Tag Archives: The Town Slut’s Daughter

Girls With Guitars & *The Truth*-Town Slut’s Daughter excerpts and talk…

…I’m preparing for Word Vancouver, Sun, Sept 27 at 1:30 at Library Square and SFU’s Early Punk Rock Scene Discussion, with Bloodied But Unbowed director, Susanne Tabata, Oct 13 at Special Collections, SFU Library in Burnaby

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 FREE TO IMAGINE (Redux)

 “Honesty is not synonymous with truth.”-Vera Parmiga, The Departed

This book took a long time to write and the road to publication, arduous. I can’t recall exactly when I started but my son was around 6 or 7 and he is now 20. If I hadn’t been homeschooling a child with special needs, no doubt it would have taken less time but I often got discouraged and shelved it for years at a time. Finally in 2010 I went to Sage Hill Writing Experience to be mentored by award winning playwright and novelist Terry Jordan. I completed the manuscript. Then spent a couple of years, or wasted a couple of years, dealing with an agent who seemed to think the story was YA, and a publishing company in utter tumult until finally I got fed up and in punk fashion, went DIY. In feminist fashion, I will not be denied, set up Howe Sound Publishing and released The Town Slut’s Daughter on Amazon.

Seems to be a dirty word these days but this dialogue is an example of some of the book’s feminist ideals:

Fiona threw down three tickets to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre emblazoned with Hit Someone You Love.

“Great!” said Rita. “What’s with all the misogyny? I thought the scene was supposed to be so egalitarian.” She grabbed the kettle. “Well, I suppose it is if you happen to be young, white and male.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t go.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t. Who is Transformer Productions, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Never heard of them. But it’s a great bill. Rabid, Pointed Sticks, SubHumans, K-Tels.” Angus was a hero for digging up a new venue, O’Hara’s, a derelict nightclub on the pier at the foot of Main. Fiona’s dad remembered it from when he was a young buck roaming the streets. “I wanna go. We gotta see the K-Tels.”

“Okay. Okay. We’re doing our bit to fight sexism, right? We play electric guitars.”

Rock-including punk rock- is a boys club.

A lot of the discussion around my book concerns whether it’s autobiographical or not, which I find irritating. Isn’t that inferring that I’m not capable of using my imagination? To invent? Well, writing is vexing on many levels but I don’t understand all this post modern fuss over genre. As hot as memoir is, I didn’t write a memoir because honestly, my life is not that exciting. And I maintain there is more truth in fiction. It grants one freedom. Maybe I’m a coward, for I do hide behind fiction, wear it like a veil, but it is also liberating. Though the The Town Slut’s Daughter is based on my life experiences-which grants it authenticity-the majority of the story  is feigned. I can say unequivocally that I am not Fiona and Fiona is not I. (I fear she is smarter than I am. ) If you want reality, read my blog, One Life, at heatherhaley.com wherein I stated, “Our hunger for realism, hence the reality show phenomenon, and rise of the documentary fuel such expectations, pressure, to write a memoir. I never doubted my instincts, knew I was framing narrative within a novel. Works for me. Autobiographical novel also seems a contradiction in terms. Truth is relative and “honesty is not synonymous with truth.” Let the critics and pundits postulate ad nauseum, I need to focus on process.

I’ve taken an approach similar to EL Doctorow in Ragtime by blending real people and events with characters and things I’ve made up. As I told writer friend Justine Brown the other day, I chose to keep many of the band names because it would be difficult to conjure up better ones. DOA, Dead Kennedys, Dishrags, Subhumans, Devices, Rabid, Pointed Sticks, Young Canadians, and the Zellots, which was my first and all-female group-are portrayed along with various real life events. This scene is based upon the first time the Clash played Vancouver, at the Commodore. I idolized them and so did most of my punk rock comrades. We were thrilled to say the least. By the way, though the novel is in third person, we often we hear directly from Fiona, eves dropping in on her thoughts and feelings in first person. From part one-Girls With Guitars-it could have been titled Punk Rockers in Love. Not!

