The radio's alarm on the nightstand blasted loudly "Man it's a hot one. Like seven inches from the midday sun..." Carlos Santana's music spilled into the room and into Tulsa's brain like jagged rocks. The DJ announced, "People it's going to be another hot one . Expect temperatures to rise to 107 degrees today". Tulsa groaned and hit the off button on the radio. What did people expect? This was late summer in frickin' southern Arizona.
Tulsa's eyes felt raw from the lack of sleep and she was annoyed. Annoyed that she had forgotten to turn the alarm off last night. She didn't have a shift at the Safeway grocery today She was more than annoyed she decided. She was angry. Tulsa was angry that she even cared that Billy didn't come home last night. This was becoming a common occurrence especially after his payday.
Billy said that he deserved his time off and the time he spent with the boys kicking it up at some cowboy bar. It was true, Billy worked hard on the oil rig but he was gone sometimes months at a time. Tulsa was offended that he spent his off time with the boys and whomever else. Billy was probably hold up at one of the boy's place or in his truck if he was too drunk to drive.
Asking him to call was an argument they had many times before. Billy resented her for even asking. She thought it probably spoiled the image he wanted to present to the boys. He spent the money how he wanted and gave her very little for household expenses. Tulsa thought Billy had to be squirreling the money away. Probably to leave her someday.
Tulsa just didn't want to deal with Billy today. She was sick and tired of it. Tired of Billy acting as if she did not exist. He'd probably roll in around noon with no explanation and no apologies. She in turn would either give him the silent treatment or pick a fight with him. Either way he would rally up to go back out again tonight. Billy was a good looking man and Tulsa was sure there was usually a woman involved in his outings. The kind of woman where the man says "It wasn't love baby." The thought of this made Tulsa's stomach churn in a sickly manner. Tulsa said to herself. "I'll be damned if I make his dinner and wash his clothes".
Tulsa got out of bed and pulled on her jeans and a tank top. She stomped down the hallway of the single wide rental trailer to the bathroom. She relieved herself and rinsed off her face. Running a brush through her dark brown hair. Her brown eyes stared back at her in the mirror. Tulsa noticed that she did not see anger in her eyes but what she saw was grief. She shook the feeling off. She needed the energy anger gave her. She forego the shower as she did not want to be there when Billy got home.
She didn't know quite where she was going and she was tempted to pack a bag. There was one problem. She had only twenty dollars in her pocket. Tulsa heated yesterday's coffee in the microwave. She took a sip and decided that she could tolerate it. She grabbed her keys and purse and opened the door and stepped down on to the rickety wooden steps and walked to her old Chevy Tahoe. Tulsa had bought the Tahoe used in 2005 and it had been a faithful car getting her to work and places around Bisbee.
As she started the truck. She looked at a crack running half way across the front window. A rock had hit her window a couple weeks ago. Tulsa was not sure if it were safe to drive the truck with the crack in the window. It didn't look like it was getting any bigger. As she drove toward Highway 80 through Bisbee Tulsa thought about her marriage to Billy. It hadn't always been this way. So distant and alienated from each other.
They used to do things together and have dreams for the future. Then it happened. Five years ago, their newborn son of six weeks old died in his sleep. The doctor called it Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and told them there is no specific cause for the condition. Tulsa felt guilty that there was something she could of done for her baby. Tulsa cried it seemed for years.
The doctor said it could happen to another child if they were to have one and they would need to have a monitor on that baby. Tulsa did not want to take the chance. Her heart was already broken. Billy's response was to run. He took the contract jobs on the oil rigs in Texas. They grew apart. Tulsa found herself looking at the crack in the window again. It somehow intimidated her.
Tulsa had driven through Bisbee and was about halfway to Tombstone. She felt a pull to go there. She would stop in at Big Nose Kate's Bar and Grill. Kate had been a friend for many years. Not that she would confide in Kate but Kate had a way of knowing things. Tulsa watched the road and saw the heat radiating above the road into an optical illusion. She couldn't make out what it was reflecting.
She was daydreaming about moving to a place where it had green grass and trees. Some place clean and fresh where she could start over. Definitely not Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa was born there. Her mother, Bett had named all their children after the cities in which they were born. Tulsa had a brother named Dallas and a sister named Charlotte. Tulsa called her mother by her first name because she was not raised by her and it felt awkward referring to her as Mom or Mother.
