Cover image for Starr Bright will be with you soon
Starr Bright will be with you soon
Smith, Rosamond.
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Publication Information:
New York : Dutton, 1999.
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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#"A William Abrams book."

Author Notes

Joyce Carol Oates was born in 1938 in Upstate, New York. She attended Syracuse University and graduated as Valedictorian. She then attended University of Wisconsin where she earned an M. A.

By the time she was 47 years old, she had published at least that many separate books, including 16 full-length novels and more than a dozen collections of short stories. Some of her works were done under the pseudonym Rosamund Smith. She has also written numerous poems collected in several volumes, at least three plays, many critical essays, and articles and reviews on various subjects while fulfilling her obligations as a professor of English at the University of Windsor, where with her husband Raymond Smith she edited the Ontario Review, which the couple has continued since moving to Princeton in 1978. She has earned a reputation as indubitably one of our most prolific writers and very likely one of our best.

Her fiction alone demonstrates considerable variety, ranging from direct naturalism to complex experiments in form. However, what chiefly makes her work her own is a quality of psychological realism, an uncanny ability to bring to the surface an underlying sense of foreboding or a threat of violence that seems to lurk just around the corner from the everyday domestic lives she depicts so realistically. Her first six novels, including Them (1969), which won the National Book Award, express these qualities in varying ways. she is also the recipient of an NEA grant, a Guggenheim fellowship, the PEN/Malamud Lifetime Achievement Award, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature.

She resides in New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Recall that "Rosamond Smith" is the nom de plume of Joyce Carol Oates when writing her psychological suspense novels ala Ruth Rendell. Her latest, the seventh, as her Rosamond persona is a successfully diverting excursion into--big surprise here!--aberrant behavior, which, this time, manifests itself in a serial murder spree. Starr Bright is the assumed name of Sharon Donner, whose haunt is Las Vegas and whose game is men with bucks. But Starr's getting a little long in the tooth--she used to be an exotic dancer--for such youthful endeavors. Turns out Starr has a twin sister she's not seen in many years, and she now seeks out Lily to harbor her in her rattled state as she flees the scene of a murder she committed. But, wait a minute, is she responsible for a series of murders currently capturing the headlines? Oates-as-Smith has had great practice in limning the type of personality that results from sexual guilt and craving love, and she explores it anew with fresh observations. --Brad Hooper

Library Journal Review

Updating the classic good twin/bad twin scenario, Smith (aka Joyce Carol Oates; Double Delight, LJ 3/15/97) adds a 1990s twist. Sharon is a successful fashion model with a difference: she's become a serial killer. After her first two murders, described in graphic detail, we meet her sister, Lily, and Lily's family. Sharon hasn't seen her sister for years, but she needs a place to hide, and her decision to hide out with Lily uncovers deep psychological wounds. Sharon, the attractive and successful sister, has always forced Lily into the background. Now she threatens to do it again as Lily's husband and daughter become infatuated with Aunt Sharon. The resulting psychological portrait is a real page-turner that concludes with an ominous last chapter. Some of the descriptions are quite graphic, but with that in mind, this is a good choice for libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/98.]‘Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. System, Poughkeepsie, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One At the Paradise Motel, Sparks, Nevada In the desert, through shimmering planes of light, the hazy mauve mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, autumn sunshine fell vertical, sharp as a razorblade. The sky was a hard ceramic blue that looked painted and without depth as a stage backdrop. "Starr Bright" woke startled from her druggy reverie of the past several hours wondering where she was, and with whom. A familiar-unfamiliar succession of motels, restaurants, gas stations, enormous billboards in Day-Glo colors advertising casinos in Reno and Las Vegas--but it was CITY LIMITS SPARKS, NEVADA they were entering, Billy Ray Cobb behind the wheel of his classy rented platinum-gray Infiniti with the red leather interior smelling of newness. "Starr Bright" removed her smoke-tinted designer sunglasses with the dazzling white frames to see more clearly, but the glare was blinding. Her eyes felt naked, exposed. She wasn't a gift for the harsh overexposed hours of morning or afternoon in the desert, her nocturnal soul best roused at twilight when neon lights flashed and pulsed into life. But why am I here, why now? And with whom?     Not knowing she was awaiting God's sign.     