Executive Chef

Gilligan’s Island and The Love Boat.
French fries and brown gravy from the Hilton Inn in Santa Fe.
Maraschino cherries and a tiny girl in a dark bar.
Waiting for Grandma to come out from the back, wearing an executive Chef’s uniform- the first female to do so at a Hilton Executive Inn in New Mexico.

Grandma’s bra always came off in the car.
Ten seconds after she sat down, Grandma would wiggle and pull until somehow, the bra would be coerced from a sleeve and deposited, lifeless, on the passenger seat beside her.
While Grandma drove home, she trilled along to her favorite spanish songs.

Watching the dusty desert terrain fly by in a blur, the girl always wished she knew what everyone seemed to be so excited about in those songs.
She didn’t understand the words but the drama played like a silent movie in her thoughts.
She imagined dashingly handsome heroes, tragically beautiful damsels and menacing villians.

Sweet Pea, the chihuahau sitting next to the little girl in the back seat, did no such imagining.
He just sat there looking out the window, smelling like old dog and throwing out a haphazard bark now and then.


Me & Jeni

It was hot.  Miserably hot.  So much so that I could barely keep focused on the blade of the knife as stinging sweat poured into my eyes. I kept having to stop and wipe my brow, blink tears away.  On top of the sweltering heat, my nerves were destroying me and I was shaking.  In view of the fact that I had never purposefully cut into another person before, the shaking was appropriate.  Rarely appropriate, on the other hand, was a perfect description of the person I was cutting into.  Jeni.  Jeni didn’t really have time for things like being appropriate or conforming to etiquette.

“Oh my Jesus Christ, would you stop jerking around?”  Jeni spoke into the wind as she sat hunched on the hood of her Datsun 210.  “For fuck’s sake, Amber, it’s only a tiny patch! Just cut it out and let’s go!”  We were hungry and this little patch of skin on the back of her shoulder had to be taken care of before she would allow us to do anything else.

I can honestly say that I’d have demanded the same had I found that there was a decapitated tick head just under a patch of skin on my own shoulder. Even now it makes me gag a little.  She’d picked up a tick somewhere in Missouri.  We hadn’t caught it for a couple of days; it was minute in comparison to the Montana ticks we were used to and by the time she found it, it had embedded itself on the back of her left shoulder.  Of course, she swiped at it immediately, which had dislodged it.  She’d made me look at it closely to see if I could determine whether it’s head had come with it. Apparently my affirmative answer had been wrong.  Now, we were pulled over in some desolate parking lot, and I was trying to focus on cutting a patch of her skin out.

Now, before you get all reasonable and start asking stuff like “Hey, why not a doctor or medical clinic?” or “Why, just why?” or “Do you have a dead heart?” I should fill you in on a thing or two:

1.     We were 19

2.     We had just left our home state of Montana

3.      Neither of us had really ever traveled

4.      We were driving across the United States in a less than safe vehicle

5.      We had very little money

6.      We were so, so dumb

7.      We did not care about how dumb we were; we didn’t have a clue

8.      We had begun with two missions and already suffered one failure

9.      We had gone too far to turn back, almost in every way possible

10.    There was no force on Earth that could keep me from him and she knew it.

I was surprised when the blade popped through the surface of her skin.  Immediately, blood welled up around the incision and she yelled out, “Holy shit!” while jerking her body forward.

“Jeni, dammit, I had just got the guts up.  Now you’re just bleeding everywhere.”  Jeni had jumped off the hood of the car and was running in small circles, droplets of blood oozing through her fingers and splattering the ground in a swirl.

“Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuck!” She was bending over while she screamed now. The blood droplets were finding their way into her mess of black hair, a few splashed against the white tips of her Converse shoes.  “Fuck!” She stood up straight as a board, threw her head back and started laughing like a maniac, tears streaming down the sides of her face.  Luckily, I was used to this action on her part.  It was her way of facing circumstances that were scary to her.  She chose to laugh like a crazy person and push through.

“Shit, we better do this,” she said “We’ve used up all the time we have for a brown person to be standing on the side of road with a knife. Fucking Feds will be rolling along any second now.  You’re ass is grass if we don’t hurry.” She turned her back on me and bit her lip.  I made two more cuts and scooped a triangle shaped chunk of her shoulder out.  Then we drove to the roadside diner down the road and ordered chicken fried steaks.

