I'm fifteen, and across town hanging out in East Bakersfield. This side of town is real isolated in my experience of the burb. But then everyone that
lives over here is half-Spanish plus a few black couples. They stick out to some of the meaner rednecks. They all seem very nice but this part of town
is remote, nice and unsettled all at the same time. It felt like anything could happen. So anyway, here I am by East High School, drinking a couple
beers in a field.
It's October, so it looks cold but it's just dry Santa Ana air. I got my windbreaker and a pack of Marlboro's and some cloves in my other jacket
pocket. No sun above the three of us sitting in the grass. About ten feet from us are some thistles. Brad is starting to rip them out of the ground with
his foot,. He kicks at the weeds with his feet, and he's getting dust all over the place we're sitting, dirt flying everywhere. He brushes the twigs
toward us, and kicks up more of the dust.
Brads makes a sound , it's something like a pirate; "Valley fever to ye strangers here... " There is a pause of no time. His threat is ignored.
"I am so glad to get liquored up."
"You'll catch the fever, Mulligan". Brad twisted his fingers in the air, waving the a six-pack from inside his trench coat.
"Wait a minute, what did you say your name was"? Brad asked Michigan, "It's Melodie, right?" he says. Michigan is just glaring at Brad and they
look like they want to fight or something.
"It's Michigan, like the state", Michigan offered.
We both laugh, it's the usual joke Michigan gets. Everybody tries to be funny with Mich, he acts so cool. So we say "Duh." and I back up away from
Brad and Mich to take another drink of my beer. A long, big sip. I swallowed about sixteen times before I had to stop. In my next breath I wondered
if there would be any company at the house. "When are we going to the house, huh? Is your momma gonna be there, baby?"
"Yep", said Michigan.
"Is she still taking those pills? I grabbed the weeds in front of me and held them up like a bunch of flowers. "Let's get some of those pills for us, and
get really messed up." I waved the bouquet back and forth, and smelled the yellow and purple buds and petals. They smelled like sour milk.
Brad spit on the ground and started walking towards the school fence. It was warm to the touch through his holey gloves. I don't know what he was
gonna do, but then Michigan threw some weeds up in the air. Dust flied toward me so I knocked some back at him. Brad starts to walks over, and
Michigan catches one of the purple weeds in his hand. He crushes the flowers and throws them on the ground. I chug the rest of my beer and throw
the can over the fence into the lot behind the fence. It bounces and hits a sprinkler near the school's baseball diamond . Hee haw.
It was quiet, no one was around where we were. We started walking out of the field. I lit up a clove. They're the old Jakarta's that stain your fingers
when you smoke em. Your lips too. Taste so sweet on my tongue.
Brad wants to share. I see him make the eyes, the puppy dog eyes.
"Heck no, nasty germs". Michigan was singing on the boardwalk so we pushed him across the street, the one lined with old oak trees. It always
smelled old over here. Under the trees where it could get slimy in Bakersfield, the winter just smelled old and woody in this old neighborhood. This
neighborhood had been built up sometime in the early sixties.
The clove was starting to make my tongue go numb and... "Hey Brad", he's over there just trampling leaves, I think he is so crazy and so dumb. "I
hope this house is empty so I can screw some crap up. Is the mother at the house"? Yes I whispered to myself, annoyed by this lame talk. I wanna
get going. Brad kicked gravel up at me. What a jerk!
"She'll be asleep, she never wakes up anymore. We can drink some of her gin when we get there." Michigan crossed through the bushes towards the
other side of the street, crossing back toward the short alley that ends at the freeway, if you go through some back yards on the way.
"Can we smoke"? I joked. I was able to do anything I wanted at Michigan's house. "Yeah." Michigan muttered something and kicked up some fast
food trash that hit a car. "Cool", I replied. I crushed the cherry on my clove to get the gin down better later.
So uh, yeah, Brad's a drummer. He's a little grabby, but everything seems ok if he starts drumming on it. He's fun to get drunk with cause he talks so
much shit. He can sing when he drinks too but all high like a girl. "Hey, every goddamn time we cut, unngh., every time we cut through somebody's
yard, on this nice street, I have to climb some stupid rose bush just so we can cross the freeway below?" Neither of the boys answers my complaint.
But wait a minute, let me back up and talk about some of this other stuff. Like some of the history behind Michigan's house. What a life.
