California

I wrote this story in 2002. I’ll start with the backstory…

~~

seashellsI was at a garage sale and I bought this huge basket of large shells and coral. I had no idea what I was going to do with them but they cost two dollars; I just couldn’t leave them.  I took them home and did nothing for a year. Then I had my brainstorm.

I was at the reservoir with the kids. This is a suburb in a land-locked state, so it’s sort of a thrill for kids to be there. They have sand and so forth. Most of these kids had never seen a beach, which is how I grew up. I was thinking about this and then EUREKA!

I decided to take the garage-sale shells and sprinkle them on the fake beach for the kids to find. This is exactly what I did.

My daughter was about five-years-old at the time. I told her we were shell fairies.  We took the shells to the reservoir and skipped around, tossing the shells. The shells pictured are some of the exact shells.

This came off exactly as I hoped it would. All the kids ran around collecting them, shrieking with joy. One little girl came up to me to ask permission to keep the shell in her hand. “Yes!” I said. “It’s your lucky day!”

It was insanely magic. At that point I knew why I bought the shells. Excellent return on a two-dollar investment!

So that was fun and a month passed. Or maybe two months. I was in Mexico, lying on the beach and I thought of this story. It just came to me in a wave. I had a laptop so I reached over, grabbed it and started writing this story. It was a powerful experience for me because when I did the shell thing, I was not aware of the root of this. This is the root.

I also like this story because it’s written entirely in conversation. I wrote it this way because it’s how the story was told, when it was told. It’s a story of a story of another story, etc.

I was visiting my sister. We were sitting around with her husband, telling stories. We’re both around thirty years old. This is a record of what was said.

California

*Note – This is a true story.

“Anna” is a real person with a fake name.
“W” is my father.
XXXXX is my sister’s husband.
“Nonno” is Italian for grandfather.
“Henry” (real name) is our other grandfather. Read about him here – Authentically Interesting Person.

XXXXX asked me, “Now what were you doing in a motel when you were eleven?”

“I wasn’t eleven. I was twelve, I think. I think I was twelve, going on thirteen.”

“You were twelve?” my sister, asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Well maybe you were. Do you want to tell XXXXX that story?”

“No, you tell him. I just told a story. I’ll listen to this one if you want to tell it. Yeah. Go ahead and tell him if you want to.”

“Well, okay then. Okay. You jump in if I forget something.”

I chuckle and nod. “Hit it.”

“What happened is our grandfather came to visit. Not Henry. W’s father. He was a prick too, this guy. He was very Italian. Old country Italian. He was traditional Italian, which tells you right there that he is fucked up because he was a Sagittarius. He’s supposed to expand but this is not what he does. Well he does do it in some ways. He does it in the form of his girlfriend, but…well he does, and he doesn’t because he makes her hide.”

She lights a cigarette.

“He has a girlfriend. Anna. She’s Mexican. She’s twenty years younger than he is and she loves him but don’t ask me why. Do you know why she loved him, Elsa?”

“No.”

“Well either do I. She took care of his dumb ass and she traveled with him. He was a Sadge in that way, I guess. He did travel around.”

“They would come to visit us and he took her to Mexico to see her family. See, they’d be going to Mexico and they would stop to see us on that way so that’s good. But when they were at home, he wouldn’t acknowledge her as his girlfriend and you know that’s fucked up.”

“So he dates her for twenty years and hides her for all of them. From the rest of the family, I mean. They visited us. They came to the desert and they visited us together all the time. At least once a year and sometimes twice. They were clearly a couple. They slept together but he would not acknowledge the relationship in the city where they lived. In, California. Just our family, the black sheep, knew her and knew about her.”

She smokes.

“See, later both, Elsa and I went to California to sniff around and try to meet our cousins. All we knew is what W told us and we knew that he was full of shit so we both went there to check it out firsthand. As adults, I mean.”

“I went first and I found out a little. Then Elsa went and she infiltrated deeply into their web.” She cackles. “You stayed with them, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“See! See how she is? She stayed with them! She did. She has fucking balls, you know that. I stayed in a hotel. That was close enough for me. I’m a Pisces. But leave it to, Elsa, to stay right in their fucking house. Fuck all this surface nicety crap. She’s goin’ IN.”

“So you know how stupid Elsa is. She doesn’t think or check things out. She just starts talking. I’m Elsa, who the fuck are you? Like that. And one of the things she starts talking about is Anna. She finds out that the cousins don’t really know who she is. They thought that she was some kind of acquaintance of “grandpa”. They thought that she was some waitress that he knew.”

“Well she was a waitress; this is how they met. She was a waitress in the Italian restaurant that he liked to eat at. That’s where he met her and all through their relationship, she continued to work there. I guess she liked it. He’d come in there every Saturday and she’d give him his soup. Probably spoon-fed the motherfucker but you know. She was his waitress acquaintance that he slept with and traveled with for two decades.”

She takes a hit off her cig.

“Well you know Elsa. When she finds out that the cousins don’t know who Anna is, she is going to fill them in. You know her mouth and the truth. She tells them straight up that Anna has been screwing the old man for fifteen years. And you know that is probably how she said it too. Screwing.” She snorted.

“They didn’t believe her. That can’t be! Shock!”

She inhales on her cigarette.

“Fucking dunces. See, they were all tied to the grandmother myth. The myth of the saintly grandma. Our grandmother is the bitch who orchestrated the separation in the family. She made us black sheep because she hated our mother. She had been dead for twenty-five years by then and they had her all idolized.”

“In whatever case, they couldn’t handle this information. It can’t be true! Grandpa uses his dick! That’s not possible! They couldn’t function on it. They’d rather believe he’d stayed true to the idolized dead grandma for twenty-five years so they dismiss Elsa as crazy. They smile at her politely and they shine her on.”

“Elsa lets that ride. She continues to gather data. She finds out that ol’ grandpa ate dinner with our cousins every Sunday but he never brought, Anna. For fifteen years, this is, so Elsa is pretty shocked. We think of the old man and Anna as a couple. She’s the “grandmother” figure as far as we are concerned. We never met the dead saint version because she didn’t want anything to do with us. Not that this bothered, Anna. Sunday dinner, I mean. Fuck it. It was her day off and I bet that she saw it that way too. Day off from work. Day off from, Nonno.”

“So the cousins go on and on about the dead grandmother, how saintly she was and being loyal, Elsa tells them what a nice person Anna is but they don’t want to hear it. Their father, W’s brother has them sold some other reality so eventually Elsa decides to quit swimming upstream. She’s way outnumbered anyway. She doesn’t have a chance of breaking through their denial so she just notes their resistance in her little brain.

“Cousins delusional. Think dead grandma is a saint. She makes a note so she can share the info with me when she gets home.” She laughs.

“Now do you see how neat this is? They think she’s crazy. She thinks they’re crazy and they’re both right. Elsa is definitely crazy. She’s crazy like a fox. They, on the other hand are just plain crazy. The normal kind of crazy you get when you believe in fairy tales like grandpa has no interest in his dick…when you believe that his Sagittarius dick is satisfied with the memory of the dead bitch from twenty-five years ago.”

“So why did he hide her? Why didn’t he just introduce her…?” XXXXX asks.

“Why?” She smokes. “Two things. Part of it is because she is Mexican, but mostly it was because they had our dead grandmother up on the cross. Our cousins, I mean. They worshiped her. A bitch who set the family up to be split like this. See, I don’t think much of people who spilt up a family like that. To me, that is a bitch on wheels. And this is one powerful bitch because she was able to still be a bitch. She was able to still exert her bitchiness from her grave, twenty-five years after the fact.”

“What’s wrong with her being Mexican?”

“Oh! Well that’s an inferior race to Italians. That is what these fuckers think. It’s like slumming. That’s how it would be seen and this is why I had so much trouble. Look at me. I’m not Italian enough. I have no fucking hips to speak of so you know where that left me. Right, Elsa?”

“Yeah. She’s right.”

“So do you want to know what happens?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll tell you and then I’ll go back and tell you about Elsa’s motel adventure.”

“Twenty years these two run together. Anna and Nonno. And then he decides to marry her. Or maybe she decides to marry him, we really don’t know but we do know this: they marry, and our uncle freaks as predicted which is cool. Let him freak.”

Italy“We are happy about this. We’re happy that they are getting married and better yet, they’re going on a honeymoon. Is that funny or what? He’s old now. Nonno is in his eighties and he is getting married and going on a honeymoon. We approve. It’s about time, right?”

He decides to take her to Italy which may be why they married, come to think of it. Can’t sleep together in Italy without being married. The MOTHER country? No fucking way!” She laughs. “No really. He’s going to show her his home. See, he’s a Sagittarius. They do travel and they travel really well together but what happens is he gets off the plane in Italy and he had a fucking heart attack.”

“Right there? In the airport?”

“Yes. Right. And he dies. Can you fucking believe that?”

“Gimmie another cigarette and I’ll tell you some more.”

To be continued.

“So imagine being her. Here you spend twenty years of your life taking care of his dumb ass and believe me,” she lights a cigarette. “His ass was dumb. Who knows what she tells her family all these years? They’re Catholic, right? I bet she lied and said they were married. Yeah. They were in Mexico and I bet that’s what they did, but anyway,” she takes a hit of her cig, “He finally acknowledges the relationship, in front of his other son by marrying her. Not only that, he decides to actually be seen in Italy with her, a Mexican, because of… we don’t know why. The next thing she knows, she’s flying home with his newly dead body and in a legal fight with our uncle, the conglomerate.”

“The conglomerate?” XXXXX asks.

“Yeah. He’s a big deal attorney. A very big deal. And so is his wife. That’s another story but he vows that this “Mexican Gold Digging Bitch” will never see a dime, which is… well he has his grief and I guess and that this is his stupid way of dealing with it. He’s going to be the hero son. He basically swears on his dead Daddy’s grave to avenge him from this woman who took care of him for twenty fucking years.” She smokes. “While she waited tables six days a week, the whole time. See? She loved him. There was no other reason for what she did. They had no idea. They saw him on Sunday but she kept him alive the other six days of the week.”

“Now worse than that, much worse, W jumps on the bandwagon against her, which is one of the shocks of our life. I mean, we know he’s an asshole. But this was low even for him. We will never forgive him for it, will we, Elsa? Our uncle can project and depersonalize her, but W? He knew her. He liked her. We all did. There was not one fucking thing about her not to like.”

“See, Anna was one of those people who are just plain good. Elsa is like that. If you can see past the sex in Elsa’s case and hardly anyone can. It’s true that she has a sharp knife and shit, but she only cuts the throats of perps and why shouldn’t she? That is just more good she’s doing. It’s not like she carves up innocents, because she never does. She sees a perp, and she knows she’s loaded for bear. What’s she supposed to do? Leave him there? Fuck that. If she does that and he/she hurts someone, then she’s responsible for that. This is what she thinks and she’s probably right, so there’s a bloodletting and then she goes back to regular garden variety do-gooding that is her life.”

She smokes.

“My sister is a murderess of perps. I tell people that, Elsa. I tell them just like that and they think I’m kidding but of course, I’m not. But anyway. Never mind that. Onward with the story.”

“Anna and Elsa were a lot alike but Anna is minus the shiv. Have you figured this out yet, Elsa? When she came to visit, we had a mother. That’s the thing. She had mother-love going. This was really her strong suit.”

“Do you remember how she would cook for us? And do you remember how she babied him? Oh Nonno! Don’t eat that! The doctor said this or the doctor said that. He’s twenty years older than her, remember? Here. Let me fix you something, Nonno. Let me wipe the crumbs from your chin… Do you remember this?”

“I do.”

chilis“See, our mother never cooked. The only reason any of us ate was because, Elsa cooked for us. Yep. Elsa fed all of us from the time she was seven or eight so when Anna came, she took over. She gave you your first day off of your life. She would cook all this food. She would shop for it, bring it home, cook it and serve it. I dunno. Sounds like a mother to me. We never had one so we had no idea, but I think that is what most of them do.”

We all laugh.

“All we could do is marvel. Especially you, Elsa. Because she was doing what came natural to you. She was the first validation of who you are, never mind, you had a mother for a change. This did not go unnoticed, believe me. You studied her. You were right there with her peeling chilies and shit.”

“See, she really was just like you. She didn’t have your edge, but you have the same heart. What would you do if you walked into a house full of hungry kids? You’d cook for them, right? Right. Immediately, that’s what you’d do, and this is what she did.”

“If I saw that situation, I’d do something about it too. I’d probably call you! What am I going to do? Feed them imaginary food? I can’t fucking cook. I can do other things and I’m just trying to say that really, there was no difference between your heart and hers. She was a do-gooder and not much else. I’m not saying she was perfect. Maybe she had some other shit going, but if she did, it was minor. And it was nothing compared to her do-gooding.”

She inhales.

“No. Anna was an innocent in a den of thieves and murderers, just like you. Except you learned how to murder from them and you do it for do-gooder reasons and I am glad you do. Look at me. I go out on the street and some prick grabs my breast and what happens? I wind up on the floor of my closet for three days. There’s nothing I can do about it, but if you were there? Well you know. I’ve seen you do it too many times. He’d be dead meat.”

“We loved Anna. As much as we could, considering how little we knew of her and you knew her best. You cooked with her and then of course… well there is this story I’m telling. We will never forgive what they did to her when he died. That was the coup de grace and really showed their asshole colors.”

“Not that it mattered, mind you.” She takes another drag from her cigarette. “If we wanted to hate W, and why bother, we already had so many reasons that it made no difference at all. It was just another reason in the pile that’s what? The stack of reasons to hate W, is already ten stories high, so what difference does it make? Not a fucking one. Who gives a fuck? What? Our father is an asshole? Like we don’t know that?” She laughs. “Please! Tell us something interesting. It did shock us for thirty seconds though. Right, Elsa?”

“I was surprised.”

“I was too. Even his wife was surprised. W’s wife who stands behind him like the dummy, that she isn’t. Even she went behind his back when this happened. She called Anna to apologize. Did you know that? Fat lot of good that did her. Anna should have told her, “Thanks for the call, bitch, but why don’t you stop him?” But you know she didn’t. Why? Because she was probably too hurt. Can you imagine what it must have been like for her when W turned on her like that? Fuck! Talk about devastating. Anyway, they’re real assholes. We know that and we know karma, so let’s move along.”

She lights another cigarette.

“But first, do you want to hear my theory about her? It may interest you.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. This is my Anna and Elsa theory. See, we were hurtin’ for parents. Let’s face it. The ones that we had were ridiculous, so we had to find parents somewhere. Father figure was easy. Henry had that base covered in spades. He was our father figure, because you know W was for shit. We were in good shape there. Great shape. You’d be hard pressed to find a better father figure than Henry. He saved us in more ways than we will ever know.”

“Anna was the mother figure. For you I mean. You are just like her. All earthy and shit. She was a natural mother just like you, so you identified with her. She represented mother love to you and this is why I think that you go to Mexico all time. You like that energy. You like all that earthiness. You might call it, “chili relleno love”. She laughs.

“Anyway, this is my theory. I don’t know if you believe it or not. Remember, “Like Water For Chocolate”? How many people told you that you reminded them of that chick in that movie?”

“A dozen.”

“Right. And they were right. You can’t see it, but they can. You’re like her and Anna is why. She’s how you learned to love men the way that you do. And a few other reasons I can think of, but she was primary, and she wasn’t around much. What? Three days? One week a year? But she was all you had and you picked better than I did. I used our real mother for a mother figure and believe me, that has been a fucking disaster, but what could I do? I don’t relate to all that earthy shit. I wouldn’t be caught dead in Mexico. For one thing, they have no fucking fashion to speak of, and what do I care for a tortilla? But you? How many times have you been to Mexico?”

“I don’t count.”

“Well, there you go. And when you go there, you’re going home. Think about it, because I know I’m right. And it’s all because of Anna who has been sorely underestimated which is another quality you share with her. That happens to you too. No one ever gives you the credit you deserve but let’s get back to this story.”

She puts out her cigarette and glances around for the pack, so she can grab another when she’s ready.

“You know you can see this mother thing in our charts, by the way. Look at your fucking Moon. Look at the fucking trines to your Moon, and then look at mine, and you’ll see what I mean. There it is.”

“Anyway, Anna and Nonno came to visit and decided to take one of us back to California with them to stay the summer. I don’t know why. It was probably Anna’s idea, but we really don’t know. She was always promoting family. She’s the one who made him come see us in the first place. Before she was on the scene, we were ostracized, so that tells you right there what she is doing. She is trying to undo the bitches work. She knew we got a shitty deal.”

“A shitty deal?”

“When your grandparents don’t want anything to do with you, that’s a shitty deal. See how she is, XXXXX?”

“There was some discussion about who. It was decided that they would take, Elsa. It should have been me. They should have taken me. I’m older, right? Our oldest sister was already gone. She was already in California by then, but we didn’t know that. We didn’t know where the hell she was. Only that she was gone.”

“She said she would write us and she always said that she would come back some day, but she never did. We never heard a fucking thing for a long time. Well, I think she sent a postcard once, I don’t remember, but never mind that. It’s a different story. I should be the one to go, right? I’m the oldest, but no. They pick, Elsa.”

To be continued…

She lights a cigarette.

“So they pick Elsa. Why you ask? Well, they would have liked to take our brother. They liked him best. He’s a boy after all. But they thought he was a little young and our mother would never let him go anyway. Fuck that. Not a chance. Let’s see. If you’re twelve, then he’s ten, almost eleven. Yeah. That would be out of the question. She wouldn’t let him out of her sight.”

“Look at it this way. She’s got plenty of girls, but only one boy. If one of the girls is lost, it’s not that big a deal. Especially if it’s, Elsa.”

I smile and XXXXX shakes his head.

“Hey. This is how it was. But it wasn’t her that was making the decision anyway. As long as there was no risk to our brother, she wasn’t going to interfere. That was her boundary right there. Protect the boy and anything else is fair game for whatever purpose.”

