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The carnival came to Okinaw in the fall and so Tom decided to indulge himself. He paid two bits for a psychic gypsy reading and another bit for a bag of gumdrops—Tom didn’t drink, he was a self-made man. And for some reason, Tom believed the crazy old bat when she told him his wife’s name would be Peggy.
Tom didn’t believe the psychic when she told him to sell his five acres and go west. Now, as he stared out across the bleak expanse of untilled earth, the leached, parched earth, he was starting to think he should have taken her advice. It was not soil beneath his boots but dirt, dirt unacquainted with water, unwelcoming to the young roots of cotton. The sun was amplified with no leaves to absorb its harshness. Tom stared out. A buggy hummed across the horizon like a tightrope walker, kicking up dirt behind it in an inglorious plume.
Eldridge drove bewildered by his surroundings, bewildered by the infinite canvas about him that was the earth and sky and dust and sun combined into one. He had been driving for hours to an undecided destination. He was doing exactly what the carnival gypsy told him to do which was to follow the sun. He had all he needed and that was a stolen buggy with the glove box stuffed full of cash and the sheriff far behind him. He scanned the scraggly earth sprawling in all directions with bagged eyes opened painfully wide in a perpetual state of suspicious terror. This journey was sending him over the edge. He didn’t go full speed any longer because there was no point and he was completely nuts by now. His gun collected sweat, clamped between his waistband and his hipbone. He was going west.
The sheriff had left Okinaw two hours ago. It was getting on dark by now. The deteriorating post fences staked out the passing seconds. He followed the tire tracks left by the stolen buggy like a train follows rails. They were the only tracks in the thick dust of the road. He had been following them 60 miles.
The sheriff was troubled. The week had been a rough one. Tuesday night that old negro got the s*** beat out of him, then today this b**tard came out the blue and robbed Wilson’s bank and made off with a buggy. Okinaw was a peaceful town until that damn carnival came round, he thought. He was beginning to regret not staying home with his family. His wife had promised a good dinner tonight. His daughter was going to make the biscuits.
The sheriff steered with one hand on the wheel and the other arm hanging loosely out the open window. He did not drive full speed because there was no point and he had calculated the outcome in his mind. The buggy would be in the ditch, the door would be hanging wide open, and the criminal would lay in a crippled heap with the pistol dropped nearby and his brains sprayed across the ground in a bloody fan.
The sheriff saw a scarecrow in the near field but then it shifted its weight over from one foot to the other and he realized it was a lone farm boy watching the sun go down. The sheriff turned off the road and pulled up near the boy, who watched the truck approach suspiciously. “Seen a buggy drive by a little while ago?” the sheriff asked out the open window.
“Bout an hour ago.”
“Thanks, son.” The sheriff released the brake and began rolling away.
“Wait!” the farm boy called a second later. The sheriff stopped again and waited for the boy to catch up. “You going back to town?” he asked, leaning into the window opening.
“Not ‘fore I find this buggy.”
“Can I git a lift?” The sheriff examined the eager boy.
“What you goin’ to town for?”
“Broker’s office,” the boy replied. The sheriff sighed and gave the boy a disapproving look. Briefly, he turned his head forward to look out at the dry flat landscape. Then he looked back at the boy.
“You got a soft stomach?”
“No, sir. Tough as nails, sir.”
“Get in, then.” The sheriff said, nodding towards the passenger seat. “Guess I could use a hand.” The boy ran around the front and hopped in, sinking the truck down a little to his side. The sheriff accelerated and they were back on the road.
Peggy told herself this was the last time she would mix biscuit dough in this household. Her mother had told her to do it with the same coldness, the same tight lips, hair in a bun, checkered apron. “Father is expecting a good meal tonight. He’s had a rough week at the station,” she said. Now Father wasn’t home yet and he should have been home by six. Peggy knew what would happen. He would come home at four in the morning. Mother would creep downstairs to confront him but Peggy would stay in her room, awake from the moment his boots touched down on the porch. The meal would not be good. It would spoil in the half hour of silence held between her and her mother as they sat on opposite sides of the table staring coldly at the steaming untouched plates, the food’s magnificence waning as they watched helplessly. Peggy decided then and there she would marry the first man she met and go West, through the country to the ocean. To dip her toes in the salt water.