Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Memories of Mom, or Why I Enjoy the Macabre

Mom left Dad, again, and we were driving from East Texas to New Mexico. There was a horrible accident on the flatlands, and Mom pulled over to do the looky-lou thing. I might have been six.

Cars were turned over, and the windshield of one had a head-sized hole in it. There was hair and blood around the jagged edges. People were talking about searching a field for an infant that had been thrown from the car that rolled.

There were bodies strewn around and covered with blankets. Under one, a woman's manicured left hand protruded.  Mom stared for a long time at the hand, so I did, too.  The hand didn't look particularly dead.  Their were dimples at the knuckles, and the skin around her wedding rings was puffy, like she'd been retaining water. Water retention and weight gain was a hot topic with mom and her friends.

We stared a bit longer.  Then, in a tone like she wished Dad were present so he'd see what she saw, Mom said, "That's exactly the style of ring I've been telling your dad I want."

Thursday, January 23, 2020


Phooka (PĂșca, Pooka):

If a human is enticed onto a phooka's back it has been known to give them a wild ride.  But unlike a kelpie, which will take its rider and dive into the nearest river or lake to drown and devour him, the phooka will do the unfortunate rider no real harm.  The PĂșca has the power of human speech, and has been known to give advice and lead people away from danger.  Though the phooka enjoys confusing and often terrifying humans, it is considered to be benevolent.

From Fantasy Creatures 

I first learned about Pooka’s from the movie “Harvey.”  Who says you can’t learn anything from T.V.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


How would you feel about your mate having an affair if you were stricken with a mortal illness and  uninterested in having sexual relations?

The usual first response for people who love their mates is that their sexual drive would die, too.  But what if your loved one was not hooked up to tubes and drains?  What if they were functioning, yet with death hovering?

In graduate school, I did an internship in a tutorial center.  My boss was a kind and knowledgeable man who loved his wife and family dearly.  She'd had two heart attacks and the prognosis was not good.  You would have never suspected it to look at her.  She was robust and cheery, the affection between them palpable.

At that time, I had no experience with grief of the death-inspired sort, but one of the tutors in our group was dying of leukemia. Everyday he appeared paler and weaker, but he still attended classes and reported for work.  "You can tell his family has made the separation," Dr. Jackson, my boss, said one day after meeting the tutor's family. Responding to my expression, he added, "It's not that they don't love him, but when you know someone is going to die, you go through grief while they're still walking and talking.  You protect yourself from the finality."

"Does that mean you become more feverish about your own life, about living, and everything that that means?" I asked.

"I hope so," he said, "but you also pull back a little.  Your love is there, but a boundary is there, too." That's when he told me about his wife, and how a hardening within him had taken place.

Over a decade later, I hooked up with a cheap bus tour of Italy. The tour was packed with Europeans. . . Germans, Irish, British.  The only Americans were a Sikh family from Silicon valley.  There was also an Iraqi couple.

But it was the Irish couple who fascinated me.  They were in their forties, possibly early fifties. Attractive in a dull, settled way.  The wife was a bit tight-lipped.  Pissed, actually.  The husband was in a constant low-key frenzy trying to please his wife.

After a short time it became obvious that there was something wrong with her.  I decided she was mortally ill, and that this vacation was supposed to be a last hurrah for them.  Not that she ever got sick in front of us.  It's just that his behavior became more frantic at the same time that she glared at all the art and beauty around us.  It looked as if she were saying angry goodbyes to everything, as if she hated the way life just went on ready to skip right by her.

I was wallowing in my European jaunt, one of the happiest periods of my life.  One night in Rome, the three of us had dinner together.  She ordered a lavish meal and didn't touch a bite of it, just jousted with me all night, looking like she wanted to scratch my eyes out.  And not because of her husband (with whom I had no attraction whatsoever), but because I was so damn cheerful.

Death had a grip on her and she had a death grip on her husband, ready to drag him into the grave with her and not because she loved him.  Because she hated that it wasn't him dying instead of her.

Those were my thoughts, then.  Now, even though she was clearly punishing him, perhaps she wasn't dying.  I don't understand the kind of negative vehemence she had, nor do I understand her husband remaining under its power.  Only if she had a death sentence would it make sense for him to stand by her side.  If he'd chosen to seek affection elsewhere, could you blame him?

Why would I think of this now?  Just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which is a treacherous tale of a sick marriage.   The wife in it reminded me of the Irish Wife in Italy and her forlorn husband.  With the passage of time and lessons learned from my own marriage (a happy one, but not without bumps), and my friends' marriages and divorces, I've reconsidered the death sentence I'd given her at the time.  Maybe they were just miserably bound for life.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween Blooms

             It was an old cemetery. No one was ever there. The place sat forgotten on a tiny knob of a hill behind the Goodyear Tire store and Bob’s Big Boy. Lydia and Gary dared each other to leapfrog over the few headstones still standing. Some of the graves had sunk into the ground, the dirt appearing soft and disturbed over them. On a few of the older plots, the cousins found shiny handles and pieces of carved wood.