Michigan lives in some house built before the freeway or about the same time as the freeway cause his street dead ends into an embankment next to
the wide new offramp for the shopping mall. The mall is a direct score for cloves there too, real easy for me to get them . I think the old guy who runs
the store thinks I get them for this boyfriend I made up. I told the guy at the store how he's so old, and nice, and sweet to me. I told him he's in
college see, and that he's friends with my older brother. Who of course plays football with the boyfriend in college. You mention UCLA to this guy and
he gets all red in the face. And then, he sells me a pack of cloves.
In the back yard of the nice houses we're cutting through, Brads decided to leave a vomit present for the tenants. What a dork. I gotta get past him
and as I do, I give him a bump. He falters a little and steps in his vomit. Ha Ha.
We both get around him. Michigan is already up to the custom fence. Kind of a lattice for these roses which always destroy stepping up on them. I
don't know if the residents ever notice. And then we are over it, and here's the freeway. Ice plant embankments have the grossest bugs in them. And
we have to scuttle down this embankment, fly across the freeway, and cross over this empty field that was a house lot some time back. Past this lot on
Michigan's street, nothing grows. All the pesticides have killed everything and its dusty with gravel and ripped pieces of black garbage bags and
trash. The houses left on Cottonwood Road are pretty dismal. One is boarded up, one partly burned out, and the other is Michigan's moms house.
Her name is some piece of shit. I can't remember and I don't really care.
"What's that piece of shits' name"? I push Michigan over the rock gravel in his front yard. Brad snorts and wipes spittle off his face, he stinks so
bad now. I don't know what he got into besides that vomit. Eeew. "You sure are curious about his mother. You lesbo for her ?" asks Brad, clicking his
tongue. "Brad, I'm only lesbo for your mom. And I love her crystal collection". My words piss him off so quick. "Shut up you bitch". Brad tries to
push me into the gravel.
"You shut you wannabe lesbo. You'd be lucky if she much less anybody else would have you. And hey, hey shouldn't I get your mother? Don't you
think she's good enough for me"? I dart back across the freeway to escape Brad's lunge to fight. Finally Michigan opens the door, he has been
standing there waiting for us to finish this little war. We are here, and then Brad gets all giggly. He pulls a beer out of his pants and gives me the
He pulls it out slowly, like he's gonna pull out his dick, only Michigan looks at him for a minute. Michigan fumbles in his trench coat for his keys, but
he's forgot that he left the door open. I can already smell the house too. It smells like gasoline on the outside and stale smoke and burnt almonds on
the inside. But how it's possible in this dry desert that his mom is able to keep a dark moldy house, well, it is amazing. I think it's water cooler, and
the house being shut up all the time that does it. I know they never open the windows. Cause the freeway. Its dark, grayed air inside and out. Dark
house. You look around the room and it seems foggy.
I lit myself up a smoke of clove and throw myself into the couch. The room's already full of people I kind of know or recognize. This girl named
Kristen is here with her friend Monica. Ah, Monica, she's a beauty. Stocky girl, auburn red curly hair and freckles. Lots of fun and always smiling.
She's related to the Smith family. And both the girls I know from that family are big and drink like fish. As long as anyone else is paying for the
Brad lays himself across Monica and Kristen's laps on the love seat. A cloud of dust and foam squirts out of the cushions. "Hey mom, I'm home",
Michigan opens the swing door to the kitchen. Us girls catch one another's' eyes, so I nod and everything is gonna be cool. As Brad slides on the long
couch, he says, "Hey Monica, where's the party"? Brad gets pushed off the girls with force. "You been there already? Hee haw." He snorts. "Ho
"You're standing in the middle of it." Monica says.
"I'm not standing". Brad wriggles.
"Are you drugged up already?" Kristen asks.
"What? Kristen? Is you on drugs"? A gurgling Brad growls at the girls sitting above him. They put their feet up on him, and begin to use him like a
footstool. I see an ashtray and flick the clove next to it. Kristen lights up another menthol cigarette.
Monica laughs, "I mean, this is the party", she says .
"Oh". Brad wriggles around on the floor at Monica and Kristen's feet, getting them to laugh. They each look at each other and stand. Brad catches
himself on the dirty coffee table to avoid their feet, his grip slips a little as he fumbles of the table strewn with fast food trash.
"Stupid bitches". Brad just got a pinch of death and pain. I'll let you guess where that happened. Brad gulps in and forces air out of his lungs, a
grimace on his face, he's kinda beet red now. So I laugh.