Does he do this she wondered? Conjure up last night, the things we did, feel an after-shudder? Waiting to see Emmett Hayes, was . . . agony! Fiona couldn’t eat. Think straight. Gawd I hate this! Half an hour late. Again. She diddled her guitar, scanned a book, traipsed back and forth to the fridge, swinging wildly between anger and anxiety. Why doesn’t he call? That dink! She could have gone with Rita and Shannon. She could have spent her hard earned cash on something besides a new silk bra and panties. That bastard. Then, still cursing, Fiona heard his obnoxious Porsche engine out front and relief coursed through her limbs. She barely resisted the urge to run to the car.

“Sorry I’m late,” he mouthed, the Clash’s I Fought the Law blasting from his Blaupaunkts. “Did you hear? The Clash came out and played soccer with us!”

“Yeah! Who won?”

“They did, of course. My shins are covered in bruises.”

Emmett yarded on the gears pinball wizard style. Soon they were pelted with fat raindrops. He pulled over immediately to put the top up. They cruised the block repeatedly in search of the safest parking spot for his precious steed of steel. At last they entered the fading art deco grandeur of the Commodore Ballroom, Emmett waving tickets at the doorman, breezing by security like a diplomat. Christ. He must have been left under a cabbage by mistake.Emmett surveyed the room, refusing Fiona’s hand.

“Fuck! Look at all the poseurs.”

Fiona spied Dennis across the room, stomach tilting at the reproach in his face. A young woman in a booth flanking the stage sat sneering.

“Emmett, who’s that girl glaring at us?”

He ignored the question, wandered off, Fiona following.

The Clash had an excellent DJ spinning a killer mix of ska, punk, reggae and dub. Fiona waved to Shannon and friends. The place was jammed with every die-hard in the city, slam dancing on its famous ballroom floor, originally designed to make any clodhopper hoof it like Fred Astaire. The Commodore had character all right and it was the perfect size. Fiona hated arena shows. The Dishrags opened. It was inspiring to watch fellow females wailing on guitar. They finished with a blazing rendition of London’s Burning. Next up, Bo Diddley. Emmett said the Clash brought the old guy along as a way to pay homage to one of rock and roll’s originators. Fiona shrugged.

“I’m too young for nostalgia.”

Unfortunately, the Powder Blues were his pickup band, old fart-guitar god wannabes and though playing with a legend, forced everyone to sit through a long, boring wank session.

“Fuck this. I wanna see the Clash!” Fiona was not alone in her sentiments.

Shannon walked over and pulled her aside. “See that girl? That’s Electra. One of Emmett’s girlfriends. He told her he was bringing her tonight.”

“Electra! Sounds like an Italian scooter.”

“She’s weird. Really mad, says she’s gonna beat the crap out of you.”

Laughing, they walked over to Emmett. He lowered his drink, deigned to look at them, insisting he hadn’t invited anyone but Fiona. Clouds of tension were gathering on the dance floor as well, burly security guards manning the barriers. Finally, the Clash emerged, a tidal wave of bodies surging forward, the band opening with I’m So Bored With the U.S.A, Emmett off the hook. For now.

Beer. You only rent it. Fiona ran to the bathroom between songs, in and out of a stall quickly. Electra appeared, strutted over and squinted up into Fiona’s face like a Pekinese.

“Hey bitch! Keep your paws off Emmett or I will kill you.”

Looking around, Fiona laughed. “Where’s the hidden camera? Hey, Eeeelectraaaa. I think you’d better stay away from Emmett.”

“Wanna fight about it?”

“Hah! I could squish you like a bug. Fuck off! This ain’t junior high, you know.”

What Electra lacked in size, she made up for in attitude, fueled by four-inch stilettos, garters, fishnets, black leather mini skirt, all of which had nothing to do with punk and everything to do with Emmett.

Electra spit at her. Missing her target—Fiona’s face—the gob splatted onto her clavicle. Fiona looked down. Nearly blind with fury, she handily hoisted Electra up by the lapels. Shannon barged in. Fiona slammed Electra into the wall, back of her head banging the paper towel dispenser. Electra yelped.

