nce, years ago, when we were still trying, Lester and I left a sex stain on a Knights Inn comforter in the shape of a baby—a beautiful breached baby girl looking back at us over her left shoulder. She had a huge head like Lester and long skinny legs like neither of us. Lester couldn’t see it, but I couldn’t stop looking. It was clear as day. It was a sign. Baby Jesus don’t play. When He wants you to see a sign, you’ll see it. He knew how hard we were trying and he wanted us to know there was a baby on the way. He knew we woke up at odd hours of optimal ovulation and forced ourselves to make love, silent without kissing. He knew that sometimes we went to the Knights Inn for good luck sex.
     I phoned Myra and she told me to start buying baby booties because never before had she heard such a strong premonition for impregnation. She said she was relieved because of all her friends, we were the ones she worried about. Everybody did. Now she could relax because a baby changes everything. She has six of her own and her life improved with each one. Myra said she would take me shopping. Myra never took me shopping. She shopped at Lord and Taylor and Ann Taylor, all the Taylors. Nothing at those places ever fit me right. I had shoulders. Momma said women with shoulders can’t shop at the Taylors. But Myra and I could go to maternity stores where everything was boxy and blousy, covered with daisies and cows.
     When I told Momma she started to cry. Said she never thought she’d live to see a grandbaby. Since I was her only child, she had given up on it. Of course I could have a baby, but she forgot. She called me her baby doll and told me to sit down so I don’t hinder the child’s initial fetal development. She made me put the phone to my belly so she could hear the child. She said all women are beautiful when they are pregnant, and that I would be beautiful too. I cleared my throat and looked at the floor. I still felt clumsy around her careful compliments. Momma said I should name the baby Faith. I told her that that was a stretch, but Hope seemed nice. That was fifteen years ago and the booties are still in the box. Sometimes at night I can still see my shiny little sex stain baby. But right now all I see is Lester.
     Les just got back from another hunting trip with Boomer and Stanley. They got drunk the first night and instead of pitching a tent, fell asleep outside on our private property. We were supposed to build a house on that land. Now it is so overgrown you could probably hunt dinosaur there. It still looks pretty enough from a distance, but it is six acres full of teeth and stingers. Every time I visit, I swell and burn. Something always tears a piece of my skin or sucks a bit of my blood. Pieces of me get stolen, eaten, and decomposed back into the dirty soil. If you get close you realize everything that lives there bites and burrows.
     Lester and I were going to build the house from the ground up. We had plans. Before Momma past away I used to tell her about the house when I visited the home. Lester said we could have two bathrooms, and Momma always wanted to hear about them. Growing up we had six people to one bathroom (Momma, Daddy, Nae-Nae, Billy, me and Aunt Bernice whenever Uncle Homer was drinking, which was a lot). Momma’s Appalachian upbringing and Depression dollars couldn’t imagine two bathrooms in one house. She never got tired of hearing about it. We would laugh out loud about how I could give Lester his own and mine would just be for primping and soaking. No boys allowed in the ladies room, she’d giggle in her dreamy little girl way.
     But Momma laughed more out of amazement than amusement. She never thought I would marry. She thought I was too boxy, too clumsy, too horsy in a dress to be somebody’s wife. My ankles were too thick and my hair was too thin to make it through mating season. But somehow I clubbed one she would say. Lorelie snagged herself a husband she would say, like I was getting away with something. I was never the pretty flower that attracted; I was the wasp that attacked my prey. I was lucky to have a man at all, let alone one who would build me a house. Lester and I used to go out to our land and walk straight lines imagining our optimal square footage. One time we even got sexual on a blanket on the exact spot that was to be our master bedroom. We kissed and we were loud. We weren’t making babies, we were making love. But that was before. Before we started and stopped trying for a baby. Before we stopped building a house for it to live in. Before he lost his journeyman’s card and got kicked out of the pipe-fitters union. Before he quit quitting drinking. Before I realized we would never leave the trailer we started in.
     Every time I visited Momma, I had a new story of how Lester smashed his thumb putting up dry wall, or how the septic tank wasn’t quite level yet. Momma would laugh and shake her head like I told her I saw a UFO. Her shock made me want to shock her. The more she shook her head in disbelief the more I wanted to spin it and make her dizzy. My stories grew. They became more complex, more twisted and tangled like the weeds and vines that strangled the wooden stakes where the basement was supposed to be. The less Lester did to that land, the more construction went into my stories. He deconstructed while I built. While Lester drank, I clipped photos of dining rooms out of Architectural Digest. While he slept, I collected carpet swatches. If he left a mark on my arm, I’d make the bruise bigger and tell Momma I was grazed by a two by four.
