A Cutie in the Kudzu

A Cutie in the Kudzu

Fawna wanted to quit the showgirl life. Fawna was her stage name. Her heart just wasn’t in it.
She kept thinking of vines climbing the tall trees in the rural town where she grew up.

So, she fled one day from dancing in the spotlight at the Dancing Bears Gentlemen’s Club on the outskirts of a rust-belt northern town, hoping to find the gloomy shade under thick-flowing networks of kudzu leaves back in her hometown down south. She had played in that shade in North Carolina in her childhood.

She had threatened so often, “I’m goin’ there to find my way out of life’s disappointments.” And finally she got the chance to seize the opportunity, to run away from the “Gentleman’s Club.”

A bouncer/assistant manager named Wulf at Dancing Bears, was a prime reason she wanted to go. He was a wiseguy, a pushy know-it-all, always harassing her, she couldn’t stand him.

So, one day in late summer, Fawna hitched a ride with a customer, a big hairy bear of a truck driver named Mack Chester (or Chester Mack, she wasn’t sure which), who told her that night in the club he was driving his empty truck South before dawn next day, all the way to New Orleans. He said he’d be glad to drop her off in North Carolina where her folks lived. So, she packed a few things in her backpack, some clothes, a small tent, a hammock, a little food, and escaped before dawn.

On the way, while speeding down a long hill, Mack found he had no brakes and so he steered to the right and rolled his big truck up the runaway truck ramp built there to stop 18-wheelers when all else failed.

Fawna asked Mack, “Did you ever read The Runaway Rabbit?”
He said, “No, why would I read that? I don’t have any children.”
“Well you have a runaway truck, and… I don’t know.”
“Did you read The Runaway Rabbit?”
“Yes. And I was a runaway teenager too. I ran away from home three years ago. And now I feel like a runaway again, except I’m headed back home.”
“So that makes you a ‘run-back-to’ not a runaway.”
“I guess it does.”

Mack called a local garage and a skinny young grease monkey agreed to fix his brakes. All elbows and knees, squinting and scowling, the freckly kid fixed the brakes.
When Mack paid him, and gave him ten dollars extra, he grinned and said, “You’re a gentleman and a scholar, I don’t care what anybody says!” as he climbed back into his pickup truck.

Then they continued on… “Highway Vagabond,” sung by Miranda Lambert came on the radio as they got to the part of North Carolina where the thick kudzu covered the many tall trees lining the highway.

“I can get out anywhere here,” Fawna said, thanking Mack for the ride.
“You ran away from the kudzu, and now you’re going back to it?” Mack asked.
“No, I just want to stop here before I go back to see my sister and the others. Collect my thoughts.”
Mack stopped and she stepped down from the cab, and as she was going toward the kudzu, Mack said, “Fawna, I’m going to park down the road a tad. You’re all alone. I need to rest a while. This Indian summer feels nice. I’ll leave my window open. Holler if you need me.”
“Aw that’s nice of you, Mack!”

Fawna hid inside the gloom of immense kudzu cover near that state highway. The spot was conveniently located near Patel’s Oasis, a gas station and a fastfood franchise. The kudzu was thriving, and covering the various tree shapes it made a spectacular structure, hogging the sunshine and creating thick shade within.

Fawna had feathery platinum blonde hair with pink tips. She set up her little camp in the kudzu, opening up her backpack and changing her clothes. She wore a silk kimono there, sheltered in the kudzu, and when she stretched out her arms the sleeves were like a great bird of paradise’s wings. Her bra felt tight and so Fawna took it off, put it in her backpack. She wore a yellow bikini bottom and skin-tight shiny black boots. She had a firebird tattooed on her right wrist. And she had a sweet old-fashioned smile, a lot like her grandmother’s. Both she and her grandmother were charming generous ladies, graceful and kind. She had sent her grandma postcards every so often. With no return address, her grandmother could not write back.

Fawna unpacked her hammock and tent, both flimsy and easy to put up, and she lit a joint and relaxed.