“So why her and not me? Well to tell you the truth, I think he liked me better than her. Nonno did, I mean. He liked my personality better than Elsa’s. Anna liked us both. For her, it would be like picking between two children. Grandchildren in this case. But, Elsa was the better specimen. W’s opinion, I mean. If you’re sending a representative, which is exactly what he was doing.”

“They liked her look better than mine. She looked more Italian and this is the look that W would want to parade in front of his brother. I can’t tell you how prized it was to be Italian. Nothing else comes close and I looked like, Henry. All skinny and shit. I literally would have been an embarrassment to send. It would have been like sending the runt to represent the family.”

“No. They couldn’t do that. He’d want to send the most Italian-looking kid he had, and hands down, that was Elsa. Look at her. Plus I just told you. Elsa was good. She was more apt to behave than I was. I was good too, but every now and then I would get in someone’s face.”

handstand on motorcycle“Elsa never got in anyone’s face when she was a kid. She could be trusted like that. She didn’t start nailing these perps until she saw it was going to be hopeless if she didn’t learn to cut a throat.”

“See, Henry taught us never to fight and we tried to listen. We listened to everything he said, but how many people tried to rape Henry?” She laughs. “Right. Not one. Henry didn’t need a knife, but Elsa found out that she did. She took one look at the line around the block waiting to fuck with her and she thought, I either get me a knife and sharpen that fucker, or I’m going to spend my life on my back servicing these dudes. Anyway, that came later. At this time, she was still trying to live like Henry, where I was beginning to rebel.”

She took a long drag from her cig.

“I have another theory about this, I’m mulling. It’s occurred to me. For now, let’s just say I think, W might have had another reason to rid of, Elsa, which he was still trying to do a year later. He tried to get rid of her to juvie. I can definitely see some motivations for this, but they don’t matter for this story which is about the motel, right?”

“Right,” I say, wanting her to move along. My sister is a Pisces and she gets lost if you don’t keep her tracking.

“Well just remind me of that now and then. Which story I’m supposed to be telling, I mean. It’s the Neptune affect. I’ll tell some more about W’s subversive shit later after I think about it some more, okay? If you want. Anyway, what happens, is Elsa gets all fucking psyched. She’s going to the beach, that’s why. She wants to go to the beach like crazy. Like fucking crazy. And she wants to get a seashell. She’s obsessed with getting a seashell.”

“See, she’s like Henry. And she wants to be like him and she is like him, more than she knows. More than she knows then, of course. But more than she knows now, too. Henry goes to the beach and comes home with seashells and so she wants to do this. She wants to travel to the beach and get a seashell like he does. She thinks this is a cool thing to do and of course it is.”

seashellNow I want a seashell too so I’m pissed. But on the other hand, I don’t envy her being in the car with the old man. See, we’re afraid of him. Well I was. She was too, probably, but she has that poker face. She’s had it all her life. It’s her normal face. The one you see right now. That’s it. She’s wearing it right now.”

She looks at me and smokes. XXXXX looks over to see my poker face. I just look.

“Look at her. Is that a person who takes perps out in her sleep? You can’t tell, can you? That’s why she catches all the perps. They think she’s ripe for the picking. They think they can run amok, so a murder occurs. Sorry fucker. You should have looked past the dimples, dumb fuck. Even when she shows them her knife, they don’t believe it.”

“See, Elsa’s a good sport. I’ll say that. She always fires a warning shot. Usually, she fires a few of them, which I don’t think they even deserve. But it does no good anyway. Perps are stupid so they die. Only a stupid perp would mess with her in the first place. A smart perp would look behind the dimples, right? Thankfully, most perps are stupid, so they show up at her door to be killed and she obliges them.”

“You know. It’s not like she’s an undercover cop. She’s not out there pretending to be someone she isn’t and tricking perps. In fact, I bet you wouldn’t cross the street to kill a perp. Would you?”

“No, I don’t think I would.”

“See? She’s a perp killer all right, but it’s not her main gig. She doesn’t have a choice in the matter. She’s always going about her business and they come right to her door. They get right in her face and they may as well yell at her, “If you don’t take me out, not only am I going to hurt you, I’m going to go hurt some more people too.”

“So she does it. Is that right? I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I know I am. You don’t hunt them down at all. They come right to you, every time. If you liked it, you’d be an undercover cop. You aren’t so I know you don’t like it. You do it, because you know you have to. And you do have to, unless you want the blood of their next victims on your hands which I know you don’t.”

Long drag on her cig.

Pisces-blue-and-green“We all have to pay some price to be here, and that’s yours. I have to have you for a sister. This is one of the prices that I have to pay, but never mind that. I have accepted this along with everything else. Just put it in the Pisces pile of shit to be transcended, and voila!”

“Anyway, XXXXX, I’ve been looking at her face all my life and believe me. She has a fucking poker face and if you look at it right now, you may note that I‘m talking about her. Just look at her. Can you tell what she thinks about what I am saying? You can’t. Of course you can’t, because she has a fucking poker face. ”

“Wanna know something else? If you ask her what she’s thinking she’ll tell you. She’ll tell you the truth too. But she’ll tell you one thing she is thinking and guess what? She’s thinking five others too, so… fuck it. Let’s go back to Nonno. XXXXX, hand me those cigarettes.”

The smokes are exchanged.

“And the lighter. I need the fucking lighter.”

She lights her cigarette, and continues to talk.

“Wait a minute. I do have a story that illustrates what she does very well. Well, I have plenty of them and you have heard some of them, but I just thought of another one, so I’ll tell it. We’re not in a hurry, right? We’re done shopping for the day and you should hear these stories while you can. I don’t do this very often. Elsa is the storyteller. I have other things to do that are much better than this.”

“Elsa used to be a bartender. She was a very young girl. Sixteen or seventeen years old. She lied and stuff and you know why.” She smokes. “Anyway, most of the men…and they were almost all men that came to her bar because she worked during the day. They were good to her. They were respectful of her, and some of them were protective. You know. A regular variety. But overall, people treated her nicely and she did the same of course, because look who raised her. Henry. She knows to be good in the world. To all people. Even perps, as long as they don’t get too close. Perps are people, dogs are people, space people are people. You know. All living things.”

Anyway, one time there was this guy coming in one of her bars and he was bothering her. He just wouldn’t leave her alone. He was twenty years older than her and there was any number of ways he could have treated her, right? But he was a prick and he would say things that made her feel demoralized. Do you know which guy I am talking about, Elsa?”

“I do.”

“See? There weren’t that many and she doesn’t forget this shit. Anyway, he really wouldn’t let up.”

elsa bartender“She tries diffusing the situation. Well, at first she ignores him. She turns the other cheek and shit, and when that doesn’t work, she tries the easy fix. Easy for her, I mean. She tells him a joke. She tells him a few, but he won’t lighten up. He just won’t take the fucking hint, because he’s there to fuck with her, plain and simple. And he keeps coming back, right?”

“Right.”

“Right. So she’s never seen the guy before. She thinks, one day of humiliation. She thinks if she can stand that, then it’ll be over. And she can definitely stand that, but this motherfucker keeps coming back. The next day. The day after that. The day after that, he comes back and gives her more bullshit, and what’s she doing to him? Nothing. She’s just trying to do her job. But he’s a master of the mind fuck and he was getting to you, right?”

“Yeah. I felt like crap.”

“Because he was undermining her. He was just fucking with her. Elsa is not that hard to fuck with…” She smokes. “But it’s at your own risk.”

“So she stepped up her tricks, trying to deal but this guy was too sophisticated. He was a well-armed foe. He was better armed than most of them, and each time she came up with something, he was able to dodge it. He would deflect it, and lob it back at her.”

“Hah! My tennis background shows itself. This fucker returned all serves! He could return all her serves, so eventually it came down to one of them or the other. She either had to take him outr or leave her job because he had her on her knees, so guess what she does? This is a seventeen year old kid.”

“What did she do?” XXXXX asks, before he turns and addresses me directly. “What did you do?”

“I was nineteen,” I say.

“Whatever. She walks up to this prick and gets right in his face. She leans over the bar, right in his fucking face, an inch away where he can feel her breathing. She looks him right in the eye with her poker face and she whispers to him.”

She smokes.

“What did you tell him?”

I smile. “You’re going to be dead, and I’ll still be here.”

*Snort.

“How funny is that? She’s twenty, he’s forty. She tells him that she’s going to outlive his fucking ass and of course she is. She has fucking Capricorn, she is not going any fucking where until she’s eighty or better.

“She never saw him again, right Elsa?”

“Right. I didn’t.”

“Well that’s probably because he went home and had a fucking heart attack, which is exactly what he deserved. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re forty years old and all you know how to do is fuck around with teenagers, you can’t die soon enough. Come back and do better in your next life, right? No one is going to miss you, that’s for sure.”

“Anyway, this is what I mean. She never cuts a throat without sufficient provocation. She knows she may have to go to court, so all murders must be justifiable. Even if she doesn’t go to court court, which she does often enough…well, she still has court of Saturn to worry about and she’s way more worried about universal law than law law. What’s law law up against universal law? It’s nothing. It’s a fucking joke, but she covers her ass in both directions anyway.”

To be continued.

“So back to Nonno, all this son of a bitch does is grunt while his girlfriend wipes crumbs off him.” She laughs. “We can barely understand him, too. He has a thick accent and he prefers to speak Italian anyway. He and Anna speak a mixture of Spanish and Italian to communicate so he’s pretty much put out trying to talk to us directly.”

“He rarely bothered. He would talk to Anna and she’d translate to us.” She takes a hit off her cig. “She probably smoothed the edges of whatever he said, knowing her. More do-gooding. She was tri-lingual and trying to put the family together. See what I mean? She wasn’t on vacation. She was working.”

“So Elsa is a talker and in a way, it was not going to be so good for her if no one talked to her, but she wasn’t thinking about that. She was thinking about going to the beach and getting a shell. And getting away from W. And probably me too, right?”

“I want to get out of there, period.”

“Right. She gets to get out of the fucking desert and she’s going to get a seashell and she’s going to get me one too. She’s going to procure it and bring it back in her hot little hand for her older sister who she feels sorry for. Did you feel sorry for me?”

“Of course.”

“And she PROMISES.”

“Yeah.”

“I extract a promise out of her about the shell and when I do, I relax a little. Fuck it. I decide to let her do the work. I decide I’m just going to lie back and have her bring the shell to me. I’m a Pisces so I’ll take any day off there is. This is how I handle this.”

She takes a hit from her cigarette.

“This is how I get over my anger at not being picked to go because I want to travel too. I want to be Henry too, but I’m not really like him. In some ways I am, but not the way Elsa is. Those two fuckers are like peas in a pod, except for Elsa’s knife, I mean. Henry was an unarmed man. Well he was armed, but not with a knife he didn’t need.”

“See what just happened there? Even I can’t remember she has one. A knife, I mean, and it is because of those fucking dimples, so there you go. It’s not her fault. You could tattoo it on her fucking head. “I HAVE A KNIFE AND CAN KILL YOU”. People would still fuck with her and get themselves killed. It’s just the way it is. I mean, she goes to sleep at night and wakes up with a naked perp in her bed. That has happened to her.”

“It has?” XXXXX asks.

I smirk. “Yeah. More than once.” I look upwards, smile and shake my head.

“Fuckin’ a, it’s happened more than once. Tell him. Tell him what you doing last time you found a perp in your bed.”

“That guy? It was Saturday night. I was tired from work and I fell asleep about 8:30 watching PBS.”

“PB fucking S. Hard to get more innocent than that. Tell him what you were watching.”

“The Life of Little Mike.”

“Right. It was about a midget. She was watching a fucking documentary about a midget. She wants to know about this guy’s struggles in life, because that’s the way she is. And she’s so fucking tired from working all day… How long did you work that day?”

“I dunno. Ten hours? Twelve? I don’t remember, but I was tired.”

“I can’t imagine why. I don’t like to work that long in a week. Or in a month. She was so tired, that she passes out with the midget showing his life on TV and then what happens?”

“I wake up in the middle of the night, and there is a guy in my bed.”

“She wakes up and his fucking hands are on her.”

“Right. And he’s naked.”

“Okay! Right there! I rest my case. He broke in her house, got in her bed naked, and put his hands on her. Has this guy shown up to be killed? He has. Justifiable homicide, right fucking there. Kill this fucker now. What did that guy call it?”

“Meet Jesus.”

“Right. That’s funny. That’s a good line. The guy has shown up to meet Jesus, and this is a fact. She has to do something. She knows these motherfuckers inside out. Perps I mean. How could she not? She knows odds are this is not the first bed he’s climbed in and it won’t be last, so if she kills him, what the fuck? Let’s hope she does.”

“Did you kill him?”

“You mean did I murder him?” I laugh. I shake my head. “No.”

“She took him out in another way. She knows lots of ways to kill. Unlimited. And let’s face it. Let’s get the fucking point here. The fucking point is that wherever Elsa goes a line of perps forms and it doesn’t matter what she does.”

“Henry was a Pied Piper of children and Elsa is a Pied Piper too. She is the Pied Piper of children and perps and some other things and she is the murderess of the perps, and the way it’s going, I think she’ll be doing it the rest of her life. Kill the perps to keep them away from the children.” She smokes. “And that’s just as well because she’s gotten really fucking good at it. She can take out a perp without breaking a nail. If she did her nails I mean, which you can see, she does not.”

“Au Naturel.”

“Right. I remember that. But I was wearing polish. It was just imaginary, that’s all. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You should learn that. Anyway, Elsa could write a book. “Perps I Have Killed”. She laughs. “But you’ll never do it, will you? She doesn’t even think it’s interesting. All in a days work. Brush your teeth, kill a perp, comb your hair. All in a days fucking work. Kill any perps today, Elsa? Huh? I don’t remember if I did or I didn’t.” She snorts. “Gimmie a cigarette, XXXXX.”

She lights the cig.

“Anyway, Henry and Elsa and beach in Mexico. Now there’s a dream team. None of them care about clothes and you know that’s not me. If Elsa has a tan, she thinks she’s dressed. You do, don’t you? That’s what you think. You think you’re good to go. She thinks that her body is covered, don’t you?’

“Uh. Yeah. Yeah I do. I’m not too worried about clothes.”

“Of course not! Fuck it! Who needs clothes when you have skin? Especially if it’s brown! If you have brown skin, you’re in! You’re done! Elsa thinks brown skin is clothing. Henry was of the same opinion. Just look at the shit he wore all his life. A Styrofoam fucking hat, for one. Thirty fucking years, he wore a white Styrofoam hat on his head and never gave it a thought.”

“These two just don’t live in the same world most of us do, but I do like to travel though. Even though I never had. I wanted to go to the beach. I’d just want to wear good clothes while I was there. I’m not stupid. I want my toenails painted and shit.”

“It’s not enough to be on the beach. Well it is for them, but I want to be stylish on the beach. This earthy shit only goes so far, but not to them. They revel in it in their own way. Henry in his fucking adobes, right? He lived in mud, and Elsa does it via her sensuality, but let’s not go off on that, or we’ll never finish this and I do want to finish this. I don’t really like telling this shit. I’m just doing you a favor tonight. I’m in the mood.”

She takes a long drag.

“See. Right there. I said, mood. I sound like a fucking Cancer just being around her and we know I’m not one of those. That’s how strong her mother energy is. That’s something else that we are not going to talk about tonight. I already think I need a lozenge. See the Pisces. I need a drug to go on doing this for you.”

“Er… you’re living in the mud right now,” I say.

“What? What the fuck. Of course she’s right. This is a fucking rammed earth home, isn’t it? Well fuck me. At least it’s designer mud.”

I laugh. NO. I roar!

“What a bitch you are. You know something I don’t and now I need another cigarette. I’m going to finish this story though. I smoke more when Elsa is here, don’t I XXXXX? Well fuck it. Anyone, can see why. Look at her daring to laugh at me like that. She thinks it’s funny because I live in the mud and didn’t notice. Laugh at the Pisces. I hope you got extra cigarettes, XXXXX, because we’re going to need them. We knew the bitch was coming, but we didn’t know this was going to be story time, did we?”

XXXXX assures her, “We have enough.”

“Good. I don’t know why I was worried. I know you have Virgo. If Elsa will shut up about the mud, I’ll finish this story. If you have another pack, break ’em out. I’m going to need them, for sure.”

I contain my chuckling.

“Ahem… a Pisces can imagine and I imagined I would like to travel even though I’d never been anywhere. I could travel in my head and this was better than going with the old man, because like I said. I was afraid of him. They may as well take, Elsa who is braver than I am. I will say that about her.”

“I decide I’ll stay home and enjoy Elsa being gone, because it did suck to live in a room with her. Plus, I’d still get my shell and it will be hand delivered. I would not even have to break a sweat.”

“It sucked? Being with me sucked?”

“Well, yeah. You never shut up. Never for one fucking minute did you ever shut up your entire childhood.”

I smile.

“So they take her to California and various things happen. Now keep in mind, Elsa is trying to get to the beach and get me my shell. She knows better than to come home without it. If she forgets my shell I won’t talk to her for a week, which… well that could kill her. That could threaten her very survival. So she’s going to bring my shell and she thinks this will be no big deal. She’ll go to the beach, pick one up, keep it, and bring it home. Just like Henry does. But there is one problem.”

“What?” XXXXX asks.

“These fuckers won’t take her to the beach.”

To be continued.

california“That’s right,” I say, chiming in. “They won’t take me to the beach. We were driving down the highway. We drove there, and we were driving down the coast, Highway 1. I saw the ocean for the first time in my life, but they wouldn’t stop. Plenty of time for that, they said.”

“I couldn’t believe it. How can you drive by the ocean and not stop and look? I didn’t think it was right. I thought it was seriously wrong, but they must know something I don’t, right?”

“I tried to look while we were driving along but how can you look, like that? I wanted to stop and look. You know. I wanted to marvel and of course, I wanted to put my feet in the water. When had my feet ever been in water?”

“Well the water was not right there by the highway, which surprised me. The highway is up high on a cliff, which is not apparent from a map. I’d studied the map. I was really antsy about this. I asked to put my feet in the water and they said the water was too far off. I offered to hike down but they laughed.”

