bwoot heel bwoose | illustrations by sidney teles

At Shindig!: The Buckner-Ragsdale Annual Bi-Family Reunion, Mona stood watching her son, Bucky, careen through the relatives who dotted the Missouri Desert Picnic Grounds like a prickly heat rash. Why must these things always be held on the hottest weekend of the year? It was only two weeks past Memorial Day, but already the summer season had been long and parched. Mason jars, slick as large-mouthed bass, sat gasping for air in the hot pools of shade beneath unsheltering trees. Crickets and grasshoppers were little fire breathers. And, later, the ass glow of fireflies would float languorously like embers from the day’s dying bonfire. The Missouri Desert was a for-profit park and event venue, complete with RV hookups and a pay lake called Tom Sawyer’s Paradise. The place, just off Highway 55, was named for the ugly, prostrate native cacti planted in clumps by someone with a miniscule budget, no imagination, and a misguided landscaping sensibility.

“Look at me!” Bucky screamed, his arms fluttering above his head like skinny white streamers. “I’m … king …of the world!” The six-year-old then deliberately ran into an aluminum lawn chair, which folded instinctively like a roly-poly. Bucky kicked the chair with its droopy, butt-shaped weave of plaid nylon webbing and yelled, “Cheap! Fuck! Ing! Chair!”

Mona smiled. Proud. Perfect enunciation and such good taste in both portable seating and profanity. From a less sophisticated mouth, Bucky’s words would have sounded like Chief Fuggin Care. Mona disliked children who were baby-talkers almost as much as she intensely disliked adults who babbled, and there were plenty of both here at Shindig!: The Buckner-Ragsdale Annual Bi-Family Reunion. Reunion, from the middle French, the “act or fact of coming together again.”

The act was that this was a Nostalgia Feste, a Renaissance Faire. The fact was that this was a deep-fried Disney parade filled with straight-outta-Mayberry cosplayers and LARPs from the Duck Dynasty. This was a rain dance, a Watusi prayer stomped out by sentimental cloggers hoping to reanimate the recombinant DNA of greater Buckner-Ragsdale familyhood. This was the Show-Me State’s Show of Shows That Never End because everyone kept showing up, religiously, year after year in a groupthink (a circle jerk, a clusterfuck, if you ask me), willing to suspend (death by hanging!) their disbelief that this potluck was more meaningful than staying home watching Intervention and just slightly more entertaining than a rerun of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. And they had the goddamn custom-made, silk-screened Shindig! t-shirts to prove it.

Or at least that was Mona’s take on this bourgeois boucherie. She was just back from her reconnaissance of the archipelago between the family’s main factions – the side with her husband, Buck, who sat with the drinkers, and the other with the abstainers. She had scrutinized the enormous groaning table, the barbecue charcuterie in the middle of the demilitarized zone. Her contribution to this spread was a crudités platter with the only vegetables unmolested by fat, cheese, ranch dressing, animal byproducts, bootleg hydrogenated oil, gluten, Tabasco, bacon, or blistering amounts of sodium. So, of course, they sit, for the most part, undisturbed. She carried her shoes (going barefoot was her attempt at fittin’ in) and tip-toed across the fire pit of desiccated scutch grass on her way to the non-drinking side of the picnic grounds where there was a repurposed galvanized cattle trough – Filled with sodas and ice blocks and drooling with condensation. Mona had soft feet, softer than her hands and as sensitive as her inner thighs. Treading unshod on the blades of grass felt like walking on the tines of a stiff new hairbrush, giving her a noticeable grimace. Arriving at the trough – I was, as they say, on the looksee for old spittle.

Now safely back on the spirited side of the picnic site, Mona listened as an upper-upper middle-aged woman (Let’s call her early Mesozoic) stroked what might be a boy about Bucky’s age. Or maybe it was a little person. You can’t be sure at these things.

“Who’s a good boy?” the woman burbled through creped lips. Her words hovered in the sound space as “Hoos-a-goo-bwoi?”

