Sunday, December 24, 2006

We'll be closed for Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and pretty quiet in the city. People are away seeing relatives or hiding from it all in Tahoe or Mexico or tucked deep inside their houses. At the grocery store a middle-aged Asian man is wearing a propeller beanie striped in candy colors, gravely reading a label as the propeller slowly turns. It may be his wife in another part of the store, in full elf regalia, green stockings to tall, peaked hat.

We've had three small earthquakes in two days here. The first one rolls slowly under us as Mr. Billy & I sit on the couch, talking. We stop and look at each other, both of us thinking Earthquake earthquake, is this only the beginning, the leading edge of a bigger one, of The Big One? But it tails off, leaving us dizzy for ten minutes after. Another the next evening, and we watch our bookcases creak and rattle. The third on Saturday morning, as we come slowly awake, Mr. Billy eyeing the glass block that sits on top of the bookshelf beside the bed, tracing a trajectory from bookshelf to bed, while I wonder What does it mean, three earthquakes in a row? and for the first time, I'm afraid. Were we dreaming, we wonder, wandering into the living room in stocking feet, checking ourselves on Did you feel it.

Finding ourselves still alive on Christmas eve, we amble down to Howard's Café for breakfast. The waitress waves at us while we find our seat; a smaller than usual weekend crowd. It suits us just fine. An old man walks through the door, and half a dozen voices say, "Sheldon!" Without even pausing, he turns around and goes out, only to come in again. The waitress in the reindeer horns sits to talk with him, her skirt riding up just a bit to show red tights. I ask our waitress if I can take her picture, and she runs to the back to get her own camera. The three waitresses pose for me. They're beautiful, smiling and laughing, their arms around each other, and I wonder, for just a second, if the ground is shifting beneath my feet.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pink coat

(It's been far too long since I've exercised my scratch fiction muscles.)

Her face was delicate; small nose, fine lines around her eyes. Filigree earrings dropped from dainty earlobes, a tiny pearl suspended, quivering. Her body seemed to belong to someone else, grossly overweight beneath her petal-pink coat, tiny feet planted wide to balance all those pounds tossed back and forth with the lurching of the bus.

Rom couldn't look away. There was something morbidly fascinating about her, as though her body had swelled suddenly, while she was looking the other way; her face, lips pink and soft, was plainly used to admiration.

When she moved toward the door at her stop, Rom felt himself pulled after. If someone had asked him why, he wouldn't have been able to say. It was dinnertime, he should be on his way home, just three more stops on this line, but even as he thought it, following this woman around the corner, her weight shifting ponderously from foot to foot in the cow-like shuffle of the obese, even as he thought of his wife glancing at the clock while she dialled their favorite Chinese takeout, he knew it was too late. He wouldn't be home in time for dinner.

The woman turned her head, her strawberry blond hair swept gracefully back, and tossed him a flirtatious glance before disappearing behind a new townhouse, into an empty lot.

Rom followed, the clash of traffic in the street behind dipping into silence, he could still make out the glimmer of pink in the dark ahead, this lot larger than it seemed from the street, stretching deep between blind, windowless buildings on either side, the sky boxed in as they seemed to grow taller, Rom stumbling now on gravel, the ground cold, even through the soles of his Timberlands.

A voice whispered, almost inaudible, pushing out from the dark at his shoulder, "What is it you want?"

Her voice as meltingly sweet as her face.

"Do you know?" she asked, Rom turning now to face her.

"Is it this?" she asked, unbuttoning her pink coat, Rom feeling a sudden shame, a sickness at the thought of her body, while, like a separate being, his cock stirred.

Rom stood, dumbly, his hands at his sides, while she pulled open her coat, light pouring out from inside, blinding him, the last thing he remembered the distant sound of ocean waves, the call of seagulls.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


At the gas station, we're behind a black SUV with Arizona plates. Gothic lettering across the back window reads "So Cal." Much smaller, tucked into a corner of the window it says, "One love."

The driver gets out, a shave-headed kid with tattoos creeping down his calves. His wife dismounts from the passenger side. She's blond, taller than him, her hair in a ponytail. As she unfolds, I see she is pregnant. They don't speak, pointedly looking anywhere but into each other's faces.

We go to IHOP for lunch, the International House of Pancakes. Behind us sits a cowboy, hat shadowing his eyes, talking on a cell phone. The place is crowded. Near the wall sit three people and a baby. The young man reminds me of one of my brothers, thin and buzzing with energy. Across the table is the young mother, her mouth in a voluptuous pout, leftover pregnancy fat still pushing her belly out. She looks fourteen. She's eating like she hasn't seen food in months, jiggling her foot beneath the table. Beside her is her mother, no older than forty-two. She and the young man are talking earnestly in Spanish. The young mother looks bored. She puts the baby into a carrier on the floor, rocking it with her foot. She pulls the young man's plate over and tucks in.

To my right is a freckled girl with her family. She cinches her hood down around her face, hiding from her family, from everyone. In front of her is a dark-eyed girl who looks like she is just now beginning to realize how beautiful she is. Her smile is brilliant, blinding.

At the IHOP in Yuma