             They took one last look at each other before the jump. “Coffin maker, coffin taker, rise from the ground and let your spirit fly unbound,” they chanted, leaping across the grave on the last word. Their high-pitched laughter rode the wave of fear that one of them might land too short with a foot sinking into the soft, decayed earth. They had sworn to try to save each other, even if it meant that they, too, would be sucked into the bowels of the graveyard. There were a few close calls, but they survived.

            “Look! ” Gary pointed to a grave a few rows over. In the graying afternoon, and amidst the ruin around them, a dash of color stood out. They walked over to examine the bouquet of plastic flowers.  “They’re pretty.”
            Lydia lifted the bouquet from the shelter of the tombstone. “Yeah, real pretty.” The arrangement included flowers of all colors. A gold ribbon wound through it, giving it a valuable appearance. She looked around her. Dusty weeds sprouted on most of the graves. Further in, near a leafless tree, she saw another spot of color. “Over there!”
            A little dirty, the second bouquet was no less glorious. They squinted and scanned the cemetery, running from one end to the other when they spotted the flowers. One of the ribbons said In Remembrance, but that was okay. They ended up with four bouquets to take home to their mothers.
            On the walk home, they scavenged in the industrial dumpsters near the rail yard, but didn’t find anything interesting. “At least we got the flowers,” Gary said, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. Lydia looked away. His nose produced rivers of yellow snot. Year round.
            Lydia picked up her bouquets.  “It’s getting dark, we should head home.”  An Indian summer lingered well into October in Santa Fe, where it usually snowed for Halloween. Prospective ghouls, witches, vampires and werewolves knew they would not have to wear parkas over their costumes that night.  “I’m going as a gypsy.  Mama said I could wear make-up and earrings.” She looked at Gary to see if he was impressed.
            He hunched his bird-thin shoulders. “I have to use last year’s.” Gary was eight, and pale, and blond, and all the kids picked on him. Except for Lydia. Even she couldn’t resist sometimes. Today wasn’t one of those days.
            “Maybe we could make you look like a pirate,” she said.
            Gary lowered his head to the bouquets cradled in his arms as if he were sniffing them. “If Mama says it’s okay.”
            Their mothers, who were sisters, sat at the kitchen table smoking and drinking coffee. Lydia and Gary held the bouquets behind their backs, looked at each other, and then presented the plastic flowers.
            Lydia’s mom worked in a bar and had people skills. She handled the flowers gingerly, but smiled. Gary’s mother had conducted seances until the parish priest warned her not to. She turned red in the face and swept the bouquets off her lap as if they were on fire. She grabbed Gary’s thin arm, and shook him. “Where did you get these?” He turned frightened eyes to his cousin.
            “Lydia?” Her mother tried to look stern, forcing the corners of her mouth down in that way she did when she didn’t want to laugh.
            Gary’s mother squeezed his arm harder. Lydia could see her fingernails digging in. “You got these from the cemetery, didn’t you?”
            “Let them explain, Frances,” Lydia’s mom said. She and her sister stared into each other’s eyes. Frances loosened her grip on her son.
            “I thought you’d like them,” Lydia said. “They’re pretty.”
            “They’re from graves,” Frances said. “For dead people.”
            “Nobody was using them,” Lydia said. Her mother’s lips twitched again.
            “It’s a sin to steal from the dead,” Frances said. “They’ll come for them. They’ll pull your feet at night ”
            Gary and Lydia looked at each other, horrified. They hadn’t thought about this. The dead weren’t real. It was just pretend, all the stuff about the dead.
            “The dead,” Francis repeated, staring off into space, “the dead want what’s theirs.” She took a deep breath. “Take them back.”
            Lydia looked at her mom, who stared at her sister, deciding. “Take them back, honey. Run as fast as you can.” She reached for another cigarette.
            “It’s the thought that counts,” Lydia heard her mother say as the cousins ran out of the room.