Mona marveled that any of this family or its progeny ever learned to speak properly or function in the real world after spending their wonder years having this hoosa-goo-bish relentlessly shouted at their heads – though most did, if you loosened the definition of function enough. They spoke a family pidgin, fermented in the Bootheel terroir and spoken with clotted tongues. The Buckner-Ragsdale brogue was shot through with bits of Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, a smidge of ‘ssippi, and no small amount of Price Is Right. Or at least that was how it sounded to Mona, who had grown up 120 miles and a million light years upriver in St. Louis.

Mona recognized the woman from previous Shindig!’s. I’m sure her name is on the Erlene-Junebug-Krystal-Connie-Lorabelle spectrum. The woman belonged here because she had the unmistakable look of either a Buckner or a Ragsdale, depending on the light. It wasn’t the woman’s name that bothered Mona so much as it was her own inability to recall it. She was proud of her exemplary memory, one that helped her graduate from university with a cum laude on her diploma. Mona did, however, remember a name trick that her father had taught her, a mnemonic device he had picked up at a Dale Carnegie course. So from now on, Mona would remember the woman as Hoosagoo. Who could forget that?

Bucky reached for the rapidly warming Coke that Mona had plucked from the cattle trough. Choosing the right can was a high-stakes Rubber Ducky Fishing Game because my Bucky has exacting standards like me. Mona marveled at him. His flaxen bangs were sunscreened onto his prominent forehead – a common Buckner trait – and sweat shellacked his bare, barrel chest – another Buckner distinguishment. Later, as the designated driver, Mona would drive from the Missouri Bootheel (I prefer the moniker Shitheel) back home to St. Louis, and wafting through the Suburban’s cool, recirculating air would be the familiar, distinctly reassuring half-note of wild green onions. The signature scent of male Buckners.

Mona extended the soda to Bucky. He pouted and pushed it back.

“Pop it,” he said.

She had barely levered the tab before Bucky snatched it from her hand. She watched as he stylishly raised the can, tilted back his head, and drank hard, his little Adam’s apple working his throat like a furious piston. Bucky dropped the can, and the alligatored earth sucked in the remaining liquid. With a flourish, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, clutched his neck, and fell to the ground in a pirouette-cum-pratfall. He whipped his body back and forth with the frantic intensity of a sun perch on the hook.

“Ka! Nip! Shin!” yelled Hoosagoo, standing immediately and pointing a twitchy finger between Bucky and Mona while the wind ruffled her big-print floral muumuu like a truck stop flag. She stepped over the indeterminate child she had dumped from her lap, while others in the vicinity turned to skeptically determine the exact nature and quality of this particular conniption. These were Buckner-Ragsdales, after all, and some type of assessment was certainly required to ascertain whether Bucky’s commotion was worthy of a prolonged or second look.

Dustine! That’s it! The woman’s name is Dustine. How could I forget that? Dustine looked down on Bucky. He stopped his rolling and yelled, “Ahmslooodunk!” which everyone all around easily recognized as “I’m so drunk!” Mona watched Dustine blush for being duped and tried to act like she knew Bucky had been faking the whole time. The worry lines on Hoosagoo’s face are tectonic.

Dustine turned to Mona and said clearly, “Uh-huh. A Buckner through and through” while grinding her fists into sodden hips, accentuating her urn-ish profile. “Just like the rest of the kick and caboodle.”

“Kit,” Mona said.

“Wha?”

“The phrase,” Mona said, “is, ‘kit and caboodle.’”

“Ahh-see,” stated Dustine, drawing out the ee’s in see. Then added, “Steal uppity,” drawing out the uuh in uppity.

Still? Mona did not recall any previous uppityness on her part in relation to Hoosagoo. On the other hand, When it comes to keeping a tally on uppityness, the Buckner-Ragsdales collectively and individually have pachydermic memories. Whenever Mona was in country, she stood out like a homesick cultural exchange student. I’m a Buckner by marriage. I’m once removed.

Mona added, “I did not want you to embarrass yourself.”

“Na-hee-ya jus famly,” muttered Dustine in the Buckner-Ragsdale orality  so Mona wouldn’t have the final word.

