Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
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Former Marys

My mother has lived in a four-family on Avenue A with her mother, father, and brother; a six-family on Avenue C with her mother, brother, and sometimes, father; a two-family on Broadway with her mother, brother, and a pregnant sister-in-law; an eight-family on Avenue A with just her mother; a two-family on Twenty-fifth Street with her mother and husband; and a three-bedroom Tudor house on a bulldozed-over strawberry farm in suburbia with her husband and daughter. My mother has never lived alone.

My mother doesn’t like that I live alone, but what she doesn’t know is that I don’t always sleep alone. I slept with Luke and LeRoy at my studio on Franklin, John and Giancarlo at my one-bedroom with two dormer windows off Hoover, just Luke at my studio-sans-kitchen on Wilshire, Mike and Dantel and Luke again at my studio-plus-den at Vermont and Beverly, and no one yet at my air-conditioned one-bedroom with a balcony in the Valley. When my mother moved in last month, I’d slept alone for almost a year.

I would like to sleep with Luke here. We would pretend my stucco balcony, levitating just three feet off the ground, was one of those Parisian Juliet balconies—one hardly large enough for Luke and me to stand on. We would lean our elbows between my ashtrays and planters and imagine the Latin Quarter in place of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, buildings painted the hues of the insides of conch shells instead of the thirsty Southern California desert, translucent pearl-white veils for curtains instead of landlord-approved venetian blinds. I always wanted to pry those blinds from their metal clenches in each apartment, swing them around, and swap them out for floor-length curtains reminiscent of fairy-tale ball gowns, but I never stopped moving.

I would like to sleep with Luke everywhere, really, if he’d let me. I liked to lie on my side at midnight and watch him prick his fingers with a miniature lancet, squeezing drops of blood onto a pocket-sized remote control that knew his body better than I did. Some nights, I would doze off before he got his blood sugar results, waking in the morning with my head lolling in that space between his clavicle and his shoulder. I had a bad habit of falling asleep right after sex. Like a straight dude, I would say. My favorite place to sleep with Luke was always on the boat ride back from Catalina, anchored to each other in those high-backed plastic chairs. College kids buzzed out on Corona Lights probably laughed at us as we fell asleep, just like how they laughed at my mother her first morning in town as she asked them to translate L-G-B-T-Q at the queer coffeehouse/bar/bookseller/vegan joint.

My mother transcribed the acronym in her mini spiral notebook. “So ‘queer’ is OK now?”

“It’s a thing,” I told her. “Like, we’re here, we’re queer, fuck off.”

“That language,” she sighed. “Did I really raise you?”


The mother told her daughter: Wash your sheets at least once every two weeks. Save your plastic bags in a larger plastic bag beneath the sink. Always wear panty hose—even in the summertime. Wait until you’re eighteen before using tampons. Don’t say everything like a question, but question everything. A married man may not always wear a wedding ring. Keep a rosary in your bedside table. Listen to your father.

The men had said to the daughter: We can fuck that shit right out of you.


My mother didn’t expect to sleep alone that night in January. After watching two episodes of Maverick, she retired upstairs around 11:00 p.m. while my father made another pot of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table-turned-office, and rebooted his TurboTax software. (It was January 2; this was my father.) At 6:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, my mother awoke to the smell of burnt coffee.

At 1:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Luke came over to my Vermont and Beverly studio with only his car keys and a half-drunk bottle of Bacardi. We drove to Griffith Park, but that place was too popular to share any quiet moments of catharsis, even on a rare overcast Tuesday, so we went to the taco truck at Alvarado and Temple, where we dipped our foreheads together over paper plates soiled with al pastor and hot sauce. Having lost his mother at age three to an aneurysm, Luke could imagine the trajectory of my father’s blood clot. How fast had it traveled through his chest, his neck, his nasal cavity, to his temple? For Luke’s mother, it took at least three days—for my father, maybe three hours. My father had never liked Luke, and Luke had never liked my father, but they found kinship in death.

We tossed away the paper plate, which had nearly disintegrated between our fingertips, and lingered there in the mist rolling in from the adjacent car wash. I gathered the hem of his navy T-shirt, soaked a little from this sudsy rain, and told Luke I loved him.

The night before, Luke munched on sour jelly candies peppered with extra sugar to raise his glucose level from fifty-seven to eighty, and I slipped into that unnamed space his body saved for me. Luke had decided humans were meant for physical contact—always, always wanting contact. I told him I enjoyed being alone and he said, “That’s where we differ.” Why do we differ?

