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How the Hula Girl Sings


Paperback reissue of the second novel from the author of the smash hits Hairstyles of the Damned, Tender as Hellfire, and The Boy Detective Fails.

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Excerpt from How the Hula Girl Sings

ghost town

Out of nowhere, I did what I ought not to. I thought of the girl I loved, waited for my chance, then robbed the liquor store where I worked. I got in my car, sped away, imagining the howl of sirens where no sirens were.

The highway itself was dark as hell and led up to the sky. There was no room for headlight beams among the silver stars. Cat’s eyes. That’s how they glowed. Thick gray eaves of fog hung all along. There was no sign of anything around. No sign of providence or luck. It was like some lonesome dream where it’s just you and your desire, left out to burn in the dark.

Did you ever watch the sky at night all over a lonely road?

Night can be the emptiest, most hollow thing you might ever feel driving toward your home, at fifty miles an hour, with an open bottle of port and the liquor store’s returns for the night and that sweet plastic-faced Virgin Mary staring down at you from her all-fiery position on top of the red vinyl dash. No, there might not be any room for your poor thieving dreams in that incorruptible night, at all.

The Virgin did a little curtsy as I pulled off the highway and straight down La Harpie Road. The black vinyl steering wheel was loose in my greasy hands. My fingers were slick with my own sweat.

I had never stolen, really stolen, before.

I never had the need.

It’s strange the things a desperate man will do to keep sane.

It’s strange the things a desperate man will do to keep himself from feeling so desperate in the first place. My mouth was full of spit and cheap liquor. It tasted like old steeple dust. Streetlights flashed somewhere up ahead. I could hear the dtt-dtt-dtttt stutter of the wheels over the rough pavement, rattling along to the poor mechanisms in my mind. My eyes began to shut. I needed to sleep. A nice soft place to hide. The engine gave a little start. I opened my eyes.

Then this pretty lady walked right in front of the car.


Sweet Jesus, no.

In those still moments, I could see her soft round face; her dress was long and pale blue. Her neck was thin and made her seem about as real as some shadow. Her lips made a little helpless move as the headlights fell across her face.

There wasn’t any time to stop.

The wheel went dead right in my hands.

The baby carriage this lady pushed met the cool steely grill and shot straight up into the dark night sky, losing itself among all that pleasant distance and the sparkle of the silver stars. Good night, the tiny round wheels seemed to say, as they spun around. Good night, like I was falling right into a kind of dream.

Then it was all over. Then it was as good as done.

I fell out of the car and vomited all over my dull black shoes, right before the night moved in straight through my eyes and sore mouth, knocking me down, pulling me along some desperate road out of my body, out of my own unhappy life, and straight up to Pontiac for a three-to-five bid for manslaughter and reckless driving. My old boss at the liquor store was Christian enough not to press charges for robbery, seeing me sunken in the sad state I had fallen.

“The prisoner will be remanded to the State of Illinois Department of Corrections until his sentence has been served or until the courts see fit for his release . . .”

That night played over in my dreams every evening like an awful jukebox song. I would try to fix it all in my head, stopping just a foot or so short, keeping my eyes open long enough to see this poor lady with her baby carriage, her pale skin lit up with fear and the certainty of that unwieldy moment, her brown hair hanging long down her back, the twisted knot at the end somehow sealing all our fates, and me, me, gripping the steering wheel tighter or hitting the brakes sooner. Somehow I would try to trick myself so it didn’t happen and that sky never fell apart, but those still seconds always ended the same: the sound of the engine spinning right through my ears, pulling all the blood straight out of my body, and that tiny blue carriage being knocked up into the night, like it was so light and empty and hollow and was being lifted by the invisible hand of Solomon, straight up, disappearing among the brightest of the stars, taking its place in a fixed spot laid out by Jesus or the Virgin or some fleeting angel somewhere above, just before it all faded to black and was done.

No events before that night mattered anymore.

Those dark little moments suddenly held everything.

All the things that would follow would come from that single hopeless second in all of the heartlessness of space and time. All those things would send me straight through my acquaintance with the old state pen and Junior Breen and would forever change the life I would then lead.