My sister says, “Well, welcome to fucking Kansas. This isn’t Henry, is it Dorothy? Right beach. Wrong grandfather.”

I laugh. “Right. I was watching the water go by and thinking I was missing the very essence of life, and this is when I made one of my vows. You know how I was always making vows.”

“I read you diary.”

“I know. Don’t tell me. I don’t like to think about it,” I pout.

“I vowed to always put my feet in the water when I was running the show. And I thought I should be in charge at the moment, considering these people didn’t stop the car. It was just beyond my comprehension.”

“That’s what you thought?”

“Of course, that’s what I thought. What the fuck do you think I thought? I wanted to get to water my whole life. I thought they were completely insane. I thought something was wrong with them. You know. I thought I was living in a world where people were faulty and fucked up. At least these people. That, and I thought someone should get my agent on the phone.”

She laughs. “Well come to think of it, I would have felt the same way. Did they even stop and let you look at the water?”

“No! They drove past it for miles and miles and miles,. Then stopped at a restaurant to use the restroom. I couldn’t believe it. I just missed my chance. It was purely unfathomable to me. I could smell the water from the restaurant. I could smell the beach.”

“Well that must have sucked.” She turns to XXXXX. “Okay, so they don’t take her, and they won’t take her. So you know Elsa. She’s not going to give up. She’s going to get her ass to the beach somehow. You were probably plotting right away.”

“Right. Well no. At first I kept thinking each day they didn’t take me – surely they’d take me the next day, or the day after that. I thought for sure I was going to get my feet in the water, but I never did. Next day, same thing. Next day, same thing again. So yeah. I was looking for a way, but I had a lot of other side problems. I had side problems and they were accumulating, not reducing.”

“Side problems? Listen to her. What the fuck are side problems?”

“Side problems? Well, they’re just problems. I had impediments of all kinds but I did think I’d get there. I wasn’t hopeless or anything. Well, I was hopeless, but then I wondered how the hell could I be in California and not put my feet in the water. I didn’t see how this could occur in the first place. So how could continue to occur? I definitely couldn’t imagine going to California and coming home with no shell. In fact, I’m sure I must have told them, I had to get you a shell.”

“And he shined you on.”

“Right.”

My sister takes back up. “So, Nonno takes her around to meet people. In between the old man berating her I mean. And he was all pissed off because she didn’t have any clothes. She had a few, but they weren’t appropriate clothes to go where he wanted to take her. Modest dresses, this would be.”

“She only had the dresses that were made for her by our mother who was not sewing much by this time – but still sewing everything we had. So if she didn’t make any clothes, then we didn’t have any clothes. And we were definitely hurting for clothes and this pissed him off.”

“Understatement,” I add.

“He didn’t want to be seen with her in what she had to wear.”

“Right.”

“Now he didn’t buy her anything. He just yelled at her. He told her she sucked and he yelled at Anna to do something, but there wasn’t much she could do, because what? She’s a waitress. She was also a single parent with three daughters. She was renting her house, and so on and on. She didn’t have money lying around to buy, Elsa clothes.”

“On top of that, one of Anna’s daughters was getting married and she was paying for it, per tradition. It was very important for her to do right by her kids. A big Catholic wedding this is, so she was really strapped. All the trimmings. Elsa goes to that. It was first rate, right?”

“Right. Lots of pride. They were a family with lots of pride.”

“Anna had one daughter married and two at home. One was kind of Elsa’s age. How old was she?”

“Nine.”

“Right. But Elsa had nothing in common with her. She was nine going on eight. Elsa was nine, when she was four. She hits it off with the gal getting married, though. She’s what? Twenty or so?”

“Right. And she was marrying some dark handsome prince guy. He was real pretty and so was she. She was beautiful and I wanted to live her kind of life.”

“Okay. Understandable. You see a fairy tale, and you’d like to jump in it.”

“Right. And I was going to her wedding so if only he were marrying her on the beach, I’d have been in business.”

We chuckle.

“Right. Well good thing she wasn’t. In that case, you just may have stabbed her and taken her place.” She laughs. “Just kidding.” She smokes. “You would never do that. You want your own man. And you can get him, so why mess with another woman’s man?”

“Exactly.”

“Right. The day you share a man will be the day I show up in bad clothing and we all know that ain’t gonna happen, so okay. Nonno bitches her out. How often, Elsa?”

“All the time. Every day.”

“But you’re still glad you are there?”

“Yeah. He’s better than W, and California is better than the desert. Even if he bitches.”

“Mostly about your clothes?”

“Yeah. He was really pissed off about how I looked, but he didn’t like anything about me that I could tell. It was more than the clothes. He just didn’t like me. He took me around for a while, kind of like a dog. He left me in the car and stuff. He told me I didn’t look good enough to come inside.”

“He left her in the car and went in the bar.”

“Right. He would play bocce outside behind the bar, and I really wanted to see that. Well, actually I wanted to play, but this would have been out of the question, anyway. I asked, but he told me that it was a man’s game.”

“See, whatever I asked was a faux pas like that. How could I be so stupid about Italian culture to think girls could play bocce? But I still really wanted to watch so I was PISSED my clothes were bad. I wanted to see him play that game. He was the champion of the city. This is what he told me. He was the man no one could beat.”

“So you wanted to go in and be part of his glory? You’re the granddaughter of the city champ? Like Henry whooping ass playing ping pong? You’re proud of him, but he’s not proud of you.”

“Right. No dice. He said he couldn’t introduce me to his friends looking the way I did. He would never live it down. He’d take me if I looked better. It was the clothes, but I really felt it was more than that. I was just a disappointment all the way around. I knew it, but I pretended I didn’t and just tried to be as acquiescent as I possibly could. I was hoping if I were really good he would find some redeeming feature about me. I was hoping he’d feel sorry for me and throw me some kind of bone.”

“Fucker.”

“Yeah. Well anyway, he would park the car by the fence behind the bar and I could hear them playing bocce, but I couldn’t see them. The first time, I started crying out there. I was just so embarrassed of being embarrassing, but eventually I got used it. I just accepted the whole concept that I was fucked up somehow and being left outside was the cost of that.”

“How many times did he do that?”

“I don’t know. A few. Sometimes he just ran in for a short time. He didn’t play. Then he would come back and bitch about how he didn’t get to play because of me, so I’d just as soon he cracked his nut, you know?”

“Fucker. What else?”

“Well I decided it was worth *whatever, if I got to put my feet in the ocean. That’s how I coped. There was no question. I mean, if I could get him to treat me nicer that would be good. But if not, I’d still want to be there. I thought about this while I was sitting in the car and this is what I came up with. I just figured it the price you pay for a shell. I weighed it against being home and really, it was a lot better being in California, even if I was sitting in a car. I had hope of going to the beach, right? What hope did I have in the desert? In the desert, there was no hope of anything at all.”

“Well you were right about that,” she says.

“So Anna tried to keep Nonno calm and she dressed Elsa in her daughter’s clothes the best she could, considering the clothes didn’t fit. Elsa was skinny, we all were. We didn’t have any food. Anna’s youngest daughter was chunky. You know. She had chili-relleno-love so her clothes really didn’t work on, Elsa. She wound up putting you in the older daughter’s clothes, right?”

“Yeah. And even some of hers. And I wore her jewelry. And scarves. She just tried to fix me up so he wouldn’t be pissed. She was kind of frantic about it. She was trying to make me acceptable and at the same time, she was angry he had a problem with me. She thought he should buy me some clothes if he didn’t like the ones I had. And she thought it was ridiculous trying to dress me in clothes that didn’t fit. She thought I looked stupid. That he was stupid. This is what she said. This is stupid. Your Nonno is a stupid man…”

“Mostly, I just felt like I was causing a lot of problems so I did what I could to be easy to get along with. I did what I was told, wore whatever was put on me. You know. There was obviously something wrong with me, though I really didn’t comprehend what so I was pretty powerless.”

“I had no idea what was wrong with my clothes. They were fine in the desert, but fucked up in California and the reason why eluded me. I just had to hope Anna could do something magic and make me acceptable somehow.”

“I stood in her bedroom as she raced around trying to dress me. I kept quiet so I wouldn’t interfere. I figured whatever was wrong with me was HUGE so I tried to increase the odds of her success by shutting up and letting her do her work.”

“See, I kept thinking I was on the verge of a miracle. You know. I thought it was possible, like spinning a roulette wheel – all of the sudden she would get the right combination of clothes on me and voila! Nonno would think I looked good and solve all the problems. I had no idea the hopelessness of the situation, even though she was saying just that. That it was hopeless.”

“Can you imagine? My sister, asked. “She’s twelve years old and running around California wearing clothes borrowed from adult women. The daughter had nice stuff, right?”

“Right. Silk.”

“See, Elsa would have never been near anything silk in her life, which is the wrong fabric for you, by the way. You must have really looked like shit, but anyway… What else did they do?”

“The blouses were huge. Anna put skirts on me and pinned them at the waist. She tried to make me look the best she could. Lipstick too. She put lipstick on me.”

See, they dressed her up like a doll, which you can see still happens today.”

She laughs, and I smile. “Good catch.” I say.

She smokes. “Yeah, well everyone has tried to make you more acceptable your whole life.”

“I’ve noticed.” I chuckle and I smirk.

“Anyway, she doesn’t get to the beach. In fact, guess what they do? They give her a fucking job. They put her to work.”

“See Nonno can’t stand her. Two weeks, and he’s going crazy. She’s supposed to be there all summer. He is a Sadge and she’s interfering with his freedom, so this is how he pawns her off. He gets rid of her.”

“Basically, these are the years of Elsa’s life where everyone wanted to get rid of her, but it was just like she told you. No one would let her leave, because she sure as hell would have if they’d have let her. Have no fucking doubt about that. If they’d have let her go, she’d have been gone in two seconds, and eventually this is what she did anyway. Eventually they said, “You can’t go”. And she said, “Fuck you! Piss off! I’m going anyway.”

“How old were you when you left?” XXXXX asks.

“Fifteen.”

“Okay,” my sister says. “So this was training for that. You’re going to need a job when you leave in the future, and this was your on-the-job training. That’s one way to see it.”

“Anyway, she’s twelve and they put her to work in the deli. The famous family-owned deli. This is the most expensive county in California you know. Basically what it is… they have her waiting on rich people. Helping them with their phyllo and shit. Phyllo, right? I don’t know. I don’t cook.”

I chuckle. “Right. Phyllo. It was all the rage. Couldn’t keep it in stock, actually. The whole world was making baklava for their party for some reason. Each of them showed up all bright-eyed like it was an original idea.”

To be continued…

deli food“So Elsa’s a natural in the deli. A lot of rich people come there, which is one thing. But all the Italian people in the area flock to the place too. They can hang out and speak Italian and they love Elsa. They think she’s cute.”

“By and large, Italian people like Elsa. The men like her and the women like her too. Except for the ones she’s related to, I mean.” She laughs. “Well sorry. But fuck it. That’s pretty much the case. The customers were good to you, right?”

“Yeah. Most of them were. Some of them were great. Some of them were tourists which I also liked.”

“They had her working full time. Forty hours?”

“Right.”

“See, you know what that’s about. That’s about getting rid of her. Nonno wanted her out of his hair. He needed her around like he needed a fucking hole in his head. She was cramping his style. So there she is in California. She thinks she’s going to see the ocean but no. Now she’s working full-time for no pay. This is one of your impediments, right?”

“Right.”

“So they drove her by the water and she hadn’t seen it since. She could smell the damn thing. She can smell the water, because look where she at. It’s a fucking coastal city. She is BLOCKS from the beach, but no one will take her. You’re asking to go, right?”

“Right. Oh hell yes. I was asking and I could have walked there. I asked that too. I asked if I could walk to the beach.”

“Well if you were willing to hike down the cliff…”

“Right. I’d have gladly walked. I could smell it so how far could it be?”

“You didn’t know how far it was to the water?”

“No. But I could smell it…”

“And you’d just follow your nose?”

“Well look. It had to be close if I could smell it. But they wouldn’t let me and now I had a job. I only had weekends off so there were fewer chances. I started counting down the possible days I could go before I went home. I counted how many weekend days were left and it was pretty dismal. I never thought about going to the beach in the evening.”

“Well you’d never really been anywhere at night in your life, Elsa.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. I guess I didn’t know you could.”

“Well you had weekends off, because Anna was off on the weekends and you could be pawned off that way. She worked half day Saturday, and off Sunday, right?”

“Right. She’d been at the restaurant a long time so she could dictate her schedule.”

“I bet. Look what she does. She speaks Italian to all the old bastards that eat there, for starters. And then she screws their best customer, the bocce champ, while she wipes crumbs off everyone else. But see, XXXXX? He doesn’t want anything to do with her. He’s pawning her off. Did you know that?” She asks me. “Back then, I mean.”

“No. Not really. Not yet. Or I didn’t want to know it. Wouldn’t do me any good. I was pretty much just trying to be obedient and get to the beach. I wanted to have a good time. I thought it was possible. And I wanted him to think I was an okay person too, but I was losing both hope and interest on that one.”

“Oh really? You were going to throw in the towel?” She laughs.

“Yeah. I was going to throw in the beach towel.”

I smirk and they laugh.

“Well, at least they solved the clothes problem, right? They covered your clothes with a fucking apron.”

I laugh. “Yeah. Yeah they did. That’s funny.” I chuckle. I sigh and shake my head. “Fuckers!”

“But you didn’t mind?”

“No. I liked the deli better than being with, Nonno. It was kind of cool.”

“I see. You preferred being a waitress to being a dog. Well who can blame you? What a prick. And you liked being around the Italian people, right? See XXXXX, we never saw another Italian person until we were in high school. Remember Billy? He was half, and boy were we glad to see him.”

“Yeah, I remember Billy. I had a crush on him.”

“You had a crush on everyone.”

“Right. That’s right, I did.” I chortled. “I do like men and I guess I always have. The Italians in the deli were disappointed I didn’t speak Italian. Sacrilegious.”

“I bet.”

“Right. Actually they took it out on Nonno. The fact that I couldn’t speak Italian. They thought he fell down on his job on that front and this was another reason for him to be disgusted with me. He had a real problem, just in general, with the idea he’d spawned me.”

“Well fuck him, Elsa. He’s dead and you’re still here. And you didn’t think it was all that bad?”

“Right. I didn’t think it was that bad. I got really good at it. In the deli, I mean. I liked the lunch rush. I got so I could really work the counter. I could banter while I got people their pastrami or their prosciutto. I liked it until the later part of the day. Then I had to stand around and I was bored.”

“Not enough work for you, eh?”

“Right. And some of them would take off. They’d leave but I would have to stay.”

My sister lights a cigarette and addresses XXXXX.

“We have a lot of family over there. Basically our entire family is there. Everyone but us, lives there. The black sheep. So they’re family if you can call them that. They’re family to each other, that’s for sure. And a few of them were family to Elsa. There are a few of them that treated her like family. And some of them were funny, right?”

She smokes.

“Well, wait a minute. Let’s back up. Credit where credit is due. Everyone in our family has some sort of charisma. This is a given. All of us can tell a fucking joke, so let’s just say that there are a few people who use their charisma to be nice to her. Like the guy in the red car, right? You liked him. Tell XXXXX. She had some diversions.”

“Yeah. I did have some diversions from my side problem-impediments. That guy was cool. He was funny. He had a little red Fiat that backfired when he shifted.”

“See, I’d get off work, and someone would drive me to Nonno’s house. Usually, S@@@@. I liked her too. She was very, movie-star to me.”

“Wait! Stop right there! Tell XXXX about the room you were in. Tell him where you stayed in Nonno’s house.”

“In the basement?” I ask.

“No! He is put her in a room full of all of the dead grandmother’s shit. YUCK. Her nylons and shit, right? Her clothes. Ugh. And she had been dead ten fucking years or whatever.”

“Right. In the basement. It was gross. It was totally gross. I was stupefied in a way, but on the other hand, I thought it must be normal. I was learning all kinds of stuff in California. I poked around in that stuff.”

She laughs. “I bet. I bet you were compelled. You’d have to investigate.”

“Right. I had to make sure it was real.”

“You mean you thought it may be a mirage?”

“Right.” I laugh. “Could be. Plus I’d never touched a nylon.”

“Hell of a way to start, Elsa. That’s a hell of a way to start. Touching the nylon of a dead fucking bitch. Did it burn your hand? If I touched something that belonged to that bitch, I would still be trying to recover. I gotta admit it’s a hell of a way to meet your grandma. Elsa had never met her and look! Now she gets to. Well, she gets to meet her underwear, anyway.”

We all roar.

“Hand me that lighter and another cigarette, XXXXX. I’m going to keep smoking, while she talks. Go on. Tell us some more.”

“Well, S@@@@ would drop me off with Nonno after work and generally we’d eat dinner. Then he would send me downstairs while he watched TV, I think. Or maybe it was the radio. Or sometimes he called Anna to complain I was there. I could hear him. He’d get yelling and he’d speak enough English, I could figure it out. I’d hear my name anyway.”

“There was door in the bedroom that led outside.  I would go out the back door and sit in the grass in the back yard. I was amazed at the grass. I’d never been around grass and I liked it. A few times I would cry out there because I was fucking up so bad, but most times I tried to think good things. I imagined fairies and stuff. It was shady. He had that avocado tree. We’d heard of it and it was huge. It was really a beautiful environment back there, like nothing I’d ever seen. It was like walking into a book or something. I thought I might meet a gnome.”

She laughs. “Do you believe this shit? She thinks she’s going to meet a gnome and probably find a fucking pot of gold too, I bet.”

“Yeah, that occurred to me too, actually.” I smile.

“Not surprised, Elsa. No surprise at all. So basically, he fed you and then kept you in the basement. I guess he can’t figure out if you are a doggie or a mushroom.”

We laugh.

“Right. Yeah. After dinner, um… Salami and bread and avocado and cheese, usually. Sometimes, pasta. He’d send me downstairs.”

“I bet you liked that. That’s your kind of food.”

“Yeah. I was eating good. I’d never eaten better. It was one of the things that I really liked.”

“The food?” She laughs.

