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Authors: Claire Vaye Watkins

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BOOK: Gold Fame Citrus
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Together Luz and Ray deciphered her tells: fists mashed into eye sockets, walking bowlegged and tugging on her silk diaper, a carp-like opening and closing of the mouth, the bulging of her coin eyes.

They cataloged her tastes. Likes: crackers, rocks, ration cola,
questions, her new shoes, the
ding
the antique phone made when she bashed it with the earpiece, opening and closing the sliding doors, the tool belt, the burbling sounds Ray made for her benefit, mounting and dismounting things, i.e. the stairs, the fireplace ledge, the space-age sofa.

Dislikes: the shitting hole, being changed, the empty pool, glass, the fur coat going crusty in the backyard, certain textures (polyester, chintz, velvet, shag), certain sounds (the hand pump squeaking, heavy footsteps on the floating staircase, Luz humming), the sun, the mountain.

Ig could be impossibly silly, her clucking laugh like a seizure, a little worrisome. A spaz, Ray called her with love. Little pill. She was moody, became pensive or enraged without warning. She went berserk at the sight of a plate of saltwater noodles Ray fixed her for lunch, sending up painful-sounding screeches. If they reached for an empty cola can before she had decided she was through with it, she let loose an autistic, unsettling moan, which they made every effort not to hear. After the first day, only Ray could change her, for Ig bit Luz whenever she tried.

The child let loose her meanest mean streak on her toys. She scolded them in her private, wrathful language. She hit them, despite both Luz and Ray begging her not to. She chucked the worry people to the floor and was especially hard on the kachinas, whose legs she wrenched apart, popping them out of their indigenous sockets. After walloping the jujus mercilessly she would put them to sleep, draping them with a tissue and whispering fluffy comforts to them. She was kind to the tortoise, though, whose name she said was also Ig. She carried tortoise Ig everywhere, eventually caving his head in.

Nights Ig soothed herself to sleep by stroking the frayed edge of gauze back and forth across the tip of her nose and moaning. The baby starfished on the floor of the corral beneath a chenille throw with
her brain-damaged tortoise double, Luz and Ray collapsed head-to-toe on the space-age sofa above, where they did not say, “What have we done?”

Nor, “We have to get out of here.”

Nor, “I’ve never been so happy.”

Though all were true.

For it was blissed-out chaos up in the canyon, it was joy and love, love for the coin-eyed baby and for each other and for everything, everywhere. But it could not last. (Nothing here could.) Luz spent her afternoons following post-nap Ig around the backyard with the parasol. Days went by and the baby went jumpy, twitching at the crunch of gravel in the rock garden or if Luz snapped open a ration cola.

“What is?” Ig would cry fearfully at the sound.

“Soda,” Luz would say. Ray, “Pop.”

Sometimes Ig jumped at nothing and stood staring at the mountainside, petrified, the Santa Anas keening through the canyon. Luz froze too, her heart gone manic, palping the way Baby Dunn’s had after her father taught her of mountain lions,
You won’t see them until they
want
you to see them.

“What is?” said Ig, meek as dust.

Luz managed, “Nothing, my love,” though she too was trembling. Perhaps Ig knew something they didn’t, felt her people coming for them, somehow. Felt all the horrors creeping up the canyon.

Luz was exhausted, was not drinking water, could never remember where she put her jug. Was maybe sleepwalking.

“You’re
holding
it,” said Ray, and there was the jug cradled in her arms.

He was not sleeping at all. All night he paced along the wall of windows, peering over the bridge driveway and the laurelless canyon beyond. Ray’s decency had always been a succor, an anchor, and it was
still, though now Luz feared it was an anchor buried in the wrong sand.

At night Luz listened to Ray’s patrol and made the first list of her life, unwritten.