Mona understood this as “Not here, it’s just family.” I’m watching Hoosagoo’s head bounce on her Slinky neck like the bobble-head of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. that is no doubt Gorilla-glued to the dashboard of the family fifth-wheeler. Dustine returned to her lawn chair, pulling the possumed child from his curled position in the dust. The child did not seem to mind that he had been so abruptly discharged from Dustine’s lap and had, therefore, been staring intently at the way her terrycloth slippers barely contained the ballooning contours of her feet, which resembled bear claws. I mean the pastry, not the beast, ursus arctos horribilis.

Mona didn’t care. Buck was the patriarch of the Shindig! drinkers and Hoosagoo was just a knothole on a dry branch of the non-drinking side of the family tree. Woodpecker bait! Mona understood that her own place in the family was defined – preordained, really – because she had married the heir apparent of the Buckner-Ragsdales. She knew both sides of the family hyphenation accused her of having stolen Buck away from the Bootheel to live in St. Louis. I’m the Bruno Richard Hauptman to their Lindbergh baby.

“Do not go near that pond, please,” Mona chirped as Bucky took off running again, circuiting the picnic site with the random trajectory of a mosquito and the aplomb of a baton twirling drum major on parade. Bucky had a distinctive way of running with his chest thrust forward, as if his pectorals were pulling him along. Mona didn’t like noticing that a football could nestle neatly in the crook of his arm. He was young and small and sharp as a whip, and he definitely gave off a stiff-armed, Johnny Unitas trading card vibe as he ran. But he could run further with a thick, canonical novel. If he inherited Buck’s heft and height, he’d be quarterback material. If I have a say-so, he’ll be an esthete or flaneur, a dark-haired Branwell Bronte or hell-bound Rimbaud.

bwoot heel bwoose , illustrations by sidney teles | A voice from behind hollered, “Listen to yer Mama, ya little Pond Scum!” and Mona spun around, instantly in a boxer’s stance.

A voice from behind hollered, “Listen to yer Mama, ya little Pond Scum!” and Mona spun around, instantly in a boxer’s stance. She relaxed when she saw that the speaker was Cindy Balleau, the only woman Mona had hoped to see at the Shindig!. She ran to her and they embraced. Through their hug, Mona could feel Cindy’s laughter. “Damn, I got you good, girl,” she said. “You was loaded for bear.”

“I hate you,” Mona replied. “I really, really do.”

“It was worth it. Ha! If looks could kill.”

“You’re here?! You said you’d be on the road,” Mona said.

“To paraphrase the late, great Roger Miller, as a lady of means by no means, I’m queen of my own road,” Cindy said.

Cindy and Mona called each other the Sisters of a Diff’rent Mother because surely, deep in the salty-shored past, they shared a brilliant, sarcastic Mother Eve who, if she could see them today, would demand to know, “How the fuck did you end up with those people?” We call this mitochondrial creature the Why Chromosome.

“So,” Cindy asked, “Been prayin’ for rain, much?”

Mona shrugged, but what she really wanted to say was, “Oh…you… know” with an exaggerated coyness because she had indeed spent the week before the Shindig! sending forth a barrage of fervent prayers. They were not messages in a bottle. They were 9-1-1’s pounded on the buttons of a red phone hotline. She didn’t want an atheist’s event. I wanted a come-to-Jesus-go-to-hell storm of biblical proportions to befall this God-soaked land. She didn’t want pennies from heaven. I wanted a cold, hard million-dollar blast to wipe out this so-called event. Nor did she want someone’s creakin’ arthritic joints predicting a change in the weather. I wanted an endlessly scrolling news ticker: “Freak Storm a-Comin’!”

She bargained with the universe, promising a naked rain dance in her St. Louis back yard (Hell, the front yard, too) if the sky would blossom with wet dark cumulonimbi. But to no avail. The sky gods glared down with cloudless antipathy. The show would go on.

“I do not understand why you come to these things,” Mona said. “I have to, you don’t.”

Cindy reached into her mouth and pulled out the tip of her tongue. “Weely izz juslike,” she said, stifling a guffaw. If I ever sound like that, just shoot me.

