Jalisco 360; Google Street View Fiction


Nearly noon by the sun. Heat pours in through windows flung wide to invite the pre-dawn breeze. She doesn’t have to roll over to know he’s gone. The proud rooster mariachi spilling out of Humberto’s Cantina is full of Esteban’s fire.

He wants to take her away – Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán – his future and fortune in the pockets of the turista. But Marta is bound to this place. Not out of duty, but love. Even after what happened.

The band takes pause. She throws off the sweaty sheet and stretches like a sunning cat. Any moment now, Esteban will scale the tree and rush the balcony to be conquered by her once more.

He will still go off in search of his destiny and spend a lifetime trying to get back to Jalisco. To this room. This girl. This morning. 



Flying Lessons


flying lessonsWhen Arthur Cave (son of Nick Cave and Susie Bickfell from a cliff in East Sussex and died, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop feeling about it. Clearly this was none of my business. It felt ghoulish to read about it or look at pictures of their family. For days, it was a cloud over me, the thought of him lying there, waiting to be found, the thought of what his parents were going to go through.

Being intimate with the shattering grief of losing a child, you shudder at the thought of others having to face it.

More than a week later, at the gym, with trance music pouring through my headphones, the part of my mind that had been preoccupied with Arthur Cave shoved its way to the front, demanding to be examined. I was tired of avoiding this dangerous train of thought, but still needed to keep it from opening up my own well of grief right there in a noisy gym.

And with no explanation beyond the need to maintain some kind of calm, I began to visualize Ashlie there with Arthur, arriving just after he fell, holding out a hand and helping his spirit to its feet. I imagined her working to distract him from the broken body on the ground, refusing to let him stop and think long enough to be afraid.

On the elliptical, with my eyes closed, I worked to see Ashlie and Arthur running back up to the cliffs hand in hand and jumping off, but this time flying. Laughing. Fearless. And it begins to block out the horror of his death. It begins to lift the cloud.

I cannot change what happened to my child or theirs, but I can change how the bereavement of others affects me – able now to imagine (when I need to, because public grief is forbidden) my own dead child leading a merry band of spirit children on grand adventures around the world.

Take care of Arthur, I tell her, and I can breathe again.

a new preface for old stories

villaIn a dusty box in the storage closet of the HUD Housing complex behind the Burger King on McHenry Avenue, you’ll find my file, three inches thick and spanning my nine year residency. The last time I saw the file was the summer of 1999.

I’m standing in The Villa’s tiny office, where the clatter of the air conditioner nearly drowns out the children splashing about in the pool just outside. From behind the desk, Terry thumbs through the folder and then shoves it towards me.

“You should really have a peek.” His tone is serious, but his eyes are warm.

“I’d rather not.” I glare at the thing and it glares back.

I don’t have to open this catalogue of sins to remember the myriad of noise complaints, repair requests for two windows and a door, the landscaping bill for a light-saber-battered shrub, a letter of apology for crashing a Big Wheel into the pool at 3 a.m. or the string of warning notices about my unauthorized cat.

“I’m not trying to be a hardass, Jules, but –“

Terry sighs like a disappointed dad, then gets up and gestures for me to take his chair. He slips out the door to the pool area as I slump into his chair. On the far side of the deck, he lingers near the chaise lounges of Maura and Shell. Fully aware of their cyclical retaliatory boyfriend-thievery, he bravely drags a chair up between them.

I am nearly thirty.

I have spent most of my adult life in this place, among these people.

My “I don’t really belong here” shtick is wearing thin and the ugly reality lay out before me is that I haven’t been the bad-luck good girl for a very long time.

While I contemplate liberating my file, a small gathering of children begin to make blow-fish faces against the window beside me. I look at their baby teeth and tonsils, their waggling tongues.

In the end, there is no absolution, so Villa Bitch through and through, I lean toward Jory and Jellybean and press my open mouth to the glass in a silent scream.


[The Villa Stories is a work in progress, every now and then, since for what feels like forever but is more like thirteen years. Wow. That IS a long time to NOT finish something without abandoning it altogether. Regardless, this is a new bit. With any luck, others will follow.]

Assur (a bit of fiction owed to our Dark Fairy Queen)


assurNewly-hung stars light our path through the grove, fat with summer fruit. I crouch low against Arye’s back, my fingers buried in her mane. Wound round my throat Nachash eggs Arye on.

They’re gaining.” she calls out as if we don’t already hear the hooting, stomping melee that is Ben and Keves, coming up fast behind. A great rumble of laughter rolls through our lioness ride as she clears a felled tree.

The ram and his boy will lose time going around.

We reach the clearing and fall in a heap beneath the trees at the edge of the moonlight field. The air is still warm and heavy with the scent of jasmine. Quince, pomegranate and figs hang above our bed of clover. My belly growls.

Arye licks her fur with a practiced boredom as Keves clambers into the clearing. “I told you so.” She purrs without looking up.

The girl weighs less than this brute.” Keves gasps, catching Ben in the arse with the tip of a horn as he slides to the ground.