“You bitch. You fucking whore!”

Shannon grabbed Fiona by the arm. They walked out dogged by the undaunted Lilliputian. Fiona barreled over to Emmett.

“What were you thinking?”

“I told you! I didn’t ask her. She just assumed.”

Wee Electra was at the bar again, glowering.

“Get lost, you skanky broad!” Emmett hollered at her.

Snotty pose pierced like a balloon, Electra flumped away, people laughing in her wake.

“God Emmett you’re an asshole!”

“Hey, I brought you. What do you care?”

“I care because it’s the same way you treat me. Like shit!”

“Fuck this!” He walked away in a huff.

Fuck this all right! Fighting tears, determined to revel in this night to remember, Fiona formed two fists and shoved her way through the crowd, jabbing, elbowing, bashing. She glanced back. Emmett gone. Naturally. Though the faces on the floor were familiar, the horde formed one huge alien, reeking of stewed leather and body heat, Clash so loud they cloaked the clamor of thumping heart, roaring blood. Fiona was rammed. Hard. She heard the wind go out of her lungs, body boxed about as if by bulls. She slipped, nearly going down, floored by the vision of her fractured skull ground into the boards by dozens of tightly laced combat boots.I am too black in the heart to fall! She carved a line out of the crush to the foot of the stage, stared up at Simonon. He was perfect—angled cheekbones, mouth gaping open like a Lego-focused kid, long, lean muscles. An art student apparently, before hitching up with the Clash, couldn’t play a note till Mick Jones taught him. Like John Lennon. Must be a British thing, that link between art school and rock. So why did I let Trent talk me out of art school? Oh my God. Simonon! He’s looking right at me! Got a girlfriend, according to Shannon, some tart who writes for NME. Strummer strained against his Telly, snaking the mike stand with his body. Tossing his guitar onto his back, he leaned over the crowd, ranting, railing.Loose-kneed Mick Jones was running, leaping, boinging all over the stage, carving out notes with an axe, his golden Gibson Les Paul. Goofy booster Dennis vaulted onto the stage during Career Opportunities, ricocheting off amps and various Clash members, security goons giving Keystone Cops chase. Strummer even let Dennis commandeer the mike and bray out the chorus with him, Fiona feeling a twinge of envy.

 

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Literary Happenings & Lost in an Eerie Orange Haze

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Or distracted, at the very least. The worst of the heat wave is over, smoke from forest fires clearing. Naturally it rained the day of my summer soiree but we still need more to dampen drought conditions. Considered wearing a mask with air quality comparable to Beijing’s, but as friend Nathaniel Poole pointed out in his blog, Loose Moorings,  the dread the eerie orange smoke instilled in people is more likely due to their own fears.  He contends that fires are a normal part of the ecosystem. For me it’s been a nuisance, the fallout annoying, though on our island, a major conflagration would be devastating. We are woefully unprepared and have a small, volunteer fire department.

I have no time to write, between working, house hunting and dealing with government bureaucracies, clawing through red tape. Ditto book promotion, though I recently appeared at the Storm Crow Tavern Reading Series, hosted by Sean Cranbury, and sold a few copies of The Town Slut’s Daughter. I’m trying to complete Detective Work, a new collection of verse. About three quarters of the way there, this last bit constitutes a formidable hurtle. Can’t seem to compose but I accomplished a little editing today.

The Goose Lane anthology that I’m featured in, Where the Nights are Twice as Long, got a good write-up and made the the cover of Literary Review of Canada. The author Méira Cook gets it, what editors Dave Eso and Jeannette Lyons are trying to do. By arranging the correspondence according to the poet’s age at the time of writing, the experience reveals much about love’s vexing nature, poets and Canada. Fascinating, and I am savoring this read.

I was happy to hear from the folks at Rebus Creative who invited me to read at Word Vancouver, AKA Word on the Street, in September. An esteemed festival, I’m looking forward to it. The gathering also provides a good opportunity to catch up with friends and associates, as it seems everyone and their dog comes out for it.

