My mother rolls curlers in her hair, makes me wear my apple-green High Holy Days dress, and we cross the Golden Gate Bridge in her Buick Regal to see Charles Manson. Storm clouds shroud the Marin hills. “Charles is a Scorpio,” she says. “We need a Scorpio in the family.” She’s told me this before, ever since she started writing to Manson. “It’s time for you to meet him,” she says, although I’d wanted to stay home with my library books. Mom hasn’t even met him. She pulls into the lot at San Quentin, parks next to a white van. She unrolls and fluffs her curls, pats her lips with Maybelline Dandy lipstick, although her first application is still brilliant red. I follow Mom as she lugs the litigation bag Manson told her to bring, full with empty legal pads, across the parking lot and sets it down to talk to the guard.
The guard says, “He can’t have visitors.”
“Are you denying him his constitutional right to an attorney?”
“Sorry – no – ma’am, I wasn’t expecting a lady attorney.”
“Well, get used to it young man.”
“Don’t tell me that kid is Manson’s attorney also.”
“It’s Mr. Manson to you. She’s my daughter.”
The guard’s voice cracks. “You can’t bring your kid to death row.”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Fine.” She turns to me. “Hon, go sit in the car.”
Electricity sings in the air. I run back to the car, untying the bow in my hair.
A guy leans against the van, in the narrow space between our car and his. He’s a couple of years older than me, fifteen or sixteen, long-haired and sucking on a cigarette.
“Hey,” he says in a Southern accent.
Mom always taught me to be polite. I nod.
“Watchya in for?” He’s one of those hippies who hang out in the Haight that Mom warns me about.
I tell him Mom’s visiting Manson, that she’s his attorney.
He lets out a low whistle, exhales skunky smoke. “Your mom’s the one with the huge rack?” I didn’t expect a hippie to talk like a fifty-year-old. He hands me the joint; I hold it carefully, between my thumb and forefinger, like I actually know how to smoke it.
“It’s not gonna kill you.”
I inhale, cough, choke. What will he think, that I’m so inexperienced?
We pass the joint back and forth until he drops it on the cracked asphalt. Grinds it with the worn-down heel of a cowboy boot.
He touches my face. I shiver, want him to touch me more. But he doesn’t. “You’d be so pretty without your glasses.” His accent intensifies. “You know about Manson, how women would do anything for him?”
“No.” Mom told me that Manson was misunderstood.
Thunder crashes. “You like me right?”
“Let’s go to my place near the Park.”
“Gotta wait for my mom.”
“We’ll call her later.”
“Maybe tomorrow? Give me your address.”
From inside the van, laughter.
I blush. I hadn’t known anyone was there. I take a step back, feel the Buick’s solid steel behind me.
“Didn’t your momma ever tell you to not talk to strangers?” says a woman’s voice from inside the van.
Shame settles in my stomach. “Excuse me.” I dive into the Buick’s back seat. Lock the doors. Mom’s foam rollers, pale yellow, lie on the floor.
The guy peeks in each window, presses against the glass. I pull my knees in closer, hope that Mom comes soon. “Who’s protecting you sweetheart?” he hisses.
And then the storm hits. His face withdraws and a door slams. The van’s tires screech as it peels out of the lot.
The car rocks with waves of rain.
Mom throws open the front driver’s door. The rain has uncurled her hair. She turns to me in the back and wiggles her fingers. A cigar ring circles her ring finger. The band is red and gold, with a man’s head like a cameo, a swastika lined on his forehead with a ball point pen. “Look what Charles gave me.”
“I thought he couldn’t even touch you.”
“I brought it,” she says. “I so wish you met him.”
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Tin House Flash Fridays, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. One of her stories is in Best Small Fictions 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.