After a tough spring and summer (losing our little one, a crazy busy season) we’re drying our wings in the sun...
On the Road, working remotely, sleeping in fields... as we drive our new motorcycle (with sidecar!) from Oregon home to South Carolina, via national parks, crazy byways and one library hot spot after another. Filling up with new stories, taking the space just to think, explore and be close.
I'm (erratically) posting our travel journal on Insta: @sidecarsideshow :)
With the Ural’s top speed around 55 mph... we’re gonna be on the road quite a while.
Lately I'm doing more thinking than writing, but have been ‘getting’ some plot pieces I’ve needed for the novel I’ve been obsessing over since I was on residency three years ago, before I started working with Andrew.
In my previous role (purchasing) at the company, it was easier to write short stories rather than novels, but they’ve now moved me into a more expansive position that opens up the whole world.
It changes everything. I’m so excited, and so grateful, to be warm again.
Here’s to lightness, love and freedom: may they be yours.
My honey's coming to visit next week!
He's been traveling all month: Casablanca, Rabat, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Amsterdam. Running around with school heads and crazy-pants vendors; they're planning to throw a wild cocktail party in Capetown this spring. A jazz band, a mansion, a pool with a view. Shipping school supplies to international American & British schools; shit, who knew? He's been building this wonderful thing out of his blood-sweat-tears forever, and now it's paying off. Half the year working his tail off in his warehouse, half the year rubbing shoulders- I'm awfully proud of my man :)
And man, it's almost November: we haven't seen one another since August when I rolled out for New Orleans. This is far and away the longest we've ever been apart. I've missed him so badly. It's given me nesting fever.
“The two of you like the sun and moon, free to go far from one another, yet crossing every night— each forever circling the other. That is the real marriage— a marriage made of eternity. Not a metal band simply wrapped around fingermeat.”
When he gets in I'm gonna surprise him with a belated birthday feast. All his favorites at once: homemade soup dumplings, mac & cheese, jello shots, an Elvis trifle. Mill around town together a couple days, maybe check out some hot springs. Naked and steamy in the falling snow: all my favorites at once :)
Then we've got to run down to Tucson, where his childhood bestie is getting married. So many beloveds there we haven't seen in too long. It'll be wonderful, and probably I won't write a word.
The White Place.
John Collier called this part of the country The Red Atlantis, and it does have a lost, enchanted quality. "Ha, it’s quarantine!" somebody here called it, recently. (The man with the storyboard tattoos.) But it pulls at you, it strikes you.
There’s that quality in O’Keeffe’s work, too. A certain- deepening. Of color into form, form into flowering; other times, of that just about to happen. That was what it was like, standing there outside her place in Abiquiu. Clouds and mountains and fields and mountain roads, and so lovely to be in all of it, deepening. You wanted to stand there silent a long time. That dreamscape of colored air, everything so open, so near and far at once.
I’m so glad you’re coming to see me, and to have this with you in it. And then to have it in us both, after. But of course it was you, adventuring in Tucson, who said, oh, let’s move here- to this corner.
Oh these lovely corners, dancing edges! Everything beautiful seems to happen at the edges; wild things come from the edges. And what is wild is beautiful, at least to you, to me, who are uninterested in taming things, beveling rough into smooth...
Waiting for you, my heart with your heart,
Snow Q xxx
In other news. To have this gift of time, three months of Sundays! All Babes is coming along beautifully. I've got four more scenes to hit before I have to stop and research. A huge portion of the
novel has turned out to take place in 1950s Charleston.
So my last weeks of residency: snow on the ground and these gorgeous wild-open skies, I'll be here, pen in hand, books in my lap. Eating lentils. Tapping in.
"More than Sixty"- Jack Gilbert
Out of money, so I'm sitting in the shade
of my farmhouse cleaning the lentils
I found in the back of the cupboard.
Listening to the cicada in the fig tree
mix with the cooing doves on the roof.
I look up when I hear a goat hurt far down
the valley and discover the sea
exactly the same blue I used to paint it
with my watercolors as a child.
So what, I think happily. So what!
“Your ex-wife, what was she like?”
Paige was tracing her fingers over his arms now. Her touch was soft and flickering, heatless: that was how he realized he’d been talking out loud.
“She was- unhappy. Pills, you know,” he said.
“Yeah.” Max looked away, remembering snake-green eyes. “Military wives. It’s a fucking cliche, man.”
