Truck-Stop Whores and Racoon Bones: A Novel Excerpt

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Glad holds the raccoon bone over my head like a halo. "I have a little something for your own protection," he says, leaning down over me so close that I can't help but stare up at the brown patches of skin that mottle the pure whiteness of his face.

"Glad, you look like you're sharecroppin' out your own private patch of cancer," some of the lot lizards would tease him. But I know the truth of it. Glad told me himself. It's the Choctaw in his blood. That's why he's got good medicine. That's why he's a good pimp for a lot lizard to have.

"These patches of brown be the In'ian in me, making themselves known," he tells me over a trucker special breakfast at The Doves Diner: a huge mound of hollandaise eggs and thick-as-a-Bible persimmon pancakes. I know he wants me to work for him. His stable is known for being the finest from coast to coast. Glad's little bits don't have to stand outside the truck stop like other goodbuddy lizards usually do. Truckers call in to arrange their appointments months in advance. All Glad's pavement princesses dress so comely in the most delicate silks from China, fine lace from France, and degenerate leather from Germany. If you didn't notice them wearing a raccoon penis bone necklace, and if you didn't know what that meant, you'd never know they were actually male. Most of his boys are either runaways rounding up some cash before heading out with some driver one of these days, or they are like me, have family working the main lot. Nobody bothers with Glad's boys. Some of the lizards say it's because he pays off anyone that would ever have a say. Sarah told me it is because all the ex-con truckers make sure they have Glad's finest boys to look forward to and the local law wouldn't want to start no riot by depriving felons of their sweet reminders of the penitentiary. But I know it is because of the raccoon dick.

He holds it over my head.

I lean down and let him slip the rough-cut leather cord around my neck. I always see Glad's boys in the diner, fingering their coon pricks in a real show-off way. They never have to pay their checks. I always hear the waitress saying when she puts in the boy's order, "It's for them two of Glad's with the mountain man toothpick." And a bill never comes.

The lizards say Glad just pays their tab like any sugardaddy. Sarah says all the waitresses secretly are in love with Glad and his boys so they don't charge them. But Glad tells me it's neither. "They know most of their business is hungry tricks that work up their appetite after a visit with my boys, and they count on my boys leaving their tricks in a generous and lavish mood."

"This better than a policeman's badge," Glad says as he adjusts the necklace over my black sweater. I knew he was going to give me my bone today, so I borrowed a black sweater from Sarah.

"Gettin' boned today is what I heard," she called from inside the bathroom of the little motel room one of her regulars on the green bean run pays for. I knew she was soaking in the shower.

"I don't care how cheap the room and the hoe, a woman needs a soak same as a coal miner." She clogged up the drain with wet menstrual pads and towel-lined the shower rim to add an inch or two to her bath. She sat in the corner huddled like an orphan in a flood with the shower pouring down. "You'll be soaking your pump knot in here too once Glad puts you out."

I went through the always half-packed plastic attache case and picked up her black sweater. I pressed it to my face and inhaled her familiar scent of stale cigarettes and alcohol ineffectively masked by powder-scented air freshener.

"You better not swipe my leather skirt," she yelled over the shower water streaming down.

I leaned into the Sheetrock bathroom door. "I'm going as a boy," I shouted.

I heard her make a "that's what you think" laugh. I kicked the door and it shook harder than I'd meant. "You ain't the first person to kick in this door." She laughed and I felt relieved she didn't come after me, but more than a little pissed she didn't even take me half serious enough to try to whip me. It's 'cause she's in her soak, I told myself. I could smell the baby powder scent of her bubble bath and felt excited to come home after a long night of trucker lovin' and deserve my soak just like she did. She never let me use her bubbles. "Buy your own when you work your own!" she'd tell me when she'd see me fingering the bottle covered in pictures of naked baby bottoms.

"I'm coming home with some of my own bubbles!" I shouted into the door.

"And leave the keys till you pay me half this rent." Her voice raised some and that gave me a tinge of pleasure and fear. I grabbed up the black sweater and opened the front door. I walked back over to the Sheetrock bathroom door and said as loud as I could without yelling, "You don't even pay for this room your own self, but since I'll be making more than you As a boy, I'll kick you down some change."

Then I ran. Heard her pulling herself up before I finished. I slammed the front door and didn't even look back once.

"This bone stands out nice against your sweater," Glad says after he is done adjusting it on me.

I turn and look in the plate glass and there it is, on me, yellowish white like tobacco chewers' teeth. I always wanted to glide my fingers along its curvaceous lines.

