Nobody walks in Albuquerque in the summer if they don’t have to. The blocks are long, and when the sun is out, the pavement and concrete reflect the sun back up, making things feel even hotter.
She turned out if the high school and walked down to the end of the block past a strip mall parking lot, then baked in the sun waiting for the light to change. It was the last day of summer school. She was doing everything she could to graduate early. She hated high school. She had always hated school. Maybe it was because of her parents.
She walked down a long block, passed gas a station, and then an auto parts store. Another strip mall. There was a bar she passed every day. She always wondered what went on in there. She just wanted to go in to that darkness, not for the booze — she’d been drunk — but for the darkness. What was behind that door. Who drove those cars parked outside. Someday she’d know.
She was hot. She put her dark hair up on her head. She moved her books around. A man hung out the window of a car and yelled, stuck his tongue out and then said, “Hey, baby!”
“That’s original, fuckhead!” she yelled back. With her free right hand she extended her middle finger, her left arm clutching her geometry text book. The car honked and sped off.
She wrapped both arms around the book and finished crossing the street including the median strip. She knew her mother would be home. She’d be at the kitchen table. She didn’t want to see her. She didn’t want to deal with her. She’d already put this off long enough. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t stop worrying.
They lived on Muriel Street. She thought it was ridiculous. It was Dorothy, Tomasita, Claudine, and then Muriel.
“What stupid names,” she often thought. Why women’s names?
“Maybe it was their secretaries or their grandmother’s names,” her mother used to say of the men who developed the neighborhood out of the desert.
“I’d like to think it was their mistresses,” she’d say. “At least they got something!” She’d laugh. She hated her laugh. She’d say that Tomasita must have been hot stuff.
The house was small with two doors, the front door not facing the front at all but the driveway. There was a back door, but it came into the living room too. And even the side door was visible from a corner of the square shaped house. In the corner was the kitchen table where her mother graded papers. Even if she just wanted to slink in, she couldn’t, every entry was visible from the kitchen table, which her mother noted by calling it the panopticon. And laughing.
Sometimes she really thought her eyes would get stuck pointing up, she rolled them so often when she was around her mother and her stupid comments — about everything.
When she got to the door she stopped. She could see her mother through the curtains, right where she was supposed to be. Why did she have to be so beautiful and smart but so annoying.
“I guess she’s not as bad as most,” she thought. “But this is fucked up.”
She turned the handle and walked in. She tried to avoid eye contact. The door slammed behind her.
“Hello, honey,” she said not looking up. Then she did. “The door. Please. Slamming.”
“You could fix it,” she said.
“And you could not slam it,” she said back.
She felt herself rolling her eyes. She walked over and flipped on the couch.
“How was your last day? Did you get grades?”
“Yes. It was the last day.”
“Yes. There is a grade.”
Now her mother turned in her chair.
“Why are we being a challenge today?” she said. “We’re done with geometry and what’s our grade?”
“Fuck Mom,” she seethed. “I am done with geometry. I got an A.”
She threw her text book on the floor.
Then she said, emphasizing “I” in the same way, “And I am pregnant.”
Her mother laughed.
“Oh baby,” she said. “You are also very funny. Now stop being so dramatic. Congratulations. You did well.”
“I did,” she said. “And if he’s a boy I’m naming Pythagoras.”
Her mother, almost as if she knew how her gleeful laugh at her daughter’s wit was agonizing, laughed again.
But she wasn’t annoyed. She was scared.
“Mommy!” she said, starting to cry. “Mommy, I’m scared.”
A moment couldn’t have passed between when she heard that pain and when she was holding her. It was a scrapped knee. A nightmare. That sound of her girl hurting and afraid made her move like lightening.
She held her as she cried and sobbed.
“Honey,” she soothed. “What is going on?”
She pulled her away for a moment and held her shoulders and looked into her face. It was like looking into a mirror. The eyes were green. They looked, even with tears, like they were looking over the top of a wall.
“Tell me honey,” she said. “What’s wrong?
“I think I’m pregnant, mommy,” she said.
“Why do you think that?” she asked.
Now she was annoyed again.
“Look, I know you’re not a real doctor but think about it,” she said.
“Your period?” she asked.
“Mom,” she said. “C’mon. I know my body.”
“Have you taken a test?” she asked furrowing her brow.
“I just did,” she said. “The area of a parallelogram may be calculated using the cross product of…”
“Now stop being funny!” she said sternly. “I mean a pregnancy test!”
“No, mom,” she said and rolled away, burying her face in a couch pillow.
“Let’s go get one,” she said. “We’re going to find out. Get up!”
They piled into the car and backed out into the street.
“Do you ever listen to anything other than R.E.M.?” she asked as they drove toward the main road.
