if he found their little cabin in the woods. Maybe he wouldn't.
Her father was coming home from Brazil. There are a lot of trees in Brazil that could be turned into lumber. That excited her father even more than the whores he saw in Brazilia. For that matter, the prospect of trees into two-by fours excited the whores more than her father did. They were even on that one.
Now, Don's father had been somewhere else for so long that Don got used to the idea that orphans could expect to have a very tenuous relationship with their parents. That didn't bother him as much as the fact that Peggy wasn't an orphan. Everything would have been so much easier to understand and deal with if only her father would act like Don's; keep a respectable distance, stay away for fear. Anything but engage so heavily in effective parenting.
And it didn't help that Peggy was "her father's girl." Only child was bad enough. Her father was always talking about how she used to help him take the inventory out in the YARD. (That was what they called the fenced in area behind the store, where all the wood was kept.) Inventorying lumber was like studying geography with a calculator. 2X8's, 2X6's, 2X10's. It had always struck Peggy as somewhat obscene, the way they lay out in the YARD., a large steel band around the bundles. Bunks, packs, packages; divisions of labor like fuming brides and insolent grooms, the blue-steel band of arranged matrimony. Once in awhile, the moisture would creep in and make the wood swell with slow temper, bursting the bands. Lumber would escape the stack and fall into the mud or dust, spring or summer. Let not man put asunder.
On the first leg of the return trip, her father ogled the dark-eyed stewardess over the top of his paperback. The cover picture reminded him of what he wanted her to do to him. Peggy's father had no way of knowing the pilot had taken care of her like the German Shepherd in chapter three. He didn't even know the pilot had read the book. There was absolutely nothing in the man's face to indicate. Nothing.
Her father was always slightly uneasy about these overseas trips, leaving Peggy's mother home all alone. He didn't trust her to respond properly in an emergency. Actually, he wasn't very confident in her ability to run the house when he was around, much less gone. Whenever he left on a long trip, he would put 50 twenty dollar bills in the cookie jar on the fridge. They never spoke of the money. It was one of many topics they never referred to openly.
Sometimes, Peggy would put her hand on Don's shoulder from behind, and he would jump inside. He often imagined that was the way his mother would have touched him as he did his homework. Don was sure his father would have been able to confirm this, but the man had left, taking that particular and valuable piece of information with him.
Don always jumped when Peggy put her hand on his shoulder from behind, and she imagined he was afraid it was her father. His smile would cover his nervousness, but Peggy would see his eyes still jiggling from the shock. She loved the way his eyes jiggled. It reminded her of the way another part of his anatomy jumped. She loved his anatomy: his stocky frame, the hair that crawled up his back. It tickled her to run her fingers just above it. It tickled him more.
Peggy's mother wasn't as well hidden as Don's. She was what some people called church-like. The last time Peggy had seen her mother, the older woman was on her knees in church. That one peek from the large double doors confirmed everything Peggy ever thought of her mother. And it wasn't only like that at church. She was like that at home, always on the verge of falling to her knees, especially since Peggy disappeared. Peg's father took to calling it arthritis, and he spent more and more time out in the YARD.
As Peggy's father stood in the aisle to retrieve his coat, he saw the stewardess standing beside the pilot. The aviator's hand was resting on the part of her body that was lyrically described in chapter six. It was the best chapter in the book.
Don had gone to see her mother once. It was important to him that Peg's mom didn't look anything like his own mother. He pretended to be collecting for an orphanage. A story, concocted in his mind, to insure failure. He got a good look at her face, wondered momentarily if her breasts were in any way shaped the same as her daughter's. There was no way to tell for sure.
Leaving, he had been tempted to make an airplane out of the twenty-dollar bill, but saved it instead for groceries. He wasn't sure, but glancing over his should on the way to the street, he could have sworn the old lady was going to fall to her knees. He wanted to ask Peggy if her mother was an epileptic, but decided it wasn't worth an explanation of his visit. The important thing was he had one more face that wasn't his mother's.
Peggy loved the way trees grew. She once put a stethoscope to the trunk of an old oak to hear the heartbeat. She only heard it in her dreams, otherwise the Yard would have become a kind of Auschwitz in her mind. The slender Red Arrow studs and Saratoga Straights would remind of skeletons, identification numbers burned into their grainy flesh. Her father was a Republican, after all, and not a Nazi. He went off to conventions and sawmills, not Nuremburg. Never Berlin.
Her father lost the book on the second leg of the journey home, and regretted the loss when he boarded the third. This new stewardess looked just like the nymphomaniac from chapter eleven. It was uncanny. And she seemed to look at him, just that way. He put a Time magazine over his lap, but he knew she knew. When the plane set down he watched her with the pilot. They obviously hadn't read the book, and Peg's father breathed a sigh of relief.