My mother knew, because like all mothers, she thought she knew everything about her daughter. “You can’t let go,” she’d said. “He can.”

So now my mother and I both sleep alone, but live together. She took my bed and banished me to the rusted-orange, midcentury-style couch that looked better online. When I first moved to Los Angeles five years ago, my mother had said I needed a grown-up sofa that didn’t reek of millennial defiance. “Too bad you got rid of that futon,” my mother said now, every other morning, as I half-assed some Pilates stretches in the hallway between the kitchen and the bathroom. I let her claim this one. See, I can let go.

I didn’t know what to do with my mother, who, at sixty-two, was not only newly widowed but newly retired, having left her backroom accounting role at a small religious nonprofit after my father’s passing because life’s too short. (Addendum: Life’s too short and your husband might drop dead.) While I navigated the 405-10-110-101 to my data-entry job to my executive-assistant job to my substitute-teaching gig, my mother would wait each afternoon at that queer coffeehouse/bar/bookseller/vegan joint. She would bring her plastic index-card holder, order a gluten-free croissant, and delve into a stack of rainbow newsprint. She clipped coupons for hand soap and mouthwash, scented candles and cat food (for my neighbor and her two Siamese kittens). When she had enough coupons for Dasani water to replenish the Hollywood Reservoir, my mother perused those free real-estate pamphlets displayed at the local Ralph’s. I found one stuck in her pile of grocery-store weeklies. She had made notes all over it in blue pen, circled every two-bedroom, two-bath condo within a thirty-mile radius. Glendale, Northridge, Studio City. Even San Gabriel and Montebello, the forgotten east valley. She marked a three-bedroom condo in Pasadena with a star: Dream! 0.05% Down payment? 10? Use life insurance $$$?

I ripped out the page, tucked it underneath the middle couch cushion, and stuck the pamphlet back between the weeklies.


We started going to beach bingo—or bingo on the beach, but never beach blanket bingo—on Saturday mornings. We lounged in rubbery chairs, balanced plastic dinner trays over our laps, and rolled our toes in the sand. Most of the bingo players were locals, residents of the active-adult community a half mile down the boardwalk. They rode to the beach on golf carts, their foldable card tables affixed to the backs. The women liked to wear bedazzled floral kimonos and straw fedoras.

“Maybe you could get an apartment at their place,” I told my mother. We were spending our second Saturday at the beach.

“You think these are my people?” My mother poised her electric blue marker midair and glanced at the so-called active adults. They were busy color-coding their bingo cards with their markers.

“Well,” I said, “am I your people?”

“Don’t tease,” my mother said. “You’ll be having this conversation with your daughter one day.”

I thought about the three-bedroom condo in Pasadena. The one my mother marked $$$. The one marked Dream.


The mother told the daughter: Don’t be a floozy. It’s not Halloween candy—don’t give it out to everyone who comes to the door. Lock your doors with the chain. Complete your college degree. Why not graduate school? Have your own bank account—accounts, if you’re lucky. A family may not always live in the open. You always know who the father is.

The daughter said to the men: I’ll be over by midnight. I can’t tell you when I’ll leave.


It only took six Saturdays at the beach before my mother won bingo—twice. She won in the diagonal pattern first: B5, I21, Free Space, G58, O69. She received a cobalt blue fanny pack embroidered with the Rocco’s Tacos dancing burrito logo—“Why not a taco?” “It’s ironic, I think.”—and a gift certificate for Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton.

“This money goes to a church, right?” My mother brushed excess sand from her calves and thighs before clasping her new prize around her waist.

“I think it goes to a Kabbalah center,” I told her.

“Is that Jewish?”

“It’s like, Madonna,” I said. “She’s kinda Catholic.”

My mother shifted the fanny pack so it obscured the plum-red scar that split her abdomen like a fault line: a remnant from her massive emergency surgery five years ago. The doctors explained that scar tissue thin as a piano string, a long-lost complication from her C-section decades earlier, had twined itself around her intestines. It took me these last six weeks to persuade my mother to wear this bikini-skirt combo, and still she crossed her arms at her belly button when she walked by those active-adult men sipping Coronas in their pastel Bermuda shorts.

“You’re a better Mary than Madonna,” my mother finally said.