     For a while, Momma played along. We both wanted to believe, so we did. It was that easy. Just like when Daddy left, Momma pretended it didn’t happen and after a while I did too. Even as I grew, Momma pretended I wasn’t the homely big girl. She bought me size six dresses for years after I was well into double digits. But when I opened the box, I would smile and she would say that it was made for me. Then I would put it in the back of my closet and we would never mention the dress again.
     When Momma got real sick, her skin turned gray. Her breathing rattled and clicked. She looked like a ghost. Most of her body had already died, but her heart didn’t know it yet. She was content to play our game until the end but I wasn’t.
      “Momma they ain’t no house.” I said.
      “Not yet right baby doll?” She said and winked.
      “Not never. We started but then’ Lester got busy and’ you want your ice chips?” I said.
      “No house?” She said.
      “No Momma. No house.”
      “Where you living?” She said.
      “Yes.” I said.
      “With Lester?”
      “Yes,” I said.
      “That’s alright child,” she said. “You found y’self a man. Lucky girl. Lucky girl.”
     My friend Myra calls Lester a thief. Says he stole something from me by never building that house. She wanted to light the blueprints on fire in front of him. To put on a display of pure feminine furor with a funeral pyre ascending the soul of an aborted three bedroom, two bath colonial. Teach that lazy son-of-a-bitch a lesson, she’d say. We talked about it in the evenings when Lester was out. I’d go over Myra’s to drink wine. We planned everything we’d say, witty remarks, leading lady movie lines, funny and sexy, scripted, recited and received with howls of laughter. Myra offered to give Lester a piece of her mind for me. I think she did once and he just smiled at her. I still have the house plans in my underwear drawer.

“Something ain’t right.” Lester rolls over, pulls down his briefs and shows me his penis.
      “What,” I say.
      “My balls hurt.”
      “Why?” I said.
      “They red?”
      “Not any redder than usual Lester.”
      “But they are red?”
      “Pink. That’s sort of like red,” I said.
      “I hurt them hunting I think. Pinched ‘em or something,” he said.
      “Move your hand,” I said.
      “You got a deer tick on your balls,” I said.
      “Bullshit Lorelie I ain’t got no goddamn’”
      “It’s on the back side. You can’t see it,” I said.
      “Ain’t no goddamn deer tick,” he says.
      “Fine” I say.
      “Shit” he says.
Lester settles back into bed. I can tell he half likes the idea of having a deer tick down there. It’s like he’s proud of it, like it’s some sort of achievement. I tell him that it’s not a real hunting accident. If, say he was accidentally shot in the spine, that would be a hunting accident worthy of sympathy. But parasites are not discerning creatures. That tick would just as soon be sucking on a set of horse balls. I tell Lester that, but he can’t stop beaming. The tick makes him feel special, or worthy of attention, or at least less ordinary. That’s what everybody wants. I click off the bedroom black and white with my foot, leaving only the glow coming off Lester.
     To beat Lester’s snoring; I sip from my glass of Strawberry Hill and wrap a pillow tightly around my head. This is the best part. Night is my favorite time of day. The trailer looks less empty when the darkness fills it up. The stillness gives the illusion of peace. In shadow my arms are less flabby and my legs are less veiny. At night no one calls about unpaid bills, broken TV’s and burnt out bulbs look less gloomy and houses with babies are just as quiet as the ones without.
     I sleep a lot because I’m good at it. I sleep sound and I remember all my dreams. Sometimes they come true, like when I dreamt that Momma was going to break her hip one week before her bowling accident. Ever since my sex stain baby sign I have felt somewhat mystical. Momma always said I got the gift. Myra says we are all witches, that we all have the power. Sometimes at church socials I read palms to make money for the missions.
     Tonight I dream of having a sexual love affair with Ms. Loretta Lynn. I would do it too. I swear to Christ I would. The 1960’s big haired, torpedo-breasted Loretta Lynn. The fringed-jacket, foot-binding-pointy-cowboy-booted Loretta Lynn. The woman after which I was named. Momma said I come out and she took one look at my lazy eye and curly hair and she just saw my name like a vision ‘Lorelie, a little Loretta Lynn.’
     I believe Loretta Lynn would know how to love me. She is shy like me. She struggled along side an angry man, and led a lonely, disappointing life until she found beauty and inspiration in her music. Loretta Lynn got her independence from her husband Dew. It took her a while, but she took control of her life. In my dream, Loretta doesn’t need to fight for control for I gladly give it to her. Together we raise a love child that I carry and birth. She sings Gospel hymns as I hold our little girl, smelling her beautiful new baby-skin behind her beautiful new baby ears. And while I breast feed, I too have beautiful bullet breasts that Loretta Lynn finds highly sexual.