Don truly enjoyed making love to Peggy's father's daughter. There was a certain justice to the act that went beyond the fact that Peggy was far more beautiful that any of his fantasies in the dark dormitory of his childhood. The phenomenon of orphanity was too much a two-way street with no exit, and he dreamed of painting a solid yellow line down the middle. He knew he was trafficking in her emotions, but she seemed to enjoy it. She was hard to figure out in that respect. She looked like her father, but reminded him more of her mother. God help her if he ever caught her kneeling. God help him.
Often, Peggy would stand, gazing into the sun in the middle of the afternoon. She never said, but she was waiting for a telegram from Apollo. She was sure one would eventually arrive. Actually, the messages came every day, but she decided early on to only answer the one that wasn't sent collect. On that day, the sun wouldn't hurt her eyes, and she would know.
It was no surprise that Peggy's father went straight to the store, first upon his arrival. He walked back into the YARD. There was a faint smell of gasoline in the air and it bothered him. Then he spotted the small fork truck off to his left and shook his head. He was about to chastise his nerves but fought off the urge. If you were a lumber man, you had to be afraid of fire. You had to dream about it, keep it near you where you could always see it. That was the only way to control it inside.
Peggy's mother lifted herself off her knees and walked slowly into the kitchen. The plan had arrived early and he was surely at the store. She had been terribly afraid when he told her he was going out of the country. Luckily, Brazil was a Christian land. Her prayers could reach him by satellite. She looked up at the clock and watched the minutes tick off like rosary beads.
Don walked to Peggy's side and took her hand. She tugged on his arm and he fell down onto the soft mossy forest floor outside their cabin. They played a little game. They both knew it was nothing more than that. It was a good game, nonetheless. Neither won unless they both did.
The house looked mighty small compared to the large rain forests of Brazil. He lifted his luggage out of the trunk and made his way in through the side door. His wife greeted him with a relieved smile and he kissed her lightly on the cheek. Then he made the mistake of misinterpreting her look and pulled her close against his body.
"No," she pushed against him. "Please, I can't. You know that."
"How long, Margaret? How long do I have to wait?"
"I'm sorry." She straightened her apron. "You know how it is."
He pushed over the hurt in his voice with a scrape of anger. "She's not coming back, you know."
She spun on him. "I don't know that." Then closed her eyes tightly. "It's me. I have to get myself right with God. Then"
Everybody has one. A balm. Peg's father had his YARD filled with lumber. Her mother had lumps on her knees. Peg could wait forever, if it took that, for her message from the sun. Don, on the other hand, had no such genealogy of expectation. His balms changed according to the situation. Not a bad way to do things, really. Though, he had to be pretty quick sometimes. His survival, he often said, was based on a simple belief in his abilities. Peg called it sheer arrogance. He called it self-preservation. Like Mason jars, canned ego, jellied id.
One afternoon, Peg's father came home and found his wife on her knees in the back of his closet in the basement. She was right in front of a stack of Playboy magazines. He didn't have the will to lie to her.
"A man has needs."
"This is paper," she said mutely. "Just paper."
"They're ideas. Your ideas sustain you. Mine just happen to be different." He could feel the heat rising in his voice. "If you hadn't changed"
"I was never like these women," she sighed softly. Peggy's father slowly walked up the stairs to fetch a Lite beer. He was sorry she found the magazines, but was relieved she found them when he was home. No telling what might have happened to his collection were she to find it with several days of wondering about them at her convenience.
Don got a part time job unloading trucks at construction sites. The foremen would tell the day labor to stack the plywood by a ladder, or the studs by a back wall. It wasn't very taxing, and the money would help them eat another week. Peg said it was okay for him to work a little, as long as he didn't catch any of the ethic that was going around. It was the kind of cute saying that would get her excited and lead to an afternoon rematch. Except there hadn't been any daylight rematches for several weeks. She made up for it late at night.
Peggy's father came home for dinner that night and went straight to the basement. The Playboys were still there. He pulled the top one off the stack and leafed through it. Something was different about it. Then it dawned on him. She had spent the afternoon praying over them. They were no damn good anymore!
The Chinese say a woman having her period in "riding the cotton pony." Peg had been out of the saddle for over six weeks. How could she tell Don that she hadn't had enough money to buy the pills, after she told him not to work too much? He would get angry, or worse he might not be. She heard him walking up the path and quickly went to check the greens on the stove. He burst in and threw himself into his chair. Sighing, he began to pull off his boots.
"God, I hate this. There has to be a better way to make money." He sighed again.
"Only the government makes money."
The statement chilled him. He had twenty dollars in his pocket and a whole life of living ahead of them. Maybe, if they cut down on expenses.
That evening, Peggy's father burned all the magazines with a pile of leaves. He felt his wife's eyes on him, and was tempted to do a demonic dance to force her to look away. Then he noticed a neighbor watching out of a kitchen window across the way. He held himself in check, a prisoner of suburbia. Zenda's had it easy.