"Shape always 'minded to me like half a waxed they get it in their women's privates is all but beyond me," he says with a snort, and some unswallowed Kentucky coffeetree drink sprays out at me.

I carefully wipe the Kentucky coffeetree spray off my face. I've heard truckers talking in low voices how Glad is known to have murdered a few drivers that did his boys a bad turn. He did it with his coffeetree drink, some in the know say.

"It would only be a Yankee with no manners or sense of self-pride that would hurt a young defenseless boy trying to make a night's wages," I once heard Big Pullsman Todd say between forkfuls of his Wellington of king salmon with truffle mashed potatoes. "Yankee drivers," about 10 other truckers swore and spit in their spittoons that were fixed directly a foot and a half to the side of each of their booths. Most would usually miss and make spattered lizard designs on the fake marble with sparkles in its linoleum.

I subtly finish dabbing up the Kentucky coffeetree droplets off my cheeks.

"You live with family? In the Hurley motel, don't you?" Glad asks, blowing in his mug and accidentally spraying me again.

"Yes, sir." I nod and pat my face with a napkin. I'm not sure what Sarah is supposed to be to me so that's all I say and Glad says nothing more on it either.

"I've seen her working the lots. Pretty lady. I'm sure she does well." Glad nods and I nod. "Girls, 'specially pretty blonde young girls, can do themselves quite a turn."

I look down at my bone again. I hope everyone saw him putting it on me. I don't think it would be exaggerating to say I heard a dip in the volume when he did.

"I heard it said you look fetching in a leather miniskirt yourself," Glad says.

Sarah used to dress me up herself. She would do my makeup. I loved watching her lick her finger and run it gently under my eyes. It always reminded me of those nature films of a mother bird regurgitating food into its baby's mouth and left me feeling as full as if she had. When we'd go shoplifting, it was better for me to be a girl, even if I couldn't be as pretty as her.

"Girls have more cubbyholes to hide things in," she'd say, shoving cigarette packs down my dress and into my empty bra and cold wet chopped meat into my panties. "Men only want to stuff those with themselves?they don't ever see what we hid in 'em!" She'd laugh at the guards staring at our legs and I laughed with pleasure at being included in her "we." But she'd stopped dressing me even though it's easier to make your way in the world as two girls. Easier when you're sitting at a diner, loudly fretting over only having enough for a Jell-O salad when a baconburger would go down real nice, to get a man to lean down over you and say, "Let me take care of this, little darling." Easier to get invited to stay the night at a man's place instead of sleeping in the car. Most anything you want in this world is easier when you're a pretty girl. She stopped letting me dress when it got too easy for those men to crawl from her bed into mine.

But I didn't stop. Sometimes I would put bows and sparkle gel in my curly shoulder-length hair until it shimmered, just like Sarah's. Now and then, when I knew she had gone with a trick to gamble out on a delta boat, I would wander the tic-tac-toe-like board lines between the trucks and act like a new girl, a new dress for sale, out on the stroll. I kept to the dark and ran if a john or another lizard called to me. I showed enough to make them interested in who this mysterious girl could be. I thought no one ever saw me enough to know it was me. I convinced myself I was like a comic book hero, hiding in the shadows, my magic stiletto heels clicking away all evil. I watched the lizards climb in the trucks and I giggled to myself as the cab suddenly started arockin' and a-rollin' till the lizard would just as abruptly leap from the truck stuffing dollars in her boot. I only got whipped once for using Sarah's things and that was 'cause I was sloppy and she found me out. I had stepped in a deep puddle, and because I had stuffed newsprint in her shoes so I could walk in them, I lost my balance and fell. I broke her heel and put a bad stain and tear in the fine leather of her skirt I had paper-clipped high around me. I tried to get it fixed, but she noticed right off. Before that no one had ever told on me. But folks knew. Glad tells me how much the men are all of fond of seeing me dash under the lamplight like a forest sprite. Even the girls think it's sweet, and that I would make an excellent lizard for real. That was what had brought me to his attention.

"Those divine golden curls of yours are very much admired," Glad says, with a raise of his eyebrows and a sweet bowing of his head; asking my permission to touch them.

I lean forward and tilt my head like a cat under his caress. "Soft as pig belly." I almost fall flat on the table pressing my head into his hands.

"You'll be my guest when you dine here, so maybe you can fleshen up some. Our customers tend to like a little meat on their girls."

I thought of Sarah saying, "I told you so!" So I say to Glad, "I could be a boy too. I know what to do."