Proud and perky behind the wheel of the Infiniti like an upright bulldog was Mr. Cobb of Elton, California, an electrical supplies manufacturer's representative--as he'd introduced himself the previous evening at the Kings Club. A sporty fun-loving loud-laughing man of any age between forty-five and fifty-five who perspired easily, with a thick neck, heavy-lidded bulldog eyes and wattles and a damp, hungry smile punctuated by chunky teeth. He wore casual vacation clothes--this was his vacation, after all--an electric-blue crinkled-cotton shirt monogrammed B.R.C. on the pocket (so maybe "Billy Ray Cobb" was his name?), checked polyester trousers creased tightly at the thighs, a "Navajo" hand-tooled leather belt with a flashy brass buckle into which his soft, prominent belly pressed. A black onyx fraternity ring on his right hand and a gold wedding band on his left hand, both rings embedded in fatty flesh. Almost shyly he asked, "Had a little nap, Sherrill, eh?" Or, his breath quickened as if he'd run up a brief flight of stairs, he sounded shy. Then boasting, "Well, we made good time. Two hundred twenty miles in under three hours."     "Starr Bright" perceived that Billy Ray Cobb was one to crave praise from a woman like a dog craving tidbits at the table--no matter what tidbits, however dried out or tasteless or not even food at all, rolled-up paper napkin pellets would suffice. In her sexy throaty voice she murmured, "Hmmm, yes. Fan-tastic."     Seeing how Mr. Cobb was peering eagerly at her she quickly replaced the dark glasses. Don't stare at me God damn you don't you stare at me . But of course she was poised, at ease, gave no sign of annoyance. "Starr Bright" was always elaborately made up; her heart-shaped face a flawless cosmetic mask like something hardened to a single substance, a single texture. She knew she looked good, and more than good, but in this damned white-glaring desert sun she might look, if not her age precisely, for "Starr Bright" never looked her age, but maybe thirty-one or -two, not twenty-eight as she'd led credulous Mr. Cobb of Elton, California, to believe.     So far as he knew she was "Starr Bright"--an "exotic interpretive" dancer at the Kings Club, Kings Lake, Nevada. An independent young woman with a flair for the performance arts--not just dancing but singing as well (she had a lovely trained mezzo-soprano voice). Before Kings Lake she'd worked in Lake Tahoe, California, and before that in Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno; before that, Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. And there'd been an interlude in Houston, Texas.     Before that, memory faded. Like once-colorful travel posters on a wall frayed and weatherworn with time until one place looked very like another. It was not yet 6 P.M. And bright as noon. Yet Billy Ray Cobb was eager to check into a motel. Pawing and squeezing "Starr Bright" as he drove the Infiniti, now slowed to forty miles an hour along the crowded two-lane highway; he was panting and florid-cheeked. Stop staring at me God damn you. His sporty-macho smell was mixed up with the aggressive smell of the red-leather interior; the air-conditioning hummed like a third presence. "Starr Bright" was flattered by her new admirer's sexual attraction to her, his look of awe commingled with frank doggy desire, or should have been; but it was a bummer, his wanting to stop so soon. "Just that I'm crazy about you, baby," Mr. Cobb said, a whining edge to his voice as if he suspected that "Starr Bright" might not believe him. "Like last night, you'll see."     "Hmmm."     Did she remember last night, no she didn't remember last night.     Wouldn't remember tonight tomorrow night, or so she hoped.     Her father's long-ago voice gentle in wisdom You won't remember tomorrow what seemed so important today . But he'd meant worldly vanity, tinsel hopes. Not being fucked like a dog in heat.     So: Billy Ray Cobb did not drive on to Reno as "Starr Bright" had been led to believe they would; and from Reno to Las Vegas.     Might it have made a difference if they'd driven on to Reno?     Only a half-hour drive, more desert but it would have flashed by glittering like mica.     God damn you: no. But her face betrayed no unease, not even annoyance as, impulsively, Billy Ray Cobb swung the Infiniti into a motel that was one of dozens or possibly hundreds of "bargain-rate" motels along the Sparks-Reno strip, just inside the Sparks city limits. PARADISE MOTEL BARGAIN ROOMS & HONEYMOON SUITES! VACANCY! HAPPY HOUR 4-8 P.M. EVERY NITE! "Starr Bright" narrowed her aching eyes trying to recall if she had been here before. Maybe yes, maybe no. It was all vague. Billy Ray Cobb was chattering excitedly and she was murmuring "Hmmm, hmmm--" in her throaty just-mildly-bored exotic-performer's voice.     If "Starr Bright" was bitterly disappointed in the Paradise Motel, in Sparks, Nevada, having envisioned a first-rate casino-hotel in Reno for the night, smelling beforehand the insecticide-odor of the shabby room, she gave not the slightest clue. She was not that kind of girl.     With her ashy-blond hair cascading to her shoulders and her strong-boned classic face and her long dancer's torso and legs, certainly "Starr Bright" was accustomed to the close scrutiny of men; and knew to keep her most mutinous thoughts to herself. Never to bare her teeth in a quick incandescent flash of anger; never to frown, or grimace, bringing the near-invisible white lines of her forehead into sharp visibility. Never to raise her carefully polished thumbnail to her teeth like an unhappy adolescent girl and gnaw at the cuticle until she tasted blood. Never never never so long as you are "Starr Bright."     