from EyesWideShut - Saturday, November 19, 2005
accessed 1887 times
Imagine this, you on a dusty road out Midwest.
A puncture, you pull over, and there is no one in sight in either direction.
You have no jack, no wheel brace, just some old rags and a can of oil in the trunk.
The sun is high and hot, and the sky is a fierce blue…
You sit down on the verge, chewing some parched wild herb and watch a white scorpion get mauled by some giant black ants.
I appear, just like that I guess, from out of nowhere, I was chasing rattlesnakes with a wire and a cane, I am dusty and dry too. I have no car either.
I ask you what you are doing. You say what does it look like. I smile at you and say it’s a long way to come without a spare tire. You laugh. I laugh. I have some water and I offer it to you. You accept and take a little.
It’s still, hot and dry and a wind picks up and cools your skin a little. There’s a buzzard out there, calling a high pining call, circling on its wing, hovering for rats and watching the baked ground for a moving meal.
Maybe it saw an old steel bar, just off the verge lying in the scrub, part of a rusting signpost once declaring the route to Floyd’s music shop, 55km east. It’s heavy but stout.
There are a few large rocks here and there, shading snake holes, I push one over carefully and I heave it over to the side of your car. I get the steel and push one end beneath the jack point. You stand on the other end and the car lifts clear off the ground, enough for me to wedge a load of rubble underneath.
I take the steel, and a rock, and drop the heavy stone on to the end of the tubular section. It dents, but not much. We take it in turns to beat the hell out of that steel until it is crimped enough to bite a bolt on your wheel.
By getting an angle on the steel bar, I can get some twisting leverage on the bolt and slowly and awkwardly we release them. I am pouring with sweat, you are sitting impassively and curious, we can change your tire at last.
I am drained, sit down next to you and smile proudly. You look at me, you like the way my skin sweats, and you want to reach out and wipe it off my face and neck, to clean me as a way of recompense. You offer me a lift...
It’s just at that point with you and me, isn’t it? There is that awkward tense moment, the anticipation, uncertainty, what is beyond that climbing into the passenger seat, winding down the window, and feeling the cool wind buffet a tired dried face, with a song in the heart and a strange but cool girl in the driving seat, a girl with no spare, dumb enough to be out here, wise enough to let a snake catcher fix her up, and cool enough to offer a lift.
I reach down into the foot well, there’s a picture of a kid, and a man, and you, grinning, laughing, holding a balloon, standing by a tall tower in some wide city.
We drive through scrubland, distant mountains are filtered by a spray brushing of heat-haze, the road shimmers like wet cellophane, strips of blown out tire lie basking in the road way as old dried snakes. Maybe if we drove over one it would bite the wires underneath us.
I have a picture in my back pocket too; a torn crumpled worn out picture of a pretty blonde, sweet smile, and misty, honest eyes.
I look at your kid, I think of the one I haven’t got yet. I look at you and I am envious of you, out here taking your time, no particular hurry, and with a history, a past that is maybe your wild present.
There is a turnpike approaching. I need to go west, you indicate east. The road is long and black and sticky with hot tar. There is emptiness in every direction, a deserted land filled with heat.
We have said little but shared so much, but then you ask me if I want to go your way. I say why not come mine. We smile at each other, and I wonder why I asked at all.
I look at your face for a brief moment and maybe I’m hardly able to detect the disconsolation in your confidant manner, but it concerns me and I feel burdensome. All this time that you had gone on with me, helping me fix my car, enduring the merciless sun and asking for nothing, I never stopped to think that maybe I had troubled you. Oh, you seemed to have enjoyed it enough, all this ruggedness and the unpredictability of the challenge, yes that’s all a big part of you. But perhaps I should have waited for someone in a truck, someone who’d see me on the side of the road, and notice me standing there helpless just in time to do a U-turn, jump out with a jack, fix the tire, then indifferently hop back in his truck and drive off into the sunset. I wouldn’t have disturbed that person or made them uncomfortable or hot because they would never have been around long enough to begin to care. We may have exchanged a few words…
“Hey, you ok?”
“Flat tire. Must have been a nail or a piece of glass.”
“Here, le’me take a look.”
“No, no, I’d hate to trouble you…could you?”
“Oh, it’s not trouble at all. I’ll just get this jacked up here…Where’s your spare?”
“You’re not going to believe it but this is my first ‘lone ranger’ trip and I just forgot to check and make sure I had one before I left. There is no spare.”
“No spare?! You’re driving through the desert here, Ms.”
“Yeah, I know, I’ve got this pathetic excuse for a memory. Is there anything you can do?”
“Hmmm” (Long silence)
“Not to worry—it’s done. I just patched you up with my tire fixing kit. You should be good to go at least till the next gas station. Get them to check you out and I would suggest you purchase a spare tire while you’re at it. You got a name?”
“Nope!” I lift a sly half smile and eye him for a reaction.
“Uh huh…” He hardly knew he was answering me much less what I had said.
He leans over into the cab through the window and checks the gas meter. “You’re running kind of low on gas.”
“I brought extra jerry cans. They’re in the trunk. I may be dumb but I ain’t stupid.” I laugh an embarrassed laugh.
Again, not a hint of humor.
“Well, looks like you’re good to go. I gotta run.”
“Thank you for stopping and taking the time.”
“Not at all.”
I stick my head into my shirt as he rides off, leaving a dust cloud the size of Montana. I’m relieved that my tire is fixed. With not a little struggle I manage to fill the tank and I’m on my way, thinking nothing of the preceding scene.
But you, you needed me almost as much as I needed you. You were nearly out of water and I gladly gave you some from my water cooler in the back seat. You were in line for a little shade break and there I was, almost as though I was parked there waiting for you like I knew you would come along. I had two sandwiches left from my lunch and thought I’d stop at the next sign of life and get something to eat so I stuck them in your worn backpack.
I had begun to wonder who you were and what would bring someone out here to “chase snakes” as you had called it. I hated snakes but to hear you talk about them and to feel your passion on the subject made me feel as though I might be able to reach out fearlessly and touch one looking on it as an object of beauty rather than an evil demon creature.
I so disliked the unsheathed sun in all it’s raw heat but you spoke of your treks in this parched desert as a mother speaks of the birth of a child, loving every one of nature’s kisses, even the rougher ones. Just hearing you tell me of your adventures I could feel a strange and foreign longing to do all the wild and dangerous things I never had the guts to do.
As we drove on I occasionally glanced at the dusty metal frame sitting by your feet, I remembered the occasion and it brought tiny concealed tears to my eyes. My mind flipped between our conversation and thoughts that you would trigger; would I find what I was looking for or would I always feel like I had felt on the side of the road that day. Alone, uncomfortable, different and stupid. How could I have forgotten to bring a spare—I kept kicking myself.
I tried not to look to closely at you, your wavy hair clinging to your brow and neck, your lower lip, full and moist. I giggled to myself as I remembered how much I liked full lower lips, I’d had two boy friends in another lifetime that had full lower lips. I knew that if I let myself I’d stop the car and think up some excuse to touch you. It would be that I just had to get a towel out of the back and dry that sweat off before you catch a cold from the air conditioner. Or, better yet I would offer you a clean shirt and make you take yours off. I could sense in your posture and your breathing that you would not resist if I advanced; you wanted me to.
Some of my thoughts: “What is it about him that draws me? Why do I feel so powerless? Who is he to barge in and make me feel helpless simply because he helped me. I could give him something for his trouble and send him on his way and the matter would be solved. Or would it?” I feel as though I have to keep you with me to retain this new energy that I’m discovering, this green lust for the unexplored. I’m on a trip—why not take a little detour and enjoy it?
We’ve only known each other for a few hours and you’re already in my blood. I have felt you seeping into me and I’m becoming intoxicated. It’s not a steady drip like a leaky tent, it’s more like a gradually growing leak in a ship and I know it’s only a matter of time before the whole hull will be flooded. The question now is will I be able to close all the hatches in time to save the vessel or will the surge be uncontrollable and destroy us all? I think I’ll take the change since that’s what this newfound vitality is telling me to do.
Now, here we are at a turnpike where I’m heading right and you’re going left. I pull over on the shoulder and turn off the motor. I search your gestures to see if you’re eager to get out or actually want me to ask you to ride with me farther. I offer you that T-shirt and you laugh heartily. I understand that your laugh means you’ve been waiting for me to say something like this for a while now. Just as the T-shirt comes down over your head, I startle you with a kiss on your lips and I say, “thank you for helping me get out of that tight spot back there.” You simply nod and smile. I can tell you want me to kiss you again. I take the plunge and ask if you won’t ride with me farther, I offer to buy dinner. You say, “why not go with me and drop me off at the motel that I’m staying at—The Cinnamon Bear Bed-and-breakfast? It’s not another 2 hours in this direction.” I look down at my feet to consider your offer but you take that as a subtle no and chuckle, “Right, I’ll see you around then. It was my pleasure meeting you and I enjoyed every inch of the drive. Take care of your charming self—there are a lot of snakes out there.”
I start to panic! I can’t just let you go, not like that. What can I do? What can I allow? How far will I go—to thank you for existing here and now and to keep you as close as I can for as long as I can.
I jump out of my car and run after you walking up the onramp, I grab the back of your jeans. You spin around in an instant, gather me to yourself and, holding my head, you kiss me. The gentle, firm brushing of our lips becomes a torrent of unmanageable passion and people are driving by looking and snickering, some slow down and take a closer look, as if they think that by getting a better shot they might be able to partake in what looks like an explosion of positive energy!
You finally speak, “You changed your mind?”
“I thought I could get you to change yours, or…I’d change mine.”
We walk back to the car looking into each other’s eyes and experiencing the same concerns…
“Have we made the right decision? I guess we’ll find out…”
You slipped the Pinto into gear and pulled away, your eagerness betraying itself in your gear change, the wheels spun in the grit for an instant and a cloud of thick dust hung in the air. Sapanak was 120 miles from here, The Cinnamon Bear was the only place there. Two families, five rescue trucks, a gas store come motel come fix it all place, the kind of shack that people either pulled into or pulled out of.