"Lots of boys want to work for me." Glad takes my hand and genteelly holds it. "What a man looks for in a boy is a lot different than what he looks for in my boygirls." He flips his long braid past his shoulders. I squint at him to try and see the Indian in him. He always spoke about being Indian, but aside from his long black braid and his facial spots, I can't see it.

I heard it said that his hair isn't really black anyway. It's just hair-care-product black. His eyes are too blue, even though he tries to downplay it with his heavy lids, keeping them half closed. His nose is flat, more like an Irishman's then like an Indian. But the story is, his great-grandmother or maybe it was his great-great- or great-great-great-grandmother was a Mississippi Choctaw. No one knew which, not even Glad himself. Mother Shapiro was the only one that had seen the truth of it. She is the oldest and wisest lot lizard at any truck stop in any state, and it is widely known that the sheriff visited her trailer every now and then. She was a long time ago from the North, but no one holds it against her. She likes Sarah. I'd often see Sarah and her cuddled up in one of The Doves' booths. Sarah would lean in against Mother Shapiro's Hawaiian Muumuu-covered mounds of flesh and eat banana creme brulee while Mother Shapiro stroked her hair curls.

"His name is Glading Grateful ETC... The ETC is in capitals with three dots after the ETC sitting there like a trail into the sunset," Mother Shapiro had told Sarah as they sat in Mother's round bed snuggled under goosedown blankets from Hungary. Sarah told me all about it. And I knew she was trying to make me jealous, so I pretended not to listen and kept saying, "What? What?" until Sarah did stop and I had to beg her to tell me what Mother told her.

"Mother Shapiro saw an authentic copy of Glad's driver's license," Sarah finally continued. "The Sheriff showed it to her because he couldn't believe anyone would put ETC and three dots in a name just because he don't know how far back the first Glad was." Sarah loves to tell gossip when she is drunk. Even if she had sworn to hate me forever, if she found out any information about anyone at one of the bars she always stopped at after she was through for the night, she would talk to me. I watch all the gossip shows to arm myself with material.

Sarah was on the bed, her head between her spread-out legs to keep from puking. But it didn't keep her from telling me what she'd learned from a night with Mother about Glad's Great-Grandmother ETC...

"A missionary devoted his life to taking her from a Choctaw to a Christian. He gave her lessons on how she could put Christ's joy and love into her heart." Sarah rolled her head up and down in a little vibrating laugh and I knew it was a move she copied from Mother Shapiro. "So he went about gladening her and making her grateful and..." She laughed and let her whole body shake as if she were round and undulating like Mother. "Glading Grateful the First was born some nine months later."

I moved myself slowly till my side was next to Sarah's arm and I cautiously let my head rest on her shoulder. We sat there in the dark of the room, occasionally lit up too bright by the glare of a truck heading out. I slid my feet under the nubbly bedcover, slowly like a crab under sand, to be next to hers. And we stayed like that until we both were asleep.

"Well, I would like very much to have my own skirt of leather and my own makeup bag that closes with Velcro," I say to Glad.

"I can get you a big sight more than that," he says and thumps the table.

We start my training right away in the caravans back behind The Doves. I try to tell Glad I know what to do, that I've been with enough of Sarah's boyfriends and husbands, that if they had paid me I could buy a gator farm. Glad tells me I have to unlearn bad habits learned by watching drunken whores, no disrespect intended.

"You have to learn to read a man and know when he's just lookin' for fun and when what he really needs is for you to hold him so he can cry his eyes out like a babe," he told me as we drank strawberry Yoo-Hoos and sat on custom satin-covered beanbag chairs. "You have to learn how to listen. There is medicine in that penis bone to help you learn how to love like a real professional."

I take daily lessons from various boys of Glad's, who affectionately refer to each other as baculum, which Glad tells me means "little rod" in Latin.

I practice rolling a condom on a man with my teeth without him knowing. I practice how to take every bit and grain of a man in my mouth. I already knew that one. I'd have contests with Sarah. We'd lie on our backs side by side on some motel bed, with our heads hanging, tilted back over the edge of the bed, till our mouths, esophagus, and throats would all line up. Then we'd put in a carrot as deep as we could without gagging. We'd mark the carrot with our top teeth and after we'd see who was the better head giver. Sarah always won.

"You win 'cause you're older and bigger," I told her once and she slapped my face so hard I saw stars.

"Don't you ever call me old and big," she said and ran out crying.

Excerpted from Sarah (Bloomsbury, 166 pages, $19.95). Copyright 2000 by J.T. LeRoy.

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