The Photographer Ben Wittick Lies Dying
Of A Rattlesnake Bite, 1903 Robert Cooperman
Believe in Love
Toni La Ree Bennett
A Letter From Minoa
Sheila-The Haight, 路1969
Two Kidneys. Sister Margret. Faith Christian Rose
Tell The Truth To The World
Toni La Ree Bennett THE COLT "They had grown long pigtails and acquired the look ofstartled foals, which is the mark ofadolescence. " (Virginia Woolf, The Waves) My mother promised she'd pick me up in the Mojave bus station. Darryl had helped me on the bus in L.A. because I couldn't carry two babies, suitcases, and a bulging diaper bag all at once. It was humiliating to ask him to drive me to the Greyhound station when I was leaving him, but it was a minor humilia足 tion compared to others. I didn't have any definite plans. I just knew that I had to get away, to display my disgust at the situation by removing myself. The Mojave bus station was a two-chair affair in a shopping center off the main road. There were the usual distinguishing features of all bus stations, features which gave an illusory familiarity to a strange town. There was the smell of diesel, the sight of stacked suitcases and the picture of a running dog, frozen in mid-stride, on the side of the bus. This image, of course, was to imply motion and speed but you never actually saw the dog run. He just hitched rides like me. My mother was there, full of questions I wouldn't answer. Elnie and Bert weren't quite two years old yet so my mother and I had to haul one kid apiece under an arm and grab a bag with the other arm. Now there would be a tense drive from Mojave to California City. My stepfather worked at Lockheed in Palmdale, but my mother thought Palmdale was a teeming metropolis, so she found a house further out in the desert, in a place smaller than Palmdale and even smaller than the miniscule town of Mojave. In California City, there was a bowling alley, a gas station, food market, fire station, and real estate office. The real estate office was there to sell vacant land to crazy people from L.A. who wanted to get away from it all. The rest of the town consisted of typical California suburban houses with yards of dirt instead of grass, fenced to differentiate the residential chunks of land from the untamed wilderness. My mother's husband was not happy to See me and my children. My mother assured him it was a temporary situation and I did my best to stay out of his way. He spent most of his time watching T.V. sitting, night after night, on the
orange-flowered couch popular in the seventies, with a tranquilizing beer in hand. The only time I saw him respond to anything was when Gilligan s Island came on. My stepfather had an obsessive interest in the fate of that shipwrecked crew. The first night we were there, the kids slept the whole afternoon and evening. This was a bad sign. Sure enough, about I o'clock that morning, they started off with a slow whine that soon built into a blood-curdling chorus. I heard the low, gruff voice from my mother's bedroom giving ultimatums. Finally, I silenced the juvenile offenders and gave up sleeping all night. I did sentry duty sitting upright on the couch, picking the kids up from the portable play足 pen which now served as their crib and rocking them when they cried. But it didn't matter too much about the sleep. I didn't have to get up at four in the morning like he did. Once he was gone, I could sleep. I got up about eleven and took an hour-long bath. I used up the hot water my mother needed for dishes and laundry, tasks which normally occupied her whole day, along with spit-polishing the kitchen floor. The wax job was so perfect the floor looked wet: I was afraid to walk on it, even in socks. We weren't allowed to wear shoes in the house. After the babies were down for their afternoon nap. I went for walks in the desert. If you ever need a place to be alone with your thoughts, the desert is the place. There's no distracting scenery to get in the way. And when you do run across an interesting shrub or basking lizard, you learn to pay them the proper attention when you see them highlighted against a stark, simple background. Viewed against this unsympathetic background and vivid sunlight, my life, too, seemed transparently simple. The past was still a muddle, resembling the smog-filled city where I had left it. But here everything was clear. Not only the air, but the road that stretched before me. No obstructions, no distractions. I walked for miles, I suppose, but it was hard to judge distances without markers. Once, in L.A., Darryl and I had been fighting and he refused to let me have the car or any bus money to go to my appointment to register at community college. I walked ten miles to register and then walked the ten miles back home. It seemed as if I had gone halfway across the country because of all the buildings, cars, people, and billboards that I passed along the way. Massive sensory input provided so many demarcations, it seemed as if much time and distance had passed. But out here, there was no sensation of having traveled
