Janet's friend Valerie returned from a trip to Dallas with a small beautifully-wrapped package from Nieman Marcus. The paper was gold with small white birds in flight, and was wrapped with a silky white ribbon. In the middle of the bow sat a tiny white porcelain dove. This she presented to Janet with a huge grin.
"Ooh, how beautiful! You're always so thoughtful; what is it? etc, etc..." Janet carefully untied the ribbon and set the dove aside, untaped the paper, removed it, and smoothed it flat. Then she took the fluffy white cotton and looked inside, and there it [quoteright]was — the armadillo. He was about five inches of plastic with a ten-gallon hat and boots and a star on his buckle. He wore jeans and a plaid bandana around his neck and he had the biggest, silliest, most infectious grin you ever saw.
Janet recounted this story to me that evening in her apartment. She was laughing so hard she almost choked. "Trust Val to think of something like that! I wish I could have seen my own face when I opened that box and saw that critter inside," she howled.
"Well, where is it?" I'm her brother Mark, nineteen years old. Janet is twenty-three.
"Well, Val actually bought it as a present for my new car, so come outside."
I followed her through the yard to the carport. There was her brand-new red Trans Am with bucket seats, black leather upholstery, digital readouts, chrome wheels, and... an armadillo dangling from the rear- view mirror.
"He sure is silly-looking, all right. But... You're not going to leave him there?"
"I sure am! He's my good luck charm."
"Does he have a name?"
"Of course not, dope. I'm not that weird."
Janet was very subdued when I saw her a few days later. "Mark, I have to buy as new tire. I was driving down Slater Street where they're doing all that construction roadwork and I don't know what happened but all of a sudden I got a flat tire and when I took it in it couldn't be fixed. It was a big rip. Do you know how much one of those tires costs?" she wailed, "I'm so bummed out."
"Your armadillo's not much of a lucky charm, is it?" I couldn't resist.
Two weeks later the fuel line in her car broke and a month after that it was the fan belt. "I can't believe this! This is a brand-new car." She was pacing up and down. "God, they sure don't make them like they used to. Remember that old clunky Ford Dad used to have? It didn't break down as much!" She was furious, and it wasn't really the time to insult the armadillo but I did anyway.
"He has nothing to do with it. It isn't his fault!"
"Jesus, Janet. You talk as though that damn stupid thing is alive" I sneered.
She whirled. "You've never liked him! I bet you're glad all those things are happening to my car. You're just sitting there gloating, aren't you? Well, you'll see." She was totally out of control.
"You're right," I said quietly. "I don't like him. His grin is not infectiously silly... it's sinister. I don't like the way he hangs there watching you. You said you've never seen one like him before. Well, you know why?" I paused.
She was intrigued. "Why?"
"Because only one of him was made, so Val could buy him and bring him to you. You'll see, Janet," I continued, shaking my head, "soon you'll renounce all your family and friends." Her eyes and her mouth were in competition as to which could get wider. "And then..." I paused dramatically, raising my hand, "and then... then..." I almost couldn't finish. "Then he'll take you off to Armadillo Land!" By this time I was whooping and so convulsed with laughter I couldn't defend myself from Janet, who proceeded to hit me with every pillow on the sofa until she almost collapsed with laughter beside me.
Well, Janet's bad luck held. But I never again said anything. And every time I rode in her car, the armadillo was always there, twirling round and round on the string from her mirror, grinning at me and then bobbing and turning away; and every time Janet got in the car she'd touch him. She'd rearrange his string, or move the mirror, or hold him aside as she looked at her reflection.
Suddenly Janet had an accident.
I almost had one myself, driving to the hospital. Mom had said something about a steel pipe crashing through her windshield. When I burst into Janet's room she was lying in her bed with her left arm in a cast and her legs wrapped in white gauzy bandages. She had an IV in her right arm. Other than looking pale she seemed all right except for her eyes. Her eyes were, well... wild. I didn't know what it was in them — fear, pain... something else?
To my surprise, she asked my parents to leave the room for a while. I sat on the bed beside her, waiting. "Mark," she grabbed my hand and I gripped back. "Mark, he came through."
"Who?" I asked stupidly, totally bewildered.
"My armadillo." She still had those wild eyes and her breathing was very rapid. She let out a small laugh. "No, I don't have a concussion and I'm not crazy, although you're going to think I am after I tell you this story." She leaned back on the pillows.
"This morning Marty and I decided to drive up to Blue Mountain for the day. It was beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky was blue — the whole bit. The makings of a great day. We had a Meatloaf tape on. You know how the road just beyond Larson's Point is real narrow and winding and real steep? Well, I was following this pickup truck loaded with these long, heavy steel rods or pipes. I was driving and singing along when suddenly one of the pipes came undone from the load, slid backwards off the bed of the truck, and came sailing through the air straight at me. I remember everything. This steel rod hurtled through the windshield and embedded itself in my chest. Wait..." I had leaned forward with a question on my lips. "I lost control of the car. I remember tumbling and tumbling and Marty screaming and Meatloaf was still singing and all at once everything was still. I was still upright in the car because Thank God I had worn my seatbelt. I remember thinking, I'm still alive, oh God. I looked at Marty and she was all crumpled up in the seat and covered with blood, and crying. We had both been cut by flying glass. I felt a pressure on my chest and looked down. There was the pipe. The paramedics couldn't figure out why it didn't go right through my breastbone and transfix me though. But I know why."
Her eyes were huge. "I looked down and there he was. There..." she pointed to her chest, "between the pipe and the flesh. He was covered with my blood, and the lower half of him was crushed, but I could see the top of his hat, and his little arms were outstretched." Her voice had dropped to a whisper and her face was very close to mine. "His little arms were outstretched... towards the pipe." I just sat beside her with my mouth gaping, my mind reeling from what she had said. And then she smiled.
I burst out laughing with admiration and relief. Here she was, battered and bruised, and in pain, her car totally wrecked, and she still had enough of a sense of humor to give me a taste of my own medicine.
Incomprehensibly, tears began coursing down her cheeks faster and faster, until she began crying softly. "You know what's really funny?" It's all true. And I don't know where he is. When they got me out, he slipped back in the car and they rushed me away. Mark, go find him. He must be at the wrecker's... please, Mark."
Well, Janet has a new car now. A blue metallic BMW. It's got black suede upholstery and silver trim and a worse-for-wear armadillo dangling from the rearview mirror. BMWs aren't supposed to break down, but
this one does on a regular basis. But Janet doesn't care — and neither do I.
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