Eadie T. Pratt sets out on a road trip in search of a new life and ends up in the middle of somewhere she never expected.
Start with one independent, urban lesbian who cashes out her life in San Francisco for a second-hand travel trailer and sets off to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in search of a new life. Add to this a broken-down ’66 T-bird, a bunch of small-town Texas Baptists, a ton of fried food, and a church scandal. Pepper that with a hot love interest and a dash of greed, and what you get is Eadie T. Pratt’s road trip gone awry.
Left to myself, I never would have stopped in that eighty-grit-piece-of-sandpaper town long enough to pick up a soda and a bag of beer nuts. Thanks to Pebbles, my ’66 T-Bird, erupting into one of her anxiety attacks, I didn’t have that option. With Pebbles, it’s all about getting attention—my attention. She’ll break a belt or bust a hose just to see if I care.
I’d fallen in love with her for her looks. Her midnight black chassis and chrome detailing I could have resisted, but when I got inside her and felt that mint condition, red, rolled vinyl interior I was a goner. I never even lifted her hood. Too bad I didn’t know what I know now, what Ford really stands for: Fix Or Repair Daily. As usual, I rushed into love. It’s a problem I have, and the one I was running from, or trying to, if Pebbles hadn’t been making it so damned difficult.
Before I took off on my Springboard to a New Life Tour—what I was calling my desperate getaway from San Francisco—I had her radiator, alternator, and most of her hoses replaced. I wanted her to know I cared. But as usual, she wanted more. Crossing the New Mexico/Texas border, my high-maintenance honey began testing my love, knocking and squeaking her complaints. I urged her to keep a stiff upper lip until we made it to Oklahoma.
It was my twenty-eighth birthday; I had other things on my mind.
Like the fact that it was a hell-hot afternoon and I was driving through the middle of nowhere pulling a piece-of-shit-travel trailer, a Burro to be precise, my very own little egg on wheels. Pebbles and I had looped down from San Francisco to Tucson to purchase The Egg from my friends, Camille and Sus, who’d abandoned San Francisco a year earlier—under much sweeter circumstances. They’d fallen in love and wanted to experience this newfound love in a warmer, yet still trendy, setting. Anyway, they said they’d sell me the trailer for next to nothing, and, seeing as “next to nothing” was pretty much all I could afford once I’d cashed out everything I owned—the desperate hope being that the heart-wrenching memories of my last failed relationship would be purged alongside my crap—I’d swung down to scoop up the Egg on Wheels. I then stayed with Camille and Sus long enough to be thoroughly nauseated by their coo cooing and nibbling off each other’s plates, and set out for the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the lesbian Mecca. The haven we flock to with tents, sleeping bags, small trailers, and RVs—anything to be with the throngs of women that show up. Then for one whole blissful week, we get to hold hands, kiss, lie on the grass together listening to music, all without anyone casting a judgmental eye or accusing us of going to hell—or worse, converting their daughters. Some go in search of love; some for community; some really do show up for the music; and some just want to see what it feels like to be able to walk around with your shirt off. Me? I wanted a new life and figured I could make some connections there.
I’d given myself three weeks’ travel time, figuring I’d stop along the way and see some country. I wasn’t wild about taking a southern route, but picking up the trailer had made it impossible not to, for at least the first part of the trip. I confess to a profound mistrust of the South, especially Texas. My mistrust is so profound that Camille and Sus had had to dissuade me from taking a route hundreds of miles out of my way to avoid Texas altogether. They told me I was being a paranoid Californian, that not all Texans were gun-toting, gay-hating fundamentalist Yahoos.
So now here we were, Pebbles, the Egg on Wheels, and me rattling along on a stretch of road without another car in sight. The land was flat and hot as a stovetop griddle. Sweat ran from my forehead into my eyes, blurring my vision. My thighs, I was certain, were permanently adhered to the vinyl seat. Ah, the Texas panhandle, what better way to see it than traveling with no air-conditioning in a car that’s clunking through her final aria?
I knew I was really desperate when I began using visualizing techniques. Some of my New Age pals had tried to “open me up to the abundance of the universe” by teaching me to magically poof a new reality into existence by altering my expectations. At the time, I’d thought they were nuts. Now, I was praying they weren’t.
I visualized a service station with a fully stocked vending machine and sparkling clean floors. I visualized a smiling mechanic in neatly ironed coveralls—and all of his teeth intact.
I passed a junked-out truck trailer with the words:
EVERYDAY SOMEONE KILLS JESUS WITH THEIR SINS!
So much for visualizing, I thought and hunkered down into the steering wheel, determined to make it to the next town. I should have taken the interstate. At least there I could have flagged somebody down—somebody who’d remembered to pay the cell phone bill.
