PART ONE: MARBLE ORCHARD
At a 4th of July party in 1965, the not-quite-six
Kelly Rebecca Kitefly (“Miss Skeeter” to her Grampa Otto) has a
cavortin’ good time, oblivious to her parents having broken up—and
also to the dangers of skyrockets.
…It was getting really, really dark now and Kelly Rebecca
started back, lingering by the old chicken house since Dougie
Hungerford had swiped a cherry bomb from the fireworks supply, and had
whispered to her that later on they were going to try blowing up the
old chicken house with it. Kelly could hardly wait. Being involved in
an explosion wouldn’t faze her at all, nossir! Never a skinned knee
nor a bruised finger despite all her antics; and though she’d broken
collarbones by falling out of trees, they had never been her
Living with her grandparents in smalltown Marble
Orchard, Skeeter is confined to bed with the German measles, her
hyperactive imagination, and other family legacies.
…Skeeter had no sooner landed in a sickbed than she’d
entertained high hopes of ambulances and oxygen tents, her life being
despaired of, all her friends at school chipping in to buy flowers
that could double if necessary as a funeral wreath. But what a gyp:
nothing but a week of tucked-in isolation and denial of TV rights,
since Gramma wouldn’t move the family Magnavox upstairs…
Left on her own one Sunday afternoon, Skeeter occupies
herself with multilayered make-believe—and testing the limits of a
cat’s patience on a treehouse level.
…Wrinkle your pointed-button nose and look down it at the
rest of you. Someday soon you’re going to be big, with boobies out to
here, and wear stylish unmentionabubbles to tote them around in.
Lawnjer-ray, lawnjer-ree, lawnjer-RAH-hahaha—and pose in tight
sweaters with an arched back like Ann-Margret…
The eight-year-old Skeeter and her intense friend
Janey take advantage of their Brownie uniforms as they conspire to
buy their first cigarettes.
…The girls had already done plenty of experimental smoking,
despite a lack of material. Janey’s mother had been raised Mormon, and
wouldn’t allow tobacco in her house; and Gramma Otto, while puffing
through quite a few cigarettes, was nobody’s fool and kept them under
literal lock and key. “When we get BOYfriends, we can take their
cigarettes,” Skeeter’d decided. “Till then we’re on our own…”
Visiting her uncle in Chicago, Skeeter gets her first
taste of Bright Lights Big City—and takes part in the fracas
surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention.
…lookit all the burlesque houses! the pawnshops! the
saloons! the drunk-looking man staggering out of that one! This must
be the genuine authentic BAD part of town! But “Wait, it gets better,”
Buddy was saying, swinging them roundabout again and heading off in a
new direction. “1-2-3 Red Light!” Skeeter sang—and all at once the
world lit up like the carousel at the Booth County Fair…
Skeeter meets Mercedes Benison, a potential big
stepsister who alternates between eager affection, moderate fury,
and outta-here! bossiness.
…Sadie was still lecturing about race relations and social
injustice when they reached the edge of Oswald Avenue. Here Skeeter
found it necessary to punch her on the arm. “Ow! What was that for?”
“Slug-Bug went by,” Skeeter explained, pointing to a passing
Volkswagen. “Look, there goes another—” “Ow! Quit it! Who do you think
you’re punching, squirt?” “Gee, Sadie, I thought it was you…”
About to leave Marble Orchard in 1970, the impatient
Skeeter plans her own going-away party, heedless of the left-behind.
“...Okay!” she’d run home to inform Gramma, “here’s the
latest: I’m going to hitch the ponies up to Jeff’s uncle’s
neighbor-that-used-to-be- a-milkman’s cart, and do it up like
Cinderella’s pumpkin, right? and get driven to school my last day, and
be hahnded out at the door in this red velvet gown cut low
front ‘n’ back—”
PART TWO: DEMORTUIS
"Becoming a woman" at age eleven, Skeeter pursues her
first teen Cool Boy—right into his bedroom, with unexpected fallout
for them both.
...Ginny had been terrorstricken by her menarche, and
turned scarlet at the mention of periods and colons and other marks of
punctuation. Skeeter, contrariwise, had welcomed her time’s arrival;
and she collected nicknames for it, such as high tide, That Midol
Moment, and “riding the cotton bicycle.” (In future years she would
sometimes punch men in the stomach—playfully, but punch—and
say, “THAT’S for being a guy and not having cramps!..."
Skeeter spends New Year's Eve '72 at Sadie's college
dorm, where she can't wait to get high like a practically-adult for
the first time.
...She applied herself to the mouthpiece slowly, deeply,
with a steady sssucckkkk—gag! choke! HUCK HUCK HUCK, sounding like
runaway Jim on the fogbound raft. There was genial laughter from her
elders. “Mmmm boy that’s good grass,” coughed Skeeter. “So how soon
before I’m ripped? Does it happen instantaniciously?...
Starting high school, Skeeter slices open her first
worm and renounces all nursing ambitions, focusing instead on
...Skeeter had no intention of ever growing up, of course,
or old, or fat (yuggh) but adults were always asking what she wanted
to “be” when (not if) she did the first of these. Yeah—right. Like she
was ever going to be five full feet tall, or would ever want to be.
Grownups couldn’t be buttoncute, or have any authentic fun, or even
take a proper bathtub wallow. Forget it...
Deep in the Derelict Days of 1974, Skeeter pledges a
sorority (actually more of a skag-gang) and insists that a tattoo be
part of her initiation.
...after further consideration she settled on her baptismal
initials, K.R.K., and them to go on her right hindquarter after all.
