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"The Permanent Marks left by the Broken Hearts Out on the 405" by Steve Passey


Southern California smells of honeysuckle, pomelo, orange blossoms, lavender and the Pacific Ocean, always the ocean. All scents are carried inland from the water, across the sand and the pavement, up from the leaves of the trees and flower petals and across the whole even into the San Gabriel Mountains. In the beginning, before there were missions and buildings of stone, and before the permanent marks left by the broken hearts out on the 405, the Los Angeles floodplain was heavily wooded with willow and oak trees. Aloft on the winds from the ocean and fed on the nectar of flowers, a thousand hummingbirds fly like bees.


Michelle sat on the park bench across from the assisted living facility with a tote bag holding her service weapon and the wireless kit. She had on her sunglasses but wore her hair long to cover her ear-piece. She didn’t wear body armor. This was strictly surveillance, so she was able to take her jacket off and put it in the tote and sit there with just her black t-shirt, jeans and boots.

You doin’ OK? Rick’s voice came in over the radio.

All good, she responded.

She and Rick and been at the DEA for a few years and had worked together before. He had overwatch. Michelle had to sit there and look like anyone else while she watched traffic. They were looking for five to seven-year-old GMC pickups with toppers, with two Hispanic men and clean California plates. The Tijuana Lonely Boys – an affiliate of a larger Tijuana cartel – were moving P2P methamphetamines in false bottoms in the beds. They’d deliver to the rear of the restaurant kiddy-corner from the assisted living facility and then distribute to the street-level dealers from there. Michelle would sit on a park bench near the intersection to spot and call out trucks. The rest of the team observes, and counts, and then one day will be the last day and they’ll make the bust. The “TLB” were smart enough not to use the same truck, the same drivers, or the same day of the week to make their run each time so the case had to be built from surveillance, one run at a time. So, Michelle sat. The DEA were smart too, and it wasn’t always Michelle, and Michelle wasn’t always in the same clothes. This is how the game was played.

On most of her days, but not all, an old man using a walker came out of the assisted living facility and just stood in the sun for a few minutes. Some days he would walk as best he could and he got as far as the intersection and waited for the lights to change, but then went back, as if he wanted to cross but then thought better of it.

You see that guy? Rick? Ricky? You see that guy? That old guy with the walker?

Yes, Rick spoke. Yes, I got him. What – you think he’s spotting for them?

No, no, no – I think he’s just trying to cross the street. How sad.

He’s not wearing an ankle monitor, Rick said. He can’t be too bad.

It was true, many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients in these places had monitors to alert the staff when they get past the doors. They were an escape risk – a hazard to themselves and others, but this guy looked clean.

Any trucks yet, Rick asked. Any Lonely Boys?

No, she said, but you’ll be the first to know when I do.

The Park had been mowed that morning and it still smelled of fresh cut grass. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There were no trucks.

Hey, Rick said over the wireless. The old guy made it into the crosswalk.

Michelle looked over. It was true. He’d been waiting for the light to change and then had started to cross the street. He was maybe a third of the way when it changed again. Traffic had to stop but no one shouted or laid on their horn. Instead, they waved. He looked like he was doing some sort of a victory lap. He paused and held a fist up high in salute to the onlookers before making his way across to Michelle’s side of the street.

Go old guy, Rick said.

Go old guy, Michelle echoed.

Michelle watched the old man, who rested a bit, his chin tucked into his chest, before jerking his head up and coming, step by painful step, towards her. Some old men get old and they have a belly that falls down like a half-empty sack of grain. They have to wear suspenders to keep their pants up. If they don’t their pants fall down and they look like their legs are too short to even have knees. Other old men, their belly tucks in and rests up tight against their spine, and these old men belt their pants up just under the armpits. The old man with the walker was one of the latter, his brown pants worn up high and tight.

He got to the end of the bench Michelle sat on and waited a bit, catching his breath.

Rick came in over the radio. Is he ok? Should I call an ambulance?

