August 18, 2023
In the tradition of Joyce’s Dubliners, Demigods on Speedway is a portrait of a city that reflects the recession-era Southwest. Inspired by tales from Greek mythology, these gritty heroes and heroines struggle to find their place in the cosmos.
In 2014, we celebrated the publication of Aurelie Sheehan’s book, Demigods on Speedway. Today, we re-share a portion of the excerpt in honor of her memory and tremendous contributions:
Tucsonans might trash their sister city, but all things considered, Phoenix does wield some charms. It has an echelon of restaurants and hotels mostly lacking here, for instance. Because landowners care not about the cost of water or the environmental impact of watering the desert, it’s much greener overall. Little rivulets by malls. Major, awesome lawns. In fact, it was some kind of hardcore lawn fertilizer that killed Fandango . . . at this moment being cremated. Or who will be, soon. His body is waiting somewhere, in the sort of place it’s preferable not to think about at all.
All beauty is wasted, all beauty will end, Terri is thinking, keenly aware of the unholy joke of immediate, rude extinction, the disregard the majority partner seems to have when it comes to maintaining the social contract—the capacity to be social, as Terri now interprets it, to look and listen and feel. Fandango is dead. And it goes on from there: we’re talking doom, individually and in great swaths. We’re talking the aging process. And so you need to capture life for the brief moments you can. Look at that barrel cactus.
Terri would not have come down to Tucson if Chris had been around, but he is working on a project in New Orleans this week. The kids are also both gone for the night—sleepovers. To be frank, her husband may not have been as helpful as Sarah (a good listener, Terri knows), because he adopts a fatalistic, purportedly practical stance in times of trouble: “It was his time,” “Crying can’t bring him back,” “We’ll get another one,” et cetera. Still, it would have felt awkward to leave for the weekend, if he were home. “Sisters have a special bond” might have come in handy in that circumstance. All in all, it was cleaner and easier not to have had to talk about it, to have just gotten in the car, turned on the A/C, and pretended for a couple of hours that life could be a song on the radio and a Starbucks in the cup holder and vague attention to a stretch of highway notable for its ugliness, give or take a few patches of cacti, a kitschy ostrich farm, and Picacho Peak, a lump of molten lava people climb when they have nothing better to do.
Poor Sarah. She looks like complete shit. Her very thinness looks unhealthy, a diminishing. Not the product of a compulsive fitness regimen, but of illness and overwork. It’s all because of that moron Wilbur. Ever since he broke up with her, Sarah has been a tall, thin moper. She looks like an ostrich herself, hanging her head.
“To hell with it,” says Terri, “I’m going to buy one of these small ones and just see how it does in the car.”
“Good,” says Sarah.
“I know, you have to, right?” says Alyssa.
And so the three women trudge farther into the maelstrom of xeriscape terrain, pots filled with this and that Martian-like form: the one with glorious black hair holding the spiky thing to her belly as if she’s pregnant; the squat, shorter one from Phoenix holding up, as if for inspection, a fat miniature cactus with a pink head, resembling the penis of a prickly circumcised frontiersman; the willowy one with the membership card and the 20 percent discount not holding anything at all but casting the remnant of her gaze bitterly over the entire venue, or so it seems.
The cacti aren’t really dry or barren. They just know how to conserve.
Aurelie Sheehan was the author of two novels and two short story collections. Her short fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Fence, The Mississippi Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. She taught fiction at the University of Arizona.