Posts Tagged 'runaway'

Metaphor

 

Metaphor is the name of a wish that kept on starting and reaching the end of the line. The line started with a mistake, and the stations were marked with uncertainty. There was a train station in Metaphor and the wind howled. The howling wind and the rage of a girl named Meredith were married, carrying a wedding bouquet, a sob, a moan, and a wail that broke both down. Throw the bouquet, choke on the rice. Run.

When Meredith and the wind left town together there were hot sand and thrashing palm trees. The tracks ran from town to town, fast then slow, and the wind crossed the tracks, scar tissue holding the wounded together, pa-chunk, pa-chunk, through the long white nights. The music at the station was carried by dry sand, wind snaking through the open door of the El Dorado, 11 p.m. on a Saturday night in a small town in Nowhere, Arizona, where people came to run away and stayed until the next morning or until their teeth fell out and the keys to the jail dropped from their senseless fingers. Nowhere served a lot of breakfast, hope in the a.m. over easy with English muffin and a tiny glass of orange juice. Morning is different than night, Meredith found. Meredith learned more than she’d expected in Nowhere.

Trains run from Metaphor to Nowhere to Hope to Sweetwater to Euphoria to Paradise. Meredith rode them all, getting off finally in Future, California, where the trees bore coconuts and the lemon grass was bright and the smell of salt water was sweet. She bought pineapple with her first paycheck. She never looked back, not at the howling wind or the mistaken station, only forward at the trees waving on the boulevard near the ocean that promised salty sweet salty sweet, warm sand on damp toes, stars in the sky.

First frost

 First frost, and I walk among the rose-fruit. My nose is red, like the red, red, rose. I am crying. I am not lost, but first frost means it will soon be impossible to leave. It is now or never.

 Evan packed her overnight bag that night and left through the unlocked back door. It was after 11; mamie and pap-pap were sleeping in front of the TV, with an ad for Ginzu knives blaring. The sight of rapid precision tomato slicing is the last thing she sees before she leaves home without a plan.

There’s no point in going back, she says at midnight, sitting in the bus station.

What exactly do you think would happen if you did? she says at 2 a.m., just outside of Cline’s Corners.

 I guess it’s too late now, she says as the sun comes up in Lubbock Texas and she is sitting at an IHOP, pretending she likes coffee.

It was a very little while later that a man on a motorcycle parked in front of the IHOP and came in, sitting down with Evan. He took her coffee away and took a sip of it, flagging down the waitress. He ordered milk for Evan, waffles, bacon and raspberry syrup. “Raspberry, right?” he said to Evan, who knodded.

“Kid, what do you think you are doing?” he said, when the waffles were half eaten and Evan not looking so much like a mangy cat in her skinny leg jeans and her anime lavender hair.

“Leaving, what do you think?” Evan said and picked at the safety pins on her short denim jacket.

“Okay, genius, I got that. Where do you think you’re going?” He lifted his coffee cup at the waitress, but kept looking at Evan.

“I don’t know. You know. Wherever I want.” Now Evan is crying again, her 12-year-old face looking more like eight with raspberry syrup and tears running down and off her chin.

John stopped talking again and lit a cigarette. Got the check and paid while Evan kept crying, wiping her face with the raggedy end of her extra long shirt sleeve.

“Well, come on over, stay with us for awhile, maybe we can figure something out.” She buried her head in her arms for a minute, then got up and went to the ladies room. He waited for her out on the curb, figuring she’d make up her mind based on whether there was a window in the bathroom or not.

Jinx

Virginia Frances Sterrett, 1928.

This year she is solitary and she looks ill. You know, you’ve seen it before. Maybe it’s even been you.

We are a pretty clever set, I fancy, but we have a good many advantages. Being solitary is not one of our advantages. We are joiners, we support, we advocate, we are featured in our local papers. We are social and cultural, we contribute to our communities. You know us.

The people I love the best jump into work head first. This was a surprise to me at first, but in retrospect, I can see that this was, I don’t know, predictable or inevitable. Predictable or inevitable – how are those words alike, how are they different?

When I met Ginger 20 years ago, she went by Jinx. She was a red-headed girl, newly married and boisterous in her outlook. “Is marriage a constraint or a comfort?” She asked during gin nights in our newly married club in the Silicon Valley. This was a very good question at the time, much discussed, and support groups supported questioning and affirmed affirming. Her eyes were often red.  She does not go by Jinx anymore. Or by Ginger. She goes by her birth name, Elizabeth, or Betty, and that suits the person she is now.

