Tammy Delatorre-Headshot 022015Seated in the darkest booth of a steak joint, Nora couldn’t help but stare at Bill’s broad forearms resting on the mahogany table. Bill was quiet, thick-boned, and not her boyfriend.

IMG_0495Every damn day in Religion Class, Sister Anna Banana yapped about the Soviets revving up to start a nuclear war with the new president, Ronald Reagan. She said after the cities burned to Holy Hell, there’d be something called “nuclear winter” that would kill all the plants and food, and it would last a million years. I’ll tell you what, a little bad weather, nuclear or not, wasn’t going to make me go extinct.

I’m already semi-super strong and fast, and I’m the best fighter in the sixth grade. But once World War III kicks off, I’ll need to be impervious to the nuclear wind-chill factor. Even though I was a whole year older than him, my little brother, Jaggerbush, was already immune to freezing weather, drinking sour milk, and the Ten Commandments. I had to practice up. I had a cold war to fight.

Abbi2I.

The moon is falling out of the sky and into the lake. He’s going to AA meetings in the late afternoon, and swigging whiskey in the car after, until he can forget his name, until his breath is soured. Until he can forget how you point up at him and say wherever we are we will always have the moon, because he doesn’t want the responsibility of holding us together. His soft heart hangs too heavy; the bottle light in his hands. It is all our fault.

IMG_2905Lisa is a really pretty girl and Gina and I aren’t, but still, she’s our friend. So when Lisa comes up to us in the Santa Monica High parking lot after school on Tuesday and asks us for a ride, we say yeah. And when I get in the driver’s seat and Gina sits down next to me, and Lisa opens the back door to get in right behind me, Gina turns to me with this wild, mean look in her eye and she whispers, “Let’s just go!”

P1010530Tyson had been gone for days, finishing a new record with his band. That Sunday morning, when he finally came home, there were warning signs that things weren’t right—every local hermit weirdo was wandering the streets, and Mildred looked frantic, babbling about the mandatory evacuation. She said the mayor was calling it “the storm we’ve long feared.” Tyson had been running hard on cocaine and vodka. He was barely aware that a hurricane was coming. They lived in the Bywater neighborhood, which was already deserted.

Hugh_Laurie_music_1854941bBetty Whoops shared Hugh Laurie‘s comment.

April 1 at 4:33 pm · Like · 46

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something – I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

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photo (3)As we are walking through the park, Mitchell asks me about my nail polish. What is your nail polish? he says and examines my fingers and holds them up to the light.

Mitchell is no fool, knows his color palette. The reason he asks is because the color is translucent and always changing, so it looks different when the sun hits it directly versus when it glints off building windows versus the busses versus when it blinks out in the shade of tree leaves as we pass from the cobblestone street into the park.

478850_301122563314621_807623415_o[1][2]End of summer, 1986. That was the September that I became an angel and went to Alabama. It had been a miserable summer, hot, full of vapid small town people I’d known my entire life. There was no escaping the sameness of it all, except to get a job, save money and leave. I’d found the most boring job possible for a teenager, working at the only movie theatre in town selling old candy at the concession stand. My middle-aged boss was adept at torturing his ragtag staff of adolescent girls, standing too close as we counted every single box of candy and penny at closing. Since I had dyslexia, this took hours, and he used this opportunity to occasionally put his hand on my inner thigh. Summer passed, sticky and in slow motion, and moved into September, which didn’t feel much different.

Sam’s co-worker Carla is talking about her three-year-old son Rico’s obsession with death. “He says to me, ‘Mama, I don’t want to die. I really, really don’t want to die.’”

We were both eighteen but Rebecca was hopelessly naïve. She talked about her crush, Brother Matthew, with an unbridled enthusiasm I hadn’t seen since middle school. The first time he flirted with her, she told me the story like her life was never going to be the same.

