A Flower for YouSQ 2, Athena Nilssen, Picture

You and the trucker get into Santa Nella earlier than expected so he says, Let’s grab a bite to eat. He wants to go to Wendy’s. He leaves his rig across the street and you both walk to the little box restaurant. It’s late and closed but he knows the girl inside so you order standing in the drive-thru.

     This is your Wolfie. Your childhood is in his pet lap; in his hisness it feels sturdy. This is your Achoo Achoo Mister and his big truck. He stops for showers and dinners in places like Lost Hills, Lone Pine, Mojave. He leaves you in the booth when his name is called on loudspeakers. He tells the waitresses to get you whatever you want.

     He comes back all slicked back, his moustache groomed. You pull at the little hairs. They look green, you say, to make him laugh.

     He met you when you walked out of your bedroom. He was sitting on the couch by himself. Your mother and her boyfriend were outside arguing. He said, Hi. What’s your name? Guess I caused a Commotion. The boyfriend had invited him over to dinner for a home-cooked meal. But your mother was in her door-closed mood and there was only beer and a Diet Coke in the refrigerator. So you, the boyfriend and the trucker all went out to China Bowl and it was fun; the glasses sweated and the restaurant played 80s music. He asked, How old are you? Thirteen. He asked, What’s that on your t-shirt? SKUSD Science Fair? Southern Kern Unified School District, you explained. Sounds scummy, he said and you agreed. He said, Try the soup. I promise, it’s the best. He told the boyfriend, I’ll have to make sure to come through Mojave more often.

     When he came back a few weeks later, he brought you a present. It was a stationary set with roses on each page. Always a rose. Real classy, your mother said, laughing, pouring everyone drinks. He told you when they weren’t listening you could keep him company sometime. Your mother put on “Sweet Caroline” and everyone held hands and sang along to the chorus.

     He picked you up outside the Mojave Public Library on a Friday after school. You hoped the nosy librarian inside could see you get into his truck. He had for you a stuffed animal, a white tiger with painted gray stripes. He said, I thought of you.

     Here in Santa Nella, #2 Diesel has a dash and it flashes gutless. But regular is $2.10. He sits you up on the Pilot Travel Center sign and you watch him unwrap his hamburger. A travel center, but you are not traveling. Traveling is for people with luggage sets and wives in terry cloth who keep rolls of paper towels in the backseat. He keeps amyl nitrite, modafinil, and amphetimine salts in the backseat.

     You conjugate verbs in French aloud while he drives. You realize savoir is almost savior.  Fruga loo too, he hums when the radio is patchy. You climb on his lap. You mess with the CB controls, act childish.

     Where are we? you say.

     You play pouty and petulant. He goes along with it. You wish he had a lace-bloused wivey. You think she wouldn’t hate you for all this. She’d watch him on top of you. She’d carry in cold Cokes to drink afterward.

     You are an hour from your house. The ass-end of your hometown, he says when he reaches Highway 5. Your mother is in the kitchen wiping down the counters. You close your eyes and you can feel your town, the flattops of the trailers, the railroad tracks, the loopy airplanes. It’s as though they all have a pulse. Your middle school, your friend’s house, your mother’s ironing board, your bedroom. But you are the one in motion.

     The trucks all have names, you like that, it’s fun. You read them to yourself like some sort of apocolypse poem and they become a list of names that move with you, slow and mindful. They are watching you. It is your tragedy they are witnessing. Thirteen-year-old girl with bear-like trucker. She really does love him, the poor fatherless thing.

     When you are half asleep from hours of driving, they come to you. There’s JB Hunt, a classy riding woman on a steed. All cologne and leather wallets, her secrets safe with the caterers in country club bathrooms (her cocaine in a tiny mirrored compact). And there’s LexMar, like sand, like a child’s pants coming off, like the shipping lot shut and shiny in the middle of the night. And happy Werner, the dirdnl woman. She skips her way up the state. And Ruan, the meanest of them all. She would slap you if you didn’t do it right, a hard bitch, a Circus Vargas nacho seller. Her body belongs in an Offenbach chorus. She’s where they end up after liquor stores, an ornament hanging from a rear-view mirror. A foreign female God too big for the shelf in a botanica.

     And Maersk, your favorite, the French teacher in blue, not supposed to be in the ugly trailer teaching the children of drunks, of addicts, of onion farmers. Maersk, who up north huddles unfooted like a sea lion, away from dollar hot dogs and packets of Liquid Energy.

     These stately pageant queens of Santa Nella. Highway 5 is their walkway. Miss Santa Nella, Miss fifty-three-feet-tall. These heavy-worded trucks. You try to write down as many of the names as you can on your stationary.