This year she is solitary and she looks ill. When I realized she was ill I was transported suddenly and unexpectedly into those years before, when our advantages were both meta-analyzed and taken for granted. She looks ill, like a charcoal sketch of herself drawn by a weak hand, smudged and only recognizable to me who watched the sketch being made.

 The past is a zesty remembrance some days, and a muddy sack cloth clinging, dragging me down on others. She never knew how robustly her love defended me against the collapse of my pride. Or maybe she knew. Maybe we talked about it endlessly, that spiraling rondele of confessional friendship that is as reassuring as a nursery rhyme. Fri Felipe Fri Felipe duermes tu duermes tu. Toca la campana toca la campana, tan tan tan, tan tan tan.

I hear the church bells ringing this morning. The birds sing non-denominational songs. The Ginger-that-was left her husband and that predictability to marry a king of an exotic country, the UAE or Morocco or some such. I won’t say which one, and I should say that Ginger, Jinx and Elizabeth are not her real names. The king has had his revenge, and Ginger is home again, here in the cool foggy land on the west coast of the great experiment.

She is living with me, secretly, in hiding, and she is ill. When I answered her call, it was late for now, but early for then. Around midnight. Meet me in the Mission District, I will be wearing a mud cloth jacket that hangs below my knees. I took her home to my second divorce apartment in the Haight – little remnants of that early assumed privilege. She is feverish and talks a lot. I know too much – I suppose she will have to kill me, but that is a joke not to be repeated.

“I have someone else’s eyes in my head” she says, she moans, repeatedly, for hours until the fever has broken and then she looks pale again and docile as a china doll.

The king does not know yet that she still lives, and it will be a challenge to keep it that way.

Lina Jean

This is the true story of the spontaneous combustion of Lina Jean Morrow. She was the type of girl who was all legs and buck teeth at seven, all blonde glamour at thirteen, and all ashes and crispy burnt skin before she was 19.

Lina Jean Morrow’s life was short and bright and hard. There were few things Lina enjoyed more than sunning herself like a lizard in the spring air, which made the family laugh when she was their baby girl but made them mad and maddened as she grew into those teeth. She was a tall girl, a tall girl with a habit of looking over the shoulder of whoever she was talking to, causing many people to turn around and look behind themselves to see who she was addressing.  It was just Lina Jean’s way. The way she talked was slightly foreign, an accent that was not exactly refined or delicate, but satisfying and exotic, the way other people’s family dinners can be. Familiar but not family. That’s what Lina’s cousins said, when they talked about the conbustion.

Before she combusted, the cousins had a regular comedy routine of walking behind Lina, walking her runway walk, sticking out their teeth to imitate her bucktooth pouty lip ways. Most of the time, Lina ignored them, but once in a while one of them would pull on her hands, throw themselves at her feet and beg her to marry them, while the others punched each other, laughing til they fell down in the dirt. Lina kicked a cousin or two, and once announced, over her cousin Ned’s shoulder, that if he was her husband, she’d shoot his dick off, which should have been funny but instead caused a whole lot of cousins to stay away from her for a few weeks. Ned said he had dreams about that, the way she looked over his shoulder, like she was looking for the knife, he said.

One day, Lina was sunning herself like a lizard on a warm rock on a spring day and her baby toe caught on fire. A little trickle of smoke appeared and she looked at it, like she was admiring a pedicure or thinking about what color of polish to put on. The smoke turned to a bright red flame and traveled up the top of her foot and along her thin shin bones and from there spread suddenly, and the cousins said the heat could be felt two counties away. Ned, who was across the state line looking for work, turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. He could see the line of smoke turn oily and black, and he felt Lina Jean burn white hot, watched her skeleton soften and emit a fragile ghostly crunch. He has blisters on his face to this day to prove that he witnessed her last moments, and no one in Stitch County has ever doubted him.