I looked down at Wild Thing, my pet name for the lifeless cell phone on the seat next to me, and remembered the day I left, how I’d shoved everything from my desktop—including my cell phone bill—into a box labeled “Important Shit.” Hell, I had so many bridges burning in my wake it was a miracle my butt wasn’t on fire.
I wonder what Ruby’s doing right now?
I clicked on the radio.
“It was the voice of Jesus,” a woman drawled through the speaker on the dashboard. “I heard it plain as day. He woke me from a dead sleep and told me to go to the water tank.”
A call-in show about miracles, just what I need. For about the zillionth time I reminded my shoulders they didn’t need to climb up my neck.
“I’m afraid of heights,” she confessed with her heavy Southern accent, “but somehow I climbed up that ladder. It was hard in my housecoat and slippers. I kept slipping, but He gave me strength. He lifted my legs. And when I got to the top of that ladder, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Right there, flopping around in that tank of water was my little Mittens! She’s my newest calico, a curious little booger. She’d somehow fallen in, bless her heart. She was just a clawing away at those slippery sides, but couldn’t get a hold. She was so panicked, so scared…”
A male talk show host interjected, his tone smooth as a good malt whiskey. “So, listeners, are you feeling panicked? Scared? Alone?”
I flipped stations and came across the queen of tough love, Dr. Laura, humiliating some sobbing young woman for letting her boyfriend have “dessert” before committing to “dinner.”
I clicked off the radio.
Up ahead was a road sign. It was covered in bullet holes.
WELCOME TO RAUSTON COUNTY
BIRTHPLACE OF CHARLENE WANDRA
I checked my rearview mirror for any discernable difference between where I’d come from and what I was now entering. Nada. Just more of the never-ending barbed-wire fence with tumbleweeds piled up against it. I kept on, basically because I had no choice. That and Charlene Wandra, whoever she was. I mean, who could resist?
About the time that Pebbles was adding new clanking and rattling sounds to her repertoire, I got my first sight of a Rauston residence: a run-down house surrounded by a boneyard of used farm machinery and rusted-out cars. As I passed, I spotted an old geezer sprawled out in a rocker on the wraparound porch, sleeping. He was slouched so far down in the chair his skinny butt was about to slide right off. He held his hat over his chest like he was listening to the national anthem. A red sign was propped on a porcelain toilet bowl by the porch. It read:
Scrawled beneath this, like an angry postscript, were the words:
I considered stopping, but the place gave me the heebie-jeebies, like if I stopped we’d never leave. Pebbles would wither away into one more rusted-out car on his lawn and I’d grow old, die, and be buried out in the backyard under a pile of rotting appliances.
A few miles farther, I passed a run-down shack that also boasted a roadside sign. An empty Hefty bag was wrapped around the leg of the sign.
USED TIRES AND AMMUNITION
Three beat-up pickups were parked in the dirt lot. I was starting to get punchy by this time and began amusing myself with visions of pot-bellied ranchers in those nylon mesh John Deere caps, chowing on used tires. “Boy, the tread on mine is done just right. How’s yers?” “Doesn’t get better than this! Pass the bullets, wouldja?” Pebbles gave me about three seconds to indulge in this merriment, before ruining it with a huge CLUNK! BANG!
Suddenly I had no power and was coasting down the rural highway. I furiously pumped the accelerator. It revved, but wouldn’t take.
I coasted past a residential trailer with a makeshift sign.
BEAUTIFUL NAILS BY K’LYNN.
Next to this was a display of prefab vinyl-top, aluminum-legged carports. All of them were miserably wind-skewed. Another sign was duct-taped to the leg of one.
ASK K’LYNN FOR DETAILS
Should I pull over?
I decided against it. I was still coasting pretty fast. Who knew? Maybe that service station with the smiling mechanic was up ahead. Then my speed began to decrease.
I stubbornly kept on, lurching back and forth in my seat trying to keep up the momentum, all the while cursing myself for not paying my cell phone bill, and for not signing up with AAA, and for being so out of control of my life that I was driving though Texas in the middle of summer in a car that was cute to look at, but a mechanical mess inside. Soon it was clear I either had to pull over or I’d stop in the middle of the highway. Adding the day I bought Pebbles to my list of things to curse, I steered her onto the side strip, pulling up next to a brick sign with black metal letters.
RAUSTON BAPTIST CHURCH
I hit a pothole and Pebbles lurched to a stop, almost causing me to get a case of whiplash. Something popped behind me.
I hit the steering wheel with both hands. Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Then just sat there.
Gazing at the coral and turquoise thunderbird dangling on my rearview mirror and refusing to cry. I’d bought the trinket off an ancient Indian in Tucson whose eyes sparkled like diamonds. He’d promised it would protect me. “Thunderbirds are symbol for Godly Strength,” he’d said, but I bought it because it went with my car.