She played solitaire in the kudzu, and used her cell phone to call Vireo, also a dancer, and other friends.

Fawna’s sister named Shawna lived somewhere in the vicinity. But Fawna didn’t call Shawna just yet.

Fawna was just taking it easy, living in a kudzu palace just off the main highway. If you stopped and gazed a while it seemed like exotic scenery, with pavilions and palaces of jade green kudzu leaves, pleasantly curved archways and turrets, as if designed for daydreamy dramas like Romeo and Juliet.

The long lines of roadside trees thereabouts looked like series of wonderlands where various episodes were being played out. Cinderella. The Beauty and the Beast. Lush green realms, flowing leafy kudzu mansions, walls with windows where faces might appear, all natural, yet architectural, the way vines climbed up and flowed down the majestic trees. It looked like it was built by elves.

In some of her daydreams Fawna was the lost Fairytale Princess who lived there, hoping her prince would find her. She gathered kindling and made a small campfire and cooked the marshmallows she brought in her backpack, making s’mores with graham crackers.

The kudzu realm she had chosen happened also to be a perfect arena for office retreats in which managers and employees used Paintgun Games to foster team spirit. Their wars were played out by personnel divided into two groups, then reshuffled so groupthink animosity would not develop. In the excitement someone who took part in a Paintgun exercise left a loaded paintball gun behind. So Fawna had a paintball gun to defend herself with if need be. She kept it nearby, just in case.

Trees hate kudzu. Kudzu covers and smothers them, spreading like a green shroud. For human beings, kudzu has been the foundation for a number of herbal remedies, a folk panacea for all of America’s ills. Really! Not many know that kudzu can be used for many remedies—for obesity, alcoholism, and prostate troubles, to give a few examples! And kudzu can be harvested for tea, and the root is used for starch, and the vine’s fibres can be used for making those noble time-honored useful containers—baskets. It is also a metaphor for something that came from outside America and took over the land. It was introduced from Japan by farmers, and it got out of hand.

Fawna saw the kudzu-covered landscape reminding her of furniture covered by sheets draped over shapes in a furnished home where no one is living at the moment. Look closely at a nice healthy green-leafed tree, the one nearest you wherever you are. You were likely to discover it is really a dead desiccated tree still standing but covered with wind-shimmying green kudzu leaves or some other vine pretending to be a tree.

Fawna revealed where she was by accident when she called her friend Vireo from her cell phone. Vireo told her coworkers at Dancing Bears: “She said she’s near Patel’s Oasis in North Carolina.”

In the afternoon, Wulf, the obnoxious employee Fawna couldn’t stand ay Dancing Bears, arrived on his motorcycle, looking for Fawna, searching around in the kudzu not far from Patel’s Oasis. He needed a shave and he wore a fedora. He was wearing sunglasses, a crisscross multicolor harlequin shirt and skinny jeans. He had on snakeskin cowboy boots and a smirk he couldn’t control.

Alarmed when she saw him, Fawna dropped the ‘smore she was eating, and picked up the paintball gun.
Wulf saw her and called to her. She fired a few paintballs at Wulf but only hit him once on the shoulder.

“Fawna, haha, wait, listen, honeybunch. You need to go back with me to Dancing Bears. You turn me on. I need you in the worst way. Don’t forget, you owe me a thousand bucks.”
“I’ll pay. But not now. I’m not going back. Won’t happen. Don’t trust you. You lied to me when we met.”
“How so?”
“You said you were the Prince of Wales, and like a fool I believed you.”
“No, I said I was ‘the prince of whales.’ When I said that I had just left a Las Vegas casino I worked in. There, when you say ‘whale’ it means a big spender, a gambler who goes for big stakes impulsively, and my job was to blend in and encourage them to keep spending. They called me ‘prince of whales.’ It’s true. Because I hung out with big spenders, I encouraged the high rollers.” He reached out to grab her.