Sailing

I was alone for 15 years or so, alone the way we are when we are not children. How is alone now, what is the shape of alone, do you know? I shook a stick once at alone and it hissed back at me, a snake, a goose, a small cat with big green eyes. I have shaken my solitude so hard that all of its fruit fell to the ground and lay there fallow, lay there unseen for year after year. Little nuggets of solitude, little nuggets of loneliness, they lie there in an orchard, an orchard of past stories, stories from before the travels that took me away, away from hearth, from home.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional. I rode a small horse with a fine Arabian head. Not the horse of the nobility, nonetheless a horse that suggested connections. I might be an important bastard, said the horse, I might be a well placed clerk in a prosperous, powerful and dangerous religion. Religion being, then as now, a dangerous and dishonest pursuit, was very appealing to second sons. I might have been a second son, that was generally agreed upon, or a bastard, again, that also was agreed upon. 

I left in the winter of my 15th year, leaving my lady and my lord in disguise, to travel and claim a kingdom for my own in lands far away. Once taken, I would return to tell the king and queen, my mother and father, about my acquisition, and then they would name me heir and bond me and mine forever to them, in spite of my bastard status, in spite of my feminine nature, in spite of my brother, the king’s first son, who was more of a bastard than I was ever likely to be. In spite of his mother and father’s marital status.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional, riding my horse with my man to the edge of the sea, where I left both and boarded a ship with an uncle, who agreed to allow me on board as long as the secret was kept, but who could not guarantee my safety if ever all was discovered. This uncle was a first cousin to my mother, a man named Thomas Wilcomb, and he let me onboard at some personal risk. I came aboard as first boy, and looked after his parrot, kept his books, and ran away as soon as ever  I could, so that I might seek my own fortune, and not simply add to his.

Zola runs

After one hour. One hour. Not a talkative child, not really, but after one hour of riding in the high nest of a truly big semi cab, the girl starts to talk to the man behind the wheel. Ever been behind the wheel? Lot  of things to hear, and that high seat, looking out over the great highways, it’s a map, it’s a history. That driver, old-ish at 50 from driving hundred of thousands of miles, he’s like the pope, or a grand wizard, looking down on people like ants, and the girl is an ant. The man behind the wheel starts feeling himself to be a spiritual advisor. Life is the road. The road is life. He says stuff like that. So she starts to talk, and he listens in his big head Wizard of Oz way until he realizes no, this kid and her kid, that he picked up on a black road in a deep night, they’d really need to be far away from here.

This is where not too much can be said, or folks who are still here might suffer, might find sudden bad luck visited upon then. Even still, even now we can say that the girl brought her belly and her secrets with her on the road between Abilene and Padre, thanks to the big rig driver who was not the wizard of Oz, who set her off a little bit away from where she’d been going, back toward family who were willing not just to hide but to twist her secrets to keep the family looking right into the eyes of God.

Here is where time challenges some of what we know, because the woman, the child, the birth, the release of life into the open space – they push us uncomfortably toward the primitive, the unsanitary.

Zola labors

She refused a cigarette and did not want to sit down.

“I have been jealous before, don’t think I haven’t. This just isn’t it.” She said. She paced and the light in the room was hard and white. She was soft and brown. Soft and brown and angry, in more trouble than she knew. Too young, this girl. Odds were against her, if you want to know the truth.

“Tell us again why you shot him,” said the younger man, who might have been good looking if it weren’t for the bad skin and that expression. A flat expression, flat like a sidewalk, that gave nothing back. Zola stopped pacing and smoking for a minute to look at him. She had the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, like she’d practiced when she was learning how to smoke, and it was burning her eyes. She wiped them dry, and put the cigarette out.

“Going to tell you again that I didn’t shoot him. You got a hearing problem?” She said and she looked at him and dared him to tell her fuck-all. She rubbed her big belly and said she needed to sit down before she went into labor. The younger man looked away, sudden discomfort marking his face, adding to the acne scars and he looked too young to be hard like a sidewalk. She felt sorry for him, with that bad skin, maybe he might not be such a bad guy if…

The older man interrupted this line of thought with a sudden hard bang on the table. Hey, she thinks, suddenly energized by loud noises at this late stage of her pregnancy, these two are playing good cop/bad cop with me. The fog and the hormones cleared like a rough weather front all of a sudden and she played her one and only card. Childbirth. Clutching the belly, she crouched suddenly down and commenced a good primitive wail, like she’d learned in that Lamaze class her social worker had been taking her to. She leaned, she wailed, she tried to pee herself but couldn’t quite manage it. Bubba one and two couldn’t tell, though; she’d scared them already with that first round of deep breathing.