Two hours with you, two long hot hours with your zest on my mouth, your salt on my bristle, my dirt mingled into your saliva, man, you hit the mark. I felt filled up with your tongue wrapped around mine, but my feet were on your dash, my hand was hanging out the window catching road flies and getting chilled by the fast cold wind of your speed, and looking out across the emptiness, I still felt alone. I knew what was coming. Back a while I got hitched up with a traveling sales girl from Tahoe. She was crossing the States, trying to move soda machines, selling auto spare hotlines and just about anything she could think of arranging. She was a tough, bawdy, kind of girl that would hold down a jar or two, and sink a few guys under the scratched up tables.
I sat with her one night and got talking about shit, and we ended up laughing and cussing and changing the world. She filled me too, man, she got me places I had never been, and then she was gone, her laugh on the wind, her breath just a warm feeling on my neck. Never really figured how it all works out sometimes, just reckon that some people are born to move, some to be still, and others to spend their time chasing reptiles through the Joshua trees.
Anyhow, there I am with this girl in her Pinto, hoping we make it to Sapanak before another tire goes. There’s a washout on the road ahead, some rains fell and the floods underscored the tarmac, and a whole section of road the size of a swimming pool just collapsed and there was a wide chunk of black tar just sitting on its side like an earth tremor just passed through. We had to slow down, the repair crews had only just begun to backfill. As we approached, I noticed a marmot burrow just 20 yards from the verge, and big rattlesnake trails running in and around it.
"Would you pull over a second, there’s something I would like to show you."
"You like snakes?"
"Yeah you know those long venomous scary things."
"Oh yeah sure, my best friends, really"
"Ever been up close to one."
"Well, I guess so, you know I’ve been around a bit."
"Cool, did you ever see a nest?"
"Would you like to see one?"
Such a reluctant no, you wanted to move out of here, but there was this kind of squeamish need to see this, your eyes kind of widened.
"Come on…you’ll dig this."
I jumped out the car, ran round to your door and like a valet attendant opened it up with a little bow. You stepped out gingerly, I clocked your ankles, narrow, defined, good calves underneath your denims. Dumb girl sneakers on though.
I took your hand, and we helped each other down the steep verge bank to the scrub below, slipping on the loose gravel, and disturbing small brown rock lizards that shot into the herbage.
It was fine to stand in this place with you. There was no one around, the road crews had disappeared to do a little cactus shooting, and there was an empty wilderness with just you and I and a whole bunch of snakes and bushes and rocks. I felt something in your hand, a kind of glowing heat, radiance as pure as the sun baking the tops of our arms. We stepped over the crunching grit until the burrow was clearly in sight. I checked the wind, it was taking our scent away from the burrow, and we were ok here for a while.
"Stay still here, if you would. I just have to check a thing or two."
"Where are you going?"
" I want to look for any snakes basking where we might not appreciate them." I pulled out a collapsible snake grip, a kind of stick with a pincer like action at the end.
"Please don’t move until I say, ok?"
"Sure." You looked so vulnerable, so small in this huge place, but I had this feeling that you also belonged here. I guess it was the way that you didn’t wipe the dirt away from your face, the way you weren’t hung up about dirt on your prissy sneakers, and the simple fact that you were sitting in the desert on your haunches with a sun soaked herpetologist and no real worries about the madness of it all. I wondered how long it would be before you would call time.
Squatting there waiting for you to finish popping about and investigating, my nervous eyes jerked up, down and all around. How I wanted you to think that I was brave and boisterous for somehow I thought that you’d like me more if I were. How very boring to be me, I thought, afraid of creepy crawlers—afraid of so many things. I’ve never even touched an earthworm. Then a bright thought! I thought I could impress you or maybe just surprise you by telling you of the photograph of me with a 10-meter anaconda wrapped around my body with me holding it’s head in my hand! I stooped there wishing this had happened to me when I was 15 and a ripe tomboy to the very core, intrepid and competitive.
I felt a light brushing sensation on the back of my neck and flew into a fit, leaping to my feet frantically hitting myself on the back of the head. I finally brushed off and calmed down to see you standing behind me with your arms crossed laughing!
“Is this one of your practical jokes?”
You laughed even harder this time.
“That wasn’t funny! You scared the shit out of me!” I smacked your arm.
You continued laughing.
“Where are those snakes? Let’s see one.” I was resolved that you would not get another chance to make me look like the prissy girls that I despised when I was 15. I swear, to make fun of the little femininity that I have managed to gather over the years is a blow below the belt. I’ve never been all the woman I wished I was and I believe being a tomboy was my was of saying, “fuck off if you don’t like it”.
We found our snakes, and you dared me to pick one up.
“It’s not poisonous…”
“Just damn ugly.”
True to form you replied, “Awe, poor bloke can’t be blamed. You should have seen his mum!”
I figured here we were all the way out here, me with this wild man literally from no where, and I’ll probably never get another chance to let all to the wind and enjoy something I’ve always cringed at so what the heck. You mentioned the name and it’s unique features but I wouldn’t remember, although I saw for myself that it had some lovely color on the top of its head. You handed it to me and with not a little effort I overrode my instinct to throw it down and bludgeon it dead with those silly pink tennis of mine. You watched me hold it gingerly at first, so very unsure and uneasy. It squirmed around and I could barely hold on to it so you had to help me hold it, nudging here and grabbing there. I could see you from the corner of my eye, so proud of yourself and delighted that I had just done something I had never done before.
I hardly needed to consolidate your victory by letting you see just how thrilled I was that I had finally stepped out of my small, familiar realm and met a challenge face to face, so I just looked into your eyes and smiled. I felt at that moment that I could do anything!
We looked towards the road and saw that the work had been finished and the vehicles were on their way so we headed in that direction. We shared some water from your canteen and you went on about snakes, their survival instincts and the false myths surrounding them. I only listened with one side of my brain.
Most people would think that being joined by a stranger while alone in the desert is a nightmare but I was just then hoping I wouldn’t wake up any time soon.
Back on the road we threw some music on, one side vintage rock and roll and the other some personal favorites of mine.
“Never was a music kind of guy” I said, “Always felt that people wore it like a label, as though the music somehow belonged to them. Folks in my town wouldn’t talk to you if you weren’t into their sound. But what bugged me most of all is that whenever I listened to half the songs they liked, I could never understand the words, or figure what they were all talking about.”
“That’s a bit harsh on musicians” you replied. “Some people put everything into their music.”
“Sure, but there are musicians, and there are pop stars. I guess I learnt to like the music, not the words.”
I reached over to the backseat and tugged on my backpack until I could swing it over on to my lap. I dug around and my fingers found some wrapped up sandwiches.
“Hey, did you put these in here?”
“Uh-huh. I figured you might get hungry.”
I laughed out loud at you but I didn’t want to piss you off. I never carried food in a pack unless it was sealed tight. I may as well be walking around with a big sign on me saying `here I am, dumb fuck human with a snake trap in my pocket. My scent was strong enough, but extra Pastrami and fresh tomato was like strong French perfume to a rattlesnake.
I liked you for this though; I didn’t blame you, you didn’t know about this so why should I tease you. Anyway, I was starving. I tore into the first sandwich and was shoveling it into mouth.
“Do I get one?” you begged.
“Showwy” I munched, “Imh shust too hungry, here thake this whon.”
You took the other, and looking at me started cracking up with laughter.
“What?” I demanded,
You started to really snort.
I was angled right into the corner of the seat and the door, pushing myself into the doorframe, and subversively placed my feet across your lap, whilst chewing the last of my pastrami off my fingers.
“There’s something in your hair.”
I pushed my fingertips through my curls and sure enough there was a load of them, glued into a spot just behind my ears.
“ How did they get there?”
“I think it was from me,” you admitted.
“Do you go round trying to grow tomato plants on strangers, is that it?”
“No, really, I had eaten one earlier, and dropped some on my sleeve. I’m guessing that when we kissed back there, I must of rubbed it onto you accidentally.”
“Pull over.” I said firmly.
“Why, are you going to reprimand me?”
“No, I just want to do something.”
“Pull over and I’ll show you”
You slowed down and stopped. I reached into my bag and pulled out a small sealed plastic container, in which there was a little bundle of damp newspaper. I undid it all and inside was a few pieces of cool, strong Swiss chocolate. I took a piece and put it into my mouth.
“Is that an order or a request.”
“If you like Swiss chocolate you’d better hurry.”
You reached for the box, I gently slapped your wrist.
“If you think I’m going to fall for that old trick” you said, “you can think again.” But I could see that you fancied a piece of that chocolate. I took the last two pieces, and began to eat them. You hit my leg.
“You shit” you said.
Then you just grabbed me by the back of my head and thrust your finger into my mouth. I was so shocked, but I loved it, you were trying to get the chocolate out. I gagged, pretended to choke, and then began to dribble sticky chocolate down my chin, like the death throw of a willy wonka oompah loompah.
I leant back as if dead, starry eyed, dark sticky sweet chocolate everywhere, and you just licked my chin.
Your tongue lapped onto my bristle, tore at the gooey mix, gulped a load down, and then, starting the car you pulled off again, hitting the road like a wild one. I leant across, and wiped the rest of it across your forearm.
You held my head there in your lap for an instant, cradled me, warmed me, I could feel the heat and the softness of you from your tummy. I was content in that moment.
I sat back up. I looked out of the window to see what was left of Floyd’s music shop drifting past us like old wood on a beach shore. The building was three walls, and a roof collapsed in on itself, rusted corrugated steel folded into a gentle curve with a dark shadow beneath hinting at rotten, termite-ridden timbers. An old refrigerator lay on its side; streaks of russet rusting tarnished its enameled casing. I wondered how many chilled beers had kept Floyd going, in between the deliveries. Maybe he had his Coors dropped off with the Doors, I quietly speculated.
