Before I forget, the name of the street was hard to remember and I would make a wrong turn. But I’d eventually get there. The house right in the middle of a hill. A few more feet and it would’ve been sideways. Up the cement stairs to the landing where there are small shrines with skeletons of starfish, cow’s heads, nautical themed desert planter boxes with small cactuses flowering. Inside and a large bell deep resonates against the door.
It smells like garlic and chicken all the time. There is always a pot of soup on. In the kitchen you can look out the window through a prism shaped like a pyramid and see the city lights refracted a million times below. You might as well be on top of the hill after all. Back down the hallway and to the right, past the room where a man stretches cow and goat hide to make drum heads for his Congo classes, there is a small hole in the wall. Inside there is a Virgin Mary surrounded by dried roses, Christmas lights and sugar skulls. Up the stairs where a bike hangs precariously over your head and a sharp right up up up and you are in her loft.
She lives there, playing Mississippi John Hurt and punk music from Peru circa 1965. She must create. Her hands are either making something or wrapped around a glass of wine. Long, thin fingers. Skin like someone left the porch light on in August. Gold and brown Her dad is Chinese, her mom is White, same hands around the wine. But she has her father’s almond eyes. Black hair to her waist. She doesn't need to, but she wears huge earrings or long necklaces with wooden beads and bright colors. When she does Tai Chi, it is like someone is pulling her with puppet strings.
Sometimes she walks railroad tracks to find treasures. “look,” she holds up a rusted out tin can. Beans, PBR, maybe? “I can totally use this.” She sets it on top of several others to make a crude shooting station. Sometimes she buries dead animals to dig them up and use their skeletons later.
There is a wood saw in the corner to cut circles and gear-shapes. Once, she made a seat in the form of Shiva, all arms around the sitter so they could feel Glory. She salvages shells, feathers, rocks, from the nearby nature preserve and old saws and boxes thrown out on the side of the road. She paints and dyes and cuts and sews. Working at the coffee shop full time, she brings home doilies and brews them overnight in grounds, then pieces them carefully around a bird skeleton and some dried petals, acorns, and pine cones.
Every corner holds a wonder. A kimono clad figure in a carved-out cigarette box. A terrifying ash tray shaped like dentures. A ray fish preserved in formaldehyde years ago and tacked up on the wall, spiny tail shining in the lamplight.
Liz never opened up, but she didn’t have to. I could spend the evening making things out of leather and twine and she never asked. We were quiet and strange. Nothing wasted.