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Nearly Free

Story by Dorianne Laux (Read author interview) December 15, 2008

Art by Robinson Accola

We drove up the 101, Patricia riding shotgun, her bare, unpainted toes spread out on the dash, rivers of dried sand glittering along the hollows of her ankles in the windshield sun. We were talking about Freud, Bob Dylan, our boyfriends. Nothing. Listening to Joni Mitchell, Janis, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. We ate oranges and avocados. Our hair was long and the windows were open. The warm air rolled in like a Mariachi band. We sang to the radio, tossed the rinds out and watched them tumble in the rear view mirror, the skins hopping off asphalt. Our tongues were coated with oil and citrus. We smoked cigarettes, leaving white filters wet where we’d brought them to our lips and kissed them. Our arms were strong, our legs.

I was white and she was Mexican. We knew how to hide nickel rolls behind our knuckles and hit. For years in the restaurant, we hefted trays stacked with plates of enchiladas and Happy Hour margaritas, lime pinwheels spinning above our heads. Patricia dug into a bag of walnuts and held two in her fist, cracked one husk against the other, offered me the meat. We were driving to the beach. We had our bathing suits on beneath our shorts and t-shirts. We had towels in the back seat and a bamboo mat, a paper bag bulging with peaches from her mother’s tree. Two used paperbacks we bought with our tips.

Things were not free back then, in 1973, but they were nearly free, cheap but good, easy to find, colorful, abundant. You could leave a quarter in a can on the roadside and take a bunch of flowers set in jam jars, or grab a handful of berries, picked fresh.You could rent a two bedroom apartment for 50 dollars a month, no extra charge for a dog, or railroad cat. For fifteen cents, hand made tortillas were wrapped in thin tin foil with a pat of butter or a wedge of cheese folded in the center. The left headlight was shot, the grill held together with rope and electrical tape. We picked seeds from our teeth with a matchbook cover from the restaurant we worked in nights and weekends until it frayed and lost its edge. I pointed at the cows. Patricia drowsed. We were as close to free as we could get.

About the Author

A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Dorianne Laux’s fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award and was short-listed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Laux is also author of Awake (1990) What We Carry (1994) Smoke (2000) and Superman: The Chapbook (2008). Another chapbook, Dark Charms, will be published this summer by Red Dragonfly Press. She teaches at North Carolina State University.

About the Artist

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Three
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A SmokeLong Summer

May 30-Aug 28!


From May 30 to August 28 2022, SmokeLong is going to host a superworkshop. We want to spend the summer with you, the flash community. Our workshops take place on a devoted website where you can create a profile, interact with the flash community, and take part in group discussions on craft, but A SmokeLong Summer will be much more.