A Northwest Based Literary Journal

What it's Worth, by Jaimee Wriston Colbert

“For What It’s Worth” is the ultimate paranoia romp, a Buffalo Springfield song that came to symbolize the turmoil of the Vietnam War. In a few years I’ll be part of the waves of student protest, but right now I’m a teeny-bopper from Honolulu, first big trip to the mainland, and it’s Disneyland at night with a California Girl, older daughter of my mother’s friend, all blond and tan and curvy-hot, a fox. Beside her I’m hipless as a snake, a popsicle stick, flat as a boy. With my mess of thick hair bush-whacked and beaten into a triangular shaped submission, I’m walking geometry: un-Californian, un-cool, and all the cats stare at her as I cower behind my country singer mass, cousin of It, an eighties hair-band wannabe. The California Girl rolls her eyes at Disneyland’s rides, scowls at the six-foot Mickey Mouse, his giant gloved hand; I contemplate crawling into that hand and hiding. She leads me to an outside bandstand where it’s the Buffalo Springfield (!) glowing under lights the white of salvation; my companion’s face is rapturous. We hunker on the ground where hippies have spread tapestry-blankets and she pulls out a joint from her bellbottoms pocket—Watch out for the PIGS, she warns.

Paranoia… it’s this word that will resonate over the years, Vietnam, Iran hostage crisis, Reagan’s trickle-down, into the nineties where it’s increasingly obvious: the rich getting richer and the poor going down, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorists, shooters in our schools, the 2008 financial meltdown, global warming, massive species extinctions, and in upstate New York where Troy of “Finding the Body” resides, where I am now, almost 50% of children live below the poverty line.

Troy is a damaged Cassandra: dyslexic, in trouble for drugs, deserted by his parents who fled to Africa after causing an accident that crippled a young woman; then his girlfriend vanishes one day, and he knows the world is an unsafe place, yet no one will listen to him, not even Lois, whom his parents injured, who believes Troy came to her for redemption. When the body of a twelve-year-old floats into a marsh off the Susquehanna River and no one can identify her, she symbolizes for Troy the ultimate erasure. He feels powerless, a victim of this “dying place” as he calls his hometown, that like so many of America’s post-manufacturing communities, has plummeted into decline. To Troy, the unclaimed body of the girl proves that “shit happens” and no one will be held accountable.

“Finding the Body” is part of a forthcoming linked story collection called Suicide Birds that explores paranoia and powerlessness in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, the disparity between the urban rich and rural poor, assaults on the environment, the shrinking middle class. And Troy, whose days begin with tying the shoes of his stroke-paralyzed grandfather, then stalking Lois, her wheelchair in the late afternoon sun “lit up all silvery like she was sitting atop some altar,” despairs that it’s too late to do the right thing even if he had a clue what that would be. Shh, Lois whispers, pressing Troy’s head into her bare chest, his eyes shut tight.

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Categorised in: Fiction, TLR News

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