When he was “babysitting” Rebecca and her brother one night, Matthew opted to join her on the couch instead of sitting alone on the love seat. The babysitting thing was pretty ridiculous considering that Rebecca was old enough to menstruate, drive and even vote, though as a Jehovah’s Witness, she never would.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa

Louisa, who tucked up her skirts and went running every day or she would go mad, was confounded and smothered by the whales of Concord, like Mr. E, on whom she had a crush when she was a child and left him flowers under his window, flowers found and laughed at by Mrs. E, who had to put up with all his giggly acolytes, who arranged themselves prettily at his feet, including that lunatic Jonas Very, to whom Mr. E was always so kind even though Jonas Very was very very unpoetic and it would kill him to think so, but aside from Mr. E and stately Mr. H, whom she privately liked to call Nat, because he was so very very formal and distant, always walking along the Lexington Road with his head bent in thought, there was princely Henry, and on that spring evening she was running to meet Henry in his rowboat–Henry in his rowboat, playing his flute!–and overcome by her freedom from the whales of philosophy she did a sort of handspring in the path and accidentally felled a small dead tree. 

*

My father said, “The decisive moment is overrated. I can’t tell you how many students of mine have wasted God-knows-how-much film trying to capture it.” Fifty or so wannabes stood outside the auditorium pretending to be cool, listening to him as if his talent would wear off on them. I leaned against the wall feeling forgotten.

He spoke to the crowd, but it was my sister Victoria who grabbed people’s attention, sneaky looks. The blond hair, red lipstick, white skin, four-inch heels: she was runway model-pretty. Her black widow dresses made her head float. Stylists across the city drooled over her sculptured hair.

She was next to me on the wall, listening, with a plastic glass of wine in her hand. I whispered to Victoria, “You know he’s full of shit.”

“This is his game, Tom,” she said under her breath.

“He’s selling the brand,” I said.

“I’m not buying,” she said.

The year she turned eighteen, Devi became a cashier in the Food Halls at Parkson Grand, Malaysia’s first fine department store, in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. Before that she’d lived with her family in their village in the north. She’d barely finished secondary school when Parkson Grand advertised around the country for a “Malaysian Rainbow.” They wanted to hire people who were Malay, Chinese, or Indian, like Devi was.

It wasn’t college (no one in her family had attended college), but it was a way to earn actual ringgit and a way to explore. She sent in an application; six weeks later, she climbed on a bus. Her mother wept outside the sputtering vehicle, shook her fist when it took off. That night Devi curled on top of the last bunk in a room already occupied by five other cashiers in a falling-down apartment building on the edge of the jet-black Parkson Grand parking lot.

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

It was mid-afternoon, and the train she rode first wrenched then eased around a bend in the track before it pulled into Bahnhof Dietlikon at thirty-four past the hour, as ever.  Cliché though it may be, the fact is absolute: Swiss trains run on time.  The S8 originated in Pfäffikon, a village thirty kilometers south.  From Pfäffikon, its route sliced upward past the Oberland, through Horgen on the Zürichsee’s south bank, through Thalwil, Kilchberg.  Tiny towns in which tiny lives were led.  From Pfäffikon, the train made thirteen stops before it reached Dietlikon, the tiny town in which Anna’s tiny life was led.  Thus the ordinary fact of a train schedule modulated Anna’s daily plans.  Dietlikon’s bus didn’t run into the city. Taxicabs were expensive and impractical.  And while the Benz family owned a car, Anna didn’t have a license.

I.

Mateo got me drunk and told me about his mother’s parties. I stared at my reflection in the half-empty glass and lost myself in the white organza and tulle, the light strings and floating lanterns. Teo masked his familiar scent with cigarettes and cologne, but I could still smell the sweat lacquering his forearms, Argentina moist on his dark skin. He bought another round of tequila, and we drank to Cash and the mountain, my throat raw and roaring, the drowned pink worm dancing against my lips like a second tongue.

The small room filled up with eyes watching this príncipe and his boyish gringa. I leaned on the bar and laughed like my father, Mateo spinning words into worlds and building horizons with his long hands.