            Lydia and Gary ran the eight blocks to the cemetery in growing darkness. They searched for the right graves, frightened and out of breath. Puffs of mist from their exhalations hovered like tiny ghosts in front of them.
            “Which graves?” Lydia asked, panicked. Gary’s teeth chattered, and his nose ran unheeded.
            In the far corner, near where they’d found the second bouquet, a man stepped away from the tree. One minute he wasn’t there, and then he was. Lydia and Gary had never seen another person at the cemetery. He wore a hat, and a long, flowing coat, and stared down at a crooked tombstone. He turned and glared in their direction. Then, he moved towards them, slow at first, and then taking giant steps. The cousins stood frozen. The man raised both arms in a pleading gesture, his hands opening and closing like pincers.
            Lydia flung her flowers at him. “Here!  Take them.” She ran in the opposite direction. Gary followed with his bouquets still tightly clutched to his chest. They ran hard, the chill night air burning their throats. Lydia looked over her shoulder a few times, but it was already dark. Somewhere along the way Gary had dropped his flowers.
            Their mothers said no more about the dead people’s flowers, and the cousins dressed for Halloween with shaking fingers. Trick-or-treating in their own neighborhood never yielded much, so Lydia’s mom took off work, and drove them across town to the new housing development.
            Built to house a new generation moving into Santa Fe, these homes had real sidewalks, attached garages, doorbells, and front yards bereft of broken glass. Flocks of neighborhood children scurried from door-to-door, while their parents, usually fathers, chatted at the curb. Lydia’s mom sat and smoked in the car. She’d roll forward as they worked the street, her progress occasionally blocked by the cars of other commuting trick-or-treaters.
            They returned to the car to exchange pillowcases brimming with candy for empty ones.  “That’s quite a haul.  Don’t you think you’ve got enough?” her mom asked the children’s retreating backs as they ran off to collect more treats.
            Halloween was not only great for all the free candy, but for the glimpse it gave of the inside of other people’s homes, of how they lived their lives. The people who answered the doors were young, and bursting with laughter. Sometimes they wore masks and costumes, and made ghoulish sounds to frighten trick-or-treaters. In one, several women sat on the laps of their boyfriends. At the next house, a man and a woman came to the door.
            “You don’t have a mask so you don’t get any candy,” the woman said to Lydia.
            “Of course, she can have candy,” the man said, and tried to grab the bowl from the woman. “See, her face is painted.”
            “No!”  The woman stamped her foot.  “You’re supposed to have a real costume. Not some cheap make-up ” They struggled with the bowl, and it spilled to the ground.
            “Look what you’ve done!”  The woman strode off, while the man scooped the candy up.
            Lydia's face burned beneath her Halloween makeup, but she held her head high, and grabbed Gary by the elbow, dragging him away.  “Let’s go!” 
            “Here,” the man said. He held handfuls of candy. Gary tried to return, but Lydia held onto him. “I’m sorry,” the man called after them.
            Lydia stomped down the pristine sidewalk. She marched forward, with Gary still in tow, neither looking to her left nor to her right. They passed several houses and reached the end of the block. These homes were still under construction, but one had its lights on. 
            She stopped and took a deep breath. “Last one?”  Gary shrugged.
            A tall man in a long coat opened the door. A hat shadowed his face. His hands dangled loosely at his sides. No light shone behind him, and no bowl brimming with candy was visible.
            “Trick-or-treat,” Gary chanted in his tinny voice, his eyes focused on his open bag.
            “Give you something good to eat?” the man said, his voice icky sweet. He smiled, revealing a mouthful of jagged, yellow teeth. He pointed at their bags with long, dirty fingernails. “But you have so much, already.”
            He leaned to his right inside his house. “An object of beauty, perhaps?” He held two plastic roses in his hand, and dropped one into Gary’s bag. Only then did her cousin look up. The man held the other rose out to Lydia, and recited, “A waxen rose upon the grave will not wither or decay.”
            He laughed, exhaling the damp smell of grave dirt into the children’s faces. His laughter hammered at their backs when the cousins ran down the sidewalk.
            “What is that man screaming about?” Lydia’s Mom asked as they tumbled into the car.
            “Go, Mom. Please go!”
            Lydia’s mom pulled away from the curb. “It sounded like he was saying the dead want something. Pretty spooky house, huh?”
            Lydia and Gary leaned into each other, holding hands, and said nothing. They could still hear the man’s laughter echoing inside the car. The sound of it followed them home, and seeped into their dreams along with his screams: the dead want what’s theirs.

This story has been reprinted several times in anthologies such as After Dark.
Happy Halloween!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Memories of Armando

Not Armando, but you get the idea


     My dog and I occasionally walk past The Coffee Bean. There’s usually a group of five or six older men laughing and talking together at a table outside.  One afternoon, when Joey was around two-years-old I tied him to a meter where I could see him when I went inside for a double Cappuccino.
     The line was long and he started barking when I didn’t immediately return. I saw one of the older men holding a paper cup of water for Joey to drink, then petting him. That’s how I met Armando, 85, who asked if he could hold him by the leash at the table with the other guys.
     “Sure, just hold him tight. He’ll pull if another dog shows up.”

     “I know dogs,” he said.

      Joey loved all the attention lavished on him and wagged his tail every time he saw his pal, Armando.
         Armando had moved to the U.S. from Brazil when he was fifteen. His family lived in Brooklyn and one-by-one they traveled west to Los Angeles. He continued to work as a plumber in Brooklyn and finally made the leap to L.A. sixty years ago. He met his wife here. They had three children, all of whom had children and who now live in the valley.

