Joshua Trees

By Marilyn Bruce


Carlos's Mohawk was like a violet scab, a crest above his corpus callosum. He cut it himself when he turned ten and developed an interest in neuroscience. Diagnosing himself brilliant, misunderstood, he dragged the steel blade across his right hemisphere, shedding chunks of auburn hair on the yellow shag carpet. Then he trimmed the left side. Already he felt balanced, the Mohawk massaging a medial neuroreceptor that had been aggravated by his nonpresent parents, his deficient levels of dopamine.

Sporting metal chains and a septum piercing, at age seventeen, Carlos decided to dye his hair. He chose Va Va Voom Violet to represent blood—the CVS ran out of red—and as Carlos plunged his head into the sink, he swore he was alone. Forever. Destined for the life of a solitary genius, he imagined his frontal lobes swelling to a tremendous degree.

When he turned twenty-one, Carlos stayed in Vegas, but he interviewed for a degree in medicine at UNLV. Hoping to impress, he trimmed the purple Mohawk till it seemed less aggressive, more like colorful fur, less an unnatural appendage, but still Carlos failed his interview miserably.

When asked what his goals were, Carlos replied, "undiluted anarchy." When probed for his medical philosophy, Carlos suggested, "interspecies comingling," and when the Dean of Medicine offered him a cup of coffee, Carlos's small talk consisted of asseverations that George W. Bush was an insufferable ass, who would benefit from growing his hair a few inches longer, either that or he needed a full-on lobotomy.

Though Carlos returned to his apartment disheartened, he swore he'd stay in Sin City for the rest of his days. "I'll open up a private practice," he said, as he poured himself a glass of gin and turned up The Misfits. "That will show them."

And so he did.

He began by giving Mohawks to the lonely, the distressed, the misunderstood: a transsexual amputee who thought he was a mermaid and thus spoke only through a bubble wand, a woman born with a lobster's claw who was terrified of intimacy, a ten-year old convinced his pet rat was really a satanic reincarnation of Ronald Regan and as a result could no longer tolerate r's in anyone's speech.

"The Mohawk," Carlos lectured them, "gives excessive stimulation to the corpus callosum. With exactly point-three ounces of hair weight, it has been shown to increase emotional balance by heightening serotonin levels and those of melanin and, of course, to compensate for dopamine deficiencies."

Due to his popularity, Carlos soon upgraded to psychotherapy, offering a bevy of spike-haired clients the chance to discuss their sense of isolation, their feelings of non-belonging. Carlos boasted a success rate of seventy-nine percent, great for any neuroscientist, and he let his Mohawk grown long again, and he almost could afford Wendy's instead of Top Ramen, new releases instead of old movies. All was great for a while, but not for too long.

Rumors of Carlos's practice hopped around Vegas like a horny rabbit and they landed in the office of the DA, who arrived one morning in a black Buick. He wore aviator sunglasses and spoke to Carlos in a monotone, "You can't practice unlicensed neuroscience within city limits. It's against regulations."

The police nailed auburn boards over Carlos's windows, his door. They wound the place tight with yellow "Police" tape.

But Carlos, not to be deterred, decided he'd move his practice outside, away from the city. "Get bent," he said, and as the DA pulled away, Carlos flashed him the finger.

Twenty miles outside Vegas, Carlos set up a lawn chair and a wooden sign, painted with purple letters that read "Psychotherapy. Cost $10 per hour with sliding scale. Hair Cuts=Free." And they came. Old clients returned, new clients arrived for the first time, and they sat in the lawn chair across from Carlos, sweat rippling down their shirts, and they told him their stories.

Carlos listened and scribbled on a note pad. Then he buzzed their hair for free. His popularity grew so fast and recklessly a line formed behind the chair. Then a longer line. The customers crowded across the plains, scuffing their shoes in the sand while they waited to tell Carlos how they were misunderstood, how many of them—just like Carlos—were neglected as children, and they wanted to be artists and poets and now they couldn't because they spent too much time thinking about their own misery.

And a funny thing happened. As they waited for Carlos, the clients began to complain to one another.

A woman who thought she was a hologram dwarf said, "I just feel like I'm living in duplicity."

A man with Jell-O for his hair answered, "You're telling me. Try growing up, having your parents tell you you look like a freak."

They told stories about the horrors of their upbringing and of modern living. They cut each other's Mohawks and breathed deep with their new sense of balance and relief. When they ran out of head hair, they cut leg hair, arm hair, even nose hair, forming spikes and long Mohawk lines. The Mohawked ones stood so long waiting they felt at one, outcasts banding together in a sense of shared personal tragedy, their soaring dopamine levels blending to a gigantic feeling of Zen-like om and at-oneness with the universe.No one wanted to move. Carlos didn't either.

They waited so long, in such hot heat, for so many days, that an even stranger thing happened. The men and women and children felt so peaceful and loved they forgot who they were, but no one seemed particularly concerned about this lapse in memory. So the misfits decided to become trees with long spiked leaves. Hundreds of strange, pointed trees that weathered the heat and the rain. In the desert when it rained, it rained.

So one day some hick, traveling along the Las Vegas highway, read Carlos's sign cracked with water and heat and saw the cluster of strangely shaped trees and he scratched his beard and decided the scrawled letters read Josh—as good a name as any—so he called them Joshua trees.


Marilyn Bruce has written for community publications in Bozeman, MT and Whitefish, MT. Marilyn has also read work live at the Blue Horse Gallery in Bellingham and during local dance performances. She has published a work of flash fiction in Larks online fiction magazine and is the Managing Editor for the literary journal Bellingham Review.

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