She stepped away. “Who you voting for?” she asked. “I mean politically.”
“I’m voting for Donald, he’s a businessman and so am I. It would be interesting to watch the world burn and then pick up the pieces and start a whole new world for all I care, build it from the cinders and ashes right up to the mountaintops. If he can drain the swamp, well that’s a job for Hercules. But Trump could do that, with enough deregulations, and so could I. Creative destruction at your service, mam. First off I’d hire illegal workers to clean shit up, and order some huge construction projects to commence.”
“So your fantasy is being a sidekick of Trump?”
“Fawna girl, we live in a capitalist country. Casinos, hotels, beauty salons, beauty pageants, luxury products, fast food joints, cheap stolen goods, carny barkers, dice games… What was I saying? Oh yeah, ties, cowboy boots, beefsteaks and caviar sell themselves up in this capitalist bitch. We’d clean up. Come with me, sit by my side! You be my partner in crime.”

“Thanks but no thanks. I want to get away from everything for a while. I left town because I had a premonition your Donald will be president. A bad dream. He’s a total con man.”
“What are you talking about? He’s going to remodel America.”
“You’ll see. You all take his bait every time. Y’all just cotton to him like he’s a trustworthy good old boy. He’s the most selfish unwise ‘big shot’ ever. It’s scary how tired I am tired of it all. I’m out.”
“But I came all the way here on my motorcycle for you. You look great by the way, all silvery pink and like a bird. We can fly off together.” He reached out to grab for her.
“Sorry but I’ve got previous commitments,” she said, dodging his grab.
“You think you’re smart doncha? Well if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

Fawna took a tiny bottle of bourbon from her backpack, offered it, and Wulf guzzled it down.
In the heat of the afternoon, Wulf grew tired and took a nap. A yellow warbler flew arabesques through the dark recesses of the kudzu palace draped over the bones of the big dead trees.

While Wulf snoozed, Fawna flew the coop. She changed into jeans and T-shirt, quietly left the kudzu.
Wulf woke up and called her name but she didn’t answer. He realized he’d lost her again.
Fawna was running through the kudzu, flustered, trying to get away from Wulf.
Wulf, the harlequin man she owed a thousand of dollars, was hot on her trail.

Mack the truckdriver who’d parked up the road a bit now saw that Fawna was being chased, and he jumped out of his truck. He ran toward the commotion, chasing after Wulf, running deeper into the kudzu to rescue Fawna. They were huffing and puffing through the kudzu palace, along ridges, up into giant tree limbs.
Eventually the truck driver caught up to and tackled the harlequin Wulf, and wrestled with him.
Fawna climbed up a tree and watched from up there.

“What’s the big idea, kid?” Mack asked, pinning down Wulf. (Mack was 40 and Wulf was 30.)
“I heard Fawna came here to North Carolina. Some of her relatives live here. She owes me a thousand dollars, you know that, right, Mack? I wanted to talk with her. She started running. Now let go of me.”

It just so happened that at that time a bus full of “Raging Grannies” got out at Patel’s gas station/fast food joint near the kudzu oasis where Fawna the exotic dancer was lounging.

The bus driver said, “Have a snack, take a walk. Be at this bus in ninety minutes. One and a half hours.”

The Raging Grannies are nonviolent activists, popular in other parts of the world too. It’s a worldwide movement. They do all kinds of events in public, even in China. They agreed to meet him in ninety.

The grannies bought a big basket of hot dogs to go, and took a walk. They saw Fawna up in a tree, and Mack and Wulf wrestling nearby. They opened their hot dogs, ate them and cheered the wrestlers.
And they sang: “Look out! ‘Cause we’re growing bolder! / We’re gaining strength as we grow older! / Our steps they might be slow, / And though our boobs are hanging low, / We are Raging Grannies strong!”

Mack stopped pinning Wulf to the ground. And the raging grannies heard Wulf say, “If you’re driving to New Orleans, Mack, maybe I’ll hitch a ride with you.”
Mack said, “Sure, we can put your motorcycle my truck if you want to go to New Orleans.”
Fawna did not expect the situation to clear up so easily. The Raging Grannies sat and sang a song.