While Mr. Cobb checked the two of them into the Paradise Motel, "Starr Bright" strolled restlessly about the poolside area, an interior courtyard flanked by thin drooping palm trees that looked brittle as papier-mâché. A six-foot concrete wall painted Day-Glo orange blocked the view of an adjacent motel and cars, buses, motorcycles and campers moving relentlessly along Route 80, but could not keep out the steady noise of traffic. The kidney-shaped pool, in which several near-naked swimmers splashed, smelled sharply of chlorine. And there was the familiar odor of insecticide pervading all. "Starr Bright" glanced quickly about to see if she recognized anyone at poolside--if anyone recognized her--for, having been acquainted with so many men, over a period of years, she must always be vigilant.     In fact, eyes had drifted casually onto her. Strangers' eyes, both male and female. But that was to be expected: "Starr Bright" was used to the attention of strangers and would have been discomfited if no one noticed her, so leggy and glamorous in this third-rate Paradise Motel.     No one seemed to recognize her, however. Nor did "Starr Bright" recognize anyone.     Thank you, God!     Uttered quickly and shyly in her inward voice, her head bowed. As one might murmur words of gratitude to an elder, not wanting to be heard, exactly. Not wanting to call attention to oneself.     Of the ten or twelve guests in the courtyard, most had positioned themselves luxuriously in the waning sun: visitors to the Southwest, obviously. "Starr Bright" heard a foreign language being spoken--German, she guessed. Why would anyone come so many thousands of miles to spend even a single night here ? And others were midwesterners, oily gleaming bodies in scanty bathing suits, bathing suits straining against flesh, young firm flesh and aging raddled flesh, dreamily shut eyes reckless in the sun's killer rays. Of course, they'd smeared on "suntan lotion"--"sun block"--in childlike trust that such flimsy protections could shield them from cancer. There were pastel-bright drinks with melting ice cubes in tall glasses, empty beer, Coke and Perrier bottles accumulated on the wrought-iron tables. From overhead amplifiers, rock-Muzak made the air vibrate; the pulse quicken. "Starr Bright" felt a wild impulse to dance. She was worn out from the drive, she'd taken her meds for a placid low-voltage buzz, yet the music excited her; that heavy erotic beat, the slamming percussive rhythm. After the initial attention she'd received she was now not being noticed: why? Look at me, here I am, why are none of you looking at me? Here is "Starr Bright"! She was wearing a tight silky-black mini-skirt that came barely to midthigh, and a gold lamé halter top that fitted her good-sized breasts tightly; her long blond smooth-shaven legs were bare; her feet bare in cork platform heels. A thin gold chain around her left ankle, a tiny gold heart dangling. Pierced earrings that fell in glittering silvery cascades nearly to her shoulders, a half-dozen rainbow-metallic bracelets tinkling on each arm. Crimson lips moist as if she were quick-breathing, feverish. And the glamorous designer sunglasses that hid bruises, or the shadow of bruises, beneath her eyes. Why will you not look at me? I am more beautiful than any of you.     "Starr Bright's" first celebrity came early, at the age of thirteen, when she'd won first prize in a children's talent competition in Buffalo, New York, singing "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." She'd been dazed by the sudden applause, a cascade of applause, strangers' faces beaming and their lifted, clapping hands and the blinding heat of the spotlight on her so she'd felt naked, yet blessed.     They love me. These people I don't know--they love me.     How long ago? Don't ask.     When they stop staring, and their eyes go through you, one of the older dancers at the Kings Club had told "Starr Bright," you're in deep trouble. You're on your way to being dead meat. So be thankful for the rude stares. Those pigs are money in the bank.     "Starr Bright" didn't want to think they were pigs exclusively. She'd had many admirers, and many of these were gentlemen--almost. Billy Ray Cobb for example. The kind of well-intentioned guy, if you got to know him when he was sober, gave him half a chance, he wouldn't be half bad.     Strange how, after their initial interest, the poolside loungers at the Paradise Motel didn't seem to notice "Starr Bright." Even a fattish man sprawled in a canvas chair had returned to his copy of USA Today . Which was God's sign, too, as "Starr Bright" would afterward realize. Not knowing at the time the import of such signs just as she did not know but would subsequently learn from newspapers and TV that Billy Ray Cobb was signing them into the Paradise Motel as Mr. & Mrs. Elton Flynn of Los Angeles, CA .     In the pool there was an outburst of noisy-splashy activity. A voluptuous young woman in a tiny yellow bikini was squealing and kicking, hugging an inflated air mattress striped like an American flag to her breasts, as a tanned muscled young man tickled her; their cries and laughter pierced the air. What exhibitionists! Both were good-looking, with well-developed bodies; youthful, young --in their late twenties perhaps. "Starr Bright" stared at them covertly, in envy. But she was disapproving. So close to naked, their bodies gleaming and squirming and thrashing, so vulgar!