Short Story Long
Rooting down in sandy soil.
$2.99 French Truffles
Mariah noticed her turn signal was clicking in perfect sync with the fake, Hawaiian lei swinging from her rear view mirror. Click, click, click. She was waiting to turn left onto Vermont. She cycled through all her preset radio stations again. Commercial, commercial, “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.”
The Dresden only had valet parking, but Mariah had been living here just long enough to know about the free after hours parking in the post office down the street. She was proud of this knowledge. It was like she had beaten a new level of the LA video game. There was one spot at the very end. Yes. But before she got to it a car came from the opposite direction—the wrong direction—and pulled in ahead of her.
Mariah honked and threw her hands up in the exasperated, are-you-kidding-me-position. When he got out of the car he was on the phone and didn’t look up as he walked by. Typical, she thought, but she had been building this party up in her mind all week, and she wasn’t gonna let some jerk in an SUV ruin it for her. Instead, she would wait patiently for the disappointment that most nights ended up being.
She squeezed into a tight parallel spot on a side street and put on her lipstick. She wore it like a little red shield against the social anxiety of showing up at a bar by herself. With one hand she unbuttoned the Hawaiian shirt she was wearing for work, and with the other she reached for the tank top in the back seat. She couldn’t find it. Fuck.
At this moment, she thought about ditching her friend Dani’s birthday. She could easily text the “sorry not feeling well” excuse, and Dani had so many friends—she would hardly notice. The problem was, Dani was her only really close friend in LA. She had made a few friends in school—Mariah was getting her MFA at CalArts, but they were just names in her phone or the people in the Facebook photos from the parties she would get dragged to by Dani. Dani was the person she called on the phone instead of just texting. Dani was the person she laughed with hard enough that her belly hurt. I should really go.
A few sleeve rolls and unbuttoned buttons later, she converted the polyester tent into something she thought could be an ironic outfit in an Urban Outfitters catalog. Whatever. I’ll go in there, buy Dani an overpriced drink, and tell her I have to be up early in the morning. Maybe the frozen yogurt place by my apartment will still be open when I get home.
She walked into the amber glow of the hipster landmark. She passed an enthusiastic guy telling his date “this place was in the movie Swingers.”
Mariah the birthday girl was perched on a bar stool with a small audience huddled around her. They all leaned in like school children, as she said something under her breath making them laugh. Dani was wearing a ridiculous blue wig, but somehow, it made her look like a cool mermaid. Dani immediately stopped talking and blurted out “Mariah!” slipping off the stool and wrapping her in a tight hug that smelled of clove cigarettes.
“Yayyyyy! I’m so glad you made it!” Dani squealed. “Me too.” Mariah said trying to mimic her friend’s excited tone. “Everyone this is Mariah. Mariah, this is everyone—well you know Kelsey already.” Mariah waved at Kelsey—who was tasting the drink of the best looking guy in the group. She made a squinched up face after taking a sip and then smiled at Mariah—mouthing “hi” with no intention of leaving her prey.
Mariah felt Dani squeeze her arm. “Be right back.” She slinked off toward the bathroom. But before Mariah could reach her phone to avoid eye contact with strangers, a hand stretched toward her. “Hey, I’m Everyone.” She looked up. The post office parking lot jerk! She scanned his face for recognition and reluctantly shook his hand. He doesn’t recognize me. “I’m Mariah.” “What are you drinking Mariah?” he asked her. “Uhhhh, vodka soda.” “Can I see your ID?” She gave him a delayed chuckle. “It’s Abe by the way.” In a small, blurry time warp she felt a smile spread across her face and suddenly she was holding the drink. “Thanks.” She took a sip—braving a look at him. His eyes were right on her. Awkward, she thought—the muscles in her cheeks tightened.
“So how was Hawaii?” he asked her. “What?” She answered back. “How was Hawaii? He grabbed the lapel of her shirt and she looked down quickly—for a microsecond her chin touched his hand. “Oh…I wear this for work.” And before she could stop herself, the sentence “I paint the signs at Trader Joe’s,” had rolled off her tongue. She winced and waited for his reaction. With the same, steady gaze he offered, “Cool.”
“Wait, did you go to CalArts with Dani? I had a buddy at CalArts who used to do that on the side.”