Sapanak was getting closer, 65 miles from here, I could see the top of Mount Earley rising above the horizon, and Sapanak sat at its foot, hidden behind the curve of the earth. The mountain had long been a draw for me, high up on its ridges were old cool caves, some covered in ancient rock carvings, a few higher up on inaccessible cliff faces were painted. Ancient desert folk, I didn’t know how old, had come to these empty places and sat and sung and swapped tales of their crossings, their journeys, their lives. They had imprinted these tales into rock, their meanings now mysterious but somehow, here I could feel their music resonating in these chilly, echoing chambers. I found peace here, and I thought about your music.
“How long do you have around here?”
“Maybe a day, maybe a little longer.”
“There’s a place you might like to see. No snakes, but it’s a bit of a neat walk, maybe three hours on foot. I can fix us a pack lunch.”
You just looked at me in such an open way, but I felt that I was doing all the calling here. I wanted to find out about you.
“Out in the wilds?”
“Yup, but its not so hard a walk, there are a few shady almond trees, and boulders around, and there’s a spring too, with the sweetest, coolest water. It used to be a source for Sapanak when the town was a town. After the airbase got built at Randle Lake, all the folk went there to cash in on the airmen. Now the water is just there for cooling people like me on a hot day. What d’ya say?”
You just grinned at me. I took that as a yes.
Very soon, we passed a huge sign with a reclining bear on it, his stumpy arms behind his round head, a dumb grin on his face and a baseball cap shading his eyes.
“The Cinnamon Bear Motel. 25 miles. Vacancies all year round...and great cinnamon cookies.”
“Great cinnamon cookies?” you said enquiringly.
“Well, you have to arrange it with the old lady there, but yeah, they are pretty fine.”
“I cook. As a matter of fact, I make great cookies! Are you a cookie man? I can see that you like chocolate.” I licked my lips and sucked the remaining chocolate off my arm.
“You’re constantly surprising me.”
“Nah. But I bet that between the two of us we’ve got it covered.”
There was an exchange of essence that passed between us but now words were spoken.
“Can I ask you personal question?” Your confident voice was laced with respect.
“I don’t see why not. I’ve never considered myself a ‘private’ person.”
“Who are you with in this picture?”
“That cute little towhead is my son.” I faltered and cleared my throat conspicuously.
You pursued… “And the handsome young man?”
“My husband.” I kept the answer short and factual.
“I’m sorry if I’ve brought up something that bothered you.” You’re apology didn’t hint at pulling back but at paving the way to move forward with your line of questioning.
I quickly scanned myself in the mirror and picked at some non-existent dust particles on my forehead. You caught my bottom lip quivering as if I was on Speed and trying not to gnaw my self to pieces. You could tell it was a sensitive spot but knew, too, that if I would tell anybody about it, it would be you.
After a full minute of silence I spoke. “In my waking world I do my duty and I love them. But here in my dreams am I allowed to admit that I am petrified of failure?” I raised my high-pitched voice in a frustrated way. “I’m afraid to have my son look back at me the way I look back at my parents at times and I’m afraid to be my own undoing, in marriage or otherwise.”
Your face was so caring. You really wanted to know. But in some ways I felt that anything I would have to say on this subject would be foreign to you and you would accept it but not really understand. You have always been your own man, still footloose and fancy free, free to travel and experience. To me you were still a big little boy and I envied that and wanted a piece.
I looked at you softly. I glanced at your photograph again, and I thought of my mother and what she though of me out here in this arid place.
“I don’t want to cause any offence miss,” I offered cheekily, “but I think you need to come with me.”
“Look” you snapped “I’m vulnerable at the moment and I don’t want to go into something that neither of us can deal with.”
I smiled at you again, I was filled with something bordering on delight that this out of place, misunderstood, cute-ankled woman was sitting next to me in one of the world’s most dangerous cars on a hot highway, near to one of the worlds most evocative places and her lip was quivering. By hot smoking bear shit women were real complex critters and then some.
“Look, I reckon your boy is proud of you right now, and if you never fail him and support him when he needs you and leave him the hell alone when he doesn’t, you’ll be just fine.”
“But what if I do fail him? What then?”
“You don’t fail sons, just husbands.”
“What do you mean?”
“Son’s just get out there, do their thing, grow older and get more confused until they meet a woman and get even more confused, then usually meet another one round about the same time they met the first and get even more lost in the head. Son’s are about hope, boys are about being out there, men are about putting it all straight and correct until they remember they were boys once upon a time.”
I spat a piece of chewed up newsprint out of the window.
“Look, any son just wants to see his Mom with a smile on her face. Misery and Motherhood don’t cut much ice where a boy’s thinking comes along, because he just wants to know that he gets approval for what he is doing. He doesn’t care too much as long as you are happy. That’s the secret of successful parenting as far as my mom was concerned, keep smiling, be strong. Hell, I caused all kinds of shit in my day, and sure I got the wrong side of her fist a few times, but then I knew I had deserved it. And she always had a plate of biscuits ready for me after I had rubbed my eyes red raw.”
Sapanak appeared out of the desert haze. Behind it rose a blue tinged mountain, higher still, ridges of pale brown peaks, frosted with lines of snow, and unmelted in deep ravines.
“I want to show you something timeless. It might reveal to you a truth you never realized about your self.”
You pulled in to the forecourt, and I hopped out of the car, ran over to the front desk and disappeared for a moment or two. The old lady was inside, sitting next to an electric fan that was sweeping backwards and forwards across the cash counter. Magically there was a pile of fresh cookies, crispy with a little moistness at the center and a heavenly rich cinnamon perfume.
She looked over her reading specs, down her thin nose and into my eyes. “Did you get yourself some snake juice today, boy, huh?” She croaked quietly. “When does the doctor get in to town, that fridge is filling up with so much Serum that I can’t keep the sour milk cool”
“Oh I guess he’ll be here Tuesday, I get paid then, and I can settle for these here cookies.”
“They’re for Ernie and the boys later.”
“Oh Ernie can miss one or two, I’ve got some company.”
“Get out of here, who d`ya meet in the middle of nothin`, your shadda?”
“Well, just you take a look out there, Beth, and see for your self.”
She pushed herself up off her seat and peered through her glasses, through the dusty window and into your car.
“Well, there’s a finer shadow than yours sittin` in that car there right now. What you gonna do with her, if you don’t mind me askin`?”
“I figured on taking her up to Mackintyres Creek, to see the caves.”
“Oh heck, you’ll need more than cookies if you are heading up there, young man.”
I grinned foolishly at her, and her wrinkled old eyelids made a slow exaggerated wink back. She pushed herself out of her armchair, went over to the fridge and pulled out some ham, and sourdough bread and a couple of thick slices of watermelon.
“On your bill, boy!” she laughed.
“On my way, girl” I replied.
You were sitting there with a detached contentment on your face, you were studying a horizon, and you were lost beyond it somewhere.
“Come on, I want to show you a horizon I bet you never saw.”
I helped you out of the car and gave you a bundle of food, my snake cane, some sunglasses, and a long sleeved shirt. “Put this on, it’s like a toaster up there.”
We set off, and tracked along an old goat trail, said nothing to each other, then we didn’t need to speak--the country said it all for us.
We climbed a while, Sapanak disappeared behind a ridge, and we passed an old cabin, ragged and ruined, eviscerated by the grinding winds. More buzzards drifted on high thermals, the sun was a conveyor belt for birds.
A glade of mountain pine, dull green needles and reddened stems, black opened pine cones littering the floor forming a carpet of crunching wood, our feet steadily pushing them into the grit as we walk. Small clusters of boulders, streaked with rich fatty courses of quartz, blood red veins of iron stained limestone, interwoven with penetrating bands of mudstone, thin repeated layers, ancient pages of tectonic history, a vast book of scrolls ripped and strewn around the dry mountainside.
Tiny sedum’s, stone crops, flattened lichens, a creeping stolon of a hidden vine, tenacious green life clinging to the earth, as though trying to bury itself into the ground away from the bleaching sun. A single line of ants on the move, each one intent on its direction, occasionally turning to gain a hormonal message from a passing scout, their antennae bristling together like fighting arms. Their trail was eroded into the fragile ground, nothing disturbed their passage, no-one was here to kick the path away, and all trace of vegetable matter was eliminated in their wake, even smaller stones seemed sometimes to have been shifted, a single minded purposeful march of a thousand souls, nothing to stop them except a footstep placed unwittingly in their midst.
We stepped over their line. Their perfection was beyond me. Ahead were huge elongated loaves of rock, roasted and split, weathered and rounded, dark shaded places sat between them, and piles of rounded penny loaf rocks had gathered at the base of this towering mass. As we got closer, our footsteps echoed off the giant granite walls, old volcanic plugs, part of a mass of magma that had tried to reach the surface half an eternity ago stood frozen and solidified and corroded here in this exposed desert. A lake had once formed around these islands of stone, a rich life giving soup of freshwater that had then been boiled dry by an unforgiving sun. Fish had baked here, worms had dried out and dust-laden winds had deposited fine veils of sediment over them, as though covering them with funereal sheets.
These fossilized remnants of an unknown time lay exposed here and there in the bedrock surrounding the granite massif. As we clambered up over reddened rocks, fish skeletons became graffiti; something else had been here before. These were the ghosts of the desert streams, the secret phantoms whose souls swam in the springs at dawn, before the sun arose to claim their soft flesh again.
A round hole slowly appeared in front of us and slightly to the right. A hundred yards of rough scrambling brought us to the base of a small cliff. There were holes gouged into the stone outcrop and we had to scale these to reach the cave. It was not high, but vertical, and the climb was unsettling. Each hand needed to be pushed deep in, the edges were rounded from centuries of run-off and there was little to grip on.
“You first, I can help you if you slip.”
