Madora Welles was twelve when she learned that some girls are lucky in life, others not so much. On the day her father walked into the desert, she learned that luck can run out in a single day. After that, there’s no more Daddy telling the whole story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” start to finish, in one minute flat. No more laughing Mommy standing by with a stopwatch to make sure he doesn’t cheat. Lucky girls did not have fathers who changed from happy to sad, easy to angry to tears in the space of an hour, locked themselves in the shed and banged on things with a hammer. No lucky girl ever had a father who walked into the desert and put a bullet in his brain.
Yuma, Arizona: the town is laid out like a grid on the desert flats. Single-story buildings, fast-food joints on every corner, dust and heat and wind, lots of military, and a pretty good baseball team. That’s about it.
Madora’s mother, Rachel, said Yuma killed her husband, said it was killing her too. To save herself she turned on the television, stepped into other people’s stories, and got lost.
For a long time she forgot to care about her daughter. Failing in school, drinking, and wading into the river of drugs that ran through the middle of Yuma, Madora was seventeen when she met Willis Brock.
Madora’s best friend was Kay-Kay, a girl from a family with slightly better luck than her own. Instead of using a gun, Kay-Kay’s father had been drinking himself to death for a few years when she and Madora latched onto each other like twins separated at birth. Rachel recognized trouble when she saw it come through the door chewing gum and smelling of tobacco, but Madora had stopped listening to her by then. Rachel fell asleep in front of the television, in the old La-Z-Boy lounger that still smelled like Old Spice.
Madora and Kay-Kay and a boy named Randy who knew someone who knew someone else who had a car drove south of Yuma, into the desert near the border, where they had heard there was a party house and big action. Rachel had told Madora a thousand times to stay away from the border, but in the years after her father’s suicide, Madora’s life was all about escape and rebellion; and the drugs and remote setting excited her. Until the bikers came she was having a good time drinking bourbon from a bottle and smoking grass, taking her social cues from Kay-Kay. Unconsciously, she copied Kay-Kay’s slope-shouldered, world-wary posture, and she was careful not to smile too much or laugh too loudly. Not that there was ever much humor at parties like this; and what passed for conversation was dissing and one-upping, arguments and aimless, convoluted complaints and comparisons of this night to others, this weed to the stuff they smoked the week before.
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