“Yeah. But I was nervous. He didn’t talk to me when we ate. It was just as well, because I could barely understand him anyway. I was always afraid he’d ask something and I’d answer stupidly because I couldn’t understand what he said. See, I was already fucking up left and right by having clothes that he didn’t like and so forth. I knew he was embarrassed of me and I was trying to represent the family. I was kind of trying to redeem, W, because I could imagine how pissed he would be if Nonno told him I sucked.”

“No shit. That could prove fatal.”

“Right. I was worried about that all the time. I could not afford a bad report. A bad report could get me killed.”

“Elsa, a good report could get you killed.”

“Oh yeah.” I snort. “Right. The bastard. Well, you’re right.”

“I usually am.”

“I usually am.”

“I usually am, too. We both are. I’m right as often as Elsa, right XXXX?”

He nods and I laugh.

“Well that’s pretty right. So he didn’t talk to you unless he was yelling?”

“Right. He’d get all red in the face and all his veins would pop out and stuff. Because my dress was too short.”

“Was that the problem?”

“Yeah. It wasn’t the dresses she made. They were okay. It was that they were too small. It was summer, remember? So I had clothes that she made the start of the prior school year and I’d grown. He thought a dress should cover your knees or something like that, and these dresses weren’t even close. You know we never wore our dresses that long anyway, so you can see the problem. They were just too damned short.”

“In fact, Anna took the hem out of one of them to try to do something. I don’t think she really knew how to sew. In fact, I may have taken the hem out, but the dresses were faded from the sun and washing, so when you let down the hem, it was ridiculous.”

“Anyway, never mind that. This is about the car. S@@@@ would drive me most days, and I liked her a lot. The other guy… he was our cousin I guess. Second cousin? I don’t know. He was related to us, and he would pull up beside us on the freeway in the red Fiat and shift. “KA-POW!”

“Then we would flash a big grin. Huge grin. He’d sneak up, see? Well, maybe S@@@@ saw him coming in her mirror, but I didn’t. So I was always startled at the noise and it made me laugh.”

“Okay! So he knows how to have a little fun. Now he sounds related to us.”

“Right. S@@@@ would say, “That bastard! I wish I could do that with this car. I’d fix his ass!”

“That was how she talked and I wanted to talk like her. Like a movie star. She wore a scarf when she drove and everything so I thought she was glamorous. They all had convertibles so it was real-California to me. I was breathless about this and anyway, I liked him a lot. I pretty much wanted to marry a prince like Anna’s daughter was going to. And I wanted to drive a red Fiat like this guy, that was fixed so it backfired when I shifted. Ka- POW! That was it, right there. My life plan. Especially the car. I wanted to go down the highway with my hair in the wind being funny and cool with a scarf.”

“And looking Italian? In an Italian car?”

“Right.”

“What else? An Italian man?”

“Fuck no.” I chuckle. “Are you kidding? Not an Italian man. To look at? Yes.”

“You do like their look. Yeah. I can see how you’ve had to work around that. You’re always running with men who look Italian but aren’t. You snag every one of them you ever see. Jewish men. Black Irish… Yeah. I can see that. Well I like their look too, but not that much. I’ve never dated an Italian man in my life. I’ve run into a few but it always seemed like it would be dating my brother or something. Or worse. W!”

“Yeah. I know what you mean.”

“Any Italian man you could ever meet looks like one of them or the other, right?”

“Yeah. That’s right. But they make good pals and he could see I liked his car, so one day he took me for a ride. We screamed down the freeway, pulling next to strangers and then shifting. KA-POW! Then both of us would look over at the victim with huge grins of course.”

“XXXXX! Can you just see these two grinning fuckers in that car?”

He smiles and nods.

“That’s what he called them, too. There’s a victim now, he’d say before he pulled next to someone and shifted. I was totally high from it. I was ecstatic. That was the highest living I’d ever experienced to date. It broke all my records of the best ten minutes of life I’d ever had.” I laugh.

“Well I’m glad you had fun, because meanwhile XXXXX, Nonno kicked her out of the house.”

She smokes.

“He did?” XXXXX asks.

“Yeah, he did. He kicked her out. But don’t worry, don’t worry. Our heroine is not down for the count, just yet. Single mother, do-gooder Anna was standing there to catch her and besides. What does it take to kill Elsa, anyway? More than that. Put her in the ring and she doesn’t exactly take a dive, does she? Fuck no. If he’s trying to kill her, well he did a lousy job, because look. She’s right here. Smiling, with her dimples no less.” She takes another hit off her cig. “She’s thinking something too, but we don’t know what because of her poker face.”

“On that note, let’s take a break. Elsa, go pee. You always have to. XXXXX, have I eaten today? I think I need some food. Let’s take a break and then we’ll all meet back and finish this story. About the motel.”

“See. You fuckers thought I forgot what this story is about, but I didn’t. You should have more faith.  Back in ten, ye fuckers of little faith.”

To be continued.

“Yeah, he kicked her out of the house, but it really had nothing to do with her. I think it was an unconscious move on his part, which just shows how stupid he was. He was stupidly recreating trauma and Elsa just happened to be there.”

“See, he’d thrown our parents out of that house when our oldest sister was born. She was a baby and they were staying with them for a visit. A fight broke out and when it was all said and done; Nonno threw them (and the baby) out of the house in the middle of the night. This was per his wife, the bitch’s, insistence.”

“We’d heard stories of this. About diapers being thrown over the banister and tossed out the front door into the grass. Apparently, it was the middle of the night. She had him get out of bed to do this. “Get that bitch out of my house” and “I will not sleep in this house if that bitch is under this roof”, meaning our mother, who would have been barely sixteen years old.”

“Anyway, we weren’t born yet but this is what started the feud. If you ever fuck with a pregnant woman, well, you should not wait around expecting to be forgiven. This is especially true if the mother has a Scorpio Mars which ours does.”

She smokes.  XXXXX looks distressed.

“Don’t worry. She got her back. Who was the bitch’s favorite son? W! W was her pride and joy. He was the good looking one. The one with the personality. The sun rose and set on his fucking head and when they drove off that night, she never saw him again. She died without ever seeing her golden (Italian) son again, so all bitches would do well to remember this if they are ever planning to fuck with a woman and her newly born baby.”

“Now unfortunately, Elsa had to pay. It’s the family legacy, right? Well, that’s Elsa’s middle name, legacy. She’s got the eighth house and anyway, this is what I think happened. She was in his hair and cramping his style, but I think the reason he made her leave the house was because of this other event. Uh oh! Black sheep in the house. Better do something about it or my dead wife will be pissed.”

She smokes.

“He may as well round that out by adding, “And I’m too stupid to figure anything out. Or I don’t understand my own motivations when I do stupid things.”

“Of course, you’re down there rattling around in her underwear, right?” She laughs. “I guess you stirred up that bitch’s ghost. Do you think he knew that you were poking around?”

“Well I left no trace. I left no physical evidence, but yeah. Sure. I was definitely checking that stuff out down there. What was I supposed to do? Put my clothes in the drawers next to hers without seeing them?”

You mean he left them right in the fucking drawers?”

“Yes!”

“Oh. I thought you were poking somewhere secret. Well then I think what I think even more. You were set up to wake that bitch up and this is what happened.”

“He actually kicked you out?” XXXXX asks.

“Not like that. I got off work one day and S@@@@ dropped me off at “home” and he told me I had to leave. He already had my stuff packed. He said it wasn’t working out having me stay with him, and he sent me to live with Anna.”

“Did he give a reason?”

“Yes. It was not working out.” I chuckle. Sometimes XXXXX is dense and I’m amused.

My sister takes up the story, “He had her move in with Anna.”

“Now the old man had this big house. He’d bought it fifty years earlier for a song. It was probably worth a million dollars at the time, maybe three million now. Who knows? It’s a rich city. I don’t really think he had any money except for that house. I don’t see where he’d have gotten any but we don’t know that.”

“We don’t know shit about him because no one ever told us anything. Considering the level of W’s subversive bullshit, I wouldn’t count anything out. Bottom line, we don’t fucking know and I doubt we ever will because look how good our family is at what they do. We all have our “cagey” in one form or the other and we didn’t get it from, Henry, so there you go.”

“Anyway, Anna lived in a little house in the bario, if there is such a thing in this city and Elsa moved in there.”

“Yeah, there is such a thing.”

“Right. There would have to be.  The people who wait on the rich people have to live somewhere and this is where they lived.”

She looks over at me and I nod to confirm.

“She had no complaints though. Anna was a lot like Elsa. What I mean, is that they didn’t care about rich people. They didn’t care about being rich or not rich. That’s the last fucking thing on their mind which is why both of them are always smiling, if you ask me.”

“Not only that, she had daughters for more than twenty years, so Elsa was just like another one of those. She fit in there really well. They probably even liked having her. The point is this fucker had lots of room in his house, and Elsa had to share a bed at Anna’s house, but so what about that, right?”

I elaborate. “Yeah, I don’t think she minded. It was relief to her in a way. He was on the phone bitching to her all the time so this was easier on her when you got right down to it. She was really sick of his bitching. This was a major strain on their relationship and she was really involved in pulling her daughter’s wedding together. Plus, she felt bad for me. This was obvious. I felt bad because she felt bad so all the way around, it was an improvement. All of us had less reason to feel bad.”

My sister continues, “So she works, and stays with Anna and he still takes her here and there now and then. To meet relatives. Some relatives, that is. She is never taken to meet our cousins. They’re right there and they’re her age. These are the kids of the conglomerate I’m talking about. Kids of the two powerhouse attorneys. They are the only first cousins we have, but she never meets them.”

She lights a cigarette.

“Why not?” Why didn’t you meet them?” XXXXX wants to know.

“I don’t really know. I was told they were busy.”

“All fucking summer?” my sister says.  “The kids, our cousins, were almost the same ages as we were. They have three girls, and one boy. Just like our family. These are peers for Elsa to play with, but she never gets to meet them. Well fuck me. Whatever they’re doing must be very fucking important, right? What the fuck? They were the chosen so I guess they don’t have to sit at a table with her if they don’t want. I guess they don’t like to eat with a sheep or something.”

We all chuckle.

“Anyway, he takes her here and there to meet old fucking relatives. She’s twelve and she’s meeting relatives who are fifty and sixty years old. Nonno has a bunch of brothers and sisters and they all live there. How many?”

“I don’t know. A lot. Eight maybe.”

“Okay. Well that is a lot of old fuckers to meet if you’re twelve. He doesn’t even want to do this, but some of them were asking, right? They were asking to see her. See, W, was kind of a favorite. You know. He’s the fucking king of charisma. Hard to be more charismatic than W and he was by far the best looking person in the family, which is judged by who looks Italian, of course.”

She smiles smugly and smokes.

“So he’s the star of the family but he’d been banished for years.  Like fifteen of them, so people were really curious to see how one of his kids turned out. You know. Poke it. Prod it. Talk about it. Except for W’s brother of course. He was not curious at all.”

We all chuckle.

“So she goes around meeting people but she goes nowhere interesting and definitely no beach. No fucking beach to be had. No seashell to bring back to her sister. She’s mostly working all day and then being berated for being poor and then being taken dog-and-pony-show style to be seen by various relatives who pat her on the head and think she’s shameful, so you know Elsa. She’s got to be ready to kill by now. You gotta hope she gets to the beach soon otherwise there is probably going to be a bloody massacre.”

“You don’t think she’s unarmed, do you? Fuck that. She may not have the knife that she will eventually carry but she has her fucking mind. She has her fucking Elsa-mind that no one seems to know that she has, which is another thing that pisses her off by the way.”

To be continued.

“Then one day, she goes to visit one of our uncles. Great uncles, I mean. They had sons her age. Yep. They had these kids late in life. The father was in his fifties when the kids were born. Well, they weren’t exactly her age, but close enough. She is… what were you again? Twelve?”

“Right.”

“So she’s twelve and except for Anna’s daughters, she hadn’t met anyone under thirty-five or forty the whole time she’d been there so she was damned happy when she saw one our cousins who was nineteen or so.”

“Now he’s this beach bum sort. He is not a bad kid. He is a California kid with moderate privilege which from our perspective is extreme privilege. Basically, he’s a surfer dude with a JEEP.”

She stubs out her cigarette and reaches for another. She holds the pack in her hand while she talks.

“Well you know that Elsa is going to think a jeep is cool, right?”

“The jeep is brown.”

“See?” She chuckles. “And you know Elsa. She wants her ass in that jeep. She’s been in the Fiat and now she wants to ride around California in a jeep, and you know where she wants to go, right? She wants to go the beach, and fuck it. May as well go in style and a truck is her kind of style. This is big stuff to her. You know her fetish for trucks… What does you friend call it?”

“He says it gets my dick hard.” I laugh.

“Right. That’s another good line. I don’t know where she finds these fuckers with all these good lines but she does it. They are all Aquarian motherfuckers and I have no idea what they see in her but I am glad they do, because I get to use their good lines. Some of their lines are even better than my own and I’ll admit it. Like this one, for example. Trucks get her dick hard. Is there a better way to say that? There isn’t.”

“Anyway, what’s a jeep? It’s a fucking truck, right? Of course it is. And it has the added appeal in that it’s a sort of truck Elsa had never rode in. Is it open?”

“Yeah. It is. With a ROLL BAR.”

She snorts. “Well then.” She lights the cigarette.

accordian“He likes her. This cousin. Actually, they knew each other. He’d been to the desert house to visit our family when he was a kid. Maybe five years earlier when he was thirteen or so. We have pictures of him, don’t we, Elsa?”

“Yeah. He played the accordion.”

“Oh right. That fucking accordion. They made him play that thing like some sort of dick. Anyone who plays the accordion is a dick, or maybe they’re an Aquarian. All Aquarians are dicks but they excel at it so we forgive them, and Elsa actually likes them. She’s very much amused by them and anyway, this was not an Aquarian kid. At least I don’t think so. And why give your kid an accordion in the first place? I mean, of all the fucking instruments out there. A fucking accordion?”

“That’s mean.” I say.

“See. She’s defending him and this is getting clearer to me now. These two had an affinity. Besides the obvious. We already know that they both like the beach and they both like trucks. If there was any way in the world it were possible, Elsa would be doing exactly what he was doing. He was living her dream life. He was driving to the beach in his jeep and probably smoking pot.”

“We don’t know that last, I’m just guessing. Don’t beach bums smoke pot? I think they do. Anyway, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. I’m just drifting. Elsa wouldn’t though because she’s too fond of her mind. No pot for her. She wouldn’t want her thinking blurred, right?”

“Right. That’s right.”

“You don’t smoke pot, you win pots.”

I laugh. “That’s pretty clever.”

“I know. I’m the only person in this room with any Gemini and half my shit goes over the heads of you slow fuckers but anyway, it’s true. Elsa would take every pot, or at the very least, more than her share of the pots, and if this is what you want to do, you need an un-blurred mind. Isn’t that right, Elsa?”

“Yeah. That’s right.”

“I thought so. Now that we have that cleared up, let’s move along. See, there’s another likeness, I’ve just figured out with my mind which is a different kind of sharp than yours, and now I’ll tell you what it is.”

She smokes.

“These two were both circus dogs. Yep. That’s another thing you two had in common. They were both the circus dogs for their respective families.”

“See, when Elsa was small, she was a circus dog. That was how she started out her life. She started out her life as a circus dog and grew into a sophisticated murderess. You know what I mean, right? You know the little Chihuahuas in the circus that wear collars and do tricks in a ring? Well, she was one of those, except her trick was reading. She could read the newspaper when she was four, so they took that show on the road. Any time friends or family came around they would get Elsa up there with a newspaper and have her read the front page. Do you remember?”

“Of course.”

“Well they did the same thing with this guy and his accordion. And come to think of it, I think that he was an early reader too. See, you two were peers. But anyway, he likes her. He thinks she’s cool.”

“He asks Elsa how she likes California and she tells him the same thing she tells everyone.”  I like it fine and I want to go to the beach.” You know Elsa. Nothing subtle about her. Ask a question and you get your fucking answer.”

She turns to me. “You must have smelled an opportunity when you saw him.”

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Hell yes.”

“So, he can’t believe she hasn’t been to the beach. He can’t believe it because he covets the beach like she does. She’s finally found a fucking peer. She’s found an Indian from her own tribe and he offers to take her to the beach. He offers to take her in his JEEP, no less, which has got to be beautiful fucking music to her ears by now, right?”

I smile. It’s spontaneous at the memory. “Yeah. He does offer and I can’t believe it. My faith pays off. A miracle occurs.”

“You must have been slobbering. Or did you play it cool? Did you poker face it?”

“No. I was thrilled. And I was really grateful, and I let him know with a lot of enthusiasm, I’m sure.”

“Right. Well you have that Leo, so I am sure that you gushed as one would hope, and I bet he responded with the family shit-eating grin and told you it was no problem, and I’m sure it wasn’t.”

“He’s going to the beach anyway and how often does he get to show someone the beach that he loves, for the first time in their life? Fuck it. I may hate her most days, but Elsa is fun to go places with. She is now, and she was then so really this is a mutual thing, even though the age is off some. He’s not really doing her a favor. I don’t think it was really charity. That’s what I mean. It’s not a mercy beach trip, I think he figures it will be fun.”

She smokes.

“Now. How many people did you ask, anyway?”

“To take me to the beach? Fifty. I told at least fifty people that I wanted to go. I told everyone I saw, everywhere I went.”

“See that! Fifty adults and not one motherfucker can take the time to take a kid from the desert to the beach. Who are these fuckers anyway? Besides losers, tramps and thieves I mean?”

She takes a drag from her cigarette.

“Now, meanwhile, back at the ranch, the two circus dogs make a plan. They’ll go to the beach on Saturday in the truck. Elsa gives him Anna’s number so he can call her and tell her what time he’ll pick her up. That’s it! She’s finally found the one motherfucker in the state of California who will take her to the beach, and she’s happy. Well, you know what I say? It’s about fucking time.”

