Mark: I mean, are we like, going to be friends with this person?
Alex: (slightly mocking matt) I mean, like, if you want to?
Mark: Like is she cool?
Ashley: I think what Mark is trying to ask is ‘does she do drugs’? And Mark, I’d hazard a guess at no, although it’s easy to forget that most humans are more responsible than you are.
LAUREL: Guys, cool your jets. I don’t even know this woman, she could be like forty for all I know. Just cause we’re going to be roommates doesn’t mean I’m even going to see her much.
ALEX: She could be batshit crazy for all you know. Craigslist, right? I thought Craigslist was only for hiring strippers.
MATT: I bought a coffee table on Craigslist.
ALEX: Does it take it’s clothes off?
MATT: If I treat it to a few drinks first.
ASHLEY: oh god.
LAUREL: shit, I’m going to miss living with you guys.
MATT: so don’t leave.
LAUREL: I can’t keep living here.
(CRAIGSLIST ADS READ BY NARRATOR)
They were almost all Irish, except for Elliot, who was Eastern European. Elliot lived in a hall of mirrors draped in tie-dye. She wove complex sculptures out of tree branches, and madae double-exposed photographs of her friends in Nature. She was fairy-like, effervescent, and open-hearted. She was eloquent and cared deeply about people.
Laurel pulls up on the street in a white BMW convertible, with her suitcase of clothes in the passenger seat. She moves into her room, a space about 5’x7’ under the stairwell, where she has enough space to stash a bed and a small table.
Paisley Jax made electronic music in the attic at Farmtown, re-emerging about three times a day to eat a quesadilla, which he torched, without a pan, on the metal grate of the stovetop. He was rail-thin, with clouds of auburn hair that haloed his body like an electric lamb.
Hailey O’Shea was a burly blonde feminist punk from the Bay, or wine country, depending on how she’d tell it. Maybe she was born in wine country, but she had an Oakland vibe. She was a few years Laurels’ senior, and dead set on making sure Laurel got in with the right people, knew what was what, and didn’t get jerked around.
Mama Ganj was a black sheep with opulent locks. Her dreads fell in thick blonde ropes to the middle of her back, and she wore head-scarves like a Russian farm-woman. She was the matriarch of the artist’s home, and took great care to nurture her herb and vegetable gardens and pomegranate orchard. She was brassy and outspoken and took the younger girls under her wing as much as they would let her. She would make something called ‘tonic’; a colored liquid in a small shot-glass, that would warm your heart through.
Redbeard was Maajha’s husband, or boyfriend, or life partner. He was burly and stout like a pirate and tended bar at a Biergarten in the Arts District.
Maajha was a wispy blonde, with blue-tinged tips and spacey eyes. She moved as if through water, and was usually at work, or babysitting.
The Ghost Child
Laurel had the room beneath the stairs. The window opened onto a small concrete landing above a steep concrete drop. Outside on the landing, gears, and disembodied remnants of old bikes littered the landing. Stolen, says Mama Ganj. They just climb those stairs and rustle around up here for things to steal. She gestures to the landing. Don’t leave anything outside. Laurel nods quietly. We’re trimming the pomegranate trees today, says Mama Ganj. Come by and get some sun. I’ll make you some tonic. Okay, Laurel nods quietly.
All night, she heard trains chugging down the tracks. The horn blares; the signal gates drop. bwwwwaaaaaaaaaaa, clang, chk chk chugga chugga chugga chugga…. the deep, red-orange light cuts harshly around the edges of the thin linen curtain, playing out in stark angles against the sky wall in her room. The sky wall was a wall painted in a blue gradient- darker at the top, lighter at the bottom, to mimic the feeling of the Texas sky. She painted a sky wall wherever she lived.
At night, she felt the space of her room. There was a strange, thick energy toward the closet near the stairs. It felt occupied, and… not luminous, but charged. She felt that there was a ghost- a boy child. Laurel was not afraid of ghosts, because she felt they were okay with her. But it certainly made the small room feel even stranger.
Irie Irish Birthday Brunch
We’re making brunch, says Mama Ganj. Irish style. Good strong coffee with Bailey’s, and waffles and bacon and eggs. Okay? Okay, nods Laurel quietly. She texts Reed, hey, we’re making brunch if you want to come. Okay, he says. Laurel walks over to Mama Ganj’s kitchen, which is always pleasant, and thick with the scent of sage, coffee and cinnamon. Today, there are glass bottles of many-colored liquids and pans of waffles laid out- golden-brown squares dusted with powdered sugar, and pan-fried blueberries suspended in rich, golden maple syrup, that drip, juicy, over the architecture of the waffles.
