Way out in Six Shooter Canyon, in that time, nobody cleaned up their dog poop. There were piles of it in every yard, including ours. We used to let it sit out there for days, maybe weeks, wondering who was going to pick it up. In the desert sun, the turds dried until they were light and hard as chalk. My best friend, Anne Marie, and I made a game of spraying these with the garden hose. The best ones sent up a puff of dust, then shrunk away, layer by colorful layer, like an Everlasting Gobstopper. It was the best game ever, after Nun Rock, which was when we put ladies’ skirt-slips on our heads like wimples and solemnly circled near my waterbed humming monk melodies. Then we’d ascend a little step ladder and tear off our habits to jam out like punk rockers.
Sometimes in the fall when I came home from school, I burned energy by practicing my gymnastics in the side yard. It ran along the giant garden kept by our neighbor, a rotund Mexican man who looked like an old Diego Rivera. His was a garden overgrown, too much food, and yet we once caught him stealing plums off our tree. I liked that he kept his garden sloppy and was never out there picking, because I didn’t want his audience. What I really wanted was for the boys on my street to happen by on their bikes and catch me turning aerial cartwheels and back flips. Usually it was just a boy named Mark, who looked like he’d stepped out of a De Grazia painting—irises black as his pupils, and hair to match, stick straight and shiny. He was probably cute, but I didn’t think so at the time. If no real boys happened by, I’d flop into the yellowing grass with my dog, Molly, who could be found snacking away on her own poop. “Stop that,” I’d say without really trying to make her stop. Later, my dad would let Molly lick his face all over, even his mouth. I didn’t tell him.
Winters were short and mild, and when we got snow, it was a magic like looking into God’s mouth. Of course, the flakes came down in millimeters not inches, and only every couple of years. That’s why the schools would close, because we didn’t have plows and the buses didn’t want to risk the trip to the Apache reservation. It wasn’t enough snow to cover the dog poop, and one winter I packed a lot of turds into snowballs. These I collected into a bucket, which Anne Marie helped me carry down to the end of Sharp Road, where the neighborhood boys had been pelting us. I pitched a big one at Chad Cecil instead of Chuy Casillas or Frank Grice. Chad was the popular kid with blonde hair and the shit-eating car-salesman grin, all teeth and not very nice. He shot his arm up in the air like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and caught the snowball and froze in that position with a smug look, like he was something else. But the snow had crumbled so that he was holding a pile of dog crap in his mitten, and I think he almost cried when he saw it. I was very happy that day.
In the spring, our grass would finally green up. That’s when anyone could tell the exact size and location of our septic tank, because the blades were more vibrant there, like emeralds, and much thicker and taller. This was my favorite spot to lay down in the yard and listen to the locusts, counting down the days to summer and hoping my mom wouldn’t notice I had nothing to do. When she did notice, she’d bring out the weeding tool and pay me five cents a dandelion, but only if I got them out by the roots. I’d end up with a pile big enough to get me to the movies in town, which cost only two dollars for a double-feature that started with cartoons. The theater was lorded over by greasy Carl with the glass eye and the polyester pants and Colonel Sanders beard. He greeted everyone with a devilish smirk, conspiratorially, like you were about to see a peep show and he might call the cops on you, or not.
It costs $8.50 now to go to the theater, but Carl might still be there. I saw him last time I was in town, years ago, and he gave me that same smirk and it was like he hadn’t changed a bit in 30 years. I couldn’t say the same for my house on Sharp Road. The door to the garage where Anne Marie and I used to hold séances and haunted houses was peeling and cockeyed. The weeping willow tree from where the locusts used to serenade me was gone. Of course you can come in, the woman at the door told me. I’m so sorry about the way things look. Dad passed away two weeks ago. He had Alzheimer’s, and we didn’t know it had gotten this bad. Piles upon piles of detritus were everywhere—papers, cans, jars, clothes. It felt dark in there. And interestingly enough, it smelled like dog poop.
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