Claire Vaye Watkins, “Ghosts, Cowboys”

628x471A young woman’s life is all tied up in the history of Reno, Nevada, from the Comstock Lode to Charles Manson.

(from Battleborn)

About once a year someone tracks me down. Occasionally it’s one of Charlie’s fans wanting to stand next to Paul Watkins’s daughter, to rub up against all that’s left, to put a picture up on his red-text-on-black-background website. Far more often, though, it’s someone with a script. Producers, usually legit ones—I Google them: True Lies, The Deer Hunter. They offer to drive down from Lake Tahoe, take me out to dinner. They never want my permission to make their movie or input on who should play me (Winona Ryder); they just want to know how am I.

“How are you?” they say.

“I’m a receptionist,” I say.

“Good,” they say, long and slow, nodding as though my being a receptionist has given them everything they came for.

Claire Vaye Watkins read an excerpt from this story at the Philadelphia Free Library last month and I made sure to buy a copy of Battleborn afterward. The prose in “Ghosts, Cowboys” is swift and dark, and even its history lessons are mysterious, with unspoken things glaring in the shadows between dates and names. And the character of Razor Blade Baby is just awesome, a friendly ghost (Not literally. I think.) and a thin tether to the narrator’s past that doesn’t so much haunt as linger, hoping to hang out, maybe say a few things that need saying. I have no idea whether Claire Vaye Watkins the author has the same connections to Charles Manson as CVW the character, and I won’t be Googling it anytime soon. This is a spooky and affecting piece of work. Loved it.

You can read it here. More on CVW here.

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