Lester wakes up to take his morning piss. He sounds like an animal. He is an animal. I hold my breath hoping he won’t break wind. He does. The door is wide open.
     “Jesus Christ, son-of-a-bitch,” he says.
      “What?” I say.
      “It swole up.”
      “What?” I said.
      “Everything,” he said.
      “Godammit,” he said.

Lester’s balls and I go way back. They are the only set I have ever touched. His is the only penis that has ever been inside of me. He tried to show it to me on our first date. He walked into the body shop that day in his red flannel, his hair was long back then, you could just barely see the tattoo on his forearm. I was patching tractor tires as he passed by. He looked like Jan Michael Vincent, like he didn’t take shit from anybody. I tucked my hair behind my ear and sold him a set of four used Eagle Radials. I gave him Whitewalls for free. He told me I smelled like a peach, and I smiled and looked at the floor. No one had ever told me that before. I wasn’t a peach. I was never a peach. I was never a belle, or a cutie-pie, or a sweet pea. I wasn’t a baby, or a honey or a muffin. I was a horsy size fourteen. I had a nice personality. I was friendly and dependable and predictable. But that night I was Lester’s peach.
      He waited until I got off and we ate wings at Chuck’s Diner. Afterwards Lester asked me to take a drive out of Palatka south towards Everglades National Park. We parked and listened to the bullfrogs. Lester kissed me some. He tasted smoky. His skinny tongue and non-existent lips made him feel hard. He was eager and clumsy but nice. My stomach turned, my skin sprinkled with goose bumps. I hadn’t been very sexual before that. He touched my face with his bony fingers and stroked my chest. I think I even moaned a little like the women on One Life to Live. I now had something in common with them—sexuality. We in the sexually active sisterhood all had lovers and we liked to moan in the heat of passion. It was a signal, a sign, lover’s code that he was doing it right. Then Lester pulled back, undid his belt and showed it to me. Lester’s naked penis right there in the front seat. It was the most unromantic, unsexy thing I had ever seen. Musty and hairy and completely devoid of emotion or conscience. It was silly and pathetic. I began to cry. First disappointment, then fear. Rape. He’s going to rape me.
     “Buckle up, asshole!” I screamed. I got really scared. So did he, he buckled up so fast he caught himself in his zipper. I actually heard the skin get caught in the metal teeth. To his credit, Lester never made a sound. He just let out a long, deep exhale until the fire in his crotch died down. Lester drove me home.
     The next time I saw his penis was on our honeymoon in Pigeon Forge. It seemed less hostile, more friendly, at least when he was unconscious.      I would wait until he was asleep to poke at it. Momma never told me nothing about boy parts. Lester became my practice dummy, like a rubber corpse in CPR class.
     Its flexibility amazed me. Pink skin not too different from my own, yet still so foreign. It would coil and darken and dance to my touch. I could charm it and make it rise out of its basket. It was less like a tool, less like a weapon when Lester was asleep. Awake it hurt. Asleep, Lester’s penis was cute.
     Over time I just came to view Lester’s penis as an under-achiever, a Special-Ed student. A penis that would have taken the short bus to school. It’s not so much the size or anything like that; it’s that it is incapable of producing virile sperm. In front of God and everyone Lester promised to accept children into our home. But Lester’s penis won’t let them in. For our first ten years of marriage, Dr. Hildegard tried to increase the potency of Lester’s sperm, but Lester continued to shoot blanks.
     At first they thought it was his underwear, then all the drinking. It turns out Lester just has sleepy sperm. His count is way down and what’s there ain’t exactly knocking down the door. First the drugs didn’t work, then Les lost his job at the plant and then the insurance went away. We tried to beat the odds for a few years, but, like our land, Lester got tired of trying and everything grew over into a tangled mess. I haven’t seen Lester’s penis in months. I can hear Lester running his bath. I grab for his cigarettes, they relax him in the tub. They’re in the pants he left draped over the dresser when he stumbled in last night. I pick up the pants and they are really heavy.
     Myra says that when a husband has really heavy pants it means he’s been cheating. It means he is carrying keys to hotel rooms and matchbooks from dark cocktail lounges and rubbers, lots of rubbers. It means he has lipstick that she asked him to hold but forgot about, and lighters to fire up her menthols in a sexy way, and change for late night phone calls home to the dutiful wife.
     Myra understands men. She has been married three times, and reads several books on relationships each year. Two of Myra ex-husbands cheated. She caught them red handed. She knows all the signs. She can walk in a room and be able to spot the men that are willing to cheat. Sometimes, now that she’s single again, she picks these men up. She does it to teach them a lesson. In the morning she puts an earth red lip liner in their pocket. Earth red because it is primal. Lip liner because it’s small enough to be hidden for days. When their wives find it, and they always do, some will be able to talk their way out of trouble, some won’t.