“But really it is just like…what?” Mona asked.

Cindy released her tongue. “It’s just like visitin’ my other friends. I get to show up, play with their babies, and when they start to fuss – the babies or the friends – I hand ‘em back with a ‘So sorry, gotta go!”

Cindy was a committed bachelorette, and the last of her spur on the Balleau line. She owned and operated JTS, Ltd., a trucking enterprise she had inherited from her father. While alive, his concern was called the Jesus Transport System because he had been a Church ‘o Christ Christian and because he got his start hauling King James-would-approve Bibles as well as Jesus comics, Jesus apologetics (Don’t Be A Sorry Believer!), Jesus pamphlets (the Tracts of Our Lord series was particularly popular), and other repurposed bits of the Jesus franchise. Cindy, a far less enthusiastic believer, had shortened the company name to JTS, though she still lugged around the core business as well as its motto, Join Me On the Road to Kingdom Come. Faith causes such desperation. He drained his minor fortune having that airbrushed onto the sides of his trucks before he died.

“Gawd, I can’t tell if I’m jus’ hot or the humidity’s just beadin’ up on me,” Cindy said, fanning herself by pulling on her black Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere t-shirt like a bellows.

The drinker’s pavilion was within shouting distance of Mona and Cindy – a proximity that Buck put to good use by calling out, “Hey Moan, I’m dry here!”

“Speakin’ of big babies,” Cindy said, pointing to Buck. “How’ze my cuz?” Cindy and Buck were like brother and sister because their mothers had been best friends. Perched atop a director’s chair, Buck upended his insulated go-cup to indicate his need for a refill.

“Oh…you know,” Mona said. He only acts like this when he’s down here.

“C’mon, he called you Moan. Ya gotta do it.”

“Not here,” Mona said. “Not now.”

“Don’t be such a pussy,” Cindy said.

Mona looked around to see whether the other Buckner-Ragsdales were watching her.

“I’m coming, Piss,” Mona replied in a stage whisper. Buck gave her a thumbs-up and a smile.

“Thassa girl,” Cindy said. She loved the story of the first Halloween party that Buck and Mona had attended back in college. Buck had wrapped himself in a yellow biohazard bag and Mona had fashioned an Edvard Munch mask for herself. When a partygoer asked, “Who the hell are you?” Mona was quick to reply, “Piss and Moan.”

A month later, at her first Buckner-Ragsdale Thanksgiving (Buck called it my Turkey Cotillion), they told the Halloween story and Buck’s mother, Loretta, responded with “Why couldn’t you be something normal, like Jim and Tammy Faye?” In her defense, Buck had replied, “Mona don’t wear make-up.” He reverts to this manner of speaking whenever he is back in his place of birth. I call it his prehensile language.

Mona and Cindy entered the hot shade beneath the drinker’s pavilion.

“Look who I found,” Mona said as she reached for Buck’s empty cup.

“’lo darlin’” Buck said.

“Well, ‘lo right back,” Cindy replied.

bwoot heel bwoose , illustrations by sidney teles | “Oh, Bucky, noo. Lookit chu!” Mona instantly recognized what she had said (How I said it, really), and clamped her hands over her mouth.”

Mona effortlessly mixed Buck another Jack and Coke, just the way he liked it. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he patted “thank you” in their personal Morse Code.

“Mona’s mine again,” Cindy said to Buck. He rattled his cup in agreement.

Mona and Cindy linked arms and wended their way through the picnickers scattered throughout the Missouri Desert. Passing through clutches of picnickers huddled beneath umbrellas and portable canopies, Mona caught snatches of conversation, snippets of conversations from the lives of the Buckner-Ragsdales.  Last year, she overheard them referring to ED with the same mindless ease they used shelling crowder peas. As in, “He gut tha eeedee lassmun…hain’t been tha same since.” I don’t know what is worse, sharing that kind of information or thinking that one ‘catches’ erectile dysfunction like the common cold?

