In April, when it grows warm enough to sit out under the awning again, the son and Bo share a joint one evening on the patio of trailer #37. Across the drive, the door of the small silver trailer in the corner lot opens, and a wiry but noticeably female form emerges in shorts and a tee-shirt, a paper bag of garbage in one hand and a transistor radio, tuned--they can hear--to WSAI-AM, in the other. As she dumps her garbage into a battered metal can in front of her trailer, the beam of the streetlight at the corner illuminates Little Esther's head of blinding platinum hair.
"Your fan club," the son says to Bo.
"That little chick's got frog legs, man."
"Hey, Esther," the son calls across the drive, "where's your mother?"
"Workin' at the hawspital," Esther drawls in the tones of her homeland. A year ago, from somewhere deep in Kentucky, she and her thin, silent mother came to the trailer park in a pick-up truck driven by Esther's father. They rented the corner lot from Adolf and parked the little silver trailer they were towing there. When the trailer was in place, the pick-up drove away, never to be seen since.
"Come on over for a while," the son says, slipping the roach from the joint they've been smoking into his pocket.
"Ahm 'posed to stay insahd while m'muther's gone," Esther says, standing dejectedly in her tiny yard. Her mother works second shift as a nurse's aide at Morton Mercy. When the mother gets home around midnight, the son usually sees her come out to sit alone on her patio. There she drinks beer, smokes cigarettes and listens to WUBE-"Down-Home Country" on Esther's transistor. Last summer, when the windows were open, the son could hear the tinny strains of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and George Jones drifting faintly across the drive until the wee hours. Esther's mother sleeps during the day, while her daughter attends the seventh grade at East Morton Junior High School.
"She won't care if you come over for minute." The son beckons Esther. "Come and say hi to Bo."
"Is that Bole?" Esther says, her voice lifting. She leans forward, squinting into the shadows under the awning of trailer #37, then runs barefoot across the drive, looking around as though her mother might be watching. "Hah, Bole," she smiles when she reaches the patio where the two long-haired older boys sit.
"It's 'Bo,'" Bo says.
"Ah know," Esther responds, entwining an arm and a leg around one of the aluminum poles that support the awning. "Whut's 'at smail?"
"Bo smokes Tareytons," the son says. "Charcoal filter. Smell nasty, don't they?" He points to a lawn chair between himself and Bo. "Sit down for a minute. Your mother won't know."
Esther perches on the edge of the empty chair, her bony knees together and her narrow bare feet wide apart on the concrete patio.
"Get moody with Hudy," Bo says, offering her a drink from his quart bottle of Hudepohl, the mouth of which he has thoughtfully wiped with his tee-shirt.
"Thank ya, Bole," Esther says politely, tilting the big bottle to her bright red lips. "That's the same kahnd m'muther dranks. She got a case full over there."
Bo looks at her a little more closely. "Does your mother let you wear makeup?" he asks.
"Wail," Esther says, "not really, but she don't always notice? Ah put it on when I get bored a-settin' in the trailer. Sumtimes she yells at me, but Ah do m'homework and clean up the house. Then Ah get s'bored, if there ain't nothin' on Teevey? So Ah'll sit and put on makeup, just for somethin' t'do. And when Ah go to school in the mornin', m'muther's a-sleepin', so Ah put some on then, too. She don't know." At Bo's insistence, Esther sloshes some more of his beer around in her mouth. "But she did git mad when I first used her har dah, though." Esther shakes her head at the bad memory.
"You mean you're not really blond?" Bo asks with mock shock, though a good half-inch of dark brown shows at the roots of Esther's white-gold pageboy.
"Lord, no, Bole. Are you crazy?" Esther laughs. "Ah need to bleach it agin raht now, but m'muther says if Ah wanna be a blonde, Ah should bah m'own dah."
"Bah your own dah?" Bo mimics.
Esther nods affirmatively, taking another swig of Bo's beer and handing the bottle back. "But Ah ain't old enough t'git a job yet." She hugs herself and shivers. "It's hot in the trailer, but Ah'm a-freezing outchere," she says.
"Do you want 'Bole' to keep you warm?" the son asks.
Esther doubles over in giggles, covering her face with her hand.
"Seventh grade?" Bo asks her.
"Yeah, but Ah should be in the eighth. Ah stuck one year down in Kentucky."
"You always wear shorts around the house?" Bo says.
"Do you ever just wear your underwear when you're by yourself?"
"Wail." Esther thinks for a moment. "Maybe when Ah first git up in the mornin'. Usually I wear shorts inside, except in the winter. These ones are new. D'you lahk 'em?" She stands up to model her red-and-yellow paisley shorts and red tee shirt.
"Colors are cool," Bo says, "but I think they're too big."
