Flamenco Flood came to me in the early spring of 1996 when the trees were heavily laden with snow, the skies were dark, and it had been raining and snowing for a month. As it is most every year in the lower parts of the Sutter/Yuba counties, for a week the news people had been hot on the trail of another potential flood in Marysville at the confluence of the mighty Yuba and Feather rivers.
In our county, as with most, there are a number of different kinds of people including the hardworking hero’s who battle traffic each morning to get to their jobs, the upper crust shakers and movers, the more leisurely work-at-home crowd, then of course there are those brave souls who believe they are special and above the mandates of social behavior. In this county we so lovingly call that special breed the ‘Outlaw Renegades’. There are entire sections of our county dedicated to the socially inept misfits who literally live beyond the reach of the law.
In my search for the next novel and because I felt childishly goofy that particular day, I thought how fun it would be to bring the different types of people together in a playfully awkward way where they not only had to face the fact that each other existed, but unlike real life they were forced to interact. There are those characters you will love and those who you will love to hate, but they all have a story to tell.
Notes on your favorite hero’s or your most memorable scenes will be much appreciated, but understand that this rough version. Although I’ve personally edited this manuscript a dozen times, it has yet to be professionally edited and thus with be riddled with errors of various types. I release you of any responsibility of ferreting out misspelled words, grammar snafus or punctuation travesties. Please, just enjoy the story.
I glared through the bay window of my grandmother’s house, combed my long, black hair and wished I had the guts to drop an A-bomb on my idiot neighbors.
The sad remnants of my expansive view left little for me to enjoy since the Tenican Heights housing development popped up, surrounding my property like mushrooms after a spring rain.
It was only ten years ago when I wandered the open meadows and fields that stretched for miles around grandma’s house. It was a home where I’d grown up. With the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west and a huge California sky, the land was endless.
One day in what seemed like a blink, except for the ten-acre parcel grandma Stikes so stubbornly held onto, there were tractors and building crews, lumber and asphalt trucks. By the end of that traumatic summer there stood, not regular single-story houses, which would have left me in sight of my beloved mountains, but massive, high-priced, two and three story structures that blocked any possibility of a view.
Good Housekeeping had done a six-page spread raving about the ultramodern houses with their sculptured lots, each with its own eighteen-inch tall white picket fence. I saw the trimmed lawns, perfectly edged sidewalks and stupid little white fences as a hideous affront to good taste.
What galled me the most, what stuck deep in my craw, what made me want to erect a thirty-foot steel sculpture of a hand flipping off the neighborhood, was the street names of that despicable housing tract. The endless entangled ribbons of asphalt, the miles of twisting concrete sidewalks and gutters were named after the very animals the development deposed. Horned Owl Lane, Silver Fox Road, Coyote Trail, Mule Deer Street and Raccoon Court were but a few of the sacrilegious designations given to the streets.
Grandma Stikes had been the only holdout when the developers whirl-winded through, buying properties like junk dealers buy dead cars; for pennies on the dollar. It all started exactly ten horrible years ago and I never forgot the day the first representative of Barney, Bowman and Whalde drove onto the property. It was the day I was celebrating my twenty-sixth birthday.
The following three months grandma Stikes countered every offer Barney, Bowman and Whalde presented in an attempt to purchase her land. Their first offer was for extra money. When that didn’t work, they made thinly disguised threats. Although no one could prove it, we knew who had poisoned our well, killed the animals, broke windows, slashed tires on both cars, tried twice to burn the house to the ground, then finally sent the county to condemn the property.
Louise Renee Stilwalsky, though I called her grandma Stikes, was a skinny eighty-year-old who stood not an inch taller than four feet six. She didn’t care how much money was offered or how many thugs they sent, she wasn’t selling.
One day, for the first time in my life, Grandma yelled at me, “Marylou Stalworth, load your grandpa’s shotgun, we got another intruder at our door.” She pulled back the hammer, poked the gun out an open side window and let loose with both barrels into a dirt pile. “I’m not selling.” She yelled through the closed door, and that, as far as I could remember, was the end of it. . . until court.