Michelle said nothing and just looked at the old man.

Hey baby, the old man said. I’ve been watching you. How come you never smile? You should smile more.

I’ll try and remember that, sir, Michelle said. She used her cop voice. She looked away after she said it, to make it clear that she was done with him.

So, tell me something, he said, breathing hard again, trying to right himself after his marathon. Tell me: What does a guy have to do to get into your guts?

What? Michelle said, looking at him. She could hear Ricky laughing out loud in her ear piece.

Yeah, what’s a guy got to do to get into your guts?

Rick was nearly in hysterics in the earpiece.

How old are you Grandpa, she asked?

Old enough, he said. You know what they say: The older the buck, the harder the horn.

OK, look Buck, she said, you can’t get into my guts, or anyone’s guts. I doubt you ever could. We’re going to turn you around and send your ass back into that assisted care bed of yours, and the care attendants there are going to let you lie in bed in a puddle of your own piss for three days because they are sick of your shit too.

MICHELLE, MICHELLE, MICHELLE. Rick was shouting into her earpiece.

The old man just stared.

RUN! She shouted at the old man.

The old man’s head jerked up at her command.

“MICHELLE! TRUCKS! LOS LONELY BOYS!” Rick shouted into the earpiece.

A large woman in a green uniform with a name tag on a lanyard had come out of the assisted living facility and was looking around. Michelle stood up and waved at her. The woman shook her head and began to run towards them. Michelle stood up and grabbed the old man’s walker and yanked it hard around so that he could not face her. He very nearly fell but somehow held the vertical. His hands and knuckles were spotted and his fingernails long and yellow. The woman in the uniform came still shaking her head.

What’d he do, she asked?

Michelle rolled her eyes, and the aide led the old man away.

Eventually, Rick shut down surveillance and sat down by Michelle for a while. She did not speak.

What are you doing tonight, he asked?

Off to my sister’s place to make antipasto and get my hair cut, she said. Once a month or so we get together. We make something useful because Teresa wants us to remember how we grew up. Our mom made everything from scratch, and Teresa cuts our hair. Mom always wanted us to keep our hands busy, and to get good marks. Family traditions.

Your sister is still doing hair? Rick asked.

Just for friends and family, Michelle said. She married well, so she doesn’t have to spend twenty years standing over the chair. No carpal tunnel syndrome or an osteoarthritic back for her now.

How’s your younger sister doing? Rick asked.

Still going through lots of men, lots of wine, and feeling sorry for herself, Michelle said.

Is she still hot?

She’ll always be hot. She’ll always be a flake.

You know, today, Rick said, with that old guy – that was hilarious. Ain’t no perv like an old perv. I thought you might shoot him.

I thought about it. Think of the attendants. He needs one of those monitoring bracelets – one with some sort of electrical shock control. I’d light him up first thing in the morning and then a few more times every day just in case he was even thinking about thinking about pulling more of that shit.

If you want, Rick said, we can make a complaint to the P.D. They’ll have a uniform go on in there and talk to him. Scare him a bit.

What for? Michelle said. I bet he already shits himself. Have a good weekend, Ricky.


Daisy, the youngest of the three Guzman sisters, sat on a stool at her sister Teresa’s kitchen counter with her wine and watched her sister start to prepare the vegetables for homemade antipasto. Mushrooms and peppers, black pepper, sugar and salt. She cut the vegetables with a thousand-dollar knife. She’d been a hairdresser before getting married, and knew the value of having good equipment.

Daisy drank her wine.

How is the Canadian? Teresa asked.

Gone back to Canada, Daisy said, then refill!

Ah, that’s right. I remember you crying. Is it an Australian now?

Teresa poured.

He was British, and he was before the Canadian. I’ve got a local guy now, a good guy. A great guy. One-hundred percent All-American. He even played football in high school.

I never can keep track, Chica.

Hey Chica, don’t you be calling me Chica! Daisy laughed.

