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Parallel to Paradise

LeRue Press Reno, Nevada www.lrpnv.com


A LeRue Press (LRP) book / October 2013 Parallel to Paradise: Addiction & other love stories, Copyright Š2013 Laura Newman. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, in any manner, performed or copied in any form without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. For information or additional copies, contact LeRue Press (LRP), 280 Greg Street, Suite 10, Reno, NV 89502 www.lrpnv.com First Edition Cover art created by Travis Szudajski Photo of Laura Newman on location at American Flats by Cat Stahl Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Newman, Laura Parallel to Paradise: Addiction and other love stories by Laura Newman p. c.m ISBN 13 978-1-938814-03-7 I. Title 2013950586 CIP First Edition, October 2013 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America Printed on Acid-Free, FSC paper, responsibly sourced


Dedication Here’s looking at you, Pineapple Head

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Special Thanks Special thanks to my husband Dave for his choke hold on the English language. To my daughter Katie who rocks the world and saves lives, including mine. To my son Austin who is no longer cheating at Solitaire. To my parents Ellen & Lou, Michael and Nina, Samantha and Connie for bringing grist to the mill. To MWDBC for reading between lines. And to Kay who, after all, has a good heart. To my publisher and editor, Janice Hermsen at LeRue Press, who said the most magical word in the world: Yes.

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CONTENTS i

Dedication

ii

Special Thanks

1

Parallel to Paradise

11

Burning Man

20

The Little Beast

31

A Small Too Familiar Gesture

50

Red Eye

57

Water

63

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

74

Twentieth Century

80

Angel Dust

98

The Graveyard

105 The Quality of Light 111 Silver 129 Needle and Thread 146 Alabaster Circle 165 About the Author

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Parallel to Paradise A cautionary tale: Life in the fast lane of relationships.

When I was a young girl I fashioned my future upon my Malibu Barbie and her aqua marine Karmann Ghia with personalized license plates. So when my dad gave me the keys to a seventeen-year-old 1963 Ford Valiant station wagon painted the odd shade of lox, I hyperventilated. His response was to hand me a can of New Car Smell and something about get a job. Had he known the Valiant would be directly responsible for my marriage, he may have rethought the Ghia. The first remarkable thing my Valiant did was to pop its hood while I was driving fifty miles an hour down Paradise. My entire windshield was covered with a sheet of salmon metal, and it’s fair to say, I’m not the best driver, even when I can see the road. Of course I wasn’t wearing a seat belt - the car didn’t have any. So I started picturing my death, or actually I started thinking about which photo my mom would choose for the obit. As it turned out, all I hit was a stop sign, so really, the sign did its job. Not wanting to assess the situation without the aid of my butter suede purse, I carried it with me like a tool bag. Turns out, tweezers and an emery board aren’t much for hood work, so I set my purse on top of the car while I slammed the hood and eased back into traffic. I was jittery, just waiting for the hood to go jackin-the-box. Turning back toward home, I made it to the median in time to see my fallen purse lying like a yellow-bellied marmot in the middle of the street. I choose to blame this on the car. 1


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I have to say that not one person slowed down for me as I waited for breaks in the traffic to rush out and reclaim my wallet, my favorite lipstick, my birth control pills. But, on the positive side, no one sped up either. My father cut a hole in the hood of the car and welded a chain through the hole to the bumper. No way that hood would come back up. I can only hope my new purse holds some chain cutters if I ever have engine trouble, or say, run out of gas. But not to worry. I wreck the car before any engine trouble arose. During the Valiant days, I met a young man with a girl’s name, and slept with him before I could actually remember his full name. In the morning, I took a peek at his license so I wouldn’t be embarrassed and have to ask. Thank God he didn’t wake up, because he probably would have thought that I was trying to steal his money. That’s kind of expected of Vegas girls. Our first date was to watch the famous Gary Wells attempt a motorcycle jump over the fountains at Caesar's Palace. Wells cleared the fountains but missed the landing ramp, rupturing his aorta and fracturing his pelvis. Witnessing this made me want to eat and fuck. I think that’s understandable. We shared a steak and a Caesar salad and then walked the Strip of our fair(ly tacky) city. Danalee Vernoux’s teeth are crooked, but Sweet Jesus, the boy has a body. I like that in a man. In the morning, after I memorized Dana’s name, I skipped out because my friend Connie and I were taking an early morning dance class at the community college. Connie is a big girl, I don’t mean fat, just tall and big. But she’s got rhythm. I’ve the grace of the dancing cow. I’m driving the Valiant, and we’re late, so I run a stop sign in the deserted parking lot. Or, apparently, not deserted. I tell Officer to give me the ticket and skip the lecture, because these hoofs just want to pirouette. Officer feels the lecture is of utmost importance. Connie straightens her back and smiles. She looks like Jane Fonda in her tinsy workout outfit. Officer keeps talking and writing, won’t even look at her boobs. So Connie calls him a rat bastard, or a jerk wad, I don’t know what, but Officer flings her 2


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upside the car, and it is ascertained that we are under arrest and going downtown. Now here’s the thing. There is marijuana in my purse. And not the cheap stuff; this is Maui Wowie, costs like $25 a half ounce. I know that according to the judicial system of the State of Nevada in 1980, a single marijuana seed can indicate, if the court so desires, that you are a pusher who sells to kids right over the schoolyard fence. The resolution to my dilemma is to not take my purse with me to the police station. So far so good. But one of my windows no longer rolls up. Officer says I can’t leave my purse because if it were stolen it would be his responsibility. This is where I say tough shit. But no, I’m polite to make up for Connie, plus, I know what it’s like to lose my purse. So I ask, will anyone go through my purse? Officer swears, I mean he swears, no one will go through my purse. The first thing they do at the police station is go through my purse. I’m spitting mad, like Cujo mad. I tell them what Officer said. They use my line and say, tough shit. The cops don’t book me for possession, but they do flush the weed down the toilet. I argue that they owe me twenty-five dollars. After they stop laughing, they let me go with a $10 ticket for running the stop sign. Connie got in a fight with a dyke in the holding tank and came out with a small patch of hair ripped out of the side of her head and a run in her Danskin. I blame all this on the broken window. The very next day it’s raining so hard I see a refrigerator floating down Paradise. I know I need to get off the road; Vegas is famous for flash floods. I hit it to higher ground by getting on the freeway. I’m on my way to meet Danalee. I know his name now. Taking a freeway exit, I discover a new and more interesting thing about my Valiant - the water took the breaks out. So do I shift down? Use the emergency breaks? Throw it into reverse? Let’s recall that I’m not a good driver. I honk the horn, but honestly, I push it like as hard as I can, then run the red light, and plow into a shinny little Nova. The Nova doesn’t stand a chance up against my Valiant’s 1963 steel body, made by Iron Workers Local #401. 3


