I'm the kid who did dumb-ass things growing up. I stuck fingers in light sockets, turned the gas on the stove just to smell it , crawled under porches looking for snakes. Folks said it wasn't fittin' behavior for a girl. Guess I should have played under a shade tree with a dollhouse and tea set.
When my fingers got too big for the sockets, I poked at 'em with a fork. The jolt knocked me silly. I believe that's why there's a streak of white hair on my head like a lightning strike. Mama said it was a mark from the Devil, a reminder not to claim me when I die, 'cause I was even too much for Hell.
That's how I got my name. Sparky. My birth certificate says I'm Luanne Reese, but nobody calls me Luanne. Not even when I'm in trouble.
Speakin' of trouble, I guess it was no surprise I got knocked up at the drive-in movie by Lester Johnson. I had a pregnancy test six weeks later, and could hardly believe a baby was on the way.
After staring at the results for a while, I poured myself a whisky from Daddy's stash. Helped myself to another. Then I got in my beat up old Ford and high-tailed to Lester's house. He lived across the river, on the other side of town.
Cedar Mill is named after the mill, and the wood that rides through the saws every day. Here it is, 1962, and there's still no imagination in this damned town. Even the stop light on Main Street doesn't have enough gumption to do anything but blink yellow on and off all day, afraid to try something exciting like red or green. I swear, if folks around here had to think to breathe, dead bodies would be scattered everywhere. I laughed like crazy at the notion. Kept it up all the way through the light until reality set in, and I remembered what was going on.
When I got to Lester's, I woke him from a dead sleep. Boy, the fur flew then. Lester got a crafty look on his face and suggested that the baby might not be his. I clocked him under the right eye with a metal ashtray from Barney's Bar and Grill.
"What do you want me to do about it, Sparky?" Lester dabbed at his eyebrow with the sheet, stared at the blood. He lit a cigarette and leaned back on the bed, regained his composure, lookin' like a judge instead of the one who committed the crime.
"Hell, Les, I dunno," I said. "I can barely think right now." I sniffled, wrapped an arm around my stomach, cradled the cells growing there.
Lester glanced over at the clock. "I gotta be at work in three hours. Why don't we talk about this tomorrow after we've both had time to think."
He stubbed out the cigarette, scratched under an armpit, drew an old army blanket up against his chest and gazed at the door. I guess that was his way of telling me to go home.
I looked hard at him. He was tall and skinny, a guy who folds into a chair like a jackknife. His gray eyes were so light they looked silver. I guess that's what I found most attractive about him. Sure wasn't his personality, or the way he treated me. But there was something about those eyes when he walked into the bar on a Saturday night that got me all worked up. I knew he had nowhere to go, so he wouldn't skip town. He was too stupid for that. So I slunk out the door like I had toilet paper trailin' off my shoe, got back in the Ford and cranked it up as dawn poked through the cracked windshield.
On the way home, I pulled over at a picnic area by the river, got out and walked around. The water was flowin' easy that morning, leaves spinning in lazy circles, following each other downstream. By late spring the river rushes along, icy and bold from higher up. That's when local kids drown, carried away by the current until they give up and get pulled under, trapped by logs that escaped the mill. The wood forms arches under the surface, just waiting for some dumb-ass to get tangled in 'em. Then God shakes his head, fishes the sorry soul out of the drink, and dumps it on the shore of eternity.
I lit a Camel cigarette. Still tasted Daddy's whisky in my mouth and wondered if the baby was likin' what I was already putting it through. It was shameful, but not enough to stop that very moment. I figured there'd be no keepin' this little baby, anyway. At least that was the reasoning at six o'clock on a Thursday morning.
I never did anything right. Barely made it through high school, then worked at the Bar and Grill ever since, waitin' tables. College, or working in an office, didn't sit well with me. Mama and Daddy let me live in the back bedroom after I graduated. I frittered away every penny I earned, so it looks like there's no way I'd ever afford my own place.
There was a rustling nearby, and a robin poked its head into the bushes with a worm in its mouth. Her babies set up squallin' for their breakfast, and the mama robin pushed it down their open beaks. That's when I put my sorry head in my hands and cried until the cigarette burned down and scorched my finger. I hopped around and cussed, climbed down to the riverbank, stuck my finger in the water. Then I dragged myself back to the car and headed home.
I pulled into our driveway and squinted my eyes, wonderin' what the baby might think of my home. It needed a coat of paint. Most of the siding was worn down to the wood, as if the house cried itself silly and left smudges of mascara here and there. I put a hole through a window about three years ago. Daddy plugged it up with cardboard, duct tape, and a hunk of tar paper. So now the window looks like it has a permanent black eye. When I climbed out of the car, the scent of coffee and bacon rode through an open window. Everything looked the same, but it wasn't. Things had changed forever. I skulked into the kitchen. The screen door sighed on its hinges like it knew my secrets.
Mama and Daddy were sitting at the kitchen table. I figured this was as good a time as any to make my big announcement.
So I flopped down and started talkin'.