As I walk off I hear a feminine little voice call out to me, Hey!
I turn round and see a blonde haired girl in short shorts with her legs crossed, slowly eating a hot dog. I go to within a few feet of her and stop. She smiles and says, I’m not gonna bite.
I go to within a couple of feet of her.
That’s better, she says, making a big show of licking her lips. Did you get baptized?
Mood wasn’t right, I say, smiling at her.
You coming to the revival tonight?
Why would I do that?
I’ll be there, for one thing.
I laugh and say, What’s your name?
Of the D’Ubervilles?
Never mind. My name’s Clive.
Clive? RU British or something?
I thought so. Love your accent. It’s sexy.
If people only knew how I cringe when they compliment the accent.
Tess, how old RU? I say.
Sixteen, she says with enough of an interrogative inflection that I know she is lying.
You might be sixteen next year. You’re fifteen. And fifteen gets you twenty.
Oh, she says, hurt.
And till you’re eighteen I can’t do what I would do with you.
What would you do, she whispers.
What I can do when you’re older. If I go to the revival tonight will you come over and sit with me and hold my hand? I’m shy, I say, lying.
Sure, I can do that.
The tent is impossible to miss; it rears up on a hill that the highway runs by. In the pearly gray light of a solemn summer evening the big wooden cross standing outside the revival tent lends a stark and parsimonious air. Brother Amos, the preacher that was at the river this afternoon, is standing in a saffron robe talking to his parishioners. As I walk by I slip a pint of whisky into his palm and he says, God bless ye fer that, brother.
I move off and see Tess standing with two other girls in the pale cast of a light pole. One’s in her late twenties, the other not a day older than thirty-two. Both the age at which women are most stunning. One is a spectacular red-head, the other a sullen brunette that looks at me with unfettered contempt. By comparison Tess’ light blonde prettiness seems almost tepid. As I approach they both leave and Tess smiles up at me.
You ready to go inside? She says.
I’m ready, I say, kissing her on the head and putting my arm around my waist and marching her inside in avuncular fashion.