because there wasn't anything to pass. Not realizing that you've traveled so far keeps your body from getting tired before it should. Every day I kept going a little further, amazed at the nothingÂ ness I encountered and sure that if I walked far enough, I would get someÂ where. TIme became fuzzy like the heat waves on the black asphalt. I started hallucinating that I'd walked far enough to be getting close to Palmdale. which was about fifty miles away. In the second week of my walks, I saw a blip on the horizon. I couldn't reach it that day and didn't really want to. It was exciting to look forward to finding out what it was. It took two more days to get close enough to know that I was approaching a ranch. The excitement of reaching this concrete destination in the void ahead was compounded by the tension of wondering how long it would take me to get there. I would have to walk faster if I wanted to extend the distance I walked and still get back by the time the kids woke up. My mother was only technically a grandmother and did not want to be bothered with watching babies. On the seventh day, I reached the ranch. The house was set behind horse corrals which bordered the road. There were only two horses in the smallest pen, a mother and her colt. The colt was a milky tan, the color of sand. I stopped to watch him, mesmerized by his sleek muscles and the sharp outlines of his facial bones. I leaned on the fence railing and watched the colt gambol around his mother as he ran circles around her grave and weighty body and then came back for a nip at the sagging nipples when he needed refreshment. I was pretty sure no one in the house would mind me watching, even if anyone could see me from so far away. I went back every day for a week after that. Then, one day during my ramblings, I was possessed by a wild and fantastic idea, the result, I was Â§ure, of too much time spent walking in the sun. I would buy the colt I didn't know if it was for sale, but I could ask and surely a little horse couldn't cost much. I could watch him grow and train him slowly to get used to me. We could become friends while he grew old enough for me to ride. It wasn't easy knocking at the ranch house door. The wrong answer could demolish my dream, a dream I'd had since I was ten years old, a dream I had given up on a long time ago. But it turned out the colt was for sale and the price, because he wasn't anything special, was only $50. I had some money I brought from L.A. and didn't have anything to spend it on out here. I had planned to use it towards getting my own apartment somewhere when I finally
had to move out of my mother's house, but I couldn't resist this opportunity to have my own horse at the age of twenty-five. after years of adolescent dream足 ing. I promised to bring the money the next day and made the rancher promise not to sell it to anybody else. I coaxed the colt up to the fence before I left that day and caressed his velvet muzzle. "You're mine," I told him. The next day I brought money. The rancher told me he would keep the colt there for $10 a month, so I gave him $60 of my $100 and we agreed on the tenth of the month for future board payments. Even if I had someplace to take him, it was too early for him to leave his mother. I would come every day, I told him, so he would get used to me. And I did. He was an impulsive and thankless little thing. I gave him sugar and he would run across the pen away from me as soon as he got it I was sure once he got used to me, he would come running to me just like Flicka, as soon as he made out my figure coming down the road. But he only had eyes for his mother. I didn't tell my mother about the colt. I didn't want advice or admonitions. I didn't want to think about how I was going to care for a horse when I didn't have ajob and couldn't even support my own children. I would be able to take care of all that later, when I got back on my feet. I could move the colt closer to L.A., and visit him all the time. But right now, not tomorrow, not next year, but right now. I owned a horse. A colt, rather. But someday he would be a horse. Darryl showed up before he had a chance to grow up. It was about 10 0' clock on a Friday night My mother and her husband were out at the local watering hole and I was watching the flames in the living room fire place. I couldn't imagine who would be knocking at this time of night. My mother didn't talk to any of her neighbors. "If r d wanted to talk to people," she said, "I wouldn't have moved out to the middle of the goddamn desert." Actually, I guess we weren't in the middle of the desert, we were on the edge, but when there is desert all around you, you might as well be in the middle. I looked at the kids. Still sleeping. I didn't know whether to answer the door or not. I've always been terrified of being attacked at night by a strange man. I peeked through a crack in the drapes very carefully. I saw the familiar blue Malibu parked out front. Relieved, I opened the door. He was rabid with anger and weav~d ..from one foot to the other, obviously drunk. I was afraid of what my mother would say if she came back and saw him like