What we must do:

– leave
– go to Seattle
– find a little cottage on a sound where the air is indigo and ever-jeweled with mist
– take Ig walking in the rainforest, barefoot
– show her velvet moss and steady evergreens and the modest gibbous of glacier on Mount Rainier
– encourage her to stroke gently the fins on the underside of orange mushrooms
– pry open rotting logs and watch grubs and slugs and earthworms at their enrichment business
– let her take some of the sweet colloidal humus into her mouth
– come upon a moose, his antlers splayed like great hands raised to God, his ancient beard swaying as he saunters silently through the forest
– return home, where Ray must be stirring a big pot of chili and I must assemble a rainbow salad and Ig must set her dolls kindly on the redwood windowsill, all in a row
– eat dinner on a picnic table or on the porch Ray built, sipping from tall beaded glasses of ice water, watching orcas breech across the sound

One night, Luz came to at the lip of the starlet’s dry unshreddable pool, the moon a pale blade overhead, her fingers in a jar of capers. She blinked; she did not even like capers. She stood staring at the inky mountainside, its sinister stillness, the slug of it, tasting the vinegar tang inside her mouth. She saw the Nut trailing them in circles around the yard, saw his mongrel dog hung by its rope leash from the barren lemon tree. The daddy-o on the driveway bridge. The starlet going wicker in the ravine. Ig stumbling from the wrecked raindance bungalows.

She returned to the mansion and found Ray sitting in the hallway opposite the unyielding wall of glass. She slid down beside him and took his face. “Let’s go to Seattle,” she said.

He frowned drowsily. “There’s militia at the Oregon border. You know that.” Washington State had stopped accepting Mojav relocation applications.

Luz said, “Idaho then. I read there’re these mountains near Boise and when the sun sets they turn purple. Every day. Something about the altitude. And in the foothills there are these marshes and in the spring they pulse this electric green. You almost can’t look at them.”

“Still?”

No, no more wetlands in Idaho, no grass whatsoever west of the hundredth. “Oh yeah,” she said. “In Idaho? Hella. Idaho’s
golden
. We’ll take Ig there, she can run around, spaz out. Go apeshit, like kids are supposed to. No more circling the pen.”

Ray smiled at the glass, spacey and fatigued. “That sounds nice.”

Luz wished they were not in the hallway, the ravine of the house. She could not convince him of anything in the hallway. She looked into his reflecting eyes. “They’re going to come for us.”

He shook his head.

“The trucks, Ray.”

“They don’t come up here.”

“They will. Eventually they will.”

Luz watched Ray’s face where it hovered in the glassy black, hollow, ghostly. He clenched his jaw, his impression of a Marine. “I won’t let them,” he said.

“There’s nothing you can do, bub.” She touched him. “We need to get legit.”

Just then, a thin little wailing came to them from Ig’s pen. Ray nearly sprang up, but Luz tethered him down—“Wait her out”—and they sat still as wolves, with Ig calling out in her Ig language. Ray made prayer hands and tugged on his lips with them. It hurt him to leave her this way, Luz could tell. It hurt them both, physically, her voice twine tethered to their bellies, looped around the nodes and coils of their hearts, lungs, bowels. Already, that was so. Finally, the child settled into silence.

Luz whispered, “We’ll have a chance, on the list.”

“Put ourselves on it?
Volunteer?

She nodded.

“Our part for the cause.”

“I’m serious, Ray.”

“What about her?”

Luz said, “We’ll get her a birth certificate.” Their old group had ways of procuring such documents.

“Luz, I can’t—”

“We’ll say we’re married.”

“Luz—”

“That we got married in the church.” It surprised Luz, how happy even the prospect of this lie made her. She had not thought of herself as someone who wanted to be married, let alone married in a church, but apparently she was.

“Luz, I have to tell you something. Will you listen?” Ray took in a slow, bottomless breath and looked Luz in the eyes. He giggled.

It was not a sound she would have guessed was in him. He gasped shallowly, embarrassed, and out burbled more giggles. “I—he he heh—I can’t go. Ha ha! I can’t go on the list.”

“What?”

“I mean, heh, look—ha ha!” His eyes were wide and manic. “There’s just nothing—ha ha!” He clasped his hands over his mouth. “I’m sorry. I can’t stop. I’m afraid. But I’m being serious—hee hee hee!”

Luz said, “I don’t . . .”

Ray pressed his face between his hands. “Okay: in the service—heh. Hee hee! Okay: I was in medical school. Did I tell you that?” He had not. “But I quit. Dropped out. Went into the service. I was a medic, sort of. Guys would come to me, all fucked up.
All
fucked up. I didn’t know what to do. I gave a few of them pills. Standard. I took them, too. So we could sleep. Hee hee—we couldn’t sleep, Luz. More guys came to me. More and more. I gave them what we needed. We took Roxicet, oxy, fentanyl lollipops. Whatever I had.” He stopped giggling. “They were just so
fucked up
. Everybody was.”

