There is an old 1982 El Camino sitting in my driveway in the mountains of Cripple Creek, Colorado. It’s a year older than I am, and has a sock holding a part of its engine together. But it’s a good little super sport truck—and astonishingly reliable.

My grandfather owned this car for years. He bought it at a dealership in the 1990’s. He almost didn’t get it, though, because the car salesman stated the price at $6000. My grandpa said, “Well I only have $5000” and walked away. The salesman chased after him and said, “Fine, you got it. $5000.” And my grandfather smiled. He had a Mercury he drove everywhere, but he wanted the El Camino in order to haul firewood from his mountain cabin in Cripple Creek to the house where he actually lived in Colorado Springs. And while he rarely used the truck, he got regular oil changes and tune-ups for it. The truck is in impeccable shape for its age. Although when my grandfather got it he did remove the mandatory catalytic converter from its muffler in order to get better mileage. Ten years later and my grandmother will have to spend $600 to put the catalytic converter back into the car so it could pass a safety inspection.

My grandfather died a year and a half ago. A year after his death I moved from Minneapolis to Colorado to be near my family, arriving in the mountains with nothing but eleven boxes of books and clothes in my possession. My family quickly got sick of driving me around town. The El Camino became mine.

It has a gruff-sounding engine and is clothed in dull gray paint. Once when I was trying to get out of a parking spot on top of a steep hill, the engine stalled, the brakes gave out, and I smashed into a large SUV in front of me. The SUV looked untouched, however the hitch of the SUV shattered the El Camino’s grill in half. The gray plastic grill is now zip-tied together.

My husband and I call it Tweet. Here’s the story of Tweet: my husband and I were lying in bed together one night—though this was before he was my husband and was just my boyfriend—making animals with our hands. He made one that to me looked like an ostrich, but he said it was a snake. Then he started hissing.

“No,” I said, halting his hissing. “It’s an ostrich.”

He turned his hand back and forth like how a little bird jerks her head around looking for food on the ground, and said in a deep Texas accent, “Tweet.” When he cowboy-tweeted at me I broke out in hysterical laughter because I immediately imagined an ostrich with a ten-gallon cowboy hat on its head and a piece of hay sticking out of it’s beak. Tweet. Even after this awesome imagery-inducing sound was uttered, my husband still said his hand was a snake. He makes snake comics now. And I’m still attached to the image of the Texan ostrich.

Three months later and we’re married and decide to name the El Camino “Tweet.” It made sense to us then, though now I can’t remember for the life of me why it did. Perhaps it just did.

And when we got married, my aunt did the expectant thing of writing “Just Married” in pink and yellow paint on the back window. She also tied blue and yellow streamers to the antenna and tailgate. When we drove the truck through town, parading for the town folk our pride in getting married, I worried the truck would die on us and, damn, wouldn’t that be embarrassing? But it made it through the four block strip of “downtown” Cripple Creek without stalling and got us back to the house in time for our reception. Ol’ Tweet came through. Aside from the “Just Married” message, my aunt also wrote “Love Squirrels and Raccoons” on the windshield.

I know, an explanation is needed. Here it is: there are miniature squirrels and raccoons inside of Tweet. There’s the stuffed finger-puppet squirrel on the dashboard near the steering wheel, the plastic raccoon and squirrel high-fiving their paws together that are duct taped above the tape deck, and the stuffed finger-puppet raccoon on the passenger’s side of the dashboard. Yes, this is weird. But my husband has always identified with the spunky squirrel creatures. He wears cargo pants in which the pockets are forever filled with his phone, wallet, a small writing pad, pens, and sometimes a muffin. His own squirrel pouches. And I identify with raccoons because when I was an anarchist in college I used to dumpster-dive for all of my food. Thus, the appreciation for the scrappy raccoons. And while my husband can bark the most awesome “Pk-chew” squirrel sound, I know how to make the best “Eee-Eee-Eee” raccoon noise. Coincidentally, sometimes it sounds like there are little raccoons hopping around inside of Tweet’s engine, the little buggers squeaking away.

This sound worries me.

But how to explain that sound to our mechanic?

“I don’t know. It just sounds like raccoons are jumping around in there.”