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That Nova was made out of plastic. There follows sirens and lights, and I know my Valiant has died. It died to save me. I like that in a car. Turns out, the sirens were not for my Valiant. The Nova didn’t look so bad to me, but apparently the lawyers thought otherwise. I was served papers for $5,000 in car damages and $20,000 for the driver who suffered neck and back injuries. Of course I thought my insurance policy should pay these damages. But here’s where I learned the value of a good lawyer. The driver’s husband, who wasn’t even in the car, sued me for loss of conjugal rights because his wife was in too much pain to screw. Probably just the excuse she was looking for all these years. Additionally, he wanted another $10,000 because she was unable to make the family tortillas. $10,000 for tortillas? Please. Try Taco Bell. So that was the demise of my Valiant, and my insurance policy. My father gave the wagon to a semi-hobo mechanic, along with our old two-car garage door, which I understand the mechanic planned to make use of as a roof. Tilted horizontally, I guess you could call the little windows on the garage door, skylights. Now, how did the valiant Valiant lead to my getting married? I’ll make it short, because I sure can’t make it sweet. When I wrecked my car I was living with my parents. But the house is a long way from town and my job where I earned $89 a week. I went shopping for an apartment, but $89 a week wouldn’t rent one. Connie had a one bedroom place and wouldn’t take me in. So Dana and I rented an apartment together. (But Mom, it has two bedrooms.) Then I felt like I had to marry him because I couldn’t look my dad in the eyes. If the brakes had not gone out on the Valiant, I probably wouldn’t have moved in with Dana when I hardly even knew him. (Or only knew him hard.) And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have married him. Know what I think? I think it would be good to marry someone you’ve known since childhood. Then you would know his family, you would know him as a child. You would know him 4


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before you kissed him. If you are busy kissing someone you just met, well, he can be selective about his history. Not lying really, just selective, and it may take you years to find this out. When you meet his family, you don’t really know them either. You don’t know how they would have treated you when your were, say, seven years old. Was there a bowl of M&M’s when you came to visit? Coke or juice? Or was it one of those friend’s houses you Never Go To at all? You don’t know what they gave their kids for Christmas. I know one family that had so many kids they only celebrated each kid’s birthday on the five-year intervals. Now that would be good to know so that you could give your husband the most outrageous, frivolous party he ever had, and you wouldn’t do it on a five year. Hire a clown. See, then he would really love you because you know him. Or, if your boyfriend had a lot of bruises when he was growing up, well then, you would know that too. I hardly got to know Dana’s parents before they sold their house and moved to Mexico. They lived in a motor home in Baja and ate turtle soup and pop-eyed mullet. They took their young daughter Christina with them and they did home schooling right on the beach in the scant shade of the barrel cactus. About two years later, Dana’s family crossed back over the boarder and moved to Washington. They bought a pocket valley, up a nameless river. It’s between nowhere and the ocean. Briny fog finds it’s way up the creek, and the sun has somewhere else to be by 4 o’clock. Rain falls five days out of seven. Their dell is grassy and ringed with apple trees, but beyond that border the forest is dense with fern and sorrel and secret flowers, Jack in the pulpit and foxglove. Moss covers every wooded surface. Walk a hundred feet in, and the moss will start on you. Dana and I went to visit. While his parents were framing their house, they continued to live in their motor home. Christina inhabited a small storage barn with a hayloft. I took to spending some time sitting in the hayloft door, feet dangling, watching the moon crest, or the rainfall, or the boarded sheep eating the red apples. The mornings are so crisp, you could fold them like linen. 5


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Dana likes the three-sided outhouse just within the forest, and fishing in the cold river past the strawberries, down the cliff. After a storm we go down to the beach to hunt for agates at low tide. We find little pieces of amber-orange, milky white, garnet. Pocketful of color. In Vegas, all the color is created by dust and neon. The green is poker-table-green. I like these ocean colors better. I find out that Christina has not really been doing much of the home schooling. She can read for sure. Dad stocks her up with romance novels and says all she’ll ever need is right between her legs. Look, I like a good crass joke, but really, on your own daughter? Christina does, however, have more practical knowledge then I will ever have. She can grow and preserve food, shear, doctor, and cut the balls off sheep, chop down the tree, build the fire, hunt deer, butcher it, chop the heads off chickens, and for all I know, make blood pudding with the mess. She is not afraid of bugs. Dana had the same upbringing. Honestly, I thought he got his body at a gym, not hunting at Overton and Red Rock. Vegas boys don’t hunt. They drink. But Dana didn’t really grow up under the jittery lights of Las Vegas. His family had a ranch on the far outskirts of Henderson where the neighbors aren’t too close. Dana can slay, flay and flambeau just about any varmint. He cleans geese in our kitchen sink. The translucent veins get stuck in the drain, two feet of iridescent snot-colored yuck. He taught our lab to retrieve by throwing a dead mallard across our living room. I came home from shopping, opened the garage door, and there was a deer carcass hanging from the rafters and a bucketful of guts. Looked like voodoo. Dana used the sawed off hoofs, attached to an oak backboard, to make a decorative rifle holder. These are things I should have known before I slept with him. So this was the family I married into. Dana never lied to me about his childhood. He wasn’t even selective. He just never talked about it at all. He has some scars and I can ask about those. 6


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We lie in bed and I trace an old welt with the softest finger and say, how’ya get that? And I hear a story: This fingertip is missing because I came into my parent’s bedroom too early on a Sunday morning. Dad was just trying to get me out when he slammed the door. He wasn’t really awake. This (horrible) scar on my shoulder is when Dad told me to clean up after the horse when I was seven. The horse kicked me and Mom just doctored it herself, like she did the cat when he ripped his belly in the blackberry bushes, crazy, chasing a thrush. Like she did the Red Dog when the horse got tired of her yapping and bit off Red Dog’s ear. Like she did with this bent finger that Dad accidentally broke when he was mad at me for leaving the gate open. That scar on my forehead? Oh, well, Christina was just a baby, and I opened the car door and she fell out on her head. So Dad put my head between the car and the door to show me what it felt like. Christina told me she and Dana would rather go to school sick than stay home with Dad. Dad stayed up late, drinking red wine and cooking lasagna, chicken cordon blue, fabulous food. So to avoid his father, Dana learned to go to bed early and get up early. The kids never brought friends home. They were that kind of family. And when Christina turned sixteen, her mother didn’t protect her. Crayola wants to name a crayon after Dana’s blue eyes. Dana Blue. That’s all I saw. I didn’t know why he had a slight tremor in his hands, or that when we argue and he pokes me hard with his finger in my chest, he was doing what his dad did. I had to learn these things over the years. If I had grown up with him, I would have already known. I have this really slutty red dress that I used to wear dancing. I’m hanging on to it to wear to Dad’s funeral, and my only hope is that he dies while it still fits. Dana told me he didn’t want to buy the condo off Paradise, he didn’t want to have the kids. The stress of those things might cause him to pick up the Paul Revere copper saucepan and hit me over the head with it. Working in the casinos might cause him to pursue a little prescription drug habit. Looking back, I think he said these things. I just didn’t listen. 7