We were little boys
We were little girls
It’s nine o’clock, don’t try to turn it off
Cowered in a hole, open mouth
We in step, in hand, your mother remembers this
Hear the howl of the rope, a question:
Did we miss anything? did we miss anything?
Did we miss anything? did we miss anything?
“You know I do,” she said. “Are we really going to fight over music at this point?”
She made a right, heading the car south.
“Mom, we can not go to Albertsons,” she said. “Are you high or something? It’s like right by the school. Jesus, Mom.”
“Yeah, ok,” she said. “I get it. You don’t want the paparazzi to see us buying a pregnancy test.”
“How can you be so smart about so many things but not the basics?” she lectured. “Why don’t we just take the test in front of one of your seminars.”
“Calm the fuck down, sweetie,” she said under her breath. “Jesus. Just take it easy. Let’s just work together on this.”
She always said that. It was so weird because she was such a hippie. She always talked about them being a team. Like she was Vince Lombardi or something.
They kept driving down Juan Tabo.
“Ok, here,” she pointed to a Walgreens.
“No,” she said. “Keep going!”
Finally they agreed on a pharmacy.
“Let’s go in,” she said. “Ready?”
“I’m not going in!” she said. “Are you serious?”
“Honey, if I was going in and you were just gonna sit in the car we could have gone to Albertsons!”
Her mother sighed.
“Fine,” she said. “Mom’s going in! Cover me!”
She just put her hands in her face as her mom disappeared into the store. She ejected the CD. And put in something else. She slid down in the seat and turned up the volume.
She’s stole my karma oh no.
Sold it to the farmer oh no.
She’s always looking at me.
She’s always looking at me.
She’s such a charmer oh no.
Her mother got back to the car with a bag and got in.
“We are not listening to this right now,” she said and turned off the stereo. “Just some quiet.”
She steered the car back and they didn’t say anything until they pulled into the driveway.
They walked in and her mother put the bag on the kitchen table taking out its contents and unwrapping the package. There were two pen shaped objects.
“Is the second one for you mom?” she asked.
“Jesus, you never let up,” she said with a sigh. “That’s all they had was a package of two. Don’t get me started with you. I’m being nice here.”
“Yeah, okay,” said walking toward her mother. “Gimmie one of those.”
They headed to the bathroom with her mother behind.
“Are you going to sit on my lap?” she said.
“God damn, you are always on aren’t you,” she said. “Just get in there and pee on it. Don’t miss.”
The door closed.
“Are you really going to stand outside the door?” her muffled voice said.
“Just pee on it,” she said through the door.
She could hear her making noises. And the urine hitting the water. Her mind kept going in so many directions. She had questions. Was she handling this the right way? How did this happen? How many times had she told her to be careful? Why wasn’t she more strict?
“And what the fuck is he going to say?” she said under her breath. “‘Now what have you done?’ he’ll say.”
She knew they’d argue over everything about this just like they argued about her name, and her schools, and what their girl should be — or if she should be at all.
“Ok,” her voice said. “I didn’t get pee everywhere but it worked. How do you read this fucker, mom?”
“Come out here,” she said.
The door opened.
“Will this thing tell me if it’s a boy or a girl?” she said holding up the pen. “Better yet, will it be a Republican or a Democrat?”
“Just give it to me, Jesus Christ,” she said taking it and walking back to the kitchen. “Let me see here.”
“It’s looking faint,” she squinted at it. “It looks like…”
“You’d think by now the test would just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’” she said watching her mom squinting. “Who makes these, Polaroid?”
Her mother looked at her, and handed her the pen.
“You know your body,” she said.
They looked at each other for a long moment. The older woman’s mind raced. The young woman’s mind seemed to stop. There was too much to consider. They truly loved one another, more than words could ever hold. But yet they were as cut off from each another as one person could be from another, like one of them was on earth and the other one in outer space.
There was an old clock that has been in the house since it was first moved into. It was a loud clock. It ticked away filling the moment of hesitant silence. What would happen next? Was this a miracle of some kind or a disaster?
She stepped forward and they held each other.
“Oh baby,” she said. “We’ll figure it out.”
“Mommy,” she said. “I just didn’t think it would happen to me.”
Featured photo is by Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1958, printed 1974, gelatin silver print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 1974, Estate of Garry Winogrand, Museum purchase, 1985.36.1
The photo of 1208 Muriel today, the house in the photo by Winogrand, is from Google.
The drawing of the possible of layout of the house is based on photographs from a recent sale of the house and is by the author.
Catapult, by R.E.M. is featured in the closing credits of All Things Are Photographable, a film by Sasha Waters Freyer about the life and work of Garry Winogrand.