“How you?” asked the man, a short black guy with white hair at his temples.
“Okay,” said Colin. “Do you work for Gutshot Textiles?”
“Whatcha throwing in the hole?”
“Don’t know that it’s any of your business, on account of how you don’t own the hole.”
Colin didn’t really have a response to that—it wasn’t his hole. The wind picked up then, and the dry dirt whipped up from the ground and passed over them in a cloud. Colin turned 180 degrees to put his back to the dust, and then he saw Hassan and Lindsey walking briskly toward him. Colin heard the crash of another box, but he didn’t want to turn around. He didn’t want that dust in his eyes.
But then he did turn, because it wasn’t only dust flying. The second box had cracked open, and thousands of finely braided tampon strings were whipping past him, and past Hassan and Lindsey—blowing around and over them. And he looked up and watched the strings rush by as he became immersed in a cloud of them. They looked like garfish or brilliant white light. Colin thought of Einstein. A certifiable genius (who was definitely never a prodigy), Einstein had figured out that light can act, in a seeming paradox, both as a discreet particle and as a wave. Colin had never understood this before, but now thousands of strings were fluttering over and around and past him, and they were both tiny broken beams of light and endless, undulating waves.
He reached up to grab one and came down with several, and they kept coming, washing over him, floating all around him. Never have tampon strings seemed so beautiful as they rolled up and down with the wind, landing on the ground and then twirling and floating up again, falling and rising and falling and rising.
“Shit,” said the man. “Ain’t that pretty, though?”
“It sure is,” said Lindsey, suddenly beside Colin, the back of her hand touching the back of his. A few straggling strings were still blowing up from the box, but most of the army of unleashed tampon strings were fading into the distance.
“You look just like your momma,” the man said to her.
“I wish you wouldn’t say that,” said Lindsey. “Who are you, by the way?”
“I’m Roy,” he said. “I’m the director of operations for Gutshot Textiles. Your mom’ll be here soon. Best let her talk to you. Y’all come in with me and get a drink.” They’d wanted to spy on Hollis, not beat her to the warehouse, but Colin figured the element of secrecy was now more or less totally lost.
Roy pushed the last box into the hole, and that one held together. Then he reached his thumb and finger into his mouth, issued a piercing whistle, and motioned to the bulldozer, which lumbered to life.
They walked back to the unair-conditioned warehouse. Roy told them to sit tight, and then returned to the field.
“She’s gone nuts,” Lindsey said. “Her ‘Director of Operations’ is some guy I’ve never seen and she’s telling him to bury our damned product out behind the warehouse? She’s bonkers. What does she want, to run the town into the ground?”
“I don’t think so,” said Colin. “I mean, I do think she’s bonkers. But I don’t think she wants to run the—”
“Baby,” Colin heard from behind him, and he wheeled around and saw Hollis Wells in her trademark Thursday pink pantsuit. “What are you doing here?” Hollis asked, not sounding very angry.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, Hollis? Have you gone nuts? Who the hell is Roy? And why are you burying everything?”
“Lindsey, baby, the company ain’t doing so well.”
“Jesus, Hollis, do you stay up all night every night trying to figure out how to ruin my life? Sell the land, put the factory out of business, and then the town will die and then I’ll for sure have to leave?”
Hollis scrunched her face up. “What? Lindsey Lee Wells, no. No! There’s no one to buy them, Lindsey. We have one client—StaSure, and they buy a quarter of what we can produce. We’ve lost everything else to companies overseas. Everything.”
“Wait, what?” Lindsey asked quietly, although Colin figured she’d heard.
“They stacked up in the warehouse. Up and up and up. And it’s just gotten worse and worse, until it came to this.”
And then Lindsey understood. “You don’t want to fire anyone.”
“That’s right, baby. If we cut production down to what we were selling, we’d lose most our people. It’d kill Gutshot.”
“Wait, then why the heck did you hire them to do some little made-up job?” Lindsey asked, nodding toward Colin and Hassan. “If we’re so broke, I mean.”