"You sloth? What are you laughing at"? Michigan is returning from the back bedroom where we all know, his mother is resting. He has returned with
surprises. He holds up a half-drunk bottle of vermouth, and two full bottles of gin. The whoop cry is given. "I got these out of the case, so she won't
know they're gone, Michigan says breathlessly.
"You got any glasses"?, I say. "I notice Kristen came prepared, look, her hand's already out", Brad grabs for Kristen's glass. Then he reaches to
grab the bottles from Mich. I reach them first.
"Give me the bottles." I say, taking over, "I'll make the drinks. Mish, go get me a bowl and a spoon and some of those Dixie cups in the bathroom.
And you Brad, you can drink straight from the bowl!" So with the bottle in hand I start to unscrew the cap.
I can't believe you're still holding onto that cup from the party where that boy bumped into you", Kristen says to Monica.
" He kissed me, really hard", she replied. Kristen likes to kiss, they tell me, after I see she is not going to say any more about the other party.
"Yeah, Brad says, taking a drag, "so then he threw up, right, after you kissed him"? The demur Monica. "He was just trying to get past you to me
Baby Dolls". Monica cooed at her friend Kristen, who was watching Brad pull another beer out of his pants. Everyone was still watching then Monica
shoved her hand up Kristen's top. I poured a little gin in their glasses. It spills a little. Jumping over them now with two bottles was like becoming a
sinister acrobat, master stunt man, all man. I tripped over Brad and swooped down on top of them, the bottles raised high above me. Tickles began,
and wrestling or some mess. The screaming started when Michigan got the party cups, and Brad just sat there and watched Michigan and Monica
while he bogarted my stub of a clove. "Now we're gonna get fibbled, fubbled, gone out of our minds, up man, yeah". I packed my Marlboro's and got
my matches ready.
"You bitch, get off me." Michigan slapped Kristen. You like it, Michelin. Monica sneered as she shoved him away. I walked past the hazardous body
mess. I could of maybe poked Monica in the stomach. "Stop it. Get on her instead. Brad whines, then cuts in, "You're trying to steal my woman!"
"I'll show you stealing", and I got up, and opened the gin bottle. "The trick is, you flat-footers, to get as many bubbles into the bottle without getting
puke in your throat. Watch". I leaned my head back and put a tight lip grip around the bottle. I started wincing when the gin crossed my teeth. It
soaked my tongue and I let it pass. One bubble. Opened my throat. Two bubbles. Every feeling, full of water, from behind the bulbs, eye bulbs. Three
bubbles. I could feel it getting easier and soon I won't even taste a thing. Not feel anything. Four bubbles. I could feel my hand hurt and my stomach
do a flip. Gasping, I said, "Done."
I pulled the bottle back, swung it down and looked around the room.
There was moving, slowly, and hung moving, if that makes sense. I could feel the alcohol had gained some weight inside me and was settling into my
cheeks, like vice grips. And padding I could feel tensing up in my mouth to spit. Then hot and flushed.
Whoops, yelps and cheers met my confused stare into the middle of the couch I was about to sink into. Brad grabbed the bottle next for his try at the
bubbles. I fell in-between the two girls and they appeared totally weird to me at this moment. I know why too, I was starting to get very drunk.
Michigan came back from the kitchen, carrying a TV tray loaded with mixing bowls and liquid containers. They were fruity, plastic covered mold
glasses. Pressed in the early sixties and not washed since.
"Did you dig those things out of a box in the trash?" I sneered. But still Kristen cuts in, "Gross. I'm not gonna drink out of that shit.
"Gimme a god damn glass, Brad lunges," I'm gonna be civilized". Standing on my toes I say, "Where's the bathroom?"
" Not yet yuh hardcore girl. Mix the drinks. I'll get you your compassion". Michigan turns from the floor and gets up to the mantle. The compassion
lives in a little red Chinese box I gave Michigan in the third grade. It was something I picked up on a Camping trip to Los Angeles once.
"I gotta drink some more". I say. "Look, here's all the stuff you asked for, go to it already. Michigan lays the box on the table. Kristen puffs out of
her cigarette. "Uh, Michigan, pick up my cigarettes? I dropped them out of my pocket in the rush to get to the couch myself."
Monica was taking her turn at the gin bottle. As she grabbed the bottle she elbowed me and gave me a wink. Ill beat your record now. There's no
stopping this perfect one.
