Finding The Ranch
Saturday Afternoon at The Drifter’s Reef
Maddie Bolter skipped down the sidewalk. Every now and then she did a little shuffle slide to avoid people who eyed her nervously, Dressed in baggy army green pants, a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, fluorescent green canvas high top basketball shoes and a baseball cap backwards, Maddie was 15 and all attitude. Wherever she went Maddie made as good an impression as a punk band in a nursing home. There was nothing bad about Maddie– she just didn’t vibrate on the same frequency as any other person in the known universe. She didn’t march to the beat of a different drummer: there were no drummers that could go where Maddie marched at least none had survived the audition.
She slid on into the Drifters Reef just off of the seedy strip that was the main drag in Weston, California, a little speck of a town with a little lowball casino, a couple of bars, two cheap motels, a grocery store, and a few fast food places.
“Hey girl! Whatchoo doin’ this fine day? You lookin’ off the charts,” Reggie the bouncer, all muscle and easy slouch, addressed her with a nod and a smile.
“Jus’ looking for Debbie. She make it in today?”
“That is yo’ Momma you talkin’ ‘bout, right? You oughta call her momma or my mom or somethin’ seems like.”
“Is she here?” Maddie said with a little edge. “My Mom that is,” she corrected at Reggie’s look of disapproval.
“I’ll get her. You know you not supposed to be in there unless you aged since last I seen ya.”
“Yeh, now I’m 21 so you gotta let me in right?”
“ I’ll get her. You wait out here with the rest of the jail bate.”
Maddie stuck her tongue out at him and crossed her eyes and then spread a wide fake smile.
“Some day I’m o take a picture of that face,” he said walking away into the bar. “Then you be sorry.”
Maddie paced a little in the entryway next to the phones and newspaper rack.
“I thought I told you not to come ‘round here. You know Marty don’t like it when I leave the table, and he don’t like kids ‘round neither.” Her mother moved out of the dark bar, thin and chesty with bleached blonde bangs. She talked fast and twangy.
“I’m sorry if my life interferes with your job, Debbie. But, a girl’s gotta eat, and there is nothing at home but cookies and beer. I need twenty to shop for a coupla days.”
“I’m sorry honey. Momma’s been busy. Here go get some stuff.” Debbie’s tone changed to apologetic as she pulled a bill out of her pocket, handed it to Maddie then snatching it back, said parentally, “ But, don’t go gettin’ no junk. No sodas or candy. Jes sandwich stuff. I don’t like you cookin’ when I’m not there.”
“I am fifteen, an’ I cook better’an you anyway.” Maddie grabbed the twenty and ran. “See ya later.”
“I leftya a note. You better read it!” Debbie called after her.
“I will if I can,” Maddie shouted back without turning.
Her mom followed her down the street with her eyes. Her face tightened a little, shaking her head as she turned and took a slow breath.
“That girl is a firecracker,” Reggie said smiling paternally as Debbie passed him on her way back to her table.
“Yeh, she’s gonna set the world on fire, she don’t look out,” she said over her shoulder.
The Straw Groom
“Have to get him ready for the wedding,” Maddie said to the two dancing cherubs who flew around her head. Their wings made a musical buzz like quietly trilling flutes. She was trying to stuff a straw effigy that was about a foot long into a small tuxedo. She had the top all set, jacket, shirt, cummerbund and bow tie with a top hat on its head. She was trying to get the pants on. They kept sticking on the ends of the straw that protruded on the sides of the legs.
“For chrisake, how in the goddam fucking hell do they expect me to get these stupid goddam pants on these sticky legs.”
Maddie’s head popped up from the arm of the sofa. The house was dark and there was a rapping sound. She got up and turned on a lamp by the couch where she had been dozing. She stretched on her way to the door and peeked through the little hole.
“Who izit?” she said with a little irritation.
She saw a short woman with a golden brown face and long black hair.
“You don’ know me, but Iyam staying at the motel. Someone ees following me. Could I please come een for a meenute, ?” The woman said with a little panic but mostly under control.
Maddie thought for a second, and quickly went to get the softball bat leaning against the wall just inside her mother’s bedroom. She came back and opened the door just wide enough to allow the small woman to squeeze in.
“Tank you, Iyam bery escared. I dint want to go back to my room alone.”
“Whose after ya?” Maddie asked still holding the bat like she could use it.
“I coon’ see bery well,” She said shivering a little, “eeteez dark, but I could hear hees footsteps behind me.”
“What makes you think you’ll be safe in here?” Maddie asked relaxing a little, but still holding the bat with ready hands.
“I don’ know eet was the firs house I came to on my way back from the store.”
Maddie noticed the little bag the woman was carrying and relaxed a little more.
“Come on in, Don’t worry about nuthin’. We’ll beat em’ senseless with old Baba O here if they poke there head in,” Maddie said as she leaped up on a chair by the door and swung away at an imaginary intruder.
A small nervous giggle bubbled up behind the woman’s closed mouth smile.
“Tha names Maddie B.” she leaped down and holding the bat over her shoulder extended her free hand.
“Esmeralda,” said the woman, “But everyone calls me Essie.”
“Well Essie it is. This is my mom’s dump, but she’s off working at the casino at this very moment. So you are free to stay for a while.”
“Tank you, I tink in about feefteen minutes I weel try to go.”
“I was jus’ havin’ the strangest dream. Sumptin’ about trying to dress up a little straw doll in a tuxedo so he could get married tomorrow.”
“Hmm, dat ees bery strange.”
“The funny thing was, I felt like it wasn’t really my dream.”