Also heard from indefatigable Mona Fertig of Mother Tongue Press who has published my work in several anthologies, regarding their forthcoming, THE LITERARY STOREFRONT: THE GLORY YEARS, Vancouver’s Literary Centre 1978-1984 by Trevor Carolan. Mona ran the place in Gastown. I believe the first time I was ever published was in their newsletter and I was thrilled. Swept up by punk rock along with poetry, this was right around the time I started my first band, the Zellots and played the Smilin’ Buddha. Heady times, for all of us. As BC Bookworld’s Alan Twigg states: “Just as Alan Crawley and Dorothy Livesay organized Vancouver writers in the Thirties and Forties, Mona Fertig took the job seriously in the late ’70s and early ’80s, long before city culture bureaucrats were upbraided in 2012 for allocating less than 2% of their arts budget to literary arts. A Literary Arts Centre will finally come to pass, but Fertig led the way.” The launch is at the Western Front Oct 10.

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Free To Imagine

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Writing is vexing, on so many levels. I don’t understand all this post modern fuss over genre and grow weary of explaining that I did indeed imagine the story in The Town Slut’s Daughter. Naturally it’s inspired by life experience. Write what you know. Right? Which is all I wrote, which is why it’s authentic. If what I wrote was published as memoir, or creative non-fiction-whatever the hell that is- I would have been crucified, because I made stuff up, yet people refuse to believe  my novel isn’t memoir. I can say unequivocally that I am not Fiona and Fiona is not I.

Our hunger for realism, hence the reality show phenomenon, and rise of the documentary fuel such expectations. Pressure. I say this because poet and writer Catherine Owen, whom I admire greatly, reviewed my book bemoaning in the main that I’d chosen to write fiction. Despite confusion over genre I never doubted my instincts, knew I was framing narrative within a novel. Works for me. I understand her yearning for just the facts but my life is not all that interesting, in reality. As Karl Ove Knausgård recently emphasized  about his autobiographical novel,  My Struggle,  “It’s fictional even if it’s nonfictional. It’s not as if I’m trying to document anything. I’m looking for something within that material.” Autobiographical novel also seems a contradiction in terms and I know truth is relative. Let the critics and pundits postulate ad nauseum, I need to focus on process. If you want reality, read my blog. I’m getting good at making my life sound exciting.

Perhaps I am a coward, for I can wear it like a veil, but it is also liberating and I maintain there is more truth in fiction.

 

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GOODREADS giveaway!

I do what I can. So here you go, this coming Tuesday/Wednesday, just for one day. Please enter if you would like to win a copy of my novel, recently reviewed in newspapers across Canada: “Haley has the gift of writing to suit her subject in all its raddled variety, from wired and jarring to lyrical and tragic.” Of course, you can always buy The Town Slut’s Daughter if you can’t wait.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Town Slut's Daughter by Heather Haley

The Town Slut’s Daughter

by Heather Haley

Giveaway ends April 22, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

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Kindle Countdown Deal-The Town Slut’s Daughter

FlamingMic

This Fiona’s on fire! Announcing my Kindle Countdown Deal from today through Mar 11. My novel, The Town Slut’s Daughter is on sale for 99¢.
“Worth the danger.”
-”This is Punk Literature at its unique and original best, with a Cinderella-like heroine running into the flames of her own making.”
-”The Town Slut’s Daughter takes you into the dark side of the music business. Why it makes punk rock seem tame in comparison.”
-”Raw, Hard Core, a Turn On. Couldn’t put the book down. A great read that takes you under the skin of Fiona.”

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Novel reviews are in! And a poem called “Flesh Pot”

Slowly trudging along the dreaded book marketing trail-the main challenge being a lack of both time and money-but so far she’s receiving the star treatment and good reviews:

“The pace is electric, the scenes pulsate with energy, and through the character of Fiona, the reader is pulled into a world that can be beautiful and passionate one moment, and scary and ugly the next. The writing is so honest and direct, and dealing with such powerful feelings and social issues, that it will take your breath away.”-Nick Faragher, author of  The Well and other Stories and No Big Thing. Nick also characterized it as a punk Moveable Feast, which I love.

