Rubygene looked down her nose at me with a pinched little expression, part frown and part sneer, the kind that indicates complete disapproval, utter disgust, or chronic hemorrhoid pain. With her, it was always difficult to tell. “Don’t you think you’re being hard on the great state of Alabama?”
I shrugged. “God knows someone has to be.” Purse in one hand, I readjusted my hat with the other and made to leave. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have people to see and bets to place.”
“You havewhatto place?!” She huffed after me onto the wide, cool, screened-in porch that my grandmother kept wrapped in ferns. The sound of barely-controlled laughter told me Aunt Birdie and Uncle Ralph were already four to six sheets to the wind—at nine-thirty in the morning. In most families, this is a disaster. In my family, this is Tuesday.
“If you need me, Rubygene, you can find me at the track,” I said as I nodded to my great-aunt and uncle. They smiled and raised their highball glasses in my direction. “When the horses call, I answer. Don’t you go cooling my lucky streak.”
Uncle Ralph staggered up out of the mildewed club chair and pulled a crisp $100 bill from his wallet. “Here, Myrtle Mae”—buuuuuuurp.“Put fifty dollars on Lucky Bastard, at forty-nine-to-one.” He bowed deeply and almost fell onto the gray enameled porch floor. “Buy yourself something purty, while you’re at it.”
“Why, thank you, Uncle Ralph!” I hugged his neck and steadied his descent into the creaky wicker chair. He was a notorious tightwad, except when it came to liquor, or to getting on Rubygene’s last good nerve. “See?” I turned back to my grandmother’s other sister. “At least someone around here recognizes that I know what I’m doing.”
Rubygene stared at me in silence, then whirled on her heels and stomped into the house, the scalloped fuchsia edges of her orange housecoat flaring out like a daylily—a nosy daylily that couldn’t just stay in its own flowerbed and do what the good Lord intended. But I didn’t have time to worry about her. I had to be in Thunderbolt by noon.
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