“It’s not made up. A generation from now there might not be a factory and I want your kids and their kids to know what it was like, what we were like. And I liked them. I thought they’d be good for you. The world ain’t gonna stay like you imagine it, sweetheart.”
Lindsey took a step toward her mother. “Now I know why you work at home,” she said. “So no one will know what’s going on. No one knows?”
“Just Roy,” said Hollis. “And you can’t tell anyone. We can go on like this for at least five more years, so that’s what we’re gonna do,” Hollis said. “And between now and then I’m gonna work like hell to find new ways of making money.”
Lindsey put her arms around her mom’s waist and pressed her face against her chest. “Five years is a long time, Mom,” she said.
“It is and it isn’t,” Hollis answered, stroking Lindsey’s hair. “It is and it isn’t. But it’s not your fight; it’s mine. I’m sorry, sweetie. I know I’ve been busier than a mom ought to be.”
And this, unlike TOC’s cheating, was a secret best kept, Colin thought. People don’t like to know that three quarters of their tampon strings are being buried, or that their paychecks have less to do with their company’s profitability than its owner’s compassion.
Hollis and Lindsey ended up riding home together, leaving Colin and Hassan alone in the Hearse. They weren’t five miles outside of Memphis when Hassan said, “I had a, um, blinding light spiritual awakening.”
Colin glanced at him. “Huh?”
“Watch the road, kafir. It started a few nights ago, actually, so I guess it wasn’t that dramatic—at the old folks’ home, when you said I was Mr. Funnypants because I wanted to avoid getting hurt.”
“No doubt about it,” Colin said.
“Yeah, well, that’s bullshit, and I knew it was bullshit, but then I started wondering exactly why I am Mr. Funnypants, and I didn’t have a very good answer. But then, back there, I started thinking about what Hollis is doing. I mean, she’s giving up all her time and her money so people can keep jobs. She’s doing something.”
“Okay . . .” said Colin, not getting it.
“And I’m a not-doer. Like, I’m lazy, but I’m also good at not-doing things I’m not supposed to do. I never drank or did drugs or hooked up with girls or beat people up or stole or anything. I was always good at that, although not so much this particular summer. But then doing all that stuff here felt weird and wrong, so now I’m back to happily not-doing. But I’ve never been a doer. I never did anything that helped anybody. Even the religious things that involve doing, I don’t do. I don’t do zakat.80 I don’t do Ramadan. I’m a total non-doer. I’m just sucking food and water and money out of the world, and all I’m giving back is, ‘Hey, I’m really good at not-doing. Look at all the bad things I’m not doing! Now I’m going to tell you some jokes!’ ”
Colin glanced over and saw Hassan sipping Mountain Dew. Feeling that he should say something, Colin said, “That’s a good spiritual revelation.”
“I’m not done yet, fugger. I was just drinking. So but anyway, being funny is a way of not-doing. Sit around and make jokes and be Mr. Funnypants and just make fun of everyone else’s attempts to do something. Make fun of you when you get back up and try to love yourself another Katherine. Or make fun of Hollis for falling asleep covered in her work every night. Or get on your case for shooting at the hornets’ nest, when I didn’t shoot at all. So that’s it. I’m going to start doing.” Hassan finished his can of Mountain Dew, crumpled it, and dropped it beneath his feet. “See, I just did something. Usually,” he said, “I would have thrown that shit in the backseat, where I wouldn’t have to look at it and you’d have to clean it up the next time you had a date with a Katherine. But I’m leaving it here, so I remember to pick it up when we get to the Pink Mansion. God, someone should give me a Congressional Medal of Honor for Doing.”
Colin laughed. “You’re still funny,” Colin said. “And you have been doing stuff. You registered for college.”
“Yeah, I’m getting there. Although—if I’m going to be an all-out, full-on doer,” Hassan noted, faux morose, “I should probably register for three classes. It’s a hard life, kafir.”