Mariah was both relieved and impressed that this parking-lot-jerk-genius-named-Abe had patched together the truth from her horrible clues. She rewarded him with “yeah.” He continued, “I love Trader Joe’s, man—those tubs of mini-cookies.” She returned with “they’re coming out with a new flavor.” “Really?” he asked. “White chocolate craisin,” she whispered. “Have you done the sign for them? A white chocolate chip hugging a cranberry or something?”
“No, I’m stuck on $2.99 French Truffles. No matter what I do, the truffles end up looking like little penises.” Abe laughed. He turned to the bartender, “hey can you close me out?” No! She thought. We were starting to have a conversation. You made me forget about the dumb Hawaiian shirt. I haven’t gotten to redeem myself, and tell you I’m getting my MFA.
He handed her his phone. “Hey let me get your number. I know a great pasta recipe that calls for $2.99 French Penises.” She tried not to smile. Then she tried to press the buttons as nonchalantly as possible and handed the phone back to him.
“Thanks for the drink,” she said. “Thanks for the parking spot.” He winked at her and left.
just gonna check his facebook profile again. Maybe he posted something.
Something that will totally explain why he hasn’t texted me.
It had been four days since Abe texted her at 12:37 AM asking her out for a drink. It had been four days since she jumped out of bed, showered, shaved everything, predictively cleaned her apartment, lit a stick of incense, and ubered to meet him in record time.
It had technically been three days since she woke up and felt her stomach slide up her throat when she saw her bed was empty. It had been three days and a few seconds later since she felt butterflies against her ribs, as he walked into her room clumsily carrying two cups of tea in her mismatched mugs.
To try and make herself feel better, Mariah reminded herself that Abe wasn’t that handsome. He looked like an illustration of a man in one of those airline safety pamphlets. Evenly spaced features and brownish hair and eyes. His looks didn’t matter though, because Abe was confident. He moved and talked and laughed with a forcefulness that made Mariah feel safe. I bet he could walk through a wall if he wanted to. She looked back at her laptop.
This so isn’t me. I don’t stalk people online. Scroll, scroll, scroll—refresh. Nothing. No posts, no pictures, no status updates with blushing face emoticons. Mariah knew it was time to pull out the emotional sewing scissors and carefully cut out the memory of him, cut his number out of her phone, and unfriend him. Clean, precise surgery to prevent a dangerous emotional growth. I’ve done it before. I can do it again.
back of the Trader Joe’s where Mariah worked smelled like coffee and rotting
produce. She had gotten used to it. She had made a deal with her parents that
if they put up the cash for graduate school and her rent, she would cover her
other living expenses by working part-time. Her first term painting teacher had
emailed his class that there was a sign-painting opening at his local market.
Three years later, with a pastel pink piece of chalk, Mariah carefully filled
in highlights on a giant strawberry. “Strawberry Preserves $1.00.”
She pressed her earbuds deeper into her ears. The sound of the chalk scraping on the board made her anxious.
Mitchell, the manager of the Toluca Lake Trader Joe’s rounded the corner and checked his watch. He was the most type-A person with dreadlocks she had ever met.
“Hey dude, we need to get that signage out by the display—we opened 5 minutes ago.”
“Almost done!” She forced a smile.
“Great, hey Jenny’s out sick so you’ll have to help Raul hang it, ok?”
Uggggh. Going out onto the floor when the store was open was her worst nightmare. She was skilled labor doing very serious abstract paintings at CalArts, but as Mitchell loved to remind everyone, “We’re all crewmembers on the same ship.”
Raul carried the sign with the chalked side facing his jiggly middle. If he smudges that strawberry I’m gonna lose my shit. Mariah followed behind him—head down, earbuds in.
The pyramid of strawberry preserves waited for them. Mariah held the sign while Raul dragged the step ladder over. She felt someone touch her shoulder. She turned.
It was Kelsey and her morning face. She looked at Mariah with raised eyebrows, “Mariah?”
“Hey Kelsey, how are you?”
“Good. Just getting some errands done. Working from home.”
Mariah forced a “cool.” What do you say to that? She could feel Kelsey’s eyes scan her outfit and then look up at Raul, who was now standing next to her expectantly with his step ladder. Just when the awkwardness of the moment had swelled to a crescendo, Kelsey’s phone rang.