My mother liked to tell people I was a former Mary. She was one too. We’d worn the same headscarf when we played the Blessed Mother in the same staged Living Stations production at the same Catholic church, thirty-four years apart. The headscarf was a color that lived somewhere between aquamarine and sapphire—a color without a birthstone. A bastard blue. My mother said that was blasphemous, so I renamed it Virgin Mary Blue.

A good color, my mother would say.

It was, in fact, our favorite.

It was always a burden to be the Mary. All your high-school classmates knew you as “the church girl.” You went to mass every Sunday, pro-life rallies every election season. It wasn’t until you rid yourself of that virgin modifier that the boys became interested. It was perversion: boning the church girl. They thought you would be kinky in bed—kinky in that sweet way of a Catholic girl who’s shy but willing, who knows she’s sinning and, somewhere between the whiplashing hair twists and sex in public places, burrows her shame as these boys unhook her bra with one hand and wrench her wrist with the other.

But you weren’t kinky-sweet, and you’re still not. You’re still a Mary, former or not.

Luke didn’t have that perversion; he liked that I was a Mary. He was the only one.

“Maybe I’ll date a woman next,” I said to my mother as we began a new round of bingo.

“I don’t think that’s you,” my mother said.

Mothers are cute, thinking they know everything there is to know about their daughters. “Are condos in Pasadena me?” I asked.

My mother furiously blotted I22 on her bingo card—already two numbers away from winning bingo in an X pattern. “You have this one,” she said, leaning over to blot I22 on my bingo card.

“Why don’t you just talk to them?” I pointed to the active adults. The men waved back, all smiles and Coronas.

“We need something,” my mother said as the bingo caller announced O64 and my mother’s arm snapped toward the sky.

After carefully marking my mother’s card with a pencil, the bingo caller yelled, “It’s a good bingo!” The active-adult women tugged at their crocheted cover-ups and tossed their crumpled bingo cards into their canvas tote bags. Their fedoras couldn’t mask their side-eyes as my mother returned to our beach chairs with yet another gift certificate for Trader Vic’s.

My mother waved the gift certificate over her head like her winning bingo card. “Fifty bucks! Now we really need to go to this place.”

“I don’t need a condo in Pasadena, Ma,” I said. “And you haven’t even sold the house yet.” I removed the plastic dinner tray from my lap and sunk my toes deeper into the sand, creating a ripple that settled around our ankles. “So what do we need?”

My mother slipped off her sunglasses and studied me with her pale blue eyes. “You need to stop thinking about Luke,” she finally said.

“And you need to start talking about him,” I said.

My mother prayed the rosary in full each night; I’d grown accustomed to falling asleep to her muddled incantations from behind the closed bedroom door. Earlier in the week, I’d caught her on the balcony at 2:00 a.m., hunched over the wide stucco ledge with her head and shoulders pressed between the planters. I waited on the couch, half-awake, for almost an hour, the quilt pulled to my chin. I woke to her tucking the quilt around my body, pink morning light already filtering through the blinds.

My mother continued to go to the grocery store, the drugstore, the mall, each day with her plastic coupon holder. Two days ago, she bought a toaster and coffee maker because it was a good deal. And yesterday, on my drive home from my substitute-teaching gig, I found her strolling along Laurel Canyon Boulevard humming the Maverick theme song. When I pulled over, she slid into my car, careful not to wrinkle her linen slacks, and said she was just passing her time.

We towed our beach chairs along the concrete boardwalk, the two Trader Vic’s gift certificates secured in my shirt pocket. My mother hummed along as we passed a twenty-something nouveau hippie in fur boots and pasties playing a tinny version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” on her portable synth. My mother dropped a five-dollar bill into the tip bucket, and the nouveau hippie blew her a kiss. The synth lines soon rolled out with the boardwalk planks. We were steps from my car when my mother let her beach chair collapse onto the concrete.

She turned to me and said, “I loved your father. But he was just one person.”


The father said to the mother: You’re my favorite thing.

The mother’s mother said to the mother: Without him, you’re finished.

The mother said to the father, to her mother: Don’t I know it.


During the year I’ve slept alone, I relearned this city. On foot and by car—even the new metro. I’ve gotten quite good at eating alone, drinking alone, sightseeing alone. Still, I would find myself side-eying men in bookstores and movie theater lobbies. But star-crossed meet-cutes only happened onscreen; Los Angeles is not a particularly chatty town unless it involves your IMDb credits. That or being alone is a hard habit to break.