I worry about when ol’ Tweet will die on us. I’ve already had the exciting adventure of Tweet not starting when I was two miles away from home and it was 8pm and six degrees outside and the walk home would have been two miles straight up a mountain road with no lights and possible bears around. As I started trekking home in the ass-freezing air, by some miracle a co-worker of mine (one of the four people I actually know in this town) drove by on the lonely country road and gave me a ride home. The next morning I went on a run to get to where Tweet was, and she started perfectly on the first try. Perhaps she doesn’t like the cold, which will inevitably suck because it’s about to be winter here in Colorado.

But I gotta keep faith that Tweet will continue to live. I don’t ever want to sell her.

Though our mechanic did say our El Camino is so rare that it could be sitting in a field, surrounded by a whole bunch of nowhere, with no tires, and we’d still get $5000 for it. That is tempting, but we’ve grown a fondness for Tweet. It’s something about her gruff voice, the way her wheel doesn’t turn to the right when you first start her up, how the grill is busted, how there’s a sock around the engine, and yellow and blue crepe paper streamers still trailing from the tailgate that we just can’t let go of. Perhaps we are stupid. Or perhaps this is what love really is.


*Photograph by Beth Keating (2012)


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in THIS, The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Sleet, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination. She is currently finishing up a collection of essays about finding the concept of home in the body. You can read more of her writing at:


Finn was an alcoholic cabinet maker. Ruddy and unshaven, a scar on one cheek, eyes sunk back in his head, he would get drunk, commit some Cool-Hand-Luke-type crime (though this was ten years before the movie came out) and, once convicted, have himself transferred back to the Crisp County Work Camp, which he seems to have used as a substitute for rehab.

In the mornings he walked to Warden Dub Goff’s woodworking shop, like it was an ordinary job, and at night he returned to the white sleeping quarters, just as he would have gone back to his house, except there wasn’t any liquor there to get him in trouble.

In the shop he made all sorts of furniture—cedar chests with complex parquetry, chairs and headboards with turned posts and rungs. Everything looked professionally made, and Finn was a professional, a master cabinet maker. He just happened to be in prison.

It was Finn who made the checkerboards the prisoners and guards played on during the weekends. He cut the squares from sheets of plywood, sanded them down, painted the check pattern, white and black, never red. When the warden’s son Bill wanted a boat to take out into the pond, Finn built one for him.

Finn knew masonry, too. Dub assigned him to teach Bill how to make a block wall. You never knew. The skill could come in handy some day.

During the first lesson Finn laid the blocks perfectly, the way he did everything, but on the second day the wall began to waver. Nobody quite believed it at first. Finn wouldn’t ever lay blocks crooked. That wall had to be straight. Their eyes were playing tricks on them. But the more blocks Finn laid, the more crooked the wall became. Finally somebody questioned him and realized he was drunk. Somehow Finn had managed to get alcohol in the prison.

The construction came to a halt. The guards questioned Finn.

Where did he get the liquor? Finn wouldn’t say.

Shakedown: the guards checked the toilet bowls—a common place to brew mash. They went through the wooden lockers, looked up under the tables between the bunks. They felt out the mattresses and frames. They found some shanks and a lot of pictures of women in various states of undress, but no liquor.

Was the bottle buried somewhere between the main building and the shop? Was it hidden in the shop itself?

It turned out to be right in front of them, in the fire extinguisher. Some inmates had sweated away the top, poured out the chemicals, and filled it with a mash made of bananas, among other things. They put the lid back on with some match stems tucked under it so the gas could escape. That way the fire extinguisher wouldn’t explode as the mash worked off.

So Finn had gotten drunk off banana mash.

The mess was poured out. Finn sobered up.

In the morning the perfectionist had to face the crooked wall he had made. It would have been painful. Even that banana mash hangover wouldn’t have bothered him nearly as much as the sight of the previous day’s work. That crooked wall was a reminder of why he’d gotten himself arrested in the first place, of what he was when he was drinking.

Finn tore it down, started over, and laid it perfectly straight. He taught Bill the basics of masonry. When the day was done, he returned to the white side of the prison, just as he would have come home from a job. In the morning, he came out, spent the day working in the shop, making furniture, sometimes with Dub, often alone. He went on Saturday too, even Sunday if he could, while the other inmates visited with their families. Nobody ever came to see Finn. Finn didn’t have any family.

In the evenings Finn lay in his bunk, chain smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, listening to Jim Reeves sing “Four Walls” on the radio. He kept to himself.

Even while working by Dub’s side in the wood shop he was alone as he made a new tool for the lathe, grinding off just enough metal with the emery wheel so that it would not vibrate. Everything but the goal of perfect balance faded away.