We grew up in the same house. It’s not 1988 anymore either. It’s not my fault our parents named me Daisy. You got the best name, and then Michelle is Michelle. Still good. And I get Daisy. I was doomed from the start. And you could keep track if you paid attention.

It’s possible. Teresa acknowledged her sister’s complaint about her name. Why did you dump the Canadian? He seemed nice.

I don’t know, Daisy said. I didn’t so much dump him as he just left and never came back. Men, hey. Who knows?

Teresa looked at Daisy. Because Daisy had always been beautiful, she’d never had to be kind. What had she said or done to the Canadian? She had always been at war with her men. Other women too, except for Teresa. Daisy and Michelle did not get along all that well. Teresa felt sorry for the Canadian, whom she imagined to be bound in heavy coats and scarves, his face invisible beneath them as he forged through the snow to find whatever sad fate awaited him up there. She could only imagine what Daisy had said or done.

Daisy spoke again. Just give me the bottle, Chica; I’ll refill my own glass. That’s how it works: You prep, I pour. Michelle can run the food processor. When will Michelle be getting here?

Michelle is late, Daisy said.

She’s always late. It’s a fact, not an answer.

Work, or traffic, or both, Teresa said.

The antipasto was all in mason jars now, and in paper shopping bags, four jars for each sister.

When will Mark and the boys get back? Daisy asked.

Whenever the Dodgers game is over, Teresa said. That’s where he took them.

That’s nice. You know, if he took the boys out, I bet he’ll expect a little something-something when he gets back. Know what I mean? Uh-huh uh-huh?

Teresa laughed and said, He’ll be home and will fall asleep in the chair watching the news while I get the boys to bed. Besides, I haven’t shaved – shaved anything – in ten days. I’d need to shower and take care of myself first. By the time that’s all done – it’s tomorrow.”

They both laughed.

Hey, sister, will you cut my hair tonight, Daisy asked Teresa, once they had stopped laughing.

Of course. Do I ever say no? Teresa said.

I’m thinking of going short.

Don’t. You won’t like it.

It’s just hair, it’ll grow back.

True, but you won’t like it.

Michelle walked into Teresa’s carried on the scent of jasmine. Teresa had managed to grow some on trellises framing the doorway and it carried inside in the wake of everyone’s passing even in the still of early evening.

Hey Chicas, she said as she walked in. I’m sorry I’m late.

Hey Chica, said Teresa. Long day at the office?

How’s the Canadian, Michelle asked as she took her jacket off.

Teresa shot her a look that said: Don’t.

It’s okay, said Daisy, He’s gone. I have a new guy now.

What did you do?

Why does it always have to be something I did? Why would you assume that? At any rate, I have a new man. You should meet him. Judge for yourself.

You know what, Michelle said, if you can keep him for six months bring him around. I’ve always wanted to witness a miracle.

Daisy didn’t hear. She had taken out her phone and was getting ready to take some selfies while Teresa cut her hair. Daisy’s hair, long and golden-brown and rich was the gift of her mother and her mother before her and probably from a line of women with the same beautiful hair going back to the holy woman Toypurina even, and past her to women whose names aren’t remembered. Hair like that is the miracle born of many, not just of one.

Michelle poured herself a glass of wine and watched Teresa cut Daisy’s hair. We all have beautiful hair, she thought. It will be steel grey by the time we are forty, it will be a shame to cut it short, even though our mother had cut hers short, and the scent of flowers, all flowers that we pass by, stays in our hair for hours and that’s why those little hummingbirds follow us. Let our hair grow long, if only for our mother’s sake.

The wind stirred, coming from far out on the Pacific Ocean, and took the scent of jasmine from the doorway up into the mountains along with the orange blossoms, the pomelo, the honeysuckle and the innumerable scents of growing things. In the vines and flowers, the white hummingbirds jostled and fought to feed, their wings buzzing and their tails popping with each warning dive, living as they always have, even before there were men and roads and buildings of stone. She did not think of the old man with the walker again.

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