We drove up the 101, Patricia riding shotgun, her bare, unpainted toes
spread out on the dash, rivers of dried sand glittering along the hollows
of her ankles in the windshield sun. We were talking about Freud, Bob
Dylan, our boyfriends. Nothing. Listening to Joni Mitchell, Janis, A
Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. We ate oranges and avocados. Our hair
was long and the windows were open. The warm air rolled in like a Mariachi
band. We sang to the radio, tossed the rinds out and watched them tumble
in the rear view mirror, the skins hopping off asphalt. Our tongues
were coated with oil and citrus. We smoked cigarettes, leaving white
filters wet where we’d brought them to our lips and kissed them.
Our arms were strong, our legs.
I was white and she was Mexican. We knew how to hide nickel rolls behind
our knuckles and hit. For years in the restaurant, we hefted trays stacked
with plates of enchiladas and Happy Hour margaritas, lime pinwheels
spinning above our heads. Patricia dug into a bag of walnuts and held
two in her fist, cracked one husk against the other, offered me the
meat. We were driving to the beach. We had our bathing suits on beneath
our shorts and t-shirts. We had towels in the back seat and a bamboo
mat, a paper bag bulging with peaches from her mother’s tree.
Two used paperbacks we bought with our tips.
Things were not free back then, in 1973, but they were nearly free,
cheap but good, easy to find, colorful, abundant. You could leave a
quarter in a can on the roadside and take a bunch of flowers set in
jam jars, or grab a handful of berries, picked fresh. You could rent
a two-bedroom apartment for 50 dollars a month, no extra charge for
a dog, or railroad cat. For fifteen cents, hand made tortillas were
wrapped in thin tin foil with a pat of butter or a wedge of cheese folded
in the center. The left headlight was shot, the grill held together
with rope and electrical tape. We picked seeds from our teeth with a
matchbook cover from the restaurant we worked in nights and weekends
until it frayed and lost its edge. I pointed at the cows. Patricia drowsed.
We were as close to free as we could get.
Dorianne Laux grew
up in the border town of San Diego, CA. Her most recent collections
are The Book of Men and Facts About the Moon. A finalist
for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Oregon
Book Award, Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry,
and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as a fine press edition,
Dark Charms, from Red Dragonfly Press. She teaches poetry
in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University and is founding
faculty at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program.
in Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 2012.