“Godly strength. You hear that?” I said to Pebbles.
The silence that followed was crushing.
I considered going to sleep. The problem was I’d have to wake up.
I considered abandoning Pebbles and the tagalong Egg on Wheels, just sticking out my thumb and see where it got me. I never got the chance to run the pros and cons of this second option, because the life I was trying to run from caught up with me, popping up in the form of a gut-wrenchingly painful memory of a day even worse than this one. A day I’d thought was just another crappy day at the Copy Shop where I worked.
It was bad enough that I’d been assigned to floor duty. Defenselessly roaming through stressed-out customers with all their copy needs and foul moods is something I wouldn’t wish on my most despised enemy. Top this off with the fact that the copiers were malfunctioning with a vengeance and everybody seemed to be in some kind of unnatural hurry. The worst was this way-unmellow hippie chick trying to copy programs for a wedding that was to take place, across town, in half an hour. When she beckoned me across the room, her fervor led me to believe one of the copiers had caught fire.
Why do I let myself care about these people? I angled my way through a floor packed with other needy customers.
The copier, it turned out, had semi-devoured the chick’s master copy. From the part that wasn’t crunched into the piece-of-shit feeder, I could see it was a pen and ink curly-cue deal with flowers and lots of hearts. Granted, it wasn’t my style, but being somewhat of an artist myself, I knew a drawing that intricate had taken her some time. “Uh…” I said, so she’d know I was really smart.
“This can’t be happening!” the chick squealed.
“I’m sure we can fix it…”
I was stalling for time. I had no idea how to fix it. The master was mangled. That’s pretty much a done deal in the land of photocopy catastrophes. Looking at her, I had the feeling she was trying to keep from throwing up. She had one hand over her mouth and the other one wrapped around her belly. Using my most soothing tone, I said, “We just need to…um…pull it out—without ripping it.”
“My sister’s going to kill me!” she said through her fingers.
“Your sister’s getting married?” I asked brightly as I tugged at the artwork. That’s when I noticed my fingers were sticking to the paper. I spotted an open glue stick on the table. No wonder! This brain-dead chick didn’t even leave time for the glue to dry! Despite her negligence, I managed to ease her artwork out in one piece. There was a huge crease down the middle of the central love heart.
“Voila!” I said, handing it back to her and sidestepping what we both were thinking: the heart now looked broken. I suppose I should have recognized the broken heart as an omen. I didn’t, though. I just went on to my next distraught customer, oblivious.
By the time I got home, all I wanted was a cold beer and one of Ruby’s shoulder rubs. I climbed the flight of steps to our flat and unlocked the door. Immediately I sensed something was missing. Typically, I chose to ignore the feeling. What can I say? I have an ostrich for a totem animal. I headed for the fridge. Whatever it was, a cold Beck’s would solve it. “Rube? Your copy specialist is home!” I announced, prying open my beer. When she didn’t respond, I assumed she was napping. Ruby is one all-star napper.
I headed toward the bedroom with thoughts of waking her, slowly, kiss by kiss, but stopped abruptly. The bamboo-beaded curtain with the hula girl was missing from our bedroom doorway. The curtain had moved in with Ruby. She liked the way the hula girl danced whenever you pushed through the beads, said it reminded her to dance. I loved that about Ruby. She’d dance, with or without music, anywhere, anytime.
I’m not sure how long I stood in the hallway mustering the courage to take the three steps into the bedroom. I do know that when I finally did, my shitty day at the Copy Shop seemed as insignificant as a fingertip paper cut. There, lying on the crisply made-up bed, was our one and only cutting board. We’d picked it up at a garage sale a year earlier when we’d moved in together.
But it wasn’t the cutting board that was stabbing at my gut; it was the half of a peach sitting right in the center of it. It was a precise cut. The stone was still in it.
“Eating peaches” was our code word for lovemaking. We could say it anywhere: crowded elevators, grocery lines, libraries. “I’m in the mood for a peach. How about you?” As I stood there, I remembered Ruby whispering it to me that morning. We were snuggled in each other’s arms; I’d just punched the snooze alarm. “Want a peach for breakfast?” Ruby’d asked. But I was afraid I’d be late for work. Or afraid I’d never make it to work if I indulged in the kind of breakfast Ruby was suggesting. We had that effect on each other. I was already on Copy Shop Probation due to one too many of our “breakfasts.”
Copy Shop Probation: It didn’t get much lower than that.
“Babe, I can’t be late again,” I’d told her.
She’d responded by pressing her naked body up against mine, and whispering, “This job is killing you.”