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Had I known all this, I never would have driven the salmon Valiant. I wake up one vacation morning at Myrtle Beach on the Carolina coast. Dana was up early and gone fishing. We had just escaped an ocean storm so fierce that it drove us inland until the storm was over. I put on Levi’s and a cotton shirt, skipped the bra. I walk down to the beach. Before me stands Myrtle Beach Pier. It’s a famous pier. A pier’s pier. A pier that defies the ocean and says, “I’m here and will control a small part of you.” And the ocean says, “Ha. I’ll bash you with my wind until your paint curls and you shiver in the dark. I’ll swallow you with greeny-black barnacles until you look like a piece of me, and my fish will shit all over you.” But the pier takes the ocean assault with a dignity that only enhances it. So every once in awhile, the ocean makes a hurricane or a tsunami so it can cough up all its got and maybe the ocean will win, or maybe the pier will win. But neither one will give up. I actually stand beside the pier and think this shit. I’m feeling poetic. But the Myrtle Beach pier is huge and I like the pilings. They make me think of derelicts drinking red wine and stumbling accidentally to their death beneath the pier. Of young people making love in the shadows, of homeless people pretending there is some shelter there. Of drug dealers and murders. Under the pier is a world of its own. But on top, it’s all weather-dignified wood and sun on the guts of fresh caught fish, fishermen sitting on the dock of the bay. It’s quiet. I climb the steps of the pier and the sun is directly in my eyes. The shapes of the people are shadows with hazy auroras. I scan and see the shape of my husband with the sun behind him like a halo. He sure looks good to me. I never fish, but for just this one day, I stay on the pier. I watch people catch fish. The black people keep the puffed up blowfish and the eels. The white people go all the way out on the pier and pay to try to catch a swordfish to send to the taxidermist and hang in the den. We sit with the black people. They comment 8


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on each other’s catches. We do, too. We don’t talk much. We both scan the far ocean at the same time, at the same place, and amazingly see a swordfish jump so high out of the water, we blink, look at each other, and say, “Did you see that!” And we did! This is a day I will hold on to like a piece of colored agate. But it’s just vacation day, a long time ago. Look, the beautiful boy was damaged before I ever got to him. And I didn’t help. I insisted on the condo on Paradise, had the kids. Sarah spends every freaking minute singing Disney songs. Thank God she’s over Barney. Ash takes off his diapers and then wets the bed. Charlie has a delicate stomach and tends to barf after every meal and I swear she times it on purpose because she usually barfs on Sarah, which makes her scream, or the carpet. The dog has premature arthritis. We both work. If we aren’t fighting, the TV makes up most of our conversation. Most of our conversation contains the word fuck, and not in the good way. And Dana keeps thumping me in the chest with his God damn finger. I have bruises. The babysitter drinks on the job, and I haven’t found a new one yet. Turns out, I’m not a good housekeeper. Next week, the transmission will fall out of the car. I can take it, I can keep making the family tortillas, I swear I can. Dana never wanted this life. He becomes as lone as a bristlecone pine. He looks to the East and dreams of wild horses and the smell of sagebrush after the rain. He’d like to get on a motorcycle and fly over the fountain. I get it. He wants to beat the shit out of all four of us. Really, it’s all he knows how to do. I see the tremor in his hands and half expect it. But instead, he just packs his backpack and moves to Point Reyes on the California coast and gets a job at the oyster farm. Instead of child support, he ships iced boxes of oysters, and one time, a string of pearls. Dana’s father was fishing in the nameless river, below their valley. He was jumping from rock to rock, perhaps slipped on the moss, fell, broke his neck and drowned. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he just drank the river. He washed down to the shallows where the salamanders sun. 9


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I don’t wear the red dress, even though it still fits, and Dana leaves the oysters and comes home with us after the funeral. We are moving from Las Vegas to go live in the pocket valley. Dana’s mother is moving into town, and we’re going to finish building the house his parents never managed to complete. I’ll work in the post office and Dana will work at the cranberry bog. As we drive out of the desert into a cool evening, Danalee looks at me and sort of smiles. I see his crooked teeth. The kids are already asleep in the back seat. It’s not like I expect everything to just go, poof, perfect. Odds are we’ll still be living parallel to paradise. But as we drive away from the false lights of Vegas… at least the stars are coming out.

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Burning Man Journey to the playa in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert: An experience of self-reliance, participation and a community of “Burners”.

We load up the Jeep and head for the Black Rock Desert because the Man is going to burn at midnight and we want to watch him go. We stop in Wadsworth at the Indian mini-mart that sells handmade doe-soft moccasins with little colored beads that tell a story on your feet. I can’t read the stories. They might say White Man Go Home. The mini-mart sells a whole bunch of beer and they have two walls of cigarettes that put off a puff of dry Carolina late September harvest smell. We want wine. All they have is twist off tops. What the hell. We buy it. I look around the store at flat-faced Paiutes and Willy Nelson look-a-likes. The cashier is blowing smoke signals with his Marlboro, and I don’t think he’s happy because today the clientele is dusty tie-dyed ratty hippies and fags. This is not your normal Wadsworth weekend. We strike a truce by overpaying for the wine. On the way back to the Jeep I look down at the asphalt of the parking lot and find a small brown vial that somebody must have lost. I open the vial and taste the little white pills I find inside. They aren’t bitter like speed, so I don’t know what they are, but Jesse and I laugh. It seems a fortuitous beginning. We arrow down a narrow two-lane highway. The desert is around us and it’s sifting through the car windows. I see the dust and we breathe it in and it tastes like Nevada. Pretty soon we approach Pyramid Lake. Pyramid is a blue and soulful dream-lake, 11