Mariah turned to help Raul—handing the sign up to him. She had the unpleasant view of his gut hanging over his jeans as she heard Kelsey’s voice from around the corner. A trill of laughter and then, “Hey, Abe.”
all of her willpower, Mariah tried not to check the time on her phone. I’m
sure I’m just early. Mariah examined her fingernails. Ever since she
started working at Trader Joe’s there seemed to be a permanent line of purplish
chalk embedded under the nails on her right hand.
Bang. A pound on the window made her gasp. She looked up to see Dani pressing her boobs into the glass from the other side, waving. Mariah forced a smile—heart pounding.
“I’m getting us an Eclair—they’re insane.” Dani started half-yelling to her from the line. “Wait, have we hung out since my birthday?!”
“Uhh, I don’t think so. Have we?”
“No, we definitely haven’t because I know I haven’t told you the whole Kelsey drama. Do you want more tea, or are you good?”
Dani returned with an iced coffee, a shiny chocolate eclair the size of a small handbag, and two forks. No matter how unimportant the occasion Dani Krell always looked perfect enough for a profile picture. It was something Mariah had noticed and resented over the few years they had been friends. Today her hair was in a perfectly messy knot. She had on black-leggings and an oversized white T-shirt. Around her waist was a black leather jacket. It was expensive, and Mariah cringed when Dani untied it and let it flop onto the cement floor.
“Okay you go first,” Dani ordered.
Mariah didn’t know where to start. She hadn’t told anybody about Abe—the one night stand, the subsequent two week silence, or the call that broke the silence the day before when Mariah met him in the middle of the afternoon to go for a hike in Ruynon Canyon. Mariah had just taken a huge bite of the eclair and was chewing it, while she finished she remembered what had happened.
She remembered checking her face in the mirror on the visor in her car before stepping out onto the dirt lot off of Mulholland Drive. I wonder if he’ll notice that I’m wearing a tiny bit of makeup. Probably not. I feel like guys never notice small things like that. “Yes, but you’ll know, and that will come through in the way you carry yourself.” This is what her mother would have said.
Mariah wondered about what she would call this hike even before it had started. It’s the third time I’ve hung out with him. The first being Dani’s birthday, the second being the hook-up. But is it a date? Can you just call every time you hang out with someone after you’ve slept with them a date? It seemed fair, but a part of her knew it wasn’t true.
And it wasn’t. Abe never mentioned their hook-up. He wasn’t affectionate or flirtatious. He just talked about the screenplay he was writing and the production company he was gophering at. And then at the end of the hike he gave her a disappointingly platonic hug, and they went their separate ways.
Mariah swallowed the bite of eclair and took a sip of tea. Dani was impatient. “Well?!”
Mariah needed to know “the Kelsey drama first,” especially since the run-in at Trader Joe’s.
you go first. Tell me the Kelsey drama—it’s probably way more interesting.”
“Fine. Okay so Kelsey was kinda hooking up with this guy we know from high school, Hayden.
He was at my birthday party. Tall, cute, kind of preppy, wears like sailing bracelets and v-neck sweaters.” Dani paused and looked at Mariah with enormous eyes that seemed to say, “are you with me?”
With a mouth full of chocolate eclair she responded, “right.”
“So yeah—they were like hooking up and hanging out since before my birthday. And she really liked him, but then this crazy thing happened with her ex—this guy Abe. I set them up my first year at CalArts. Abe went to USC film school and I knew him through this guy in my sculpture class. Anyway, yada yada yada. They dated for like 7 months three years ago and then Kelsey got pregnant and…
At this point Dani’s voice trailed off into the distance. I knew it. I fucking knew it. Why did I even let myself hook up with one of Dani’s friends? She and Kelsey have practically hooked up with every guy they know. Dani even used to date Kelsey’s brother.
Dani’s voice came back in again. “So I think Abe just got really jealous seeing her with Hayden at my birthday. Kelsey said he like left abruptly. I don’t even remember saying goodbye to him. What. Everrrrr. Kelsey is just way too fickle to be in a relationship right now. She seriously needs to like take a year off and just commit to being single. Best thing I ever did.” She took a break to sip her coffee and sighed.
She sounded finished, so Mariah worked up the courage to fill her in. She wrapped her hands around the now lukewarm cup of tea and stared into it.
Dani predictively sat up straighter in her seat.