Lindsey and Hollis beat them home, on account of how Colin and Hassan had to stop at the Hardee’s for a Monster Thickburger. As they stood in the Pink Mansion’s living room, Hollis said, “Lindsey went to spend the night at her friend Janet’s. She was pretty broken up on the car ride home. It’s about the boy, I guess.”
Hassan nodded, and sat down on the sectional couch with her. Colin’s brain started working. He had to find an unsuspicious way out of the Pink Mansion as soon as possible, he realized.
“Can I do anything to help you?” asked Hassan, and Hollis brightened and said, “Sure. Sure. You can sit here with me and brainstorm—all night, if you’ve got the time.” And Hassan said, “Cool.”
Colin sort of half-coughed, and started speaking rapidly. “I may go out for a while. I think I’m going to go camping. I’ll probably sitzpinkler out and sleep in the car, but still—I’m gonna give it a try.”
“What?” asked Hassan, incredulous.
“Camping,” Colin said.
“With the pigs and the hornets and the TOCs and the whatnot?”
“Yes, camping,” said Colin, and then he tried to give Hassan an extremely meaningful look.
After staring back quizzically for a moment, Hassan’s eyes shot open, and he said, “Well, I’m not going with you. As we’ve learned, I’m an inside cat.”
“Keep your phone on,” Hollis said. “Do you have a tent?”
“No, but it’s pretty out and I’ll just take a sleeping bag if that’s all right.”
And then before Hollis could further object, he climbed the stairs two at a time, grabbed his supplies, and headed out.
It was early evening—the fields receding into a pink invisibility as they rose back into the horizon. Colin felt his heart slamming in his chest. He wondered if she even wanted to see him. He’d taken “sleeping over at Janet’s” as a hint, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she really was sleeping at Janet’s, whoever that was—which would mean a lot of hiking for naught.
After five minutes of driving, he reached the fenced-in field that had once been home to Hobbit the horse. He climbed over the tri-logged fence and jogged across the field. Colin, of course, did not believe in running when walking would suffice—but here and now, walking would not. He slowed down, however, as he made his way up the hill, the flashlight a thin and shaky beam of yellow light against the darkening landscape. He kept it directly before him as he picked through bushes and vines and trees, the thick rotting floor of the forest crunching beneath his feet, reminding him of where we all go. To seed, to ground. And even then he couldn’t help but anagram. To ground—Run, Godot; Donor Gut. And the magic through which “to ground” can become “donor gut,” combined with his newfound feeling that he had at some recent point received a donor gut, kept his pace quick. Even as the darkness became so complete that trees and rocks became not objects but mere shadows, he climbed, until finally he reached the stone outcropping. He walked along the rock, his flashlight scanning up and down, until the light passed over the crack. He leaned his head in and said, “Lindsey?”
“Christ, I thought you were a bear.”
“Quite the opposite. I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I’d drop by,” he said. He heard her laugh echo through the cave. “But I don’t want to impose.”
“Come on in,” she said, and he squeezed through the jagged crack and shuffled sideways until he reached the room. She turned on her flashlight; they were blinding each other. “I thought you might come,” she said.
“Well you told your mom you were sleeping at Janet’s.”
“Yeah,” she said. “It was kind of a code.”
Lindsey pointed the light next to her, and then drew a line back to Colin, like she was bringing an airplane into the gate. He walked over, and she arranged a couple of pillows into a chair, and he sat beside her.
“Out, damn light,” she said, and it was dark again.
“The most upsetting part of it is that I’m not even upset. About Colin, I mean. Because I—in the end I just didn’t care. About him, about his liking me, about his screwing Katrina. I just—don’t care. Hey, are you there?”
“So go on.”
“Right. So, I don’t know. It was just so easy to dismiss. I keep thinking I’m going to get upset, but it’s been three days, and I just don’t even think about him. Remember when I told you that unlike me, he was real? I don’t think he is, actually. I think he’s just boring. I’m so pissed off about it, because—I mean, I wasted so much of my life with him and then he cheats on me and I’m not even particularly, like, depressed about it?”