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a mirage that just appears. It really shouldn’t be there. If you look on a globe you will see that Pyramid Lake is directly across the world from the Dead Sea, and they are the only two bodies of water that still have prehistoric cui-ui fish. We stop and walk along the shore, breathing in the dust of seashells. I am looking for scrolls washed up from Israel, I am looking for signs of Jesus, but I don’t find them today. We continue into the Black Rock, mountains on both sides of us, and there is no color but brown. The Jeep is sparkling in the sun like a garnet. It’s the best color going. I tell Jesse to pull off the road and we wind around a hill and park by the carcass of a car that looks like it was shot to death in 1947. Jesse comes to my side and takes my seat and I straddle him and we do what we do. I put my arms around him and kiss him because I love him that much. The Jeep isn’t quite wide enough for my knees. That’s something you don’t think to check while you’re kicking the tires and slamming the doors at the dealership. But the sunroof’s accommodating and we feel good. Then Jesse gets his drumsticks and goes and plays a rhythm on the dead car and I think he is playing his heartbeat, an echo of his heartbeat. I want to go dance naked to his song, but it’s the desert and I’m afraid of red ants, translucent scorpions, sunburn. Rhythm spent, he puts his sticks to rest and we continue toward the Man. We get to Gerlach and then we are on the playa. I’m guessing the playa maybe was a lake one billion years ago. Then it dried up and all that was left was mud. Then the mud dried up and cracked and God made himself one really big jigsaw puzzle. That’s my explanation for the single largest piece of totally flat real estate in the United States. I think I’m on the moon. Today Black Rock City has a population of 50,000, but we’re all transients. We’ll be gone in a week. The city is built in a circle with the Burning Man in the middle. He’s a lumber effigy infused with fireworks and sulfur, built to burn. We set up camp and get out tequila and swig it straight from the bottle and bite into limes that were born in Costa Rica. Then head out on our bikes. 12


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We head to the center of Black Rock City. Once we clear the campground of cars and campers, things change. The air is heavy blue, the sun a deity. I push the weight of the light away from me as I peddle into the no-car zone. A girl rides past me in a pink crinoline half-slip and a pointy-cup bra. An orange man with gems glued all over his body saunters by. Jesse and I look at each other and smile. We sit outside the Black Rock Café, which is just a big tent, and watch the world go by. There’s an open mike, which people are taking turns at, but the words are just outside our hearing. There’s a little band near us, playing something fluty and a man on stilts is dancing like a jerky puppet. Two girls in fishnets and alkali dust sit at the next table and play Scrabble. A caramel colored girl with a dusting of gold on her breasts sits next to Jesse. Our lawn chairs are at a lower level than the bench she is on, so her nipple is right next to Jesse’s ear. He turns toward her and gets an eyeful. She laughs and slumps down a little bit and Jesse asks her where she is from. She says her daddy was a cowhand and she’s lived in Caliente, Laughlin, Ely, Elko, Winnemucca. Moved to Reno when she grew up. But she feels she’s worked her way through Nevada and it’s time to head to the Redwoods. I’m thinking the color of the bark is going to look good against her skin. I ask her why she’s here – what’s she got to burn? “I’m going to burn off Nevada,” she says. “I brought maps and Tupperware. After tonight I think I’ll be able to cross the border.” While she’s talking I’m rolling the little brown vial in my hands. Rolling it with my fingers. Caramel Girl looks at it and says, “I used to have a vial that looked a little bit like that.” Jesse and I snap to. “There’s a story that goes with it.” Jesse and I smile. She starts talking. And this is what I think she says: “I told you that I used to live in Reno. Mustang Ranch is the whorehouse on the outskirts. I was working as an interior designer for J.C. Penny’s in the curtain department when I got a call 13


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from the Madam, Sally Conforte, asking me to come out with samples. I went the next day. I wore low gray pumps and a turtleneck, you know, so no one would confuse me with the girls.” “The bar was gloomy, even in the daytime. Couches, chandeliers, smoke and glass. It was only 10 a.m. and a couple of the girls were lounging, reading paperbacks and magazines. I felt like I was in a foreign country and I was afraid to look directly at the girls but they looked directly at me. They were smoking, but holding their cigarettes above their heads like mannequins from the DaDa Motel.” “I was taken back to the cafeteria area where there were more girls sitting at long tables like in a school cafeteria. They were drinking coffee, wearing bedroom stuff, giggling. They really didn’t turn to me. And then I realized they were having a Tupperware party. They were filling out the little forms. The whores were having a Tupperware party.” “Sally broke off from the party and started looking at my samples. She moved her hand more than her eyes over the swatches. I watched her hand slow on one sample. Her hand picked out one of the most expensive fabrics that I had. She placed her order, got up to go back to the party, and stopped and kind of looked at me. I think she saw the room through my eyes – saw me thinking about whores and Tupperware. She reached into her pocket and handed me a little violet colored plastic vile filled with pills, shrugged her head to the side, and said, “Get outta here, Alice”. “She meant like Alice in Wonderland, or Go Ask Alice, because my name’s Carla. The pills tuned out to be Equal. But I kept the vial and started selling Tupperware on the side. Shit, obviously everyone needs it. When I lost the vial I knew it was time for me to go. This is my last Nevada stop.” That’s what I think Carla said. …………….. A troupe of naked people painted entirely in red, flame by. A little ATV dressed out as a cockroach scoots across the desert 14


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like a bad prop on a horror film. A picnic table on wheels blaring reggae lumbers after a giant banana. Jesse and I get back on our bikes. We ride past a tent offering to reinstate your virginity and cleanse your sins so you can sin some more tonight. There’s a haircut wheel of fortune. Take a chance on your new do. All cuts are free. The Oracle Is In, Lucy Van Pelt style is open for business. We stop at some of the major art pieces placed around the Man roughly at the hours of the clock. But it’s a huge area. It takes several minutes to bike to each one. We pass the Spirit of Time, a bone covered tree whose twisted branches are a bleached scream against the blue sky. We stop at the head of the goddess upon which you can write and paste your dreams in multi-colored tissue, the Hall of Possible Selves, the ship that broke in two and is sinking into the desert. We don’t know what we are looking at. People move around us with flower garlands on their bikes, sunburn on their skin. It is quiet. 50,000 voices make a vibration that carries on the desert wind like the whisper of percussion. We come upon, and how could you miss, the giant mechanical penis. Just like the mechanical bulls, only all penis in rosy veined faux marble. Near the penis a man and woman are fucking in plain sight, up on a platform so we can watch. So we do. We move on and Jesse says he didn’t learn anything. I smile. The desert is rockin’. A bike with a fire-breathing neon fish rides by, singeing the desert air, giving it a taste of its own medicine. It makes us think of tequila and we drink some more. A girl leading a man by a chain comes up. I set aside my fear of germs and share the tequila, and she leads him away. In a side camp we come across a man who has four meat hooks through his shoulders and is hanging some ten feet high. His blood runs in four slim rivulets down his back. His pain screams through me and confuses me. A few people stand around and watch. I want to offer him my little brown vial of pills if he will just come down right now. “Hey dude,” I call “what are you doing up there?” He looks down at me. “I’m hanging.” 15