To this end (and past it) Skeeter wriggled out of her fancy-free jeans
and fire-engine-red brevities (for which she’d recently given up her
virgin-whites), while helpful Nat kept her in staggering stitches by
wondering aloud whether Bless This Buttock ought not to be added...
At loose ends during her junior year, Skeeter is
shanghaied into school theatrics and seeks tutelage from a local
...Skeeter was exactly the right type for this part,
according to Mr. Minie; the librettists might’ve had her in mind when
they wrought the play. For was not Bitsy bitesized, jocose and
twinkle-eyed, with toothsome grin and roguish giggle and verve as big
as all outdoors? All of which Skeeter was, had, or could readily
Skeeter alternates between devising a standup comedy
routine and dancin' away the summer night—both of which culminate in
...bring on the night! And in it charged! A windy
howl, blowing up Skeeter’s Farrahfications layer by layer into a
peachy fuzzy mushroom cloud, rising, twining, undulating: “Medusa you
say!” But Skeeter a gorgon? Just look at that face, deeLISHus round
winsome pink peeping out of the boy-howdy cloud; how could it petrify
anybody? Then look again at the abruptly-pointed chin, the tipped-up
buttony nose, and listen to the peals of cacklelaughter—oh my God she
was a witch! Beware, lest she turn you all into newts!...
Giving up on drama as a career option, Skeeter quits
college at age twenty and starts life on her own in downtown
Demortuis at the height of Discomania.
...Nobody doubted Skeeter’s stage presence, or her knowing
where she was coming from. It was the going-to that kept tripping her
up, especially when interacting with comedians liable to pull the
unexpected. Joe undertook to coach her, but all for naught; as an
improv comic, Skeeter made a damn fine audience. She would get agog
and engrossed in what her partners were coming up with, then miss the
ball altogether when it was thrown her way, or burst out
cacklelaughing fit to die...
In 1980 Skeeter meets Jim Midge, the Ultimate
Laplander: a man who might be THE One AND Only for her ... in a very
...Feeling creepy-crawl and goosey-bump, Skeeter scrubbed
her face and throat and further south; rinsed, toweled, stretched to
hang towel and washcloth over the shower rod, hoping vaguely that the
sight of her other best side might warm the blood and thaw the
atmosphere. No response. She rolled on Secret, tended to her teeth,
brushed her hair a little, put her glasses back on—and found an ashen
face staring back at her, immobile, from the mirror. Heeeere’s
PART THREE: WINDOHWA
Her carefree merry-go-round having broken down, the
bewildered Skeeter seeks comfort in solitaire and overeating.
...For many nights afterward she would have a dream, this
really weird dream of going to bed and almost to sleep before the bed
rolled forward like a dresser drawer being opened, and a goddam
spotlight came shining right in her eyes which wouldn’t close or even
blink—and there were her folks, staring down at her from either side,
all aghast. Jeez quit it she’d try to say, you’re
acting as though I’m DEAD—
Returning to college in search of the answer to
What-For, Skeeter finds only botherment from ne'er-do-wells.
...Third time’s the charm (they say) and this was, let’s
see, yes: the third time in Skeeter’s short life that her highfalutin
derring-do had flamed out on her. Gone into a tailspin, a
SHWEEEEE-OOOOP nosedive, aiming to auger in at Mach 1+ and not with
any whizbang but a stumblebummy whimper. So where’s the charm?...
Skeeter spends New Year's Eve '82 alone with her cat,
a bottle of tequila, a ceiling ready to leak, and dismal dim
...See Kelly Rebecca as she must have been originally
envisioned, conceived on a vast Amazonian scale, with proportionate
appetites and capacities: a great big amazing colossal girl! See her
the child of scrunchdown by Jolly Dame Nature, abridged and condensed
into a little ole bitty Skeeter-type doll: the compact version that
could get high on an Eskimo pie, for awhile...
Working harder than ever before, Skeeter struggles to
break out of her tailspin—going so far as to cross the ocean on a
ship full of hungry missionaries.
...Her first impulse was to take off immediately, at once,
for Nowhere or Anywhere; but that was Sadie’s way out and Skeeter was
wise to its dead ends. No: another coop-flying might be due, but this
time there could be no lidflipping involved. She’d have to plan things
out in advance, keep both feet firmly on the ground—act very grownup,
in fact, if she truly hoped to stand a chance...
After some premeditated maneuvering, Skeeter gets a
New Wave mentor in the makeover-minded RoBynne O'Ring.
...Where and when and how to shop for a nouvelle image: to
begin with, you aVOIDed the malls—hanging out there was for like high
school sophomores, y’know, soooo immature. No, Skeeter’d done the
right thing by hitting on thrift stores, and some of the stuff she’d
bagged there might be salvageable; but RoBynne knew lots wickeder
Even surrounded by her nearest and dearest, Skeeter
still feels trapped in a constant loop-the-loop reel-to-reel Slinky
...The sun was setting now, right in her eyes, like that
goddam spotlight in the dresser-drawer nightmare. Seen through
Skeeter’s wraparound shades it began to strobe and whirligig—to
flashdance, in fact. “What a feeling!” “A girl’s gotta keep
believing.” How conveniently easy that would be if you too could weld
by day and BoogaBloo by night, and have a wealthy (yet handsome)
steel-mill owner waiting for you at The End with a bunch of goddam
Sliding sockfooted down a fresh-waxed corridor,
Skeeter bowls over a tall bald man whose shrouded observation makes
her think about Death ... and Life.
“...I mean you’re straight and single and kind of rich and
not bad looking and have these really Byzantine eyes and that really
smooth scalp and obviously adore being ridden down waxed floors by
“You’re right about the knockdown part, anyway.”
“Well then,” said Skeeter, “wouldn’t you love to be my