My memory of that diner is that everything seemed to be trapped in a time warp, cast under an orange glow and languishing under a thick layer of cigarette smoke.  The entries on the menu were numbered and foreign sounding, but there were some old familiars.  Jeni and I smoked our cigarettes boldly and drank coffee amidst tables full of elderly people who must have wondered a lot about the two of us.  We were not concerned with them at all.  I’d be willing to bet any of the biddies who eavesdropped on our conversation went home and blessed their own ears for having listened to the way Jeni and I used words.



Smudges of blood against yellow linoleum

on concrete

on wood

Smudges of blood on paper

and dirt

smashed into metal shed walls

slammed into dashboards

Blood smudged knuckles

and faces

and bodies

Blood in the water

soaking the fields

streaking the rocks

Blood smudges on the alter

in the pews and the aisles

Blood smudged on the knees bent in fervor

Blood to wash the lost souls clean

Blood soaked bones

buried beneath secrets and lies

Bloody remainders for scavenging, blood sucking flies.

Blood money to soften the sounds of the cries

Bloody Big Brother-

Did coins flow through the veins of your mother?

Introducing Clare

Cat opened the door to her house and paused to listen for a moment before proceeding.  She could hear the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon and she knew her mother had at least had a peaceful evening.  After a moment, Cat moved forward into the house and closed the door softly behind her.  A haze of cigarette smoke hung in the living room and Cat waived her hands around her head as if to clear a space to breathe through as she moved towards the stereo. She knew better than to turn the music all the way off, but she rolled the volume dial back a few clicks.  Her mother lay on the couch, near the entrance to the kitchen. Cat moved quietly to the foot of the couch and removed her mother’s slippers.  Pulling a blanket from the back of the couch, she took care to make sure that it draped over her mother’s body from toe to neck.  Lastly, Cat gathered up the pile of pills that had spilled from the mouth of the pill bottle whose descent had brought it to a bouncing halt onto the floor.  She stuffed the pills back into the bottle and tossed it on the floor, watched as it rolled under the couch.  “Good.” She thought, and she didn’t feel bad about the vision of her beautiful mother, bent over and scratching through dust to retrieve her precious prescription, her weakness exposed in the light of the morning sun.

The next morning, Cat rose early and sat dutifully near the phone.  When 9:30 came and went, Cat made some eggs and tried to the fill the hole in the morning with food.  Her grandmother’s calls had gradually ceased, but Cat still waited every Saturday.  “You never know,” she thought to herself, but as she stared out at the apple tree she knew. As surely as she knew how it felt to fall from the highest branches of that tree and lay on the ground trying to suck wind back into an uncooperative rib cage, that talking to mom hurt Grandma in pretty much the same way.  As she sat alone at the table, Cat let her mind wander around her dad’s house for a moment.  Loud and busy, her brothers rushed about, the little ones all crazy and messy and playful, the older one always pensive and perpetually distracted.  She stopped her mind from wandering when it came to the image of her father, sitting at the kitchen table and staring out the window, wondering what he did to make his daughter forsake him.  Cat got up, washed her dishes and filled a glass with ice water. She knelt in front of her mother’s body on the couch and lightly shook her awake. Clare’s eyes were ringed with red, bloodshot and grateful.  She reached a thin hand out and stroked Cat’s cheek after taking several deep gulps.

“Thank you, my girl, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”  Clare’s beautiful white teeth flashed as she gave Cat a quick smile.  Cat wondered if her father would understand why Cat had to stay with her mother if only Clare had shared more of those smiles with him.  Clare’s jet black hair spilled forward onto the floor as she suddenly jerked forward.  Her hands flew to her chest, patting out a desperate search that ended in her lap. Then her eyes turned into dark clouds.  “Where are my pills, Cat, what did you do with them?”  Clare moved more quickly than Cat had thought she’d be able to and she snapped up her daughter’s scrawny upper arm with one hand, her nails digging painfully into the tender skin near Cat’s armpit.

“Jesus Christ, Clare, you probably dropped the god damned things.”  Cat jerked her arm away, wincing as Clare’s nails dug long strips of raw skin that wrapped quickly in a red glow around her arm.  The raw strips on Cat’s soul wrapped a little more slowly, the burn significantly worse.  Cat stood up and looked down at her mother.  “You should get up and eat something.  Maybe take a shower, huh Clare? I’m going to go see what Tony is doing.”   Cat could hear her mother’s knees hit the floor as she opened the door, but she didn’t really care to see the vision she’d imagined the night before, so she just stepped forward into the sunshine on the porch and closed the door behind her.