You looked at me as if to say you had climbed Everest once, I grinned back. I was pleased you had those sneakers on now. They would grip well. You started climbing, I followed and in a moment or two we were like perching geckos on a baking wall. We pushed on up, until we reached the ledge of the cave. With aching wrists we rested for a moment, before pulling ourselves over the ledge and then we sat on the edge of the cave and looked back over our route. It was impossible to make out a trail. We had wound through cactus and pines and vast boulders and only by being on the ground could we attempt to retrace our steps. There was an intense feeling of isolation here, and yet behind us in this cave was the companionship of a forgotten people and their songs.
I took a head-mounted lamp from my pack, and put it on. Switching it on made no difference at this point, but as we picked our way deeper through the darkness the light became a circle of certainty, one side of the light was the unknown darkness of the inside of the earth, all that was alight was thus known, unfeared. As we moved on through the cave I pointed out bowl shaped hollows in the cave rock. These might have been places for firelight, maybe for resting some reliquary, a horn or bone piece, a pelvis soaked in fat, ablaze with thick acrid light.
Here was a stalagmite, each grain of sediment dripped from above, banded in tones of beige and ochre red, thin like a slice of smoked ham, a solidified waving swath of heavy crape, I banged it with my fist and it reverberated a deep, rumbling moan. The earth sang here, an instrument 50,000 years in the making. The passage became tighter, we bowed our heads, and the bowels of our earth demanded our reverence. There was cold, the cave walls were moist but there were no algae or moss upon it, there was no light to sustain it. I could sense a chill in you, and I reached for your hand. You took it and held tight. We stooped again, this time lower and our shoulders brushed against each wall. The narrowness was oppressive, millions of tons of rock above us. Only an old lady named Beth knew that we were here.
There were long, deep scratches in the rock at head height. They may have been carved with chiseled granite, maybe hardened wood, but there was no mistaking the cleanliness of their inscription, fresh edges, acutely angled carving. Deliberate. We stopped. I took off the lamp and put it onto your head. I wanted you to be in charge of the revelation. You turned your head upwards, the light following your gaze instantly. We were in a small chamber, maybe two bodies long either way and two bodies high. The rim of brightness became a frame and within that boundary there was the lost song of a desert. Layers and layers of etched images, many pictures obscuring or obliterating another, as though a frantic scrawling had taken place to put the words down as fast as possible lest they were forgotten. The scratches formed limbs, scrapings formed bodies, stipple marks made textures, cross hatches made shade and all were a seething mass of deer, puma, antlers, goat-like beasts, tiger like cats, spotted cats, tree patterns, men running men standing, fish shaped things and circles, hundreds of circles different sizes, but maybe the size of a fist. All the walls were covered with these, wherever you turned your head, the light picked out shapes and forms, and here we sat, 100 meters into the mass of the earth surrounded by a story of it.
“Your son will be proud of you when you tell him about this place.” I whispered. “This is what people are all about. You spend enough time chasing snakes, you get to know things that most people miss, or don’t even want to look for.”
You were just so fine in that quietness. I was right about you, I knew you would connect with this place. Not a single sound of disdain had come from your lips since you got out of the car. I was content.
We had spent a good 15 minutes silently looking over the desperate archives in the rock. The way you nearly caressed the rock walls as you spoke told me that you revered this place even more than you let on. You pointed out what you were sure was a hunting scene, men surrounding three or four deer looking creatures. I wasn’t so sure. Why didn’t they have weapons? They have weapons in this picture over here so this must be something else. You said one could have been drawn long before the other; maybe they hunted less ferocious animals with their bare hands. Regardless, I was astonished and in wonder that we were in this ancient place, partaking of what may have been the last frantic moments of some of our ancestors’ lives. I watched you closely as you circled the cave. I was in your space.
“You really love to be here, don’t you?” I stood behind you and spoke faintly in your ear.
“Umm.” You agreed contentedly.
I took the light off and put it on your head and sank to your feet, leaning my back against your calves. “Would you say this is as close to a religious experience for you as anything? Is that why you like these places, because you draw spiritual energy from them? There is a very visible good energy that I constantly feel from you, so what is it that you soak up in order to be consistently giving out like this?”
“Sunshine” You said softly. “Sunshine and one-for-the-road now and then when I get lucky.” It seemed to me that you felt lucky all the time.
After you helped me to my feet we exchanged a few more theories about the etchings and made our way to the exit of the cave. I observed water dripping from somewhere and it was making everything wet so getting out seemed to be harder than getting in, tighter and slipperier, and I held on to your arm almost for dear life. Every now and then I’d let out a little screech and once I nearly toppled us both! It had been cool, damp and dark inside the rock taverns and now we were thrust back into the scorching sun and my eyes agonized and begged for reprieve.
“Where are the sun glasses I handed you at the Motel?”
“Oh, yeah.” I had no pockets on me so I had put them in my shirt where I had hooked them to my bra to make sure they wouldn’t fall off. In went the hand and out came the sunglasses. I wanted to stop and catch my breath before moving on but you would hear noting of it.
“We’ve got about 3 hours before it starts to get dark and we’ve got to make it over that valley not too far off if you want to see the spring and oasis. It’s something you wouldn’t want to miss, believe me.”
“Can a person swim in this oasis?”
“Sure. You can swim in this oasis.”
“Can I skinny dip or will I insult the onlookers?”
“A-ha-ha! Quick one.” The sun was so bright that I can’t be sure but I think I saw you blush!
“Are there harmful creatures in the water?”
“Nothing a personal body guard can’t handle” You had to go along.
Did I say I never lead?
We trudged slowly back through the boulders.
“Watch your ankles as you tread over an obstacle, there may be something long and scaly sleeping there.” I chuckled lightly as I watched you high step over every rock between here and Alaska. But at least you got the picture. We disturbed a rock viper; it slid underneath a pine root and stared at us, in that cold black soulless way that snakes stare. Its camouflage left us with only its eyes and tongue to inform us of its presence.
We moved on, lizards scattered, they darted fast, you tried to catch one, but it sped out of your reach before you had even placed a foot near it.
“Subtle movements catch lizards.” I said, “if you want one you got to lay in wait and be real slow. They don’t detect movement with their eyesight very well, so let your fingers be very still and wait patiently.”
You grinned at me “Bet you can’t catch one!”
“Bet you can’t either.”
“Ok, first one to get one is last in the water.”
I laughed gently to myself again and I stood defiantly at you with my arms crossed.
“Off you go then, show me how it’s done.”
You pouted a little, made a quizzical face at me, then disappeared. Minutes later I heard a shriek. “Damn, I nearly got him,” came a muffled call from behind a cactus. I jogged around to see you laying flat on your belly, arms extended out and you gripping a handful of grit.
You stood up, brushed the dust off your clothes, and chewed your bottom lip a little. Goddamn women look cute when they do that. I smiled smugly.
“Well, I got myself a lizard right now, and I am going to catch it for you, so you can hold it in your hand and kiss it on its little scaly nose.”
“Gee thanks” you replied tersely.
“Trick of the ol` snake catcher. Sorry”
I reached my hand around to my pack and pulled out my collapsible catcher. There was a five-inch fat lizard, dark brown with speckles of beige, like flecks of desert printed onto its scales. It was chewing a golden hawk moth about three feet from you, under a pine log. I slowly sung the aluminum arm over the top of the log, and let it quietly and gently move inch by inch until it barely touched the ground. I was squatting in the desert again, doing my thing with you. I loved this; I wanted you to soak it all in, make sure you went away with more than just my scent on your mind.
“Don’t move an inch ok?” I whispered. As carefully as I could, I positioned the pincers just to the right of the little fella, maybe moving them a hairs breadth a second. I twisted my wrist slightly to angle the grips over the lizard’s back, opened the grips and brought them slowly around its flanks. It just sat there chewing the moth, oblivious to its impending fate. I snapped my grip shut and the lizard was caught, it slashed its tail around and tried to claw its way out, its long toes attempting to grip on the smooth metal.
“Yours. Kiss it and say Hi”
Well, you just kissed it; you puckered your lips and planted this gentle little peck right square on the end of his round brown nose. Man, that was awesome; most girls would scream until their panties ran off, but hey, you have the guy thing well mapped out. I lowered him slowly to the floor, released him and he scratched his back with a distended leg, and then shot away.
“Ok, ok, I’ll go first ok? Anyway I’ll be in that water faster than you can blink.”
You looked at me defiantly.
“You’re some arrogant shit aren’t you, I guess you think you can out do me at everything.”
Ok, I thought, step back, girls got a sore head from the sun.
“Bet I can beat you in swimming, and diving, and holding my breath.” You continued.
“Yeah, sure I bet too, I ain’t the worlds strongest mermaid by any chance.”
Well, we just kind of hurried at that point. You got a bee in your arse, and I was desperate to throw you in the water, so I figured that by the time we were through fooling, we’d both be too exhausted to be competing and all.
So, after an hour and a half of descent, I pointed out a clump of Coyote willows swaying in the hot breeze, their silver leaves shimmering and shaking like shoals of sparkling fish. Through the trees the spring shone, a small cascade fed the waterhole, and its ripples refracted the lowering sunrays into thousands of shards of crisp bright light.
I thought you were going to call last one in, but in a measured kind of way, you kept slowly going. Good, I thought, running around up here sometimes is a mistake, not a place for a twisted ankle. Yup, you were born in this place but your soul took a wrong turning somewhere.
We got down to the water’s edge.
“I’m just going to the bathroom” you revealed.
You vanished behind a rock and before I could even think about you tricking me you had stripped off naked and jumped in. Hell, I didn’t even get a chance to check out your butt, just a big splash and loads of cold water everywhere.
“C’mon shy boy, get that purdy lil’ass of yours in this here cool, cool, pond.”
Boy, was I red, Hopping on one foot then the other, I was trying to unfasten my boots and pull down my trousers all at the same time and I right nearly tipped myself over backwards. I pulled off my shirt and stood there like a total pussycat with my hand over my smalls, not knowing which way to go.
