On their monthly visits to the prison, Aurora drove going and Rosie drove home. That was the tradition, and there was good reason for it: seeing her grandson behind bars, being reminded yet again that he had killed a woman, realizing that in all likelihood she would be seeing him only in such circumstances for the rest of her life, left Aurora far too shaken to be trusted at the wheel of a car -- particularly the sputtery old Cadillac she refused to trade in. Aurora managed the Cadillac erratically under the best of circumstances, and visiting Tommy in prison could not be called the best of circumstances.
Rosie and everyone else who knew Aurora felt sure the Cadillac would be the death of her someday, but it would not have been wise to reiterate this fear on the return trip from Huntsville, when Aurora would have been only too happy to die on the spot.
Aurora, in the midst of a bitter fit of sobbing, nonetheless reached up and twisted the rearview mirror her way, in order to regard her own despair. It was an old habit: when sorrow beset her, as it now did regularly, she often grabbed the nearest mirror, hoping, through vanity alone, to arrest it in its course before it did her too much damage.
This time it didn't work, not merely because she was crying so hard she couldn't see herself at all, but because Rosie -- a woman so short she could barely see the traffic in front of her, much less that which she knew to be in pursuit, immediately grabbed the mirror and twisted it back.
"Don't do that, hon, I got to have my mirror!" Rosie said, panicked because she heard the sound of a huge truck bearing down on them, but lacked a clue as to exactly how close it might be.
"There's an eighteen-wheeler after us -- if that sucker ran over us we'd be squished like soup in a can," she added, wishing they were in Conroe, so perhaps Aurora would quit crying, shaking, and scattering wet Kleenex around.
The prison where Tommy was doing fifteen years to life was in Huntsville, Texas. Conroe, Texas, thirty-two miles to the south, down an Interstate rife with eighteen-wheelers, was the nearest point at which Aurora could reasonably be expected to regain control of her emotions. Until then, all Rosie could do was stay out of the fast lane and drive for dear life.
"I just wish you'd do something I ask you for once in your life and buy us a Datsun pickup," Rosie said. "We'd stand a lot better chance on this racetrack if we had a vehicle I could see out of."
To her relief she noticed the eighteen-wheeler sliding smoothly past them on her left.
Aurora didn't respond. Her mind was back with Tommy, the pale, calm boy in the prison. He had always been the brightest of her dead daughter's three children. His grades had never been less than excellent, unlike those of her other grandchildren, Teddy and Melanie, both such erratic scholars that it was hardly even fair to use the word "scholar" when referring to their academic careers.
"We're almost to Conroe," Rosie said unwisely, hoping it might cause Aurora to stop crying a little sooner than usual.
"Who gives a fuck where we are!" Aurora yelled, flaring up for a moment before crying a fresh flood.
Rosie was so shocked she almost rear-ended a white Toyota suburban. Only three or four times in their long acquaintance had she heard her employer use that particular word.
Shortly after they sped past the first Conroe exit, Aurora calmed a little.
"Rosie, I'm not a robot," she said. "I do not have to stop crying just because we happen to be passing Conroe."
"I wish I hadn't brought it up," Rosie said. "I wish I hadn't never been born. But most of all I wish we had a Datsun pickup -- the seat of this car is so old it's sinking in, and if it sinks in much farther I won't be able to see anything but the speedometer. Then an eighteen-wheeler will probably run over us and squish us like soup in a can."
"This car is not a can and we will not be squished like soup," Aurora declared, sniffing. "You've chosen a bad figure."
"Yeah, I was always flat-chested, but I didn't choose it, God did it to me," Rosie said, thinking it odd that Aurora would mention her lifelong flat-chestedness at such a time.
"Oh, figure of speech, I meant," Aurora said. "Of course you didn't choose your bosom. What I meant to point out is that there's nothing souplike about either one of us. If you get squished, it'll be like a French fry, which is what you resemble."
Aurora felt no better, but she did feel cried out, and she began to mop her cheeks with a wad of Kleenex. She had already scattered several wet wads on the seat. She gathered these up, compressed them into one sopping mess, and threw the mess out the window.
"Hon, you oughtn't to litter," Rosie admonished. "There's signs all up and down this highway saying don't mess with Texas."
"I'll mess with it all I want to," Aurora said. "It's certainly messed enough with me."
When her vision cleared a bit more, she noticed that a stream of cars and trucks was flowing past them. Looking back, she saw with alarm that a very large truck seemed to be practically pushing them.
"Rosie, are you going the correct speed?" she asked. "We're not exactly leading the pack."
"I'm going fifty-five," Rosie said.
"Then no wonder that truck just behind us has such an impatient aspect," Aurora said. "I tell you every time we come here that the legal speed is now sixty-five, not fifty-five. You had better put the pedal to the metal, if that is the correct expression."
"The pedal's to the metal, otherwise we wouldn't be moving at all," Rosie said. "Why do you think I been bugging you about a Datsun pickup? I could push the pedal through the radiator and this old whale wouldn't go more than fifty-five. Besides, the speed limit's only fifty-five when you're going through a town, and we're going through Conroe."
"Don't be pedantic when I'm sad," Aurora said. "Just try to go a little faster."
Rosie, in a daring maneuver, attempted to pass the sluggish white Toyota just as a truck behind them pulled out to pass them. The driver honked, and Rosie instantly whipped her arm out the window and gave him the finger. Then, not appeased, she actually stuck her head out the window, turned it, and glared at the truck driver.
Unimpressed, the truck driver honked again, while Rosie, pedal to the metal, inched grimly past the white suburban.
"Well, you don't lack spunk -- you never have or I'd have squished you myself," Aurora said.
The trucker, perhaps annoyed, perhaps amused, began to tap his horn every few seconds, and Rosie -- definitely not amused -- stuck her arm out the window and left it there, with her middle finger extended for his benefit.
The sight of her maid sustaining a rude gesture while virtually beneath the wheels of a giant truck made Aurora laugh. A vagrant bubble of mirth rose unexpectedly from inside her, but she had no more than started a little peal when sorrow came back in a flood and overran amusement, just as her Cadillac seemed about to be overrun by the eighteen-wheeler.
"I hope it kills us, then this will be over!" she cried, as she was crying.
"I'm from Bossier City, and I ain't about to be bullied by no truck," Rosie said. She calculated that she now had at least a three-or-four-inch lead on the Toyota and was nerving up to make her cut to the right.
When Aurora calmed for the second time they were well down the road past the airport exit -- she could see the skyscrapers of downtown Houston through the summer haze.
"I can no longer laugh without beginning to cry," she reported, rolling down her window. She proceeded to mess with Texas to the extent of another fifteen or twenty Kleenex.
"You wasn't really laughing, you was just mainly crying," Rosie said.
Copyright © 1992 by Larry McMurtry
The Evening Star
McMurtry takes us deep into the heart of Texas, and deep into the heart of one of the most memorable characters of our time, Aurora Greenway -- along with her family, friends, and lovers -- in a tale of affectionate wit, bittersweet tenderness, and the unexpected turns that life can take. This is Larry McMurtry at his very best: warm, compassionate, full of comic invention, an author so attuned to the feelings, needs, and desires of his characters that they possess a reality unique in American fiction.