Brenda has personal experience; she tells people she knows who Freddy’s father is, but she really doesn’t, she had a few drunk nights when they all looked good, and really, come on, how is she supposed to look for a job anyway? She’s got these kids. What’s she supposed to do, leave Freddy to mind Glory and take Freedom to the goddamn job interviews? Sure, that’ll work. And what is there, besides drive-up-window girl at Mickey D’s or the Booger King? Portland has a couple of strip clubs, but wide loads like her don’t get that kind of work, and everyone else is broke.
She reminds herself she hit the lottery. She reminds herself they could be in a couple of air-conditioned rooms tonight at the Red Roof—three, even! Why not? Things are turning around!
“Brennie?” Her friend sounds more doubtful than ever. “Are you still there?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Come on, girl, I’m approved. The Hertz chick says the van is red.” She lowers her voice and adds: “Your lucky color.”
“Did you pay off the credit card online? How’d you do that?” Jasmine knows what happened to Brenda’s laptop. Freddy and Glory got fighting last month and knocked Brenda’s laptop off the bed. It fell on the floor and broke.
“I used the one at the library.” She says it the way she grew up in Mars Hill saying it: liberry. “I had to wait awhile to get on, but it’s worth it. It’s free. So what do you say?”
“Maybe we could get a bottle of Allen’s,” her friend says. Jasmine loves that Allen’s Coffee Brandy, when she can get it. In truth, Jasmine loves anything when she can get it.
“Apple-solutely,” Brenda says. “And a bottle of Driver for me. But I won’t drink while I’m behind the wheel, Jas. You can, but I’ll wait. I have to keep my license. It’s about all I got left.”
“Can you really get any money out of your folks, do you think?”
Brenda tells herself that once they see the kids—assuming the kids can be bribed (or intimidated) into good behavior—she can. “But not a word about the lottery,” she says.
“No way,” Jasmine says. “I was born at night but it wasn’t last night.”
They yuk at this one, an oldie but a goodie.
“So what do you think?”
“I’ll have to take Eddie and Rosellen out of school …”
“BFD,” Brenda says. “So what do you think, girl?”
After a long pause on the other end, Jasmine says, “Road trip!”
“Road trip!” Brenda hollers back.
Then they are chanting it while the three kids bawl in Brenda’s Sanford apartment and at least one (maybe two) is bawling in Jasmine’s North Berwick apartment. These are the fat women nobody wants to see when they’re on the streets, the ones no guy wants to pick up in the bars unless the hour is late and the mood is drunk and there’s nobody better in sight. What men think when they’re drunk—Brenda and Jasmine both know this—is that thunder thighs are better than no thighs at all. They went to high school together in Mars Hill and now they’re downstate and they help each other when they can. They are the fat women nobody wants to see, they have a litter of children between them, and they are chanting Road trip, road trip like a couple of cheerleading fools. On a September morning, already hot at eight-thirty, this is the way things happen. It’s never been any different.
II. SO THESE TWO OLD POETS WHO WERE ONCE LOVERS IN PARIS HAVE A PICNIC NEAR THE BATHROOMS.
Phil Henreid is seventy-eight now, and Pauline Enslin is seventy-five. They’re both skinny. They both wear spectacles. Their hair, white and thin, blows in the breeze. They’ve paused at a rest area on I-95 near Fairfield, which is about twenty miles north of Augusta. The rest-area building is barnboard, and the adjacent bathrooms are brick. They’re good-looking bathrooms. Modest bathrooms. There’s no odor. Phil, who lives in Maine and knows this rest area well, would never have proposed a picnic here in the summertime. When the traffic on the interstate swells with out-of-state vacationers, the Turnpike Authority brings in a line of plastic Port-O-Sans, and this pleasant grassy area stinks like hell on New Year’s Eve. But now the Port-O-Sans are in storage somewhere, and the rest area is nice.