Painted Lady

Alana Amram Issue: Section:

“Clouds of incense cloaked the magic dusk. Barbecue, piñon, marijuana, fried catfish, mesquite and tobacco swirled as the campfires and chrismas lights guided the festival into the night”

I saw Bethany every summer.  We would get into a rental car from the airport after carrying as much of my father's instruments as each of our little kid hands could carry. On the way to get the car, in an effort to get help carrying the instruments we kept dropping, my father charmed at least 3 employees of the airport by speaking several languages, singing songs from their native countries and cracking self deprecating jokes that just scratched the surface of how eccentric our family really was.
    About halfway through the drive under the Texas sun, I would nod in and out of a trance.  No AC, stuck to the vinyl seats. Counting fence posts.  Searching for Armadillos- the closest thing to a dinosaur I could imagine.  Only twice in my life I saw them, upside down and dead in the washed out gravel road ditches.  After my second nap I knew I would be there soon.  Me and Bethany would run wild. She liked mischief as much as me.
    In the distance I got the first glimpse of bright red and blue tents and tarps flapping in the wind, knowing fun was coming soon. The dusty browns of the South Texas ranches patiently yielded to the festival ahead. The circus had come to the country.
    Frantically my Dad rifled through papers in search of parking passes and directions.  A volunteer parking attendant cleared us, smiling from ear to ear.  She wore long silver braids, a blinking visor run by a 9 volt battery, a T shirt covered in medallions and a scarf holding her baby on her back.  We passed the gatekeeper and bounced around the seats rolling over the dry grass.
    Anxiously, I stared out the window looking for Bethany.  Somewhere in the sea of those tents she was having her face painted.  We pulled behind the stage, I opened the car door and was flooded with the sweet sounds of Townes Van Zandt's voice reverberating though the sky.
    I said to my Mom that I was going to find my friend.  Just as she got worried, my baby brother distracted her.  As he tried to climb onto the stage and my little sister screamed for the bathroom I had my window to disappear.  Off I went.
    I headed into the crowd of teary eyed listeners, interpretive dancers and shit kickers.  I heard the lyrics:
        "To lives to fly
        Awe low and high
        Shake the dust off of your wings
        The sleep out of your eyes"
When you are young I think your bones are malleable to sound.  When I recall this time, I don't remember the singing as something in my ears, but something in my backbone and blood.  It is a rattling that shook me and shaped me.  It made my feet connect to the ground and the air thick enough to hold me upright.
    All these towheaded kids look like her, I thought.   I stepped through a field of blankets, careful not to mess up each little homemade living room.  I recognized a lady with overalls on and her breasts hanging out the sides and a longhaired man playing a washtub bass.
    "Hey, remember me?  I'm Dave's kid."
    "Sure, darling. Well, hello!"
    "Do you know where Bethany is?  I'm looking all over!"
    "Haven't seen her.....  Where are your parents?"
    I looked up and my Dad was onstage playing the penny-whistle and my Mom was playing guitar.
    "Up there. Thanks.  See ya."
    I ran over to the funnel cakes, singing along with my Mother's song as it reverberated through the food stands.  Clouds of incense cloaked the magic dusk. Barbecue, piñon, marijuana, fried catfish, mesquite and tobacco swirled as the campfires and chrismas lights guided the festival into the night.  I was lost but safe.
    "Hey Alana!!"
    We hugged.  I knew we would find each other.  Bethany was taller than I remembered.  Her blond hair, stringy and straight, went all the way down her back. Her accent was thicker than ever and I made her repeat herself sometimes when she spoke too fast.  Arkansas had a strange tongue.
    "I am working with my brother, c'mon!"
    I was employed filling lemonade glasses and yelling and screaming at anyone who walked by to come to our stand.  I was 9 and career driven.
    "Is it sweetened?" a lady asked as we poured her a cup.  Bethany sipped it and handed it to her nodding yes.

    "Where have you been?"
    "Working with Bethany."
    "Having fun?", my Mother smiled.  "Lets go see your Dad play, you can both come.  I got you a present."
    She handed me a blinking visor and a glow in the dark necklace for me and Bethany.  We screamed with joy!
    "This way I won't lose you girls in the night."
    Off we blinked until it was too dark to see each other.

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