--the girl and her boyfriend were almost making love in the pool, in plain sight. Bright water heaved and rippled about them. Others at poolside stared openly, gaping and grinning; the lovers behaved as if they took no heed, though obviously delighting in being watched. Yes, look at us, how happy we are, how beautiful we are, how we deserve happiness because we're beautiful, young and beautiful, what pleasure our bodies take in one another, aren't you all jealous? jealous? jealous? The girl's shapely arms flailed in a pose of helpless alarm, her heavy breasts nearly exploded out of the skimpy bikini bra, her strong legs thrashed and the young man pushed himself boldly between them, aiming a biting kiss at her throat, as the striped air mattress slipped from them and they began, wildly squealing, to sink beneath the surface of the water. Amid the splashing, paddling, squealing "Starr Bright" pursed her lips and looked quickly away.     It was at this point that Billy Ray Cobb caught up with her. He'd been lugging suitcases, and set them down on the puddled concrete; he was panting, and a vexed little frown gave his face a pouty, petulant cast. He closed his fingers around "Starr Bright's" left wrist. Saying two things to her in a lowered jocular voice and afterward she wouldn't be able to recall which he'd said first. One was, "Wondered where you'd got to, sweetheart," and the other was, with a smirk, "Looks like the fun's already started, eh?" Not in her slightly scratched leather Gucci bag, a Neiman-Marcus gift from an admirer now forgotten, but in her midnight-blue sequined purse crammed with wallet, cosmetics, amphetamine and Valium tablets, did "Starr Bright" carry what she called protection . A pearl-handled stainless steel carving knife with a slender five-inch blade. Very lightweight, very trim. Kept wrapped in tissue at the bottom of the purse, its razor-sharp blade not yet put to the test. Protection she thought it, not a weapon ; still less a concealed weapon . So far as she knew, without making inquiries ("Starr Bright" was not one to make inquiries about such things), carrying such a knife on one's person was not illegal, in the states in which she'd been traveling; this was after all a carving knife, a kitchen knife, readily enough purchased in any household supplies store. A knife for preventative purposes, not for any act of aggression.     Protection after she'd been accosted and arrested in a cocktail lounge of a luxurious Hyatt Regency in Houston, Texas, by two plainclothes vice squad detectives who'd detained her in "custody" in a squad car for hours during which time they'd forced her to commit upon their pig-persons sex acts of a repulsive nature, under threat of charging her with "public soliciting" and "resisting arrest." Never again will "Starr Bright" be humiliated, never again will "Starr Bright" service pigs on any terms but my own. That night "Starr Bright" dreamt so strangely!--obsessively, in anguish, of the motel pool, and the air mattress floating in the pool.     She'd scarcely seen the mattress, had little impression of it except it was made of plastic, red, white and blue stripes, about five feet long, not a child's but a grown-up's plaything; a mattress to float on, basking in the sun; an object of salvation if you were in water over your head and couldn't swim.     No death worse than drowning, a slow choking agonizing death and your life flashing before you like a crazed film reel.     "Starr Bright" wasn't much of a swimmer, water frightened her. The transparency, the eerie buoyancy that can't be depended upon; the disequilibrium when you tried to walk, in shallow water, or in the surf; the loss of control. Though, of course, she'd always liked to lounge beside pools and on attractive beaches: "Starr Bright" in eye-catching swimwear; "Starr Bright" lavishly oiled against the sun's rays; a wide-brimmed straw hat on her head, dark sunglasses protecting her sensitive eyes. She was a beautiful shapely blonde of the type seen at such places, or in advertisements of such places: luxury suited her, she was a luxury item herself. But water frightened her, the thought of trying to swim, having to swim to save her life, gave her a taste of panic cold and metallic in her mouth.     In her druggy dreams that night how cruel to find herself naked in the tacky motel pool, not a glamorous sexy figure in her sleek black bikini but a helpless flailing naked figure, an object of male derision, crude teasing. She was clutching at the air mattress sobbing, gasping for breath, heart pounding as someone (a man, a stranger, faceless, squat-bodied) tried to pull her from it and into the water to drown. Like the girl in the yellow bikini she'd kicked, thrashed, flailed about, screamed; but this wasn't play, this was deadly earnest. It seemed that her assailant might be Billy Ray Cobb (except she couldn't remember his name), then he was a stranger, then there were two men--or more?--jeering at her terror, which was a female's laughable, contemptible terror, their fingers hard and pitiless as steel tugging at her ankles, her bare vulnerable legs, arms, gripping the nape of her neck to force her face into the water as cruel children do to one another. "Starr Bright" was naked, defenseless as a child, the water lapped darkly about her and was no longer the synthetic bright turquoise of the motel pool. If only she could pull herself up onto the air mattress she could save herself!--but her arm muscles were weak and flaccid, her feeble strength was rapidly fading, her mouth filled with poisonous water it would be death to swallow. And the jeering, the laughing!