Cindy led Mona toward some canvas camp chairs she had unfolded near the parking lot under a catalpa tree, its long pods wriggling in the breeze like worms. Cindy looked up. “I’ve always loved the catalpa. They aren’t great shade trees, but I love the big leaves. Reminds me of the time Buck and I got sick as dogs trying to smoke those pods like cigarettes. Turned into a real puke fest,” she said.

What else was he really like? Loretta does not tell me shit. Mona smoothed the fabric of her white capris pants. “Do tell,” she said.

“Izz jus famleewidbenfuts,” Cindy said, pulling on her tongue again, making herself laugh. Mona knew that to Cindy, the Bucker-Ragsdales were, as she said, just family with benefits. Cindy had confided more than once that she enjoyed the perks of her association with her pretend adopted brother. And, you get to enjoy a go-fuck-yourself freedom enabled by your lack of encumbrance with familial ties to any Buck, Buckner, or Ragsdale.

“He’s just the same, only bigger,” Cindy said. “You got him outta here, which is a good thing.

Is it? We cross the Bootheel state line and he becomes a different person and I wonder why Buck fell for me, married me. An impassioned man nearby slapped his leg every time he over-enunciated Sal! Vay! Shun! as if he was telling the punch line to a dirty joke.

What is it with these people and their salvation? It’s the one word they never seem to garble.

Just then, Bucky ran up and startled Mona by yelling “Mommy” into her ear. Mona leaned away and said, “Inside voice, please.”

“It’s outside,” Bucky replied. “And I’m thirsty again.”

“No more sugar or caffeine for you.”

Bucky blew her a raspberry.

“Okay. I’ll go and see what else they have.” Mona said. “Did you say hi to Aunt Cindy?”

“Hey Buckaroo Banzai,” Cindy said, waving at Mona to sit back down and reaching out to Bucky. “Lemme hug that neck.”

Bucky reluctantly walked into her embrace. When they released, he looked at her and said, “You smell like maxi-pads.”

Cindy laughed. “Ha! And jus’ how you know whut maxi-pads smell like?” she asked

“The box in the bathroom,” he replied, matter of factly, then picked up a catalpa bean.

“Put that down right now,” Mona said. No puke fest for you!

“I’ve got a cold bottle of water in here with your name on it,” she said, reaching into the cooler by her chair. Bucky snatched the bottle and looked at the logo.

“That’s not my name,” he said, running off again.

“He’s a hoot,” Cindy said.

He’s a marvel. Mona nodded and tried to straighten her back in the scoliotic curvature of the sling back chair. What superior olfactory curiosity. What advanced use of simile. And what about that uninhibited ability to reference feminine hygiene products?

“One thing’s for certain,” Cindy added, “You’ll never be dead as long as that boy can talk.”

From the pavilion, Buck yelled, “Hey Moan!”

Jesus, already? She looked at Cindy and hoped her face did not belie her annoyance. But then, over the heads of the intervening picnickers, Buck added, “We’re outta ice. Mind makin’ a run?”

“I’d go for ya, ‘cept I’m actually loaded for a delivery. That’s a lot of truck to drive for a bag of ice,” Cindy said.

Oh, no, no, no. It’s my responsibility. Mona said, “Do you mind keeping an eye on Bucky?”

Half an hour later, Mona returned with the ice as Cindy was folding her chairs and sliding them efficiently into their carry bags.

“Wait!” Mona yelled. Don’t go!

Weighted down with bags of ice in both hands, she had to adopt the sideways shuffle of the morbidly obese. She dumped the bags at Buck’s feet and said, “Cindy’s leaving,” putting a hard emphasis on Cindy.

“What? Hey Cin!” he yelled. “What’s yer hurry?”

Cindy waved at him with the universal sign for pshaw.

Mona tried to hurry toward Cindy without drawing attention to herself. I looked like I was trying to outrun a fart.

“But, you just got here,” Mona pleaded.

“Don’t wanna overstay my welcome,” she said, hugging Mona. “’sides, I don’t wanna get roped in-ta that famly photo.”

Next to the semi, the photographer and assistant pulled clown-car volumes of gear from a small sedan. It’s the same ole’ ubiquitous group shot, for god’s sake, not a major motion picture.

