a good woman

The year after Willy moves to the big city to join the pigs, Will Graham Sr. tries to settle down with a good woman.

It’s too little, too late, of course. Sara has no idea that she’s supposed to be filling the role of mother to Will’s child, for the simple reason that there is no child in the house any more, so Will’s deciding to try to be a proper parent now is laughable.

Sara cooks buttered pasta for dinner nearly every night, and runs a corner store that is nearly on the edge of bankruptcy. Will realizes quickly that the reason for her precarious financial situation is mostly that she doesn’t charge money for nearly enough of the goods in the store. Every time some kid wanders in with a dirty shirt and scared eyes, they leave with a can of soup or a carton of milk or a chocolate bar.

And then Will realizes that whatever kind of weird brain his Willy had is maybe catching, because he finds himself thinking things that he wouldn’t have, while the kid was still at home. Perhaps because he’d come to rely on Willy, so perceptive in a way that seemed to physically hurt him, to tell him things like “she just feels sorry for you” or “he’s going to stiff you on the bill” or even “you only feel that way because you’re tired.”

And now Will watches Sara buttering the noodles and dividing them up into cracked bowls with chopped carrots on the side, and realizes that he’s just another hungry-eyed kid wandering into her store. And what hurts about that isn’t even that she doesn’t really love him, although that does hurt. It’s that he probably would have accepted it, twenty years ago. If some kind-hearted lady had decided to fill his bed then just because she wanted to have someone to save, he would have been grateful to her, for Willy’s sake. That kid needs a mother, Will had heard overheard a schoolteacher saying disapprovingly once, and who was he to disagree? He was doing his best– but he’d be the first to admit, when he saw his boy huddled in the corner of the trailer home staring at nothing like it was going to bite him, that his best was complete shit.

So Will drinks, and Sara first clucks and then yells and eventually leaves, which was the point. She’s not needed here any more.

Will doesn’t pay much attention to the news, because most of it doesn’t concern him. He sees it, though; TVs in gas stations, the newspapers in Sara’s general store that he still buys white bread and eggs at, the tabloids that the neighbour woman leaves out on a metal table to get ruined by dust and rain.

Will takes in the news of his son with no surprise, but a sense of failure more profound than he’d even thought himself capable of feeling, considering how much of his own failure he’d already come to terms with. That Willy went insane was only to be expected. Will had known it would happen from the moment he’d realized that the kid’s mind was made up about his career. He had always been too strange and permeable and delicate. Will had known that he would excel if his idiot pig bosses could find the right thing for him to excel at, and he’d also known that it would destroy him.

Will is a little more surprised that he’d turned fag and run off with a murderer, but he hears that kid needs a mother again and wonders if that’s his own fault, too. Will tries to separate the fag and the murderer concepts in his mind, wondering what he’d have done if Willy had come home for Christmas with some pretty city slicker fellow pig-in-training in tow. Probably gruffly shaken the guy’s hand and let him sleep on the couch, waiting for the thing to explode just like all Willy’s hesitant attempts with high school girls had.

Somehow he can’t quite imagine that happening, though, because he doesn’t need Willy to be here telling him to know that it’s not men, it is for some reason this particular motherfucker, with the mugshot that looks like his face is lit from the depths of hell, who apparently makes dishes Will has never even heard of out of victims’ body parts, that Willy loves.

Will suspects there’s no mother figure in the world who can prevent a kid from growing up to fall in love with a monster. He’s not sure if that makes him feel better or worse.

So he gives up settling down with a good woman. Any woman that could properly be called good deserves better than him, anyway, a creaky drunk of a mechanic who thought he could bring up his boy by himself.

He reads in a magazine that Willy and his murderer went over a cliff. He wonders if they’re dead, but hopes they’re happy. Willy had never gotten to keep anything that his dad had merely hoped for him before, but he can still hope that this time will be different.

After all, if Willy can be happy, perhaps there’s hope for his old man yet.