After Mack and Wulf were gone, Fawna and the Raging Grannies all sat around the campfire, roasting marshmallows and eating s’mores. The grannies subtly tried to offer advice to Fawna:
“Living here by the road alone can’t be a good life, honey, these days creeps are out lookin’ for trouble.”
“This is only for a few days,” Fawna said. “Don’t worry about me. I just quit my job. Sick of it.”
“Sweety, tell you a little story,” one of the Raging Grannies said. “I knew a kid when he was ten years old, the grandson of a hardworking farmer. He worked for 10 cents a day. This was long ago of course. And then one day he worked a day for a farmer down the road, who paid him 50 cents. He asked for more from grandpa after that. Grandpa said, ‘OK, but you have to pay for rent and food.’ It’s a hard world. Don’t get cheated.”
“So who are you going home to visit?” one asked Fawna.
“My sister Shawna, my mother and grandmother.”
“Your father’s gone?”
“Right. And my stepfather works on the Peacock Farm.”
“Say what? A literal peacock farm?”
“No, he’s a senator. The in-crowd call the senate the ‘Peacock Farm,’ where election winners preen themselves, proudly showing off their plumage, show-offs up in the fancy capitol building.”
“Haha. And you, you like to hang out in the kudzu! Girl, you’re comical. What a family!”

One granny craned her neck, looking up. “These canopies of kudzu are like free-form circus tents. Or sheikhs’ tents in the Arabian deserts—bulging up and spiring high here and there, with windowy openings for birds to fly through. What a place!”
Her friend said, “Yes, You could get lost inside here easy. Look over there, how some places rise up high, like castle towers with graceful green shapes, leafy surfaces of green leaf and sunshine beams like camouflage. Look how the sun shines through dark cavern kudzu gateways at ground level as bluebirds and yellow warblers fly through.”

“So many vines thrive in America,” a granny who was a botanist said. “Drive most highways and look carefully; you’ll see the climbing weeds. Kudzu, wild grapes. Strangler fig, hanging dangling vines of bittersweet berries, clinging wild ivy vines, beautiful invasive creepers with blossoms. Arboretum climbers, creepers, invasives. So many clingers and climbers, voracious and insatiable, forever taking more space in the sunshine and more water to soak up. The parasite vine, kudzu, is good at pretending it’s a respectable tree, ordinary leaf guy like everyone else.”

“In dire emergencies kudzu can feed animals, keep sheep, goats, cattle strong, help us survive a famine.”
“But do they? No. Not so far, never happened. It just grows and grows, and doesn’t get used.”

When the marshmallows were eaten up and the advice dried up, the bus honked down at Patel’s gas station, all the Raging Grannies scurried off to catch it before it was too late.

Fawna relaxed in her hammock, elegantly strung up between two tree trunks under a canopy of kudzu.
The three-tiered kudzu landscape was like a delirious dream, with mysteriously flowing green-leaf blankets and curtains hanging over the hillside of trees, a larger scale than ordinary blankets and curtains.

A car slowly drove into the kudzu. The automatic window on the driver’s side smoothly opened. The bearded driver looked up and asked Fawna. “Why are you here?”
She explained, “Just having a little picnic.”
The man talked about conspiracies, aliens from space, FBI, CIA—and 9/11 theory websites “if you wanna go down the rabbit hole.”
“Where is this rabbit hole, if I do want to?” Fawna asked. Not laughing, he drove further into the kudzu.

Fawna called Shawna and said, “I’m in the neighborhood. Can you pick me up at Patel’s Oasis?”

“Welcome home!” Fawna’s sister said when she pulled into Patel’s to pick her sister up. They hugged and laughed. “Let me carry that. What are you going to do back here?”
“I don’t know. I feel like I’m leaning in to something more. Maybe we all have some recalibratin’ to do!”
“Fawna, There’s a hot spring we discovered last year, it’s on the way home. If you want to soak a while, wash off the past, we can stop there. It’s the real thing.” Fawna smiled and said yes.

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