         “My wife died twenty years ago,” he said.

         “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Do you see your kids and grandkids?”

         “Yeah, they were fun when they were little but now they’re always looking down at their phones.”

         I smirked and shrugged my shoulders.

         “Can you take off your sunglasses?” he asked.

         “Sure, but then I won’t be able to see you. They’re prescription.”

         It was his turn to shrug his shoulders; only he did it with joy. “My vision is still 20/20.”

         His eyes were blue and his skin was mostly unwrinkled. He was tall and not bowed around the shoulders like many older people. He walked every day and always wore sandals and shorts. Deeply 
tanned, Armando had ingratiating good looks and appeared much younger than eighty-five. He also seemed very self-sufficient.

         Joey and I ran into him often over the years, and when we walked by The Coffee Bean I waved at the group. My path varied each day so catching sight of them was not a guarantee.  
         Months passed, it seemed, during which I didn’t see Armando or his group. They weren’t gathering anymore. Someone probably died, I thought. Maybe it was Armando. Maybe they all had died.

         Today I tied Joey to the meter and had just ordered my double Cappuccino when I noticed a man adding sugar to his coffee.

         “Armando! I've been thinking about you. Where’ve you been?” He was a bit thinner but still unbowed, tanned and his blue eyes sparkled.

         “I went to a casino with my wife,” he said. Although it was obvious he didn’t recognize me, he gave me a big smile. I pushed my sunglasses to the top of my head.

         “Your wife?” He’d been a widower for over two decades.

         “Yeah, she likes to gamble, but I don’t. The casino gave me a free cash credit of 10 bucks and I won $28, but I forgot my winnings at the table.” He laughed.

         “Did you get married again, Armando?”

         He looked momentarily puzzled but kept talking. “My wife had been playing for five hours straight when I decided I’d had enough of waiting around. So I went to the spa, got a massage, sat in the sauna. It was great!”

         “You did a role reversal,” I said. His expression indicated he didn’t understand what I meant. “The woman is usually the one who goes to the spa.”

         “Oh, okay. We had a great time,” he said, and then apropos of nothing added, “A lot of Asians were there. They’re really addicted to gambling.”

         “Uh-huh,” I said, and looked over my shoulder at my dog tied to his usual meter. He was nine now and sat patiently waiting for me. “Remember Joey?”

         “Oh, yeah,” he said and walked off, going outside and sitting at a table by himself.

         When Joey saw Armando exit, he stood and whipped his tail back and forth with enthusiasm. Armando didn’t acknowledge him. Joey’s wagging slowed, and he sat again, staring at his friend with a worry crease between his eyes.

         At his table, Armando smiled and nodded at no one in particular. I hoped he was thinking of his long ago visit to the casino and that in his memory he and his wife were winning big.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Joy: Pecan Pies and The Blond Skateboarder

Crazy week last week. Husband's had hand surgery the day before Thanksgiving. Dented my truck. Back aching. Lot full at Costco, Marina del Rey. Determined to get at least one of their giant pecan pies to dull my stress, I parked at a meter across the street and walked to the store. 

Bought two pecan pies. Thanksgiving would be great this year even if I was in charge. The sun slanted in from the west and a beach scented breeze caressed my arms at the crosswalk. A beautiful blond girl stood there, maybe 19, holding her skateboard under her arm. Her legs were long and strong, and she smiled toward the sun.

"Did you press the button," I asked.

"Yes," she said, smiling. "I got two pecan pies today, too."

"How did you find parking?"

"We couldn't so I skateboarded back and got them. Plus, a turkey."

I stared at her in amazement. A cool breeze wafted into my open mouth as I replayed the vision she’d just given me of me after I first moved to L.A., skating from the Santa Monica Pier to the Venice Pier or bicycling to my T.A. job in a Marina del Rey school.

I swallowed hard, and said, "I wish I'd been here with a camera to record you."

She laughed. The light changed in our favor and we crossed. "The turkey wasn't big," she said. "Happy Thanksgiving."

Monday, November 12, 2018


The call for submissions came from SDSU's Pacific Review for their annual print anthology: “States of La Frontera” refers to the literal and figurative borderlands of space and identity: the physical, geographical, emotional, spiritual, and temporal boundaries and possibilities of being.

Author note: Borders don't exist for Olivia. Her possibilities of being are endless until she's done.