Luz watched his shapes moving across the glass wall. “Lollipops?”

“We were on leave—in San Diego,” his voice on the upswing, as if San Diego were a friend they had in common, “and one of the guys, his buddy had been busted on patrol with morphine patches plastered all over his ass cheeks. They were going to get me. I mean, I’m the only one with a case of fucking made-in-the-USA morphine patches. Fort Leavenworth.” Then, when she clearly did not know what the words
Fort
or
Leavenworth
had to do with any of this, he said, “Prison. Military prison. I, well, you know . . .
ran
.”

They watched each other in the glass.

“Ass cheeks?” said Luz. She was just saying words.

“We used to do that—the sweat helps. Zaps it into your system.”

Time had gotten woozy under them. It was hard to tell how long they went without speaking. Ray was waiting for something from her, she realized, so she said, “You’re.” It was all she could summon.

“AWOL, I guess you’d say,” then one loud, hard laugh burst from him, “
Bah!
Goddamn it.”

“Shh,” Luz said, meaning,
Don’t wake her
.

“I’m sorry. I should have told you, but . . . I’m sorry.”

She was putting things together now. She looked up. “We can’t evac.”

“Not without a clean ID.”

“And if we try—”

“They’ll arrest me. Take her for sure.”

This was true, and unthinkable.

The wildfires pulsed behind them, and beyond those the Oregon militiamen cleaned their fingernails. The gatemen at Lake Tahoe changed shifts, one pausing to pluck a tendril of red thread from the other’s uniform. Everything here was ash. Chalkdust and filament. Everything here could be obliterated with a wave of her hand, and she waved her hands
all the time.

Ray wept, briefly. Luz touched his face. “We’re lost,” he said eventually, and Luz whispered, “We’re not.” But Ray said again that they were, and Luz was convinced.

And so, lost, they succumbed to sleep.


If Ray thrashed his nightly thrashing, Luz did not know it. She woke raw, bewildered, sore deep in her hips and in the shoulder she’d slept on. Her love was gone, already awake and away, a tiny betrayal, no
matter that it happened daily. She rose, discovered Ig gone too, and searched for them in the half-light. She found Ray pacing in the indigoed backyard, holding Ig to him, speaking something into her glowy head. He looked up at Luz. His features were defeated, even his gorgeous mouth eroded by the expectation of dawn.

Ray came around to Luz, a new posture of resolve. “I’m sorry about all that, babygirl. I am.”

“I know.”

“I’ll fix it. I will. We’ll get the birth certificate, a clean ID. I’ll take care of everything.” That was what he’d been telling Ig, that he was going to get his shit together, be on top of every damn thing from here on out. Also how quickly one’s beliefs and values and principles and philosophies—all the biggies—could be reduced to a matter of paperwork. Ray said, “We’ll need to go to see Lonnie.”

Luz inhaled. “I don’t want to go there.”

“I know you don’t.” He kissed her temple. “I don’t either. But we have to.”

It was a question whether Lonnie and Rita and the others would still be at the complex, a question answered when Ray approached the building made of snagging stucco, pink like the inner swirls of a conch, so much like the inner folds of a cunt, he thought, and bashed his open hand against the metal gate, bashed as so many others had bashed when he and Luz lived here. Shapes responded in the morning haze, moving along the periphery of the courtyard. The building was constructed like many apartment buildings in Santa Monica: a two-story square with a courtyard and a pool in the center, one heavy metal gate, the architecture of fortification, of circled wagons, as if the city had known what was coming, which, it hardly needs saying, she had.

“Go the fuck away!” said the shape at the gate, hood up and bandanna pulled over its face. A new guy.

Ray said, “Be cool man, I know Lonnie.”

“Fuck you do.”

“Yes, fuck, I do.”

“Get the fuck out of here, you fuck, before I blow your fucking brains out.”

Ray sighed. “Okay, fella. Just tell him Ray’s here. Ray and Luz. Could you do that?”

The shape hesitated—scrutinizing Ig where she was on her not-mother’s hip, maybe—then receded. Luz hung back with the baby, wishing Lonnie’s face would and would not materialize behind the grating.

BOOK: Gold Fame Citrus
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