“Mission accomplished, she expresses her thanks and I’m sure you read from the newspaper very well for the rest of the day. You know what I mean. She’s had to perform like a dog all these weeks and finally, she’s going to get something out of it so she probably stepped up the quality of her performance.”

“One thing about Elsa, is she’s always sandbagging. Always fucking sandbagging. Make no mistake. Just when you think you’ve seen her best play. Well shit. I see her over there twitching her face so I just think I’ll leave that right there.”

“Now. Give me a cigarette. We’re almost to the motel part. You have another pack around here, right XXXXX? You better because we’re in deep. We have to finish saga and I would like to smoke, while I do.”

To be continued.

“Okay. So what are you thinking?”

“Um… I’m hoping I make it to the beach.”

“No shit. See how she is. What else were you thinking?”

“That it was going to take a trick. You know. I was going to have to finesse.”

“Finesse, huh? Like how? What do you mean? Do you see how this bitch is always in a court of law? She answers the questions and she answers them honestly, but if you ask the wrong questions, then it’s fuck you, dumb ass. You don’t get to find out shit.”

“Well, for starters I knew Nonno couldn’t find out I was going.”

“He’d interfere?”

“Yeah. By then I was well aware he was the enemy. He needed to be worked around. He was pure obstacle.”

“Can you believe she is talking about her grandfather? You can just feel the love. He is a fucking inanimate object to her. He is, isn’t he?”

“No. He’s not neutral.  He’s trouble. I need to get the beach and back without him knowing.”

“How are you going to do it?”

“Oh, I can do it. I think it will be pretty easy. He’s just my first thought. He’s number one impediment to me, but I have a lot of side problems to solve.”

“Side problems. She’s got fucking side problems again, XXXXX.” She snorts.  “Like what. What are the fucking side problems?”

“Well, I know I’m going to have to sneak to the beach. That’s the bottom line. I think about asking Anna, but I’m afraid she’ll say no and frankly, at this point, that would be too devastating. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be able to cope with that.”

“See, by now I was in screaming pain. I knew no one wanted me. I knew I was a dismal failure and so forth. There were all kinds of things like this I knew, and I thought at least I could get a shell. I needed a triumph like that. Uh, it was pretty much life and death to me.”

“You’d rather die than not go to the beach?”

“Right. That’s exactly how I thought about it too. You know that. But if I’m going to die, I would like it to be AFTER I go to beach, so I was going to do whatever I had to do to get there. See, I was closer to the end of my rope than anyone knew.”

“Poker face.”

“Right.”

“So it’s a matter of survival.”

“Right. That’s right. I either go to the beach or I die. I was in that kind of agony.”

“So why wouldn’t, Anna let you go?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she would have, but I wasn’t going to risk it. She deferred to Nonno and I didn’t think she comprehended how important it was to me. It would be safer for her to say no than to go behind his back. I anticipated her telling me she’d have to clear it with him, and if she took that approach, his answer was a given. He would prevent me from having pleasure of any kind and bottom line, I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity.”

“So you’re going to go behind his back, but behind her back too, so she wouldn’t be exposed?”

“Right.”

“You were protecting her?”

“Right. But I was also making sure I got where I was going. I was determined. It was so important to me I wasn’t taking chances. You know what they say about planning to fail? I was planning to not fail.”

“So you’re going to sneak out of the house?”

“No. I can’t do that. He was going to pick me up and I was going to finesse my way out of the house. I was going to have a little bit of luck too.”

“Okay, tell us your plan.”

“Well, Anna goes to work half day on Saturday. She’s gone until about two in the afternoon. Maybe three. You know. She works through lunch rush at the restaurant, so it depends. I was counting on getting out of there while she was gone for starters and this was the luck part. If he was going to pick me up at 3:00, I was fucked. He had to come get me in the morning. There was nothing I could do about that but cross my fingers, but I had the rest of it covered.”

“And Anna would leave you home alone?”

“No. Her daughters would be there. They would be there when I left, but this is the part I was going to finesse.”

“Finesse?”

“Yeah. I planned to have him come by and then tell them, “See you later!” all casual like… You know. I was going to pretend it was norma, and I had permission and so forth. “See ya! I am going to the beach with my cousin!” I laugh. “Like that.”

My sister chuckles. “Like that, huh?”

“Right.”

“Well it ought to work. It sounds like a pretty good plan so far. Then what?”

“Well it was possible I’d be home from the beach before Anna got home from work. If that happened, I’d quickly change clothes and never mention it. You know. Who me? I was home all day. Twiddle my thumbs.”

I laugh. We all laugh.

“Didn’t you think one of the daughters would bring it up?”

“Yeah. I thought they probably would unless I was super lucky. I figured I’d have to deal with it if they did but it was less critical to me because I’d have already been to the beach.”

“Right. It would be after the fact so who gives a shit?”

“Not me. I didn’t care. I felt if I lost this opportunity… well I just didn’t think I’d be able to hold it together any longer. I was ready to blow a gasket. I was dying. I mean it wasn’t like I didn’t know no one cared about me. I knew. It was getting to me, but I still wanted to live. I wanted to have a good time, even.”

“Elsa, the unsinkable bitch.”

“Right. If you think so. Anyway, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about being busted by the daughters after the fact, because I figured Anna would be home when I got home anyway. I was estimating our cousin would pick me up at noon and I would be home at 5:00.”

“And you thought you’d be in trouble, when you got there?”

“Oh hell yes. I figured Anna would pissed off but I thought she’d keep my secret and that’s all that mattered. What’s she going to do to me? Nothing. I figured she’d tell me I should have asked. I thought she might yell a little and that would be it. If she yelled at all, I mean. What mattered is I didn’t think she’d tell Nonno. I mean, fuck it. I kept her secret.”

“Her secret?”

“She smoked.”

“Oh yeah! That’s right. She smoked behind his back. I see. Very crafty, Elsa.”

“Right. She has her vice, I have mine and we keep each other’s secret. Anyway, I was only going to do it once. I wasn’t going to make a career out of this and it was going to be over almost as soon as she found out about it.”

“You weren’t worried about her being worried about you?”

“No. The daughters were going to know where I was, who I was with, when I would be home and so forth. See, I didn’t expect to have a big problem. This was a very family-oriented family. It would be easy for them to understand and support family relationships. See what I mean? I was going to the beach with my cousin and this is NORMAL. It was good. It’s what normal cousins do. In their family, I mean.”

“Hey! You don’t have to convince me. I agree with you.”

“So there you go. I would go to the beach, and then come home and apologize to Anna. That would be it. I was not going to do it twice. Back from the beach, I expected to be replenished and then I would get back to my usual circus dog reading for audiences and working for no pay. Make sense?”

“Makes sense. Do you expect any problems from the daughters, getting out door?”

“Like what? They aren’t my mother. Like I said.  I was going to make it seem like Nonno put the whole thing together.”

“See, they had family stuff happening all the time. If anything, this made me more normal. I’m going to the beach with my cousin. So what?  Big deal? I didn’t think it would be suspicious.  I thought the odds were high I’d make it out the door. I was also confident I could contain the aftermath and if I couldn’t? So what? Who cares? What are they going to do me? How could it compare to what W had done to me in my life? It couldn’t. And I’d have been to the beach, right? I didn’t give a shit.”

Because, look.  When I’m done in California, where am I going? Back to W, right? There was no debate. I was going to the beach come hell or high water. And I was gonna have fun when I got there, too. See, it wasn’t a situation where I have the rest of my life to go to the beach, is it? What is the life expectancy around our house anyway?”

“Uh… Low. Very fucking low. A week?”

I laugh. “Right. And if I come home with a bad report? What’s gonna happen?”

“I’d be thinking same thing you were thinking.”

“Well there you go. I was in California and I had a ride to the beach, so I was going to go, no matter what.”

“I don’t blame you. I think you should.”

“Well you know? I’ve never cared what you think.”

She smiles. “Runs in the family.”

We stop to laugh.

And laugh.

And laugh.

“Were you worried about him? Our cousin?”

“No. Not at all. I knew I was the only one around there that was living a life or death, life. Anna was a hard worker. But everyone else I met there was just floating along in the breeze. No. I wasn’t worried about anyone but Anna and I wasn’t worried about her either, because she was competent.

“You respected her.”

“Right. I did. Completely. But look around. This gal has a dream husband and that guy has a dream car. People who work at the deli come and go as they please and Nonno gets to play bocce at the bar seven days a week. Let’s see. His worst problem is that his girlfriend is taking care of his granddaughter for him and that fucker gets to play cards in the bar too.”

“The cousin has a jeep and goes to the beach five times a week. His father has a house full of grandfather clocks that he loves. Anna’s nine year old daughter is coddled like a four year old. You get the idea. And besides this, everyone is rich. All of them. They eat what they want, when they want it. The go where they want to go when they want to go there, and apparently their clothes are not an issue.”

“Basically it seemed to me, everyone was okay but me, and I was going to the fucking beach because I knew… I just knew as soon as I got there, I wouldn’t care about any of this other. But if I didn’t get there? Well I thought I would implode. Or explode. Or something.”

“See, I thought I could contain the aftermath. It was my own energy that worried me, and you know damned well I had nothing to lose. And besides this I was worried about you.”

“Me?”

“Of course. Look it. Where do I live?”

“Um… In a salt mine?”

“Right. I’m on furlough from the salt mine and guess who got left there. You did.”

“And you were worried about me? What W might do to me if you aren’t there?”

“Right. See, if he kills me, then whoops! It’s an accident. But if he kills you, it’s on purpose.”

“Well said. So you were afraid he was going to kill me?”

“Right. Of course I was. I was afraid of that every day.”

“So was I.”

“For good reason.”

“So you are worried because you aren’t there to run interference? You aren’t there to stick a knife in his back if he’s killing me?”

“Right.” I laugh. “That’s right. There’s no one to stop him from killing you.”

“So you’re trying to bring me a shell? This is going to save me?”

“Well I am. But I’m also trying to go to the beach. I’m trying to go to the beach and get you a shell. See, what else am I going to do? I have no idea what has happened to you all summer but I figure you think I’m having a great time. For all I know, I am having a great time, compared to what’s happening to you. There’s no way I‘m going to walk in the house and say “Sorry. No shell. I failed. You get nothing.” I wasn’t going to do that.”

“See, you’re the only person I had to worry about. Everyone else had their ass covered one way or the other. Anna has Nonno’s ass, right? She has her daughters covered. Our mother covers our brother. Other people cover their own ass. You get the idea. No one had your ass covered and I knew it.”

“You don’t think I’m competent?”

“Fuck no, you aren’t competent. No. I didn’t think you were competent to cover your own ass.”

“What about your ass?”

“My ass? My ass is going to the beach.”

To be continued.

“So Saturday comes. We were confirmed the night before for noon so I was okay in my time frame. I woke up nervous though. Anna was already gone. She was out the door by seven thirty. I was nervous about telling her daughters I was going. I didn’t want to wait until the last minute but I couldn’t get my nerve up either. See, I didn’t know. As soon as I told them, I could have trouble on my hands.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. The older daughter may want to check with Anna. Who knows? I’m trying to get out the door, remember? Anything and everything is a possible threat. In the end my hand is forced. I have to tell because the older daughter says she’s leaving and you know what that means.”

“What?”

“I would have to babysit the nine-year-old.”

“Oh fuck me! Another way to use you.”

“Yeah.  Well the little girl was a pain to tell the truth. I didn’t like to be alone with her. She was very whiny. She was always complaining but never mind that. This forces me to tell the older daughter that I’m leaving at noon to go to the beach with my cousin.”

“You’re twelve and she’s nine but you call her a little girl.”

“She was a little girl.”

“I believe you.”

“I thought the news I was going somewhere came out kind of choppy but she didn’t seem to notice. She was totally gracious and offered to change her plans so I could go. She liked me quite a bit. She’d told me I’d be a great little sister to have and so forth. But look who she was stuck with. Her own sister was an annoying kid, believe it. But anyway the older daughter had no problem. She was happy for me even, so I got over the main hurdle right there”

“Once this was done, I only had to worry about Anna calling or coming home before I could leave or some bizarre happening like that which was not likely. It would be lunch rush at the restaurant, right?  I knew about lunch rush because I worked one myself at the deli. Anna and I were peers in this way. We’d discussed this so I knew.

Eventually our cousin pulled up in the JEEP and I thought I was going to pass out. I swooned. I was going to the beach! It was like a chariot, you know? I was going to the ball, I mean the beach. In a first rate brown-jeep-coach, no less! I couldn’t feel my feet on the sidewalk between the house and the jeep.  I was pretty much overcome before I even climbed in.”

“It was cool going down the highway. It was Saturday morning so there were lots of surfboards on top of cars and I felt like I was in this really cool stream of living. I thought I was part of it. For the moment, I was part of this excellent culture.”

“Okay, so I wasn’t. My heart was pounding. I was totally nervous and had no idea how to act cool but I was trying. You know what I mean. We were so naïve. Mostly, I was trying not to vomit. From all the butterflies, I mean. So I could see this great stream of life but I was having trouble merging with it.”

“When we got to the beach and my feet hit the sand I got really overwhelmed. And that was before I took off my shoes.”

I shake my head and smirk.

“You know how immigrants describe setting foot in their new land? It was like that. I started to cry a little from the pure emotion which was extremely embarrassing. It was just a few tears and I don’t know if he noticed. I think he did, but if he did he didn’t say anything which was kind. But it made it even harder not to cry. Let’s face it. It is easier to poker face, pricks.”

“Um… mostly, it’s a blur. I got your shells as you know. I got three shells. I told him they were for you. He remembered you, of course. He seemed to really like our whole family, which was shocking. He thought we were all great. He liked W a lot. He thought he was funny.”

“Sounds typical.”

“Right. But it still surprised me.  That anyone thought anything good of our family was a shock. No one had ever articulated anything like that to me before so it was weird.”

“His memory of the time he spent visiting us in the desert was really good. He wished all of us had come to visit. He wished that you were there… he just in general wished we lived close by so that we could all spend time together and none of this was exactly fathomable to me. I was listening to him talk but I had real trouble with the message. You know. Like, who the hell is he talking about?  Not my family, that’s for sure.”

“Most of it was pretty hazy. That’s the gist though. He was nice to me. There was a bunch of talk about family. He tried to teach me to skip rocks on the water but I couldn’t do it. That was the kind of person he was. He was the kind who can skip rocks on the water!” I smile.  “And the kind who would help someone else, try to learn.”

“What else?” my sister asks.

“I thought I was boring him but who knows. I was really overwhelmed. I also had a crush on him which made it even worse.”

“Well, you were at that age.”

“Right. And he had a jeep and he didn’t look anything like his accordion picture, believe me. You’d have never recognized him. He had grown up.”

“So he was good looking?”

“Yeah. He was great looking, actually. It wasn’t really him though. I was pretty much fanaticizing everything in every direction.  My entire dream life. I’d live in California, with this car and that scarf. I’d have this husband and that jeep. You know. California was a candy store. Oh the life I would have, if I could have it. You know how I’d think in Dr. Seuss like that. “Oh the thinks you can think!” I don’t think there was actual erotic energy between us. In fact, I’m sure there wasn’t.”

“It wasn’t sexual. It was dreamy. It was California dreaming. Someday maybe I can be on the beach with my boyfriend. I was thinking that kind of thing rather than thinking he specifically could be my boyfriend.”

“For one thing, I was way too intimidated. I didn’t see myself in league with him. I didn’t know what league I thought I was in but not the same one as some guy on the beach with a jeep. Not now at least. It was all a fairy tale for the future when I was eighteen and got to leave the desert.”

“See, I was pretty sure about my status at the time. I was a desert rat. I was lowly and undesirable.  Basically I thought he was pretty much a nice person living a glorious life, who I got to hang out with for an hour before I went back…”

My sister interrupts. “To the salt mine, with me.”

“Right. He had a girlfriend too. He told me about her. How they liked to come to the beach. See what I mean? I wanted to grow up and be the girlfriend of someone like him, or marry Anna’s daughter’s prince, or maybe just work in a deli and have a flashy car. Lots of puzzle pieces like that.  I wanted to fanaticize the possibilities.  The ways to put them together to make a dreamy life. I was focused on vast possibilities of the future rather than on him which was sort of a problem.”

“See, the way it was going, I would have kind of liked to be there alone. Because he was trying to talk to me the whole time.  He was trying to have a conversation but I was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t get my feet under me. I really needed some space to try to get my feet on the ground and process my emotion. I was in a daze. There were a bunch of times… six, maybe even twelve times, I had to really work not to burst into tears. I was that overcome. I was swirling and I wanted to be alert and snappy, but instead I was being hit with these waves of emotion.”

“Why?”

“Maybe because my life was sad and he didn’t know it. And I was embarrassed this was the case. At the time, right there on the beach, I knew how sad my life was which was a connection I rarely made. Since I rarely made it, when it did constellate for me it was overwhelming.”

“And there he was, chatting and thinking that I was living a happy life with my great family, like he was. Or happy enough or whatever, but really… really I wasn’t and I was having major trouble containing everything. I didn’t want him to know he was wrong about our family. You know the feeling. If one tear falls, it would lead to wracking sobs. I was fighting that kind of thing the whole time and it was formidable challenge. I did it though. Just barely, with a tear leaking here and there.”

“You’re not perfect.”

“Right.”

“So we spent a few hours and I never really did ground. I’m not sure what he thought. I did my best, but you know… I was pretty much gone from my body and couldn’t get back in. So much for representing the family, but anyway, we called it a day and headed back to Anna’s about four o’ clock. It was a relief in a way. You know how hard it is to be talking to someone when you can’t find your personality. Mine had completely abandoned me.”

“On the way home, I thought I’d been boring and wasted his day and stuff like that. I wasn’t up to California standard, you could say, but there was really nothing I could do. What do I do? Tell him I’m really better company than I am?” I laugh. “Hey. The thought crossed my mind. It was brutal like that. I sure liked my feet in the wet sand but I sure lost my grip.  I sure liked the smells but I sure was overwhelmed.”

I shake my head at the memory.

