My sister and I do cannonballs off the diving board into our kidney shaped pool. Mommy holds onto the edge in the shallow end, kicks her legs for thinner thighs. I dance in a grass skirt to Hilo Hatti. My sister plays the ukulele. We take naps under grandma’s mink coats. I play in orange groves, peel the skin and suck the juice out of oranges, ride my bike in the dirt alongside irrigation ditches, play badminton with my sister and stepfather, tetherball by myself. Mommy almost chokes to death on a piece of steak. She wears perspiration pads and a girdle with no underwear for modeling jobs, takes a lot of douches, a thick red rubber bag hangs from the showerhead. Gentian Violet on her crotch for yeast infections scares me. My sister and I wear white undershirts with satin roses at the breastbone, full netted petticoats in three tiers, and black leather belts cinched around our waists. We dance to Bolero and Scherezade in the living room. She steals hair spray, gum, shampoo, greeting cards, scotch tape, and a birthday cake from the Rexall drug store, hauls her “take” home in her bike basket. She collects bugs in my Barbie doll closet. Mommy tells me I have a high IQ. I skip third grade and in fourth know the answers to math problems but have no idea how I got them. I wear new Christmas sweaters in eighty-five degree heat. The boxer dog we have for a few weeks obeys only me. I’m too shy to sell Campfire Girl cookies. At Junior Assembly ballroom dances no one asks me to dance. Mommy tells me I won’t be popular until I get to college. She sends me to modeling school where I learn to walk like she does, file my nails, and apply foundation with no line of demarcation. My stepfather says “You’re a real woman now” when I start my period. I pray Mommy won’t take ice trays out of the freezer to make herself a drink. She puts milk in her scotch for her stomach ulcer. She eats lunch standing up to stay thin like she read about in Vogue magazine. My sister and I eat butter and sugar sandwiches on Wonder bread and Swanson fish sticks for dinner. Mommy and our stepfather drink. I try to watch myself go to sleep every night, grow four inches the year I turn twelve, sneak out my bedroom window to make out with Dicky Campbell. Mommy says I have to start calling her “Mother.” My mother pays a seamstress to copy designer clothes from fashion magazines. She tells me it isn’t ladylike to smoke while walking. She gets dressed up in a suit with a hat and gloves to go on an airplane. I like the Phoenix Bird at Sky Harbor airport and the marigold flowers you can see from the sky that spell out “Welcome to Phoenix.” My stepfather bets on Sonny Liston and Sugar Ray Leonard, plays bongo drums in pale blue boxer shorts. My sister carves her initials in the back seat of his new pink Cadillac. I sprinkle clothes, roll them up in plastic bags, put them in the fridge until I’m ready to practice ironing his shirts. I make up modern dances to the music of Yusef Lateef, try to sing like Mick Jagger, take my first Benzedrine, feel happy and normal, steal my mother’s Dexedrine she takes for PMS. My sister writes me letters from juvenile jail. Grandma shows me her loaded pistol with a mother-of-pearl handle she keeps in the night table by her bed. She says “fiddlesticks” and “jigaboo.” I listen to Leadbelly and Johnny Lee Hooker, make art and write poetry, strip the needles off a Christmas tree, paint it black. I’m a beatnik. I drive my Plymouth Valiant for the first time in the month of May, the sweet smell of orange blossoms floods Camelback Road from 20th Street all the way to Scottsdale.
Gleah Powers is the author of the novel Edna and Luna, recently published by Vine Leaves Press. Her work has appeared in print and online in Southwestern American Literature, Prime Number Magazine, Red Savina Review and many other literary journals. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee recognized in Notable Stories in the Million Writers Award; as a finalist in Split Lip Press’ Chapbook Contest; a shortlisted finalist in Pulp Literature’s Flash Fiction Prize; and is a grantee of an award from the Barbara Deming Memorial fund. She completed her formal art training at the California Institute of the Arts and has worked professionally as a painter, actor and dancer in New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City. Currently, she is at work on a memoir. Visit her website at http://www.gleahpowers.com
“In the Valley of the Sun” was chosen as the runner-up of the Ryan R Gibbs Flash Fiction contest judged this year by Mary Miller. Visit our contest page for more information.