--the hard hurting male fingers!     Help me! Please help me! O God!     I will be your servant forever, if You save me O God!     So "Starr Bright" thrashed about wildly, flailing her arms, kicking, fighting for her life--yet she was paralyzed, and could not move. Waking bathed in perspiration, cold clammy sweat; her muscles rigid, face contorted. Waking--where? In an unknown bed, a bed of damp rumpled smelly sheets, in an unknown room that hummed loudly with cheap air-conditioning that could not dispel odors of whiskey, cigarette smoke, human sweat and semen and insecticide. "Starr Bright" was not alone but beside a stranger, a fattish naked man who lay sprawled on his back in the center of the bed, a sheet pulled to midchest, head flung back and mouth gaping, wetly snoring.     Mr. Cobb it was. Who'd been unexpectedly rough and impatient with her. The first time, at Kings Lake, he'd been shy, boyish and fumbling like a new husband; last night, reddish-veined pig's eyes contracting and his vision going inward as Uh! uh! uh! he'd grunted grinding himself stubbornly and then desperately and at last furiously into "Starr Bright." But I thought you admired me, my dancing; I thought you were "crazy" about me ... Twenty pitiless minutes she'd clocked this copulation as she'd clocked their earlier episodes, eight minutes, twelve minutes, sixteen; a part of her brain detached and clinical despite the line of coke she'd snorted with her bulldog-jowled friend whose name, or names, kept eluding her. She hadn't even pretended to respond, her usual low throaty sexual moaning as if she were being tortured but loving it, loving it but tortured, why bother, Cobb wasn't paying attention. They'd checked in early at the Paradise Motel for this purpose, were naked in bed trying to make love as Cobb called it; thrashing about on top of the bed for a while; then rose to go out hurriedly not taking time even to shower and cleanse their sticky bodies as "Starr Bright" badly wanted; yes, and to shampoo her hair; it had been two days since she'd cleaned herself thoroughly and how badly she wanted to wash between her legs, her chafed tender thighs, run the shower in the bathroom as hot as she could bear it but Cobb grown suddenly bossy insisted upon going out to buy a bottle of Jack Daniel's and several grams of cocaine innocently white and powdery-granular as confectioner's sugar and so the night had shut abruptly about her like walls pushing inward, threatening suffocation. C'mon, baby! What'd they call you--"Starr Bright"? Loosen up.     Though the man was a stranger to her, "Starr Bright" seemed to know beforehand it might be a wise move to anesthetize herself. So she'd only pretended to inhale a second and a third line of coke held on a shaky spoon-mirror to her nostrils; in fact, in the secrecy of the ill-smelling bathroom, the only place she could go to hide from Mr. Cobb, she'd quickly swallowed not one, not even two, but a risky three tablets of Valium, the most she ever allowed herself in even the worst emergency situations, or when alcohol was involved. (Trying not to think of women she'd known, dancers like herself, "exotic" or otherwise who'd overdosed on drugs and alcohol, overdosed and died and their names forgotten.) So she'd been more or less dulled against Mr. Cobb's grinding, grunting and panting; his semi-flaccid penis like a hunk of blood sausage that, though limp, yet has substance, and can be made to hurt, jammed into her; his hard grasping hands like tentacles; his red-rimmed frog's eyes, his escalating demands. How quickly the man had changed: as if they'd run through a twenty-year marriage in twenty hours, Mr. Cobb aging and coarsening before her eyes. How many minutes, how many hours, precisely where they were, and why she, "Starr Bright," a top "exotic interpretive dancer" admired by other dancers for her Ice Princess glamor and her evident intelligence and sensitivity, more than once compared to the French film actress Catherine Deneuve--why she was here, in this despicable bed, in a despicable man's arms, she could not know, could not comprehend. But the Valium had kicked in, the Valium was precious as any savior, she was sinking to sleep again, shivering, cold with sweat like congealed oil, trying discreetly to keep as far as possible from the snoring man in the center of the bed. She knew from experience You don't want to offend them, don't want to make them angrier than they are . And sinking into sleep again, "Starr Bright" found herself another time in a swimming pool--in a distant city, in a distant time, she was a child again, nine years old, and she'd been brought to a park by an older girl cousin who lived in town, what a treat for little Rose of Sharon Donner visiting for the day, excited as always when visiting her relatives in Yewville, which seemed to her a large city of mystery and adventure. (And it pleased her, too, that for some reason her sister hadn't been included. How much more fun without Lily, who was so shy and hanging-back!) But something seemed to have gone wrong: her cousin Beverly wasn't watching her as she was supposed to, Beverly had gone off with her own friends and so Rose of Sharon in her pink swimsuit found herself surrounded in the pool by children she didn't know. Hey who're you? Where're you from? Older boys of eleven or twelve, skinny strangers with hair wetly rat-slick and narrowed curious eyes that Rose of Sharon believed were friendly eyes, she was a child accustomed to being admired, being liked, of the