Your head and shoulders were just bobbing in that water and you were laughing so much you drowned out the sound of the waterfall.
“Wow, for a wild man you’re a real shy boy, get in for gods sake.”
I sat down on the edge of the pool, and took a handful of water to my lips. I always drink a little before going in, a little acknowledgement of times past. I stood up, raised my hands and dived a clean swallow, down through a deep place just by my perch. I came up beside you, pushed my wet hair out of my face and trod water next to you. My skin sang to me in gratitude for the cold freshness of this water. Blue cold it was, and so sweet.
I guess that was it really. That moment, that proximity. Your nakedness, my shyness, the warm sun on our wet faces, I reached forward and pushed a stray strand of long wet hair off your eyes, and then reached forward to take your neck.
“Easy tiger!” You grabbed hold of my head and pushed me down below the surface. I took your wrist, spun you round in the water and held you in a wristlock. I put my arm around your waist and pulled your back into my chest, I could feel your soft cool buttocks against my groin. I leant back, and floated you backward toward a shallower area, then spun you back round the other way, so I could look at your face.
My hands were still clasping your waist and I pulled you in to me. I held you for an instant, but I felt uncertain, I still wanted you to lead somehow, I looked at you quizzically, my heart pounding like the little lizard you had kissed earlier.
T here we were, inches apart, reveling in the setting sun and everything it bathed in its golden firelight. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back immersed in the moment as every cell in my body absorbed your intimate touch. Slowly I raised my head to meet your gaze. We tore into each other with our eyes and I expected you’d give up any moment but you didn’t flinch—there was no juvenile embarrassment, no discomfiture, only confidence and poise.
“Your skin is smooth.” Your voice was hoarse and brimming with desire.
“So they say.” My expression was helpless, my tone begging.
I listened. I could hear your breathing grow deep and labored almost matching the beat of the tiny bashful ripples that that left their dew on your skin. Your aquamarine eyes reflected the water turning iceberg blue and at that moment I could have sworn we were the only two people on the face of the earth.
“This is what it’s all about, you know.” I’ve always loved to turn simple truths into revelations. “This is it, this is all we’ll ever need.”
You cast me a smile that was both perceptive and saucy and in return I took both of your hands off of my waist, brought them to my lips and kissed your palms; first the right then the left. I could see when I probed your eyes that you knew what it meant to love, to hurt, to break and then to rise above it all, and in a cryptic and mysterious practice you had begun to reveal this time tested magic to me.
Again I broke the short silence, “Know what?”
“Um?” Our bodies were so close I couldn’t tell where mine ended and yours began.
“I haven’t known you very long…” I fumbled searching for the right words. “But if I hold this sentence any longer I’ll burst.”
You raised an eyebrow and began inching your right hand out of mine. “What sentence is that?”
I took a deep breath, “I love you! I know it sounds huge and ridiculous and shocking but I do, I really love you!”
Y our words crashed into me like one of those huge freight trains plowing across the prairies. They just kept ramming into me, forcing my mind apart, and thrusting their desire deep into my lungs. I just looked at you. Half of me wanted to pull you in and hold you, the other wanted to unwind you from me and run.
“I’m sorry.” You said quietly, “I have said the wrong thing, haven’t I?”
Above us, pinnacles of red rock glowed in the falling sunlight. Long soft shadows were stretching round the cliffs, blue-back fingers of hushed darkness melting into the clefts and crevices of wind worn stone. The pines were changing color like waiting chameleons, warm green, to gray blue, splashes of ochre rust where the needles were dipped in the low sunrays. Waves of color were pouring from the softening rock, and the songs of the geckoes began to start.
They called in crystalline stereo, high warbles like cicada sound, endless drifts of pure tone wafting back and forth as one called the other until a chorus of them filled the ravines’ deep walls with a brilliant echo. It was the song of the rocks, the lizard’s sonata, the essence of life here and the reason to be alive.
You were looking like a drowned kitten all of a sudden.
“Nooo, babes, not at all, I just don’t rightly know what to say, because I hadn’t figured you were going to say that.
You pushed some hair outta your eyes with a tanned hand. “Ok, wise guy, what did you figure then?” you said petulantly. “That I was going to ball you here in this pond and then leave you to clean up afterwards?”
My eyes just kind of grew. “Hell no, its just that you ain’t ever told me your name, and I kind of feel that I need to know that, before I get closer, you know you might be called Shirley, or Loretta or Eunice or something.” We still had our hands locked together, our fingers were interweaving, and I was circling my thumb around yours.
I drew you closer in, and whispered into your ear, “You might be a Gladys!” I laughed, very loudly, and the waning sun glinted off the pearl drops of water still hanging to the nape of your neck, and made them glimmer like garnets.
Suddenly, I felt a hard kick on my foot, you had managed to bring your heel down upon it, hard, and I gasped. I let go of your neck and placing my hand on your head pushed you back under the water.
You took a good breath as you went down, and swam out of my grip and surfaced on the other side of the pool. I launched myself across the water, took a few stokes, and a deep breath and lunged down underwater, sweeping for your legs. Catching hold of an ankle, I lifted it clear of the water and thrust you backward into the pool. Your arms were splashing everywhere, and as we fought through the torrents of water, we found ourselves both laughing again. This time there was no mistaking your desire.
You just had that intensity again, your eyes were fixed on mine, your smile was calm and placid, and you had this way of wading in that water that was such a come on, that I felt that to not respond to you was to deny my humanity.
I took the plunge. I put my arm around your waist again, and my other hand around the back of your head. We looked again; I into your deep soul, you I guess into mine. The breeze hung for a second and the last remnant heat of the desert sun warmed us like an opened oven door. I took that lull, and brought your lips to mine. I held us there, an instant, then gently, I nibbled your soft lip, you opened your mouth and your tongue drifted lazily across mine, slowly, wetly, softly as though I had been caressed with the touch of an angel.
My tongue curved over yours and they fought as children, danced as jackrabbits, and touched as blessed people to a shrine.
We pulled in tighter, the cool water resisting you and supporting you as we swung around in the spring. I was floating on a mountain cloud at that moment, lost in a dreamtime of desert songs, my heart ran with the coyotes and my lungs were filled with the scent of sweet rock-sage. Everything that was woman was within you here, and everything I yearned from you was as unobtainable as a diamond on the moon.
We drifted through that water, we pirouetted, we waltzed, we made a slow salsa, and we gave each other kisses so deeply that I felt I was lost in that cave with you again, my mind filled with the dark, lingering depth of your soul, my body weaving with hunting cries of the stone people, and the geckoes still sang.
We wound about each other like jungle vines; my legs wrapped around your torso, my buttocks lightly brushed against your erect staff and my weightless body clung to you with acute need. I gently pressed my face into your neck and your hair tickled my cheeks and buried me in its wild scent. I wanted all the while to express the heat and the ecstasy that I was experiencing, the intoxication of calenture, to share it with you in words, but I held back. The silence of this moment was indeed golden. Your unrelenting caresses told me that you and I were ultimately alike, reckless enough to be slaves of our instincts and fortunate enough to be captives of this pleasure.
We continued on toying with one another, touching, grinning, nibbling, licking, suckling, squeezing, whispering sweet nothings until the sun had almost shone it’s last and dipped below the horizon. The sky showed off in its last moments of glory, covering us in a silken sheet of rich Roman purple scattered with a peachy luminescence. Our passion had not subsided, rather we would have continued on into the night.
“Goodness, it’s nearly dark! I hadn’t noticed. You?
“Uh-uh, hadn’t noticed.” I continued my trail of kisses on your chin.
“No, really.” You pulled gently away. “It’ll be pretty cold up here before we know it and we haven’t got anything to keep you warm so I hate to say it but we’d better get a move on—and quick.” I could see the warrior and protector coming out in your concern for my safety. You continued “I’ve spent the night in the desert and it’s not something I’d like to do again if I can help it. Here, let me help you out.”
As soon as we left the water a breeze blew against us and we both shivered. “I’m so sensitive to changing temperatures, I’m probably going to catch a cold or a sore throat! Why didn’t you tell me it was getting dark?” I wasn’t mad just chiding you for enjoying yourself so much.
“You, girl, are quite a sight!” I was rushing to dress myself to the neglect of concealment. I had thrown my shirt on and had my jeans stuck on my damp skin half way up my legs. I stood there naked in all the wrong places.
“Are you kidding? We’re in a hurry here and you want to take a look at my butt?” Now I was really struggling to pull up my jeans as fast as I could but to little avail.
“What’s a spin? Just quickly turn around, please.” You nearly begged.
Begrudgingly I did a little wiggle and turned around for you. When I turned back around you had a completely dead pan look. No expression whatever.
“What does that face mean?”
“What face?” You tried not to smile.
“Exactly. You have no reaction to me letting you have to honor of checking out my behind.”
“Oh…well, I was trying to keep a straight face. I didn’t want to make the wrong face. You know how sensitive these things can be. But make no doubt about it, ma’am, your ass is just dandy by me!” You spoke like a cowboy.
“Good.” I said in mock hostility, “it better be. And by the way, how long will it take us to get down?”
“Not more than half an hour or 45 minutes. We made most of the decent getting here—don’t worry about it, we won’t be stuck on the mountain for the night.”
I hadn’t realized how sore my feet were till I got out of the water. “I haven’t walked this much in a coons age and my feet are killing me. Can you please carry me?”
No sooner had the words left my lips than I was swooped off my feet. You tried to keep a steady walk and pretend that I wasn’t about to crush you. After about 10 steps I ordered you to put me down.
“O, mystery woman, you forgot these! Shall I give them to you or carry them the rest of the way?” You held up my panties and swung them around on your finger.
“Somebody’s getting a little fresh” I said as I lunged out to grab my black cotton panties from your teasing hand.
“Not as fresh as it gets here in the morning. Have you ever slept out in this kind of place at night?”
“Not in the desert like this, in milder places, sure.”
