The ministry of making art in Appalachia
–by Final Girl
His prostitute was released from jail today.
He would be upset if I called her his. He would yell, protest. But he paid for her. I saw the letters. I saw the videos, which he kept—his hands on her tiny, tattooed breasts: a large, green scorpion scrabbling across her chest.
There are two tattoo parlors in town. There are eleven bars. There are countless marijuana farms, patches on public land, grow rooms in overgrown farmhouses; trailers and trucks cooking meth; homes for heroin in shacks and drive-thrus and bike paths and sheds.
If I wanted heroin, I could get a balloon today. I could buy a baggie of anything. I know what a gun feels like. I know which businesses were started with drug money. I know which politicians funded campaigns with drug money. I know where the girls are. I know how old they are. I know where I cannot speed, where I cannot, I cannot be stopped because the cops try to deal, to trade outstanding warrants or tickets or drugs from the evidence room for sex against the side of cruisers, lights flashing on the autumn olive and multi-flora rosebushes down the country road.
I signed up for and received notification from the prison when she was freed. It came, sooner than I expected, years sooner than it was supposed to, a little email about her early release, which read in part, If you fear for your safety…
I did. I do.
But that’s the thing about graffiti.
It just compels you. It just makes you go. And so I crept through the alley, over broken glass and black leaves, wincing when my shoe snapped a branch. I slipped up the fire escape. I approached the padlocked door with my paint. I was afraid with every step but still I stepped.
And the sweep of car lights did not stop me. And the laughter of drunks did not stop me. Nor the breaking of bottles. Or sirens. Or the threat of fines. Or sadness. Or time.
I didn’t think of her when I was painting. I didn’t think of him. I think I thought no thoughts.
Only instinct. Only preservation. Only brush on the door and back again. Only hurry hurry steady straight. Only this picture has to be seen for some reason I cannot articulate, for some stranger I don’t even know.
See this. Know me. Know I tried.
Here in the foothills, it’s almost harvest time. The sheriff is indicted. The police chief is in jail. His prostitute is talking.
The prison notification system is called VINE.
Invasive, spreading, words creep out to you. A warning reaches you, curling and cruel and maybe never in time—they are coming, they are coming, they are coming back—like that multi-flora rose she hated, which spread thick in his backyard over clover and jewelweed, twisting, twisting.
Victim Information and Notification Everyday.
From the jail she called, night after night, while I stood at the sink and stared out at the yard, and he paid for her calls, and her shoes, and her body; he paid for her needle-scarred, drug-hungry body—and once on the prison phone she said: When I get outta here, first thing we do, we’re gonna to get rid of that rosebush. As if she lived here, as if she loved him, as if she had a right.
I put my paint and my brushes and my stencils in the truck, and then I drove away into the night.
He called her Softy because she had skin like rose petals, because she had hands that lied.
Final Girl is an Appalachian Street artist. Her essays have been published in Bending Genre, Hillbilly Speaks, and Apology Not Accepted, and her art appears in many secret places. You can see her work at and https://www.facebook.com/