“On the drive home, I tried to savor it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the experience again and if I could, I knew it would be a long time off.  I really tried to absorb it. The feeling of riding down the highway in the summer in a jeep with loud music, I mean. I was thinking, even if I’d made an ass of myself, I sure liked this life and I was really glad I got to the beach. I was deeply grateful and you know how hard it is not to cry when you feel like that. I was tripping off; glad there was a beach in the world.  Those are the kind of thoughts I was thinking. It is very hard not to cry when you think universal stuff like that. I don’t know any other way to say it. I was overwhelmed and humbled and very shaky.”

“We got back to Anna’s house and I thanked him and hopped out of the jeep. That jeep was cool. I think he asked me if I wanted him to walk me to the door but I deferred. I thought I might have trouble when I got inside. I didn’t want him to know about it if I did. He thought our family was good and I wanted to keep it that way.”

“You were protecting him?”

“Yeah. I thought trouble may be lurking and I didn’t want him to have to deal with it. And I was protecting myself. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of him.”

“So I came up the sidewalk. I was about ring the doorbell when the door opened and Nonno reached out. He grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled me inside the house.”

“Crap. That’s what I thought. He started dragging me across the living room by my hair and I thought, oh fuck.”

To be continued.

‘Well I was shocked but not for long. What? Five seconds? Within five seconds I was back in my body and scoping the situation, trying to decide how I was going handle it. The immediate problem was the searing pain in my scalp so I helped him drag me. You know I what I mean. He dragged me into the kitchen while I helped him get me there by pushing with my feet. Fuck it. When someone has you by the hair, they have you by the hair. I know that.”

“The first question, of course.  Is he going to kill me? Well, I didn’t have to wonder long. He dragged me into the kitchen. Your shells were in my hand by the way. I didn’t have a pocket. I didn’t have a purse. He was calling me a prostitute which immediately stuck me as ridiculous and set the tone for this whole thing. A what? I thought.” I laugh. “I lost some hair out of the deal. I saw it in his hand when he let go of it in the kitchen but then he started kicking me and I relaxed.”

“You relaxed?” XXXXX asks.

“Yeah. I didn’t know what he had planned. Once he let go of my hair and started kicking me, I saw it was going to be a wimpy beating. A stupid beating.”

“A stupid beating?”

“Yeah. C’mon. I know a beating when I’m getting one. You know. I know what an emergency is and this was not that. To me, this was a cartoon of a beating. It was comical. Once he let go of my hair, I mean.”

“See, I’ll tell you. This was the weirdest beating I’d ever had in my life. Everything about it was ridiculous. He was calling me a prostitute for example. How stupid is that? I was lying on the floor getting kicked wondering if that fucker needed a dictionary or what. Because I was not a prostitute. I worked in a deli, remember? I went to high school. What a stupid fucker.”

“She didn’t take him serious.” My sister says.

“Right. I didn’t. He was kicking me but guess what shoes he was wearing? Just guess. He was wearing loafers. He was kicking me with a pair of stupid loafers. Well, excuse me. I’d been kicked in the head with a pair of steel-toed boots a hundred times. Maybe two hundred times. And now some old man is kicking me in the thigh with his loafer? Please. It was ridiculous.”

“For someone with your skills?” My sister asks.

“Right. See XXXXX, as far as beatings go your wife was different than I was. If I were getting beat, my main focus was always damage control. Cover your face, your head, protect the parts of your body that are most sensitive to damage. Uh… you have to withstand the physical. You just do. But you can be smart about manipulating your body to absorb the impact.”

“Listen to her. She is outlining the finer points of being beaten.” My sister laughs.

“I’d work the other front too. I would try to decide how to make the beating less severe. Should I beg? Not beg? Does he want to see tears or if I cry, will he be further incited? This is the thought process. My thought process. The goal for me was always to walk away with the least damage. I’d developed this, years earlier. I was highly equipped.”

“See, it was a scientific matter to me. It was not an emotional thing. I understood that some psycho bastard was beating me again, so how was I going to handle it? You know. W had broken my arm. Lemme tell you. This is the kind of thing you want to avoid. I didn’t get to the doctor for my arm until the next day when he was at work. We went to the doctor behind his back and we had to walk there. Now that is some supernatural swollen-purple-pain and the kind of damage that you want to avoid if you can. See what I mean? I was from a land where you could very easily be beaten to death or wind up braindead or paralyzed or who knows what. So a guy kicking me with a loafer? I’m sorry. I’m going to have a hard time taking that serious. It was pitiful. I pitied him.”

“He’s beating you and you pitied him?” XXXXX asks.

“Yeah. Oh hell yes. Because he’s this old man kicking a twelve-year-old and calling her a prostitute. How stupid is that? It’s pathetic. On the beach I was trying not to cry, then I was getting kicked on the floor and trying not to laugh. You know why? Because if I laugh, I may provoke him, right? That would be stupid. I’m not going to be stupid. We were in the kitchen. I don’t want him to get pissed and get a knife, but the truth? I could have stood up and beat the shit out of him. I was thinking, if you need to beat me old man, you go right ahead, you dumbass.”

My sister speaks up. “So you don’t respect him. Do you know why you could do that? I do. Because you had a real grandfather. You had a REAL grandfather so this guy is just some idiot kicking you with a tasseled loafer. Is that what you were thinking?”

“That is exactly what I was thinking. I thought he was a damned fool.”

My sister laughs. “If this is the best you got, maybe you should get out of the beating business you stupid fucker. Your son has surpassed you.”

“Right. You know what I did. I didn’t laugh. I swear I could have. Instead, I acted like this was a horrible beating. I’m serious. I acted like nothing like this had ever occurred and I was in horrible pain. Hey! My hair hurt, but he let go of it right? If he still had my hair, I wouldn’t have been in this mood, but loafer kicks? I just relaxed and let him kick himself out of steam.”

“Feels like a massage, right Elsa?”

I snort. “That’s funny. That was a good one.” We stop to laugh.

“Anyway, I didn’t even have to act with conviction. I gave the stupid performance that this B-movie deserved because there was nothing at stake.”

“So you mocked him?”

“Oh maybe a little. And you’re right about Henry. I know how a grandfather is supposed to be. I know how old men are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be classy and wise. They aren’t supposed to be losers who kick children on the kitchen floor, that’s for sure.”

“So you think he is a dick. You’re a better grandfather than he is and you’re twelve.”

“Of course, he’s a dick. I think he is pathetic. I think he is null and void as a person. Any old man who is kicking a kid on the kitchen floor with his loafer…” I shake my head. “You should have seen him. The low point of his existence. What a fucking idiot.”

My sister smokes. “I bet he could tell. That you didn’t respect him, I mean. You know the fire signs hate that. You knew that intuitively. That’s your Capricorn trumping his Sadge. You’re saying, go ahead and kick me old man. I have a real grandfather you stupid prick. I don’t give a fuck about a stupid dick like you. You are fired as my grandfather, dumbass.”

“Well, that’s how I felt.  I don’t know what he knew. He kicked me until he was done, and then gave me a few extra kicks. How predictable is that? You know. He’s done but then a couple more kicks for “good measure”. He’s really going to kick his stupid prostitute message in.” I smirk and shake my head.

“Listen to her XXXXX. She’s laughing at his extra kicks. She thinks his beating technique is stupid. He needs a fucking choreographer to help him with his lousy beatings.”

I laugh. “Right.  I was waiting for them. His extra kicks.  I could have given him direction. Come back here you stupid bastard. You need to two more kicks! It’s called “emphasis”, asshole.”

“Hey Nonno! I got a kink in my back, right here. Can you kick it for me?”

I laugh. “Right. Dumbass. So he got in his last kick and then he stormed to the front door, slamming it on his way out. Now. Did everyone get this? Nonno’s mad. Well fuck me. I’m shaking in my boots after that beating. I sure hope I never meet the business end of his loafer again.” I shudder and laugh, smugly.

My sister lights another cigarette and takes over. “Well, I’ll tell you how stupid he is. Here he is kicking you. He probably broke his fucking toe inside his loafer and you don’t give a shit. He knows it too. Hey! My kicks aren’t breaking her down! What does it mean? I must be an old man or something. What the fuck? Is what I am doing, stupid? Am I a dumbass and she knows it?”

“That’s what he is going to have to deal with when he gets home, but here’s the thing. He can kick you until he has a fucking heart attack if he wants because you got your shells, right? You are holding the only fucking thing you care about in all of California right in your fucking twelve-year-old hand. If he wanted to hurt you, all he would have had to do is make you open your hand and give them to him. You’d have done it too. Right before you stabbed him and took them back so I guess it’s just as well he stuck with the loafer kicks. I don’t know how Anna would have felt about a dead Nonno in her kitchen.”

We all laugh.

“Okay, we’re laughing, but we know this wasn’t funny at the time, Elsa. What amazes me about this story is Henry. See the shit that we could do because of him? He was ahead of his time.”

“You think so?”

“Fuck yeah, I think so. You don’t?”

“I never thought about it.”

“Well we grew up with him, so we think he is normal. But he’s not, and I guarantee you that it’s because of him that we can sit here right now and laugh about being beaten. And we’re doing it, too.  Probably helps that the old bastard is in his grave too.”

I shrug.

“Go pee and then come finish this. We are not done discussing events in the state of California, and we still have not placed you in the motel, which is the best part of this story, if you ask me.”

To be continued

“I stood up like nothing happened. I wasn’t even crying. I was embarrassed though. For making a scene, and so forth. Anna’s daughter was freaked. Are you alright? Are you alright? I told her I was. Anna told me I shouldn’t have gone to the beach and I told her I was sorry but I was thinking, yeah right. I’m not supposed to go to the beach with my cousin, but it’s okay for Nonno to beat me? I was in for a shock, though.”

“I quickly found out they thought I had sex with our cousin. Surprised? So was I. Anna spent the rest of the night interrogating me. I kept telling her we went to the beach. She kept telling me that Nonno was angry and I’d done a very bad thing, having sex with my cousin. What? This was even stupider than “prostitute”. I couldn’t believe it.”

“I didn’t care if Nonno was angry and I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong, but I didn’t argue. I just let her talk. I apologized at appropriate times and denied the sex when it came up. I thought this was all ridiculous and I was meaning to ride it out.”

“I was too young to really understand why or how they could think that we had sex. I’m older now and I still don’t understand how they jumped to that conclusion but they did. And they were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt this had occurred. This was very hard for me to fathom and as soon as I’d assimilated that little factoid, it got worse.”

I learned that phone calls had been made, accusing our cousin of rape. Nonno called his brother, our cousin’s father and told him his son had raped me.”

“Now you can imagine how that went over and this is when this became serious for me. I became emphatic in telling Anna, nothing like that had occurred. I started begging her to believe me which was a total mind-fuck.”

“See, I wasn’t used to my credibility being questioned. I was known in the family, and at school or wherever, for being a reliable and honest person. It was highly disorienting to me to say something and not be believed. It was totally abnormal. I was used to saying things one time, no questions asked. Here I was telling her over and over that there was no sex while she was shaking her head and telling me there was. She didn’t believe me and she told me this directly.”

“Elsa, I would like to believe you, but I don’t.” I laugh. “Just like that. That’s how she said it.” I shake my head.

“Well, what could I do? There wasn’t one fucking thing I could do. The more I told her the less she believed me. It was hopeless. There was a lot of lecturing, the sins of sex and whatnot. I left my body after a while. Who needs to stick around for this? It went on like this into the evening with Nonno calling every hour or so, to yell. I knew he was yelling, because Anna would hold the phone away from her head.”

“I don’t know. I’m talking to her right now. I’m trying to find out. This is the type thing she would say into the phone, and then she’d hold it away from his ear as he answered. Boring, huh? The whole scene was ludicrous. They were actually contemplating calling the police. They wanted to know if I would tell the police about the sex I had. But I didn’t have sex, I would say. But that was obviously beside the point.”

“So what are you thinking? My sister asks.

“Well, I know it’s stupid. What are they going to tell the police? Her cousin raped her? She raped her cousin? C’mon. It’s ridiculous.”

“And what would the police say to me?  Hey little girl, did you get raped today?”

“Er… No. They just think this.”

“Why do they think this?”

“Damned if I know. Can I go to sleep, now?”

“What’s stupider than that? They had to come to their senses eventually, but it was strange. She (they) were so certain we’d had sex, eventually “we just went to the beach” sounded like a lie. Do you know what I mean? It sounded like a lie but it wasn’t. The words, “nothing  happened” sounded like a total lie, so how strange is that? Add that to the mind-fuck pile.”

“Were you worried about our cousin?”

“Yeah. Yes, I was. I thought he might be in trouble with his parents, but eventually I found out through Anna, that his father had basically told Nonno to jump in the lake. See, I found out his father didn’t take the allegation seriously. Knowing this was a gift. Once I knew that, it was just your basic “wait out the crazies” which I was very good at. Not that I was happy or anything. It was awful. But you know. Once I’d gleaned our cousin’s father told Nonno to piss off, it contained this whole thing for me. At least a little anyway. I was back to waiting them out and you know how that goes. If they want to do this all night, then let’s do it all night. You know what kind of stamina I have.”

“I do. If they keep you up all night, that isn’t even round one where you come from.”

“Right. So it was ridiculous and it was a bore and eventually, Anna threw in the towel and everyone went to sleep.”

“The older daughter believed me by the way. For the record. She told Anna to back off and leave me alone. It was obvious to her I was telling the truth. She was mad at Nonno for beating me, especially in their house. She thought her mother needed a new boyfriend. I wholly agreed with that. Anna loved him though. She really did love that bastard.”

“So the next day was brooding day. There were more phone calls from Nonno and stuff going on behind the scenes I was not aware of. Anna said that Nonno never wanted to see me again, but she was working on him. Like I cared. I didn’t care. I was better off, because I hated going anywhere with him anyway. Who wants to drive around with some prick telling them how they suck? Especially after they have kicked you with their loafer? Not me. But I kept my mouth shut.”

“Anna worked, Nonno all morning on the phone, mostly leaving me in peace as long as I looked properly chastised and regretful. I sat on the couch with my ankles crossed.” I laugh. “I’m serious and it was seriously stupid.”

“After a half a dozen phone conversations, Anna deemed Nonno calm enough to talk to in person. See, he’d been refusing to see me like he was some kind of princess with eyes sensitive to prostitutes.” I laugh. “Anna left to drive over to his place, but not before she made me promise not to have any more sex.” I snort. “She left and it was beautiful timing because as soon as she did, our cousin called.”

“He called you?” XXXX asks.

“He did. Anna’s daughter got the phone and there was debate with him. She didn’t know if she should let him talk to me, but in the end, she did. She’d been talking to me while Anna was gone. This is when she told me she believed me. She was trying to shore me up. It was her recommendation I do what I was doing. Keep quiet and let it blow over.”

“Our cousin, on the phone, “Elsa! Are you okay? What the hell happened?”

“They think we had sex.”

“I’ve heard.” He laughs. “My dad is pissed. Did you tell them that?”

“Hell no.”

“They just got this idea?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what we thought. I didn’t think you’d do something like that.  That crazy bastard. Well he’s crazy. I’m sorry but your Nonno is just a crazy man.”

“I didn’t answer. Well, I smiled.”

“Elsa, I’m really sorry. I thought you had permission to go to the beach.” He laughs. “That was sneaky.”

“He was amused. He was some other things, but he was definitely amused.”

“Uh… Sorry.”

“No, no. I don’t blame you. I’d have wanted to go to the beach too. I can’t believe no one would take you. I’d have probably done the same thing you did. This is getting clearer all the time. And we live here. We know what your, Nonno is like. If you needed permission from him, you’d have never gotten it. Like I said. I don’t blame you. What you did is kind of funny, but your Nonno doesn’t think so. I heard they’re going to send you home because of this.”

“What?”

“That’s what I think he’s going to do. Maybe not. They’re still fighting about it, so maybe he’ll change his mind. Listen. Will your parents believe you? That we just went to the beach.”

“Uh… yeah. I think so.”

“Good. My father likes your father a lot. He would hate for your Nonno to start a feud between the families. So if they send you home, you’re just going to tell them the truth and they’ll believe you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I hope they believe you. If you have any trouble, have your parents call here and I’ll talk to them. So will my parents. I’d like to see you again. I’d like to see your family again. We definitely don’t want to wind up with the family split because of this. Your Nonno has done some stupid things but this takes the cake.”

‘I didn’t answer. I was speechless and becoming aware the scope.”

“Did he do anything to you? Your Nonno? Because I heard he was red hot. He came over here planning to kill my dad.” He laughs. Did you know that? My dad said his veins were popping out and he was claiming I raped you. He got rid of him, but he was worried about you.”

“No. I’m okay.”

“Good. This is stupid. I do think they are going to send you home though. That’s what we’re hearing over here. I’m sorry about that. I hope you don’t get in any trouble. We could have made another trip to the beach. I was thinking about it, and I’d decided we could go every Saturday, you were here. When do you get a chance to go the beach, anyway? And it’s no problem for me to take you. I love the beach, and I’m usually going anyway. I thought I’d be able to teach you to skip a stone by the end of the summer, and you’d be able to get a bunch of shells to bring home.  But that’s out of the question now, I guess. It’s too bad. I hope I get to talk to you again someday. I hope you’ll come back here some day when you are an adult. We’ll go to the beach, and your Nonno won’t be able to interfere.”

“I smiled. I didn’t know what to say. I was getting misty.”

“Okay… Well I am glad you’re okay. Sorry Elsa. At least you got to the beach.”

“Yeah.” I started to cry. “Thanks.”

“Oh, don’t cry. He’s just crazy old man. And don’t worry about what’s going on over here, okay? We aren’t thinking anything bad about you and your family over here. We know who the crazy ones are in the family.”

I laugh. I think I’m in love.

“Okay. Well, we better hang up now. Whoever answered the phone said you couldn’t talk very long so I guess you’re still in some trouble over there, and I don’t want you to get in any more. You’re okay, though?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, good. I’m sorry for all this. I don’t know how he got this idea. It’s pretty stupid. It’s pretty sad. I had a good time, Elsa. I’ll see you again someday. I’m glad we went to the beach. Ciao.”

