Tracy L Lyall
What if the one thing you ever needed you could not have? The basics, bare; like mother's tit. Water from the womb into the hands. Washing the face and moistening lips. The cord is sliced. Like slit electrical wires, shock to the fingers; A.C. unit is frozen. Shut down. After hours. The awning is folded up and packed for removal. The register is silent. Coins in the tip jar. The rattle within the darkness. Snow cones are melting. The hot sun slips behind structured buildings. We are trapped in alleys, trapped behind closed doors, in dead end jobs and mountains of bills. Beaten down like dogs. Alone in candlelight. Mothers' arms are bent, the nape of neck; her soft white skin.
Like from after the homecoming of birth. Of high school, corsages, and backseat necking. The dull throb. After the hurricane, the calm apocalyptic still of the 'eye'. Of basements and garages, stocked with cans. Before the uprising. Just that one thing, so simple. Instead – there is loss, regret; stuff the hole as one would t-shirts in dry wall, towels beneath the drafty door, and foil in window sills. The façade, the coping face, the 'I got on with it face', the having fun pretending face. Money, a move, a new fling, start a new job, begin a new obsession. Beneath the blankets, beneath the hardwood floors, watching a tiny bud burst from the dull soil. It seeks out sunlight, growing sideways, leaning towards the substance of desire.
The one thing born to share;
It began with the record collection. 'These old records are in the garage, come get them.' Old, dusty, and scratched, from flea markets. Back before Ben died in the easy chair in the corner. Where the cats piss and shit now, cover the odor of death with feces. The trains still sound in the night behind the old house. 1940. 1970's flea market bargains. When it was discovered that Ben's son living in Baytown, was a cross-dresser. Old country and polka. Irish and Slavic immigrants dominated the little neighborhood.
They moved in for the steel, for the industrial clamber, for the oil. Black gold. Texas tea.
Meemaw ran the lunches at the school, dished out scoops of mush for the middle schoolers; back before the Mexicana migration. She smokes between breaks. That's her threat, her keep-away, "blow smoke in your face". All the old dolls, the nineteen twenties babes smoking through the depression era. She came from Arkansas with an alcoholic husband. Married at sixteen, moving to the big city.
'Stupid old stories. At this point I tire of being forced to recount. If they would have left me alone years ago. If that freak had never set eyes on me, had never...'
The cigarette rebellion goes on for years. Sixty. The metal slide across the street from her house burns the skin, scorches our legs with a sting stronger than wet dishwashing hands to the backside. A metal see-saw and gravel court. We can smell the coal, the gases and toxins, the burn off of industry. Late night, the glow of the smoke stack like a midnight sunset. The steel dust in the air, covering cars with a film, acid rain eating the paint. In lungs. Smoke again meemaw, smoke a pack and block it out. One for your dead. One for his Navy buddies. What did they find in that San Diego ocean that brought you out, brought you to Houston? To bacon and eggs on a stinky Sunday morning. To gurgling metal coffeepots on gas stoves. And old wooden homes with pastel paint. And grandchildren who hop the train on the edge of the backyard when you're not looking.
'Ben never hits me, he takes me dancing, likes his whiskey and figure 4,' she says. Her stories are changing over the years. Adding nationalities, adding Indian territory. The great aunt who has disappeared, the brother in Alaska, someone who died of a brain tumor. The bacon sizzles, she leaves the boxes of encyclopedias at the door. Writes the man a check. Turns on the T.V. The dog next door is having puppies beneath the house. Pink nubs, blobs of dog. For whatever reason, she was content to leave home at sixteen with that man. Three children, a vinyl couch, hair curlers, and hundreds of pots of beans later, she waited for him to die. But not Ben, she loves him.
Nothing like waking up to a dead body. On the couch. In the easy chair. Next to you in a car. In the park across the street. Nothing like waking up with a dead baby. In your womb. Falling out a wad of wet, slimy toilet paper, into baggy underwear stretched from a night of no sleep.
That's when I moved back in. After the abortion. Suicide attempts never look good on a young woman. Someone who studies her alcoholic roots. Moves in with a chain-smoking grandmother in order to quit smoking. Someone with blazing green eyes, long legs, and an ego the size of a pin prick; not enough to keep away the creeps.
Sometimes people die. Sometimes, the ones you love never love you back. Sometimes, you rent cars for $150 and travel long distances to find a mate that doesn't exist and just to get away from that smell. The stink of east Houston. The stench of death. In the 1970's they kept their babies even when they didn't really want them, pretended the nuclear family was alive and strong. Until it fell apart.
Ms. Calvert lives on the corner; her husband works the steel mill. Ben used to work the grunt shifts at Shell, never discussing work, and retiring swiftly. Smokes pipes in the back room.
'I woke up and he was just sitting in that recliner, upright, but still...no breath.'
We flattened pennies that day, walked solemnly to the train track, heads 'up' on the rail. Meemaw pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her muumuu pocket, snaps up the front. Lights up again.