But I wasn’t alone-alone. I would talk to this middle-aged man at the queer coffeehouse/bar/bookseller/vegan joint every Monday night. He was a longtime Angeleno, unemployed, and the only customer there never working on a graphic novel or web series or a comedy-action screenplay, though he did like to talk about movies. He knew more about inciting incidents and deus ex machina than the producers and film-school kids who lived in this town. One night, as I fired off résumés to more temp agencies, he told me what he hated most about Los Angeles: “You know what I never see in movies? I never see two lovers who come back together after many years apart.”

I called Luke that same night and told him what I hated most about Los Angeles.

Now, what I hated most was how my mother watched me drink warm beer in my yoga pants and flip through TV channels on Saturday nights.

My mother marched in front of the television to block my view of KTLA and its bronze-tinted anchors. She pressed her heels firmly into the carpet and sighed, “You’re just like your father.”

“Bored?” I asked, attempting to switch channels around my mother’s stubborn body.

“Sad,” my mother said.

“Dad died happy.”

“He died doing his taxes.”

“But he loved doing his taxes.”

My mother lowered herself onto the couch and I draped my legs across her lap. We watched raw footage of a car bomb in a foreign city with the newscasters muted, then switched to the Dodgers-Angels game.

“Is this how we live?” my mother sighed again. She went out onto the balcony, leaving the flimsy, glass sliding door open.

I knew what she was asking: Is this how we’d always lived?

Laurel Canyon Boulevard floated into the living room on that strange inland breeze. I thought about all the things I would do if my mother weren’t here. Stop shaving my legs. Quit my temp gigs. Get an IUD. Call myself alone and childless. Make that big move to Paris, not Pasadena.

“OK.” I joined my mother on the balcony, snaked my arm around her shoulders. “The game is called Fuck Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Where do you wanna go?”

My mother rested her elbows on the stucco ledge. “Someplace else,” she said. “Someplace your father would never take me.”


We nibbled on cashews and sipped mai tais poolside at the Beverly Hilton. The Trader Vic's patio glowed red and orange, illuminated by four-foot-high tiki posts and scattered fire pits that struggled to warm even a mild Los Angeles night. My mother wore a silk, Virgin Mary Blue dress that highlighted her eyes and concealed her curves. She lazily traced the shape of the pool in the air with her pointer finger. I shoveled the ice from my mai tai with a chintzy paper umbrella and scanned the patio for people my age. There were none.

“Oh my Lord.” My mother checked me with her shoulder.

I followed her gaze to the palm tree–canopied veranda at the opposite end of the pool, unsure of what I was supposed to be Oh-my-Lording.

“It’s Colin Firth.” My mother shook my arm. “Look.”

“Your contacts are old, Ma,” I said. “That guy’s not British enough.”

My mother stretched her sandaled feet toward the mini–fire pit, which cast long, spiky shadows across her misshapen big toes. “You need a Mr. Darcy,” she said.

“Maybe a Mr. Wickham.”

She shook her head. “You always liked those bad boys.”

I went through my mental archive, indexing all my real-life bad boys. “There’s only three, I think.”

My mother took a long sip of her mai tai, crunched some ice between her teeth. “Three is too many for a former Mary,” she finally answered.

Another round of mai tais. We kicked off our sandals, wrapped our shoulders in cotton cardigans. We put on Cockney accents and tried fooling the middle-aged couple relaxing nearby. I invited the Hawaiian-shirted waiter to an after-party in Hollywood. Both the couple and the waiter said we were cute. “Mother and daughter?” they asked. “No,” we replied, but we didn’t tell them what we were exactly.

The man my mother had believed was Colin Firth appeared before our fire pit. He gazed at us like men do in the last remaining moments of calm before a night’s uninvited disruption. Up close, this man was not Colin Firth at all, but he did bear a passable resemblance to Jimmy Stewart, his silver-streaked hair slicked back. One small curl glanced the three fine, parallel wrinkles defining his forehead.

“Not bad,” my mother whispered to me from behind her paper umbrella.

The Jimmy Stewart look-alike eased into the charcoal lounge chair next to my mother and held out his freckled hand; a gold Rolex flashed at his wrist. Immediately charmed, my mother raised her eyebrows at me; It’s a Wonderful Life was her favorite movie.