         I had a stroke in the garden while cursing the squirrels for nibbling my tomatoes. One tomato plant was crushed in my fall, a working part of my brain delighting in its fragrance even as I struggled to move. I dug the fingers of one hand into the rich earth and lay there wondering if Dave would think to look for me here. Probably not.
            A squirrel edged down the trellis for more tomato.
            “Fucker!” I said, only it came out Futh.
            He became a red blur in a towering mass of green. Scent was still with me. I struggled to remain alert. My name? It didn’t come to me. Brandon, my son. Dave, my husband. Olivia and Dave! Olivia. Still Olivia.
            Tired. I closed my eyes. My head throbbed. Wind rustled the trees making them sound like surf along the seashore. Dave and I had driven up the CA-1 on our first road trip up the coast to visit Brandon in Portland. We’d agreed to take our time and stay at hotels along the way, never driving more than five or six hours at a time. Dave did the research and chose the most gorgeous and romantic hotels available. He slowed down and relaxed. It was good for him. For us. We both wanted to recreate the connection we’d had and planned a return trip.
            All we’d managed was a mini road trip alongside the Columbia River. The water had curved with the road guiding us to our son in Eastern Oregon. We’d flown from Los Angeles into PDX and rented a car for the three-hour drive to Brandon’s new place. After graduating from law school he could have stayed in Portland. But he wanted a small town and accepted an offer from a four-person law firm in Pendleton. He’d rented a one-bedroom house and was hard at work planting his own garden.           
            Portland had been a fun place to visit, similar to LA but with more vegans. You could have backyard chickens and grow pot. On the upside of his move to Pendleton, our son now paid his own bills and was building a chicken coop. He’d bought used tools from a place called We Sell Stuff, including an ancient push lawnmower with rusted blades. Brandon was intent on sharpening them.  
            “Keep your cell nearby when you’re cutting or sharpening.” I didn’t like the idea of him using unreliable equipment. Amazon delivered a new saw and blade sharpener the next day.
            On the downside of his move, he had no social life whatsoever in Pendleton. He hated social media and rejected all our suggestions on ways to meet people. He gave up on the push lawnmower and bought a scythe. Thankfully, not a used one. He sent us a YouTube of three ancient Chinese guys demoing how to use it. They worked bare-chested. I had visions of Brandon severing toes, a foot, or the bottom half of his leg.
            “Wear sunblock when you scythe,” I said.
            Not sure what my husband was feeling on our drive, but I was filled with both anticipation and caution. Brandon had never been easy.