“Ciao”

So that was it. I was getting kicked out of California.

To be continued.

“No one said anything to me about going home and I didn’t ask. The next morning, Anna drove me to work and I was paid $100. S@@@@ gave me two fifty-dollar bills, which made me weak in the knees. I’d never had five dollars, never mind fifty. I stuffed the bills in my pocket and I was sent back to the car. Right. I just lost my job. At least I thought I did. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed that she was saying goodbye. I sure hoped not, because you know…if I was really getting sent home, W, was gonna be pissed.”

“You must have been scared.”

“Yeah, I was scared. But there was no sense thinking about it, yet. I was going to wait for confirmation I was going home which came swiftly.”

“Anna asked if I were paid and I told her I was. She explained she’d talked to Nonno and he was going to send me home. I realized this news had shot through the family. All the people in the deli knew for example. Oh the shame. I’m a prostitute who fucked her cousin.”

“She said she’d tried but she wasn’t able to change his mind. I’d be leaving in the morning. She’d made travel plans. Seems Nonno refused to dirty himself with the details of my disposal so he put her on it. I’d be leaving in the morning on a bus from Los Angeles. I was sick to my stomach.”

“I was stunned. Really. I was just stunned. I’d been on a school bus, but they’d driven me to California. I don’t know. I was scared. Anna told me that it wasn’t the greatest but she thought I’d be all right and there was nothing else she could do. I’d gone too far and my Nonno was irreparably disgusted with me.”

“Now, did you care?”

“That I was going home? No. I’d been to the beach and outside of that afternoon, I wasn’t having much fun in California. But I cared about what was going to happen to me when I got home. And I was embarrassed of course. I was going home in shame. Know what I mean? I was going home with a cloud around me for having sex with my cousin, right? It was mindboggling.”

“Well, I don’t know. They have to protect California’s men, Elsa.”

We chuckle.

“Well, I was a serious threat, but you see what I mean. When I went there, I was hoping to make everybody proud of me so this was a dismal failure on my part. That part I felt. The failure part. I felt defeated. I was hoping to get rave reviews from, Nonno about how special I was. I was hoping to be invited back! So I’d fallen more than just tad short. On the other hand, fuck this bastard. I thought that too but it was kind of me against everyone on that note.”

“Our cousin was on my side but I couldn’t contact him, right? He wasn’t there in the car or in the room so it was pretty hard for me to get a lot of comfort from it. I assumed by now, the entire family, all fifty of them, were doing nothing but talking about how I sucked. I pretty much lost access to the good in the situation. I couldn’t touch it so it wasn’t there. The negative was just too overwhelming.”

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Anna acted as if I was some criminal, but I felt that way. She kept telling me I’d done something egregious and I don’t know. It seemed that I fell the sky.  If the whole world thinks so, it must be real, right? I was ashamed. I was thinking of all the people in the deli who now knew that I was a prostitute. I was thinking stuff like that. The effects from the reality check from the phone call from our cousin the day before, dissipated.”

“The night before I left was spent at Anna’s, of course. It was a long one. I don’t think she knew what to say to me and I didn’t know what to say to her either. How many times can you say, I didn’t do it? No. I’d have liked to have just left, immediately. It was like hanging around after you’ve been fired or something. I felt like hell.”

I sigh. I’m sick of telling this story. It’s exhausting me. “Do you want to finish this?” I ask my sister.

“Do you want me to?”

“Yeah. I like to hear you talk. And it’s getting to me.”

“Okay… so they put her on the bus. On a fucking bus this is; as coach as you can get. She’s basically going home on a rail without a proper goodbye to or from anyone. No closure. She can’t even leave from the city they are in. She has to drive to LA to save a few bucks and guess who’s going to drive? Right. Nonno. Anna comes with. Probably to stop him from beating her on the way.”

“Give me a cigarette. If you want to hear this story, I need to smoke while I tell it, because I think this is a fucked up thing.”

She lights up.

“So they drove her to LA without a fucking word the whole trip. Nonno can’t be seen by people in cars driving by, talking to a twelve year old prostitute, can he? He has his reputation to consider. He’s obviously not worried about hers. The fucker. And then the son-of-a-butch leaves you in the parking lot, right?”

“Yeah. Well, he tries to. He pulls into the parking lot but he doesn’t park the car. My suitcase is in the backseat next to me and he looks over his shoulder. He hands me a ticket and tells me to get out of the car.”

“You’re kidding?” XXXXX asks.

“No, she’s not kidding. This guy is pure fucker. Anna had to tell him to take her inside.” She smokes. “So here’s what he does. He puts the car in park and then gets out of the car and walks to the building and holds the door open. That’s it. Elsa gets out of the car and carries her suitcase to the building. She walks past him into the bus station and he lets the door shut. That’s it. No goodbye, no fuck you, no nothing.”

“That’s what he did?” XXXXX asks.

“Yeah.”

“Did Anna say anything to you?”

“I’m sorry. There was nothing I could do. You’ll be okay. That kind of stuff.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well they were gone. That was it. I stood there stupefied for a minute. I felt like I was going to cry, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea.  I felt breathless so I took a deep breath and I asked someone where I was supposed to get on the bus. They directed me to a window.”

My sister lights a cigarette. “Can you fucking believe this? They leave a fucking twelve-year-old girl who had never been anywhere in her fucking life, alone in the bus station in LA!”

“That’s pretty fucked.”

“Well I didn’t know it was fucked. I thought it was normal but I didn’t know. I thought I was remedial human being or something. I figured another kid would be more competent than I was. I was scared, but obviously I was supposed to be able to find my way so I did.”

“You had to be scared to death.”

“Yeah, I was scared. I was scared, but what am I supposed to do? I turned around and they were gone. I better find my bus and get on it, right? Otherwise, what the fuck? As far as I knew, it was the end of the world. We rode a bus to school so I had that going for me. It was not totally foreign.”

“But it’s LA! And you’ve never been in a city in your life.”

“Right. That’s right. But I was in one now so I’d better find my bus. My heart was pounding, but it was also kind of thrilling. The independence, I mean. And I don’t think they’d have left me if it were tricky or hard. I felt slightly worldly and at the same time scared to death. I didn’t like how they left me but it was also like “showtime” to me.”

“XXXXX! Listen to her. She thinks she’s worldly! She’s never been out of the fucking desert and she thinks she knows what she is doing! She thinks she is in a fucking movie. So you just clutched it up and got on the bus?”

“Right.”

“Can you believe that? He leaves a twelve-year-old girl in the parking lot of the bus station in Los Angeles and drives off.”

“I can’t believe that.” XXXXX says.

“Well that’s what he did.” I answer.

My sister takes back up. “No. That’s not what he did. The fucker slowed down and kicked you out at the curb like a bag of trash. That’s what he did. So what’s she going to do? What the fuck can she do? She walks into the bus station with her ticket and her Salvation Army suitcase and she gives them her ticket and gets on the bus.”

“Does anyone bother you?”

“No.”

“No one says anything?”

“No.”

“Great. Well we don’t know if that’s good or bad. If I were there, as an adult I mean, I’d have called the cops in two seconds.” She smokes. “So she’s coming home to bring me my shell and face the music. You didn’t think it was a bad trip, right?”

“Right.”

“See, she doesn’t give a shit. She got out of the desert. She’s been to the beach. She has stories. She focuses on it this way. The other way is tiresome, right Elsa?”

“Right. And I was too tired to think tiresome things. It was the way it turned out and it was worth it. The only thing left was to see what W was going to do, because you never knew with him.”

“So how did you feel on the bus?”

“Oh, I was scared. Scared and tired.  It was like a thirteen hour trip. Or fifteen hours. I don’t remember. We had to get up early to drive to LA and get the bus. I was up at four or so I guess. The last days had been pretty fitful, so I was tired.”

“Did you sleep?”

“I don’t think so. I may have dozed. I just laid my head against the window and stared out. I figured that W was going to be mad as hell, but then again so what? By then, I think we were both pretty immune to W being mad as hell. He’s mad as hell and he does whatever he does and life goes on or it doesn’t. You know. If he kills me, then I’m dead. I tried not to think about it. I had a window seat and I focused on the fact of traveling. I liked the feeling of moving like that… er, I still do. Anyway, I would rather have not been kicked out of California, but since I was, I was. What am I going to do?”

“See, she doesn’t give a shit. If he kills me, he kills me. Just make it fast. Right, Elsa?”

“Right. Like yesterday.”

“Well, I know what you mean. So the bus gets in about seven o’ clock or so. Seven thirty, maybe. She gets off the bus with the rest of the poor cattle and there is no one there to pick her up.”

“No one picked her up?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. Do you know why they didn’t pick you up?”

“No.”

“We don’t know, but they weren’t there. Maybe they didn’t know she was coming. Maybe no one called, but you sure think that they could have. She had been on the bus all day and they had the ticket the day before. Maybe they did call. We don’t know. We don’t know that part, but we do know that she got off that bus and no one was there. No one saw her off, and now no one picked her up. So there she was in the bus station alone.”

She smokes.

“Now, just picture this, XXXXX. She’s standing in the fucking bus station, looking around and seeing that there is no one there that she knows. She’s got a battered suitcase and she is wearing a faded homemade dress that she’s outgrown. He thought it was too short, eight weeks ago? Well guess what, motherfucker? It’s even shorter now because she grew and you didn’t buy her anything to wear. And he is worried about “prostitute?”

“What else? Probably a pair of rubber thongs. Right, Elsa? Know the ones I mean? Two pair for a dollar at the drugstore. And you know what’s worse? It’s not just any twelve year old girl in the fucking bus station with no idea what to do. It’s Elsa. And Elsa is perp bait extraordinaire, so how long do you think it took a line of them to form?

“Ten seconds?” XXXXX says.

“Five. And when I think of that, I just want to kill him but he’s already dead, isn’t he? He’s some fuckin’ Nonno.”

To be continued.

XXXXX looks at me. “What did you do?”

“I waited for awhile. I kept hoping someone would show up. I was expecting Henry, actually. W worked until about six o’clock so I thought Henry may pick me up. I was hoping anyway. I was hoping this all the way home. I’d have probed him for info into W’s mood, but time passed and he never showed up. Neither did anyone else so I had to admit I had a problem.”

“While I waited, two people approached me. Both men. They offered me a ride to wherever I was going. I refused. I told them my grandpa was coming. Both of them made me nervous. Both of them had a bad vibe, though I didn’t know that word back then. I began to get scared but I didn’t know what to do.”

“I went into the restroom a couple times, to hide. You know. To regroup and to pass some time. I hoped when I came out, someone would be there to take me home. This never happened so I started to think about my options.”

“Why didn’t you call someone?” XXXXX asked.

“How? We didn’t have a phone. Neither did Henry.”

“Oh.”

“Right. I was getting a little frantic when a third man approached me. He told me he didn’t want to scare me, but er… men were circling me. He actually told me this. He specifically said they were circling me like wolves and I had clue-none what he meant.”

“Oh, I knew he meant danger, but I didn’t know, know. Know what I mean? We were so isolated. It’s pretty hard for people to fathom. We were in the middle of the desert with no exposure to any kind of media. I just didn’t know what he meant beyond “danger”, but I got that much, loud and clear.”

“A wolf might rip my throat out or something. Or maybe they were werewolves. Is it a full moon? This is the kind of thing I was thinking. It had gotten dark outside while I was waiting and this had me alarmed as well. I could see the time passing but I couldn’t think of anything to do about it. I was just sort of caught there with time passing whether I liked it or not.  The clock I mean. It just kept getting later.”

“He said I’d better call someone to come get me because he thought there were people in the bus station who were up to no good. He told me even if I didn’t have anyone to call, I should go to the pay phone and pretend to call so they’d think I did. To throw them off.  I didn’t understand any of this. It was too cryptic for me but I took him serious because he obviously was serious. He was also seriously scaring me.”

“He suggested I get out of the bus station as quickly as possible, regardless. One way or the other. He told me I could not pick a worse spot to be in; anywhere would be safer than where I was.”

“I didn’t get it.  I believed him but I didn’t understand why this was. Exactly why I wasn’t safe, I mean.  I had no idea. He said if I had any money at all, I should get a cab and leave immediately because of these men, the wolf men. That’s when I remembered I had a hundred dollars. Well hell.”

“How long were you there?”

“I don’t know. More than an hour. Long enough for it to become dark outside and alarm me. Especially, if one of the men in there was a werewolf. Was I that naïve? Absolutely. I absolutely was.”

“I asked him how to get a cab because I didn’t know. I had no idea. Cabs equaled New York and that was all I knew. These things were a pair and they were totally remote from me.”

“He told me there were cabs outside. All I had to do was walk through the door and get in one, then tell the driver where I wanted to go. He added I would need money and asked me if I had any. When I told him I did, he said that if that were the case…if I had some money and if no one was coming to get me, I should immediately get a cab and get out of there for my own good.

“So you took a cab home?”

“No. For one thing, I didn’t know how much a cab would cost, but I knew it was dependent on how far you are going and the desert was the desert, and this was “town”. It was a long drive. I wasn’t sure I had enough money, but that was not the real reason I didn’t go home. The real reason was because I thought the reason no one picked me up was because they were so pissed. You know. I wasn’t sure if I lived there anymore. I was pretty sure, since I fucked my cousin – I didn’t have a home to go to.”

“Even if I did, which I highly doubted since Anna told me that W would be picking me up…well I was scared to go home. I mean, no one picked me up. It followed I was not welcome at home. I was afraid to just show up there. Just the thought of the rejection alone was enough to give me pause. But when I factored in the other possibilities, well I was just afraid to go home.”

“I keep saying “kill” but I’ll tell you, I didn’t think I was lucky enough to be killed by W. I used to wish that quite a bit. Every time he beat me as a matter of fact, but I had a epiphany one day when I was eight years old. It was a very depressing thing. I had this notion, that in fact, I would not be killed. I got this information on the wind and what I saw, was that I would survive. I saw that I was going to make it to adulthood. This was very bad news at the time.”

“See, if you’re eight, then you have no perspective. There is no scheme of things. I only knew I was constantly beaten. My body hurt, my mind hurt, everything hurt. He was beating us so severely, and it was so purely hopeless that I was anxiously willing to die to escape. The day I realized that was not going to happen? Well I don’t think I have ever felt that depressed since.”

“It was a cruel thing to know. Prior to this day, when I was beaten I would think “maybe today he’ll kill me and this will be done.” After the epiphany, I was looking at ten years hard time and I just didn’t fathom how I was supposed to endure it. It was like standing in front of a judge and being sentenced to ten years hard time, and for reason “none”. The sentence is handed down and I have nothing to say in the matter. At the time I was wishing that the universe would keep its fucking epiphanies to itself, you know? It was like being shown your destiny and thinking, “fuck you, I don’t want that” but it didn’t matter what I wanted, because it was going to be what it was.”

“Anyway, I always hoped this knowledge was an error but I doubted it. I hoped I had misinterpreted something or that it wasn’t real and I didn’t know what I knew. I still wished he would kill me, but post eight years old, I didn’t really believe it would happen. I was pretty sure that I was going to have to go the whole twelve rounds.”

“My sister? That’s a different story. I thought for sure he would kill her so I would have to be around for that. Just ducky, right? But I didn’t believe that being beaten to death was in the cards in my case. This meant I was going to go home and be beaten with a shovel, or the blunt end of an axe, or whatever the son of bitch picked up, and I was going to have to live through it, and you know what? I was too tired. I just didn’t think I could withstand it in my mind. I didn’t have the psychic energy that it took to brace myself. I needed time. I had to have some time to steel myself.”

“Now let me tell you something. It’s not the beating after awhile. Who gives a shit about the physical pain? I didn’t. It was the humiliation of getting up out the dirt and having to walk inside the house and live there some more. That was what killed me. I hated that so much. I’d rather be beaten to death in the dirt but I was having no such luck, which as far as I was concerned, made it a very cruel world.”

“To me, the beating was bad but surviving the beating was worse. The fact that I could not exit my body is what I hated. I could not get to the light. You know the one I mean? The one you see when you die. That’s where I wanted to go and I could not get there and I thought it was the gravest cruelty that I could possibly imagine.”

“Anyway, I’m trying to say I took the fact that no one picked me up as an indication of the level of W’s anger. This is how I interpreted this, and I was in no hurry to come face to face with him, so I looked for option B. Option B was a motel. I was going to take my $100, get away from the wolf men and buy myself some time to think.”

To be continued.

“I knew where I was in the city. I knew where the bus station was. It was by the grocery store, which was by a string of motels. I’d never been anywhere, but Henry had. I knew when you were away from home, you either camped (in the country) or got a motel (in the city). This was the city so I decided to take a cab to a motel and deal with my problems the next day.”

“See, I was thinking a whole bunch of things. It occurred to me I may never see “home” again. I was scared, but I was also testing the water. I was having myself a little feasibility study. I had one hundred dollars. How long could I live on it? Long enough to figure something out? I was wondering stuff like this.”

“Our older sister was gone, which always pissed me off. She said that she would come back for us but she never did. She was sixteen when she left and I knew I was smarter than she was. I was always trying to figure out how she did it. You know? How did she leave and not come back because that’s what I wanted to do.”

“Was $100 my ticket? I didn’t know. I didn’t really think so, but I was going to test the idea, especially since I thought I may not have a choice in the matter anyway. You know. I don’t have a home. At least, I thought this might be the case. Odds were high.”

“Homeless” wasn’t a word at the time. Or if it was I didn’t know it. I don’t think there was such a thing as the “homeless population”. Anyway, I got in the cab.”

I laugh. “I was trying to be a seasoned traveler. What would Henry do, I wondered? I tried to act like I was Henry, traveling in the world.”

“So I get in a cab. In the back seat this is, which I hoped was the way it was supposed to be done. The driver was amused. He asked where I wanted to go and I told him that I wanted to go to a motel.”

“What motel?”

“Er… I don’t know. A cheap one? That’s what Henry said the trick was. The trick was finding a cheap motel.  He said the less you spent on motels, the more you could travel.”

“Uh… Are you by yourself?” The cab driver asked.

