"Hon, I'm gonna have to stop again."
"Goddamn, Novalee." Willy Jack slapped the steering wheel with both hands. "You just went."
"Yeah, but ..."
"Not more'n fifty miles back."
"Well, I can wait awhile."
"You know how long it's gonna take us to get there if you have to pee ever fifty miles?"
"I don't mean right this minute. I can wait."
Willy Jack was in a bad mood because of the camera. Novalee had bought a Polaroid before they left because she wanted him to take a picture of her at every state line they crossed, with her posed beside signs like, WELCOME TO ARKANSAS, and OKLAHOMA, THE SOONER STATE. She wanted to frame those pictures so someday she could show their baby how they had traveled west like the covered wagons did on their way to California.
Willy Jack told her it was a stupid idea, but he had taken her picture when they crossed into Arkansas because he had seen a bar called the Razorback just across the highway and he wanted a beer. They were twenty miles down the road when Novalee missed the camera and discovered Willy Jack had left it in the bar. She begged him to go back for it and he did, but only because he wanted another beer. But when they drove into Oklahoma, Willy Jack had refused to stop and take her picture so they'd had a fight.
Novalee felt warm and sticky. She rolled down her window and let the hot outside air blast her in the face. The air conditioner in the Plymouth had stopped working long before Willy Jack bought it with her fifty dollars. In fact, almost everything in the car had stopped working so it had ended up in a junkyard just outside Knoxville where Willy Jack had found it. He had replaced a universal joint, the carburetor, the distributor, a brake drum and the muffler, but he had not replaced the floorboard where a piece the size of a platter had rusted out. He'd covered the hole with a TV tray, but Novalee was afraid the tray would slide and her feet would slip through the hole and be ripped off on the highway. When she would lean forward to check the tray, she could see at its edges the pavement whirling by, just inches below her feet, an experience that only increased her need to relieve herself.
She tried to get her mind off her bladder, first by counting fence posts, then by trying to remember the lyrics to "Love Me Tender," but that didn't work. Finally, she pulled her book of pictures out of the plastic beach bag on the seat beside her.
She had been collecting pictures from magazines since she was little ... pictures of bedrooms with old quilts and four-poster beds, kitchens with copper pots and blue china, living rooms with sleeping Lassies curled on bright rugs, and walls covered with family pictures in gold frames. Before, these rooms had existed only in the pages of magazines she bought at garage sales in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. But now, she was on her way to California--on her way to live in such rooms.
"Look, hon." She held a picture out to Willy Jack. "Here's that Mickey Mouse lamp I told you about. That's what I want to put in the baby's room."
Willy Jack turned on the radio and started twisting the knob, but all he got was static.
"I hope we can get a two-story house with a balcony that overlooks the ocean."
"Hell, Novalee. You can't see the ocean from Bakersfield."
"Well, maybe a pond then. I want to get one of those patio tables with an umbrella over it where we can sit with the baby and drink chocolate milk and watch the sun go down."
Novalee dreamed of all kinds of houses--two-story houses, log cabins, condominiums, ranch houses--anything fixed to the ground. She had never lived in a place that didn't have wheels under it. She had lived in seven house trailers--one a double-wide, a camping trailer, two mobile homes, a fifth-wheel, a burned Winnebago and a railroad car--part of a motel called the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
From Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts. © 1997 by Billie Letts, used by permission of the publisher Little Brown
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