By Patricia Quintana Bidar
It was the 1970s, those days of smiling, bellbottomed serial killers. Handlebar mustaches and cheap, weak weed. We free chicks around town with our dangly earrings and big, fragrant bushes.
I was at the museum on Thursday, free night. It was SFMOMA’s temporary location, and three of my recent exes were there. They kept coming in and out of view. It was comical. In their turns they had spurned me and robbed me of my tears. Caused my debasement. At least that was how it felt.
One of them, the old one, was strolling around the photography gallery like a country squire with his pants tucked into mid-calf boots. The other, just 21, was explaining abstract impressionism to a plain girl who listened with a serious small mouth, reaching for his hand. The third, fat and drunk with those streaks of red emblazoning his jaw. He probably had two more cans in his pockets. He staggered and my hands rose.
I was there with a new friend, a woman. After the last breakup, she’d gone with me to that foggy Sears on the hill. A place where mothers were bringing their girls for clothes to take to college. I needed an electric blanket for my frigid room. Amid the linoleum floors and PA announcements and yellow popcorn, we joked about the stinky killer, the freeway killer, the easy access killer. Dreaming of big skies, I chose a light blue blanket. They gave it to me in a huge plastic bag. I forgot it afterward in a bar. That one with the “Ireland’s 32, United and Free” signs. I liked that. Saoirse means freedom, I was told there. We all drank to it.
Our Lives in Six Scenes
By Patricia Quintana Bidar
1. Our grandmothers race us to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. St. John the Baptist in Savannah. Saint Theodosius Orthodox in Cleveland. They have us baptized with their own names. It’s an effort to keep their children—our parents—at home. Battles erupt in families from Seattle to Key West. The next week, our parents wrench us from family bosoms anyway. Away we race, this time by train. All roads lead to Los Angeles, California.
2. After school, we play in the elevators at the brand-new City Hall. No one says “downtown” yet. It’s just Los Angeles. Sometimes the older among us ride the trolley to bring the others’ moms a little money. There is a little extra for these things. Some of us have fathers in the tank again. Paychecks are always short. The mothers clean houses. Serve up cafeteria food. Drive taxis. Some are dime-a-dance girls at the Roseland Ballroom. One lives with a lady who has no man. A companion, they call it.
3. We are 17. Our young husbands are gifted artists or wordsmiths or boxers. They draw cute animals from any squiggle we give them. Or lock themselves in the bedroom to write. Or give us a taste of their roundhouse right. Then sigh and fix another drink. Their day jobs are as butchers, window men at the track, meter readers for the Department of Water & Power. The fat, active toddlers are at home with us.
4. Every year, we have a few drinks and collapse onto the family Christmas trees. We hate the taste of booze. Even the taxi dancers drink cold tea on the job. But on Christmas, we are trying to have some fun. We teach the kids to push cloves into oranges for a little holiday spirit. Our husbands are restless. They find their hats and leave for the taverns. Our kids take the oranges and lob them onto passing cars below San Pedro Street. We pour another drink, pick tinsel off the floor.
5. We marry off our kids. There is a little money. Spring days, we pull up to our daughters’ apartments in fresh-from-the-used-car-lot Mustangs. We wear white lipstick, space race wigs, and silver ankle boots. Before we have time to finish a Pall Mall 100, the LAPD calls. Our husbands are in the tank again.
6. A decade after our husbands die young, the widowers from around the way ask us out. They bring corsages and drive us to the VFW halls for Dixieland or jazz standards. They take us to the walk-in theatre for the war movies they love to explain to us. We eat popcorn from their fingers. We let the battle sounds wash over us. We sink into the upholstered red chairs and sleep.
Patricia Quintana Bidar is a Western writer from the Port of Los Angeles area. Her work has been featured in Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Pinch, Pidgeonholes, Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton), Best Small Fictions 2023 (Alternating Current Press), and Best Microfiction 2023 (Pelekinesis Press). Patricia lives with her family and unusual dog outside of Oakland, CA. Her book of short fiction, Pardon Me For Moonwalking, will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2025. For more info, visit https://patriciaqbidar.com