June 22, 2017 by The Citron Review
by Julie Turley
Our studio apartments were attached, the porches so close together, the whole place looked staged.
My neighbor, Trevor, was even giving me line prompts. “Ask me about my girlfriend,” he whispered, coming from behind, startling me, his desert boots giving no warning, making no sound.
His cigarettes made no sound either, but cigarettes never do, except in the late stages of cancer.
And while Trevor’s girlfriend living here with him was a secret, he made sure everyone knew about her one-woman show: “Mary’s is not a cancer journey,” he whispered. And no one wanted to ask him about his whispering, if he had gotten sick yet, especially not of someone so attractive. Let those people do what they want.
We were so sick of cancer journeys, of downwinders, of nature writing, of velcroed pockets and hiking gear that took you from the canyons to the symphony, of bodies and how they became the land, and landed in the land.
We’re looking at you, Wallace Stegner. We hate you, Terry Tempest Williams.
It’s why people like me lived in downtown Salt Lake City and smoked, or pretended to smoke. It was how things appeared that counted in this neighborhood, one of the few in Utah that worked like that.
Scenes of us sick were decades away.
The next night, Trevor’s girlfriend sat on the edge of the stage smoking in what I assumed was one-woman show fashion, shocking the audience because she actually was smoking in spite of all the No Smoking signs posted around.
I was floored: what was this language, the foreign things to which she referred: What was this “East Village?”
“Cigarette?” Trevor mouthed around one, offering, after the show.
“Here,” Mary said, leaning over to light mine.
“No, don’t,” I said, alarmed.
I still found myself startled by reckless situations, the downtown
version of rock rapelling.
I told them I couldn’t come to Mary’s one woman show–Badass Comes to Town Part II–the next night, which disappointed them, as each night built on the night before, a whole series, a slow moving narrative. My one night at her show was like an illness that was just getting started.
I told them I had to support another friend, someone who used to live here, but left for a rock scene, a town that could handle one. Like me, this friend hated this land, the wind and the sandstone faces. To get to this friend’s show, the bus traveled through some treacherous territory, plasma centers and Native Americans traveling from one to another.
My friend spent the whole show strumming a guitar thoughtfully, while shoving it in our faces that he didn’t live here anymore. He dedicated all of his songs to big city writers: Frank O’Hara, Chuck Bukowski, Ayn Rand.
I walked back outside and kicked up some gravel, tried to make my own sounds, get something new going before I headed home without a ride, without the bus. Just me and two teenagers I’d picked up from Ogden leaning into the wind together, trying to make ourselves bigger, one terrifying animal to ward off the traffic coming from behind.
Julie Turley is a fiction writer and librarian in New York City. She has published fiction in North American Review, Quarterly West, Western Humanities Review, and elsewhere, and is currently working on a collection of rock n roll stories set in the high desert. While she writes fiction in cramped spaces on the lower east side of Manhattan, her main inspiration continues to be the American West.