            In my garden, I tried moving again. Only my right hand seemed to work. When I got anxious worrying about my son it clenched the soil, but with happy thoughts it patted down the lumps. The river was a happy memory. It rushed headlong into its future.
            An hour into our drive to Pendleton, I turned to my husband, and said, “The Columbia is gorgeous.” Dave insisted on driving. Sitting in the passenger seat nauseated him, especially on a curvy road with me at the wheel.
            “Hmm,” Dave said. He changed the radio station. “Need to check the scores.”
            I stared across his chest to the water. “The river meanders in some places and surges in others.”
            He made no comment. I’m not even sure he heard me.
            Some women would have become disheartened with this lack of attention from a loved one. Not me. My self-esteem didn’t depend on him. Early in our marriage, I’d taken his behavior personally. Finally, I realized that though brilliant in many ways, he was clueless in others.
            He moved his visor to the window partially blocking my view.
            “I can still see the water.” Sarcasm kept me entertained.
            He turned off the radio.
            “I like the rocks, too. They’re solid. Unemotional.”
            No response.
            His ability to focus exclusively on driving and the baseball scores might make him seem insensitive, but we always had great sex. Long practice and determination lay at the heart of our carnal triumphs. Dave had researched female sexuality long before we met. He insisted I be the first to orgasm, at least once. I was experienced enough to appreciate his dedication.
            We were two independent and solitary people who loved each other. That didn’t mean he’d look for me out here. Not yet sunset. Hazy light surrounded me, like the mist rising off the river in Oregon. Brandon’s garden and his new life awaited us.  
            We checked into the Best Western that our son had recommended. Once we’d settled in, I called him at work.
             “We’re here!”
            “Great. Just have to finish up a memo and I’ll meet you at the house.” He sounded excited and pleased.
            We proceeded at an unhurried Pendleton pace to his place. Dave gripped the wheel, his knuckles turning white. He yelled at the slowpoke drivers,  “C’mon the speed limit is twenty five. At least go that fast.”
            “Relax, honey. Go with the flow.”                
            At a four-way stop, every driver waved the other on. “No, you go first,” they seemed to be saying.
            “The population is 17,000,” I said. “They probably all know one another.”
            “They need more people and to move faster.”
            “Breathe deeply, please.”
            He worried me. It was as if he sought stress no matter what the circumstances. I studied his careworn profile. Dave often repeated the mantra that the men in his family die young. Then, he’d remind me that Brandon and I would be financially secure. I once asked him if he knew what the ultimate irony would be in our marriage. He looked perplexed.
            “C’mon you were an English lit major,” I said. “Irony. Think about it.”
            He shook his head.
            “If I died first.”
            “That’s unlikely. The statistics are against it.” No smile, not even a lip twitch.
            He hadn’t always been like this. We frolicked in the beginning, chased each other naked around my condo, tackling each other onto the mattress, our wrestling seguing into caresses. There were lots of laughs, as well as a variety of sexual positions. Building his law practice drained the frolic right out of him.
            Brandon’s house sat on a corner lot with a big yard. “The house tilts to the left,” I whispered at the front door.
            The door swung open and our son gave us both big hugs. It wasn’t bad inside: big combo kitchen and dining area. He didn’t have a table yet. There were laundry hook-ups in a space with louvered doors.
            “I don’t want a washing machine, mom.” He must have seen the excitement in my eyes.
            “How many days in a row do you wear the same shirt,” Dave asked. “Don’t answer. More than once is too much.”
            Brandon laughed. Dave and I joined him, for the moment releasing parental tension.
            There was a screened in porch off the kitchen where he could store tools. His bedroom was large. One bathroom. The only heat in the house was from a gas appliance in the living room designed to look like a fireplace. Brandon hadn’t figured out how to adjust it. Pendleton gets cold in the winter.
            Dave discovered its secrets. Next, he went over and checked the smoke detector. “Get a new one.” He glanced back at the heater. “And a carbon monoxide alarm.”
            This is the other reason I love my husband.
            We walked into town. Brandon is a vegetarian so we had dinner at an Indian restaurant. “There’s a hot yoga place across the street,” I said. “You should try it.” He groaned.
            He and his dad talked about his law practice while I people-watched. When there was a lull, I asked about his co-workers. There were only four other attorneys and assorted staff.
            “They’re nice. Everyone’s real busy.” He looked away.
            We walked around downtown Pendleton, where a few people were on the streets. One or two bars seemed to be thriving. Outside one of them, a man in his 40s, muscles melting into heft, looked up from his phone and stared at Brandon. We stopped in front of a statue dedicated to Madam Stella, a brothel owner for almost 40 years. A sign next to it gave us some local history. Pendleton’s population never maxed its present size, but in the 19th century it had been jammed with bordellos, gambling halls and hard-working Chinese who lived and worked in the underground.
            Our son showed us his office, a converted house just off the main drag. A prominent sign to the left of the door announced that smoking was prohibited. Brandon was trying to quit.
            On the walk back to his place, we passed a museum with a posted schedule of events, speakers, art shows, and various classes, all things I would have signed up for. Brandon was noncommittal.
            Warm goodbyes and hugs at the door. We made plans to go on the underground tour the next day.
            Dave and I were solemn on the drive back to the hotel. Each of us worried in our own way about Brandon. I pointed to a well-lit sports bar. “Pull over.”
            Inside were TVs up high and down low, high-topped tables lining one wall, and empty seats at the bar. A pretty blond big-girl tended it. We introduced ourselves. Her name was Cheyenne.
            She recommended a Huckleberry martini. Sounded good to me. Cheyenne shook my drink. Her upper arms were round and firm.
            “Is your name spelled like the tribe or with an A?” I asked.  
            “Like the tribe,” she said.
            “Do you have Native American blood?”
            “I wish.” She put the martini in front of me. A sugarcoated rim circled a frosty pink drink. I sipped. Sipped again.

            “Were your parents in a hippie phase?”
            She laughed. Dave even kinda smiled. “Far from it. They were very conservative. Never had a chance to ask them before they passed.”
            “I’m sorry,” Dave said.
            “I lucked out with my foster parents.”
            “Cheyenne is a very pretty name,” I said. “Unique, like you.”
            “I like your name. Olivia, Olivia, Olivia.” My name rolled off her tongue as if she could taste it. “Twelfth Night, right? I read it in high school.”
            Dave answered. “I’ve always loved it, too.” He laid his hand over mine. Cheyenne’s eyes floated down to them.
            The conversation proceeded from there. Cheyenne was almost finished with nursing school, she’d broken up with her boyfriend, and Trivia Night at the bar was tomorrow.
            “You should check it out. Bring your son.”
            Yes, we had told her about Brandon.