“You couldn’t ask for a better tour guide. Fiona wants to take you by the arm and show you everything – everything! – and you should let her. She’ll walk you through absurdly dysfunctional families, creatives and poseurs, mountains of cocaine, the thrills and bitter frustrations of band life, a city on fire, and sex that explores a lot of territory: tender, frenzied, exhilarating, surreal, brutal. Fiona tells it all, unflinching, with a survivor’s wry humor. Go on, get in – it’s a ride worth taking. Fiona will drive too fast, and you’ll love it.”-Katy Barzedor

“Don’t let the punk rock scare you; this is a woman’s story of love and adventure and survival. This is about sex and drugs and rock and roll. This is about a woman’s personal journey from young girl to abused victim to scarred survivor. It may begin with the punk rock years, but follows the lead character Fiona through scenes of punk rock violence, to a more insidious violence of personal relationships. Warning: There is quite a bit of sex here, so if you are offended by graphic scenes of sex, stay away. But if you like sex and classic sexy writing, you will love this book. We know that not all sex is good. Sometimes there is a dark side. Poor Fiona discovers this horrible truth as an attraction becomes a trap. The scenes during the LA riots evoke the Jump into the fire scene in Goodfellas, but told through a strong woman’s perspective. Rarely do you read books from a woman’s perspective about sex and music. The Town Slut’s Daughter takes you into the dark side of the music business. Why it makes punk rock seem tame in comparison.”-Dennis Milt

“A whirlwind tale about a girl looking for identity and artistic expression, that takes you from the early Vancouver punk scene through the trenches of rock and roll, life and excess in 1980’s Los Angeles and culminates with the L.A. riots. Intense, passionate, at times brutal, and also funny. The dialogue between characters had me laughing out loud. A rollercoaster ride that raises your hair and lands you back into your seat with a hard bump.”-Tracy Bissonnette

No time to write! But I will be included in several anthologies coming out next year; Love Where the Nights Are Twice As Long, a Goose Lane collection of love letters penned by Canadian poets, edited by David Eso, and a Simon Fraser University anthology of work from their Lunch Poems reading series which I participated in. They selected this one:

FLESH POT 

Born muscle bound

Backboned, map, matrix-

Mother intact

Into families, slums

 

Manors, private

Security firms, institutions.

Pirates or the pious

We flourish. Raw teeth, germs,

 

Clubfeet do not impede us,

Rank and garbled speech fleeting

As tin jeeps, our struggle

Barbie Doll drama, tumult banal,

 

Pain prosaic, strife fueling ripeness

Gauntlets passed through swiftly

Until the day we drop. Nominated,

Cornered, required to wither

 

Under the gun,

Succumb, for we remain

That tender, precious human

Flesh terminators aim for.

 

 

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THE LATEST from “The Town Slut’s Daughter” front

Obsessing over the novel, worrying about how it will be received. Or not. Naturally. Just keep reminding myself that it takes courage, and resolve to write a book, especially one so unruly, uncompromising. I have managed to resist removing the debauchery, the bits that made me squirm. Still do. My son interviewed me yesterday for a school assignment and asked an interesting question. Had I learned anything through the experience of writing this book? Certainly my writing muscle is pumped and I have learned a lot, about myself. ‘Tis quite the effective mirror, and I don’t flinch readily anymore. Whether that’s a good thing is another matter. I’m glad I watched the Wolf of Wall Street despite tiring of its unrelenting bacchanal. (DiCaprio is brilliant and the crawling-on-Ludes scene hilarious.) It put things in perspective. Fiona’s a Girl Scout compared to that dude.

Will go to Word on the Street on Sunday and talk her up. Oh right, it’s been dubbed  Word Vancouver. Whatever it’s called, this book fair is always fun and a great opportunity to catch up with friends and associates. This year several are launching their own new titles at the Poetry On The Bus stage: 12:30 pm Nilofar Shidmehr, Between Lives (Oolichan Books), 12:45 pm Catherine Owen, Designated Mourner (ECW Press) and at 1:00 pm Phinder Dulai, dream/arteries (Talonbooks).