     You want to write down how pretty everything looks when it rains, how the lemon trees line up so mathematically, how Gilroy smells of Garlic. But you just have pages of names that don’t mean anything to anyone but you.

     You try to write about the sex.  It isn’t the backyard touching with your mother’s boyfriend. The touching, the word itself, is effiminate and whispering. There isn’t Yvette, the dog, watching, tied to her chain while your mother washes out everyone’s dishes. You kept your eyes closed in Revolt shorts and the desert was full of house carcasses and power tools. Now it has a start and stop. You do something and there’s a reaction. You are in control. After, you put your barefeet up on the giant dashboard and the whole state of California is made for you.

     At the Travel Center, a woman in a Havasu type snapdress gets out of an expensive car as Wolfie offers you some French fries. You aren’t hungry. You don’t know how he eats so much. How he is so fat. The pills he gives you make your stomach tense. You watch the snapdress woman and you can tell she’s freckly although she’s across the street and it’s night. Yesterday she floated in some inflatable tube and drank beer with her husband. She has wiry daughters who are around your age, but they are groggy in velour from some place like Kohl’s, their shiny hair messy. You wouldn’t know what to say to them.

     In Bishop, you stop at Kmart. He buys himself popcorn and hot dogs. He looks fake under the store lights; he doesn’t belong there, you think, as he pushes a cart past comforters and placemats. He buys you Lipsmackers, a set of six, and says go pick out some new shoes. He’s sick of looking at your feet. You only have flip-flops, your mother’s, from some paper bin in Stater Brothers grocery, ten for five dollars. He sits on a tiny bench with a foot chart beneath him to wait for you to try shoes on. You take forever to decide. You try on black real-leather high heels. You walk around the entire shoe section. He goes outside for a smoke, bored.  But you have to see if they are right – could you wear them at school and would they show it? Would they show the ride up north, the dirty sex, the way you learned to put your legs up over his shoulders? He comes back and you still haven’t decided. He says, I’m just going to pick you something out. He buys you the heels and a pack of girls’ underwear too, since you ran out of clean ones. You stand with him in line imagining wearing the shoes at school. You have a pass for the payphone. You’ve called him and you leave a message on his answering machine, your voice scratchy in his empty Gorman apartment, his ironed shirts folded on a made bed. You are sophisticated, cold quarters in your palm.

     Your mother buys her curtains here, you remember while in line. She changes the curtains with the season. Roosters for fall; daisies for Easter; bright canvas yellow or blue for the summer. You can almost see your mother in this up-north store. You have gone with her to the one in Mojave and they all look the same.

     Now you are on Highway 152, called the Ho Chi Minh Trail because of all the accidents, he says. He says, I’m not afraid to die. Me neither, you say, honestly. He pauses, says, Yeah, Eleanor Roosevelt, like it’s a compliment but you think she’s ugly, so you pout and ignore him as he talks about the dried-up Owens River. Los Angeles stole from our land, he says. You think of a game you used to play as a child. In the apartment you could let no light touch you. You’d crawl under the windows, jump from side to side. Now you try to get out of the sunlight but it’s impossible.

     You write the word lavender on the window when it fogs up at night. The word makes you hateful. It comes apart from being written in water. Laver, vender. You are tired of conjugating verbs. They remind you of ladies at the mall who keep themselves clean. You think there might be nothing left to try.

     This is your student ID card, this is your library card, this is your Wolfie. You have organized your puffy cartoon wallet and put in the little square of him and you. You forced him to take pictures with you at a photo booth in Independence. His big body barely fit into each little square. You chose the best photo to put in your wallet: the one where he doesn’t smile and looks menacing and you almost like the way you look.  It says “Gateway to the Sierras” below your faces. You imagine how you will show it to people once you get back to school. Oh my, who is that fat old man? You have to explain. This is what you think about as he drives in the evenings and the windows slowly show your own face back.

     Little Angel, you’re going to make me a rich man, he tells you in the Wendy’s parking lot. You laugh and say I guess I will eat a hamburger. You eat and you notice Wendy the Pippi up in her circular sign. She is lit up in the night, her freckles, her Yes Maedchen uniform. She’s stuck in this gritty place just like you. She’s all melodrama, just like you. You watch him pour hot sauce into his chili. He says, I’ll be right back.  I’ve got to make some phone calls.  Tonight’s going to be a big night for you. You smile an O.K.  You have a secret; you are happy.  

Athena was born in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Her email is athenanilssen@gmail.com.

SQ 1, Daniel Johnson Photo 1