I’d pried myself away and rolled out of bed. “It’s paying our rent.” Then, to kill the mood completely, I’d sniffed the armpits of yesterday’s shirt to see if I could wear it again. “Or were you planning on paying the rent this month?”
Why do I always have to resort to sarcasm?
I looked at the made-up bed, bedspread smoothed and pillow plumped. That hurt. It was the first time in our whole relationship Ruby had ever made the bed. Suddenly, I was certain that she’d left a note. I charged through the flat searching countertops, the desk, the fridge, the little pad where we wrote down each other’s phone messages. Nada. But I was determined there had to be a clue as to why she’d left. She always left a clue.
I began rummaging through drawers, closets, the medicine cabinet, but the only clue I found this time was that she’d removed every piece of herself, her basket of makeup, her shelf of journals, the espresso maker her mom had given her for Christmas, even one of our matching towels.
She’s probably at Peter and Kevin’s.
Lately, Kevin had become her partner in self-absorption. I pictured the two of them hunched over a line of coke, she complaining about me, and he, about Peter. I picked up the phone, but my finger hesitated over the auto-dial. Did I really want to beg her back? Again? What would I promise this time?
An ugly thought passed through my mind: Maybe she’s not at Peter and Kevin’s. Maybe she’s at Bette’s.
Slowly, I placed the receiver back down and walked to the bedroom. Before I knew it, I’d hurled my Beck’s into the wall. The green glass shattered against our oh-so-trendy exposed brick wall. Amber liquid dripped toward the floor, cutting shiny trails of tears. I’ve got to get out of this city. Got to get away from that peach.
A semi hauling cattle barreled by, jolting me from my cheery memory. My face, damn it, was drenched in tears. I flipped down the sun visor to check out how puffy my eyes were. If I was going to be flagging people down, I didn’t want to look like some battered woman. Before I knew it, I was eye to eye with the photo of Ruby that, in a moment of weakness, I’d slipped beneath the clip-on mirror. It was one of the promo pictures for her band; she was blowing a kiss to the camera. An electric fan gave the effect that she was standing outside in a storm; her ratted, bleached hair with the black highlights wafted around her face, her favorite silk blouse with the long draping sleeves hugged so close to her body you could see she wasn’t wearing a bra. I considered tossing the photo, but flipped the visor back up instead. Later, I promised myself.
Then I looked back at that sign. This time I noticed the addendum:
RAUSTON BAPTIST CHURCH
GO WITH GO !
Behind it sat a yellow brick church with a squatty steeple. Despondent, I pushed open Pebbles’s door, peeled my sweaty legs from the vinyl seat, and got out onto the shoulder of the road. And just at the moment when I might have laughed at the irony—broken down flat at the altar of Go !—a mini dust devil swept through, spiriting all possibility of humor away.
Eadie T. Pratt dumped her girl friend, left San Francisco, and set out for the freedom of the famed Michigan Women’s Music Festival. Unfortunately, her ancient T-bird broke down in front of the Rauston Baptist Church in Rauston, Texas. With this beginning, Henderson grabs her readers in a firm grip and never lets go.
The Middle of Somewhere is a wonderful laugh-out-loud read filled with pathos, hope, and new beginnings. Rauston, Texas is a dust-filled small town, which Henderson populates with real characters, not cliches. Whether she’s describing the bully, the minister, or the con artist, she uses words which help the reader understand rather than dismiss.
Henderson also describes the panhandle of Texas so her readers can feel the heat, the dust, and the poverty. Rauston is a place where church serves as a community gathering spot, and where news is passed along at the local grocery store. The radio stations play either gospel or country music, memories are long and secrets are deeply buried. It is in this setting that Eadie finds hope, friends, and herself.
This is a very good read.
Sam Martino, Out in New Jersey
Clifford Henderson’s first novel, “The Middle of Somewhere” published by Bold Strokes Books is a poignant tale about a lesbian who is left by her lover and finds the only way to move on, is to move out.
Eadie T. Pratt leaves California in a ’66 T-Bird, her only home is the travel trailer hitched to her car, which she affectionately refers to as the egg. Her plan is to make it to the Michigan Woman’s Music Festival, relax, and do some soul searching. When her car breaks down in the middle of Texas, Eadie has no choice but to rely on the kindness of a bunch of small town Texas Baptists to help her get back on the road.
In the time that it takes to get her car fixed, she exposes a church ponzi scheme, reunites her new girlfriend with her biological Mother, and finds she must first love herself if she is ever going to truly love someone else.
The characters in this book are easy to relate to, I found myself caring about their struggles, and celebrating their triumphs. Most of all I was curious to see if Eadie would ever make it to the festival but to find out, you’ll just have to purchase a copy. Clifford Henderson writes with depth and ease. Her writing gives you the sense that her muse was not only visiting, but had moved in.
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