“I talked to him for a second at your birthday. He asked for my number and we kind of hooked up a few days later, but—”
“Wait. What?!” Dani squealed, and Mariah could feel heads turn. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?!”
“I know, I’ve been so busy getting ready for the Spring show. And honestly I didn’t really think I was going to see him again.”
“How was he?” Dani’s total comfort with talking about sex in public never made sense to Mariah. Maybe it was her small-town-always-within-earshot-of-your-Mom’s-book-club-friend-mentality.
“Good. I mean—I was a little buzzed, but like—yeah. It was good.”
Then Dani whispered, “Wait. Mariah, do you like him?”
were scandalous to Dani.
“I mean I’ve only hung out with him three times. Your birthday, that night, and yesterday afternoon.”
The real answer was: Absolutely. I totally like him. I even liked listening to him talk about himself for two hours. I like the way his hand fit perfectly between my two shoulder blades when he hugged me. I like the way he put his jeans back on and made me tea. I like everything about him except the two weeks of nothing. I like everything except the fact that he has dated, fucked, and impregnated Kelsey. Wait, DID he impregnate Kelsey?
She had blacked out during Dani’s flood of details. “Wait, so he and Kelsey got pregnant?”
Dani rolled her eyes, “No! Kelsey cheated on him and got pregnant and then told him, but then she actually wasn’t pregnant or something. Who knows what happened there. She totally broke his heart.”
filled two grocery bags with bad decisions: nacho supplies, two tubs of
mini-cookies, chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels, pita chips, blue-cheese
dip, frozen taquitos, diet raspberry sodas, and trail mix that was mostly
Trader Joe’s crewmembers could stock up once a week on groceries. This was a perk Mariah usually tried to use to her benefit. Not today.
It had been two days since the platonic hike with Abe. It had been one day since Dani told her about Abe and Kelsey’s history—their messy break-up and the recent talks that had made Kelsey want to break things off with Hayden—presumably one of which had taken place that day in Trader Joe’s.
Mariah had zero allegiance to Kelsey. She actually kind of hated Kelsey, but she knew Abe was not an option. Not because his interest in her was questionable, but because he had “been in love” with Kelsey. Anybody who was capable of falling in love with a girl who’s instagram account was full of eye-shadow tutorials and a rainbow of spaghetti strap tank-tops was not going to be a viable option.
So, rather than dwell on the disappointment of Abe, or the jealousy of Kelsey, or the neat stack of untouched canvases in her studio at CalArts only a month before graduation, Mariah decided to do something else.
She folded her monogrammed towel on the counter in her bathroom. The towels were a present from her Mom when she left for grad school. The kind of frivolous, sweet gesture that made her miss home. Dani was like that, too. Impractically adorable.
She plugged the drain and started the bath—pouring half a bottle of ruby red grapefruit bath gel into the water—watching the pale pink swirls turn to bubbles. As she soaked she reached for the open tub of white chocolate cranberry mini-cookies. Her phone rang.
Between ring two and ring four she thought about it. Heartbroken Abe calling for another feel-better fuck or platonic hike? What’s the point? Make him wait. Make him leave a message.
But at ring four she answered.
“Hey hottie.” The brief thrill was quickly squashed by the realization that he was drunk. “What are you up to?”
“I’m just getting ready to go out.” The bath water felt like a blanket—protecting her from whatever he’d say next.
“I had a really good time with you and I want to see you again.”
“You want to see me again, or you want to see me naked again?”
She paused—sinking down, so her nose was level with the water. She caught a drip from the faucet with her big toe.
“Hello?” He asked.
“Bye, Abe.” She pressed end so quickly she almost dropped her phone in the bath.
looked at her face in the mirror. If she tilted her head just so, she could see
the slightest indentation in the middle of her chin. A faint little cleft that
only she knew about. Will it get more pronounced as I get older? Will
it disappear as the skin on my face ages?
Her phone beeped with the reminder that she had 15 minutes to finish getting ready. She looked at her face again. A little blush on her cheekbones. A little on the bridge of her nose. Her forehead. It made her look flushed or something she had read in a magazine once.
She thought about how her mother could talk and put makeup on at the same time and how glamorous it always looked. Her Mom’s animated expressions enlarged 500 times in a lit cosmetic mirror in her parents’ bathroom back home. The thought made her homesick. And that feeling made her realize she was hungry.
