Two young women from California travel to New Orleans in search of redemption after the death of their mother. Carolee thinks she will show her little sister the world, but what they find in the barrooms of the French Quarter at Mardi Gras is more than they know how to handle, or could have imagined back home. This is the sixth chapter of my novel Thirsty Work.
Cathy didn’t need to worry about anything except packing her own suitcase. Carolee had everything under control. As her older sister made lists and calculated costs; bought food and flashlights and flashlight batteries; packed sleeping bags and cooking gear and fire starters; and hunkered over maps spread out on the dining room table with a black felt-tip marker, circling every Kampground of America along Highway 10, Cathy began to wonder if she had made the right decision. Did she really want to spend 24 hours a day with her sister?
Carolee was taking the trip way too seriously. She acted like they were going on a dangerous expedition into uncharted territory, not driving across a couple of states to a big party. She had a glint in her eyes like their father got on vacations sometimes, when everyone braced for a bad time.
Cathy considered backing out daily. But she always decided she might as well go. She’d already told Rick she was going; he’d already dumped her. She’d seen him down at Tipton’s Pool Hall with his big hammy hands around Pammy’s waist, throwing her a sour look over Pammy’s shoulder, deliberately grabbing Pammy’s ass when Cathy could see.
She’d already graduated from high school, too, not that there had been a big ceremony or anything. They didn’t hold ceremonies for people who graduated in January because they had enough school credits, but not enough school spirit to hang around until June.
Daddy and Carolee had taken her out to dinner at the Prime Rib Inn to celebrate. Big wow. But she had a diploma, anyway, for what that was worth. She wouldn’t need it for a job waiting tables at Denny’s, which was just as well since she didn’t want a job at Denny’s anyway, where the waitresses wore ugly brown and orange polyester dresses and put stupid-looking hairpieces on top of their heads.
She didn’t want to work at Denny’s. She didn’t want to go to college. She didn’t want to hang out with Rick and his gang. But she didn’t really want to drive off with Carolee, either. Aside from a big, fat joint, she didn’t know what she wanted. But she guessed driving to New Orleans for Mardi Gras would be better than staying home with Daddy, trying to come up with some kind of new life now that Mom was dead.
So Cathy packed. She selected a few pairs of bellbottoms, some socks, a week’s worth of satiny underwear and half a dozen tight, sexy tops. A sweater. A pair of sandals. A pair of platform shoes. A pair of pajamas. A lid of pot. Cigarette papers. Matches. Sunglasses. A new toothbrush. New tubes of Mabeline mascara and Crest toothpaste. A new carton of Marlboros. A new can of Secret spray-on deodorant. Lots of dangley earrings.
She offered her opinion when asked — which wasn’t much. Yes, the big, black, cast-iron frying pan was a good idea. Yes, their old sleeping bags would be warm enough. No, there wasn’t much sense in bringing two weeks worth of food. She was sure they had grocery stores in New Orleans.
They were planning to travel in Carolee’s blue Volkswagon squareback and sleep in the back when they couldn’t get to a campsite or didn’t have the budget for a motel. Carolee had a whole stack of maps from Triple A with their route marked in thick black marker. Looked like they were going to drive down to the bottom of California and turn left.
Peering over Carolee’s shoulder, half listening to her detailed explanation of the route, Cathy saw the whole nation was covered with the little red teepees that designated Kampgrounds of America, as if the American Indians didn’t get demolished after all. Cathy wondered idly about the K. It had a strong, ranch-y look to it, like a branding iron. The letter K looked much more powerful than the curvaceous C. Maybe if she was Kathy with a K instead of Cathy with a C, she’d have some fucking idea about what to do with herself now.
Carolee was so obsessed that she packed and unpacked the car three times, making small rearrangements. She stashed the frying pan, a first aid kit, cooking utensils and a small box of canned food in the foot well in the back seat. Then she folded the seat down to make a sleeping space and lined it with their sleeping bags. She put her soft pack on top, to do double duty as a pillow, and tried once again to talk Cathy out of taking her hard blue suitcase.
“You really should put your clothes in a pillowcase or a soft backpack like mine, then you can use it as a pillow,” Carolee suggested too brightly for the third time.
“Nah, I don’t want to,” Cathy said.
“But why not?”
“I like my suitcase.”
“But a pillowcase would be a more efficient use of space.”
“We’ve got enough space.”
“No we don’t. It’s going to be cramped. When we sleep in the back at night, the suitcase will get in the way.”
“It won’t get in the way. We’ll just put it in the front seat.”
“But you’ll want a pillow.”
“Then I’ll bring a fucking pillow!!!” Cathy stared hard at her sister, daring her to say it again.
Carolee exhaled loudly and shook her head. “Well fine then. Fine. Just do whatever you want.”
“Thanks for your permission. I will.”
Carolee sputtered as she yanked open the glove compartment, checked the items stashed in there off on her list. She had a flashlight, flares, a dozen maps, extra fuses, even a sharp little pocket knife, like maybe she was going to catch a jack rabbit with her bare hands, skin it with her knife and roast it on a spiy over a fire outside of their little red teepee at Kampground of America. She’d wash the blood off her hands with sand.
Cathy watched her sister warily, expecting her at any moment to melt or explode. She was relieved when Carolee told her that she was going to drive down to Santa Barbara before they left to get some stuff she’d left behind in her college apartment. Cathy didn’t ask why they didn’t just pick it up on the way.
“It won’t take long. I’ll be back the day after tomorrow. You can come with me if you want.”
“Okay. But please be ready to go as soon as I get back. I’m eager to get on the road.”
“I’ll be ready,” Cathy said. I guess.
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