“I’m Mary,” my mother told the Jimmy Stewart look-alike. She winked at me.

“And I’m Mary too,” I said.

“Mary and Mary.” He casually crossed his legs, relaxed in his light gray trousers. “For Christ’s sakes, did I end up with the only Catholic girls here?”

“Women—” I started to correct him.

“We’re just a couple of girls,” my mother spoke over me, tapping the tip of her sandal against my ankle. She assured him that we were single—very single—girls.

The Jimmy Stewart look-alike—whose name, we learned two minutes later, was George—ordered shrimp scampi and steak frites and two more mai tais, even though my mother’s nose already radiated that drunken-pink sheen. George was from northern California originally, Boston educated, and now a bona fide Angeleno for nearly three decades. He worked as an executive producer at a satellite radio station.

“But not for one of those conservative nutjobs.” George winked at my mother.

“Oh, thank God,” my mother cooed.

“You hated the Clintons,” I whispered to my mother.

“Not right now,” she whispered back.

My mother was not my mother tonight but a divorcée trying to get back on her feet after leaving her cheap bastard of a husband. I’d never seen her act this way, so unbound and luminous and playfully deceitful. Her short, blonde bob swiveled as she giggled at his jokes and exclaimed, “That’s right, George!” She even smoked a cigarette—“I haven’t done this in thirty years!”—exhaling as though transported to the Beverly Hilton circa 1960. I’ve never seen my mother lie, either, but a former Mary is a former Mary for a reason.

George was all in, relaxing his hand on my mother’s leg. His splayed fingers covered the entirety of her knee.

“What’d your husband do?” George asked.

My mother leaned further into George, the tips of her blonde bob grazing his shoulder. “He sold insurance,” she said, “and became regional manager too.”

“No, no,” George said. “What’d he do to you?”

“Oh, oh.” She tossed back the rest of her mai tai.

I wondered what lie my mother would come up with this time. She got creative when it came to my father, having spent years devising excuses for why he couldn’t make weddings or birthday dinners or Christmas Eve mass.

My mother looked past the veranda, past the boozy, willowy partygoers spilling out from the poolside suite, past the hazy Beverly Hilton sign.

“Well,” she said, finally, “he wouldn’t let me go to law school.”

“Let?” George said.

“He thought it would be a waste of time,” my mother said, “paying for night school and all that. And then I had her.” She pointed her paper umbrella at me, her blonde bangs quivering above her finely arched eyebrows.

“Not a waste of time.” George patted my mother’s knee and winked at me.

I jammed the umbrella into my chin until it snapped. The paper crinkled like the hem of my mother’s Virgin Mary Blue dress between George’s fingertips.


The daughter said to the mother: This isn’t what you wanted.

The mother said to the daughter: You never asked what I wanted.


I followed my mother into the restroom, where she adjusted her dress and powdered her cheeks. Her youthful pink flush seemed to linger with George’s rustic cologne and her new bravado. “I asked George to come back to my—our—apartment,” she said.

“What for?”

My mother dabbed her right cheek with the powder puff. “You know what for.”

“You know we’re already at a hotel, Ma.”

“It’s more fun this way.”

She switched out her powder for her dark red lipstick. I pushed myself onto the bathroom counter, like how I used to when I was a little girl watching her get ready for work.

“I always thought hotels were sexy,” I said, crossing my legs.

My mother swatted my knee. “Stop that.” The flush faded from her cheeks, her shoulders tensed. For a moment, she was my mother: back slightly hunched, head tilted down, courage drained.

“George must be a weird guy,” I said. “You think he really works at that radio station?”

“Stop it.” She straightened up, the rosy glow returning to her cheeks. “You always see the worst.”

“Why would he want come to my shitty place in the Valley?”

“It’s not shitty.” She delicately blotted her lipstick with a paper towel. “I live there too.”

I slid off the counter and stood beside my mother. Wisps of pale hair levitated above the crown of her head. “Was that true about Dad?” I smoothed her hair.

My mother didn’t respond, didn’t look at me. She ran her fingertips up and down her stomach, one gentle straight line from her underwire to just below her belly button. “Do you think George will mind my scar?” she asked.

“Dad never minded,” I said.

Her reflection lifted her eyes. A vision in Virgin Mary Blue.


Sexiled by my own mother, I called Luke. I told him, my mother is here and fucking a man who resembles Jimmy Stewart. Luke asked, in which movie?