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“Why?” And this is what I think he says: “I’m doing it for your sins. I swam through the Dead Sea to Pyramid Lake. A thousand cui-uis showed me the way. I walked out to Black Rock City on bare feet and no sunblock. I am hanging to show you that there is no pain I will not endure for you. To show you that the love of God is the One True Thing and that with the love of God you will feel no pain.” I ask, “Do you feel no pain?” “No. I feel all the pain. I’m the sin eater. I eat your pain and your sins so that you can live with the lambs. So that you can eat lamb-kabobs.” “Thank you,” I say. “You’re welcome,” he says. As we ride away I wonder if Jesus is at Black Rock City and if someone should just take him down and carry him out to the shady hay-hut and get him out of the sun. …………….. Jesse and I set our lawn chairs back up and rest our dusty bodies. We watch a man break up a bunch of Gallo green wine bottles and walk on the shards with bare feet – no blood. We watch a young boy contort his young body through the space of a toilet seat. I play with the little brown vial in my hands. A man comes and joins us and asks us where we are from, what we do. We ask the same of him and are surprised when he says he is a mortician. Jesse asks if that is a family job, if he was born into the job. He says no, he picked the career for himself. And I ask how that happened to be. He plays with his chin, crossing his long legs, looking out toward the Man. And this is what I think he says: “When I was eight my mom was on her fourth husband. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan. She was working her way through the apostles. Juan was okay. He was from Puerto Vallarta and he liked to tell stories about seeing the top of Liz Taylor’s big white breasts shining in the Mexican moonlight while she waited for Richard to finish an evening shoot of Night of the Iguana. He told stories about the jungle and wild orchids. He loved Mexico but he 16


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was happy for the green card. It’s unfortunate that the only job Juan got was as a bartender because alcohol was eating through his liver and the pain made him bad.” “He was Mexican, so there was just no explaining that in America men are not supposed to hit their wives. In Mexico, in some houses, you could do that. As a young man he fished a pale ocean and hunted in forests that knew no sense of time. He was used to the music of parrots. We lived in the Northwest and Juan thought our forest was a little on the naked side, the trees too far apart, a little lacking in intensity. But he liked that you could see the prey. He took me hunting with him. I carried the Corona and the clear alcohol he made himself out of potatoes from a process taught to him by an expatriate Romanian Nazi who hated Jews so hard his veins turned to rock and he had a heart attack.” “On the day I am thinking of, Juan took me out at dusk to hunt for deer. He never bought a tag. He thought himself the Pancho Villa sort. We needed the deer because we were going to eat it all winter and winter was creeping the low horizon. He felled a doe and told me to go sit by it and he would be back to pick us both up after dark. He left.” “I was eight years old. It was getting on dark. The owls started up. I took Juan at this word and I went over to the deer and she was still alive, her blood slow and trembling. I lay down with her and she died with my head on her little deer breast, white as Liz Taylor’s. I covered her eyes.” “Juan forgot about me and went to the bar even though it was his night off. My mom woke up about 2 a.m. and went looking for Juan and me. To his credit, Juan remembered where he left me and they came and got me and the deer, but I never did eat her.” “I felt a heart stop beneath my ear. I do believe that lead me to my career. I saw blood and it was the same color as apples and harvest leaves. Not such a scary color. Death is not so scary. It can be very small. Death can be as small as those little pills you are holding in your hand.” He stopped speaking and continued to look out toward the Man. “What do you want to burn?” I ask. “Nothing,” he says. 17


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“The Man is like a crematorium. It burns everything to ash but memory. I see it every day. I’ve got nothing to burn.” …………….. As night falls we head back to our camp and eat sandwiches with tequila chasers. We put on layers of clothes because when the sun deserts the desert it’s a cold abandon. Black Rock City starts to light up with neon and laser shows; minor fires begin to burn. We pass a piano and a group of people doing the tango, we pass a dragon, a woman dressed entirely in neon. We go out to The Monument of Music, a percussion sculpture made out of welded metal junk. Jesse gets out his sticks and joins in. I dance. I do the Black Rock Dance. I make it up. Around the Man are four huge wood spears set on tripods set to burn with the Man, along with five fire cannons that will blast flames straight up to the toes of Angels. We sit just outside the red ring of lights that circle the Man and hold the masses barely at bay. Fire Dancers entertain. The playa, that mud-puzzle that is only visited by sun, wind, and off road vehicles, has been in shock for days. This is what I think she says, Where did these people come from and what is this NOISE? But when the Man goes off in a hoopla of white fireworks and flame that obliterates the silent stars, the playa looks on in wonder, realizing that this is a big story, as big as the lake she used to be that evaporated with the dinosaurs, as big as the mud that weighs heavy on her soul. She is as big as all the people who came out to celebrate her beauty and to burn the Man, burn the sky, and burn their souls until they are as clean and wind-swept as the playa herself. Miss Playa smiles and the mud cracks a little more. As soon as the Man falls over the crowd rushes in and begins the night-long dance, a continuation of the dance of man that began when the first bone struck the first rhythm and music was born. People throw that part of themselves into the fire that they want to leave behind, but I think the mortician is right – memory does not burn. 18


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I take the little brown vial out of my pocket and twist it open. I pour out the pills and grind them with my heel into the playa until they look just like alkali. Then I scoop up a little bit of the playa and fill the bottle and keep it for a memory. There are a million stories in Black Rock City. I am tired and I can’t find them all.

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The Little Beast It’s hard to end a marriage, even an abusive one. “Shawn,” Lara says, “If neither of us remarry, let’s be buried side by side.” “That seems a long time to wait to lie down next to you,” Shawn replies.