I grinned at you.
“What are you thinking?”
I looked at your wet hair, trailing down your back; I wanted to towel you down, but it was too cold to get my shirt damp too.
“Listen, you are wet, you have soaking hair and in 20 minutes you are going to get chilled. Will you do exactly what I tell you and not complain?”
“Ok, the best way to keep warm out here is to move fast, but it is too dark to jog. So, I am going to set a pace, and I need you to keep up. You’re fit enough. It will be very quick, but at least you will be toastin’ “
“Ok, let’s go.”
Well I walked off like we had just made a fight. I can walk ten miles in no time when I put my head down, and it was funny to see you panting along behind me. Walking through here in the desert twilight was awesome. All manner of insects, frogs and lizards were calling each other, letting each other that they were still alive and up for a little night-time loving, and the chilled air and the creek’s steep walls were filled with a new kind of life.
We could barely see the ground, and I reached back to hold your hand, and pull you along a little.
“For fuck’s sake, slow down, I am panting my pants off here.”
“But are you warm?”
“Well keep it up then and we will be back soon.”
I bounded forward along the track; it was rubble strewn but level enough to make good fast passage, and you did your best to keep up. The light was dimming fast, and we needed to clear the creek area before the light dropped completely. It was pitch black in here at night; no star or moonlight could lighten up the deadened walls of the gullies.
After twenty minutes or so, the landscape opened wide, the far mountains across the desert were silhouetted in front of a turquoise and violet skyline, and the stars were burning through the final blue rays of sunlight left above us.
Sapanak was marked out like a beacon below us, the flashing vacancy light on the forecourt giving us a bearing to aim for, but I knew the paths of old. I slowed up for you, and came along side me, a little out of breath but you soon steadied out.
“Thanks” you said, ”I’m feeling great at the moment.”
“Not as great as you’ll feel tomorrow.” I smiled cheekily.
Soon enough we came back to the motel. Chippy, my German shepherd, was busy sticking his muzzle underneath piles of scrap steel, layed up just out side the door to my room. Every now and then he would snort, wag his long tail, and shuffle his nose under deeper.
“You’d think he’d know better, living out in a place with scorpions and rattlesnakes for buddies, than to stick his soft nose into a place where he ain’t got no business. Chippy, you are a limited son of a bitch aren’t you.” I reached down to his mane and jerked him away from the metal. He growled at me, so I kicked his flank, and he calmed down.
“Chippy, this is who the fuck knows who. Why don’t you say hello and get her to tell me her name, before I beat it outta her. Come to think of it I haven’t introduced myself properly. Chippy, sit!” Chippy sat.
“Chippy, paw!!” Chippy rolled out his tongue, and lifted one of his front paws.
“Say hello to miss mystery girl. By the way, my name is Alvin, but please call me Al, everyone else does.” Chippy sat there as dumb as dogs can be and grinned a dumb dog grin at you.
“He’s gorgeous, and my name is Summer…or Su”, you revealed.
“He’s stupid, and that’s a great name”
“He’s so handsome. Is he yours, Al?” you reached down and tussled his black and brown head.
“Yup. He wasn’t around when we got here earlier, I guess he was either sleeping in some shit again, or chasing cottontails. He thinks he is immortal. I have seen him two millimeters from certain death and he just wags his tail. It’s as well I have anti-venom because I could save him if I really wanted to, at least from scorpion stings. Snakes would cause so much local lesioning that I would probably have to put him down. But, there is no way I am putting him on a chain out here, it just ain’t right.”
“Why don’t you take him out with you. Oops dumb question.”
“I can’t leave him anyplace chained up, so I leave him in my room when I go out, and the folks let in out to run around when they change the sheets. We’ve been here long enough now for him to know the routine and to stay out of too much trouble. But really he is a thick arse if there ever was one, ain’t you Stickhead!!”
I gave him a big rub on his hard head.
“You got much gear to change into, or do you need to borrow some?” It was cold now, you were shivering, and the bush crickets were counting time with their chirping.
The motel was a gloomy place at the best of times, It was a fifties blockhouse of two floors, 10 rooms, but it had huge cactus plants and a neat collection of smaller desert plants in a long wild strip alongside the walkway. This was all lit up, being nighttime, and the place really came to life. A bat was circling jet-fast loops around the signpost, and the night sky was filled with glinting silver stars. The family homes were off to one side, forming an L-shape with the gas pumps in the crook of it,
The highway was to our right and opposite were my snake pens, so we had a neat compound set up here.
“Well.” You stood there not really knowing what to do with yourself.
My heart skipped a beat, I knew that you were about to enter my room, fortunately as I hadn’t been in there much for the last week or so, it was respectable. It was just the thought of you getting into my shower and loafing around naked.
“Look, here is the key,” I said with sudden relief. “Please just help yourself, find what you need in my bag, I’ll be right back.”
“You’re not coming in to watch my arse then?”
“No, not right now, I’ve got to do something. Just make yourself comfortable, there is everything a girl needs in there somewhere, you just have to apply a feminine touch to what I’ve got, that’s all.”
Chippy had curled himself up at my doorway, and was wagging his tail so that it beat a steady rhythm on the concrete floor. “What you so excited about you daft mutt, you’ve seen a grown woman naked before you know.” Chippy looked at the door as if to beckon you in. Old tart, he would have you on that bed before me.
You looked at me with a sweet smile, and then kind of skipped to my door, I guess you were curious to see if I had hunting rifles and bearskins to sleep on, wolves hanging from the ceiling. I knew you would be surprised at how simply I existed.
I went over to the house, and called into the kitchen. “Beth, you in there?”
“Cooking again, Al, you got a minute?”
I went on into the cookhouse, and old Beth was stirring up dough in a big stainless steel bowl on a scratched up laminate table, the scene for many a long bourbon soaked evening. As usual there was a coating of flour over just about every surface, I never really understood how someone so aged and experienced with baking for truckloads of people over the years could wreak such a flour-storm every time she was in here. This was just baking. Ernie told me once that Thanksgiving was renamed “Done-forgiving” after the hell she put everyone through in the kitchen during clean up. The trouble was that Beth was stone cold stubborn, her food was the best in the state, and she could throw a seven-inch kitchen blade through a cactus stem at fifty paces. No one could criticize her technique, and those that did, well, they learnt real quick to keep their mouths shut the next time.
“Beth, what’s up?”
“I thought Id better let you know before there is any trouble.”
“What Beth, are those dumb-arsed Ripley boys passing through again?” A wild crowd of roughneck bikers had been doing a tour of this part of the desert, using the open roads and lack of patrol cars to peel a little rubber. Trouble was that they liked the beer, and when the beer goggles got put on, the fists usually started flyin’ some. The real issue with these losers was their macho games, and after they had ripped through the snake pens on their last bout, I ended up wasting a load of serum on six bites to two hairy arsed brawlers, plus I lost some fine catches. Should have left `em to die really.
“No, Al, kind of more complicated. Suzy called me just after you had gone out, and asked after you. I told her you were heading up to the caves for the afternoon.”
“Well she said she was passing through, emergency call out from Earley Lake, they had picked up a mountain cougar on the airfield, limping after some kind of hit and run accident with one of the patrol jeeps. She was on standby at the Palmerville clinic and she got flown right in.” My mouth just went dry all of a sudden, my legs wobbled and I had this horrible gut wrenching need to pass out.
“Beth, I think I need to go out right now…yeah?”
“I tried Al, but she was wiped out tired and all, she just kind of coasted in on Auto-pilot, waved at me and let herself in. About an hour ago, she’s probably crashed out in there.
“Shit.” She just kept kneading that dough and I could see her goddamned eyes just twinkling like Venus in the morning, and I am sure I detected a hint of a smile.
I hung my head in my hands and backed outta there like she had told me my mom had died. I drifted as slowly as possible to my room, scuffing the grit with my disconsolate feet, there was no point in rushing, I needed to think. The crickets were singing at the same rate as my heart beat, and I am sure that the bat was hanging around up there somewhere doing a little speculating with his co-pilots. The cinnamon bear just gazed down on me, his round brown eyes mocking me from under his hat. This was not possible. I reached to the handle, my arm shaking with uncertainty. `This only happens in the movies`, I figured. `What would De Niro do right now. Hey, this whole day has been out of a movie.
As I turned the door handle, I think my heart wanted to leap out of my chest, but I just opened that door.
“Hey!” I skipped up behind you with a bag of ice in my hand and stopped you dead in your tracks as you were about to open the door.
“I thought you were in the room?” Your voice was panicky. You were sweating and white as a sheet and looked as thought you could pass out any minute.
“Whoa! You don’t look so good. What the hell happened between then and now?”
Nearly incoherently you answered with a question, “Did you find everything you need? All set? I just got to…” You tapered off.
“No, I didn’t find anything yet because I haven’t been in the room yet and yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just got a nasty insect bite and thought some ice would help.” We were still standing outside in front of the door.
“Ok, good. You do that.”
I didn’t know what to say or do because I didn’t want to pry but you were obviously deeply troubled and preoccupied. Chippy was over there jumping around trying to catch some invisible bugs. I talked uncomfortably, “I really do love your dog. I once had a German shepherd and I’ve never liked another dog more. He was so big and at the same time so gentle. A little less of a clown than Chippy though, you’re right about that.”
You showed your teeth pretending to be entertained with my small talk but your eyes were glazed and your thoughts were somewhere I knew not where.
“Well, if there’s something that you need to take care of you just go right ahead. I’ll be off to bed if that’s ok—I’m so tired. You really got the better of me today.” I reached for the doorknob and put the key in the lock.
Abruptly, you put your hand over mine, cautiously and very quietly removing the key from the lock. “You know what,” your voice was intentionally subdued and unintentionally nervous, “there is something in my room that I completely forgot about and I’ve got to go in first and…clean it up. So if you’d be so kind as to give me a second or two I think I can take care of it.”