this. I had heard enough from her before the marriage; I didn't want to hear any more now. And if she didn't say anything, her husband would. Then there might be a fight, because both of the men would be drunk. I lied and told Darryl my mother and her husband were sleeping inside and we would have to go out and talk in the car. He didn't seem to notice the sleeping children and, for this I was thankful. This was another reason to get outside before he remembered that one of them looked a lot like me. It was early November and cold in the car. Darryl's blood was heated with whiskey but even he was cold and turned on the motor to heat up the car. He was arrogant. I had expected something else. I didn't think he would drive all the way from L.A. to bawl me out. I thought he missed me and had come back to beg my forgiveness for suggesting his mistress move in with us. But he was furious, screaming that I'd upset our home with my fastidious morality. Screaming that I'd caused him to lose sleep when he was supposed to be studying. Screaming that r d cost him all this gas money to come out here and I was coming home with him right now. Now that I look back on it, I suppose what upset him the most about me not being in L.A. was not having someone there to scream at. It was a moment of great personal triumph when I proudly cocked my head in defiance and told him no, I wouldn't come back. The sudden blow to my defiant head came as a surprise. I had felt so safe in front of my mother's house. I started to open the car door but he stepped on the gas and raced off down the road. We were in a good place for tearing down a road in a fast car and I thought, this will get it out of his system. There's nothing for us to run into. But not only was there a bowling alley, gas station, market, fire station, and real estate office in this tiny town, there was also a police station. My sense of relief at being saved from this wild ride turned to fear for Darryl's immediate future as I watched the two policemen cautiously ap足 proach the cornered Malibu. Darryl rolled the window down to hear the inevitable official request. He gave one officer his driver's license and while it was being checked, the other officer peered in the window, seeing my tear-stained face and getting a power足 ful blast of Darryl's rancid breath. "Out of the car." Darryl did as he was told. How I wished I had the power of the police to
make Darryl so acquiescent. The whiskey, however, overpowered Darryl's
instinct for survival; he pushed back when one of the officers tried to move
him further away from the car. He couldn't stand to be touched by men. The car rocked back and forth like a carnival ride with me inside as the three men jockeyed for supremacy. It was a short battle. Uniforms usually win. The metallic click of the cuffs settled it Since I was Darryl's wife, they let me have the car, Darryl's wallet and his wedding ring. I had never felt so free in all my life. Darryl had $320 in his wallet; that surprised me because his part-time job as a bookkeeper only paid $200 a month and we never put any money aside. The car wasn't in bad shape. I would have time to go back to L.A. and get all our stuff packed and get the hell out before they let him out of the Mojave jail. Instead, I went back to my mother's house. She was pacing. She'd already called the California City police station thinking I had disappeared into the desert, like I did every day, this time leaving her to raise the twins. They had told her where I was and what I was doing. I gave her a terse explanation which I knew she would communicate to her husband as soon as she was finished with me. I stayed at my mother's until the court date, taking the twins with me as Darryl wanted. They conveniently cried, as if the thought of their daddy being torn from them was breaking their little hearts. Actually, Darryl had told me not to feed them that morning and if that didn't work, to pinch them. The judge listened to the extenuating circumstances (these being that Darryl was under the unbearable stress of college finals plus trying to work part time and raise a family), and the fact that I seemed to bear my husband no ill will. He was released with a suspended sentence and remanded to the loving arms of his family. We headed back for L.A. right away, the twins sleeping now that I had fed them and blissfully ignorant of past. present, and future. As we drove down the seemingly stationary stretch of asphal~ I stared out the window across the desert. I kept my face turned away from Darryt'so he couldn't see the grin stretching the comers of my mouth to their limits. 1 had taken a walk that morning before anyone else was up. Now I scanned the bleak landscape hopefully, searching the miles of blowing sand for a last glimpse of my colt running free.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES A VIS M. ADAMS•••
is a senior at the University of Washington with a major in En glish. Between gardening, writing, and photography, she manages to be a wife, a mother of two, and a designer of a variety of news letters. THERESA AUBIN AHRENS•••
is an award-winning photographer and designer. She has been published in Life, People, New Women, and American Photogra pher among others. She is a graduate of the University of Minne sota with a double major in photojournalism and art. TONI LA REE BENNETT•..
is a recent graduate of the Department of English at the Univer sity of Washington (Ph.D.) and teaches English Composition, Literature, and Creative Writing. This creative writer has seen print in a variety of publications including Prolific Writer's Jour nal, Poetry Motel, and Vibrations Magazine. HONORA BRUNELLE•••
is a freelance writer and a teacher for Headstart in Lacey, Wash ington. She is a member of the Western Washington Writers of Olympia.