“This house was built by my father,” she told me a hundred times. “This land’s been in our family for three generations,” she’d told the developers, “and it stays in our family.”
“See that front door,” she explained to the sheriff when he served her with the summons. “My mother brought that door all the way across the country in a nineteen twenty-two Ford pickup. That door has been in our family for eighty-seven years.”
There was a lot of back room maneuvering. I heard pockets had been lined and many favors called in. When old Grandma Stikes was forced to go in front of the county judge, neither Barney, Bowman, or Whalde, nor the board of supervisors knew that she also had a few cards to play, a few backroom shenanigans as she called them. Two of her aces-in-the-hole included her friends Mayor, Bill Herfer and his honor, Stanley Shaine, the presiding judge in the case. Both were heavy hitters in the little Northern California town of Marysville. Both had long-standing allegiances with my grandma. Without anyone knowing what was really going on, the two men pulled a string or two leaving Grandma Stikes as original owner and resident of what was to be slated as the fifth fairway of the nationally famous Tenican Heights.
After every threat they could muster and all the dirty tricks, including a long protracted court battle, which cost grandma Stikes more than she had bargained for, the corporation Barney, Bowman and Whalde and the name would forever stick in my craw, were forced to give up.
The developers built the ultramodern, upper-income, security-gated community of Tenican Heights around us. They surrounded us with a manicured member-only golf course and full service clubhouse. The right side of our little ramshackle house faced a small upscale strip mall that included a first run, surround-sound theater.
I wasn’t sure what happened. Was it the long protracted fight with the developers? Maybe it was the heartbreak of watching her little ten acres enclosed by upper-middle-class suburbia. As the first of what proved to be a wave of faceless, unfriendly, fence-building, lawn-mowing, leaf-blowing, never-ending car-washing, noisy neighbors moved in, my grandmother fell ill and died.
Once the development was finished, I noticed there were no streets with chicken species names like Road Island Red Road or Bantee’ Court. I supposed the developers had not planned on displacing chickens.
Not long after grandma’s death, I bought my first batch of chickens and let them roam the property. Soon after, oh darn, my chickens reproduced. And oops, chickens are an unruly lot, not inclined to stay on my property. They roamed the neighborhoods, cackling, crowing, scratching up manicured lawns and digging gaping holes in flowerbeds.
I hadn’t realized until much later, but, though the hundreds of ever-excavating chickens were so dear to my angry heart, it was the roosters that became my most prized possessions. My growing army of fifty-seven roosters became my favorite “fuck you” to all my up-tight, upper-middle-class, suburbanite neighbors. I had Bantam roosters, Araucana roosters and Silver Lake Wyandottes. I had every kind of rooster known in the rooster kingdom. Through the wonderful world of unchecked procreation, I also had some new and unknown breeds of roosters.
Every day, long before my idiot neighbors were awake, my chorus of roosters began their morning ritual. To my delight, they often crowed through the entire day. Every time a rooster sounded, a small smile rose on my irate lips.
Try as they might, and the residents of Tenican Heights used every method they could, my so called neighbors were unable to rid themselves of my chickens. They used poisons and traps. They got together and put pressure on me. Some lobbed angry shouts across the fence, while others searched out old laws and sent the police to my home. Although, I was ticketed and fined many times, the concerns of my neighborhood fell on delightedly deaf ears.
And so, there it was, a good old Mexican standoff. On one side was me, Marylou Stalworth and my hundreds of ever-reproducing chickens. On the other side, the “too-bad-so-sad” residents of the nationally famous, written-up-in-Good Housekeeping, Tenican goddamn Heights.
Every morning for the last ten years, while combing my long, wavy black hair, I glared out the window at my tight-assed neighbors.
Unlike grandma Stikes, I grew tall and some say pleasingly slender, but I was never pretty in the classic American cosmopolitan manner. I’d long since given up on any attempts at hiding the growing spider web crow’s feet sprouting at the outer limits of my blue eyes. I had a secret beauty only apparent after spending time with me. And so, as it goes with most American males not willing to give a second glance, I’d long forgotten what it was like to have a man attracted to me. I’d gone so long without a date I wasn’t sure if I could remember how to act.