Donner girls it was Rose of Sharon and never Lily of the Valley people fussed over, poor Lily was so shy, and Sharon was so bright and bold and outgoing and pretty, naturally boys paid attention to her . So she told them her name, and they laughed at such a name--but nice-laughing, teasing-laughing. She told them she was from Shaheen, and they laughed saying Where? for Shaheen was miles away in the country, not even a town just a place. She told them proudly that her daddy was Ephraim Donner, Minister of the First Church of Christ of Shaheen, and that impressed them, she thought, that made them listen! So they invited her for a ride in their big inner tube, which was a truck inner tube, the biggest in the pool. Rose of Sharon had seen other children riding in the tube, so big, shiny-black and floppy, the center of much splashing and hilarity; it seemed to her that only privileged, favored girls were allowed to ride in this tube, head and arms thrust through the opening, legs kicking behind, so of course Rose of Sharon said yes, she hadn't even glanced around to look for Beverly, in her excitement she'd forgotten entirely about Beverly. The Yewville boys were so friendly, grinning at her so of course she trusted them, she was nine years old and a country child and the favorite of her daddy, so Rose of Sharon Donner trusted these boys though they were strangers and her mother had warned her not to play with children she didn't know unless Beverly was with her but in the giddy excitement of the pool this was forgotten. Hey c'mon little girl! Blondie Blue-Eyes! Don't be scared! So she let the boys push her through the inner-tube opening, she was squealing, giggling and kicking as the boys tugged the tube across the pool, and toward the farther end of the pool where the water was five feet deep and Rose of Sharon began to be frightened but the boys doggy-paddling and splashing beside her said not to be scared, not to be scared she was O.K. because the inner tube couldn't sink. The boys were ducking beneath her and jostling her, pulling at her feet, tickling at first and then pinching; poking their hard fingers into her ribs, between her legs as she began to thrash her arms and legs, panicked, helpless and sobbing. She tried to cry No! no! let me go! but she swallowed water, there was so much noise in the pool no one could hear her, the boys wouldn't let their pretty little blond captive go, a gang of them now was hooting and chortling tugging her across the pool into the deep water where only older children and teenagers were allowed to swim, and at last a lifeguard intervened, a teenaged girl blowing her whistle and shouting so the boys quickly shoved Rose of Sharon out of their tube and into the water and escaped, and Rose of Sharon sank swallowing water, flailing about and would surely have drowned except for the lifeguard rescuing her, carrying her out of the pool and onto the puddled concrete where she lay sobbing and coughing up water, stricken as a wounded animal. And so ashamed! so humiliated! When she'd thought the boys had liked her so much! Her cousin Beverly was squatting over her, guilty, frightened, saying how sorry she was, how sorry she was please not to tell on her, begging Rose of Sharon not to tell either of their mothers ever, and so the nightmare was ended, and Rose of Sharon never told. For to tell would be to admit how she'd been tricked, made a fool and humbled bawling like a baby among staring strangers.     Except: the nightmares of childhood never end but continue forever beneath the surface of memory as beneath the surface of choppy murky water. So long as memory and life endure. So it was that "Starr Bright" woke agitated and confused, half-choking out of her drugged sleep another time. She was not "Rose of Sharon Donner" now and had not been "Rose of Sharon Donner" for a long time. Luminous red numerals floating in the dark beside the bed indicated 4:46 A.M. There would be no more sleep for "Starr Bright" that night. * * *     Through discolored venetian blind slats a fluorescent-crimson neon sign flashed in rumba rhythm. PARADISE MOTEL. PARADISE MOTEL. Quietly "Starr Bright" slipped from the damp smelly pigsty of a bed and discovered herself naked. Naked! Shivering in the drafty refrigerated air though her body was covered in sticky sweat and there was a burning sensation between her legs. Dared not waken the man, what was his name, Cobb. Had to escape from him, a dangerous man, cruel, surprising how he'd changed after a few drinks, snorting coke and he'd become a real bulldog, he'd hurt her, bruised her breasts he'd said were so God-damned beautiful they drove him crazy with wanting to suck suck suck the first time she'd undressed before him in the privacy of his Kings Lake motel room, but this time he'd been a different man, squeezing and pinching her breasts, bruising the insides of her creamy-pale thighs, grinding his only part-erect penis into her grunting Uh! uh! uh! as if he'd wanted to kill her, eyes bulging and pink-flushed face swelling like a balloon about to burst. Drunk, and high on cocaine, not a man accustomed to cocaine, he'd turned into a bully, a pig, and he'd lied to her, too, promising she could bathe herself, wash her sticky hair, like all of them he'd lied to her, he had no pity for her suffering.     Must change my life. Help me O God. I'm run to earth.     For God had sent her the miracle-dream, a dream of her lost, repudiated childhood. She had not had the drowning-dream, as she called it, for eight years or more. Since West Palm Beach. Or had it been Miami. A sign of Your terrible love.     