Luke Puckett watches his sister's aging hands scrape at a pan in the kitchen sink. Her hands are peeling, just like the linoleum on the kitchen floor. In fact everything in the kitchen seems to be peeling- from the labels on the months-old bacon bits to the tops of the opened cereal boxes to the paint along the door frames. Luke scratches the back of his head and smoothes his hair over- a tick he developed growing up in this very house, and thinks of how sad it must have made Daddy to see his own house falling apart when he was too sick to take care of it. "Doesn't matter now I guess," Luke mutters to himself, gazing down at the tie his sister bought him for the funeral. She was always taking care of him. He was in love with her.
Elizabeth Puckett looks a great deal like a middle-aged Piper Laurie. Not strikingly attractive, except in the right environment, but reliably interesting-looking, thin, and resolute. The intensity with which she scrubbed a pan that didn't actually require cleaning mirrored only the spirit of her adoptive father, Luke's dad. Maybe that's why Luke admired her so, why he never married, why he cried for only the third time in his life when Elizabeth married her husband and shed no tear when that husband left her and her kid Lucille to fend for themselves. Now all he can do is shake his head at her persistence, a constant reminder of his own attraction to her, an unbrotherly pursuit if ever there was one. But could things be different now, Luke wonders to himself, all while noting he must bring in his belt another notch, his slight paunch appears to have vanished. Nothing a little good home cooking can't fix… Yes, maybe things could be different now. Maybe now, with Daddy gone, Elizabeth would have no man in her life but Luke to depend on, and Luke would love to be depended on.
"It's about five minutes until the car gets here, Lizbeth," Luke intones kindly, as soon as Elizabeth has left the pot to dry. The object of his affection looks down at her rings and adjusts them one by one and gives a vigorous nod. "I wish we could just drive there ourselves..." she tells her smallest of sapphires as she gives it a quick polish. Luke stoops a bit in order to peer at Elizabeth's averted grey eyes. They always looked older than anything, but now they looked aged beyond recognition. He wished she would cry so he could dab her tears away. "Nobody wants to go to a funeral, ok? Especially when it's your daddy that's dead." Elizabeth gives a resigned sigh; she always seemed resigned. Luke paused in thought and looked at the plastic clock on the kitchen wall- the little duck was pointing towards about five twenty-five. Obnoxious clock, he thought that he must remind himself to get rid of it once they all moved in together. Him and her and little Lucille- they'd have their own clocks. Good solid wooden ones, most likely. "Let's go have a sit outside before we've gotta go, OK?"
They sat together on the swing, cushioned by pillows that Luke always thought of as dust sponges; no matter how much you washed them or how hard you beat them the driest dust seem to seep from them. Much like most things in the house, the smell and substance of El Paso, the dust and the stickery grass and the fruit stands and the smoke, permeated. But then again, that was Daddy all-over. Luke shuddered at the thought of being the one to clean the place when all was said and done, remembering when everyone in the house used to smoke like a chimney how the television would be coated with an extra inch of screen. But things weren't like that now. As the two of them sway together in perfect motion, their feet gently leaving the ground in-time, Luke recognizes the flawlessness of the moment. Stands to reason… a better opportunity's probably not gonna rear it's head any time soon. Gathering his words as Elizabeth stares off pensively, Luke smoothes his hair over once more.
This was it. This was the moment; he was going to ask her. Could Lucille ever be his daughter? Could his own sister give him the rest of their lives- they already shared the first half. Could they strip the curtains out of the front window together and put blinds there instead? They'd be easier to clean. He reaches out to Elizabeth and places his hand over hers, but the reaction is instantly a sisterly lean-in, and that is all. Luke's words are frozen in the stifling Texas heat.
"I was told last night that Daddy left the house to me, Luke." Elizabeth seems to spit it out like venom. Luke's whole face droops as his heart falls into his stomach. This isn't right… "Wait, what?" Luke asks, as though the universe would answer. Elizabeth repeats, "Daddy left the house to me. And I'm going to sell it." This is all wrong. Luke realizes he is tugging at his tie and it has become loose again. He attempts to fix it while his sister gazes off, incapable of acknowledging Luke's angst. "I have to get out of this place, Luke. I realized something the other night- I loved Daddy. I loved Daddy more than any other man I think, and nobody can take that place. I can't live in this house, not if someone else comes along. And I don't think it's good for you to be here yourself. I mean, you had a whole life in Chicago before you had to come back here for us. I think we both need to go. I do, anyway. This place is too full of everything that reminds me of love but it's so empty now. Kind of like Daddy right before he slipped away. I can't live surrounded by that... that's like livin' with the next best thing. It's no good because you know what the real thing is like."
The backyard stretches out seemingly forever, acres and acres, and Luke feels like he's just been dragged all over it, face in the dirt. It's all dirt here, come to think of it, and Luke is just a part of it. He's just a part of that pile that Elizabeth can never seem to be able to sweep out of the kitchen no matter how hard she tries
"But Elizabeth," Feeling like he'll never be able to speak, Luke is shocked to hear his own voice crack. "I wanna take care of you," he finds himself murmuring, "I have to take care of you. You'll be all alone without me…" Elizabeth smiles sadly at this and holds her step-brother's hand tighter. "No, Luke. You'll be all alone without me." The two of them share a knowing gaze.
Suddenly, a yellow-haired Lucille emerges from the kitchen door hesitantly but unwilling to encourage what she perceives to be wallowing. "The car's here. Everyone's getting in." Elizabeth eases her hand from under Luke's fingers, thinking that Lucille should be in-charge and everyone else should be allowed to mope and cry and tell the folks at the reception that there is no coffee; would anyone like some kool-aid? She glances at Luke before she follows after her summons. If he were a piece of art, she would title it "Funeral". Quietly, she turns her back and simultaneously wonders if Aunt Katharine had taken care of the extra seating arrangements at the church.
Luke lingers on the swing a second, a few seconds, a few minutes more. He folds his fingers into a gentle fist and thinks of how sweet her fingernails felt as she pulled away, brushing against his palm. He notices the sun is already thinking of sinking, and how at least the dust in this town makes something as lovely as the sun's light even lovelier. "This is the end of to a lot of things," he says in a resigned drawl somewhat like his daddy's, but the sun is too distant to hear and the screen door is swinging on its own.