Back to the grind. Formatting for Kindle and The Town Slut’s Daughter should be ready for downloading by Monday. Also, revamping this site with my dear friend Andy Flaster and will launch next week along with the book. And Megan Gray gave us a plug  at VanCity Buzz!

Yikes! Book launch party next Thursday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 pm at Slickity Jim’s, 3469 Main St, Vancouver. Though financially challenged, I was hoping to buy a new dress for the occasion. Oh well, it’s moot as I’m running out of time.

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“THE TOWN SLUT’S DAUGHTER” What’s in a name?

Just so you know, politically correct or not, “The Town Slut’s Daughter” is a spoof on “The Pilot’s Wife,” “The Bone Cutter’s Daughter” and all the rest. And yes, I realize it’s provocative but so is the book. In that sense it’s aptly titled. Several people have tried to convince me to change it, but good for business or not, I just can’t. I’ve been writing and publishing a long time though and I think it’s funny, and intriguing. I’m trusting my gut on this, and have to go indy.  Publishing is in a state of flux and publishers are impotent. No one has the balls to embrace a book called “The Town Slut’s Daughter,” though her time has come.

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DIY!

After several years of frustrating dealings with publishers, even with representation by a literary  agent, I’ve decided, enough waiting. I’m going DIY and publish this novel myself. It’s time, time for Fiona Larochelle to enter the world. It’s been a long, brutal gestation but we’re finally entering the final phase. Several talented friends have been instrumental throughout the process; Victor Bonderoff conceived the incendiary cover artwork, Derek von Essen, the fabulous book design, Gabor Gasztonyi, a sublime author photo and Carol Cram, author of the Towers of Tuscany, has kindly guided me through the indie publishing jungle. Today, I need to reload the cover artwork and order a copy for proofing. Once proofed, we’ll go live and then the book can be ordered in e-book or print form. I’ll have copies to sell at the book launch party Thurs, Oct. 2 at Slickity Jim’s in Vancouver.

At this point in my life I’ve certainly gained enough experience and skills to do this. I started my own company, Howe Sound Publishing. Authors have to do most of their own promotion these days anyway. Why should some publisher get the major percentage, benefit from all my hard work? I’m excited! Deliverance at last. Here’s the back cover copy:

Fiona Larochelle flees a harrowing home life only to land in Vancouver’s violently blazing punk rock underground. Music provides a catalyst when she mines a talent for singing and songwriting to form an all-girl band, the Virgin Marries.

After the group breaks up, Fiona is stranded in the U.S. and forced to navigate a minefield of vice, drug abuse, jealous lovers and predatory record producers as she works to rebuild her dream. She discovers that although rage may have facilitated her quest in the beginning, it cannot deliver her. Amid the tumult of the LA Riots, Fiona bolts from her cocaine-fueled marriage to a modern-day Bluebeard. Throughout it all, a fierce, indomitable spirit prevails.

“Haley chronicles the punk scene with insight gleaned from the mosh pit, backstage and onstage fronting her band the Zellots. It was a grimy few years when poverty was a style and anyone with the guts to get onstage could be a star. Haley has written a coming-of-age-novel in which Holden Caulfield is a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.”-Les Wiseman, writer, editor, Vancouver Magazine, Bloodied But Unbowed

“Quick and nervy, this book vibrates with the intensity of the punk scene it describes.”- Janice Erlbaum, author of GirlBomb and Have You Found Her: A Memoir

“The Town Slut’s Daughter is a wild romp through the madness of youth, a pagan celebration of life and living. But be warned Heather Haley is no lady. She’ll kick the ball right in your face and it will hurt.”-Chris Walter, author of East Van and Chase the Dragon

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FIONA DOES THE DESERT-”The Town Slut’s Daughter” novel excerpt

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Dennis convinced Fiona they had to visit Joshua Tree on their way to Los Angeles.

“I want you to see the real desert. This is the best time to go. Early spring. Everything’s in bloom.”