Quickly, fumblingly, "Starr Bright" dressed herself in the dark palely raddled by flashing crimson neon from PARADISE MOTEL PARADISE MOTEL outside the window. Stepping into the torn black lace panties Cobb had ripped from her, struggling into the absurdly tight skirt, the phony-gold lamé halter. And where were her shoes? and her Gucci bag? and the blue-sequined purse?     One day they would ask why hadn't she fled Billy Ray Cobb and the Paradise Motel. Why not run out of the room, why not run for help into the motel office, bright-lit and open for business at 4:46 A.M. as at 4:46 P.M. For indeed "Start Bright" might have done so, seeking refuge on foot in Sparks, Nevada, a police station perhaps, except she feared and loathed the police, above all you can't trust the police. Nowhere to go, run to earth .     When God sends His sign, it's after you are run to earth. And beaten, broken utterly. So you cast your eyes upward to Him, there is no one but Him.     There stood "Starr Bright" hastily clothed now pausing to look through Cobb's clothes flung onto a chair. The fake-Navajo belt with the brass medallion buckle. The monogrammed shirt smelling of sweat and deodorant, the polyester trousers. By the rhythmically flashing light she could see only well enough to go through the trouser pockets, remove the wallet thick with bills and credit cards, the keys for the rental car. Hands shaking but determined. And there on a table the almost-empty whiskey bottle, somehow she'd taken hold of it, and she raised it to her mouth and drank impulsively, regretted it immediately as she began to cough and Billy Ray Cobb's snoring ceased and he woke and sat up muttering, "Eh? What? Who's that?" There followed then an episode distended and distorted as in a dream never to be recalled precisely by "Starr Bright" except in quick-jumping flashes, images.     She told the groggy suspicious man it was just her, it was just "Start Bright" and he should go back to sleep, but Billy Ray Cobb had flared up in anger swinging his bare legs out of bed, demanding to know, "Baby, why're you up ? It's fucking night ." And she'd tried to hide the wallet and car keys inside her clothes, turned from Cobb, saying she needed to use the bathroom. But by now Cobb was on his feet. You wouldn't have believed a man his age, his size and fattish condition could wake up so quickly, must have been adrenaline charging him, swaying but belligerent demanding to know what the hell was going on. He was just a little taller than "Starr Bright" in his bare feet, no more than five feet nine but he outweighed her by one hundred pounds. Saying, advancing upon her, "Yeah? Happens the bathroom's in this direction, sweetheart. Or were you gonna take a leak on the floor?" And "Starr Bright" was stammering trying to explain she wanted to take a shower, needed to take a hot shower, wash her hair, couldn't sleep smelly and dirty as she was and Cobb interrupted, "Shower in the middle of the fucking night ? You expect me to believe that?" She was about to make a run for the door though knowing the door was chain-bolted and double-locked and she wouldn't have had a chance to escape and by this time he'd seen the wallet and car keys in her hand, and grabbed her, limp and weak as a rag doll she was as he shook her, slapped her, "What the fuck, bitch? Caught you, eh?" getting a hammerlock on her and grunting dragging her toward the bathroom. "You say you want a shower, eh?--dirty hair washed? Dirty cunt washed? How's about in the toilet bowl? Think you can put something over on me ! Make an asshole out of me! You're messing with the wrong man, bitch!"     "Starr Bright" was on her knees. Cobb was slapping, punching her furiously, an undertone of shame in his voice, "--Telling me all that shit last night and I fell for it! What a sucker! Shoulda known you whores are all alike, don't deserve to live! Going into my wallet! Can't wait till morning to be paid!" and he'd picked up his wallet where it had fallen to the floor and extracted a handful of bills tossing them into the air in derision and pushing "Starr Bright" down on hands and knees where they fell, saying, "Crawl for it, bitch, pick 'em up, bitch, pick 'em up with your cunt," and when she refused to move he pushed her down and straddled her, heavy sweating naked body on her back, penis and testicles flopping against her back, "Hey, you like it, babe! You know you like it! `Starr Bright'--what a crock of shit! Phony bitch, all of you phony bitches, whores! Don't deserve to live, you contaminate the world for decent women." He snatched up his belt and began to strike her with it, the brass buckle against her legs, thighs, buttocks, he was laughing, "Giddyup, horsey! Giddyup, horsey! You like it, eh?--cunt? Sure you do," and when "Starr Bright" collapsed beneath his weight Cobb ground himself into her, penis like a steel rod now, hardened with fury, loathing, the wish to hurt, and the rattling air-conditioning muffled their cries if anyone had been listening, if anyone had cared to listen here at the Paradise Motel, Sparks, Nevada, but of course no one did, as Billy Ray Cobb hooted and laughed and collapsed onto her, and lay heavily panting, unmoving for several seconds. When he rose from her, "Starr Bright" lay limp on the floor.     