            Brandon and Cheyenne dated and then she moved in with him. The chicken coop was finished but unused: Pendleton was not Portland—the city had an ordinance against keeping chickens within the city limits. Pygmy goats were okay, but not chickens. I encouraged my son to find out who on City Council had brokered that deal and invite him or her out for coffee. Networking might pay off in the long run.  
            Cheyenne posted happy photos of the two of them on Facebook. She and I stayed in touch, texting and speaking on the phone often. She sent me pictures of what they’d done with his place. “Olivia, what do you think of the couch over here?” she’d write in an email with a picture attached. I noticed there were air filters in every room. “Brandon is trying really hard to quit smoking,” she said.
            It was like having a daughter-in-law, or what I imagined a daughter-in-law would be like. We talked about everything. There were a number of different avenues in the health care field from which she could choose: she was interested in management. I’d been in business at one time, so she was eager to get my input.
            “It’s okay to change direction,” I said. “If you want management, don’t be afraid of leading others, of drawing them to you.”
            Brandon and I also talked about a variety of subjects, but he never asked for career advice. He was more interested in getting my input on growing asparagus.
            Cheyenne had never been to California so I was excited when they flew down for Christmas. They looked dour and tired when I picked them up at LAX. She’d put on a bit of weight.
            Dinner was cold and Cheyenne and I were on our third martini by the time Dave got home from the office. Brandon sipped a beer. He jumped up to give his dad a big hug. Dave bent down to peck Cheyenne’s cheek at the same time she rose unsteadily to greet him. She tripped over her own feet and he had to catch her.
            “Sorry,” she said.
            Dave laughed, probably for the first time in weeks. “That’s okay. I’ve got you covered.” Brandon didn’t look at her.
            “I’m sorry I’m so late,” Dave said. “Emergency at the office.” He tapped Brandon on the shoulder. “You know what that’s like.”
            “He grew up knowing what it’s like,” I said, annoyed. Every case was a crisis for Dave.  “Let’s eat. I’ll shove everything through the microwave.”
            Dave pointed up. “Just have to run upstairs and freshen up.”
            “He means he’s gonna brush his teeth before dinner,” I said.
            “Does it help you eat less?” Cheyenne asked.
            “No.” Dave laughed. Again. “But don’t worry, a few more curves never hurt anyone.” He looked at Brandon who tried to smile.
            Finally seated at the dinner table, I raised my glass. “Congratulations to Cheyenne on completing nursing school!”
            Dave clicked her glass. “What are the job opportunities like in Pendleton?”
            Cheyenne and Brandon exchanged a look. “Zero. I got a great offer in Salem. Or, I can commute to Hermiston.”
            We looked from Cheyenne to Brandon. “I think she should go for Salem,” he said. “It’s a career opportunity.” Almost as an afterthought, he reached a tentative hand across the table to her. “I wouldn’t mind visiting Salem.”
            “Would you excuse me,” she said. “I drank too much.”
            The three of us remained at the table. Brandon told us he’d settled a few cases and got to know a couple of judges. “Except for the no chicken rule, I love Pendleton.”
            “And you don’t work an eighty hour week.” I tilted my head toward Dave. “Or, claim you’re working eighty hours.”
            “I put in more than fifty, easy,” Brandon said. “Some weeks are worse than others, but I’m learning a lot.”
            “Are you and Cheyenne able to have dinner together?” I asked.
            He shrugged. “No. It’s a problem for her, but I didn’t grow up with nightly family dinners. I don’t mind eating alone.”
            “Brandon?” Cheyenne called from the hallway. He went to her.
            I finished my martini and stared at my husband. “Why were you so late?”
            Dave stood and downed his drink. “My mother called.”
            “Was it an emergency?”
            He left the room without answering and turned on the TV in the den. Furious, I followed him and grabbed the remote switching off the TV.
            “I don’t even have words for how rude you are.”
            “She just wanted to talk, okay? After a hard day it’s relaxing to speak with her. My mom is very supportive.”
            I was about to give him the finger and yell, “Support this!” when we heard Brandon and Cheyenne shouting.
            “I can’t go on like this,” she said. “Nothing makes sense.”
            “Stop it,” Brandon said.
            Then Cheyenne, “You have to tell them.”     
            I tossed the remote to Dave and sat down. For once, he didn’t turn on the TV. He looked startled. Footsteps down the hall.
            Brandon went outside to smoke. He came back in and pulled a chair over to face us. “We’re having some problems.” He clenched his jaw, reminding me of his father. “I’m queer and so is Cheyenne.”
            Dave cleared his throat. “You guys are gay?”
            “We go both ways, Dad.”
            “You’re bisexual,” I said, relieved. I’d rejoiced when he went to a college whose motto was Atheism, Communism, Free Love.
            Brandon smirked. “We reject that categorization. We’re non-normative, or at least I am.”
            “So what’s the problem?”
            “She wants to get married and be heteronormative.”
            He went on and on speaking in non-binary terms until my brain felt like it was going to explode. Even though his terminology was annoying, Brandon knew we’d never desert him. That night, we expressed our love and support for him and each other, embracing before saying goodnight. Dave and I both grabbed our laptops to look up all the terms Brandon had tossed out. Of course we did it in separate rooms. At 1 a.m., I shut down my computer, my questions answered for the time being.
            The next day was Christmas. We had a fine brunch, with our usual discussions of books, movies, and politics. The conversation was colorful, tinted with affectionate sarcasm and laughter. Cheyenne and Brandon spent the next two days exploring LA and then they flew back to Pendleton.
            They broke up within a week of their return.
            Cheyenne accepted the job in Salem, but she stayed in touch with me. I advised her to stay in touch with the hospitals and medical centers in Oregon, and especially in Pendleton.
            A couple of months later, Brandon started dating Oscar, a chef. Their Facebook posts were charming. They bought a house together and Brandon quit smoking. He and Oscar called us often on Sundays, laughing and teasing each other. Brandon seemed genuinely happy and in love with Oscar. Cheyenne had a series of lovers, all male. Brandon and Oscar visited her in Salem.  A year had passed when she called me to say St. Anthony’s hospital in Pendleton had offered her a promotion.
            “I went after what I wanted,” she said. “Just like you said to.”
            I smiled, staring out at my garden while we talked, feeling warmth and affection for her.
            She moved back to Pendleton.

