I used up all my capital for this: a visit to my sister’s house at the junction of Nowhere and No Reason. Panic, which started ticking when I told Myra that Frank and I were coming, took over on the flight from Durham to Winston-Salem, and by the time we get to her house I’m chewing gum and smoking at the same time, my foot rattling like a machine gun. Every building in town is a dull cube, the Hanes factory squatting in the water tower’s shadow. Frank never would have agreed to come if he’d had a recording session, a movie, a single foxhole he could hide in. But these days it’s his wife who’s paying the bills, and I get to insist on a trip that I myself have never made since I left North Carolina with a bad suitcase and a drawl. I got rid of them both.
It seems the whole town is in Myra’s house. By herself, Myra has cooked enough to feed the tenth battalion, and still everybody arrived with a covered dish. Four boxes are stacked next to the sink, each holding a red velvet cake. After the kitchen table was covered with dishes, my cousin balanced a plank on chairs so we wouldn’t have to put food on the floor. Frank’s eyes are darting around the room while he talks to my cousins, their friends, every salesman and gas-pump jockey in fifty miles. I need to get him a drink now. And one for me, too.
I say, “Betty Louise, just look at you! You could be a princess.” Betty Louise, who was my friend, opens her mouth and closes it again. She blushes and says, “Look who finally came home.” “I’m happy to be here.”
“Bringing glamour to poor old Winston-Salem.” “It’s good to be out of Hollywood.”
“I can’t think why.”
“You’re my people, Betty Louise.” I try to hold her gaze, but she won’t let me, fingering her flimsy skirt. If Edith Head had tried to dress me like “my people,” she wouldn’t have come close to these rayon floral dresses in brown and purple. Everyone is wearing their best. I think about the mink Frank got me and I want to vomit. “How’s your mama, Betty Louise?”
“What’s it like, in Hollywood? Are there — ” her face goes so red it’s almost purple, “orgies?”
“Not that I know about. Listen, Betty Louise — do you think there’s any hooch around here?”
“Not that I know about.”