September '05 -- edited by Savannah Schroll
Sitting at a desk in the corner of the bedroom, Jolene opened her notebook and began to write. I know the sound of freedom. She was trying hard to find a way to express her anger, perhaps too hard, but the words she chose had to convey the urgency of her situation. The final decision would come, any moment, so her plea would be final, if it was ever even heard by City Council Members.
“You still at that?” John walked in.
“Someone’s got to.”
“We have a lawyer.”
She ignored him and looked out the window. From the back bedroom of their trailer, she could see traffic veer from the freeway to the off-ramp and head down the street to the oceanfront. She liked watching people inside their cars, and she pretended to know why they where going to the beach: a man in a two-door coupe would parasail through the air, a woman in a mini-van would splash in the waves with her children, and a couple in a pick-up truck would lie on a blanket and dig their toes in the sand. She wondered if the lawyer ever drove past their trailer. He’d drive a fancy car and sip martinis at the resort’s clubhouse.
“I said it’ll be fine because of that lawyer,” he said.
“That man comes with a price.”
“No. He’s one of those pro boner guys.”
“Yeah, that thing.”
“He wants free publicity.” The lawyer showed up at the trailer park after the news channels put their story on the evening news. What obstacles do the residents of Lanneck Mobile Home Park face now? Stay tunedupdate at six after your local weather. Rumors were flying and information changed daily until their lives became the source of curiosity for the greater metropolitan area. The lawyer said the attention was good for their cause, but she knew fighting the City’s eminent domain law wasn’t that simple. There had been months of stagnant council meetings, demeaning appeals, and begging for the public to care. Now, it was almost over.
She pressed her cheek to the plastic blind, and it occurred to her that those people driving on the freeway were so close, yet as far away as a human could be, rushing by at 60mph.
“Really, John, let me do this.”
“You know those people won’t read it. I bet Mr. Red Tie will toss our crappie heart-filled letters into the trash.”
She could tell from his voice, the pinched off tone in mid-register that made his voice scratch, that he was tired from a long day at work.
“It matters,” she said.
“Yeah, right,” he said and kicked off his worn boots.
She had three days until the City voted to get rid of them. The City wanted to force the sale of trailer park and build a new library in its place, in their place. The owner didn’t want to sell, and the residents didn’t want to move. The City claimed the action was in the best interest of the community, and the land was technically “unoccupied”no permanent structures, which was ideal for redevelopment. But the people who lived in the park knew that the library wasn’t the real issue. For three years, the City had closed most of the trailer parks, and this park was the last one. The real question waswhere would they go if the park closed? Seventy-two trailers occupied the allegedly ‘unoccupied’ land and these seventy-two trailers had nowhere to move except the city dump.
Jolene convinced herself that her letter would serve a purpose, if only to create guilt. She had always been a good writer, unlike John who dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen. She had graduated high school and dreamed of college, but her mother said, “College isn’t for people like us.” It was during this time she met John at the local convenience store; she was buying smokes for her aunt, and he was buying nachos for his lunch. Within a few months of dating, they were a couple and were making promises to each other, but they were the kind of promises that are born in passionlife affirming delusions of meaningful intent. She promised to love him forever. He promised to get her out of subsidized housing and into community college within a year. Eight months later, he bought the trailerfive thousand dollars, and the knowledge that they finally owned something.
A Navy fighter jet crossed the sky, lowering its body, straightening its wings, and pointing its nose toward the airstrip just a mile away. She wrote. . . Sometimes it sounds like a Tomcat, roaring across the sky.
“What’s that?” He took the notebook away from her.
“Give it back.”
“This is a damn poem not a letter to the Council.” He was standing close to her, wearing his gray pants and no shirt, smelling of salty pores and car oil.
“So?” She snatched the notebook back. “You said it yourselfthey’re not going to read it anyway.”
He hesitated for a moment, as if he wanted to say something to her, like the John she used to know, who could admit his mistakes; but this John clenched his jaw and only the tone in his voice softened. “Fine, do whatever. I’ll go boil the water?” he said.
“Fine,” she answered.
It was going to be another night of eating twenty-cent noodles and buttered bread. A month had passed since John’s last paycheck from Beck’s Garage. They fired him for being late too many times; the bus did not come on the hour every hour as promised by the City’s schedule. But he had a new job at Larry’s Tire Shop, and with four days left until his first paycheck, they had only ten dollars and fifty-two cents between them. She had been skipping lunch to work overtime at the dollar store. He did not know this, but she was often starving by the time she got home. Her hunger pain shifted to her head and grew into throbbing headaches, while John kept his pain deep in his gut.
They’d known this feeling before. After Hurricane Isabel, they both lost three weeks of work because the City took its time fixing the power; their neighborhood was the last to see light. She remembered those quiet evening walks to the Red Cross truck, thankful for a handout, turkey sandwiches and applesauce. She never thought she’d crave the taste of what John called the “Isabel special.” Before the storm, she enrolled in classes at the community college, but after the devastation, she withdrew to work full-time to help pay for their trailer’s damage: ripped skirting, two broken windows, and a leaky roof.
She wrote, but sometimes it is a quiet whine-like-wind ripping through my heart.
Now, the college schedule sat somewhere on the coffee table, untouched for weeks. Before, she had shown John the classes she wanted to take, highlighting them with a red marker: English 105, American Literature, and Poetry. John agreed, saying that if he worked at Larry’s for another three months, and all the bills were paid, then she could register for the spring semester. But then the eminent domain conflict crushed her dreams.
John came back into the room saying, “You won’t believe this.”
“A man was just here, and he gave me this.” John held out some official looking papers. “He said if we go to the courthouse tomorrow and sign this legal crap, then we get twenty thousand dollars for our trailer. We’ll be eating Chinese buffet tomorrow; all you can eat, baby!”
This was the moment she had dreaded. The lawyer had negotiated settlement.
She scanned the legal papers, but she knew the money wouldn’t be enough; it was a false start. She held the papers in one hand, the notebook in her other, and forced herself to look at John, who was so thin and so clearly caught in a system that told him what to think. He had become lost in their dream. She imagined herself in a moving van, rushing by her own window at 60mph, veering off the freeway, heading to the beach. She would swim in the inky blue ocean and be pulled out to sea by a rip tide.