“That’s okay,” she said.
“She was fun though.” He lifted the waitress up in the air like she was weightless, a kid. “You’re fun too, you wanna get married?” Paige squealed and he kissed her on the nose. “Babe, you got any beers?”
Light of the refrigerator in the dark. She came over to him with two beers in one hand. He was sitting on the bed. He took the beers, grabbed her.
“Do something for me,” Paige said, bumping her hips into his face. She put the tips of her fingers in her mouth, smiling at him around them.
“Nm,” Max said, pulling her down.
“I want you to hurt me,” Paige said. Her voice scratchy and warm. “Hurt me.”
“What do you mean, baby?” he said. Rolling her over, bouncing a little. Playfully, he hoped. A pretending lightheartedness, but he knew that more and more of his dark was slipping out through his eyes. He kissed her deeply, her neck warm in his hands.
But Paige knew, she did, that it was there.
“Mm, a big guy like you, you could really… I mean…” Paige glittering at him. Her mouth was blurry, wet, chemical with the vodka. She rustled off her jeans. Her little cotton panties, her little kid thighs. “I can see it in you, that you like it, too. It’s at the edge of everything you do.” She lifted herself up on her spine and hissed it in his ear, urging him on.
“You got a sexy violence.” Hitting the x’s and c’s hard with her small pink tongue, her white-trash tongue, her legs locked around him, and Max felt his blood sinter to a ferric edge.
Suddenly she clawed him, hard, fast as a cat, trying to make him angry, to make him do the thing she wanted, that she knew he could give her. And there was a knife he always carried, enveloped secretly in a leather slot at the back of his belt- for unexpected handcuffs, certain situations- and now his awareness of it burned exquisitely against his spine; and her softness, her yielding. He was lightheaded with it.
“Do you think so?” His fingers rounded up on her small shoulders, her tiny shoulders. The fauna of desire, flooding in and out of the vast green world; these inclinations that live like beasts inside us. To dissolve within another, to possess them, to destroy.
Or were we ourselves tiny beasts within them, these inclinations?
They were gods, maybe, each separate type of desire. Separate gods, each with its own weathers, tides, intractable flowing- and so this wasn’t him, this wasn’t his fault, no, it was some vaster thing that he was swept up within.
Paige's warm, tiny fingers husking away his jeans. “I can make you hurt me,” she said, low. “I can make you give me what I want.” Quick as a snake, she bit his mouth.
He yelled, bleeding maybe, trying now to bat crazy Paige away, but his big arms, heavy as clubs, spring-loaded to judo speed, one of them flailing just brushed her jaw. And she was such a tiny thing that’s it was enough, she arced back beneath him, her little heart shape face sling-shot back hard into the pillow.
A bright arc of blood hung frozen in the air as it hit him, too, what he’d done, and then it came up jack-lit in the rusty dark of his mind. This memory of his mother; her dark eyes rolling cow-like towards the slow opening bedroom door, towards his child’s silhouette, as a cowboy without a face goes on hammering into the soft hills of her body. The dirty light sawed with dust, exhaustion.
And Paige the bloody jack’o lantern, now she’s leering up at him, a little demonically in the weird shuttery light in this, her streetside room.
She was making his cock sow into her, the rhythm she wants, lolling her hair back and forth her eyes shut thankfully now, thank god, and he took up big fistfuls of her hair capturing her flat against the screaming bed, the pillows. Their bodies like twisting snakes.
“I want to fuck you forever.”
The knife was in his hands, it was in Paige’s mouth, it clicked against her teeth. Her eyes went wild and hot; she turned still.
Max yanked her hair, bending her neck still farther. His thumb with the knife deep in her mouth, the edge of it was against her cheek. He could curve it upwards, pierce into the fruit of her brain. And oh she was so pliant, so humid.
“Kiss it, suck it. I want to see you suck it.”
The animals in the jungle floating in and out of the shadows.
She panted silently, eyes paralyzed on his. Wet, frothing wet.
“Come for me, baby,” he said, and she did, in hard, sudden stabs, never blinking. The fullness of her tongue still against the pressing blade.
They broke apart, maybe a little too quickly, panting, and the next time Max looked at her he saw a tiny red burst vessel beneath Paige’s left eye. A tiny red star.
It quickened him, the way she like a crushed plant, fragrant in his hands, he couldn’t keep himself away from her.
