phoebe marmura – 3 stories


“Come hustling after midnight for unavailable men, rent them by the dime and bed them for love”

– some sign on the freeway

        For many years I was his private doll. He held me with pride. He’d hold my hand, or he’d hold me in his lap. Doesn’t her hair look pretty, piled up like that? He’d say to a room. Proud like he’d done it himself. We were pleased with one another. I’d clasp his arm and beam for anyone who would look. There were times when I liked being his doll. Lots of times, you know? For many years I was his private doll. Someone, tell me if I’m wrong. I liked it when he washed my hair and brought me out to dry in the sun. In the yard, I smelled like Palm shampoo and the smoke from his smoke.
        I am swollen, I need a place to lay. My bed is humid and veiled, I need to dry. In the damp sheets my breath tastes familiar. Then I sleep and dream of you and your bride and in my old life all I could smell was your breath and I liked it. Back then, you drank like a fish and so your mouth was peppery and gray and smooth and sweet. Your mouth felt to me like the first drag of the day. When it's noon and you’ve just woken up from murky sleep. Now I live on a catamaran and everything I see is cavernous. I live here alone, I sleep on a beach towel below the deck and waves tug through and around me. When I get out of the catamaran for lunch on a Sunday it is easter. There is cotton candy on sticks and babies gripping bouquets of wildflowers. I eat dinner at The Carousel. Stew, rice and horchata. I think back to three years before when I lived on land. I was his private doll in bars, yards, and beds. I liked it some days but not others. Because nothing is so simple you know, even the boat I live on is not so simple. There are oars to wax, skis to name, sails to direct, and many knots. You must know how to talk to the boat, comfort the boat. Some days you just hate the sea so much. Guadalupe is here, being loved on land. She is the only pure thing around because she is really dead, and so now, she can be everything that anyone wants her to be and so she is. When I find her out at sea, her hair is laced with pearls.

Joys and Sorrows from Texas and Above

        Outside of the Purley Gates Hotel, she watches as white feathers fall from the hair of a cowgirl onto hotel asphalt. The cowgirl gallops through the sliding glass doors, into the lobby. Below the gold-stamped sky, she watches a paper-thin princess unwrap a pink plastic wineglass for July barbecues and push its cellophane sheath into a trash bin. She closes her eyes to bleeding white horses, marquee lights, and hotel room tears. A Modelo cowboy walks by, swinging bags of lemons, cow knuckles for the dogs.
        Further down the road, in Hotel El Castro, a different cowgirl yodels in prayer along with the radio and stunted antenna. She sings to the silver longhorns in a frame above the bed. She claims fault for every sorrow in all of Texas. Texas and above. She finds joy in a half can someone’s left in the shower stall beside a doll-sized shampoo. Can’t be older than yesterday. Feels familiar like a well-worn bar of soap. Sometimes, the cowgirl puts on her boots and spurs, jeans and leathers, piles her hair into her hat, and then she tries to leave the room but cannot. Instead, the cowgirl shuffles around and prays and folds her bandanas into triangles, she tucks them into a drawer.
        At Purley Gates, the girl in the parking lot thinks that if the man at the front desk would give her a quarter for the phone booth and toothpaste for her teeth that she would just leave, she would leave Purley Gates and its parking lot for good. She goes back inside the lobby and the man at the desk looks red and like he will spit in her face. She begs him and then falls to her knees and says save me save me save me, she whimpers a little. The man’s face is now purple, he says who ARE you? Please leave or I will have to phone the police. The girl feels like she and the man are cows to the slaughter, both doomed for death or something like it, failure. And so, like a good friend she reaches across the desk, she grabs the lobby man’s hands, and she looks into his eyes which are turning softer. His face drains back to the color it was when his day began. But don’t you see SIR, she says, you’ve got to come with me, that’s just the way it must be! Her fingers knead into the centre of his palm where she begins to feel warm and safe. Her toes rise from the red lobby carpets, they dangle in the air. The girl sees now, the kitchen in his apartment with blue and white tea towels folded in a drawer, tinned food arranged by color, a small TV on top of the cabinet that he watches while he cooks and whisks about. The church channel, the Spanish channel, a bruised woman making tamales. She can see that in his apartment his eyes are gentle, and his coloring is just right. A veil removed. She can see that in the corner of his den, on red hardwood floors, behind a brown tweed couch, is a cot with a pink blanket, its trim white and crocheted. This is where his daughter sleeps when she visits on weekends. The lobby girl doesn’t tell him though, that she knows these things and what he ate for breakfast.
        He had a bad morning. He was having a nightmare and his alarm sounded inside his nightmare, it was disguised as the bleat of a sheep and he stayed sleeping. He missed his bus and so when he got to the glass doors of Purley Gates he was huffing and puffing and already Texas was hot. He didn’t have time to make his lunch and he’d forgotten his book on the nightstand. On his break he ate a vending machine tuna sandwich while baking in the courtyard, surrounded by honeysuckle and flies that drooped. He watched a bridal shower parade down the parking lot and into the lobby dressed like cowgirls, pastel ponies on sticks stuck to their thighs, shouting, seeping confetti and Lambrini champagne. The day dragged slow and the mother of his child called the front desk to say that she’d like to take the child to Luckenbach for the weekend to see the child’s grandparents. He remembered the parents of the mother of his child and how a yellow nail dipped in cold cream had made him shudder. He remembered the father sipping maraschino cherry juice from the jar while he chain-smoked and that’s how he got diabetes. He felt sad and slighted when the mother called with this news, he thought of his empty weekend.
        Now, it is nine pm at Purley Gates, and the man’s shift is nearly over. He dreams about the mystery book on his nightstand and a frosty bottle of root beer in the fridge. A doped-up girl wearing all pink satin comes into his lobby and will not leave. He does not want to call the cops. To file reports, to deal with rubberneckers or hear the slow slur of the sheriff. He does not want to stay past his shift with no overtime pay. He is angry at this girl for picking his hotel to loiter, she coulda gone to any of the others, The Alamo, or El Castro. He suspects she picked this one because of the twirling red boot on the roof, because the parking lot was just repaved and is sparkly, soft on her bare toes. Purley is the shiniest hotel on the strip. In fairness to the girl, he thinks he could have worked at any of the other hotels, at the Doves Yard or El Rancho. But he is here at Purley Gates, and a junky girl is holding his hands. He melts just a little bit into the moment, he sighs, his shoulders hunched, he leans in toward her. The girls’ eyes then remind him of his daughters. The same shape, the same terrifying, dazzling tease, tricking him into feeling more than he wants to.

