Tisha MARIE Reichle
An argument against old cheese
“What did you do to your hair?” Mother exclaimed, sorry she’d sent Beth to the neighborhood salon alone. “What about your graduation pictures?”
Beth fingered the brightly colored stripes that corrupted her freshly-cropped, light-brown hair. “That’s why I did it! The green and orange match the Ducks!” She was ecstatic about leaving her isolated desert home for the lush consciousness of Oregon in August. Until then, she had other problems to worry about. She kissed her mother on the cheek and ran out the door.
Beth went to the end of the road, waiting for Jesse on his motorcycle. She took off her denim shirt so the tight, white tank top could show off her tan and her finally-developing breasts. After walking half a mile down the highway towards town, still hoping Jesse would keep his promise, her thirst was unbearable. At the next mile marker, her aunt’s trailer sat just a few yards away from the road. She could cool off and still hear Jesse approaching.
She walked in without knocking. “Tia!” she called over People’s Court. “You busy?”
“They won’t let you in a courtroom with that shit in your hair.” Her mother’s sister, Celestina, yelled over Judge Wapner. “I object too!”
Beth wasn’t sure if the second comment was directed at her or the television. “Can I get a soda?” Without waiting for an answer, Beth opened the refrigerator and almost barfed. “Tia, what happened in here?”
“You deserve it, you whore!”
“Definitely not talking to me,” Beth mumbled. She peeked through the dusty curtains. No Jesse yet. “Tia, got any water or soda not from the smelly fridge?”
At the commercial, Celestina replied, “Your graduation present is hanging in the hall closet.” Celestina got up slowly, a little hunched over for her first few steps across the shabby, brown carpet. Her white flip-flops dark and worn in the pattern of her toes; faded, baggy jeans hung crookedly off her narrow hips. Once she reached the kitchen counter, she paused to straighten up completely. “No sense wrapping it now. Get it out so you can try it on,” she ordered, walking out the back door.
As the screen door slammed, Beth opened the closet to see a charcoal, pin-striped suit. “Just like Susan Dey wore on LA Law.” Beth fingered the fine fabric, scared to take it out.
The back door slammed again and Celestina entered carrying a three-gallon glass jar. “Get cups with ice!”
Beth obeyed, ignoring the loud engine from the main road. She poured two tall glasses, the ice crackling as it bathed in the tea’s warmth. They sat in the green plastic kitchen chairs and sipped the sun-brewed sweetness.
“That suit can help you get jobs now. Win cases later.” Celestina picked up a photo from the dusty pile in the middle of the table. “When you started fourth grade, I knew you were the smartest kid in the world. Winning this spelling bee proved it.” She tossed the photo to Beth.
“I loved that blue dress, my good luck dress.”
“Until you ripped it climbing that fence.” Celestina swirled her ice until the tea melted it completely.
“They were building condos on tribal burial grounds.”
“Bastards!” Celestina chuckled, pulling out the newspaper article with a photo of Beth shaking the mayor’s hand as the city relocated the project.
Beth hesitated, taking a long, slow drink of her tea. “What if I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore, Tia?”
Celestina waved her off and picked up a few more faded photos, laying them out like tarot cards in front of Beth. “You can be anything you want. Just be somebody.” She sipped her own tea. “Don’t talk about doing something and end up rotting in a trailer on a dirt road like old cheese. That’s what you smelled. In the fridge.”
Beth looked at the photo of her fourteen-year-old face singing protest songs while her friends passed out peace bumper stickers at the school talent show. Junior year, they picketed outside the grocery store with signs that read “No Uvas.”
“Now what?” Celestina interrupted her memories. “Some stupid boy shakes his thingy at you, so you cut your hair, dye it some crazy colors, and think that’s making a statement? Sure. It says: I’m an idiot. With bad taste.”
Beth put her head down in the crook of her arm and released her sadness.
Celestina stood up, steadied herself on Beth’s shoulder and said, “Crying never solved anything. Figure out if that college of yours has free child care.”
Beth sniffed and wiped her eyes with the shirt she had removed earlier. Now she felt almost naked without it. “How’d you know?” She stood up to face her aunt, putting her shirt on.
“Because that’s what deranged, childless Tias do – they know things.” Celestina stacked the pictures and folded newspaper clippings neatly, putting them back inside the grease-spotted envelope. “But if you don’t listen to me now, you’ll end up like your mother. Seventeen years ago, she didn’t leave. Now, it’s too late.”
Tisha Marie Reichle is a Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen. Originally from a trailer on a dirt road, she has lived in Los Angeles for 25 years and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. Currently, she spends her weekdays engaging high school students with socially conscious literature. On weekends, she writes. Her stories have appeared in 34th Parallel, Inlandia Journal, Muse Literary Journal, Santa Fe Writers Project, The Acentos Review, and The Lunch Ticket. She is a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop and Women Who Submit; she is also the fiction editor at Border Senses.