There were two dates left in the package of pitted, Medjool dates from Trader Joe’s. Soft, chewy, sweet. “Nature’s candy,” she remembered an old lady with a yoga mat had remarked to her in the aisle at the store. Will I be making declarative statements to total strangers in a Trader Joe’s when I’m 60?
Her phone buzzed on her bathroom counter. A text.
Greg: Hey, I’m outside.
Greg was taking her to a comedy show on Sunset. Greg was tall. Greg was in her department at CalArts. Greg liked her. Greg was nice. Nice is the worst. Or maybe nice is the best? Maybe Greg is just the worst. God Mariah, stop being like this.
Mariah: I’ll be right down :)
smiley face was an attempt at texting more positively than she actually felt
about getting in his car and having to field the inevitable compliment.
She powered through the first few minutes, and once they were at the comedy show she felt much better. In the dark of the club she felt like she could see everyone, but no one could see her. There was the added comfort of knowing this was the kind of thing Abe could never be at.
She knew running into people in LA seemed improbable, but it happened from time to time with cruel coincidence, and she just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t that she loved Abe or anything, but she was mad about what she knew she let happen. She knew Abe probably tried to sleep with lots of people, and she had just been dumb enough to give him a green light. He hadn’t promised her anything. He never asked her out and he never pretended like he was going to either. Abe was probably still not over Kelsey, and that thought made her mad too.
“Hey, do you want another drink?” Greg looked at her with a calm, unblinking kind of face that made her feel nervous.
“Yeah, sounds good.”
The last comedian was actually really funny. An enormous Canadian woman who made jokes about reality TV and pizza delivery guys and who made Mariah feel normal and relatable and connected to all the weird LA people in the audience.
In the climax of her set, Mariah felt her belly ache from laughing so hard and she contemplated looking at Greg. What if he has one of those uncomfortable laugh faces? She had a thing about looking at people when they were laughing or crying. It always revealed too much.
She did it anyway. Greg was laughing hysterically but to her surprise it wasn’t awful. No red cheeks and convulsing body movements. No awkward knee-slapping or head-shaking. Was it possible? Does nice Greg have a sexy laugh?
stood up when her named was called. Take it in. Don’t trip. Remember this.
This is important. Wait, it’s over?
The keynote speaker at graduation was a mixed media artist Mariah had looked up to for years. A tan woman with a long silvery grey hair that she had braided into an elegant rope. I hope I can pull off a grey braid someday.
Her fingers touched the woman’s slightly as she accepted her diploma. She turned for the photo and waited, smiling, just like they practiced in rehearsal. She looked beyond the photographer and saw her parents beaming in the audience.
At the reception, Mariah picked up a lemon square from a tray and listened while one of her professor’s told her parents about a project she’d done in her first year. The CalArts graduation was like the quirky aunt of graduations. No caps and gowns. No pomp and circumstance. No realistic job prospects—just a lot of introverts and cooky, supportive parents gathered on a lawn in the heat.
She forced a chuckle when her professor finished his anecdote and a little puff of powdered sugar escaped from her mouth. And that made her actually laugh.
was an unevenness about Mariah and Dani’s friendship that Mariah had come to
accept. It was like when you baked a cake and the batter rose up higher on one
side than the other. It was a flaw that could be covered up with frosting, and
certainly wouldn’t taste any less sweet.
Dani was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Hancock. Her dad’s family had developed several large suburban neighborhoods in Los Angeles in the 1950’s and made a huge fortune. “Then they invested that money in other real estate projects and stocks and stuff and my Dad is in charge of all that part now, so it keeps him pretty busy.” Dani would explain it that way when it finally came up in conversation with people. Dani never came off as snobby or insensitive, but Mariah felt like inevitably—the natural difference in their backgrounds always created a distance between them that could never be bridged.
Dani grew up with a maid named Carmen who took care of her, dressed her, cooked for her and drove her places. Her family had a home in the hills of Los Feliz, a small cottage in Malibu, a series of cabins in Lake Arrowhead and an apartment in New York. Dani went to CalArts after she dropped out of Standford, which she joked was especially embarrassing after her Dad practically had to build a wing there to get her in since her grades in high school weren’t good enough. CalArts was a back-up plan for Dani so she had some kind of degree which mattered more to her parents than it did to Dani. Mariah’s parents had to save her whole life to send her to college, and Grad school was really only a possibility when her grandparents on her Dad’s side had both passed away her senior year of college and left them a small inheritance that Dani’s parents generously said she could use towards grad school. Back up plan vs. costly sacrifice.