"You do?" says Esther, stricken. "M'muther always bahs 'em too big, so Ah'll 'grow into 'em.'"
"I want to see the ones you've grown out of," Bo says. "Huh?"
"You'd look a lot better in some really tight shorts and a smaller tee-shirt. I think you'd look a lot older."
"Really?" Esther says.
"Yeah. Can't you find, like, something tighter to wear?"
"Sure. Something your Mom's gonna to give to Goodwill or something," Bo says.
Esther frowns in concentration. "Maybe."
"Well, go look."
"Should Ah?" Esther asks the son.
"And Esther," Bo says, "how about bringing me one of your old lady's beers? She won't miss one, will she?
"Ah guess not."
The son and Bo watch Little Esther scamper back across the drive to her silver home. In the middle of the indentation made by her narrow behind in the lawn chair, her white transistor radio still quietly emits WSAI's top-forty hits, interspersed with the rapid-fire chatter of the 'SAI Good Guys.
"All yours, man" the son says, nodding in Esther's direction.
"Seventh fucking grade, brother!"
"But she should be in the eighth," the son insists. "She's probably about fourteen."
"Come on, man."
"Then stop bitchin' you can't get any," the son says. "I'm tellin' you, there it is. Cute, got a little shape to her, drinks, mother gone at night. I can ask Storm to talk to her about birth control, if you want me to."
"I don't think she's old enough for birth control," Bo says . . .
. . . "Tonya was on me again, man: 'He's supposed to tell me when he's skipping! Where is he? Where is he?'"
The son nods. "What'd you say?"
"Said I don't know, brother" Bo responds. "I just hope she can't read minds, 'cause I kept picturing you and Storm-" Bo indicates the trailer with a backward toss of his head. "--back here fucking like two wild dogs in heat." He finishes his quart of beer, sets the brown bottle down on the concrete patio and sighs. "Here's Tonya, dying to come over here and get fucked," he says. "But you can't get around to her 'cause you're too busy fucking Storm. Meanwhile, I'm in my room with one of Larry's old Playboys, beating my meat like a butcher on speed." Bo shakes his head at this sad injustice.
"But I'm telling you, here's the solution to your problem," the son says, as Little Esther returns to the patio in a baby-blue terrycloth ensemble that she has indeed grown out of. The shorts are the hottest of hot pants, with the back seam cruelly splitting her little posterior into two almost-ripe pear shapes. Her matching top is stretched across her ribcage, showing her breasts and the outline of her bra to much better advantage than her baggy, red tee-shirt did. In her hand is a full, opened bottle of Hudepohl, which she delivers dutifully to Bo.
"M'muther had this outfit in the bag to send to my little cousins down in Kentucky," Esther says, tucking her chin to glance down at herself. "I begged her not to give it away, 'cause Ah like the culler? But she said it's too taht on me."
"Mmm, I don't think so," Bo says. "Fits just right. You look at least fifteen."
"Really?" Esther squeals, accepting a drink of the beer she brought Bo. "You're s'sweet, Bole. How old are you?"
"Ah'll be fourteen."
"Oh, before too long," Esther says, applying lipstick from a chipped gold tube. Her childish nails, in chipping red polish, match both her lipstick in color (or so it appears on the dark patio) and its tube in condition.
"Hide that outfit under your bed," Bo tells her.
"Okay, Bole" she grins.
"Does your mother let you go out with boys?" the son asks her.
"You mean like have dates? Nooo, buddy. I wish she would." Esther says, smiling again at Bo and perching, knock-kneed, on the middle lawn chair once more.
"You know, Esther," the son warns, "I forgot--that chair collapsed right underneath me the other day. I don't know if it's safe for you to sit there."
"You don't think Ah'm too fat, do you? Ah weigh 82."
"No, but I don't want you to get hurt and have to explain what happened to your mother," the son says. "Maybe you should sit on Bo's lap, just to be safe."
Esther breaks down giggling again, but through the hand covering her face she glances questioningly at Bo. "He probly don't want me to. Ah maht break his laig."
"I bet you're not that heavy," Bo says.
"Ah bet Ah am."
Esther, still snickering behind her chip-nailed fingers, quickly and self-consciously transfers her terrycloth-ensheathed little butt to Bo's kneecap. Sitting bolt upright and staring straight ahead at the son, she says, "I never sat on a boy's lap before, except my cousin Hot Rod, when they was too many of us in my uncle's truck down in Kentucky one tahm."
"You're right," Bo says. "You weigh a ton!"
"Bole!" Esther squeals, trying to get up, but Bo grabs her by the waist and pulls her back onto his knee, which he then starts to bounce gently up and down, singing "Giddyup, horsey." With his fingers, he twirls the ends of Esther's bright hair. "I can't believe you're not a natural blonde," he says.
"Oh, Bole!" laughs Little Esther, riding.