Rosy Eyes

Grab life by the horns n ride ~ Jenny Styles

Visions of him and strawberry milk sunsets in the back of a truck somewhere in Arizona, maybe the canyon. Maybe in that lonely Texas town he took me to, they send me right over the edge. Some edge that brings me closer to her, to God. I can hear buffalo girls singing, crickets howling and coyotes whimpering when I'm on the edge. I can hear whispers of Bella, who I praise for showing me, once chaste and swaddled, the purity of the edge. More pure than swallowing desire, its lumps of shame building fortresses in my throat ~ only to crumble in the light, champagne dew, where sobriety is far and forgotten. The scent is warm. Powder and Carolina roses erupt in this dew, and with the oil that flows through me, I am soothed. Greased up like an engine, not yet purring. I bask in the tawny light that shines from a town or throng of fireflies. I've never known pleasure like falling asleep in his arms. They twitch and twist in his deepest slumber. Hard, dreamless sleep from long days, fighting eyes that seek rest, pistol whipped by wind and desert dust. I shake the need for self-contentment and embrace some vision of romance that I've been told all my life is a fantasy, crack pipe reverie. I've been searching for wholeness ever since Christ was a cowboy. Is the sting of not being with your lover, whether the lover is there in your mind, or there by your side, what keeps a candle lit for love? When I rouse you in my dreams, my lust balloons and wanes. My yearning to satisfy it, to hold you, can never be fulfilled. That's what I want, craving to no end. You are far from physical reality. I will truck alone, with you buried beneath my heart. I refuse to renounce these delights. Why else breathe, if not to twist yourself in baby cashmere and wriggle in its softness. Allow the billy's fur to soak your blood when you bleed. To achieve gratication through the spirits that writhe in your mind. I’ll be a martyr for desire and its fulfillment. She says velvet doesn't last forever. But my mind is lined in velvet. Worn to the bone and dull in some places. Gaudy in others, hanging like wild silkworm cocoons. I see you in my velvet mind. There you are in the wild blue yonder, just beyond my reach. You sparkle.

PHOEBE MARMURA is a writer and artist working on a collection of stories that explore desire, femininity, domestic adventure, and reclusion. She spends her time traveling, developing her practice, and working odd jobs.