“Yes.”

“Well I don’t know if you should be staying in a motel by yourself. Where are you parents?”

“At home.”

“Why don’t you call them?”

“We don’t have a phone.”

“You don’t have a phone? Well where are they? Did you just come in on the bus?”

“Yes?”

“And no one picked you up?”

“I mumbled something about how someone or the other person was at work and forgot. I was embarrassed to admit no one picked me up. You know. I must suck if I came in on a bus and no one cared enough to meet me. It was very embarrassing. I probably mentioned Henry too, and I told him I would call my father at work in the morning. I kind of thought this what I was going to have to do anyway. Whatever. I mumbled. I answered the question as incoherently as possible. You know.” I laugh. “I glossed.”

“The driver asked me if I wanted to go to a motel on XXth Avenue. He said that it was a bit further away, and a bit more expensive than the motels on Xth Avenue, but it would be safer for me.”

“Well hell. Here we go again. I don’t understand why I wouldn’t be safe. I totally had no clue. I’d never heard that it was dangerous to travel. In fact, I’d heard there was nothing like it in the world. Henry said that travel was wonderful (if you could afford it), so here I was traveling and everywhere, people act like it’s ominous. I was completely baffled by this. I’d never heard one thing about safety in relationship to travel. It was like a curious discovery to me.”

“Anyway, he explained a room on XXth Avenue would cost a little more than a motel room on Xth Avenue, but he felt it was worth it, if I could afford it. Then he quoted the price. He told me it would cost roughly eighteen dollars. Eighteen dollars! Ouch!”

“He asked me if I had the money and I told him I did. He asked me if I could pay him as well and I said I could, but I wasn’t sure. I was bluffing. I don’t really like to bluff. I like to have the cards in my hand, but sometimes it’s necessary. I was out of the bus station and I didn’t want to go back. I felt better in the cab. There was an improvement, especially if I could get him to drive the damned car.”

“So we took off and the whole time I worried. See, I didn’t know how much a cab cost. I was trying to do the math in my head. Ack! $18, so that leaves me $82, or is it $86? I never could think in math and it didn’t matter anyway, because I had no idea how much it cost to ride in a cab. Did I have enough money? Let’s hope so, right? That’s what I was doing. I was hoping with all my might. I was also taking in the sights. Oh hell yes.”

“It had rained. It was monsoon season, so it was dark and the streets were wet which was a marvel to me. You know. There was no pavement where we lived. The wet street was one thing; the wet street at night was really something to my eye. I felt kind of sophisticated riding in that cab. If I knew I was going to ride in a cab, I’d have worn a scarf!” I smirk. “Anyway, I was thinking this kind of stuff too. I was on the move and happy about it, but still worried and hoping that I would be able to pay for all this fun when the time came.”

“Well, it turns out, the cab is cheap. $4.50 I think. I paid the guy with one of my fifty dollar bills and he stared at me.

“He waves the bill.”

“Where’d you get this?”

“I worked for it.”

“He didn’t answer. I guess he must have thought I was a prostitute, eh? Oh the irony. He told me he’d have to get change and he ran into the office of the motel for it. He told me to wait in the cab so I did. I looked around and it was dark now. Pitch black, but we were parked under a street lamp which was cool. I couldn’t believe I was getting a motel, but I was doing it, all right.”

“The driver came back and told me that he had asked the guy in the office to look out for me. He said that he thought I’d be all right and I just stared at him dumbly. He asked me to promise that I would call my parents in the morning and I agreed.”

I got out of the cab and watched him drive off in the night. I watched the car bump over the lip of the curve. I noticed the lights bounce on the wet pavement. I remember this. I’d never been in town at night like this. Not out of a car, I mean, on pavement. It was pretty weird. It was like a movie in the city. I remember the rain smell too.”

“In front of the motel, I thought of the Bates motel. I’d never seen the movie, because I wasn’t allowed to see adult movies, but I’d heard of it, and I just hoped that I had picked a good place to stay. I knew something happened in the shower, but I didn’t know what. Blood. Our mother said that there was a lot of blood and nothing more.”

“So I walked inside and I paid for the room and the guy behind the counter slid me my change, along with the room key on a cheap plastic ring and I just couldn’t fucking believe it. That’s it? That’s all you have to do? Yep.   That’s it. Bingo, I was staying in a motel. Well I’ll be damned. It was too fucking easy. What was I worried about again? I was proud of myself although I missed my money a lot.” I snort.

“I found my room per the motel guy’s instructions, unlocked the door, went inside, sat on the bed. Then I surprised myself, because I started to cry.”

“Did W come get you the next day?” XXXXX asks.

“Kind of. I didn’t sleep much. I was too hyped being in a motel and also trying to make all sorts of plans. Plan for this, plan for that. What if I have to live on the $75 that I had, for the rest of my life? Believe me; this was weighing me down quite a bit.”

“I decided if he didn’t come get me the next day, I’d take a cab to Henry’s and see if he’d let me stay with him. I wondered if I should hitchhike and save money, in case he said no. The way it had been going, I didn’t know. Maybe he’d heard I was a prostitute, right? I’d never hitchhiked but our older sister used to do it so I knew it existed. I was debating stuff like this most of the night but in the end, I called W at work, about 9:30 in the morning.”

“See, check out time was 11:00, per the back of the door, and believe me, I read every rule posted there, ten times. Since I didn’t break laws and stuff, I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to face the hanging judge, right? I dialed him at work, after figuring out the dial-nine-first stuff on the phone. I told him where I was.

“You got in last night?”

“Yeah.”

“Where’d you stay?”

“In a motel?”

“In a what?”

“In a motel.”

“By yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Across from Lxxxxxx.”

“You’ve got to be shitting me? Nonno sent you home early? No shit? And you got yourself a motel?”

“Yes.”

“Well I can’t leave work. I can pick you up on the way home, though. Just wait outside the place for me. Wait in front. I’ll be around about… oh, say, by six thirty.

“Okay.”

“You’re really calling me from a motel?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll be goddamned. Okay. Give me the name of your motel.”

“I tell him where I am staying and I hear him laugh.”

“Okay, Elsa. I’ll be there some time after six o’ clock.”

“Okay.”

“You mean, you got in last night and you just decided to get yourself a goddamned motel room?”

I can feel him shaking his head.

“Yes.”

“Okay. I’ll pick you up.”

“Okay, bye.”

“Bye.”

I turned in my key at 10:00 so I didn’t get anywhere near the edge of the rules, and I sat down in front of the motel to wait. It was hot. W didn’t sound too mad though. Eight and a half hours later, he picked me up.”

“That was it?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t get in trouble?”

“No. Not really. He asked me why Nonno sent me home and I told him. He asked me if I had sex with our cousin and I told him I didn’t.”

“He believed you?” XXXXX asks.

“Yes. Fuck yes, he believed me. He knew I wasn’t a liar. Mostly he thought it was funny. He said Nonno was a prick. Can you believe that? You know me. I just kept my mouth shut. It was looking like I was going to get off scot free, so I wasn’t going to rock the boat.”

“Scot free? You call what you went through, scot free?” XXXXX says.

My sister waves her cigarette. “Yes she does. She fucking does. I told you that she was like this.”

XXXXX doesn’t answer.

My sister asks, “Do you know why he wasn’t pissed off?”

“No.”

“He missed you. He missed fucking with you anyway, so he was glad to have you back.”

“Well, that’s pretty dammed funny isn’t it? But I did get you a seashell.”

She smokes. “A nice one too.”

“Of course. I didn’t go to California for nothing.”

“Listen to her. I bet if you had it to do over, you’d do it again. Wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, I would.”

“You’d go through all that shit again?” XXXXX asks.

“Of course. I went to the beach, didn’t I?”

The End.

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Looking for more true stories? I’ll list them here as I get them published.


Comments

California — 51 Comments

  1. I read alot of it and its great so far. The part of your nonono and Anna made me laugh in some parts. Thats so sagitarius of him partnering up with a foreign lover and the age difference…there has got to be Capricorn there lol and i so agree.. any one who tries to break up family is shit. I wonder why some men allow their partner to break up family? Maybe hates to rock the boat and have arguments. took a break from reading but definitely will finish 😊 thank you for sharing with us.

  2. A ko-fi donation for Elsa would be a great thank you if you enjoy the story! There’s a link in a small blue box waaay down toward the bottom of the page.

  3. Done, read it all. This is good Good and Good God at the same time. I knew Elsa was going to bring that seashell no matter what. I had zero doubts. Sister is a riot, you can almost hear her speaking and her random astrology inserts, she even pokes at Elsa’s cancer descendant and its effect on her=the sister’s mood, sister is very aware of astrology, ok. Grandpa Henry’s fashion is iconic and this story, even if he’s absent-just made me want to read more about him. What really got to me was ‘except they wouldn’t take her to the beach’. Swear that was all I was thinking whilst doing the dishes. What. A girl from the dessert and you don’t stop the car to let her see the water. What. Fifty adults and no one takes a young one to the beach. Well really fuck that. Add twenty more swears on that fact alone. It was dark and beautiful and I am happy it got told.

  4. Feels like we’re family Elsa. I’m inspired by your style, the pace, the chaos, the resilience, the humour and all the shit hitting the fan. Please put your book back up on amazon. Please. I’m nowhere near as stylish or funny but you are inspiring me. To write more, to let it percolate out in chunks of dialogue, without all the frills of sun shining and birds singing. Or thunder roaring or darkness moving in – I gladly add that myself. I published my first book two weeks ago, and a lot is still in the draw, more in the mind. I wont give up to write more, how could I, after reading your story. Thank you

    PS) I am a Sag nd my father was one too. He married a woman 23 years his senior when I was 6. It didnt work and I left home at 16. I am too much Scorpio and Libra (and my beloved Capricorn Mecrury) to be a real Sag but he was one, Leo Ascendant, with a mane and bushy tail.

  5. so many similarities in our stories – I cried and cried, as I read yours and laughed out loud, too. I couldn’t put it down. Thank you, Elsa

  6. Hi Elsa, You have been in my life, helping me deal with my life and all of the trauma of my past for a very long time. A while ago (who knows when really) I was very lucky and bought your book on Amazon: Heaven, I mean Circle K” I just want to say that it was the beginning of a huge transformation for me. You are extremely gifted as a writer! let alone prophetic in your honesty, you deliver your stories in a beautiful child’s voice of honest, creative thought process that is dazzling as a narrative. My heart was broken for you and at the same time I celebrated your adaptability and sheer acceptance as you took on your world. Your courage and your talent are unique! Thank you for sharing “California”, yet another amazing, clear,
    Relative!!! Story so many of us endured and continue to process as our culture grows away from (for some of us) Judgement, Misogyny, Ideology and Racism. Please publish it all!! We need your voice!! We Love you❤️

  7. Fantastic story! I know it’s all true and I unfortunately have similar stories of my own from childhood. Not exactly the same, but similar.

    I love the way it was written and I’d love to read more!

  8. I’m glad I read this whole thing. I started hating Nonno way early on in the story and I was like “am I being unreasonable?”

    I want to read the book now. Reading this made me feel a little better about what I endured. The part about not being able to be in your personality hit close.

  9. Glory-osky. I’m a novelist and editor and I can tell you, all I would change are some commas, and *very* occasional tweaks to make sure it’s clear who is being referred to when the speaker says, “he” or “she.”

    Otherwise, this is tough, hilarious, and really does jump off the page.

    Congratulations!

  10. Wow. I’m up past my bedtime finishing this, and I am bouncing back and forth between amazement and grief that you had to endure the insanity of other people’s egos – Italian egos to boot! Thank you for choosing to share your wonderful writing – an incredible story from your a.MA.zing memory!!

  11. I just read this and I feel like a truck has run me over and then backed up over me…in a good way.

    I’d really like to read your book.

  12. I laughed out loud…. I cried big tears…. THANK YOU for sharing your story…. I look forward to reading your book one day…. LOVE 💕 you Elsa! You are a remarkable person.

  13. You are an over- comer , not just an overcomer but one who brings positivity and light to others . Your purpose is divine , you survived for that purpose . I love your writing , the authenticity is inspiring . I can actually picture each of the characters , their body movements and their faces from your descriptions. So pure and real and I wouldn’t change a thing . I would keep telling authentic stories, the world needs more reality .
    Those who neglected to love you missed out on so much . You have always been worthy , they were not .

    • Oh man….so much in this writing/tale experience.
      My Cancer Moon heart is aching for your child in your adult
      I am one of 10…the ninth.
      Left to my wildness.
      Had never been physically harmed or scared of my caregivers. Very hard for me to read this. Your wisdom and open heart is huge. These teachings must be heard in this way. As we age we find out how this pattern of abuse was/is such a secretive curse. Must be brought to the light to help stop this madness.

  14. I love every bit of the way this is written. I kept thinking ‘oh, this piece is just brilliant!’, and then, …I remember, it’s real. And, then, there’s so many emotions about the whole thing, that I go back to brilliant, but for a different definition of brilliant. More like ‘illumination’. It’s just too complicated to try and pin-point. But I loved it. Really, really, loved it.

  15. Elsa, I feel that I should apologize for the human race for treating you so badly. I’m so sorry.

    Bless you and thank you for all the good you do for us.

  16. Why you were worried about the salty language…This story is about Redemption and Courage. The harrowing journey thru projections of the darkest elements known…not long ago we were talking about innocence…You was robbed!!! The thing is ,as long as you haven’t sold your soul, that sovereign power belongs to you. I don’t believe you ever could sell out and believe the crap they tried to beat into or out of you. So, if it’s not too personal- where is your Part of Spirit? The story also reminded me of a 60’s version of Spartacus…This story has the power to save lives , souls and spirits. Grateful for your courage- then and now!

  17. So glad you decided to share this story. I’m still in all the feels, but want to thank you. Thank you for surviving!

  18. Wow – what a beginning to life

    I’m sorry I missed your book, I had it in my cart on Amazon
    And never got to check it out – if you put it back up
    I won’t delay again 💞

  19. It’s good that these stories find their way to a new audience. They are important. They are a testament to humor and human resiliance. Thanks Elsa!

  20. Dang, girl, this is what they’re talking about: having to heal your ancestral trauma.

    It might be hard at first, but talking out loud about it CAN help–help other people, at least, who think it’s just them!

    Sending the best of vibes. And a coffee, in a bit…

  21. I’m so sorry, Elsa. I hope every vacation you’ve taken since being an adult has been at the beach. I love the beach, too. Capricorn rising … wow. Have you ever read Jeanne Avery’s book, “The Rising Sign,” and her description of Capricorn rising? I did during my 1st Saturn Return and it all made sense then. Jesus: God save us all.

  22. What a gift! A vivid suspenseful and powerful telling. Delightful. I’m so thrilled you reached the beach!!!
    Thank you for sharing this Elsa 🤩

  23. I have always loved your stories. I forgot how long they could be. I think it’s been two hours. Worth the read. Every word, every second.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Ha ha! Yes! I have to tell the whole story and often, unfortunately, there is more! Bad, bad, bad and then worse! 8th house, all the way!

  24. I’m at a loss for words Elsa,I have no idea how to even respond to the shameful emotional and physical abuse that you’ve had to endure.
    Please know that you are loved and and respected by everyone that has left a comment and I admire your courage and moxie. You are a true survivor! Take care wonderful soul.💙

  25. I too have suffered childhood trauma, growing up in a dysfunctional home. Physical abuse was bad enough but the psychological torments were hard to bear and left me with low self-esteem, though over the years I have found some confidence and a better life.
    I found your story very disturbing because it reminded me of certain events I had to endure. I’m glad you have overcome your early years and now have a great life. It shows you obviously have a very strong character and are a survivor as are many women.
    After reading your story I really would like a cigarette but I had to give smoking up for health reasons!

  26. From one Scorpio stellium holder to another- you have got to write your book! Considering all the outer world limitations that are happening, you may as well give full reign to your inner world and give form to your experiences and thoughts. I came up with the same thing for me recently, because I am quite marooned overseas, with a limp as well, but I haven’t acted on it so far. You are very good, and you should write it all out into book form.

  27. Love, love, love it! What did you do with the rest of the cash? Sorry – I need everything finished and tie up in a bow, it’s my OCD (caused by childhood trauma). I’d love to read your book.

  28. This definitely reads like a screen play. An indie film w lots of narration or this dialogue as a background to images of actors w minimal dialogue. I’m not sure a book is the highest & best book of your skills, Elsa. Truly I thank you for sharing this. It’s well worth the time to read.
    I also want to say how sorry I am your childhood was such a shit show. But I know how much wisdom & perseverance it gave you & how much of both you needed to sustain you through it.

  29. Wow!First generation from Italy here.
    I can relate !!
    Some of it was, my childhood .
    But, WE ARE STRONGER AND BETTER FOR IT!!!THANK YOU FOR SHARING THAT!!GOD BLESS

  30. I read this straight off -couldn’t stop – ( and that’s saying something from an easily distracted 4 times Sag.! ) – you have a real gift – keep writing! More, please…! :}:}

  31. Standing on your own two feet at such a tender age has so much value. If you can do it as a 12 year old in your story, I too, should be able to stand on my own two feet and face my fear at any season in my life.

    Your stories have the ability to sync us together Elsa, and moving in sync creates trust and closeness between us all!

  32. There were moments when I felt physically ill reading this. Of course I couldn’t stop, however, and I wanted to meet you and your sister the more I read. I have known other families where I wondered what went on behind their front doors. Your strength(s) surely come from your relationships with those who have loved you throughout your life…and this makes me want to know more about you. In any case, keep doing what you’re doing in life. I relish all that you share.

  33. Lots of emotions from this story! I’m so glad you were able to get to the beach and get your sister a shell. And that it later translated into you putting shells on a landlocked beach with your daughter.

  34. Really glad you decided to post this story, Elsa. It really hit home. Pretty sure I had the same coping mechanisms for dealing with the embarrassment of dysfunction! You did great. I am constantly astounded at how much adults suck, and how long I waited to understand that it really is children who cause all the problems. Sigh. Again, well done – on the writing and on being you.

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