I sensed that there was more to your words than met the eye and suddenly I felt like a horrible intruder. I knew you little but what I knew said that whatever it was it must have been something awfully important or you wouldn’t be making such a fuss.
“Oh, I see. Please, do what ever you need to. You know, why don’t I rent another room for the night, I’m sure we both want a little privacy and I’m just so tired.” I lied about both things. I only wanted to be with you and I couldn’t give a flying rats ass about my privacy, neither was I as exhausted as I let on. You hesitated for a moment as if you felt bad that I was in such an uncomfortable position and you wanted to help but couldn’t really spill the beans.
“Right! That’s an ingenious idea!” You looked as though a weight had been lifted. “Look, the owner’s name is Farrey, Beth Farrey, and I just saw her in the kitchen area around the back. Oh, look, there she is, the old woman over there. See her over by the icebox? The room I’m renting is 30 bucks a night and you get breakfast with that too if you’re around long enough to eat it. I never am. So, yeah,” you pecked me on the cheek, “I’ll see you in the morning.” There were no naughty looks no flirtatious remarks, no reminder about the panties.
It wouldn’t have been so bad to get another room if I had felt any suggestiveness from you, but you had suddenly and inexplicably turned off. Needless to say I thought either I’d said or done some dreadful thing and had ruined it or you were plum out of your mind. I didn’t plan on sticking around long enough to rent a room from Mrs. Farrey. My car was parked in the lot and I could take off now and be in Saskataw by about ten. I knew some people there and I might be able to crash with them—but if not, I’d rather sleep in my car than stick around here trying to figure you out and waiting for you to regain your senses.
Smiling lamely and not trying too hard to conceal my disgust I turned on my heel and yelled out to the old woman across the lot. “Mrs. Farrey?” I started toward her. “Mrs. Farrey, I wonder if I might have a word with you.” I glanced back at you and you were cringing at the volume of my voice, almost chiding me or shushing me. I couldn’t have cared less. When I was about 20 meters away you turned the key and went inside your room and I stood there in front of the lady in the worn yellow dress wondering what had just happened.
W ell there she was. Suzette Villefranche, activist, libertine, animal rights worker and the most breathtaking pain in the arse this side of Marseilles. Curled up on my bed, fast asleep. Shit, I had no time. I figured you would either fall for the bull, or take a run for it. I had less idea what to do than my dog in front of a Gila monster.
I could hear you trying to interrogate Beth, but fortunately Suzy was out with the butterflies, probably dreaming about fluffy kittens with sharp pointed teeth. I kept the light off, she was a light sleeper and would be up if a breeze blew.
What to do? What to do? I sat on the edge of the writing desk, my hands under my butt, and peered down at the lithe feline beast on my bed. She was an unfathomable friend, everything a guy could ask for, but so independent, a real live cat. That’s why she got into big cat field work, she had the affinity for them and to see her with them was surreal. She had made her name in South Africa, she was a renegade conservationist, running rings around trophy hunters on game park fringes, goading them into lame shoots, forcing them to abandon hunts because she had frightened off the quarry. She had been shot four times, taken a blow to her right arm and lower abdomen, and on separate occasions had escaped with glancing head wounds. She basically was a hell of a girl.
Boer hunters in Jo`burg called her the `Boemschlanger,` the Bushsnake, because she had one hell of a furious bite and like the name sake she could move incredibly fast through the hostile bush of southern Africa. Amongst the Worldwide Fund for Nature guys she was a cult hero, someone willing to put her neck on the line and be accounted for. It was rumored there were pin-ups of her in offices in Kenya, posing with captured poachers, like she had bloody well hung them. That’s how I got to know her. I was in the Great Karoo, a dry beautiful expanse of desert in South Africa, researching Spitting Cobras and collecting specimens of cytotoxic venom from Bush snakes and other snakes down there. I had heard of a recent spate of Black Mamba activity around Bloemfontein, and curious to see these venomous beauties and why they had proliferated, I drove up across the high veldt. I met her in a roadside beerhouse. She had been playing footsie with some half-arsed Japanese dentists with too much money and not enough shooting skills, just outside the Kruger Park, trying to lure them into a honey-trap and steal their weaponry I think, she never really told me.
She was nursing a shocking arm laceration from a snake bite that had been recently re-dressed, and I had no trouble at all in engaging in tales of snake bite stories. She had been lucky, there was a medic on that trip, and they had anti-venom in portable coolers. Her forearm had swollen typically, to the size of a man’s thigh, and as with all cytotoxic wounds she had suffered deep ulcerations and lesions as the muscle and flesh tore itself apart from the venom’s reaction. She got the serum in good time though and that’s what saved her arm. Tough bitch.
That’s how we fell for each other, we got pissed up on the high road, sounding off like two Marines back from battle, drinking Tusker, and she was telling me about stuff she had done to Taiwanese Ivory hunters in controlled shoots. That’s what got me. She’d given up on poachers. She argued that government anti-poaching units were doing their job, albeit slowly and ineffectually, she needed to play with the money- men and show them a thing or two about her version of bush law. She was half a step in front of the police herself, and two paces behind, a real modern outlaw.
It was her father, Ricard Villefranche who kept the bail bonds rolling. He was an internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer who had cut his cloth as a war correspondent in French North Africa during the Algerian uprisings. In his R&R he trekked in the Haut Atlas in Morocco, and met his wife there, a young teacher posted by the state to teach French to the Berber shepherds, high up in the cold, dry valleys.
That’s why I had to leave her there sleeping. I knew that she would be drained from dealing with the cougar, and tomorrow she would be high on its scent. She was unattainable, a palm in a hurricane, she leant wherever the wind blew, and then shouted back at it, daring it to blow her over. She was a nihilist, bent on self destruction in the name of her work, it was only the knowledge that there was always one more cat out there needing her attention that kept her out of Africa and out of trouble.
That’s why I loved your purity, you weren’t some crazed ammo rich rebel, or a sun-baked guerrilla on a war of conscience, you were a gentle, caring girl just out there doing your thing, with the time and the inclination to learn something new. I respected you for that and I needed to deal with it but I just didn’t know how.
I realized that I had nothing on you. No address, job, information, family, friends, nothing.
You were about to slip out of my reach like a coral snake in a forest, and I was staring at Suzy reminiscing about it all.
I was sweating. It was hot in the small room, the curtains were drawn across, and no breeze could circulate to cool me down. I grabbed a towel bundled up on the sideboard and wiped the dust off my face. I was about to come outside again and you knocked the door. Shit, I slipped as quietly into the bathroom as I could and turned on the shower.
“Have yourself some fun today up in the caves, young lady?” Mrs. Farrey grinned as though she knew something I didn’t. “Quite a climb, in’nt it? I used to hike up there most every weekend with Lyle when he was still around--and I was much younger. Bless his soul.”
“What? Did he tell you? Yes, it was certainly a grueling climb; I really don’t know how I managed it. But for that matter, I don’t know why I did it either.” I opened my mouth to continue but she cut me off.
“You’re pretty teed off, ey? The good man done left ya’ high and dry, in’nt that right, beautiful?”
“Frankly I don’t know what to think of him--or of this whole f… stinking day.” The more I thought about it the more disappointed I became. “He seemed like a dream and maybe that’s just it; good dreams always end just before the going gets good.” I had been all worked up and could feel the hormones grating at my temper.
She leaned closer and spoke in a quiet scratchy voice, “I don’t know if I should be the one to tell you this,” She paused for effect and wiped her wet hands on her apron, “The boy’s got some urgent business on his mind. See, a message came in while ya’ll was hiking up there and I passed it on just as soon as he came in to get the key.”
“Is there any way you might be able to be a little more specific?” I was searching my pockets for my keys. “I think he owes me an explanation for basically dumping me like this, don’t you? I should have been in Saskataw by now where I might have met up with friends and had a good night sleep, but instead this. I mean, it was gracious of him to have helped me out back there on the highway but I can do without that kind of help. Now, I know I’m not going to get an explanation out of him but you seem to know. Isn’t there anything more you can tell me?”
“I wish I could, sweetie. But contrary to popular opinion, not all old ladies are meddling biddies. I’m afraid it’s his business.”
“Well, fair enough. Thanks for the cookies and snack earlier and, uh, see you round, I guess.” I had just gotten inside my car and turned on the engine when I remembered my panties. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave here without ’em. He’s probably finished cleaning up by now anyway.” I briskly headed for your door with a nasty attitude and two words on my mind and I closed the distance in seconds. I knocked three hard knocks on the aluminum door.
“Oui, oui” a woman’s voice could be heard and then the door lazily crept open. There stood a woman in a white singlet and a pair of jogging pants, her eyes squinted and her hand held above her face to block the porch light. She was medium height, thin and quite tanned, almost French Algerian looking and it was obvious that I had awakened her.
I’m sure I must have stood there with my jaw hanging lose for a whole minute before I meekly said, “I’m quite sorry, I must have gotten the wrong room. If you’ll excuse me…”
The woman was sweet, “No, no, it’tis not a problem’. For who are you looking?”
I was sure this had been the door. “Alvin”? I still didn’t know what to make of the situation.
“Yes, he is here. He’s in the shower. Is it a problem about du room?”
What do I look like, that cleaning maid? I was growing angry.
“No, I’m just an old friend,” I quickly threw together a story about how we’d met a year ago and I work around here and am in the “snake business” as well and how I was just stopping by to get some advice.
“’E should be out in a mi’nut. Does e know you will be com’ming?”
“No, you know how it is out here, no telephones for miles.” I tried not to stare but she was beautiful and had a lovely body. Through her thin top I could see firm round breasts and excited nipples that looked like just being in the same room with you made them stand at attention. I felt inferior in every way and quite embarrassed and wanted to run but was determined to get my panties back.
So this is what your strange mood change had been about—a milk chocolate delight all curled up in your bed waiting for your return—obviously surprising you as much as you surprised me.
