First thing, naturally: We got food from the kitchen.
We also made dirt tracks on the floor because socks are notoriously effective when it comes to redistributing filth from sidewalks, lawns, the Del Vista Arms, and Robby’s untidy old Ford Explorer.
I boiled water, and we took Cups-O-Noodles and Doritos into my room.
Robby sat on my bed and ate, waiting patiently while I recorded the last little bit of the day’s history in my notebook.
“Here.” I tossed my cell phone over to the bed. “Call Shann.”
“Have you ever smelled a Dorito?”
“Mmmm . . .” I had to think about it. I wrote. “Probably not.”
“Just checking,” he said, “’Cause they smell like my nephew’s feet.”
“Why did you smell a six-year-old kid’s feet?”
As usual, Shann got mad because I had Robby call her using my phone, and when she answered, she thought it was me. This, quite naturally, made me horny. But Robby explained to her I was writing, and he told her that something terrible had happened to us. He asked if it would be okay that we came over to her new old house as soon as we finished eating.
Robby was such a suave communicator when it came to relaying messages to Shann. In fact, I believed it was the biggest component of why she was so much in love with me. Sometimes, I wished I could cut off Robby’s head and attach it to my body, but there were more than a couple things wrong with that idea: First, uncomfortably enough, it kind of made me horny to think about a hybridized Robby/Austin having sex with Shann; and, second, decapitation was a sensitive topic in Ealing.
Well, anywhere, really. But, in Ealing during the late 1960s there was this weird string of serial murders that went unsolved. And they all involved headlessness.
History is full of decapitations, and Iowa is no exception.
So, after we finished eating, I outfitted Robby with some clean socks, a Titus Andronicus T-shirt (I changed into an Animal Collective shirt—all my tees are bands), and gave him my nicest pair of Adidas.
And both of us tried to pretend we didn’t notice my dad’s truck pulling up the drive just as we took off for Shann’s.
“Perfect timing,” I said.
Robby answered by pushing in the dashboard cigarette lighter.
Besides all the head-cutting-off shit that went on fifty years ago, Ealing was also known for Dr. Grady McKeon, founder of McKeon Industries, which, up until about six months ago, employed over half the town’s labor force. Grady McKeon was some kind of scientist, and he made a fortune from defense programs during the Cold War. When the fight against Communism went south on McKeon, the factory retooled and started manufacturing sonic-pulse shower heads and toothbrushes, which ultimately became far more profitable when made in Malaysia or somewhere like that. So the factory shut down, and that’s also why most of the Ealing strip mall was deserted, and why every time I visited Robby at the Del Vista Arms, there were more and more Pay or Quit notices hanging on doors.
And that’s a half century of an Iowa town’s history in four sentences. Grady McKeon was gone, but his much younger brother still lived and ran businesses in Ealing. Johnny McKeon owned Tipsy Cricket Liquors and the From Attic to Seller thrift store, both of which were big crowd-pleasers at the strip mall.
Johnny, who was responsible for thinking up the names of those two establishments entirely on his own, was also Shann’s stepfather.
And Shannon Collins, whom Robby and I called Shann, her mother (the relatively brand-new Mrs. McKeon), and Johnny had just taken ownership of the McKeon House, a decrepit old
wooden monstrosity that was on the registry of historic homes in Ealing.
Well, actually, it was the only historic home in Ealing.
It took Robby and me two cigarettes to get to Shann’s new old house.
It had already been a rough day.
We were going to need another pack.