That—alcoholism on the outside, work on the inside, solitude throughout—seems to have been the story of Finn’s life. He died at Milledgeville, where prisoners were sent when they got too old to work.

In his last years at the camp Finn made a walking stick with meticulous inlay, but instead of the usual abstract pattern, the bits of wood took the form of a snake slithering upwards, as though to strike the hand of the man who held it.


The Measure of Us

You see the ocean for the first time on our honeymoon. Your large feet dig deep into the muddy sands of the Maryland coastline as your blue eyes swell at the infinite water before you. I wrap my arms around your thick waist and press my ear into your back like you are a seashell and if I listen hard enough I can hear the origins of you. I close my eyes and plant myself in the moment. I want to stay this way forever. We are newlyweds. In this moment, with the sky darkening and the shush of waves around us, we are normal, and our problems, which loom large and heavy every other day and hour of our lives, are washed away with the sand between our toes, sucked back into the majestic wake of the Atlantic at our feet.

Forty-eight hours ago we stood in a small church in Scranton, Pennsylvania with our hands clamped together, knees slightly buckled, and a pain in both our chests as we pledged our lives to one another. I got drunk in the limo on the way there. I almost ran away. You were drunk the night before. You almost overslept.

It was a beautiful wedding. Years from now when people talk about that day, they will use words like elegant and tasteful, they will remember a candlelit ceremony with bridesmaids carrying star punched lanterns and wearing simple eggplant gowns. They will recall a reception in a historic house with classical music and mind-blowing cheesecake for dessert. They will forget the particulars, the obvious dread in both our eyes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful,” You yell over the thunderous roar of the ocean. Your face is speckled with wet sand and your eyes squint now to see the disappearing skyline folding itself into the dusk of night.

“Let’s head back,” You say, “It’s getting dark.”

We clasp hands like new lovers and bump against one another as we walk. Our hotel is one of the nicest on the beach. It’s covered in reflections, glass or mirrors, I can’t differentiate them in my memory. We chose this hotel because it was new, because it was expensive, because it was what you wanted. I could explain this in several different ways, I could go on and on about why this mattered, but I won’t. I’ll say it simply this way: You are a nervous man. You suffer from Panic Disorder. You have attacks that send you grasping for a tether to this life, and usually that tether is me. You cannot do things that most of us can do without thinking. A walk down the street is a challenge. You find safety in strange places, like your computer room, a video game store, a new car, or a new hotel. Your disease controls you right now. Years later, I hope it won’t. But for now, we are in the thick of sick, and I have the patience to be here. It won’t always be this way. It won’t always be so easy, something I know in my gut as we walk into the gleaming glass doors of our fancy hotel, across the marbled tiled lobby, and are finally swallowed by the soft glow of the elevator. 

Later, you roll me onto my back, nuzzle your face between my oversized breasts, and breath heavy with the thick night air. We know this routine, the unclothed feel of one another, the way your skin slides against mine like two plates moving across the earth. We have been naked together for almost half my life. It is here in this moment that I say the words that will change us. The words that will make this ease between us fade away into the canopy of darkness.

“I want a baby,” I announce.

“Okay,” you say back like I just asked you if I could borrow a spoon.

“I want you to give me a baby,” I repeat.


You come inside of me for the first time in our nine years together. We are adults now.

The next morning, before you wake, I slip onto the balcony and light a cigarette. I am still smoking at this point. I sit in a white wicker chair and rest my bare feet on the railing. I stare out over the ocean and remember summers at the shore and how my parents always watched the sunrise together. I can still hear them if I close my eyes, their low voices trying to hush the excitement as a school of dolphins rose and fell into the wake. I remember watching through a sleepy haze the silhouette of them, joined, still married, still the main characters in the narrative of my childhood.

I put out my cigarette, smear the clean ashtray with the butt, and call you awake. You mumble and roll in the sheets like you’re mummifying yourself. Your hair is short and fuzzy, your breath a hot echo of last night. You peel open your eyes and I know immediately you want to leave. Your movements are short and choppy. You look around the room like you’re expecting something or someone to burst in on us, like a tragedy is only seconds away. The calm of last night, the stillness in which we decided to make a baby is gone.

This is what it’s like living with your disease. It’s like living with someone on fire. You want to help, but most of the time you don’t know what to do. Most of the time you simply have to pray they survive the burn.