Zola prayed to the gods of delivery to spare her from an actual early labor, and they were listening. She was out of the hard tile room with the sharp white light and into the warm unconditional arms of her social worker and a maternity ward, where she spent the next three weeks as a ward of the state, eating good and with blankets, stuffed animals, and unlimited cable TV. They cut off her cigarettes, but this was better than jail and interrogation, she figured, and when she did finally give birth to that hairy little girl, she was happy to see the pink skin and the long newborn fingers, and all in all, she was glad she scared holy crap out of a couple of redneck cops if it led to this cadillac delivery, all nice and clean like she’s a lady with full medical coverage and a husband somewhere waiting in the hallway to come in after all is birthed and bathed and settled to pretty rights.

On more than one occasion in the life of Zola Gorgon, she’d fallen into a hormonal trance that convinced her that all was well and safe and easy. On more than one occasion, she’d snapped out of it in time to avoid permanent damage. This was one of those times.

 

Another English Mystery

english breakfast

The front room was dusty and smelled of something, I couldn’t decide what. Old house, some cooking smells, ashes in the grate perhaps – Nigel had told me it would need a bit of care, but not bad overall. He’d dropped me off at the front gate, then took the Peugeot into the village to shop for me, getting sausages, tomatoes, baking soda, lemons, vinegar, hard soap, a rag mop, and a tin of shortbread.

While he was gone, I walked from room to room, pulling sheets off of worn armchairs, small tables, bookshelves, a fainting couch, a low embroidery rocker and an upright Victorian sofa covered in blue velvet. Most of the house was put away for the season, or for ever, I thought, without sign that anyone had recently left or recently been back.

Until I stepped into the kitchen. This room, which sat at the back of the house with a door leading out into an unkempt vegetable garden,  was in full and current use. Mac n cheese burnt into an aluminum saucepan, dishes stacked high in the sink. No running water, but a large jug of water apparently in use for general washing up. An old army cot with wool blankets and a flat pillow with dirty pillowcase. When I first opened the door into the kitchen, I instinctively backed away when I saw the signs of inhabitance, but realized almost immediately that there was nothing in the room to suggest that someone was in there at the moment. Still, after a quick look round, I closed the door behind me and went outside, where I stood awkwardly in the drive wishing Nigel hadn’t taken the car.

All around me in the yard were the peaceful sounds of a warm summer morning: bees buzzing in the snapdragons, a small white cat with a black spot on her nose passing through, stropping me briefly on her way somewhere else. In the distance, I could hear someone mowing their lawn. From the house, I could not see any of the neighbors, I realised, and thought what a good, safe place it would be for someone who did not want to be seen. I tugged on my skirt and walked down the drive to the gate and opened it, cautiously. It opened without a sound. I had remembered it as a creaking, loud gate that I could never sneak out of at night, and when I looked I found, as I had half expected, that the hinges had been recently cleaned and oiled.

Nigel came back, half an hour later, to find me sitting on a stump in the lane, picking at my cuticles. He’d been thinking about selling the house. I had decided to keep it. I quite understand the kind of situation that would lead a person to hide in an English cottage, and I thought I might know who this person could be.

Mothers, daughters, sisters – a Christmas story

xmas-rooster

I had a happy rooster once. He was bright and loud and disappeared one mid-winter day just before Christmas. This was long enough ago that when I look at my legs in my memory they are thin, with pale fine hair on light brown skin. Kid legs. I can see my kid legs and they are not here any more. I still have the tin tree ornament nena gave me to replace the happy rooster, though.

The vatos who inhabited my sister’s dreams in seventh grade dressed better than I did. Their hair was shiny, remember that, hita? My sister (who is actually my daughter but we didn’t tell her yet) kept pictures of all the boys she loved for about a year, and then she stopped. When you marry a bad boy, it’s better not to look back, is the way I always heard it. But later, when we are all comfortable again and certain things have been forgotten, we can get out the box of pictures. For years, she kept them in a cigar box, but she moved them into a metal dental tool box she got when she was dating that crazy periodontist. Hector Altamirano, moved here with his family from Mexico City when Hector was 6; his mom cleaned houses in a damn good neighborhood, got Hector the grades to get into the right schools, and next thing you know it’s rinse and spit and a piece of prime real estate in the Silver Lace neighborhood. When Hector and Zola broke up, she moved to San Antonio and opened an office as an investment banker. She knew as much as anyone else, was how she figured it.