"I always thought Monica was really cool. She wasn't super pretty or some extreme ideal, she was just so lucky. Things always, find her, ready...as
she's uh.... "Brad trailed off. Monica swung the bottle back, and it lunged into her mouth. I guess she opened her throat cause I think I saw six or
seven bubbles before the bottle came down. Monica's mouth was still hanging open, dripping with saliva as she panted from her put-on ham show.
She looked kinda funny afterwards though and her eyes got a little glazed. Everyone could tell she was about to puke. Almost screaming, she said,
"My buzz is kicking ass."
I tried to grab the bottle away from Monica but Brad caught it as she was about to throw it down. "It's time to get messed up." I reached over for the
red box. now Then Michigan said, "Hey, did you hear about Kelly? I heard she got pregnant. Is she gonna kill it Karen? It must be Tommy's baby,
"That prick. I was gonna get her, she was supposed to be cherry". Brad had moved away from the imminent explosion from Monica's gut. She was
dripping spit from her mouth that would not close until uh, eehew, gross. Playing with her upper lip made her flick spit on Kristen. She had gotten out
her compact and then she looked over at Brad. He went on about his Kelly-hard dick.
"Where are the olives?" I said. "They're in here. Michigan motioned to his mom's room. Yeah, I had been there before. To help Mish get her out of
bed once, after she had had a fall. I remember when she used to take us to church, Sunday school only, than breakfast at Wyatt's. But lunch was all
they served and it would always make me sick. Those green beans had a film on them. Everything did. The macaroni and cheese, that was supposed
to be "good for kids", they'd say, ugh,its so awful, and more brown than the plastic windows and vinyl booths. The mac and cheese was pure barf.
And his mom would never let us sit by the plastic fire. But now she had gone and had a stroke. She'd cry and moan every day.
"I want pills and bread and water." Her voice would cry out. Then the day would begin. Now she was just a weird bitch who hit any kid that bothered
her. In public, in church, in the house. She stays most of the time now though.
My head feels so full and still having to do stuff with her. I don't care if it even is just going in her room without her being awake. Or maybe conscious
is the right word. Church stopped after the stroke. I'm not gonna think about her. I'm not gonna even look at her.
I could see Kristen was taking her turn at the bottle, and both the boys had decided to help her. They had her head back, giving her neck rubs. I could
see the drummer looking at her like a sad puppy dog. Michigan cooing in her ear that she was gonna love it. Monica had gone outside to smoke. I
extended my hand out, feeling the alcohol work in my body, slowing my motion. Gums were numb and tingly, lips even more. I wanted more. But I will
now make everything perfect. Gotta get the olives.
In the hallway I could see fuzzy signs of pictures. A double ring of pictures, two figure eight's of elementary school pictures and cousins and family.
Their forgotten family. I recognized most from when Michigan's mom Shelley used to go to the church we went to. She had lots of sisters and cousins
whose pride never would bring them over brought them over to visit after Shelley started drinking and trying to hit anyone who came near here. She
kinda just went crazy. They couldn't get past the filth and the boos.
Then I though there looking at these photos something kinda funny. "You know, " I said to myself, little pictures were down here of Michigan from
before when he used to smile. What a joke.
"The carpet was really true up right. Guh! Nasty piece of shit!" Brad blurted out as Kristen pulled the bottle away from her mouth. She was just
standing there with the bottle hanging in her hand and her head swayed back. It looks like your gonna faint". cried Monica as she came in from her
" Too loud, shit, might wake Shelley. "I said under my teeth. The last door was open. White greasy door, gray greasy sheet over her body, same
gross blue nightgown she always wears. Above her bed were some older pictures. Her grandparents from the turn of the century. The gray brown
walls in the picture still that take three minutes to come out. They all look pretty stiff. Hee hee. I'd love to have a camera. I'd love to take a picture of
From the doorway she looked turned on her side. Clothes and magazines laid on top of her. The TV was on but the volume was off. In a corner of the
room was the table I was looking for. Cases of gin underneath revealed wadded up toilet paper she wiped her face with. All the time smears of yellow
would collect in the corners of her mouth and eyes. Unnh., enough.
Ok, when I was really young, she used to do her hair in front of me before we would go to church. I guess I get kinda slow when I drink. But thinking
about her. She had the biggest hair. With pins and clips, and the red dye on her hair was always frosty. Maybe she used to go to a real old
hairdresser, like somebody that does beehives.
