by John Haggerty
Sam skates in the kiddy pool at the old KOA Campground. It’s horrible, really—shallow, kidney shaped, so coated with spray paint obscenities that it’s pebbled under his wheels. Every day when he arrives, he finds it filled with tumbleweeds. He fishes them out and watches them blow away across the disintegrating parking lot.
Allie used to come out here to smoke pot and watch him skate, but she’s gone now, disappeared into the social service maze. He gets postcards from her sometimes. She is in California now, which she says is much worse than they let on.
His mom works out at the prison, and it’s made her hard. “It’s a shitty world we live in, son,” she says, “and it’s full of shitty people.” And then she drinks a beer, looking out the front window at the barren street. Last week, her cousin turned up on her yard out of the blue, some bureaucratic snafu. He’s doing a two-to-five for possession with intent. “Nobody has to know,” he said. “It’s not like our names are the same. We can help each other out.” She said he looked different, tougher and more scared at the same time. Her supervisor was on vacation, so she had to file his transfer paperwork herself. He tried to spit on her when they took him past the watch office on his way to the bus.
Sam attempts a run down the pool, but can’t get enough speed even to bank up on the side. The cement is cracking as if it wants to turn back into sand, become part of the desert again. In a couple of years, you won’t be able to ride here at all. In spite of everything, he thinks he might miss it.
Back when the campground was still open, he and Allie used to ride their bikes out here. They would stand outside the fence, watching the tourist kids splash and play in the blazing sun until Gil, the owner, came and chased them away.
They laughed about it, called it going to the zoo, the two of them squinting at the exotic species in their chain link enclosure. But it kept him awake at night, that cool dot of blue filled up with happy kids in the middle of the big, empty desert. The families who tomorrow would step into their shiny cars, their long RVs, and vanish down the interstate on their way to whatever gleaming, immaculate places they lived.
Sam sits down on the crumbling cement and closes his eyes. He dreams of long, empty Hollywood swimming pools, their paint sky blue and unmarred, still radiant with the smooth bodies of starlets once caressed by their crystal waters. He skates on flawless, undulating expanses of concrete, gaining speed, riding shallow to deep, banking up the side and hitting a dazzling combination of tricks—Gingernsnap, Casper Disaster, Coco Slide, Plasma Spin, Ollie up onto the lip, where he stands, his arms outstretched, triumphant.
I seem to revisit these themes periodically—the western deserts, deterioration, the slow collapse of the American dream. Sometimes I think we are a tremendously sad people, all of those Interstates and nowhere to go.
John Haggerty’s work has appeared most recently in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Nimrod, and Salon. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, Calamity Springs, which was a finalist for the 2013 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. He is a member of online writers’ collective, The Fiction Forge. http://john-haggerty.com