It was another symptom of the unevenness when Dani had apologized over and over again for missing Mariah’s graduation. Dani’s parents were taking the family to Hawaii that week. Mariah remembered that she had asked for the day off to go to Dani’s grad show the semester before. What do you expect? For her not to go to Hawaii with her family just to see your paintings hanging on a white wall?
Dani wanted to make it up to her with a “girls night.” Mariah ubered to meet her at a new bar that had opened on Wilshire. It was supposed to “have a great mixologist,” according to Dani. Expensive, Mariah translated.
Dani waited on a barstool. In her lap, there was a small gift bag with a glittery egg on it. Was it a recycled Easter gift bag? Who cares.
“I am SO proud of you!” Dani squealed.
Why? Like it was harder for me than it was for you or something? She thought to herself during the extended hug.
“I got you a little something.” Mariah lifted the clump of pink tissue paper out of the gift bag. It was a candle. An expensive french brand she’d seen at Dani’s apartment. Mariah was secretly excited to receive something she’d never spend that much money on for herself. How silly, but how lovely.
“Thank you. It smells amazing,” and before she let embarrassment overwhelm her, she changed the subject. “How was Hawaii?”
Dani gave her a dramatic eyebrow lift and pulled out her phone. “I think you mean, how was my surf instructor?” She giggled. Dani proceeded to prattle on and on about Kaiko and their island tryst—swiping through selfies of them on the beach. She giggled when she got to some of the “tasteful nudes Kaiko took of me posing on his surfboard, they’re seriously art though.”
William Mulholland Memorial Fountain shot water fifty feet into the air and
gave off a mist that stuck to Mariah’s bare arms. It was hot, and she could
feel the weeds crunching beneath her sandals.
The solo show she was preparing for was a series of abstract paintings about displacement. For one of the paintings she wanted to show displaced water and had been driving all around LA taking pictures of fountains. This was going to be the one. I can feel it.
Turquoise tiles. Click. Concrete carved in a wave shape. Click. A blur of white spray and the sun making a rainbow. Click. A hand?
Mariah spun around to see Abe standing behind her. She clamped her hand to her chest and exhaled slowly. She gave him a look that said you asshole.
“Sorry,” he offered. “Glad I didn't splash you” He chuckled at the thought.
Mariah tried with every muscle in her face not to smile. But she couldn’t help it. She hated that he could make her laugh so easily. The sun was in her face. Every freckle and every feeling under a giant microscope.
“So how have you been?”
“Good. I’m working on solo show.” For the first time she realized she’d never really talked about her work or herself in the limited time they’d spent together.
“Hey, that’s awesome! Hey, remember that screenplay I told you about? I think I’m getting some interest from my friend who’s got a connection to some new studio looking for material. It’s backed by Chinese money or something.”
The pattern of light through the water on the pale blue plaster. Click. Mariah took a photo while he was talking. “That’s great, Abe.” She had gotten all the photos she needed. She put her camera back in her tote bag. Is he still talking?
“...Hey we should grab dinner, and I can show you the updated draft. I want to know what you think. But totally be honest.” Mariah started walking toward her car and she could feel Abe following her and talking.
When they were next to her car she stopped and turned toward him. He was still talking about himself and she finally noticed he was wearing gym shorts and a sweaty t-shirt. His lower legs looked scrawny. Like furry, baby tree trunks. She let herself smile, trying not to laugh.
“What?” He smirked at her.
“Nothing. Hey, I should get going.” She opened her door, and he rushed to her side of the car awkwardly closing it for her. She rolled the window down to cool off the car. He bent down to rest his forearms in the open window. He flinched.
“Shit, that’s hot. Hey, I’m glad we ran into each other.”
She flicked on her turn signal—cueing him to wrap it up.
“Okay Abe, see you later!”
She pulled out onto Los Feliz. In her rear view mirror she saw him start to run again. She turned the music up, and sang along to “La Bamba,” drumming her fingers on the steering wheel at the red light. Before it changed she habitually turned to look at the car in the next lane. Two gardeners in a pickup were staring at her—smiling. She smiled back and waved as the light turned green.