“We need to go,” You begin to explain.

“I know,” I say. You’ve gotten used to the disappointment in my voice.

“I’m sorry,” You insist.

“I’ll go to the front desk and see if I can get a refund for tonight.”

As I leave, you plug into your Playstation 2. You brought it with us. I didn’t fight you. In the elevator it occurs to me that I could probably sum up the timeline of our lives together by video game consoles you’ve owned.

The Super Nintendo: We met at a pool hall. I was sixteen, you were eighteen. You didn’t have a car or a job and were repeating your senior year of high school. You knew “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by heart, and wore a pair of beat up chucks. You carried a notebook full of poetry. I fell in love with you. Kurt Cobain died. You cried. I loved you harder.

The Sony Playstation: You took me camping. It took some convincing for you to leave your room, your house, your city. You still didn’t have a job. We were still young. I worked at Sears. We pitched a tent and rented paddleboats. We paddled out onto an island in the middle of a lake where you told me you were in love with someone else. It’s been a long time and I can’t remember her name. I want to say Tracy, but maybe it’s Stacy, or Annie. She lived in a yellow house on Birney Avenue. I thought about burning it down. We unpitched our tent and I drove us home in sobs. Later, you told me you wanted me back, that you loved me more than the nameless girl.

The Nintendo 64: You came to see me at Sears with an engagement ring that you charged on my credit card. I wore it. Your mother was happy. Mine was not.

The Sega Dreamcast: I moved three hours away for school. You came and picked me up every weekend. You got a flat tire in a construction zone. You had a panic attack. I thought I would never see you again, but you kept going, you kept coming. You proved your love to me in miles. My parents divorced. You wrapped me in your arms and swallowed my sobs. You proved your love to me in shock absorbency. I moved home. We moved in together.

Sony Playstation 2: You were the manager in a video game store. You came home one night and told me you wanted to see other people. You kissed an employee. She wore bikinis. I was 250 pounds. It was a battle I could not win. We had a bad fight. I chased her down in a parking garage. You smashed the mirror on our new car. You drank gallons of wine each night. I poured one down our white porcelain sink. It looked like blood. You held a knife to my throat and your eyes were lucid with rage. Things were ugly. We lived in a basement. You tried to kill yourself by taking too many pills. I left you. I took you back. We moved upstairs. I could see the sun again. Things got a little better. We got married.

The elevator dings and the doors part to a cool burst of air conditioned lobby. At the front desk a young boy smiles as I approach. He wears a gold tie and a maroon shirt. I ask if we can check out early. I dig deep into my bag of excuses and pull out the most dire.

“My father is ill,” I tell him. “We have to leave.”

The truth is I could make a quilt from all the yarns I’ve spun covering up your disease. We can’t go out to dinner, we can’t come to parties, weddings, funerals, because you don’t feel good, I’m sick, we have work, our cat ate chocolate, my car broke down, you have polio. I am part of the problem. But I think I’m part of the solution. I’m dead wrong.

“I’m sorry ma’am, we cannot refund any money. We need 48 hours notice at least for a cancellation.”

“How could I give you 48 hours notice that my father has been stricken ill?”

“Let me get my manager,” he whispers and disappears behind a false wall.

As I wait for him a woman comes running through the glass doors from outside with the light of the early morning sun at her back.

“Someone turn on the news!” she yells in a slight panic.

A bell boy runs behind the desk and fumbles with a remote. The young man in the gold tie returns with a compromise. He can refund me fifty percent. I accept. The television flicks on and we are stunned by what we see. The World Trade Center is on fire. It is 9:05AM on September 11, 2001, and the second plane has just hit the South Tower. The world as we know it is about to change. We are about to change. Having a baby becomes urgent, like there is a timer on our life together that starts now. 


Amye Archer has an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work has appeared in [PANK], Twins Magazine, Provincetown Arts, The Ampersand Review, H_ngm_n, Boston Literary Magazine, and Hippocampus. Her first chapbook, No One Ever Looks Up was published by Pudding House Press in 2007. Her latest chapbook, A Shotgun Life, was published by Big Table Publishing in 2011. Her memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, is represented by the Einstein Thompson Agency. Her first play, Surviving, was produced locally as part of the Jason Miller Playwright’s Project. She is the winner of the first Scranton Storyslam and she hosts the reading series Prose in Pubs. She is the former Reviews Editor for [PANK]. You can learn more about her at