“It’s gonna be a scorcher today, Tammy Sue,” said Johnny “Two-Wheeling” Cruz. Peering out the dirty pane glass in the kitchen of his family’s 14X70 trailer, pardon me, mobile home, Johnny looks out over the rows of soybeans baking in the sunshine. Tall for his age, Johnny’s black hair is always greasy, his clothes greasier, and his attitude (according to Old Man Parsons, needs an adjustment.) Tammy Sue is the exact opposite of her older brother. At 14, Tammy Sue is short, some would say frumpy, and her round face looks like it was pelted with freckles by a freckle machine which was placed on the apocalyptic setting. Her blond hair is always in pig tails, just as greasy as Johnny’s, and her attitude makes her brother look like an altar boy in comparison.
Everyone calls Johnny by his nickname after a run-in with Old Man Parsons. While flying down the sidewalk on their bikes one day, Johnny and Tammy Sue nearly avoid running over the old timer. Swerving wildly, the duo jump their bikes off the sidewalk, and race across the street before disappearing in the park. “Watch out for that two-wheeling rapscallion and his tramp sister! They dang near plowed into me!” Shaking his fist, Old Man Parsons mutters a curse about the folly of youth, before getting into the van which will cart him to his retirement home.
Laughing manically, Johnny and Tammy Sue speed off on their bikes toward the waterway. As usual, they spend their summer days lounging on the banks of the river, looking for something to get into. His sister spits in the direction of a frog croaking from a little stream, where the biggest crawfish call home in all of Tish County. “Yep, it’s hotter than that time Susie May found out her husband had a thang for teenie boppers.” The frog continues to croak, not at all dissuaded by the phlegm hurled in it’s direction by the young heathen.
Johnny, who at the age of 16, thinks he understands the wonders of womanhood and dating, chuckles ruefully. “Boy, she sure was hot. She about beat her man’s arm clean off with that suitcase she calls a purse! Between her tearing into him on the church steps, he got it good from his wife and Jesus.” Hurling more phlegm at the frog, Tammy Sue runs her fingers through her blond hair. “Don’t forget them teenie boppers! They all alone out there without the affections of an older man.” Enjoying a good laugh at the expense of the unnamed teenie boppers, they continue their trek on the banks of the river. Stopping in the shade of several tall oak trees, Tammy Sue gingerly touches her jaw. Wincing in pain, she stares off in the distance.
“You okay Tammy Sue?” Johnny looks at his sister, his dark eyes show a hint of concern for his younger sibling. “Yeah, ain’t really in the mood to go home.” Nodding his head, Johnny wipes at the sweat dotting his forehead. “Dang this heat. I bet it sure is something to be hotheaded in this heat, you just can’t win for losing. Let’s find us a nice spot out of the sun.” Straddling their bikes, Tammy Sue ponders her brother’s point. “You think that’s why dad is so mean to me?” Johnny shrugs. “I don’t know T.S. He shouldn’t call you names or hit you.” A dirty tear forms in Tammy Sue’s eyes and rolls down her cheek. Wiping her dirty tear with her filthy hand, she sobs. “He yells at me because I look like momma. Like it’s my fault he couldn’t keep her.” Draping his arm protectively over his sister, Johnny nods. “You can’t help it, God made you purty. Just like momma. Daddy’s mad cause that scallywag veteran stole momma from him.” Crossing her arms in defiance, Tammy Sue whips up some vehemence and shouts, “well, he ain’t gotta take it out on me! He oughta find that heathen and tune him up! I ain’t his punching bag!”
“Okay Tammy, calm down sister. I got it.” Tammy Sue punches Johnny in the chest and snarls, “do you got it? Look at my face Johnny! He gets wound up on them spirit things and goes crazy.” Looking at the ground, Johnny shakes his head. “I don’t know what to do Tammy Sue. If we call the po-po, they gonna throw us in an orphanage or state home until they figure out what to do with us. We may not get a chance to stay together if they do that. Maybe those spirit things will hurry up and kill him.” Stomping on an anthill Tammy Sue glares at Johnny, “Unh-huh and until then he can beat on me.” Walking his bicycle down the banks of the waterway, Johnny decides to change the subject.
You want to stop for lunch Tammy Sue?” Tammy Sue points with her left hand and shields her eyes with the right. “Yeah, that’d be alright. What about right there? Where that fence come from? It wasn’t here last time was it?” Squinting in the sunlight, Johnny shrugs. “I don’t know, it don’t matter. We will crawl across it and eat lunch.” Leaning their bikes against the trees, brother and sister walk to the fence. “I’ll hold it up for you T.S. all you gotta do is cross through it.” Crossing her arms, Tammy Sue gets nose to nose with her sibling. “Listen here “Two-Wheeling” Cruz, I don’t need no man to hold no fence for me. I am an enlightened woman, emascapated even.”
Johnny grins and lets the fence down. “You mean emancipated?” Tammy Sue swings at her brother and laughingly he ducks out of the way. “Whatever-pated, shut up, I’ll do it myself.” Firmly, she grabs the post and pulls herself up the barbwire fence. At the top, she turns to Johnny. Taking one hand off the post, she bows at the waist, and the staple snaps out of the post. With a cry of dismay, emancipated, and enlightened Tammy Sue comes crashing to the earth. Johnny, leaning back in the shade, laughs as his sister hits the dirt, hard. Going back to his sandwich, Johnny looks out over the woods. “It sure is quiet….”