They stopped for gas, kitty corner to the Oasis of Love Wedding Chapel. Dennis pointed to an uneasy and checkered queue of couples clad in black and white lining the block.

“Let’s get married!”

“Are you crazy?”

“You still need a green card, don’t you? Isn’t that the best way? Marry a citizen?”

“You mean you?”

“Why not?”

“Because, green card marriage or not, you’ll take it seriously. Besides, I’m too young to get married. You’re too young to get married.”

“What am I to you?”

Fiona groaned. “You’re a friend, Dennis. One of my dearest friends. A friend with privileges. Take it or leave it.”

I’m such a bitch. A mile down the road, she slid her hand between his legs, stroking the denim taut over his balls. Moaning, Dennis pulled the van over. They did it in a plume of red road dust.

The lovers gradually eased into au naturale mode, more serene with each mile of desert highway kaleidoscoping past. They motored through gorges and coulees vaguely familiar, like a Roadrunner cartoon, SIDEWINDER CAFE, BORAX, LOST HORSE MINE road signs riddled with bullet holes. The Mohave was a shock of alien beauty, teeming with life. In bloom, indeed. They stopped, got out, waded through bellflowers, asters and fuchsia sand verbena, beavertail cactus sporting coral red blossoms like hats. Dune primroses reminded Fiona of the Alberta wild rose. Dennis laughed at her wide-eyed, gaping mouth astonishment.

Finally they reached Joshua Tree National Monument. She’d been expecting a phallic wonder rising off the desert floor but realized the Americans used ‘monument’ to mean ‘park.’ Dennis photographed her in relief against a horizon of softly sloping stone hills, sporting her new, fifties-circa straw flying saucer hat. She struck a Bono pose under a Joshua tree, which was not a tree at all. Lightheaded and languorous in the balmy air, Fiona stretched out movie star-style, hands on her hips, looking directly into the lens, studly paramour documenting their euphoria for all posterity.

They came upon a thick stand of Bigelow chollo cactus harbouring nests of Sage sparrows.

“The balls of their spines break off and stick to your skin like magnets,” warned Dennis. “Don’t get too close.”

The Yucca plant produced strange fruit, clusters of pale blossoms exuding a warm, waxy scent, but the most sublime desert plant must be the ocotillo, she thought, a tangle of towering, quivering green stalks like tentacles, gilded with scales and topped with scarlet arrow tips.

Dennis’s sharp eye spotted all manner of lizard; banded geckos, iguanas, chuckwallas. They saw silver spotted grasshoppers and a Walking Stick suspended from a Mormon Tea branch. Down the road, they were forced to stop the van, agog at the sight of kamikaze caterpillars crossing the asphalt in a shuddering river. Dennis bent down to examine the freaky, fetid stew of yellow, black and lime.

“Man! This was a wet winter. This only happens every seven years or so.”

They climbed Jumbo Rocks, huge boulders suggesting rising dough or the granite buttocks of sleeping elephants. At the crest, the rock face resembled skin, lined and pockmarked. In close, the surface was pebbled, filled with cracks and crevices. Elated, Fiona photographed Dennis beneath a large, round boulder miming Atlas supporting the earth. He snapped her standing inside the huge eye socket of a rock skull. They nearly fell into sinkholes, perfectly rounded basins carved into rock by water. Dennis invited her to sit.

“What about scorpions?”

“Nocturnal. We probably have more to fear from rattlesnakes. Just don’t put your hands on any ledges you can’t see.”

They sat, nestled, gazing down the valley of saltbush and smoke trees. Dennis pointed to a jet etching contrails upon a gradient blue sky. Cap Rock jutted out, a visor of stone.

“You can see all the way to Mexico from here.”

It’s easy to see why this place became sacred.” A breeze cooled her skin, prickly from too much sun. Fiona turned. “And the air up here is making me randy.”

“It is?” Dennis was hard in an instant. Panting.

“Yeah.” She avoided his eyes, resting her chin on his shoulder as if studying the lengthening shadows. Fiona allowed a few seconds to pass, then Continue reading

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