That was over seven years ago. Now, I play solitaire on the carpet. The hardwoods beneath are fresh, solid, protected for now. The wheels screech on the tracks; a slight spark. Like a flash of lightning before the storm. The bulb clicks, fire sizzles. The overhead light at the hospital. The slit of light through the doorway, the silhouette.
I don't remember letting him in.
It's dark and cold at the trestle tonight. (This is where Johnny comes in.) The steel grid crosses the San Jacinto River like an octopus, like a golden gate prehistoric being. Its tentacles grip. The tugboats sound their horns, transporting goods throughout the Houston Ship Channel. Remember the war in Iran; snippets on the television, the old black-n-white foil covered bunny ears?
We are 100 feet up. He's stoned.
The water sparkles. He's in it, swimming to shore. The wind picks up speed. The ripples on the river shine like razor blades. A sea of lighters at concerts and needles in hospitals, the I.V., the stomach pump of charcoal and prescription meds.
Close your eyes. (Jump.)
It stings, burns, tears the skin. They will follow me to keep me quiet, him and his friend. Tell Johnny, tell Johnny.
Can you hear the engines roar in the distance? They drag race down the streets at night. Frighten the ducks and geese which head souther than south. The juke-box's droning song echoes across the rivers surface. The tug-boat bar closes at 2 a.m. They wander off to their speed boats or stumble to their trucks drunk. We can see the lights from the trestle. Johnny screams in my direction. I throw clothes down and never jump. Johnny waits on the shore. The leather melts beneath the skin. The spark. The fire crackles. They rev their engines. Engines tweaked by strong pale and tattooed hands, industrial hands, middle-class hands – burnt with the heat, blistered knuckles in the cold. The metal machines, the screaming machines that rip the atmosphere, breaking barriers, breaking the law. 'Grease monkeys'. A red rag falls to the ground, signaling the 'go'. Tires squeal, leave the scent of burning rubber. Johnny stands on the beach as I'm still on the tresses.
I remember the day the needles surfaced. The long bath, mother washing the blood from my body. Just home from Gemco; paper bags of goods in the back of the Monte Carlo; black vinyl seats our sweaty legs would stick to in the summer. No air conditioning, windows down, whipping our hair about with the scent of petrochemical and bayou. Father is sweaty, hunched over machines in the garage, asphyxiating himself with summer and transmission fluid. I'd fallen on baby vagina in a rush; burst the cherry with the heel of the sandal, and the blood streams down the legs. Screaming 'I'm dying! I'm dying.'
Hush, hush. Mother rinses me off in the sink. It's all forgotten later with T.V. dinners and television. A take home tray with three pockets. The engines hum in sleepy time. Purr. The tugboats dock, thick ropes tied to steel posts. The geese appear mangy, covered in petroleum, the crabs blue shells turn grey. She can't believe we swam in that crap.
Shut up and take it.
Twinkle of light, key dangling from the ring, a twist of the wrist, and the roar of the machine. Vibrations. The scent of oil, gasoline, and sweat. They inhale the exhaust, poison themselves with carbon monoxide. Rev the engine. Feel the burn and sting, like leather to the backside; the burden. The Irish came over as indentured servants, paid with food as promises were broken. They learned from the strap.
Mother calls; alone at home, dinner is cold, the children suck. She leaves for craft class, constructing ceramic owls, firing them in the kiln – bookends, cookie jars, a clock and knick-knacks. They are feeding the beast. Leave mother alone tonight, she's tired of you taking of her as you wish whenever you please. Take it out for a spin, it is pitch black dark. The sun has set behind the industrial stacks, beyond the oil derricks dredging the earth for oil. They suck it out like parasites; leech the ground of its fluidic and sticky tar substance. The derricks line the fields like robotic cattle; we feed, we milk its tits to fill buckets. We fill gallons, containers, huge silos of oil from beneath the crust.
The fuel for the fire.
The quest for gold.
Tracy L. Lyall
resides in a dungeon beneath the steamy streets of Houston, TX; born in the 1970's during the time of roller-disco and cool, cigarette-smoking tomboys. She spent the early years of her life traveling on greyhound buses and experiencing life, much of which became the basis of her writing ventures. She began writing for underground Houston Zines and progressed to poetry slam winner, Lollapalooza side-stage participant. Her writing spanned into journalistic media; a contributing writer for several underground and university newspapers. She has been published many times by university presses, and magazines, also occasionally dabbling in the music industry, performing on stage with bands. She has traveled throughout the United States performing on stage, a spotlight for Paradise Lounge in San Francisco, Thought Crime Poetry in Houston, The Mausoleum Poetry Society, and Houston Poetry Festival. Currently raising a series of fiction and creative non-fiction novels as well as children, she continues pursuing degrees of all kinds and running an online Literary Zine – Pink-Eye Punchade