Paws beat hooves yet again my friend.” Nachash says with barely concealed venom.

Would that you had either.” Ben flops down beside me, his salty heat stirring another hunger.

Sustenance!” he demands, looking to Nachash and then the shadowy clusters of fruit above. Her eyes narrow, but she slips over my shoulder and scales the tree. Moments later, a fat fig nails Ben in the forehead.

I snatch it and manage a bite before he lunges, then take secret pleasure in his flesh against mine, as he wrestles it from my hand. When he’s claimed the fruit, I shove him off and finally swallow my bite.

Immediately fire fills my belly, my vision blurs and my limbs grow heavy. On the insides of my eyelids flash visions of desolate land and rivers of blood. I open my eyes to find my friends crowded ‘round, shadowy figures against a darkening sky.

Arye calls for help from beyond with an unintelligible roar. I feel Nachash at my shoulder but hear only a hissing as her tongue flicks my ear. In fact, in all the commotion it’s only Ben I can understand.

Azazel!” he spits out my name out like a curse, “What have you done?”

The whole world has changed in an instant.

I will forever bear the blame.


Details on The Dark Fairy Queen‘s Midsummer Night Dream flash fiction contest are as follows:


America, My America – An excerpt


America! My America!” Jordan shouts as he comes pell-mell down the hallway and into the dining room. Max’s red graduation gown floats out behind him, a Burger King crown is secured at his brow with a blue bandana, and he’s waving a plastic lightsaber overhead, dangerously close to every light fixture he passes.

“The lights,” I say. “Watch the lights!”

“Yeah, let’s go to Oakland for the big lights,” he says.

“No, the kitchen lights!” I point as his still-flailing lightsaber makes a wide arc and just misses the globe overhead.

“Are we going to Jack London Square?” Max asks, deftly flipping the omelet in the frying pan. When the kids were younger, we frequently spent the Fourth of July in Oakland watching the fireworks display over the water, but this year Jay and I have other plans.

“We figured that since we’re in a legal firework county this year,” Jay says, “we’d go old-school.”

“Why do I get the feeling that old-school is going to suck?” Jordan asks, lowering his lightsaber long enough to pluck a sausage link from the plate on the stove.

“Running around the apartment complex with two sparklers apiece does not constitute old-school,” Jay says as Max carries the eggs over from the stove and we all tuck in around the table. “After breakfast, lose the cape and we’ll go get some fireworks.”

“The gown, you mean,” Jory says, swishing a wide sleeve with a flourish. “It’s a cap and gown, right Mom?”

“At the moment it’s a crown and gown, but technically, yes, I think you’re right. Now eat.”

“And by the way it’s my gown,” Max says, “and my America.” He smirks, recalling the sleep-talking episodes from his childhood, during which he inexplicably shouted “America, My America!” over and over again.

They return later in the day with fountains, an afterburner, Saturn Missiles, bang snaps, black snakes, sparklers and a Pagoda, which they present with all the flourish of game show hostesses, reading the descriptions and warnings on each paper wrapper aloud.

Shortly after dark, we join our neighbors in the street. Jay lets Max do most of the setting up and lighting of the fireworks. Jordan struts across the street to chat up a cute pixie girl and a tall black boy with a mohawk who are sitting on the tailgate of a truck, trying terribly hard to look bored. When the sparklers come out however, Jory rushes back across the street to grab a box.

“I’m taking some for Iris and Bret, too.” He waves the box in front of my face.

“Do not chase little kids with them. I mean it.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t trip!”

There is an indescribable magic in the smell and the smoke, the pop of flashers and the wail of a Whistling Pete, a slow-motion enchantment in the dusky silhouette of a child on a bicycle, riding circles in the street with sparklers trailing behind. When our own firework stash has been depleted, Max, Jay and I linger at the edge of the driveway, delighting in the flares and flashes up and down the street.

A few blocks away, someone lets loose with mortars, which burst up over the rooftops, reminiscent of our Jack London Square days. I call Jordan back from his new friends and we head out to the backyard for a better view of the overhead show. Max drags the futon from the porch out onto the lawn and flattens it out so we can lay across it, with our legs dangling off the side. Iggy and Lola jump up and shove themselves in between us.

It is one of those rare nights where we are connected and at peace. It’s funny how a thing like that can swell in your chest unexpectedly.

These first few weeks back in Modesto, Jordan has been calm and congenial. No screaming fights, no slamming doors or strange behaviors. I keep expecting at any moment for the newness to wear off, but for now it is holding.

As we lie here on the folded-out futon in our first real backyard, I realize that in just a month, Max will be eighteen. Grown. And even Jory is only three years out from adulthood. Yet for tonight we are all children, eagerly anticipating each glorious explosion in the night sky above us.

“America, my America,” I murmur, reaching over to ruffle Max’s hair.

“Mom, you’re not gonna start singing that Lee Greenwood song, are you?” he asks.

“I’m going to try really hard not to.”

[this is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice, currently available at Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.]