The Hummingbird's Cage
Author:Tamara Dietrich

As often as not, Jim will take us shopping like this. If he knows he’ll be working, and a grocery trip is required, he will make out a list ahead of time and go over the particulars with me so I understand to buy the multigrain bread he likes, for instance, and not the whole wheat. Or the rump roast rather than the round. He will estimate the total cost, including tax, and give me enough cash to cover it. Afterward, he will check the receipt against the change, which he pockets.

Besides the Expedition, we also have a car, an old Toyota compact, which I may use with permission, for approved trips. Before and after his shifts, he writes down the mileage in a small notebook. He alone gases it up, and I know from the fuel gauge that he never puts in more than a quarter tank. He changes the oil himself. Rotates the tires. If it needs servicing, which it rarely does, he has a mechanic friend who does the work on his time off for spare cash.

From outside our fishbowl, Jim is a solicitous husband who takes care of his family. He is a hard worker with a responsible job. Good company with his friends. To women, still a striking man in his uniform.

He’s invited out often for a beer after work, a weekend barbecue, but usually begs off. Family time, he’ll say. For us as a couple, the invitations come less often and are nearly always refused. Some invitations aren’t so easy to turn down—when a colleague retires, for instance, usually a ranking officer—and the occasion must be observed.

Two nights ago, for instance, the sheriff’s wife threw a retirement party for a captain with twenty-seven years under his belt. She held it in their lovely home on a southside hill overlooking Wheeler. The weather was warm and the night was so soft, the party spilled over into their garden—it was well irrigated, green with new sod, landscaped with huge bougainvillea bushes that were heavy with scarlet bracts. I sat in a corner under a trellis of flowering vines, smelling their sweetness, listening to the Tejano music in the background, the bursts of laughter. Lanterns hung over the brick walkway; the boughs of an acacia tree glittered with strings of lights. If you closed your eyes, you could be almost anywhere.

The evening was going so well that a band of Jim’s buddies didn’t want it to end. After the speeches, the toasts, the cake decorated like a fishing boat, after the sheriff’s wife began thanking everyone for coming, they urged Jim to join them as they moved the festivities to the Javelina Saloon, and Jim had had just enough rum and Cokes to break with habit and accept this time.

The Javelina isn’t as rough as it once was. I understand that years ago it was a dive frequented by the sort of drunks who pried hubcaps from the cars parked in the business lot next door so they could bankroll their next binge—usually on a cheap, fortified wine called Garden Delight. Then it was turned into a biker bar, with loud Harleys in and out at all hours, straddled by rough-looking riders who wore dark T-shirts with slogans like Bikers Eat Their Dead. The bikers scared off the hard-core winos, many of whom turned in desperation to infusing Aqua Net hair spray into big gallon jugs of water. It made a cheap and wretched home brew they called “ocean.”

One winter night, a brushfire ignited behind the saloon and ripped through an adjacent field where a half dozen hard-cores were camped out with their wine bottles and jugs of ocean. Most managed to stagger off, but one woman couldn’t get out in time. She burned alive. They never determined the exact cause of the blaze. It might have been a campfire that the wind had whipped out of control. Or it might have been a lit cigarette deliberately tossed into a patch of dry grass by someone who wasn’t about to have his Harley stripped for parts.

Life is cheap in such places, but that brushfire convinced the city council to demand a crackdown on liquor establishments that cater to rough trade. The Javelina closed down. It reopened again weeks later under new management, the Harley decor still in place, because it was too costly to change out. Some bikers still drop in when they pass through town on the interstates. But now its main clientele is mostly working class—not least of all local police officers and deputies looking to kick back or decompress.

I had never been inside the Javelina before, but I’d often seen its big billboard from the east-west highway—the giant wild boar, tusked and razor-backed, charging at some unknown target in the distance.

previous 1.. 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 ..91 next