But with his touch he turned her to rain, and he could swear he smelled the sweetness of it, the damp minerals and softening earth. “I'm sorry,” Max said; only women aroused him impossibly when they cried. The rush of makeup, a heated face and neck.
Paige drifting in his hands, sighing against him. There was simply nowhere else for her to go, of course, but he sensed it anyway, that for maybe a secret part of her, this felt like home.
He thought of a broken statue he’d seen in field, crashed down on its side in the dusty street. Its broken hands, face blinded by a rock, a bullet, something. That mute resignation, an acceptingness, and at the time the thing had moved him in some half-articulate way. While he half wanted to finish smashing it, in the same harmless way you wanted to finish a girl’s warming beer.
“I don’t know,” he said, gathering Paige to him. Paige was limp, crying, as if released from some physical thing that had trapped her, made it hard to breathe. She clung to him wetly.
To him, the vampire, emissary darkness. And could you let it out only a little, he didn’t know. “I don’t know about you, girl,” he said. “This, I don’t know.”
“I do,” Paige said, “I do, please. Again, again.”
From All Babes Are Wolves.
Image by Mishe
He watched her, grinning. There was something scrappy about her, she was from Virginia, maybe. Working class parents, hand to mouth, whiskey evenings. “What’s your name?”
“Paige,” she said.
His drink came up and she jumped up and brought it over from the bar for him and then sat next to him again, mopping up the condensation on their table with the edge of her apron.
“Paige the sweetheart,” he said.
He was looking at her tank top, the twisted strap of it, and then she did what he wanted to do, running her fingers thoughtfully along her neck, and Max thought simultaneously of Katerina, how she’d loved to brag about being his last fiance. He was always getting engaged, all throughout college; never had girlfriends, just a long conga line of fiances- he thought of Katerina and then how his cock would feel inside the tight, wet interior of the waitress, the soft hungry jellyfish spasms inside her sponging tight around him, his balls slapping her ass like a flag snapping in the wind.
Paige the sweetheart, the smirker, the cheap whore, easy, he thought what her face would look like without a jaw like the girl he’d seen in Stanland, blown off by the door of a bombed truck, just sitting there in the dust in shock, swaying slightly, her face unhinged and dripping, eyes brown, trachea amazingly unhurt. The inside of a girl was as wet and full of shapes as his mother’s fruit jello.
“How you like Charleston?” Paige said.
The images still coming. The more of his past he pushed away, the more of it he seemed to create: that is, it bubbled forwards through Max’s fingers, swelling, threatening, cold and wet, uncontainable. “It’s pretty cool,” he said.
Then they were at her apartment, sloshed on vodka. He’d realized what it was about her. That bony ass, it was like his babysitter’s when he was ten. And she had a surprisingly clean place and dorky pillows everywhere that made his heart squeeze a little.
The damp close air of the room, her windows shut up all day. You could tell how someday- the writing was already in the air- she’d be a divorcée, living on her own in a dump just like this one. The fridge smelly and empty- the place dark and burbling. There was a humidifier left on somewhere, and the space was small enough that he could smell her bed in the dark, sour.
He walked to the air conditioner without turning on the light and stood against it, holding his hand in the cooled air.
Looking at her, waitress, college-girl, she was probably a Communications major, what’s her name again.
She’s standing there framed there in the light from the door. The streetlight. Strands of her hair damp against her neck.
She closed the door.
For a moment they circled one another, their eyes adjusting to the dark, to what they might do. He’d had an easy air of possessiveness over her when they were with the others. Now that they were alone, here, the two of them adults, they were both a little shy, self-conscious. She stretched her mouth, he popped his neck. It was hard to look at her directly.
“You wan’ a joint?” Paige said, finally.
“You go ahead,” he said, coming up behind her, his hands circling her waist as she picked up the twist of soft paper.
“There’s somethin’ about you,” she said, “I feel like there’s something different about you- you’re real mysterious, you know? I keep wondering what you’re thinking. Guys around here, they’re not like you.”
He kissed her neck, saying nothing.
“Do you even think I’m pretty?” she said, suddenly.
“I think you’re delicious.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and then he was silent even though he knew she wanted- she needed- more from him.
Girls, Max believed, were used to expressing themselves. It was their way of being in the world.