God all I need to get right now are the olives. And all I can think about are those olives. I could see right that jar of olives. I was gonna feed them to
everybody right now. I think she kept them in tequila and they tasted like bubble gum by now they were so old. They were starting to turn blue-gray
cause who would put the put drink stuff in the refrigerator? Duh. You could never make it from the couch to get it if it's in there.
My weight shifted, Over the bed, olive juice arcing above me, I have not been given the grace of slow motion her, unngh, damn. I'm laying next to
her. The bed bouncing, settling, splattered olive juice lays a trail right across us and now we all smell like a wet ashtray.
It's so hard to get out of this bed, feels so hot in here, musty and no air conditioning, no water cooler, no fan. So still and quiet. But I cant believe she
didn't get up just now. I know I bumped her. Pushed her butt and crashed into her side. " Oh, god Shelley, sorry, I said, "I mean uh, I mean are you
OK? Ms. Crossman?" I thought she was going to go psycho on me now . I thought maybe, pretty sure, that she was gonna go psycho, but she didn't
"Unmph, Shelley, oh... "I gave her a nudge and she still didn't say anything. I crawled my way off her sunken in mattress. God, it's weird. It smells so
weird in there. "Michigan, hey Michigan, your mom."
I was still holding the jar of drying olives, the juice had sank into the crinkly sheets and matted cotton comforter. I still couldn't see her move so I
moved around to the other side of the bed. Her side of the bed is the darker side of the room, long gray shadows on gray clothes. Dripping olive juice
in her hair had traced down her cheek. Hey eyes were wide open and the skin looked really flushed. But here then I could see inside her mouth. It
was hanging open, with dried white saliva laying on her tongue. Then I finally saw Michigan walked down the hallway towards us.
Hey, uh, check on your mom, ok?. "Why, she doesn't need anything:, Michigan turned his nose and thumped me . "Just go look at your mom, her
eyes... " I trailed off.
"Her eyes? She's fine"
"No, I can't say it any more flat or real. She's -
Michigan reached around my side to push me away, he glanced at her hair from the doorway revealing the olive mess I had just made. "Maybe she
had a seizure?" I said limply.
"Mom, are you sleeping?" asked Michigan in a stupid whiny voice. Kicking the clothes onto his legs they gathered and tried to hold him around the
outside of the bed. He reached out to touch her face, and her eyes. "I think her heart might have stopped. Can you give her mouth to mouth?"
Michigan asked flatly.
"Oh my god, she's your mother. "I know, but maybe you could help her." Are you saying you don't want to?" Michigan asked me sweetly.
"Your mothers dead. I think we should go." I let out a big breath. I felt so dizzy.
"Go? Go where? So then he got around to her front and slapped Shelly's face. "Mom. Get up. Why do you act like this?" She still didn't move.
"I better go back out in the living room. Um, make the drinks" I moved away from the bed and Mish. "Yeah, sure, you do that". So his Mom's dead,
right? Michigan decides to stay with his mother. I go into the living room and everyone is necking. "I gotta get my box. I say to myself. I am grabbing
the compassion box, and lighting up a smoke with the pipe from my jeans. The necking continues around me.
"Look at all this shit. Everything is shitty. I hate all this shit!. Fuck. " But I can't say a word. Michigan still doesn't come out from down the hallway.
I can see his feet at the end of the bed now, he is standing over her, just standing there.
Kristen and Brad start giggling. as Monica is pretending to rub herself. She give me this kinda wink. At me, by myself, on the couch. With the olive
juice stain on my pants. And I'm staring at her , and just smoking. She is so pretty. Why is she doing that? I can't do anything. I-
See, their hallway is really long. You can see the bedroom door standing open down the hallway. You can see into the kitchen too. And out a window
over the sink. It's all yellow. Brad gets up to turn on some music. Monica gets up and goes looking for Michigan. In the doorway the two just stand
there. There, at the foot of the bed, I can see she is kissing him. His mother is right there. And she's not going anywhere fast. They're kissing,
ferociously? I gotta close my eyes. I gotta take a drink of gin from the bottle. Then I see Brad and Kristen go down the hallway next.
Yeah, um, this sofa is pretty soft. It's almost like it didn't happen. Its almost like nobody cares. They're laughing down the hallway, screaming, but
why? It's kinda like no one but me got tripped up about this. I decide to go and cross back across the freeway. You know, take a walk under the
overpass? . Think about something else. Get really wasted. They can all die for all I care. The air seems warm but dry and hard. I feel cold in my
fingers, and my gloves still feel wet. So I cut across the field. I just grab the fence real hard with my hands.