Although there was no real need, I still went out on grandma’s acreage every day and tilled the soil. I grew vegetables and herbs, always careful to hedge the parameter closest to the surrounding neighborhood with the most vile smelling crop I could find.
Other than crowing roosters, only one thing brought a smile to my tired, over-stressed face and let my vindictive angry lips relax. One thing lit my fire, made me tingle and gave my otherwise barren life meaning. That one thing I’d kept secret from the world for five years. It was something I didn’t want anyone to know about until I was ready.
On Wednesday and Saturday nights, I drove to the Veterans Hall next to the new mall on the north end of town. With six other townspeople and our teacher, I put on striking red lipstick, a bright gypsy patterned dancing skirt and magically transformed myself from plain old Marylou Stalworth into the dancing gypsy, Cassandra Liltkey. For those special evenings of the week, I turned up the Spanish guitar recordings, got out my castanets, moved to the middle of the floor and swirled for a precious few hours dancing the Flamenco.
Dancing was not only the thing my alter ego, Cassandra Liltkey liked to do, Flamenco dancing was Cassandra Liltkey. It was my new life. It was where I, in a drab mundane world, came fully alive. Every time I danced I felt wild and sexy, free and light as a feather. I leapt and spun with or without a partner I didn’t care. I snapped my castanets and turned into a feral, uninhibited feline.
On the evenings I didn’t go to the Vet’s Hall I practiced diligently at home. My lifelong dream was to dance on stage in New York or San Francisco. My vision was to do the Flamenco at the Metropolitan or Albert’s Hall in England. Madison Square Garden wouldn’t be bad. Hell, I’d take an engagement at the Saturday Night Grange Hall in neighboring Woodland, it didn’t matter. After all these years, I wanted to dance in front of people. I wanted to perform for someone other than my fellow Flamenco enthusiasts.
Did my dream come true? I was dancing professionally all right. Fully costumed, rose in my teeth, fire-engine-red fingernails with lipstick to match, I danced in another of a long list of wild gypsy serenades.
Performing on stage was the realization of my dream. A minor feat, albeit, but an achievement just the same.
The music, a flowing Flamenco guitarist’s CD I’d picked up in Sacramento, piped out onto the street. I was in the middle of the sixth of eleven scheduled dances, which, it turned out, I would never finish.
That evening was a first step in my budding Flamenco career. Dancing on the dinky stage behind the display window was a humble beginning, but I didn’t mind. Cassandra was going to be a gypsy star and I was ready to do whatever it took to attain that goal.
As I twirled and stomped my heals, clicked castanets in perfect rhythm to the guitarist, I locked my attention on a couple under a large umbrella who stopped on the sidewalk to watch me. They were my first audience. I got so excited I almost stumbled and fell. In the middle of a half spin, I caught myself by putting a hand against the plate glass separating me from my coveted fans. The balance problem was momentary and I righted myself with little hesitation.
Castanets rattling, high-heel shoes stomping the wooden display floor, I twirled my heart out.
Finally, much to my disappointment, the couple’s interest waned. Hands clasped, the two continued down the sidewalk, away from Dickerman’s drugstore display window, away from the, soon-to-be-famous Flamenco dancer, Cassandra Liltkey.
William Dickerman was using me to attract customers back from the new mall on the north end of town. He billed me as Cassandra Liltkey, Flamenco dancer extraordinaire.
Once my two fans walked away, my intensity waned. They were my first and, once they were gone, my first let down. I was determined to attract more, even in the middle of Marysville’s month-long downpour. I wanted more onlookers and a bigger audience.
Spectators or not, I was determined to finish my contracted two hours of dancing in the display window of Dickerman’s drug. This was my first gig in what I hoped would be a long Flamenco career. How would I know that my all-important first performance would, even from inside of the drugstore, get rained out?