"It's not the gays that're ruining marriage." Zeke's voice is too loud for what he's saying.
"Lower your voice," Ellie digs her fingernail into his palm.
"Well, look around."
Zeke's pointing to a girl who's about sixteen. Her hair's Ronald McDonald colored. Tattoos cover her right arm; a silver earring pierces her left eyebrow. She carries a child about nine months old. She's walking with a kid who must weigh all of a hundred pounds. He's hunched and tattooed and pierced many more times than the girl. They stop to try to put the baby in a coaster car called "South Mountain." The kid needs his mother to hold him while the father drops a coin in the ride. They all laugh as the car tosses the baby back and forth.
"And what d'ya think of that?" Zeke's pulling Ellie in a different direction so she can see a group of three girls each pushing a baby carriage. They all wear pants low on their hips and tight tops. Big breasts bobble and soft bellies jiggle as they walk. They are talking on a cell phone.
"Let's go," Ellie pulls at Zeke. She's looking for a gift for her friend's fortieth birthday. Irene's just gotten divorced and Ellie wants something fun but useful for her. Zeke's only along because he's been temporarily laid off. He's driving her crazy, talking non-stop. Ellie thinks he's beginning to sound like her father-in-law. All the way out of the mall and to the car, Zeke's pointing out fat girls and skinny guys and their babies.
"What do you expect," she finally says. "Those guys got nothing to do, nowhere to go. The girls are better off getting screwed and having their own kids."
"Kids today got no sense. I'm glad we don't have any. Let's see what gas is going for around Stanhope."
Zeke's obsessing with gas prices is also annoying to Ellie. She's not so sure they shouldn't have tried adoption. She stares at the rain and the roadside. Zeke takes a turn up a very unpromising looking side road.
"Any idea where we're going?"
For an answer Zeke fools with the cd. Willie Nelson's voice fills the car. Ellie hums along to "Stardust." The windshield wipers slap along not even keeping up with the torrent of rain. The car slips around a series of tight curves and a sign for BP gas looms.
"Two sixty-nine! That's as cheap as we've seen it."
Ellie glances at the gas gauge, three quarters full. Just past the gas station is a small blue building with a large, hand-lettered sign that reads "Logs & Lingerie's."
Zeke stops the car, reading the sign out loud. That's another of his irritating habits.
"Let's take a look."
Zeke charges ahead. Reluctantly, Ellie follows.
Inside, card tables are set up with plastic baskets holding various types of bras and underpants. Along the one wall is a rack of tired looking nightgowns and robes. Positioned against the other wall is a curtained-off dressing area. A small child crawls out from under the curtain.
"Get ovah heah," the Maine accent is broad, "Hiram befoah your fathah comes in." An obese blond is sitting on a chair behind a make-shift cash register. "How can I help ya?" She struggles to stand.
The woman is wearing a pink and lavender flowered shift that matches the large bow in her hair. When she smiles Ellie can see she's missing the teeth on each side of her front teeth.
The kid has pulled up beside Zeke, who is looking out the window when a tall, thin man enters. "Hiram, come here." The kid shoots over to him and the man picks him up, mussing his brown hair and crushing him into his plaid shirt. His pants barely cling to his hips.
He walks over to Zeke. "Why don't we let the girls deal here. I got some stuff you might be interested in outside."
Ellie picks through one of the baskets of panties and finds a couple of pairs that would work as a joke gift for Irene. One pair has sequins in a heart design and the other is a hot pink thong with red rose embroidery.
"I'll take these."
The woman's blue eyes are shrewd. "That'll be fifteen bucks." She keeps staring at me even when Ellie hands her the money and she's bagged the panties in a plastic bag that says "Shop 'n Save."
Finally, Ellie says, "Interesting place to have a lingerie shop."
"Not really," she replies. "Lots of contractors come out here for lumber. Billy sells them logs. I take care of the rest." She takes a deep breath as if it's hard for her to say that much, then she plops back on the folding chair. She's wearing pink flip-flops with shredded plastic flowers on them. A gold band with a tiny pink stone cuts into the flesh on her ring finger. "Billy and me we got business sense."
Back in the car, Zeke is looking satisfied. "That kid's got him some sense there." He turns the ignition on. "I'm having him deliver us some boards for that deck I've been promising to build."
Ellie looks back and the woman is standing on the step outside of the shop. Beside her, Billy looks like a stick. Hiram is toddling off the step one fat leg at a time.
Ellie's thinking she'll never be a grandmother. She doesn't know if she cares.