Category Archives: Creative Writing

Street Mama

Amarillo, TX

“Name’s Pixie. Friends call me Street Mama. Ise raised forty miles southa Dallas.”

It’s impossible not to overhear other people’s conversations in the compact Amarillo bus station. Standing by the bathrooms near the only vent that’s pumping cool air is a woman whose little finger wouldn’t fit the description of a Pixie. Summertime is Street Mama’s time. Her leisurely confidence while wearing a snug spaghetti strap tank top, sans bra, gives her away. This is the type of woman who doesn’t keep secrets.

“My mother was a real piece-a work,” she says to a group loitering under the vent. “I use ta be called Samantha Lynn, but I been Pixie for over ten years now. The first guy I been with called me that and it stuck. But my baby daddy thinks it’s too girlish, so he jus’ call me Mama.”

Street Mama turns her head and gasps. “Ethan Daniel! Get over here! You hear me? You stop that, right now!” She grabs what must be her son and sets his diapered bottom on a covered trashcan. She gives three sharp, quick raps to the toddler’s bony hand. The child is frail and doll-like with a complexion like dishwater. Ethan Daniel wails, inciting three more raps to his other hand.

“Ethan Daniel, can’t you see I’m talkin’ to grownups? Apologize to these people! Apologize!”

Ethan Daniel can’t yet be three years old. His face is a contortion of pain from the striking and confusion as to why he’s being punished.

At the drinking fountain stands a line six people deep. There’s been a lot of recent rainfall, and everything in the station is sheathed in a thin layer of dew. Even the walls are sweating—years of condensation having warped the paint. The bus driver is late.

In a rage, Ethan Daniel strikes out at Street Mama, and she in turn scolds him for hitting.

CNN drones from a TV in a corner of the station’s waiting area, lulling entranced travelers into lethargic, shell-shocked expressions. But Street Mama’s voice carries over it all. She’s on the phone now with her mother.

“He won’t listen to me! Mama—are you listenin’ to me?! Goddamnit, he won’t fuckin’ listen to me! I’ll use whatever language I wanna use!” There’s a pause, then: “Little shit. He’s so filthy. I know that, Mama. What do you think I been doin? Here—I’m passin’ over the phone so you can talk some sense into ‘im.” She holds the phone at her son’s shoulder. “Ethan Daniel, take the damn phone!” The child cries and knocks the phone to the ground.

The line at the drinking fountain dissipates, and in the corner of the waiting area a man reaches up to raise the volume of the latest news report.

Summer 2007


Squatting in the Wrong Decade

The first time I saw a horse on a rooftop was in Lexington, Nebraska. It wasn’t a real horse, but I’ve never seen one, alive or otherwise, on a roof since. Coming from a packing plant town, the familiar Tyson aroma of seared hog flesh filled my nostrils and gave me a sense of home as we drove into Lexington. Barmore Drugs could’ve passed as Storm Lake’s Ressler’s. All these small Midwestern towns resembled each other in the details.

Down a residential street, two young girls in oversized T-shirts helped their mom rake the lawn. I pictured my childhood self and friend jumping into leaf piles at my grandma’s house, then heading inside for a snack of apples with caramel.

I was with my dad, spending two days driving to Broomfield and stopping here for the night like two road-weary truckers—a bed and a clean bathroom our main requirements.

On the outskirts of town a giant plum-painted water tower sat, like an industrialized Jack Horner, squatting in the wrong decade. Front lawns along residential roads were spotted with rusted truck beds filled with such things as wood, torn-out carpet, and empty bottles of engine oil.

Sticking out like Jack’s thumb on the edge of town, an African restaurant and a huddle of tall, well-dressed black men talking and laughing in the parking lot.

In its prime, the heart of this town must’ve been the railroad. Two spiral ramps supporting a footbridge over the tracks–for the days when it was needed to cross without danger–stood as the town’s most notable landmark.

Our motel parking lot was strewn with semis, and as we walked past them to the office my dad straightened protectively. In our motel room, we opened our paper Sonic bags to find cold fries, a chicken sandwich coated with black lettuce, and no appetite.

My next meal came as a Styrofoam cupful of Froot Loops, dry, the next morning. I frowned at the assortment of O’s, but kept any complaints to myself. I couldn’t wait to get to Colorado and the well-stocked cupboards of my uncle’s house.

