An excerpt from Everyday Lies
Parker, Spring Creek, Legacy. More exits flew past.
No matter how many times she made the trek north, it felt as though she were traveling back through time, but times were changing. The bubble surrounding her hometown was getting the air sucked out of it. Soon McKinney would be just like the rest of North Texas—zero- lot-line houses metastasizing like skin cancer across the face of Texas.
Used to be—after JFK, but before the boom years, before the tollway, and before the endless highways and outlet centers—the thirty-minute drive north was a lonesome sojourn. Flat lands, few trees, the sunset so large it gave the impression of being on a lonely boat adrift at sea, sailing beneath a long, tall moon. Except that on this endlessly flat, dusty ocean, the boat cruised north on hot rubber tires, and the moon was a mean, fiery orb that shriveled anything standing too long beneath its steady gaze. For Gillian, this was a good time to con- template life’s little mysteries, or mentally pore over the day’s schedule, or even just zone out and watch mile markers fly past.
Nowadays, it was only the last few miles on Old Mill Road that offered any sense of remoteness, but once on that stretch of road, the manufactured lawns fell away and there was an overall impression of brown and white. Although these colors might not be the greatest sensory experience for most people, brown and white provided Gillian with a strong sense of home.
As a kid, it had been the rows and rows of fluffy white balls on twiggy crops that had given Gillian that impression. But the cotton fields had long since vanished by the time she was ten—like her grandfather, poof. And once those cotton fields were all played out, brown was the only impression for miles and miles beyond the dirty white house— brown in copious shades: redbed clay, sand-bedded tumble grass, gold- tipped sagebrush. Half mesquite woodlands, half prairie, North Texas was seriously thirsty land, so it was easy to imagine how a bit of mis- management could whip up a dust bowl—but, hey, one guy’s drought was another man’s gusher, right?
At least that’s how it seemed.
On the heels of Black Sunday, Henry Hayden Noble—Gillian’s great-granddad—picked up the land around Noble Ranch, plus a small house, for something like two hundred dollars per acre from a couple who couldn’t afford to hold on to their land. The worst of the droughts were further north, up in the Panhandle, but with a sickly kid and another baby on the way, the couple escaped east. Their failed investment became Henry Noble’s gusher. Not Texas tea, per se, but the next best thing: cotton. Cot- ton was McKinney’s version of black gold. Luckily, Henry had saved a bit of money from the sale of illegal whisky, and with his savings, he’d made a new beginning for his family in McKinney, Texas. But, unlike her father and grandfather, Henry Hayden Noble hadn’t been a bad guy, just a man who’d believed in searching for silver linings in dark clouds. Some people were like that. She knew a guy who’d invested in airline stocks the day after 9/11. Only Gillian couldn’t help but wonder if there could be bad karma in that kind of thinking . . . karma that wove its way into the fabric of a family and inalterably changed it.
Chewing on the inside of her lower lip, thinking about that—about her dad and uncle, and even her mother—she drove past a mess of new roads all paved in the sweeping, methodical fashion city planners had. Surrounded by fresh cement dust, the embryonic subdivision was as yet devoid of landscaping or any defining lots, but there was a sign that read “Welcome to Miller’s Crossing.” It had an historic looking rendition of the old cotton mill in its logo. Only this new subdivision would be nothing like the old mill community that had existed south of the factory, with parks for the kids, bands playing, and town-wide picnics down by the creek. Un- like the Noble house, which sat atop a knoll, these new houses would be like hive pods, with front doors that were rarely used. Like folks in a witness protection program, their inhabitants would come and go through alleys that led to a road that led to a job and back home again. On rare occasions, you might hear voices in some random backyard or spot the rise of smoke from a rusted-out grill, but you wouldn’t actually see anyone unless you scaled a privacy fence. And even then, it was a long shot, like spotting a bobcat in the city. However, Gillian wasn’t one to throw stones. Essentially, she was a part of that rat race, creating “home” designs for binary addresses. It paid well, but she never felt the same sense of accomplishment her grandmother had seemed to feel at the end of every day. Good days, bad days, Gigi had never had time for “cocktails.” She’d slept like a baby after a hard day’s work. Her steadfast presence was as fierce as the Texas sun, no project ever too big for her to tackle, right up until the end. Eighty-four years old and she’d still been out there cleaning horse stalls. “Gigi!” Gillian had admonished a few weeks ago. “What in God’s name are you doing out here?”
Shovel in hand, Gigi had slid her a censuring glance. “Don’t use the lord’s name in vain,” she’d said. “I taught you better than that.” And she’d continued shoveling out Baby’s stall.
Baby, short for Baby Girl Blue, wasn’t a baby any longer. She was a racehorse rescue some folks might have sold off for glue. Of course, Gillian would never advocate such a thing—she loved animals more than she did people—but there were places to set a good horse out to pasture that were better kept than an eighty-four-year-old could man- age, feisty though she might be.
“Sorry,” Gillian had said, knowing better than to rush in and take the shovel from her. Well intentioned or not, Gigi would have taken the backside of her shovel to Gillian’s hind side.
“Can’t get good help anymore,” she’d said. “Are you going to try another ad?” “Maybe.”
“What happened to the last guy?”
“‘He was more interested in poking at his cell phone, so I told him to get on out of here and go home.”
Gillian nodded. Smart phones were an employment hazard. She would have liked to say it was a teenager’s folly, but age didn’t seem to be any sort of criteria for addiction to technology. She argued for a bit of common sense. “Maybe it’s time to give her up?”
Her grandmother’s head snapped toward Gillian. “Baby?”
Gillian winced. “Yeah.”
“Not on your life!” she’d said. “We girls will be kicking up our toes right here.” Right here. She pointed to her feet. On Noble land. “The only difference is that Baby gets to be buried over yonder, ’neath that pecan tree, and I get to be carted off and tossed ’neath some heap of dirt I ain’t never turned before. Stupid laws,” she’d said. “Stupid, dumb laws. Ain’t no God-given reason I shouldn’t get to be buried on my own land. It’s my land,” she’d railed. “I don’t want you to go selling it off to no snake oil salesmen. I worked too hard to keep it from going down the tubes, you hear me?”
Gillian sighed over the memory.
Plain spoken and grumpy as she was, nothing would be the same without her.
Turning onto the old dirt road that led to the main house, the two-seater hit a sandy patch in the narrow lane and spun its back tires, kicking up dust. The acreage was still mostly fenced off. The road leading to the main house had never been paved. Much like the house itself, any vehicle entering the lot would immediately accrue at least a quarter-inch of dust.
Up by the main house, nose up in the sloping driveway, Gigi’s dirty, ancient Aztec-gold El Dorado sat, untouched for who knows how long. The keys were likely still in the ignition.
Her grandmother hadn’t been driving much before the event, be- cause one day she’d found herself in the parking lot at Walmart, disoriented and wondering how she’d gotten there—and, more importantly, how to get home. After that incident, Gillian offered to buy her groceries and run her errands and Gigi had relented, if only grudgingly, probably so Gillian would be forced to come by at least once every other day to touch base and pick up a list.
Sometimes she wondered whether that had been her grandmother’s way of forcing Gillian to stay on the straight and narrow. Taking care of someone else did that for you; it forced you to think outside yourself. In fact, now that she thought about it, Gigi’s parking lot incident had happened soon after Gillian’s divorce . . . so, for three years she’d been coming by nearly every day, and this was the longest she’d gone with- out a visit to the house.
Home sweet home.
Same as it ever was.