by Lev Keltner
Lev Keltner is chapbooks editor at Newfound and author of the novel Goodnight. Their creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have appeared in PANK, Hobart, Anomaly, Entropy Magazine, Be About It Zine, and elsewhere. They write role-playing mystery games at Feverdream Games. From Chicago, Lev lives in St. Louis.
Barb has to vom, again. Does she want to end the road trip before—
“I’m not giving this up.” The festival part, my sister clarifies.
Gassing up the jeep, I watch storm clouds crash over the mountains and cruise the desert. All sunglasses, I’m Mom’s greatest action movie heroine. I recall our final conversation, how inevitable her anti-trans fireball, Judgement Day.
What’s most difficult for me is deciding what to tell you and what not to.
Gasoline gags me until Barb snaps. “Page!”
I quit topping off, absently splashing my boots.
“How have I survived a year without you?” I think to say for the next one hundred miles.
The land art is closed. Our stay’s “bohemian” “nomadic” “tepees” are gross. Marfa’s best burrito is OK.
The desert is a waking dream. Smoky purple mountains, chaparral breeze, 5/5 sky.
Barb uses Dad’s “purity knife” to micro dose mushrooms. She loves herself. “Ever since the divorce, Dad bitches about me eating pasta like his dissatisfaction is my responsibility.”
I agree our bodies owe no man explanation.
Barb sees the ghost of her dead brother, deletes. She continues about our future apartment. “Between our ’rents and Austin rent, what’s worse?”
“It’s intersectional,” I say. “Everything’s worse.”
Midlife Crisis with bait puppy explains pool access requires knowing someone.
“Want to know us?” Barb says.
Maybe it’s the free drinks. I heard this creepy scratching and, an hour later, found the Lhasa Apso in the pool. Mom’s beloved almost drowned, my go-to pool party story concludes.
“That’s so sad,” Midlife Crisis says.
He whispers close enough to bite her ear. Barb splashes him.
“Almost,” I say, but neither seem to hear me.
Does everyone 20 feel 30? I want to ask him if the opposite is true when a downpour chases me behind the bar. They sprint to the hotel. She can’t get pregnant, again.
“Aren’t we in the desert?”
No one is near enough to laugh.
Towel sans, I pace a corner in my dripping one-piece and play Things Mom Would Say. I don’t make a good mother. I never will.
20 miles to the observatory, I realize Barb expects celebrities at the Star Party.
We queue through telescope domes like ants excavating giant eyeballs. I adore Saturn’s rings. My sister observes a blob.
Mom messages her. She woke from a nightmare about Barb and me and werewolves. If we’re the werewolves is unclear. The woman makes me question the impossibility of ESP.
I remind Barb my love isn’t conditional. Whatever she decides—
“Bitch will name it,” she reassures.
Her screen-lit head rounds to the visitor center for hot chocolates, wanes.
I search the face of our real mother. She doesn’t blame us. She swears I won’t end up alone like her. It’s brilliant, she says, how reality is a shared illusion.
A silver disk zooms overhead. UFO?
“We’re not a speck to the ISS,” the guide says.
The festival is muddy. Splats harden on my legs, an armor I didn’t know I needed.
Barb is in search of Midlife Crisis. Me worry? I’m fest girl. I twirl.
“Excuse you,” says a woman with an identical brimmed hat. Her stare says I’m the copy, as if anyone isn’t.
I consider the politics of mud wrestling her.
“Page!” Barb cries.
Barb is crying. In the desert sage beside the portable toilets, she cradles her knees and rocks, high as Mother Moon.
I hold her. I tell her what she needs to hear. I love you. I have you. We’re not giving up.