That’s a Good One

She’d been badass once. Had you’d ambled through the New Hampshire woods when oak tree leaves were the size of a mouse’s ear and stumbled upon her as she foraged for morrells, you’d have known that immediately. (But that would never happen. She would have heard you a mile away.) Ballsy. Brash. Maybe even beautiful. Instantly you would have seen that beneath her filth and rags, her witchy, twitchy carapace, baglady hair and scorched, patrician nose, here was someone who’d had it going on. Once.

Had you dared to look deep into her furious eyes—blue-green, they are and, yes, beautiful—you would have seen brilliance and, less obvious but undeniable, amusement. As if chuckling over some cosmic joke. (But you wouldn’t have dared to stare; no one does.) Perhaps she’d snickered at the carelessness, the sloppiness of time, how things move on, willy nilly, and what once mattered just doesn’t anymore. Like that Japanese soldier who’d needlessly hidden on a tropical island for years and years after World War II ended.

That’s a good one.

Sometimes she foraged; mostly she stole. Over and over she broke into summer cottages, some more than others, the pattern never clear—even in July, even in August while people slept. Canned goods, books, stacks of old New Yorkers, winter gear, booze; she took whatever she wanted, read people’s mail, messed with their stuff; their minds. More than one family moved away after finding the contents of their kitchen drawers and cabinets emptied on the floor. More than one family wept after she’d stolen their heirloom quilts. (She had a thing for handmade quilts.) More than one family would arrive on Memorial Day weekend to discover she’d somehow evaded their locks and their state-of-the-art security devices to get inside, built herself a fireplace fire, sipped their scotch, played their CDs. (She had a thing for Miles Davis, too.)

Brazen. Creepy.



[This is an excerpt from my new meta novel, Missing Reels, currently looking for a home:]

Egret, she starts to write on a new blank page.

(Lozen knows the basics: red-tailed hawk, swallowtail, sagebrush, cottonwood, eucalyptus. Sometimes, hidden and sheltered under her favorite willow, she will say these words aloud. She will practice speaking.)

But as she crosses that T her hand—she’s left handed—cramps. Again. Why? And she’d so much wanted to write about that wading, elegant, snowy creature today!

That’s not quite it. What she’d wanted to write about is how she’s noticed she only writes about the Reserve flora and fauna she knows the names of.

(And she sees herself—Lenore back then—at ten, at twelve, in khaki shorts and a madras, short-sleeved shirt and white sneakers, a New England field guide and jacknife in her pocket, roaming the woods and shoreline of Walden Pond. Alone. Content.)

But, most important, she’d wanted to write about how this name-knowing confuses her. About how she would much prefer to watch and listen and be patient and curious and reverent and when she sees something, she will name it. Based on her observations. White, stalking-fish bird.

But also about how insulting language like that is like the cowboys-and-Indians movies she’d grown up with; Tonto and the rest of them, those Hollywood versions of indigenous peoples, how they spoke the same pidgin language she might employ for a creature she’s noticed but can’t name: Tiny bird never alone.

(It’s called a bushtit. Psaltriparus minimus. Had Lozen known where to look, she might have also added something like . . and builds a nest that looks like a sock.)

She wonders if naming something is asserting dominion over it. She wonders if knowing the name of something gives her power over it; that naming might be simply another version of oppression. And why then, perhaps, she doesn’t just go ahead and steal a California field guide from the library; learn the damned names?

But even in the heat, this dry, dry LA heat, her hand refuses to uncoil. So, drowsy and, yes, content, she watches how that egret lifts one leg, then the other; how it wades. How it fishes. How it survives.