Lara Sokoloff and Shawn Fairbanks got married young, had some good adventures and two children, Paulina and August, but Lara was sorry she married Shawn, really from the first. They had always fought, but recently it seems the voracity, the tenor of the arguments is leaning toward the dangerous. Sixteen years in, Lara started looking for a way out. The way out should have come on a clear early winter night when their argument lead them into their small walk-in closet. Lara was reaching for her shoes, intending to disrupt the fight by going for a walk. Their closet is always a mess and Shawn has a junk-shelf with bullets and cards, nails and pennies, small tools, old concert tickets. He picked up a leather shoelace from his Wolverines that was loose on the shelf and pulled it taunt between his hands. Lara’s mind leaped to the image of the garrote going round her neck, to her blue-faced body heaped in the corner like dirty clothes. She reached for the iron that resides in the closet’s small windowsill, and because both of Shawn’s hands were occupied with the twine, and because her heart was a geyser, she managed to smash him upside the head. Shawn blinked twice and 20


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the shoelace went back to being a shoelace and Lara went for a walk. Shawn sat in the wing chair in the living room, deeply ashamed, with a triangular bruise throbbing on his temple, wondering how it was that he was turning into his father. Lara walked in the dark, but not far. The cold was intense. She isn’t really afraid of Shawn. She came home and they went to sleep and while they did not make love, they slept curved into each other’s bodies like lovers. They have years of experiences that will take more than a shoelace to untie. Weeks went by, the snow came and stayed. Shawn caught a serious case of strep throat that coated his mouth and the corners of his lips with a white liming. His breath smelled like a nest of 20 winter mice. Lara spent the weekend diligently bringing him tea and little spoonfuls of sugar dissolving in hot rum. But Lara is no Florence. When she got home from work on Monday she found the kids had left trails of toys and spilled the dog food from the pantry. Paulina was watching the The Little Mermaid at high volume, which sounded like mermaidcaterwauling. To make it worse, Paulina was singing along. August was naked and shooting the dog with a water gun, Spot was barking his disapproval, and apparently Shawn had taken to drinking the rum straight. The refrigerator door was wide open and the milk was on the floor, but at least the cat was helpfully licking it up. Lara went into the bedroom, put one spiked heel up on the bed for emphasis, and told Shawn to get his ass out of bed and do the fucking dishes. Faster than you would think a drunk, sick man could move, Shawn was out of bed and pushed Lara up against the wall so hard her shoe flew off. He forced his rat-smelling tongue into her mouth and swished it around until he licked her tonsils. He withdrew, rasping, “I hope you get it,” took a swig of rum, and went back to bed. Lara did not get the strep, but the sick-kiss, the rape-kiss, should have been a way out. On New Year’s Eve they attended a dinner party and then the hosts moved back the furniture and they danced to records. At 21


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midnight, Lara was wishing she could kiss someone else. Shawn knew it, he could feel it in her evasive stance, her slightly twisted hip, her lips that didn’t quite meet up with his. Two days later, on an icy morning, Shawn drove Lara to work. The night before she had finally said the word divorce. He looked at her in her business suit, gray with a white blouse, and he could see the outline of her lace bra. Suddenly the little bit of lace, just the idea of someone else unbuttoning her pearl buttons, the lace, just pissed him off. He jerked the truck into the oncoming traffic and upped the speed. The old Ford truck does not have airbags. Lara looked ahead, picturing the crash, thinking of the sound of the crash, the metal sound. She did not flinch, and actually was surprised when he jerked back to the proper side of the road. She took a drink of her cooling 7-11 coffee and crossed her legs. It’s not that she wants to die. She has Paulina and August, after all. But in a quiet moment she admits to herself that she wants him to hurt her in some physically visible way, not in a car crash, but in some smaller way, like a broken arm, so she can display the violence and justify the divorce. It finally occurs to her that she has been pushing him to do this violence that she has been contributing to the escalation. It finally occurs to her that his words, his yelling, calling her a fuck, calling her a fuck in front of Paulina and August, that should be enough. And so it is. Here is the last fight: Shawn and Lara are standing in the kitchen, Lara’s back to the stove, Shawn inches from her, so much taller, yelling. Paulina sits in the sunroom, hearing every word and drawing little pictures with her Crayola crayons. Paulina is thinking about eating the crayons, thinking about when Spot ate the crayons and his poop came out with flecks of Midnight Blue, Hot Magenta, Plum, and Tickle Me Pink. August, who is only five, usually runs in his own orbit and seems not to hear his parents. But perhaps that is an illusion he gives off. For now, here comes an amazing moment. August pushes between his parents, back to his mother, facing his father. August’s little heart is pulsing love and fear. The boy says firmly, 22


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loudly, or maybe in just a whisper, Don’t talk to my mother that way! The child breaks up the fight in an instant. So that’s it. Lara could take the garrote, the ratty mouth rape, the times he threatened to show up at her work, calling her a slut for selling BMW’s, but damn it to hell if Lara was going to make her five year old son defend her. Yet she loves August for standing up for her. It was brave and true. It seems clear to the psychologist that a divorce is a good idea. Lara can easily make a case for being abused. It would be easy to look at her name, Sokoloff, and think she grew up with a father with a hairy back, who drank Russian Standard and ruled his world with meaty hands. That is not the case. Lara’s father is a leprechaun of a man. Yes he likes to drink, and then he likes to sing and pass out money. Her mother is tall and beautiful and uncompromising. Her litany to her children is that they can do anything at all. So she does anything at all. She does the thing she never thought she could do. Lara Sokoloff kicks Shawn Fairbanks out of the house. She keeps the kids, the dog and the debt. Strangely, she also keeps a solid chunk of love for Shawn Fairbanks, like a blood amethyst, firmly in her heart. Lara Sokoloff Fairbanks is looking for a new last name. It isn’t easy. At 37 certainly she is youthful enough and has the energy and thighs to get the job done. Lara isn’t beautiful and she has no illusions of her looks, although every now and then someone catches a photo of her that shows an angle, a reflection of what she hopes she looks like. She looks better with her sunglasses on. She has a nice mouth, a flat stomach, and Lara Sokoloff knows her breasts are pretty good. It’s enough to work with. As Lara drives to her first party as a separated woman, she thinks back to New Year’s Eve, how she wanted to be single. And now she is. She might have expected to be filled with a sense of power and potential. To drink a Cosmo and be cosmopolitan, flip her hair back, expose her trembling neck. To catch the eye of the man across the room. But that is not the case. Reality is a harsh school and she feels like the girl who just puked in class and they 23