She invited me in and tried very hard to be genial despite her apparent drowsiness. I had awakened her after all, poor girl. She knew nothing of me and I felt a bit cheated that you had said noting about her as, quite clearly, you were more than “friends”. She told me in 20 words or less that she was some kind of wild life expert, was born and raised in France and was here pretty much by accident. That explained your shock at finding out about this “urgent business”. I figured you couldn’t be blamed for your behavior and I wouldn’t give you any trouble—just get what is mine and be on my way. What on earth you were thinking to do in the morning, I had no idea. I guessed you probably didn’t know either and were just glad for the time out so you could work out an escape route.
I asked about you and her, “So, you’ve been together for a long time? He never mentioned you.”
“I know—arrogant bastard. ‘E likes ‘is freedom too much.” She spoke with a wide, sleepy smile and then yawned.
“What is he like? I have only known him as a colleague and I’d imagine he’s quite a handful.” She had no qualms with my questions and seemed to be fairly nice, compared to what I’d imagined from her looks.
“’Im? ‘E’s got a soft ‘art. And, yes, ‘e is a ‘andful!” Laughing like a small girl she folded her legs in to her chest and cuddled herself. “We are sort of casual, you know. I don’t sink ‘e’s ready for anysing seri’ous and nei’zer am I, really.” She was so open I felt as though she had instantly taken me in as a friend and I felt a little more at ease.
Finally, you emerged from your watery chamber with a towel wrapped around your waist and, oh, the look on your face! I wanted to laugh, and to taunt but I simply said, “Alex, you’re out! I haven’t dropped by at a bad time, have I? I wondered if you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for me about something that I have outside. If you had a minute after you dry off and get dressed I’ll be waiting out there for you—if you could just take a quick look and tell me what you think.” I got up, waved confidently at choco girl and left the room.
I stared at you both. Well, at least you were both in the dark, and I guess I had the flashlight so I figured it was time to play my hand in this poker game. Before I could say anything you had gone again, I stood there semi naked in disbelief. .
“Hello Suzy” I said with a kind of worn voice.
“Al, who is she? I am `alf asleep.”
“Suzy, go to sleep, I will speak to you later ok?”
“Al, I leave you for one month, I come back to you and there are women and dogs, look at my leg!”
“Suzy, please, just wait.” I pulled open the door and dashed out to find you.
You were in the car, tapping your fingertips on the steering wheel and you were staring at that bear.
I climbed into the passenger seat. “Drive.” It was an order not a request.
“You’ve only got a towel on.”
“Go left. Half a mile and you’ll see a corral gate over a track. Just take that, but go steady--it’s bumpy.” I said nothing more to you till we were off the road. Your headlights spun a large glowing arc as we turned off the highway, and the beam picked up the white tail flashes of cottontails as they scattered away from us into the protection of the scrub. The road was rough and you slowed down to negotiate some wide potholes, dark craters in the moonlit trail.
“Fifty yards, you’ll see a tree. Pullover there and we’ll do some talking.”
“Are you kidding me?” you protested. “ Do you think I go trawling around the desert picking up strangers to have them beg forgiveness half naked under some fucking bone dry desert bush? It’s freezing out here, and you honestly think I am going to fall for your bullshit after the stunt you just pulled?”
“I’m just going to get some dry clothes and change, that’s all. Then I am going to stand underneath that bone dry desert bush and beg forgiveness from you.”
Well, to see your face. I guess you’d seen it all that night and I suppose that’s why you hung in there for the next performance. It had to be better than hitting the high road again.
“So where are your clothes?” you asked with a face that disbelief scrawled right across it.
“I’ve got a little camp up here, there’s a nest been hatching over the last few days and I have put a few provisions here so as not to get caught out. I keep some warm stuff in case I have to get up in the night. Please turn your lights off, I like to keep this place discreet.”
That stumped you. I fumbled around in the dark for a minute or two, rummaging around the inside of my tent for socks and jeans and a warm sweatshirt, and emerged feeling considerably less vulnerable. “So… I guess I had better explain.”
“Oh yes I think you should!”
“Please sit over here, I have a couple of camp seats and its nice under this tree. I promise...I don’t want to win you over with platitudes and bullshit, but please give me a chance to explain.”
“Well…” I told you about who she was and what she was doing and all and why she was the best darned friend I ever had. I told you about Africa, her escapades and her family. I told you about the time that she blew the whistle on three local bozos stealing cougar cubs from up high in the mountains. No big deal really, the cubs got released and the boys got ten years a head, until one day she got pulled over at a gas station and was blasted with a sawn off shotgun. She had loused up an illicit dealer, burned out his supply line, Arab oilmen paid big bucks for pet cougars and the three kids were a key link in the chain. Since she got shot at, a bolt had come loose in her head, and she was bent on exposing the whole messy set up. So she linked up with a local resettlement institution for captive and orphaned Wild cats and so on, so she could keep her ear to the ground. And all of this because she just happened to be passing through one day looking for a dumb-arsed snake handler she had once known in Africa.
The thing was, I explained, that she was great and fun to be with but she was French, therefore she was arrogant, headstrong, committed, and probably going to be dead before too long. I couldn’t stop her, she was on a fucking mission, and a bullet was the only thing that would stop her, and from past experience
it would have to be one hell of a caliber hunting rifle to put her on her back.
You came along today, I continued, and gave me a whole load of peace. Sure, Suzy was one foxy piece of tail, but you were the kind of girl I wanted to take home to mother…`look, ma, I did the right thing for once. Not that she would hear me, mind. Six feet of Tanzanian red soil had taken care of her hearing, I could imagine the two of them lying in each others arms deep under the ground, whispering, Has he found a girl yet Polly? No Frank, still pestering wildlife, somewhere far away and forgotten like us two, hey! I just wanted you to know that you had pitched me a home run; given me a chance to expose my self in a new and unhindered way. Out of the bickerings of scientists, activists and researchers and into the pacifying arms of a good honest woman.
I knew you were married, sure, but then so were most of us, and most of us had made that mistake for all the wrong reasons. I had avoided it because I wasn’t about to commit to someone I didn’t really know or understand too well on the basis that I thought it would be a fun and great idea. No ma’am.
Give me a few years of hardship first, maybe, you know a few testing times, stuff to separate the curds and the whey, that kind of thing. Then I would stay the course, for the right girl.
The moon was high and full that night, it sat in that crisp black sky clear and bright and it’s seas and mountains glowed with the cold reflected light of a sullen sun. Your face took on a new beauty in that clarified light. Your skin shone, but the flat light softened the tones and anguish on your face and made you as delicate as a pale flower petal, fresh and gentle. I wanted to hold you and make you understand and somehow to protect you. This was a big shitty world, and I saw you in it like a butterfly unfurling its new wings on a midsummer morning.
I reached forward from where I sat, took your cold hands and cupped them in mine. I brushed my face against them, pushing them hard into my cheeks. A beetle wandered across the ground by your feet, leaving tiny brush marks in the dust, just visible in the low light. Just like us two, wandering through dusty places leaving trails and going onward relentlessly in our quests for tomorrow.
I was at peace with you. I just didn’t know if you were going to believe me or not.
After allowing for a long delicate silence you spoke, “I hope you can understand what I’m trying to say.” You held my chin and lifted my face to look at you.
“I do.” I was at a loss for words. I had always been one to speak my mind and I felt like saying, “quit talking in circles and tell me in three words” but I didn’t want to push my luck. I figured you had humiliated yourself enough already and had done a pretty good job of bearing all. Plus what good would it do to consolidate redundant feelings. We could not go far—fate would not allow it.
“So what are you going to do about Suzy? Does she love you and now you’ll be breaking her heart or what. I don’t want to be the ‘cause of that—she seemed pretty nice.”
“I already told you, she’s tough as nails and bows to no one. At the moment she’s got a pretty seriously infected wound and when I get back, if I get back” you pulled me in close to you and covered me with your arms, “I’ll tell her about all of this. And I can bet she’ll say, ‘fine, it’s your life. Just give me a hand with this bandage and I’ll be out in the morning.”
Looking up into your soft eyes I said, “are we going back tonight? This seems like a lovely place to spend the night—together. This has been the longest day in my recent life but I could stay up all night if I was with you.”
Leaning over slowly you pecked me on the forehead. “How about this? I drive us back to the motel and give Suzy the scoop then we get my things and check out of that place and come out here and wing it?”
“Will we have enough bedding and food out here?”
“We’ll figure it out, babes. At the moment all I really need is you.” We were kissing in between words. “I need to taste you” your tongue circled my mouth, “I need to feel you. I need to squeeze you and I need to know all there is to know about you.” You were already on your feet and walking toward the car. I felt happy to hear you acknowledge that there was chemistry between us, but I felt bad at the same time. I knew that the ball was in my court and I didn’t want to be guilty of breaking your heart when all was known. I had to make sure you knew what I belonged to before we threw it all to the wind.
“Al…wait.” You stopped a few feet short of the car and turned around. I wanted you to know all about my life and my situation—what the hell I was doing our here alone just sort of “wandering”. My melancholy thoughts were broken at the sight of you in the moonlight. There’s something extra handsome about a man in the dark with light shining one side of his face—I’ve always thought so. “How I have come to love that smile,” I thought to myself. It was there on the deserted highway early this morning, it’s been with me all day and it’s looking at me right now begging to be allowed to smile on. I had no heart to ruin this beautiful night, the earnestness of your words and what I imagined would soon follow right here on this very ground--these things were all sacred.
Finally I decided to say just one thing and I spoke slowly and deliberately. “How do you know that I will treat your heart with gentleness and respect? How can you let me in like this when you don’t really know where I appeared from this morning or where I’m going and how soon I’ll be gone?” My whole strange life was wrapped up in those questions, all of our seeming differences, the surprising similarities and the chance of our meeting. I wanted to give in to the emotions that welled up in my head because I was so happy for this but so very unhappy for what had to come.
Reaching out your hand, you shook your head and pulled me gently toward you, leading me to the car.