Turquoise

Everything is bathed in turquoise. It’s like I’m drowning in an exclusive membership-only pool, and, well, hell, I’ve lost all my borrowed ID. So this may be an awkward passing.

I won’t tell you about the profoundness of the morning sunlight, since it’s been written unto death: its depth and its shadings, its horizontalness, and, well… (slow down, take a breath)… its godliness. Oh, and the way the light bleeds into the leaves in the parking lot, dappling all those Nissans and Pontiacs and F-150’s, and blah and blah and blah.

But oh my lord, my room was beautiful for a moment. Please, by all means, try and picture it: this standard oh-hell motel, straight up and down, stripped clean of its artificiality, its discount coupon barfedness, its insolent stink. For a moment, this room became a pure thing. And then an empurpled cloud rolled overhead and ruined the entire thing: the cracks in the walls became darker, the stains on the carpet became more stained, the spiderwebbed bugs became more worrisome.

In the turquoise light, I was something beautiful, I think. And then the room turned into a plain dirty blue, and I turned back into who I really was.

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Mara

A whoop of dry wind hoisted me awake. The curtains were a catch-all for the early light, where it gathered in the folds and shimmered like river water. Morning was already dressed up, rosy-cheeked, wearing a braided stink of highway grit.

No one came to my door to remind me of late check-out time, or to let me know there was fresh coffee in the office pot, or to tell me the cleaning staff was waiting. But there were voices outside, muffled by the cool cinder block walls, and they spoke in a low auditory blur.

Every morning (how many now?), I stepped outside to take a piss in the low brown weeds behind the Motel. Every morning, I hid my face in the crook of my arm and cried until I was husked. I was still listening for you, and, hearing nothing, I waited by a dead highway.

Tú allí!” she shouted, and I jumped. “You there!”

Mara stood at the edge of the parking lot and gestured for me. She did not seem angry or irritated, but I did not know her well enough to know her. She often wore her hair plaited, sometimes wrapped in a scarf. Now it was loose, and it flowed below her waist. She wore a blousy ivory caftan that almost matched the color of her hair, and a pair of holystoned sandals.

For a moment, I saw myself caught in the geometry of light that boxed her against the horizon. If I were an artist, I would draw her in dark crayons, and if I were a photographer, I would have filled a camera with her.

I waved, but she looked straight through me.

***

From a work in progress, tentatively titled The Death of Edison.

The Motel Fatigado

Oh, honey, there are shapes beneath these roads. They push me and they drag me, and, God help me, I’m yoked to every mile. I’m numb to the drizzled headlights and smudged taillights, the curves, the swerves, the nerves of bumper-to-bumper, the mathematical sinew of the overpasses, the poster board landscapes, the flat hallucinations of the Alpha and Omega.

Oh, and sweetheart, the construction, the obstructions, the crazy and the caffeinated, they want to pour their horsepower into the concrete while I’m steering left-handed, trying to pry the goddamn plastic lids off the goddamn Styrofoam cups, and honey, I always spill the hot coffee on my fucking wrist.

These have been my nights and days since you left me.

And then I came upon this place: a slender space beside the swagged shoulders of an unmarked highway. I recognized the tarnished ancianos who were waiting for me. There were six men and a woman, and they were sitting in a straight line on the sloped walkway of the Motel Fatigado. A flat line of hands rose to guard eyes against dust and sun. They studied my silhouette for a moment, then resumed their pinched slouches.

An old man dismounted from his chair and approached. He was wearing a shredded straw hat and baggy jeans. His shirt was a clean button-down, a faded antediluvian white. He could have been an Old World priest soliciting confessions. More likely, he was tired of sitting.

“You have el bagaje? Suitcase?” he asked.

I nodded.

He pulled a packet of folded tissue paper from his shirt pocket, and offered me a cigarette. He told me that Room 8 was vacant and clean. He did not ask me my name. I accepted his tobacco, and he lit it with a wooden match. His hands were narrow and veiny.

He said his name was Cándido, and the woman was called Melancholia. “The new guests always ask about the woman,” he said. “You see her? The beautiful woman who sits among the dogs? She is clean-handed. You understand? Inocente. She knows magic. You prey on her, you will leave with bruises.”

I nodded.

“Sit with us,” Cándido said. “Melancholia keeps plastic cups in her room. We have tap water and tequila. Perhaps there is ice. I will introduce you to the others.”

I declined.

***

(My apologies if this looks familiar. It’s a revised version of something I posted in early October, and it’s a piece that I’m really drawn to. I’ve been struggling with writerly insecurities and self-doubt for quite some time, but this has been in the peripheral for awhile… I think I’m finally ready to chase it down. Thanks for the indulgence, and thank you always for reading. — Steve) 

The good girl

Compelled to stir the ashes, of what was cruel, what was unadorned. And still I reach for those extinguished minutes and years, and walk into the smoke, shoulders broke, bending to grief’s provocation, aroused by what could have been.

Elani was the most gifted of us, but it was hard to watch her subtract herself from happiness. She was the good girl, the kind girl, the quiet girl who leaned into the shade of a river birch while others swung from ropes and imprinted the water with their thrashing bodies.

She was not destined for great things, and she did not pursue them. The current ran deep, and she found comfort in her aloneness and sandpapered memories. She had no quarrel with pain. She reconciled it as the great truth of life, and saw strength as a punch in the belly, holding back the yelps, damming the tears behind waxwork eyes.