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had to spread the chemical sand on the mess. She has to leave. She has no idea how to be single. Returning from the party she drives by the big old house Shawn is living in. He is living with friends, renting the attic room. It’s a farmhouse, the city grown around it, the sound of the freeway close by now. Yet it retains a country dignity, hardwood floors, deep sinks. It’s on an old road, a service road. Lara drives home past the house and sees the light in the attic window, the only light on in the house. She knows the front door is unlocked. The window light is warm, the body inside the window knows her, needs no little black dress. Does not expect her to be witty, or even better, already thinks she is. Lara drives slowly past the house, her eyes blinking like a hoot owl. She feels like an old black crow. Everyone knows the farmhouse is haunted. On the night the ghost came to Shawn’s room and sat on his chest Shawn said it felt like a sack of heavy oranges. Shawn reached for his bedside gun and shot a hole in the roof of the house to startle the ghost, and after that Shawn would watch for the North Star to line up in the bullet hole in the ceiling so he could sleep in the stardust. Shortly before the papers are signed, Lara wakes up at about 5 a.m. It’s snowing and she gets out of bed and drives to the old country house, breathing in the icy air, listening to the quiet sound of falling snow. The sky is slate, the air so pure and morning gray it would not surprise her to see a troika crossing the frozen fields, or the gray eyes of the Gunniwolf at the forest edge. Lara Sokoloff walks in the front door, avoiding the room the ghost usually sleeps in, rises up to the attic and climbs in bed with her husband. He does not think she is the ghost, and he pulls her to him as the two of them know exactly how to do, and they make a silent love, never saying a single word. Lara goes home and gets the kids ready for school and goes to work, but she does not shower because she wants to smell the smell. That is the last time Lara and Shawn do that dance. On the night the divorce is final Lara’s friends take her dancing. She dances with the husband of a friend, a slow dance and he feels good to her arms. She starts to cry, just a little bit, and a 24


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tear of black mascara falls on the collar of his white button down shirt. In the first summer after the divorce, Shawn and Lara don’t know how to end the marriage. They talk on the phone in the dark hours. They go for a walk in the birch trees by White’s Creek on Mt. Rose. Old lovers carved their declarations into various trunks so many years ago the carvings look like old tattoos, impossible to read. A bleeding heart, a date, maybe 1917, maybe not. The little round birch leaves make that quiet leafy sound when the wind moves through. The round summer leaves filter a cool green light into the grove. Spot comes along, in the creek, out of creek. They have walked this path many times. “Shawn,” Lara says, “If neither of us remarry, let’s be buried side by side.” Shawn knows she serious; she likes graveyards. “That seems a long time to wait to lie down next to you,” Shawn softly replies in the birdsong grove. The parents take their kids camping at Lake Tahoe. The lake is famously blue, so deeply clear it’s protected by the government. The trout are known to be fat from the cold, and hard to catch. Shawn chases them with his Boston Whaler and when he places the fish on the summer bar-b-cue the crackling fat hits the coals and sends up a shower of sparks. “Paulina,” Lara says, “that’s what fireflies look like.” She buttons a pilly sweater on her daughter in the darkening. Towards the end of summer, Shawn can’t take the separation from his family anymore so he expands the distance and moves to San Diego and takes the Boston Whaler with him. The good thing about a Boston Whaler is that it can break into three parts and still float. Lara Sokoloff Fairbanks set out to get a new name and she wants it before she turns 40. The goal is set. This is really before internet dating, so she has to do it the old fashioned way with bars and blind dates and chance. Conrad, who is gay and loud and fun, and Jenny, who is loving, and whose childhood speech impediment reappears in the form of a slight slur with her second gin, become Lara’s bar 25


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companions. They like the little Blue Lamp - brick walls, local art, old bar, velvet couches from the 60’s. Amber, silver, cobalt, burgundy. The artful display of glass and liquor. Well, it’s a bar. Conrad starts up an affair with the bartender who lets him pour his own drinks. Conrad has his pilot’s license and he takes Boy up for a ride, but the license is new and they experience a wing and prayer. They land, but not well enough, crashing the front of the plane into the ground. Holy Moses, they live! Conrad and Boy go home and fuck it up for three hours because - they lived, that’s why. So now they are in love. In the summer the bar has sidewalk tables and the friends sit outside, watch the city go by, feeling like they are in The Village. The bar serves tapas. On a busy night Lara sits alone, but not alone because there’s Jenny talking to that Republican and Conrad is dancing on the bar. A man whom Lara has not met, but knows to be both a musician and a junkie, comes up to Lara and says two fascinating words: “How much?” Lara is not insulted because really, how much simpler would life be if you could answer that question up front. She does however, re-think her outfit. If Lara could sit back and close her eyes and jump ahead to see the men she will date, this is what she would see: Drunk asshole attorney, provides endless sushi and drives Spot, the world’s largest Pointer around in Porsche convertible, which is adorable. Stalker; College Boy who lives with parents with whom she plays out Mrs. Robinson; Pot Head with stupid little braid; piano player with a small penis; a Shrine clown. Lara, Jenny, and Conrad attend a singles’ cruise night on the Tahoe Queen, a shoddy tourist trap paddleboat. Conrad is still in love with Boy, but comes along for support. In full tranie regalia, Conrad sports a rather large yellow Chinese paper umbrella and insists she is the Tahoe Queen. The paddleboat, indoor/outdoor carpet, benches bolted to metal floors, smelling of oil, foghorns its imminent departure. The Queen lumbers out onto the mountain lake as the sky turns Maxwell Parish blue under the emerging Milky Way. The band strikes up. Lara watches the dock diminishing behind the wake and 26


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she is so filled with fear she considers jumping overboard and swimming for shore. “Oh no you don’t,” says Conrad, seeing her eyes. Pulling Lara away from the railing Conrad elbows into the bar, yelling out for Cosmos, yellow umbrella primly held above her head. “Fine,” Lara says to Conrad, taking her Cosmo like medicine, spilling a bit. “Fine, fine fine.” Conrad gives her a push, saying, “Now get out there. Gut in, tits out,” like a drill sergeant. And so she does. The man she settles on for the rest of the evening is Steven, no it’s Stephan. She finds this spelling affected, like a character in a Scott F. Fitzgerald novel - someone who plays tennis with a cable knit sweater round his shoulders (red flag, but too silly to hold against him). Stephan lives at Tahoe (could be rich), he’s a teacher, (not rich), who likes to ski (says she does too, kind of a lie) and teaches handicapped children to ski (red flag - the handicapped are creepy, especially those Down’s Syndrome ones who keep hugging you). Stephan is lean (red flag - makes her feel fat), 50 (red flag - too old), never married (red flag, red flag), vegetarian (red flag - vegetables give her gas) except for fish (okay). He’s handsome in a Gray Fox sort of way (nice hair), possibly Jewish (smart) and at one time did porn films (drop all red flags.... Intriguing). They exchange phone numbers at the end of the evening. A bit of a relationship ensues. Dinners, phone calls. Fall settles into the evenings, and soon enough, into the days as well. Early snow covers the shoulders of the mountains and the lake, forever blue, shades just a bit to gray. Lara accepts an invitation to Stephan’s house for dinner. Stephan answers the door in a light blue smoking gown with matching boxers. Lara finds this highly disturbing and comical like she’s dining at Heff’s place. Stephan has an old cocker spaniel, a little gummy around the eyes, a little threadbare and deaf. Lara wonders if he chose a cocker just for the pun of it, ex-porn star that he is, but truly he loves the little beast. They drink champagne by the sweet smelling fire and while she thinks a sheepskin rug would have fit the theme better than the 27