Mona watched Cindy head toward her truck. It was Escape from Alcatraz. Cindy, hanging from the cab with the door open, blew Mona a kiss and yelled “Talk soon!” over the slobbering idle of the diesel engine. Mona raised a half-hearted hand and gave her a semblance of a wave, as if to do more would encourage Cindy to leave any more quickly. But, why? I’m not like everybody else. Cindy goosed the engine and hollered, “gotbukeepon.”

Mona decoded “Forgot! Bucky’s at the pond.” Tom Sawyer’s Paradise? That filthy pond? At home, Mona only allowed Bucky to swim in properly filtered pools. And never without me watching. She mistrusted lifeguards and swimming coaches and hovered over them like a Huey helicopter. Trying to run toward the lake, her progress was stymied by a woman and her two young children as they strolled through the picnic grounds, banging on metal pots with wooden spoons, singing “Picture time’s a’comin’! Picture time’s a’comin’! So cum-a follow us,” and being trailed by a congested conga line of Buckner-Ragsdales. Mona heard Buck calling out “Hey, Mony Mony!” I could tell by the way he said mo-nay mo-nay that he’d hit his sweet spot of intoxication. Mona tried to wave off Buck, but he added, “Mind gettin’ the back-up Jack from the truck since you’re out there?”

I wanted to holler back, “I’m, what, twenty steps closer to the parking lot than you?” but it was impossible to yell over the Von Trapp Family Pot Bangers. Before she could break through the line, Bucky appeared at her side covered from the neck down in a translucent layer of mud with the luster of cocoa powder, dotted with drying duckweed. Oh, thank God!

Then, “Oh, Bucky, noo. Lookit chu!” Mona instantly recognized what she had said (How I said it, really), and clamped her hands over her mouth. She began patting Bucky, as if he had a wound in need of staunching.  Staunch, in the sense of “watertight” from late Middle English by way of Old French estanche, the feminine of estanc. All the best words are feminine.

The line of Buckner-Ragsdales continued to file past like characters in The Canterbury Tales? Just fuckin’ move along. One man nodded and said knowingly, “Yer momma-gunna open a can a whupass now, boy.”

Oh please, no one says whoop-ass anymore. The man’s smile remained uncomfortably long on  his face. Bucky straightened into a super-hero stance. He smelled fetid and earthy. So much for the signature scent of male Buckners. Mona reached into her back pocket where she kept her stash of anti-bacterial wipes. She knelt and began to vigorously rub Bucky. The pile of dirty tissues grew while Bucky was still streaked, resembling a dripping candle. Mona reached into her front pocket and extracted another small travel-sized packet of dry tissues. She moistened a tissue with her mouth and Bucky howled, “Don’t. Spit. On. Me!”

A woman smiled as she walked by. It was a smirk! She handed an empty Coke bottle to Mona. I thought, “Can’t ya see I’m busy here?!” Then the woman pointed the bottle toward the camp spigot outside the drinker’s pavilion, and Mon understood. Don’t chu fuckin’ smirk at me!

She couldn’t shush the voice in her head. When Mona returned from the spigot, a man with an amused look stood listening to Bucky.

“I wanted a horny toad to take back home to St. Louis,” Bucky said.

“Son, don’t cha know the difference ‘tween a toad anna bullfrog?”

Bucky shrugged.

“Yoaseeboi, ain’t cha?” the man added. He reached out to tousle Bucky’s hair, but Mona moved between them, perceiving an implied superiority in the man’s rhetorical “You’re a city boy, aren’t you?” What the fuck’s wrong with city boys?

The Buckner-Ragsdales liked to complain that Buck had married a city girl. But Mona thought of herself as a St. Louis girl. Mona thought of St. Louis as city only when you loosened the definition. What do you know? New York, now that’s what I call a real city. So is Chicago, at a minimum. But St. Louis? It used to be a city. Now it’s a region.

Before she met Buck, Mona had dreamed of heading east alone and landing a job as a magazine editor in New York City. Then I met Buck. Choices were made. And now I’m her as a cultural exchange student.

