Dinoland, Texas

by Steve Sabatka

As the autumn moon sets on the plains of Far West Texas...

And as the sand drifts and pump jacks glow in the frosty light...

A Tyrannosaurus Rex sings a funny song — about a caveman named Alley Oop.

The singing dinosaur stands next to a café just off the Interstate. The white, cinderblock structure is built to withstand heat, sandstorms, cyclones, flash floods — and, just in case push comes to shove with Comrade Khrushchev, The Bomb.

The cold, predawn wind smells of crude oil and wild mesquite.

Inside the café, the air smells of strong coffee, bacon, and Old Spice.

Clyde stands behind the long counter, next to his cash register. "Can you hear him, old timer?" There's already a grease stain on Clyde's apron. "Can you hear my dinosaur a-singin'?"

Ricky sits across from Clyde. "Yeah, I hear 'im." He pulls a half-pint from his overalls and pours whisky into his coffee. His hands shake a little. "And who you callin' old? You're two weeks older'n me!"

"Older and wiser."

"Older'n uglier, maybe."

It's November 23rd, 1963. The morning after.

"Well, I don't think folks on the highway can hear." Clyde reaches for the phonograph under the counter. "I'd best crank him up some."

"Crank 'im up?" Ricky takes a deep drink of his spiked coffee. "I do believe John F. Kennedy can hear that idiotic song, and from what I understand, that commie traitor got hisself shot in the head yesterday."

"Watch your mouth! Miss Nevelyn will hear you! She can hear a fly break wind from a mile away!"

"I don't care what your cook hears! There's a Texan in the White House this mornin'!"

"If my girl gets mad and runs off, Dinoland will go out of business and then you won't have a place to park your sorry, freeloadin' behind!"

"Dinoland." Ricky takes another drink. "Dinoland, Texas. You run a flapjack shack on the side of the road. There's a see-ment dinosaur out front that sings through a speaker in his mouth. Big deal."

"You're just mad 'cause I'm a man with bold vision." Clyde looks over Ricky's shoulder and out the front window of the café — to the thousand cars and trucks and church buses that have suddenly appeared in a cloud of moonlit prairie dust. "One day, people will come to Dinoland from all over the country — El Paso, Lubbock, Fort Worth..."

Ricky turns on his stool, looks out the window. He can't see anything out of the ordinary. "Whatchoo lookin' at?"

Clyde smiles. "You wouldn't understand."

"Zat a fact?"

"That's a fact."

Then, as two old timers stare out into the darkness...

A real eighteen-wheeler rockets past Dinoland, pulling all of Clyde's imaginary cars and trucks and church vans with it.

"That feller didn't even slow down!" Clyde takes the chewed pencil from behind his ear, throws it at the window. "I told you the music wasn't loud enough!" He reaches under the counter and turns the volume all the way up.

Ricky laughs and downs the last of his coffee. "So tell me somethin'." His hands aren't shaking anymore. "What did your girl say when she heard about her president gettin' killed?"

"Nothin' much. She did look like she'd been cryin', though."

"I bet all her people was cryin'. That dang Walter Cronkite was cryin', too. Serves 'em all right, you ask me."

"C'mon, Ricky. Kennedy wasn't so awful bad."

Ricky glares. "Zat a fact?"

Clyde glares back. "That's a fact."

Then, as two old timers glare at each other...

Miss Nevelyn comes out of the kitchen — smiling, humming. And breaking the stalemate. Her apron is spotless, and her long, black hair is kept neatly in place with a net. "Good mornin', Mr. Ricky! I thought I heard your voice."

"Mornin', girl." Ricky hides his half pint. "Guess who me and your boss was just talkin' 'bout?"

"Well I'm sure I don't know, Mr. Ricky."

Clyde speaks up before Ricky can say something mean about Kennedy, Miss Nevelyn's people — or Walter Cronkite. "We was just talking about you and your fine cookin', is all."

"Was you really?" Miss Nevelyn pours Ricky a fresh cup of coffee — leaving a good quarter inch for more whisky. "Well, thank you very kindly!"

Ricky clears his throat. "Look here, girl. I could sure go for some-a your biscuits and gravy this mornin'."

"Well, give me just one minute, Mr. Ricky, and I'll be back with the best breakfast you ever ate."

"I don't have all day, now."

"Yes, sir."

As Miss Nevelyn heads back into the kitchen...

Clyde watches her, and for just a moment, he looks ten years younger.

Ricky takes a pull straight from the bottle this time. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you was smitten with that black girl."

"Miss Nevelyn ain't all black, ya know."

"She ain't?"

"Nope." Clyde puts another record on the phonograph. "Her granddaddy was a Seminole Indian chief. That means she's a princess, or somethin'."

"Zat a fact?"

"That's a fact."

Then, as Clyde's Tyrannosaurus starts in on another funny song...

Miss Nevelyn paces behind the café. Of course, she's heard everything Clyde and Ricky have said about her. "Here I'm nearly thirty years old, and folks still call me a girl!"

She's also heard what Ricky said about her president. "Mr. Kennedy was a good man. He was gone to make things better — for everybody. And he was your president much as he was mine, you smelly old drunk!"

Sometimes, early in the morning, Miss Nevelyn leaves her hot kitchen to stand in the wind and watch the sunrise. Sometimes, she quietly sings along with Clyde's cement dinosaur. And every morning, she prays that the dawn will bring a better day.

But Miss Nevelyn isn't in the mood for singing or praying this morning. The president is dead — and so, it seems, are hopes for that better day. "I'm tired-a waitin' and I'm tired-a prayin'! I been prayin' for a miracle my whole life! Sometimes, I wonder if anyone up there even hears me!"

She stops pacing and begins to cry. "Things'll never get better! Never!"

Then Miss Nevelyn hears the Tyrannosaurus singing — to her, it seems. "Stop that!" She crosses her arms in front of her and stomps her feet in the sand. "Stop that, now! Do you hear me talkin' to you? Quit tryin' to cheer me up!"

But the dinosaur continues to sing — about a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater, of all things.

Miss Nevelyn doesn't want to laugh.

But she can't help herself.

She laughs out loud.

And when Miss Nevelyn realizes that miracles aren't ordered up like biscuits and gravy at Dinoland, Texas...

She laughes again — even louder this time.

Inside, Clyde cocks an ear. "Did ya hear that, old timer?"

Ricky is pretty loaded by this time. "All I hear is that dumb dinosaur singin' and my stomach growlin'. Where's that girl with my breakfast?"

Back outside, Miss Nevelyn skips like a little girl to the front of the café, laughing as she goes and drying her eyes with her clean apron. "I'm sorry I doubted you, Lord. I know things will get better — all in your good time." She knows that the vote is coming. Real freedom is coming. Better days are as inevitable as the West Texas sunrise."Thy will be done."

Ricky burps whiskey. "Dang, I'm hungry!"

"Quit your belly achin'." Clyde looks over Ricky's shoulder and out the front window of the café — to Miss Nevelyn, standing with the Tyrannosaurus and laughing as her long, black hair flows in the early morning wind like the mane of a wild mustang.

Ricky doesn't bother turning around. "What are you lookin' at this time?"

Clyde smiles. "You wouldn't understand."

"Zat a fact?"

"That's a fact."

And then, as a flyin' purple people eater plays rock and roll music through the horn in his head...

And as a man with bold vision watches a beautiful Seminole princess dance with a Tyrannosaurus Rex...

Dawn breaks over Dinoland, Texas.

Dinoland, Texas by Steve Sabatka

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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