Laurel has started baking her own bread here. She sets a bowl of flour and yeast by the window. Over the course of a few days, it blossoms into a spongy mass of sourdough. Once it rises, she lays it in a loaf-pan and ends up with a golden-brown brick of sweet, beautiful bread. She also grows basil in the courtyard. But today, she has neither bread nor basil, and is far outshone by Mama Ganj and Redbeard’s Irish feast. She thanks them. Maajha has been busy at work, but shows up with a bottle of Bailey’s and starts to spike the espresso. Her eyes twinkle as she looks at Laurel probingly. You’re a good Irishwoman, she says smiling, and handing her a mug. Coffee? She turns to Redbeard. What are we doing with those artichoke plants? Harvest time! shouts Redbeard heartily, as he shakes a frying pan full of bacon. After I cut down those damn trees that are crushing the fence. Mama Ganj passes a small shot glass full of brightly colored liquid toward Laurel. She swallows it, and feels a glowing warmth in her.
She picks up a plate and carries it to the courtyard, where they’ve set a banquet table with a tablecloth and a really beautiful spread of fruits. Where’s your boyfriend, asks Hailey O’Shea. I don’t know, says Laurel. They take a seat, give a few cheers all around, and bid Redbeard a happy birthday. She gnaws on a biscuit and sips her coffee. Soon she has to leave for work. She pulls on her Pitfire Pizza babydoll T. The shirt calls drastic attention to her small waist and ribcage, and highlights every minute detail of her bra and breasts, so she always covers it up with a huge, man’s gray hoodie bedazzled with small pink gemstones around the hood, for the ride to work, relishing every moment that she *doesn’t* have to wear the T shirt. Bye, she waves to the party on the way out, flinging her bike over her shoulder and skipping down the stairs. Mama Ganj, Maajha, Redbeard, and Hailey O’Shea are pink-cheeked and jolly, and it’s a mellow west-coast day at farm town. She’ll miss their irie vibes while she’s at work.
On her coffee break, she jams the hoodie back on and walks across the street to wander around a small park. A pathway leads up to the main LA Police Station. She appreciates the swooping modernist architecture of the station, and often walks up to a landing there to chill out on her breaks. She flips open her phone to a text from Reed. hey, went to McDonald’s with Angelo and Aquaman. Okay, she says. She watches the policemen. They eat a lot of pizza. Time’s up, and she heads back over to the counter, stashing her things in the back-cubby. On the way out, she asks the kitchen for her usual, a 7” pizza with butternut squash, mozzarella, olive oil and rosemary. The bread is always hot and perfectly done- a little crisp outside and never burnt. She eats half and saves the rest for dinner.
jumping trains, making prints
Let’s go, mama, says Elliot, flinging her golden curls around. The waters of time are a’ flowin’ out here.
Alright alright, says Laurel. She grabs her bike and they run down the stairs to get to school. Girl we are going to be so late again, and fuck the bus, it never comes.
I know I know!, says Elliot, misty-eyed, and still not super-totally in a hurry, as she coasts down Valley Blvd with one arm hooked around her backpack strap and the other on the handlebar of a heavy, steel-frame, Huffy-type bike. Her tie-dyed head-sash drifts in the wind.
The two girls fall into line in the right lane and make their way to campus for a Friday sculpture class, which Laurel is failing. They get to a train crossing. The crossing demarcates their leaving Boyle Heights, and entering what feels like LA proper. Today there’s a massive train, snaking its way lazily from horizon to horizon.
Elliot hesitates, then looks at Laurel, then back at the train. Come on mama, let’s jump it. She makes a wild cooing sound like a bird, flings that steel bike over her shoulder, and leaps over the metal joinder that connects two moving train cars.
No way in hell Elliot, are you nuts, No.
Come on lady, try it.
Laurel sighs, looks back, looks at Elliot. She watches the timing of the train cars. She throws the bike over her shoulder, climbs onto a joint, and jumps through, then runs with the bike at her side.
NEVER AGAIN, Elliot, okay? No way in hell is that ever happening again, she shouts at Elliot’s back, Elliot's curls bouncing as the two girls fall back in line, wheels hugging the curb from Soto to Figueroa.
Laurel struggles through another Friday sculpture class which, to Elliot, seems effortless if not second nature. Upon being released again into the sweet freedom of the weekend, she cruises over to Modern Multiples to hang out with Richard, while Elliot hitches a ride to Venice to meet up with the dude with the drum circle, or the engineer, or whoever it was she was seeing at the moment. They were only peripherally aware of each other’s social lives, despite the fact that they had a strong spiritual connection and shared language and home.
Hailey O’Shea hooked Laurel up with a gig over at Contemporary Duplicates, ‘hanging out’. Richard liked to take people under his wing, and Laurel needed a wing.
Author's Note: This is a work of R-rated literary fiction.