The greens caught in Don's throat and he would have spit them out, but Peggy's feelings would have been hurt. He knew it wasn't easy to live on what he brought home. So, he decided to do something about the situation. He smiled to himself. The next day he would go collecting for the orphanage again. He knew where he could get a quick twenty, at least.
Peg's mother recognized the young man walking up the steps and smiled. Now, there was a young man who was doing the Lord's work, and so unashamed, too. She met him at the door and invited him in. He hesitated, but she insisted.
He almost bolted when he saw Peg's picture on the television set. She looked good in her valedictorian's cap and gown. Peggy's mother asked if he'd like a cup of coffee. He agreed.
"Just one though. I have a lot of stops to make." He lowered his eyes humbly. "People just don't contribute like they used to."
She clucked sympathetically and reached for the cookie jar.
Peggy dropped the first dime and stooped to retrieve it from the floor of the telephone booth. Her fingers felt fat and too large for the buttons. She finally managed to punch in her father's work number.
As soon as he picked up the phone, he knew it was Peggy.
"Daddy?" She sped right into it. "I need your help. I'm pregnant."
"Where are you?"
"Where are you?" The other didn't matter to him yet.
"I can't tell you, Daddy."
"How can I help you if I don't know where you are?"
She hung up the phone. Her father was right, as usual. He couldn't help her unless he knew, and she couldn't tell him. Logically, her father couldn't help her.
"Would you like a receipt, for tax purposes?" Don asked professionally.
Her eyes flashed, reminiscent of her daughter. "The Lord Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple." Then she composed her self. "You just go ahead and do some good with that."
Peggy's father held on to the buzzing receiver for some time before replacing it. He felt the sniper site on his vulnerability, the crossing of the hairs. No damage had been done, but the target was exposed. How did one go about hiding from the daughter he wanted so desperately to find?
Peggy walked slowly from the clinic. There were dead rabbits all over the sidewalk. She stepped carefully and began to run. You can't feed a baby just greens. As she ran, she tried to hit every crack. Give this baby a head start. Her back ached by the time she reached the cabin.
Don was asleep on the makeshift couch, snoring loudly. Peg picked up a small, vinyl-covered book from the coffee table. It was a bank book with a single entry: "Savings Account. . . $1,000.00." She ran out to check the sun. It was hidden behind a cloud.
Peggy's father was furious with her mother. What was the use of keeping the YARD open when she just threw money away on every stranger with a hard luck story.
"I did it for her," she repeated.
"Who?" As if he didn't know.
"Our lost daughter." She turned away and he almost smiled. She shied away from everything but a good argument. She wasn't going to get away with this one so easily. She turned back to him. "The man was collecting for an orphanage."
"Well, she may as well be an orphan, now."
He looked at her closely. Did he dare tell her about the call? "Orphans don't have parents they know they can call if they get into trouble."
"Exactly. That's why people like us have to help them."
No. He didn't dare tell her. He could recognize the Lord's logic as well as anyone.
Peggy knelt beside the sofa and whispered in Don's sleeping ear. "I'm going to have a baby." He stirred, but didn't wake. He was reacting like a rich man, thought Peg. Rich men can afford to sleep. Money takes away all their worries. She went into the kitchen and watched the greens cook in the pot. The pot looked full of limp, green and shredded money.
Suddenly, she knew why her father sold lumber. He killed trees to harvest the money in their leaves. And she had come just that close to asking him for some of it!
Now Don had money, too. If Peg wasn't careful, they would try to harvest her baby, somehow. She couldn't bear the thought that her baby would be harvested while still green. The rabbits would have died in vain. She hastily scribbled a note to Don and then collected a few things in a satchel.
The smell of burning greens woke Don. He pulled the pot off the burner and wondered where the hell Peg was. He found the note and read it carefully, scratching his head. The sleep came off in his fingernails and he started to feel bad. His father used to tell him that eating was the best thing for grief.
Don tasted the greens and smile as the sweet burnt pieces touched his tongue. He felt a little better about Peg's leaving. He had been wrong about what his father had said. What he really said was, "Try eating. Sometimes it helps."
That night, Peg's mother awoke in the middle of a very realistic dream. God was telling her to be a wife again. How could she refuse.
That night, Peg's father dreamed he was making love to his daughter's mother, like they used to do. It was a very real dream, like when he was a teenager. And a damn sight better than Brazil.
The truck that stopped to pick up Peg had a plastic St. Christopher medal on the dashboard. It was just glued there. The driver smiled with half his teeth missing. The roar of the diesel frightened Peg, and the driver jammed the truck into gear, a nutcracker pop and shudder. She put her satchel across her stomach, protectively.
That night, Don spent twenty dollars in a bar and wound up going home with a girl whose name he didn't discover until the next morning. Over eggs and bacon she paid for out of her allowance, she told him her father owned an automobile dealership in the next town. She really didn't care if she ever saw him again. Don smiled. Sometimes it helps to be lucky, too.
Site: Chaos Refreshes the Structure
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