Roosters and Hens
Rumors fly fast in southern towns, like the one about my grandfather shacked up with a sixteen-
year-old he found hitchhiking to Florida on New Year’s Eve. He’d be in jail today, front page
news and cancelled, but in 1981 rural Georgia, it’s just more grist for the gossip mill. He parades
Missy — his “little gal” — at the gas station, five and dime, buys her milkshakes at the Dairy
Queen, makes her go in the store to buy his six-packs and cigarettes.
The day he brings her to my house, my mother stands cross-armed and disgusted in the driveway
as they argue over his indiscretion. Missy sits in the car snapping her gum and singing along to
“Here You Come Again” on the radio. “I’ve got that 45,” I say shyly, leaning in the window. Her
eyes light up, she looks me up and down, reassessing my worth. “Dolly is my idol. I want to be
just like her — boobs and all!”
Only four years separate us, but Missy, in her tight jeans, tank top and tall blonde hair, seems
much older. Worldly and wise, sure of herself, and when she casually asks me if I’ve ever kissed
a boy, I feel seen for the first time. Missy tells me absolutely nothing, changes the subject when I
ask about her family, school, or where she’s from.
My grandfather drops us off at the movie theater to see 9 to 5. Missy slings an arm around my
shoulder as we sing along loudly to Dolly’s theme song. I can feel the other moviegoers staring,
tutting and harrumphing their disapproval. When the scene where Mr. Hart chases Doralee
around his desk and she threatens to get the gun out of her purse and shoot his dick off, Missy
laughs and claps. “That’s just like your granddaddy, but he ain’t caught me yet.” Our eyes meet
in the dark and even at twelve, her implication is unmistakable. “You’ll just have to shoot him
then,” I say. “I won’t tell.” Her shrieking laugh brings a chorus of “shhhhs” and I taste her
bubblegum lipstick for hours after she kisses me unexpectedly on the lips.
Missy is gone by spring. She disappears into the night with an envelope full of social security
cash and grandpa’s gun, doesn’t leave a note. He rages for days, duped and lonely, begs mom
for money to buy his Pabst tall boys.
I don’t tell them that Missy made one last stop before she left town. The morning after her
disappearance, I find a small brown bag propped on the windowsill of my room. Inside is the 45
of “9 to 5” with big-haired, busty Dolly on the sleeve marching off to work carrying a paint
roller like a staff, a garden hoe, blueprints, jumper cables, work boots, and other odd job tools
slung over her back. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched 9 to 5, spoken Dolly’s
dialogue back to the tv, and wondered if Missy ever had to use my grandfather’s gun, turned any
roosters into hens to get where she was going.