Bett was still nomadic as far as Tulsa knew. Never staying anywhere for very long. Even when she had children. Her brother and sister were half siblings. Tulsa's father was in the Navy and right after she was born he was still on a tour aboard ship when the allotment checks stopped coming to Bett. He did not join them when he came back from sea. Bett's decision making ability was greatly impaired by the amount of alcohol she consumed. In due time she lost custody of her children to the foster care system. Tulsa really didn't hold any resentment towards Bett. She just didn't know her and felt Bett was untrustworthy.
Tulsa drove through Tombstone to almost the end. She pulled up to Big Nose Kate's Bar and Grill. To this day the parking area had not been paved. It was desert sand. Some years ago, the first time Tulsa and Billy had ever been to Kate's, the town had appeared to be deserted but as the sun went down, cars and trucks from all directions honed in on Kate's. The band started playing and the place was hopping. Tulsa heard the echo of that time in her mind.
It was early afternoon. There were only a couple patrons in the bar. Kate a formidable woman of an ample 300 plus pounds was leaning against the bar completing a crossword puzzle. She wore a bright red peasant style dress that her hips made ride up higher in the back than the front. She wore one pink flip flop on her right foot. Her left leg was a peg leg below the knee. Tulsa never asked why Kate preferred a peg leg rather than a regular prosthesis but rumor had it that the peg leg was sturdier for Kate.
"Well look who's here!," announced Kate. Kate threw back her head and laughed loudly. "Hi Kate," Tulsa said feeling a little shy. "Hey, Bob, put Tulsa Time on the music box." Kate shouted. Now Tulsa did feel shy. "Let's celebrate!" Kate boomed. "Beers on the house!" The two patrons cheered. Bob got busy dispensing beers for Tulsa, Kate and the two patrons. "What brings you here?" Kate asks "Oh, I just needed to get out of Bisbee for a little while." "Too quaint for you?" Kate laughs. "Something like that..." Tulsa says. "How's that old man of yours?" Tulsa feels her face redden. "Oh, he's okay...still working on the oil rigs."
Kate grew serious and looked straight at Tulsa and said "She's here." "Who's here?" Tulsa asked. "Your mother is here Tulsa." Kate said matter of factly. "Bett is here?" Tulsa was astonished. She had not heard from her in five years. She had contacted Bett when the baby was born and for the baby's funeral. The last Tulsa knew was Bett was living at Charlotte's. Kate continued. "She's renting a room upstairs...room number two." Tulsa sarcastically thought what a great place for an alcoholic to live, above a bar.
Tulsa finished her beer and listened to Kate tell some wild stories about the bar life she lived. Tulsa only paid half attention to Kate as her thoughts were drifting back and forth between the dread she felt and the feeling of some sense of obligation to go upstairs and see Bett. Tulsa opened the door to the stairwell and dry sauna like heated air poured out. The upper floor did not have central air conditioning.
The air smelled like old newspaper dust with a slight mixture of horses. According to the historical plaque on the outside of the bar it was built around 1880. Like many Victorian era stairs the steps were steep and narrow. Tulsa had to be careful that her sandals did not catch on the steps as she ascended the stairs. At the top of the stairs, Tulsa stared down a narrow dark hallway with what looked to be a bathroom at the very end. Probably a communal bathroom, Tulsa thought.
Tulsa saw there were only four rooms. Two on each side. As she passed the first room she heard a gruff cough behind the door. She walked on. Room number two was on the left side. Tulsa knocked on the door. Perspiration was running between her shoulder blades. It had to be 120 degrees in this hallway she thought. Tulsa was nervous. She wanted to bite the cuticles on her thumbs but resisted. "Yes,who is it?" a slightly raspy voice responded. "It's Tulsa." "Come on," Tulsa thought, "Let's get this over with." "Tulsa?" Bett said in a louder voice. "Come in...it's unlocked." Bett's voice went back down to it's raspy monotone.
Tulsa did not know what to expect when she walked into the room. The floor wass faded rose print linoleum and the bedroom set was a blonde manufactured veneer straight out of the 1950s. A small air conditioner struggled to pump out cool air into the room but was only conducive to giving some reprieve to the person sitting directly in front of it. Bett sat in an old matted polyester leopard fur lounge chair with her skinny legs crossed.
Bett was thin almost bordering on anorexia. She wore a pale pink slip over a loosely hanging brasserie. Tulsa suddenly felt very thirsty. Her mouth was dry. Bett was smiling at her and then she poured some brown liquor into a cup of coffee. Tulsa thought that nothing changes ever. Bett lit a cigarette and took a drag and coughed. Bett smoked the cheapest cigarettes she could find at the convenient store. The silence was an invisible force field between them.