            I patted the earth beneath me as if it were a cat. My head still hurt, but everything else was numb. The light was still with me. I could see it even with my eyes closed. I could see Dave clearly and all the colors on the CA-1 from our first drive up the coast.    
            Before we’d even booked one hotel for our second journey, I died in the garden.


            My will dictated cremation and my desire to be buried in my garden. Irony again. Brandon, Oscar and Cheyenne flew down for the party/memorial. My son put up the photos I’d taken on my one and only road trip to Oregon.
            The next day, they scattered my ashes in the garden and turned the soil. Dave saved some of me for my final journey. Oscar had to fly back for work, but my family, including Cheyenne, decided to scatter what was left of me along the CA-1.
            They told mom stories on the road.
            Cheyenne sat in the backseat with my ashes. A seatbelt secured my urn next to her. Dave drove, quiet and intense, as usual. Brandon looked across the front seat at his dad. “Remember when Mom took me on a road trip to Utah for a visit with her brother?”
            “Yeah. You had a good time?”
            “We stopped at a Dairy Queen.” Brandon began to laugh so hard, he had to stop and catch his breath. “Remember how obsessive Mom was about coupons? Well, she’d brought some along and they wouldn’t accept them. She asked for the manager, who also refused to honor them. She tore the coupons into tiny pieces and tossed them in the air.”
            “Uh oh,” Dave said. “You were only seven. Can’t believe you remember that.”
            “Everyone looked up. They floated down like snowflakes.”
            No one spoke for the next thirty miles. Dave pulled over at a rest stop and then the journey began again.
            “Your mom gave me career advice,” Cheyenne said from the backseat. She tapped Brandon’s shoulder. “You never told me about her business experience. She got me to accept the job in Salem and told me how to deal with the doctors and management. She knew about the job at St. Anthony’s before I did.”
            “Mom could network when she wanted to.”
            “She also gave me sex advice,” Cheyenne said.
            Dave groaned. “Probably more than you’d ever want to know.”
            “Olivia was funny,” Cheyenne continued. “Always willing to make fun of herself and the whole process. She was very complimentary of you, Dave.”
            Dave’s eyes met hers in the rearview mirror.
            “When I was thirteen, she annotated every sex advice book we owned before handing them over to me,” Brandon said. “I paid her back by adding my comments to all her parental guidance books.”
            “I wondered whose writing that was,” Dave said.
            “You read parental guidance books, Dad?”
            Everyone laughed.
            “It wasn’t just sex,” Cheyenne said to Dave. “We talked about love. You used the word continuity when you guys were first discussing marriage. She said she learned the depth of that word from you.”
            Cheyenne stared at his reflection in the rearview mirror. Dave gripped the steering wheel, but didn’t look at her. “Olivia said not to expect love to solve everything: It's like a garden, and without nurture some weird shit will take over.”
            “Mom told me the same thing,” Brandon said.
            Cheyenne blew her nose. “She loved you guys so much.”
            Dave glanced at Brandon. “Your mom was smart and funny. She loved nature and life and you with all her heart.”
            “Mom loved you, too, Dad.” He reached across for his dad’s hand.
            “I loved her more than she knew.” Dave pulled the car over.
            He and Brandon got out and hugged and cried together. They talked and hugged more. Cheyenne remained in the car with me.    
            They drove on, stopping to scatter me when they recognized a place where I’d taken pictures on my first road trip.
            In Pendleton, Oscar waited for Brandon and the rest of us at their home. He’d prepared a delicious vegetarian dinner. At least I thought it was probably delicious. They’d left me in the car. I was just residue at this point, a light dust that remained on my family’s clothes and in their hair. Hugs and goodnights and plans for breakfast tomorrow. Then, Dave drove Cheyenne to her place.
            They spoke at the door. Dave covered his face with his hands. His shoulders rose and fell with strangled sobs. Cheyenne embraced him, patting his back and swaying the way you’d do with a baby. Dave quieted. He straightened up, reaching into his jacket for a Kleenex. He and Cheyenne stood quietly together, until he said goodnight and leaned forward for one last hug. She wrapped her arms around him, not letting go.
            She held his hand and drew him inside her apartment.
            My work here was done.