     Lester has been hunting more than usual, off-season too. He doesn’t even like grouse and he’s hunting grouse now. Grouse is bad meat, gamey and tough. I hate grouse. I can see odd-shaped bulges in every pocket of his Dickies.
     Lester is in the bathroom mirror staring at his penis. The water is filling the tub. His pants weigh a ton, like they are wet. They jingle all over when I shake them. I frisk them through the material, at least two sets of keys, maybe three. Steam rolls out of the bathroom. No one should have that much stuff in their pants, especially not an unemployed pipe fitter with a suspended driver’s license.
     “Myra you’re home?”
     “I answered the phone didn’t I?”
     “Right. Okay I should let you go,” I say.
     “What’s wrong baby, why you whispering,” she says.
     “I’I mean we’ well Lester has really heavy pants.”
     There is a long silence, I hear Lester sprinkling sizzling salt into the water.
     “Oh sweet Jesus. I am so sorry.” Myra says.
     “Myra, it doesn’t mean’”
     “Oh sweet Jesus’”
     “Will you stop saying that?” I say.
     “Always to the nicest women too. Well pack a bag and get the Hell out of there Lorelie.”
     “No. I can’t, I can’t leave, not now’he’s in severe physical pain.”
     “What’s wrong with Lester?”
     “He’s got’a deer tick on his’y’know.”
     “Where?” She said.
     “There,” I said.
     “And how do you think it got there? I’m no hunter, sweetheart, but as far as I can tell you don’t need to whip your cock out to catch a deer. Now pardon my French, Lorelie, but don’t let this man take you for a fool. Get your hillbilly ass out of there.”
     “Git, girl.”
     I hang up the phone and I see Loretta Lynn in my bedroom, sitting cross-legged on the bed, singing. Love is where you find it, when you find no love at home. She is striking in her gold-fringed skirt. Her hair is high but tastefully done. Her voice is perfect. She’s holding our baby, Hope. She nods at the closet. I start to pack a suitcase.
     “Lorelie quit your goddamn singing and get me my smokes.” Lester yells from the tub.
     Loretta Lynn points to a pair of pumps. I nod and throw in a skirt and slip. Every now and then I make sure the baby is still watching me. Still being dazzled by my simple motherly movement. Loretta Lynn smiles as I blush and grab my good pair of sexy underwear. A pair of Neutral hose goes in next. Then a razor, lotion and hair spray. I pack the Avon perfume that Myra gave me last year for Christmas and stationary for the letter I will send.
     “Goddamnit girl.” Lester splashes the water like an angry boy. His deer-ticked balls, the ones holding sleepy sperm, the ones that for all I know have been with half the women in Northern Florida are floating in the salty water like sharks.
     I take the harmony part and let Loretta sing lead. And there’s nothing cold as ashes, after the fire’s gone. She’s rocking our baby. She has a way with babies. Her voice soothes the scared little body. Her chest is warm. Loretta Lynn holds the baby out for me. I feel a wave of nerves. Nobody ever thought I’d be a mom except me. That big ass tire girl from Palatka can’t get no man, can’t make no baby. Get her drunk and she’ll suck your dick. She’ll tell you a joke or two, hell of a cook that big girl over there.
     I pick her up, my baby, warm and pink. She fusses a bit, then relaxes in my arms. Her curves fit mine like a puffy puzzle. Her little heart beat slows down to match mine. I breathe the air she exhales. Lester is slapping at the water. I can hear the openhanded smacks like oars hitting a lake. Soon that will be me. His bony hands crashing down jittery and forceful and confused. Soon he’ll yell and I’ll cry. He’ll throw and I’ll hide. Our trailer dance in the woods. I am lucky to have a man at all.
     The pants, stuffed like a piñata, wounded and guilty, are crumpled up and taunting me. The dirty holster for Lester’s dirty dick, full of contraband and booty right at my feet.
     I hand Loretta Lynn our baby and pick up the pants. She kisses me then the child, kicks Lester’s pant leg out the way, and walks to the door. She motions for me to follow. I hold the pants in my arms like a child. They are bulky an awkward. I reach into the pockets and find a lighter, a key, and earth red lipliner. I hear the drain get pulled and the water being sucked out of the tub. The dirt rolls off Lester’s but I’m certain the tick hangs on. I look to the door and Loretta Lynn is gone. I sit down, refill Lester’s pockets, fold his pants on my lap, and wait for my husband.