Looking back to where his sister had fallen, Johnny realizes she hasn’t moved. “Tammy Sue, you okay? C’mon that ain’t funny. Say something, don’t be stupid.” No sound is heard in the quiet of the woods. “Tammy, say something.” Johnny stands to his feet, peering from the shelter of the shade trees. Easing out of the shade, Johnny starts walking toward her. “This better not be no prank. You know, I don’t like being punked.” Drawing near to his sister’s body, Johnny can see blood on the ground.
“Tammy! Oh God, no! Tammy…” Cradling her body in his arms, Johnny sobs uncontrollably. “Why God? My sister didn’t do nothin’ to you. Why take her, and not take my rotten daddy?” As Johnny’s tears stream down his dirty face, he looks at his sister’s chest. The rise and fall of her breathing sets his fears to the side for the moment. “Oh, thank you God! I have got to find someone to help me get her to the hospital!” Whipping his head one way and then the other, Johnny notices several “No Trespassing” signs around the fenced in area. “Someone has to live around here. Maybe they will help me.” Johnny reaches down and tries to lift Tammy Sue’s unconscious body from the ground, but he struggles to keep her balanced. “She landed on her head, no telling what kind of damage she done to herself now. I don’t need to do any more to it.” Reaching under her arms, Johnny pulls her a piece, but it is slow going. “Maybe I can use my belt to tie her to me. The I can drag her while facing forward.” Johnny drags Tammy Sue next to a tree and leans her against it, reaching back he pulls her toward him. He flips the belt over his head and fastens it around him and Tammy Sue. Walking toward what he hopes is a main road, Johnny watches as the afternoon sun gives way to the dusk of evening.
In the distance, Johnny can see a light piercing the darkness. Tired, Johnny rests against a tree. The quiet, night air is shattered by the howls of hungry coyotes. “Well, time to get moving.” Moving toward the light, Johnny finds himself standing in the front yard of a small log cabin. “Um, anyone home?” Thunderous footsteps can be heard in the house and the door opens slightly. “Boy, you lost?” His voice quavering from fear and exhaustion, Johnny steps toward the cracked door. “Mister, my sister fell down at the river. She ain’t talking and that ain’t like her at all. I need to get her to the hospital; will you help me, please?” The door is flung open and a bearded, giant of a man walks out on the dark porch. “Come into the light son. Let me see your sister.” Johnny steps forward but exhaustion causes him to crash to his knees. “It’s okay son, I was a medic in the Army. We’ve got to get your sister to the hospital now.” Reaching down, the man picks up Tammy Sue and places her in his truck. “Hop in, my name is Willie. What’s yours?”
“I’m Johnny and this is my sister, Tammy Sue.” Willie reaches across the seat, and the unconscious heap known as Tammy Sue, and extends his hand. “Nice to meet you. Who beat down your sister?” Johnny looks at Willie and then the floorboard. “It’s a private matter.” Nodding his head, Wille raises his eyebrows. “Okay. I won’t push it any further than that son.” The rest of the ride to the hospital is in a solemn silence. Standing outside the hospital, Johnny watches as his sister is pushed into the emergency room. “God, please don’t let this be the last time I see my sister.” A small tear runs down Johnny’s cheek, when a firm hand touches his shoulder.
“Hey, Willie.” Wiping at his eyes, Johnny turns to face the man that helped him get his sister to the hospital. “How are you champ? You did really good out there today.” Blushing, Johnny nods his greasy head. “Thanks. I need to call my dad. He should have been looking for me and my sister before now.” Willie points to a nurses’ station. “Ask one of the nurses if you can use their phone to call your dad. If you can’t come back and I will give you some change to call from a pay phone.” Johnny nods and walks toward the nurses.
“Excuse me, can I use your phone to call my dad. My sister is in there, and I need to let him know where I am.” The nurse, peers over her glasses Johnny, her nose wrinkles at his unkempt appearance and hands him the phone. “What is the number?” Reciting the number, Johnny waits for the call to go through. No answer. Throughout the night, Johnny continues to call. Rage wells up in his chest. “Come on old man, answer the phone!” Glaring at the phone, frustrated by his father’s lack of concern, Johnny hands the phone back to the nurse. “Thanks for letting me make all these calls.” The nurse silently nods and turns her attention back to her computer. Willie walks up and forces a smile. “Any luck?” Johnny shakes his head. “No, I can’t reach him. Willie, I know you don’t know me or Tammy Sue, but I need a favor. The doctor says she has a traumatic brain injury and it caused her to go into a coma. I need to have a word with my father.”
“A word? Son, you need to call the cops and have them meet you…”
Johnny puts his hand up to silence Willie. “I will deal with my father in due time. For now, I need to stay with my sister. As momma always told me, you reap what you sow.” Running water over a white washcloth, Johnny wipes the dirt from his sister’s face. Willie nods, “well son, your rotten father has it coming.” Johnny smiles and shakes his head in agreement. “Yes sir. We’ve all got it coming.”