Sunday, 12 October 2008

10 October 2008

coastal plain and Mobile; up ahead were great soaring clouds of the Gulf of Mexico. It was only fifteen hours since we’d said goodbye to everybody in the dirty snows of the North. We stopped at a filling station and there Neal and Louanne played piggyback around the tanks and Hinkle went inside and stole three packets of cigarettes without trying. We were fresh out. Rolling into Mobile over the long tidal highway we all took our winter clothes off and enjoyed the Southern temperature. This was when Neal started telling his life story and when, beyond Mobile, he came upon an obstruction of wrangling cars at a crossroads and instead of slipping around just balled right through the driveway of the gas station and went right on without relaxing his steady continental seventy. We left gaping faces behind us. He went right on with his tale. “I tell you it’s true, I started at nine, with a girl called Milly Mayfair in back of Rod’s Garage on Grant street- -same street Allen lived on in Denver. That’s when my father was still barbering a bit. I remember my aunt yelling out the window ‘What are you doing down there in back of the garage?’ Oh honey Louanne if I’d only known you then! Wow! How sweet you must have been at nine.” He tittered maniacally; he stuck his finger in her mouth and licked it; he took her hand and rubbed it over himself. She just sat there smiling serenely. Big long Al Hinkle just sat looking out the window talking to himself. “Yes sir, I thought I was a ghost that night on Times Square.” He was also wondering what Helen Hinkle would say to him in New Orleans. Neal went on: “One time I rode a freight from New Mexico clear to LA---I was eleven years old, I’d lost my father in a freight, we were all in a hobo jungle, I was with a man called Big Red, my father was out drunk in a boxcar---it started to roll- - Big Red and I missed it----I didn’t see my father for months. I rode the wrong freight to California. All the way, thirty five hours, I hung on with one hand from the rail and under my other arm I clutched a loaf of bread. This is no story---this is true. When I got to LA I was so starved for milk and cream that I got a job in a dairy and the first thing I did I drank two quarts of heavy cream and puked.” “Poor Neal” said Louanne and she kissed him. He stared ahead proudly. He loved

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