One day when Zola was still too little to talk about family, she and I were lying together on the porch in front of my mother’s house. We had our heads together and we were looking inside of a wooden box with metal hinges. Inside the box was a mouse. The mouse was small, probably immature, with tiny white paws and smooth brown fur. We were lying on our stomachs, cracking the box open enough to let some light in. The mouse inside looked out, sneezed and trembled, wrung his mouse hands together. I think he’s praying, said Zola. No, I said, too logical and mature at 19 to let even a mouse have prayers. Is too, said Zola, and then she started to cry. Big baby tears. The hinged door fell open, baby Zola ran screaming and crying into the house. I followed her, and the mouse’s prayers were immediately answered.

At Christmas time, we alternated between Christmas trees, glitter, chunks of coal and runaway hysteria. Nena knew the importance of light in wintertime, especially in cold winters when nothing is enough. Especially in winters when we are moving from one secret place to another, and there is never enough to put deposits on all the utilities. Moving is damn expensive, really hard on the poor, but we are the ones who have to do it most often. Sometimes we played the midnight mover, packed our bags and left with rent owing. I can’t say I knew what else to do.

If you take a cold five year old, dress her in yellow pajamas, the kind with the feet in and printed ducks and geese all over, then wrap her in a sleeping bag in a cold room with an unlit fire, then you sneak out while she is sleeping and buy a fire log at the mini mart with the three dollars in change that you had been saving in a pickle jar, then you light the fire and wake the little girl up and she sees the old artificial tree with the scrubby plastic ornaments in the firelight at midnight and you tell her santa has come at last, she believes you, and you believe too, for a little while, until the child is asleep again, and you are holding her against your chest for warmth. For her, for you, for Christmas.

mouse

Sisters

Samantha loved peppermints when she was a little girl. She loved to go to her grandpa’s diner and order one cheese omelette with hash browns and white toast with orange jelly. She always had a cream soda with extra ice and a cherry to go with it. But the high point of her breakfast was always the peppermint. She got to stand behind the cash register taking people’s money while she sucked on it, and said “thank you and have a nice day” to each and every customer as she gave them their change. I always thought she’d take over the diner some day, when her grandfather got ready to retire. Things change. That’s okay, that’s okay.

Samantha was adopted. People said things back then, Samantha being the one who brought on our “real” child, Sarah. That’s how it happens, they said, adopt one child and then next thing you know, bang, you’re pregnant. She and Sarah were only three months apart. Sarah was bigger than Samantha by the time they were a year old, and faster, and stronger. That happens even with natural siblings, I know, but it seemed like Samantha didn’t stand much of a chance, when I look back at it now.

Adaptation is a function of survival and evolution. To succeed in a given environment, not just in an individual life, but in the long run, adaptations happen in part to ensure reproductive success and the continuation of species.

In successful adaptation, more happens. I need to be green to protect myself and my offspring in this ecosystem, therefore I am green. My orange sister, on the other hand, stands out and calls to the predators, here I am, here I am. It’s not easy being orange. I try not to blame Sarah for Samantha’s failure to adapt, but sometimes I dream about her, seven years old, drinking her cream soda – that little girl loved cream soda. She loved graham crackers, too, and bonfires. We went camping a lot the year after she left us, out in the woods where we could picture her still, with marshmallows and graham crackers, the gap between her front teeth.

Samantha and Sarah started going to that church when they were in seventh grade. It was a holy roller church, with speaking in tongues and people throwing themselves on the ground as the spirit filled them. I said no, no I don’t want them to go, but we talked about it and decided we couldn’t in good conscience call ourselves fair and open minded in the matter of religion if we didn’t let the girls explore. There are phases in childhood. Explorations of place, of friendship, sexuality, spirituality.  All perfectly predictable, and we did not want our children locked into a single limited perspective, even if it was our own.

You know I place a high value on being open-minded. Sometimes, now, though, I wish I’d been less tolerant, more restrictive, and most of all that I still had two daughters, not one daughter who I love no less than ever, and a big gaping hole in my heart where the other one used to be.


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