Arizona, is one of those towns—every state has one—that gets called “unique.”
Or “colorful.” Or “quirky.” Which can be a polite replacements for other terms.
As it turns out, Arizona is blessed with two such communities: Bisbee, in the
southeastern part of the state, and Jerome, half-way between Phoenix and the
Grand Canyon. Both are former mining towns that had to reinvent themselves when
the mines closed. Both became havens for artists and folks who didn’t quite fit
course, no town would function if all the residents fit that description, so
there are plenty of people in Bisbee who are simply more flexible and forgiving
of the quirks of the more unusual residents. Debrah Strait is one of that
I went for the Feng Shui book. I always go for books. This time I was in a tiny antique store looking for items for a neighbor’s house. She was supposed to have come along. This shopping trip had been her idea and she’d insisted that I rearrange my schedule for it. Then at the last minute she found something better to do. Faced with a free afternoon, I went anyway. By myself. Better this way, cruising through stores without her.
So I bought this little book on how to design the living spaces in a home. I studied it, and on the weekend went shopping for her, without her. I didn’t buy much, just a few items as an excuse to get in her house and rearrange things. I told her the re-arrangements had been recommended by a French and Italian design firm. She was happy with that. Not happy enough to help me do the work, however.
I spent many pleasant hours with my Feng Shui book. I laughed a lot, thinking of that silly, bothersome woman in her rooms that I had set up exactly the opposite of the way the little book said they should be done. She claimed to love her house, and bragged about how much she spent on it. Yet within two months, she was complaining about not sleeping well, not feeling well. In three months, her house went up for sale.
I walked into my tiny house expecting a quiet evening at home. Instead, I found my past in the living room.
She was young, only nine, but had the sharp, honest tongue of smart kids a whole lot older. And she still had the bravery of girls her age. So I got an earful about her own past and my dissolute part in it.
I asked about her mother.
“She’s dead.” The girl spoke in a tone that blamed me for that, too.
She went on talking. Whenever she stopped to take a breath, I murmured whatever I thought best at the moment. I fixed her supper. She talked around the food in her mouth.
“I’m gonna live with you,” she declared. “An’ nobody from the govmint is gonna stop me.”
I stared at her with my mouth open. My life had no room for a kid.
She glared at me. “An’ I don’t care what you think either.”
She talked and talked until she fell asleep on my lumpy couch, and in her dreams she wailed, “Why didn’t you stay?”
Man, that gal is plum crazy. First she wants me to mow her lawn. I do that. Glad to. She’s been good to my ma since Pa died. But then she wants me to trim her peach trees. And fix that shingle on the milk house roof.
Then she invites me in to lunch, but I’m covered in dirt, so I say, “No, ma’am.” I eat on the porch. Then I follow her to the grocery and tote home her bags of food and we talk a bit. She ask me how old I am. When I say seventeen, she smiles a little and says something about me being a man.
So in the afternoon I feel grown up, and chop some wood for her even if I don’t like that chore. And I dig up that lilac bush that died near the front corner of her lawn.
It’s hot and I take off my shirt and wash down with her garden hose. She’s watchin’, with that little smile, so I spray a bit a water on her. She squeals and giggles and I forget she might be as old as thirty.
Then she asks me to come inside and mumbles something about plowing a field. In the house? So I say “no” and go home. Crazy woman. I don’t know nothing about farming anyway.
My goal is to write books, stories and scripts for the pleasure of the people who grow my food, assemble my cars and fix my plumbing. At the end of a hard day, when the kids are in bed, the garbage sits out by the curb, and the last load of clothes is in the washer, I want people to put up their feet and ease into another world of my making, and there be entertained with intelligence, honesty, wit, and compassion.
There was a flash of light at the back door of the house and a big bang and then a crash in the tree branches over my head. Leaves and twigs dropped on me and I took off running. Half way down the lane I thought about how Pappy was always right. He’d tole me more than once to stay away from Old Man Logan’s place.
“Got a shotgun,” Pappy warned, “and he’s mean with it.”
But I wanted what Logan was guarding, and on a dark night, I took off across the fields to come at the Logan place from the woods. I’d made it to the field behind his house before he saw me–or at least a shadow of mine–and let loose with the shotgun. As I ran, I looked back at the house and saw Logan’s daughter standin’ in the open window of her bedroom, backlit so’s I could see through her nightgown. I almost stopped running, but another blast of the shotgun spurred me on.
When I was out of shotgun range, I slowed a bit. And thought about coming onto Logan’s place from another direction. I could sure enough see his daughter in the daylight, at school. But daylight wasn’t a good time to go after what I really wanted. So I trudged on home, mouth still watering. For Old Man Logan sure did grow the sweetest watermelons in the county.
I looked in the mirror and for the first time in my life liked what I saw. My hair was a green and my skin was a dusky blue. The sleeves of my pink gown were mere black scarves dangling from a band of elastic around my upper arms. My skirts were a frothy gauze, thick and full and showing almost everything.
I wore a triangle of metal – glitzy and heavy – across my chest and it held a purple cape at the top that cascaded down my back.
For once my eyes looked huge and black and I painted on lavender lipstick with yellow dots across my lips. I clipped on gold shoes and tied gold flowers into my hair. And, feeling great, went off to the Star Trek party.
Where Judy arrived with nothing more than blinking lights in her hair, and still got all the attention.