White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
TIMOTHY L. MARSH
Timothy L. Marsh is currently a folklore research assistant at Memorial University, Newfoundland. In the last year his work has appeared or been accepted in several literary and academic magazines, including The Crab Orchard Review, The Nashwaak Review, The Newfoundland Quarterly, Green Hills Literary Lantern and The Oregon Literary Review, among others.

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FAST FOOD BAD, FRUIT STAND GOOD

Timothy L. Marsh

First summer after college means driving up to Davis to visit my only brother. The earth has whirled around the sun five or six times since last we saw each other, and with no job, no urgency to find one, there’s really no excuse to remain estranged. He also owes me money.

The drive from L.A. to Davis takes seven hours and carries you like a partially obstructed esophagus into the hyper-rustic gut of central California. It’s a slow, bug-smattering, 70 mile-per-hour march through hot bald hills, the dusty reek of bovine death camps, and dozens of plowbilly gas towns that feel like breathing with one failed lung.

The first ad appears just after Stockton and is followed by a sequence of homemade signs publicizing the names of the most prestigious of the citrus clique.

Oranges!!! Mandarins!!! Lemons!!! Limes!!! 5 miles!

Oranges!!! Mandarins!!! Lemons!!! Limes!!! 3 miles!

And on and on until finally: Fast Food Bad, Fruit Stand Good. Get Off Now!

Normally I steer clear of any operation associated with strings of shouting exclamation marks, but this is a few weeks after reading On The Road and converting to the Kerouac religion of raw experience, and everything about me is why the hell not.

I slide off the Grapevine at a No Services exit, go jouncing over ruts down a proper country interstate pecked by crows feeding on particles of 1988 roadkill, and pull into a gravel turnabout staked by an old man in a woeful wooden fruit stand that looks like it was assembled around the time the Okies were coming through.

I get out of the car and stand in the kicked-up dust. The heat is supernatural: a God-wrath triple-digit radiance that’s turned the breeze into detonation gasp.


I have a weird feeling about this fruit stand. The stand is stuffed to bursting with citrus: oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes; citrus on the counter and back on the shelves; citrus in crates and brown mesh sacks, loose citrus on the ground; a lot of loose citrus.

There is a stray orange by my foot. The orange is being dined on by three green-headed flies the size of bullet holes. The flies are like old high-school friends reuniting somewhere private for brunch. They are talking about their husbands and their jobs and old acquaintances from their lost distant life together.

The stand is built of the type of wood they use to board up the windows of abandoned buildings. There is a young woman sitting on a mattress in the back corner. The mattress is on the ground and looks like it oversaw some of the saddest lovemaking in California before retiring to this fruit stand.

The young woman is sitting on the edge of it, legs extended, bouncing a baby in her lap. The baby is slobbering on an unpeeled orange. The tasteless

peel is driving the toothless baby nuts and he’s using his gooey little tongue to prod it for structural weaknesses. Its head is sort of shaped like an orange, subtly lopsided, and its shabby baby clothes are stained with bits and threads of dried pulp.

The old man has a born-on date from the time California was a Mexican territory. He is the spit of unsuspenseful and rural stereotype dressed in denim bib overalls minus a shirt, a Miller High Life ballcap and two shrubby white sideburns like fossilized caterpillars. He is 450 years old if he’s a day and looks like the sound of archive metal shelving sliding open.

The young woman is actually a girl barely out of her teens—hair back tight with dark comely legs like kettles of Kahlua streaming from a pair of khaki shorts. I can’t tell her exact relationship with the old man. She might be his daughter; she might be his niece. She might even be his wife. In whichever case she has overtly committed herself to ignoring my presence in a way that has nothing to do with rudeness, but which gives me the feeling that I’ve


wronged her in some former life and have one hell of a nerve showing up at her fruit stand in this one.

I buy a sack of mandarins and two bags of limes for my brother in case he still drinks too much tequila. Nobody says much. The old man asks where I’m headed, tells me about drip irrigation and a new kind of loam that’s making mandarins sourer, and I ask a few instantly forgettable questions I can’t remember from a distance of 5 seconds away, but which probe the astonishing suspended animation of their lives, and just how long they’ve been out here selling citrus at the speed of grass growth.

After a few minutes of this, our wholesome, oddly tense transaction nearly complete, the old codger spits through the crack of his two front teeth, strokes his grizzled chin, and tells me like the world’s wisest local-yokel-teacher-tour-guide how right here, just north of the San Joaquin Valley, is the absolute hottest goddamn spot in the state of California that isn’t the Mojave. And that one summer it got so goddamn hot that all the ravines and creeks went dry, and there was nowhere for ranchers to water their cattle, so that the cattle

went mad, literally insane with thirst, and started fornicating night and day, if only to keep their minds off their throats. Screwing was the only thing that brought them relief. And so all that summer all you saw in the fields was cattle mounting cattle, daily and hourly, eyes bulging, tongues hanging out, mounting and grunting each other right there in the open sun; because it doesn’t matter where you are or how hot it gets, understand: it’s never too hot to fuck.

I try not to be obvious about it but the word fuck is a fetching hostess who guides my focus to the table of the girl’s body, and before I know it I am appraising her in that computerized masculine manner that is always so meaningless because it is empty of anything sensual.

The girl bounces the baby on her lap. She stares with perfect calm antipathy at everything behind and before her. It’s the old look worn by those who live in a world worth disappearing without much difference to anyone.

I stand there on the verge of the explicit like all the legends in the Kerouac gospels. From here there


is an impossible distance of prudence and decorum that my spirit shivers to surmount. It’s right there for the taking: the raw and outrageous, that intensely affecting consciousness expansion that comes as the fruit of uncooked experience. It isn’t just temptation. It’s opportunity.

But there is little hope when people use discreet persuasion on me. I’m too trepid for the soft sell. Reluctantly, damn near shamefully, I shrink back from the brink, make one last noise about the weather, take my fruit and drive back to the 5. The mandarins smell lovely and fill the car with their citrus fragrance.

Almost everywhere I’ve ever been I’ve encountered an opportunity to do the right thing in a meaningful situation, and failed to do it for the right reason on just about every occasion. From this dismal history comes the one and only thing I’ve learned for certain in my 30-plus years—that within every human soul there burns two kinds of passion: the passion that loves the good, and the passion that loves the bad. And the best you can

ever hope to say for yourself is that you loved the passion that loved the good, and hated the passion that loved the bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Timothy L. Marsh. White Whale Review, issue 1.2


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