We drove to Griffith Park, which was too bustling, even at midnight, to have a calming presence. But we needed the company now; the city was our chaperone. We flashed our cell phones at the USC kids making out in their Audis and Beamers. Along the dusty path to the L.A. Zoo, we thought we heard that mountain lion on the lam for mauling a koala bear, but it was only a twitchy jogger who assumed we were the koala-face–eating mountain lion. He told us to watch out and jog backward if we confronted it. Luke thought we had to run sideways. I told them they were both wrong.

We abandoned the zoo and instead found a canopied overlook of Los Angeles. The city was a basin of orange and purple lights. Nighttime Los Angeles possessed a sense of normalcy that the city lacked in the daytime. I counted the skyscrapers staggering downtown. Luke wrapped his arm around my shoulders and I found that space. I could always find that space.

“Do you think about me?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” Luke said.

He wore a new sweater—a striped, beige and navy cardigan. I’d never seen him in a cardigan, and I didn’t want to find out who he wanted to impress. Luke insisted on telling me anyway. He’d started sleeping with a college senior he’d met online, then at the local dive, then at her off-campus apartment with the purple, shaggy bathroom mats and Breakfast at Tiffany’s posters. The sex was OK; she was OK; it was all OK. He’d answered my phone call because tonight was one of those nights when he sometimes thought of me.

I pulled away from his shoulder. “Do you think about what I said?”

“About the mountain lions?” Luke asked.

I nudged his bicep with my shoulder, barely moving him; Luke was scrawny, but resilient. He removed his diabetes lancet from his back pocket and pricked his middle finger. Two droplets of blood plopped onto his little machine.

“It really meant a lot to me,” Luke said.

“That’s it?”

Luke put his little device back in his pocket. His blood sugar read perfect: ninety. “Look,” he said, “just let me get my life sorted out.”

I cat-walked past thickets of dry brush to the end of the trail. Los Angeles was in full view here, from the silver skyscrapers downtown to the boxy, white buildings on the Fox lot. I tried counting the tallest buildings, but got lost in the neon maze of motels and car washes lining the midcity corridor. “L.A.’s not that old,” I said.

Luke sidestepped down the trail, his clumsy gait crunching the brush. “I have no idea,” he said when he came to a rest beside me. “What are you saying?”

“It doesn’t feel new, but it never feels old,” I said. “It never feels settled.”

Los Angeles seemed to shrink in this moment, the lights of the city shutting off one neighborhood at a time. Mar Vista, Hancock Park, Boyle Heights. I shuffled the dirt with my ballet flats, shuffled it right onto his sneakers. He shuffled it back.

“Let’s not fight tonight,” he said.

I slept beside Luke that night, but I did not sleep like how I always slept beside him. In the morning, I woke with the sun floating over Mount Washington and saw that he was just one person.


Northeast of downtown, the palm trees swayed like piñatas. I paced along Figueroa with a $4 iced coffee, past Owl Drugs and the half-mile corridor of fast-food restaurants. A line of grade-school girls in swingy, Virgin Mary Blue cotton jumpers crossed single file at an intersection, arms linked like they were playing red rover. I thought Luke would have liked this scene; he would have said, “What a movie moment.”

My mother was waiting on the balcony, elbows pressed against the stucco ledge, when I returned to the apartment. A light jersey bathrobe draped loosely over her hips and shoulders; the ends of her bob spiked up and out. George was gone, but my unmade bed still held his presence.

I closed the bedroom door and made a fresh pot of coffee before joining my mother on the balcony. The easy morning breeze rippled the bathrobe at her waist, revealing her nearly sheer camisole. The dark purple line, rough and raised, dragged along her abdomen from her upper intestine to her pelvic bone. I used to give my mother suggestions, dangerous scenarios to recount when people asked her about the scar: a shark attack, a home invasion, a natural disaster, a motorcycle accident. She used to tell people it was her last souvenir of motherhood.

“You just had a one-night stand.” I offered her a mug of coffee. “How does it feel?”

“Conflicting,” my mother said.

I leaned forward, my elbows on the stucco ledge, and together we watched the cars swerve under billboards and phone lines. The heat out here did not flush, did not burn, but blanched its surroundings until our skin became overexposed.

“The game is called Fuck Laurel Canyon Boulevard,” I said. “Where would you like to be?” 

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