Published Issue 120, December 2023
The hummingbirds and black flies were swarming in the back yard. It had been a typically fierce winter. But the ice had almost receded and the base would swing back to life.
The little one who shall here forward be referred to as ROO, had just finished eating salmon with mac n’ cheese. Her mom removed her from her booster and placed her facing the back door.
The spring breeze in the kitchen drew ROO to wander in the backyard. The family homes on the base were adjacent to a wide open sprawl.
ROO loved to put her small feet in the soft green blanket just a few steps off the cold stone slab step from the porch.
She looked up and saw a mighty hawk circling the field behind their yard. She pulled a deep breath of unctuousness thawing decay into her wee lungs.
She made haste pushing herself forward toward the perimeter of the yard. She could hear and smell something curious. It smelled like an old shoe and a fish had a baby but made cheese instead. It intrigued her so much as she cautiously edged toward the rose bushes her mom had trimmed the day before.
A heavy sound moved slowly toward her. It felt so large and yet so calm. It bumped her ever so softly with the moist tip of its nose. She smiled and put her wide open paw squarely on its nose and took a long slow breath in unison with the great creature.
This was the moment the MOM stepped out the back door to see ROO 30 paces ahead at the edge of the garden. Her right hand touching the nose of the female moose.
The MOM froze in pure stasis for but an instant. She pressed with every ounce she possessed and rushed from the stoop directly charging at ROO and the moose.
The creature could only faintly see the blue and white blur charging toward her and the strange wee creature. Being humongous, it felt no fear or hostility, but simply stepped back from the tiny warm hand, turning left then proceeding back to the creek for a drink.
The MOM swooped up ROO tight in her arms and burst into tears. She promised to never, ever put her down again. Sadly she would betray these words unwittingly all too soon.
It had been a bad run for her and JOHN. They’d met while he was passing through LA and she already had a little girl. She was a tiny, ferocious stone cold fox.
They’d jumped straight into each other’s lives like lemmings. JOHN moved them all over the world as his ARMY deployments progressed. Soon they’d welcome a sister in GERMANY and ultimately return to the States. Long Island held the promise of steady work as a firefighter and he could get a decent first home to let his new family grow.
But things didn’t go to plan.
They’d only been back a couple months when JOHN’s trips to the bar would turn into days occasionally where’d he just be off. The MOM took it and bit her rage only to carry on as she was stranded deep in the NORTH FORK.
Eventually his drinking led to brutal beat downs and she feared for her life. In a moment of pure fear she ran.
The bus was full that morning as she hitchhiked to STONY BROOK.
The station agent could tell she was in a bad way and gave her a METS hoodie, wishing her well. She boarded the bus with the feeling of regret she would live with for the next 19 years.
ROO awoke that Sunday to find her GRANDMA making breakfast. When she asked where mama was she replied that she had to take a trip because of a family emergency and should be back in a couple days.
Ten years later they dropped ROO off in Arkansas. He greeted the AUNT warmly and thanked her for her help. The whole trip had been an elaborate rouse to discard her to the care of her aunt.
JOHN had remarried a few months after the MOM ran off. They had another little girl. The ROO thought the whole time that JOHN was her DAD and they were all her family. She would proudly Dawn the colors on COLUMBUS DAY and sing the song eating TIRAMISU on her DAD’s lap. But this solider and servant of man could no longer care for this petite pistol who hated his WIFE and would pull insane capers to express her vitriol toward the pale-faced bitch who smacked her around and called her a SPIC.
The ROO had been left to a clan the MOM was certain would look after her as she made her way through the wilderness. She wouldn’t have been able to leave otherwise. But these people had reached their limit, so off to TITI in the OZARKS she went.
They had loved and cared for her for as long as she’d made memories. But now they had chosen to discard this angry 13 year old. She never forgave her JOHN for driving her MOM to run away.
At first things in Arkansas were okay. But the ROO was wild and could not be tamed. She shared the same wild beating heart her MOM had. She would dream about her MOM coming back to take her away from the OZARKS. From her bewildered TITI. She ran away three times and never got further than EUREKA SPRINGS.
She was hitchhiking once and passed a sign heading south stating:
THIS HIGHWAY IS MAINTAINED BY THE KU KLUX KLAN
This scared her. She was fully grown at 13 but stood only 4-feet 8- inches. She looked very indigenous with pronounced AZTALAN cheek bones that one would expect on a MAYAN queen. Her MOM had told her as a child that she was MEXICAN. Her MOM was born as she was in EAST LA. Raised on dried meat and fry bread as the nomadic YAQUI people had for millennia.
They were a tribe with ancestral lands as the space they had existed stretched across the border. It was recognized that they were a people who had no land or reservation, utterly stripped of a physical identity by a border between two broken lands.
Her aunt and uncle really tried. They felt horrible that the ROO had been cast off by these heartless ITALIANS from LONG ISLAND. It was all too easy for them to give up on her and return her to her blood like a shirt that doesn’t fit. After her third attempt to run, her aunt chose to bring her to stay with her GRANDMA in BRISBE. It was harsh and isolated on the ZUNI reservation where she’d settle with her second husband decades prior. When TITI drove her across the acrid plane leading to the REZ, the ROO dreamed of putting her toes in the cool blue ocean of the NORTH FORK.
GRANDMA loved ROO so much. She was overjoyed when TITI appeared with the wild-eyed teen. TITI left telling her that she was staying here until she could track down her MOM somehow.
The ROO stayed in the desert for two years before she checked out completely and entered the wild as a 15 year old. The roar of the train was a constant sound in their lives on the REZ. At dawn and dusk the line would sound its horn and pull up to the tiny RAIL SHED where the men refilled their water and checked the line.
She didn’t know she was leaving. She rode her bike to the edge of town and got a flat tire. She threw her precious pink Huffy GRANDMA had traded some tourist for a fantastic beaded belt. GRANDMA taught her to bead as their people had always done. It was the one thing that removed the pain and hurt she felt towards her MOM for abandoning her.
As the ROO walked the long, lonely and dusty path back to GRANDMA’s trailer she heard the whistle. A wanderlust she’d never knew consumed her like a giant whale engulfing thousands of KRILL. She stopped in her tracks and turned to the left and started sprinting towards the mighty steel monster. She’d seen people hop trains for a long time and felt she could too if she could just get fast and close enough.
As the roar of the mighty line clacked past she gazed up into the bowl of stars above her head. Taking a deep breath and pulling up her bandana over her mouth. She blinked and sprinted with everything she had toward the line and grabbed a grain car ladder, throwing her leg up to pull her body to safety. She had $40 and a hoodie.
The ROO would end up in Chicago first, but bounce from Denver, Michigan, California, Arizona and Wyoming.
She and her mother stayed estranged of each other for almost two decades before social media reunited them. The ROO even spent decent chunks of time with MOM’s family in EAST LA over the years..
Whenever she’d return her MOM would tell the story. The story of ALASKA and how her little ROO put out her hand and touched a MOOSE.
The ROO is still in the wild blazing her path and writing her story.
Check out Zac’s November Birdy install, The Doomed Search For Atlantis And Attila The Orca, or head to our Explore section to see more of his work.