Cobb was immensely pleased with himself, you could hear it in his voice. Not just he'd punished a thief but he was right to do so, it was a good deed he'd done, her punishment deserved. And more: "Now get out of here, `Start Bright.' Before I get mad." He prodded her with his foot, he grabbed her by the hair, teasing, "Before I do something can't be undone," teasing, "Don't play no more games with me, cunt, like you're hurt or something. Like you're so sensitive or something. This room I'm paying for, get out ." Forcing her to crawl in the direction of the door, through the scattered bills, his fingers gripping the back of her neck. How triumphant he was, how triumphant other men had been at such moments, waves of animal heat rippling from his body that was covered in coarse graying hair like wires. Saying again she didn't deserve to live among decent women, lucky he hadn't broken her jaw, "Start Bright" fumbled for her sequined purse lying on the floor and he said, "Yeah! Right! Take your trash with you! Stinking up the room." He unbolted and unlatched the door, opened it as "Starr Bright" managed to stand, her clothes torn, her nose bloodied, Cobb sighted her cork-heeled shoes on the floor and snatched them up and tossed them out the door, "Trash! Stinking! Get out !" and when "Starr Bright" failed to move quickly enough he gripped her again by the back of the neck about to fling her through the doorway after her shoes but in that instant no longer dazed and fumbling for God gave me strength, guided my hand according to His desire "Starr Bright" had the knife out of her purse, held it with desperate tightness and drew its razor-sharp blade swiftly across Cobb's throat and he cried out more in astonishment than in pain as at once he began to bleed profusely, a virtual fountain of blood springing from his throat, he clutched at it trying to stem the flow, his clumsy sausage-fingers trying to repair the terrible damage in his flesh, and "Starr Bright" leapt free of him as he fell, sinking to his knees, murmuring with what remained of his voice, "Hey, what--? My God, help--help me--"     No help. None. No pity, and no mercy for she'd been bled dry of such herself. Run to earth, and broken utterly. And suffused with God's will. God gave me strength, guided my hand and so it was, and so it would be. So "Start Bright" calmly watched Billy Ray Cobb die as you would see a task through to its necessary and inevitable completion. As you would not even wish to hurry such a task, surrendered to a greater will. Thank you God. Thank you God. Thank you God. The quivering pig-body amid a gathering pool of pig-blood dark as oil staining the cheap nubbed carpet in the flickering crimson-neon winking from the window.     Why "Start Bright" dipped her forefinger into the pigblood, to test its heat perhaps, to test its viscosity, she would not know and would not afterward recall. Whispering aloud, in wonder great as the dying man's before God's wrathful throne, "Now you see! Now you see! Pigs and fornicators!" * * *     In the light of early morning, not yet dawn, an eerie calm prevailed. It was the silence of the West, the vast empty desert, the vast empty Western sky, the silence of unclocked time. In the courtyard of the Paradise Motel the kidney-shaped swimming pool was deserted, looking smaller even than it had looked the night before. And there floated the inflated air mattress, not striped like the American flag as "Starr Bright" had thought, but only red and blue stripes. A toy for adults, something demeaning and sad about it floating on top of the insect-stippled turquoise water that was like a skin stretched out over something living, invisible and inviolable and unknowable.     At 5:47 A.M. and in no apparent haste, "Start Bright" quietly departed room 22 of the Paradise Motel; shut the door behind her, and crossed the empty courtyard to the parking lot at the rear of the motel; unlocked the platinum-silver Infiniti sedan with the Nevada rental license plates; placed her Gucci bag on the passenger's seat, and her midnight-blue sequined purse on top of the bag. Had there been an observer he would have noted a tall, poised, coolly attractive blond woman in white linen trousers, a pale blue silk shirt, practical flat-heeled sandals. Oddly, she was wearing gloves; and though the sun had not yet risen, her eyes were hidden behind dark, smoke-tinted glasses. Her ashy-blond hair, still damp from the shower, had been brushed back neatly from her face and fastened into a chignon. She was stylishly attractive but not glamorous; her flawless cosmetic mask was subdued in tone, her lipstick beige-pink; she might have been an executive's assistant, or a professional woman herself, alone on holiday. Certainly she appeared utterly natural departing the Paradise Motel at this early hour, showing no sign of agitation, nor even of unease. As if Starr Bright had been here before. In His sign. And all has passed in a whirlwind in His terrible justice and mercy.     In the eastern sky, beyond the fake-Spanish facade of a neighboring Holiday Inn, dawn was emerging out of an opalescent darkness of massed clouds. A fiery all-seeing eye. Beneath the scrutiny of this eye "Starr Bright" drove the Infiniti out of the parking lot and on Route 80 turned left and steadily east and south she would drive on that road and on Route 95 curving through the desert planes arriving later that morning in Las Vegas where amid a vast sea of sun-glittering vehicles parked at the Mirage she would abandon the Infiniti. She meant, for as long as she could, to keep that fiery eye before her. Copyright (c) 1999 The Ontario Review, Inc.. All rights reserved.