Evaluating, backpedaling, worrying. It was why they were easy to talk with; when you began a conversation with one, most of them usually just continued with the same stream of thought they’d been on anyway, only this time out loud. Always assuming that you were interested in whatever boring shit they’d been thumbing over in their minds.
He believed it took them no special effort, as if women were natural conduits or something.
Now, whether or not what they had to say was interesting, that was another story. He’d said as much to the marriage counselor, a kooky bastard he hadn’t minded, truth be told.
The guy had just given him half a grin, using of course the side of his mouth that Katerina couldn’t see as she turned and started in on him.
You self-satisfied fucking prick all you care about is your fucking self
Paige the waitress, her bony ass in his hand was like a kid’s, and he thought of Katerina the first night he’d snuck her into his mother’s basement.
Kat’s ass was big and tight the way he liked, the two of them kissing each other hungrily in the driveway, waiting for the AC to roar on to cover the sound of the garage door opening, of his leading Katerina inside, down the creaky carpeted hallway to his room.
The minute they were inside it, his hand was coming towards her in the dark, going lower now, a pilot touch, tracing warmly over the strip of skin exposed between Katerina’s scanty top and the front of her jeans. Her naked pelvis was deliciously hot in the cool air, permissive.
“Take deeper breaths,” he said, like his buddy told him to, and she had. He’d learned how to make her consciousness bloom inside the boundary lines he gave it, girls loved that, being dominated, defined: they were like water diverting into a creek bed.
“I’m gonna make you feel so good,” he said to her. Letting his fingers spread, his hand lifting slightly as she inhaled, pushing down when she exhaled, and her want of him rose into his fingers, Katerina curled towards him like an opening flower, wilder now, a jungle flower. He felt his consciousness slipping over hers, harnessing her, he was going to carry her along, take her down the dark ecstatic river, make her scream. Exhilarated, his yearning for her uncharted interiors. Her pelvis tip-pressing up into him, and each place his body met hers hummed.
Now she was firmly on her back, now he lay between her legs. Folding over her, pressing his face into her neck. So white and clean- the word for it-
“Your shoulders are like snow,” he said, shyly. The words coming out sweeter than he’d meant them to sound.
And the girl who would be his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend, and then his college girlfriend; his last fiancé and then most finally of all, his ex-wife, a pillar of salt, that’s what she was, not snow at all, but he hadn’t known that then: Katerina touched her shoulder, wanting to feel what he saw in her, and then she smiled at him. Mockingly.
“Warm snow?” she said.
He pressed the side of his face against Kat’s. “Very warm. You’re melting.” He felt her sigh, and then, ever so slightly, she moved away.
“You’re thinking about your boyfriend?” he said. Too eager, seventeen. Just let me hold you, let me take you there.
“I never feel this way with him. Anyway, he’s not here.” Katerina’s wicked laugh. “And you don’t know him! It’s fine, he’s no hero. Me, I’ll tell you the truth about me, you think I’m just some sweet little slip of a thing, mm-? Little 4.0 band-theater-babe-in-the-woods, mm-? Do you know I used to fuck Lauren’s father?” Saying this as if she wanted her words to slap him.
“Well, it was more complicated than that,” she said. “Her mom was putting me up because things got crazy at my house. That was fun, me and Lauren and her mom. It was a little art house, a real sisterhood for a minute. Supportive. But then Kendra, the mom, she got uterine cancer. It happened fast. And she died.”
“Jesus, I didn’t know. Lauren-?”
“It was terrible. Then I started fucking Kendra’s husband. Ex-husband? Widow, I guess. That happened fast, too. You know, he was lonely, I’m hot, I’ve always loved older guys. We tried to keep it a secret as long as we could. I’d sit there next to him on the couch, and Lauren would be in the chair looking at us, and I would wonder if this was how Kendra had felt. She was so cool, you know, I’d always looked up to her. It was like I’d just slipped into her skin. Real creepy, kinda.”
“Bad girl, huh?”
“I wanted to do it. So I did.” Katerina said, shrugging her lovely shoulders. “She and I, we aren’t friends now. But maybe we wouldn’t have been anyway, and I got to have the experience that I wanted to have.”
His smile had been faint, observing.
“You like my story?” Kat said, rolling away. “You like bad women?”
Was it that simple?
“I like interesting women.”
From All Babes Are Wolves.
Rest of the chapter next Thursday :)
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
ratings: 27 (avg rating 4.04)
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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.40)
Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.17)
Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)