Bett cleared her voice and seemed to be proud of herself as she said to Tulsa happily, "How's my granddaughter?" Tulsa looked at Bett with disdain and said, "I had a son...he died when he was six weeks old." The grief began rising into Tulsa's throat and she swallowed it. She had to be strong. Without so much as an "I'm sorry" Bett matter of factly said. "Well, nature has a way of taking care of the weak ones that can't survive." "You can have another one." Tulsa heart raced and angry thoughts clouded her mind "Who do you think you are?" "God Damn frickin' Darwin!". Tulsa remained quiet but she was sure she was visibly shaking.
Tulsa changed the subject and bluntly asked Bett, "What are you doing here?" Bett chuckled. "Your sister kicked me out. She called me a perpetual teenager." Tulsa understood what this meant very well. Bett's habits included going on binges and shacking up with men for days without calling or sleeping all day and not working. Charlotte had a couple of children and worked as well. Bett continued. "Yeah, she said I was incorrigible and not a good role model for her kids!" Bett coughed again and mumbled "Her and her fancy words."
Tulsa found out that Charlotte had bought Bett a one way ticket to Arizona and told her to go back to the reservation. The one that Bett left when she was 17 years old. There was a homestead there that Bett was entitled to. Charlotte had helped Bett get on federal disability income and Tulsa thought it would be best if Bett did go home. Only Bett never did what was best. Tulsa had to get out of the room. Bett was starting to go into a soliloquy about the days she was a parent to her.
As Tulsa descended the steep stairs she had to hold onto the rail as it was completely dark with the door closed at the bottom of the stairs although there was still some light outside. Tulsa opened the door to a fully lit bustling dining room full of patrons; some were cowboys that worked at the O.K. Corral and other attractions in Tombstone and others were tourists from all over the country and internationally. Of course there were the locals who usually came in later when the band started. Kate was running the show.
Kate waved Tulsa over to the bar and gave her a big side hug and said "You want another beer?" "No thanks." Tulsa said. "I just want some water...I need to be going soon." Seeing the strained look on Tulsa's face Kate asked if Tulsa wanted to talk about anything. Tulsa declined as she just didn't have the energy and her thoughts weren't sorted out enough.
The band was just setting up when Tulsa left the bar and got into her truck. The temperature had dropped into the 90s but it felt more like the 80s in the arid desert air. She pulled onto highway 80 and headed south. The sun was setting in the west on her right side. Blazes of orange and red stretched across the sky and above the Coronado Mountains in the distance. Each day the sunset looked different. Never once was it the same. Each day equally as beautiful. In the sameness or lack of change that Tulsa felt in her life she was grateful for this time of day and it's reminder that change can occur.
Tulsa thought back over the day's events and found herself thinking about Bett. Something Bett had said stuck with Tulsa. Tulsa had not said a word about her marriage when Bett had suddenly said to her "I know my daughter." "That man is no good for you." "Ah...What's his name...Buddy?" "They're all alike just different faces!" Bett went on to explain to Tulsa that a man that goes out without his woman is certainly cheating on her or looking to cheat and she knows this because she has been the other woman. She advised Tulsa to put her foot down or get out and get on with her own life.
As much as Tulsa hated to admit it there was a certain amount of truth and maybe wisdom to what Bett had said. Billy and she had been living separate lives for five years now and they barely talked and intimacy was out of the question for the most part. Is this the way she wanted to live the rest of her life? Bett knew the answer. It was time for Tulsa. Tulsa pulled up to the trailer and looked at the crack in her truck window and decided that she was calling for the window to be repaired after this weekend was over. The insurance may cover it.
Billy's new truck was parked outside the trailer. Tulsa put her hand on it's hood and it was very hot and making a ticking sound that hot engines make after they been run for a while. Tulsa thought that Billy had not been home long. It was about 8:15 pm. She walked up the three steps to the trailer door and opened it. Billy was sitting on the sofa pulling on a clean pair of socks and he had his nice boots setting out. He looked like he had just gotten out of the shower. He was going back out. She could smell his cologne across the room. Sarcastically Tulsa thought "I hope the boys enjoy his cologne."
Tulsa didn't feel like giving Billy the silent treatment. She just didn't have anything to say. She was tired. Physical and emotionally tired. Tired of it all. "C'mon Babe," "Don't be that way." Billy says. This is the game they play but Tulsa is not playing it this time. "I'm not being any way Billy." "I'm just tired." "It was just another really hot day." Tulsa said.