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Pendleton blanket in Navaho design, Stephan indeed delivers. The Little Beast joins them and the three sleep as the fire banks and the champagne bubbles settle in the dregs of the bottle. Christmas comes. Hosanna Hey Sanna, fuck Santa, whatever. Lara Sokoloff only likes little pieces of Christmas. She likes to drive around late at night to see the lights strung on the trees in the quiet winter gardens. She likes eggnog with brandy, ornaments emerging from crinkled tissue paper, the smell of pine, the words frankincense and myrrh - words that sound like Christmas incantations, church bells, the dream of Christmas. What she doesn’t like is the reality of Christmas. Too tiresome to list. This year her family rents a house at Lake Tahoe to stay for a week in the mountains and ski. Just an hour from home, but they will all be together. They arrive with the biggest storm in twenty years, and it’s possible if it snowed one day longer it could have turned into 10 Little Indians. Papa and her bother-in-law spend the week shoveling. It’s a gulag for them. Mama cooks all day. Paulina and August make tunnels and sled runs, stay out until their eyelashes freeze, then thaw them in hot chocolate steam. Sisters Nina and Lara sit in the window seats and alternately read and watch the snow. The storm releases Lara from the need to do anything at all. The ski resorts are closed, there’s nowhere to go. She watches the tree limbs shake free of their snowy burden. She thinks of Ents, as if the trees are stirring. Lara shares a bedroom with Paulina and August. Their room has a fireplace, but it doesn’t draw well. At night it smells of embers, smoke and wet. She holds Paulina who smells as sweet as earth. It’s very cold and she wraps around her daughter. For Christmas Eve dinner their bother joins them with his wife and their handicapped son. Stephan comes too, as well as Nina’s son and his Asian girlfriend. It was extremely difficult to get through the mountain pass. The table is full. Lara’s mama whispers how handsome she thinks Stephan is, a Grey Fox. Mama serves Christmas piglet, sochivo with dried berries and honey, kutia and fur cones. She brings out the yeast rolls, still on the cooking sheet, 28


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delivering plate to plate. There she is, the mama, all her family around her. She’s drunk as shit, and happy. Well, a little bit maybe ready to topple; she’s been cooking since dawn. She delivers the buns like little presents and then turning, she runs the hot tray right into Stephan’s neck, like a branding iron. She sears the man. The night is a jumble of food and presents, and Lara gives Stephan a small Swarovski crystal dog with long ears that looks a lot like the Little Beast. He is so touched Lara thinks perhaps he can forgive the scar he’s going to have on his neck, or at least the mark is going to look like a hickey for a couple of weeks. He can’t stay late; the snow. On Christmas Day the storm breaks. The family skis on the most glorious of glory days, the sun hot and bright in the clearest sky. For three days not a cloud to be seen. The results of the biggest snow storm in twenty years melts, flows down the Truckee River into Reno and floods the city with water as high as the stop lights. The story is covered on Good Morning America. On the final night of the Tahoe stay Lara goes to Stephan’s house. They get in bed, and no one really knows this except Lara, but if she wears underwear with jeans it feels too tight and gives her a kind of claustrophobia. So she does not wear underwear with jeans. In addition, when she first washes her jeans they feel too tight and she does not like that either, it makes her feel fat. She likes them best after about 3 or 4 wearings. Clothes tumble to the floor, the sort-of lovers tumble to the bed. The Little Beast comes in the room and while Stephan goes down to that most secret place, the Little Beast goes down on her jeans. Later when Lara puts her jeans on she is both disgusted and humiliated. Instantaneously she knows Conrad and Jenny are going to love this story and that she will never see Stephan again. Really, she can’t stand his name, she likes meat, the stupid smoking jacket is some kind cheap rayon, not even silk, she hates vegetables, he wasn’t very good at Trivial Pursuit so he can’t even be Jewish, and his dog ate her jeans. Lara Sokoloff will not be returning his calls. 29


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The funny thing is that Stephan never called her again; their relationship imploded simultaneously. Lara always thought it was because of the Little Beast, and perhaps that was part of it if he even knew. But the lynch pin for Stephan was that on Christmas Eve no one in her family introduced him to Randy, her brother’s severely handicapped child, the child that cannot speak, who makes disturbing sounds and drinks his Christmas dinner through a tube in his stomach. As if Randy was not important enough to be introduced as part of the family. That did it for Stephan.

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Laura Newman Laura Newman’s parents lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They started their family in the California Bay Area. Laura’s father worked at U.C Berkeley while her mother was a student there during the Vietnam War riots. Her mother became disenchanted with the cause when the rioters blocked her way to class and peed on the books in the library. She had three kids that were going to need orthodontics and she wanted her degree. After her mother’s graduation, Laura’s parents moved their family to Lake Tahoe, California. While one of the most beautiful places on earth, perhaps they did not realize it was a haven for the hippy hangover. Thus, Laura grew up to the mantra of pull yourself up by your bootstraps while the 1970’s world around her was learning Transcendental Meditation and how to build yurts. She trekked the mountains behind her house humming “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” and “Feeling Groovy”. Having lived only small doses of personal tragedy, as Laura missed out on the creative glory of a dysfunctional family, her writing looks to light the small moments of life against the bigger conflicts of personal morality and circumstance. Laura’s strength as a writer lies in the power of a single sentence. Perhaps that’s because her best ideas come to her while she’s jogging, and she can only hold on to one line at a time. If she takes up jogging with a recorder, a novel may result. Newman is a several-time winner of the Reno, Nevada 31


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News & Review Short Fiction contest, as well as inspiring a cover issue, “Burn In Hell”. She is an American Marketing Association and an Addy Award winner and the 2012 recipient of the American Advertising Federation’s Community Contribution of the Year award. One of her stories from Parallel to Paradise has been accepted for the Huffington Post’s 50 Fiction Series. Laura lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband Dave, who wishes to remain anonymous. She has two children, Katie and Austin Boren, a safety-net extended family and her Norwegian Forest cat, Max.

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Parallel to paradise book sample chapters for release  

In the Author’s Own Words: My story lines tend to be hard, perhaps controversial. I like a reaction. Parallel to Paradise is not about shock...

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