Mona poured the water on Bucky’s shoulders and he squealed like a scalded hog, “Too cold, too cold!” She tried to apply more from the bottle as he ran away.

“What’s with all the commotion?” Buck asked, scooping up his still wriggling son. “I could hear ya from way over there.”

“Cindy let him play in the pond,” Mona said.

“What else are godmothers good for,” Buck asked.
I so wanted to say, Izz jus famleewidbenfuts!

Buck added, “How ‘bout I take the Buckmeister here and mosey — ”

Mosey? You never mosey in St. Louis!

“— over to the rest of the family while you clean up?”

Mona looked down at the mud splatters on her white pants and had a moment of what her own mother used to call “a sinking suspicion.” Ahh, the sky gods are demanding their rain dance.

“I need to finish cleaning Bucky,” Mona said.

“Aww, leave ‘em be,” Buck said.

“But, what about the picture?”

“Eh,” Buck shrugged. “I guess we’ll have to look back and remember this as the year Bucky fell in the pond. See ya at the amphitheater.”

Ahh, yes, the Olde Glorie Amphitheatre. What is it with these people and grandiose names? Milan gets La Scale. We get the Grand Ole Opry. So let’s call it what it is. It’s a goddamn sink hole! What the Buckner-Ragsdales need is a good lecture on the pre-prelapsarian times when true Missouri was formed, back when layer upon layer of shit and shells and leaves and bones keep piling up at the bottom of the Sea of Missouri, or the Missouri Ocean, or the Gulf of Missouri, or call it what you like, and this aquatic landfill was called sediment, which, under pressure, begat Cambrian rock, which was prone to water damage, which begat caves, which, eventually, begat sinkholes, which now bear noble names like Olde Glorie Amphitheater, and into which Buckner-Ragsdales reunite and congeal and smile for the camera.

As Mona approached Ole Glorie, she sensed someone watching her. She turned to see Dustine (It was that Hoosagoo woman) sitting nearby among the 200 or so other Buckner-Ragsdales. The non-specific child was on her lap. That woman’s not sedentary; she’s sedimentary.

“Looka that lady,” Dustine said, pointing at Mona. The child sucked the four fingers of its right hand. “She-dun-wonna-be one-a-uz.” The child pointed a spit-covered finger at Mona.

Mona saw the sinkhole-cum-amphitheater grinning like a hot, dry mouth. Am I one of them?

“She-thin-she-sperior,” Dustine said.

“Spear,” said the child, still pointing

Mona wanted to describe a science program she’d seen on public television, about a company that made the protective suits for both space exploration and deep sea diving. Deep water and deep sky, astronaut and the aquanaut, both pressed by a hostile environment.

You treat me like I’m superior, then you resent me for it. You force me to play tourist and can’t understand why I don’t know the way around. It’s you who have failed me. I expected shotgun weddings and cousin-on-cousin procreation, and instead you give me Star Wars-themed weddings and Game of Thrones receptions. I anticipated The General Lee, and you show me NASCAR. I was ready for cow tipping and sheep fucking, and you grow Chia Pets and play Farm Frenzy. I was prepared for sin-eaters, snake handlers, water witches, and speaking in tongues, but not for arena-God concerts and mega-churches. So who are you people?

“Sheputonairs,” Dustine added.

“Sheep,” the child agreed.

Yep, that’s me, always puttin’ on airs, always puttin’ on the Ritz! Pushed out for not fittin’ in.

Mona watched Buck settle into the middle of the clustered Buckner-Ragsdales on the grass-covered side of the Ole Glorie sink hole. She watched Bucky shimmy into his father’s lap. He held Buck’s neck and pointed into the approaching dusk. “Look,” he said loudly. “I just saw a lightning bug’s ass glow!”

That’s my boy. He will be my bridge.

Mona could not decide, was Bucky the bridge between her and the Buckner-Ragsdales, or the bridge away from them.

Dustine looked straight at Mona. She did not speak, but Mona heard her say, Come on then. Git in the pitcher.