March 2007


Smokey Taboo

bluebird

Bluebird Theater: CocoRosie

I knew as soon as I saw the winged and face-painted fans in line that this would be a good show. A guy in a fur coat with a platinum blond Mohawk stood in front of me. To my left: two young women in stretchy headbands bedecked in Native American gift shop paraphernalia—miniature dream catchers, beads, feathers.

Glitter was everywhere. Women outnumbered the men.

Bianca: uniquely sexy with her bizarre clothes and makeup, sharp features, and child-like voice. Sierra: garbed in a gold leotard from ankle to wrist and waving her arms angelically like mid-summer stalks of wheat. A smile never left her face.

A tall ginger-haired man, mustachioed and gay, zeroed in on Derek. It appeared that this man waxed and twirled the ends of his mustache on a regular basis. His face was rosy, cherubic, and he wore a brown leather hat stuck with a dainty, pale pink hatpin.

“I work at Victoriana,” he explained, and told us stories about his bald, hypoallergenic kitty. It sounded like true love.

Two women joined the conversation. Both with long gray hair, never dyed.

Everyone seemed to be big fans of Florence and the Machine. Why am I always gestured at when another redhead is mentioned?

The floor: sticky; The venue: warm, confined.

A Hermione-haired rave dancer on the level below weaved her arms in abnormal, impulsive patterns for the whole three hours–an unavoidable presence, though she kept to her given dimensions.

Smoke and must floated halfway to the ceiling, hovering as though hesitant to dissolve. Hesitant to miss the next nonsensical costume change, the beat boxer’s solo performance, the second encore.

More than just a show, the concert was a communal celebration of sound and beauty held by citywide strangers. It was an observation of human expression.

October 2013


Locks

The woman’s hands were in my hair before I could stop her.

I was sitting on a bench outside the Grand Junction bus station, piecing together a Lunchable before my next transfer, when she walked up behind me–her skin tanned and leathery, her breath warm and pungent–and grabbed hold of my hair, twisting it between her fingers. Tangling it into knots.

She was a beggar, this woman. Her own hair stringy, dreadlocked. I turned and looked her in the face. My heart sped up and I dropped a cracker.

“Such pretty hair,” she drawled. “My mother had red hair.”

I stammered a thank you and made to stand up.

“I wish I could just—ha!” She brandished the air like a pair of scissors and made a mocking hack at my hair. “–Snip it off and sew it onto mine.” She smiled devilishly and fondled her dreadlocks.

I excused myself and walked to the nearest trash can as if to discard my lunch. I would walk around the entire station to get back in before I’d invite any more attention from outside.

June 2006


Albuquerque to Phoenix

bus-seats

The Greyhound permeates an undefinable smell–a sweaty blend of passengers and stained seats, all in varying states of cleanliness. Some of us have been traveling for four days. My trip should be over in two.

Across the aisle is a longhaired man wearing a borderline-pornographic T-shirt. He’s in his late twenties and clutching the hand of the woman beside him. They don matching track marks and speak to each other in hushed tones.

An hour later I wake from a half-nap to the sound of a low, agonizing moan and the stomping of feet. I look over at the longhaired man whose head now rests in his hands. His knees bounce rhythmically as if propelled by tiny trampolines–the apparent signs of withdrawal–and I hope, for his sake, that his trip is shorter than mine.

July 2007


Bowling and Beyond

Z-Coverphoto_bowling(GooglePlus)

Goleta, CA

It was midnight when we decided to go bowling. The only open alley was over thirty miles away but Scott, Andy, and I were bored enough to make the drive, with or without the guarantee of a lane.

As we pulled into the Zodo’s parking lot, I saw a jagged neon sign, glowing purple and gold with promises of late-night good times. The place was packed. Andy grumbled under his breath, parked the car, and then led the way into the night club-style bowling alley.

Inside, the hip-hop was loud, intoxicating. College students swarmed the bar and tables like flies to fresh road kill. Top-heavy girls wore slinky blouses and short jean skirts. Heels added height. Bracelets: a touch of glam. One twenty-something in a low-cut tank bent in the direction of a tan blonde boy. Everyone was carefree and reckless. These were the best times of their lives.

Scott ordered a drink and slid in between two girls too young to yet understand his game. Andy and I changed our shoes and alternated playing Scott’s turn. Scott won.

More bored than before we arrived, Andy and I peeled Scott off a spray-tanned brunette–him swearing he’d find a ride if only we’d leave him there. He relented after a smoke, and we drove home in silence with our windows open to the arid summer night, each of us defeated by our respective weekend expectations.

June 2006