Some things were certain. When the end of the day had finally been drug down to something resembling a conclusion, everything would blush, sigh with relief and begin moving deliberately into the darkness that was beginning to smudge the horizon. It was cleansing accompanied by the scent of softening sage, perspective being stroked with a cool brush the color of black ice. All of the things that had been patiently biding time would burst fully formed into the world in the blink of an eye, in the time that it took for you to snap your head sharply and look behind to see if anything was following. Something was there. In the desert, you needed to know that. You had to be ready for anything.
After the sun began the slow slide behind the alkali, the blistering silence that had dominated the world would give way to the scent of pink flesh moving deliberately through the dunes, and I was moving with them. I’d search into the distance for the neon and listen for the sweet sounds of a jukebox. When I heard the music rising out of the sand in waves that pushed the last of the heat up hard against the bottom of the sky, I’d jerk the wheel, hit the brakes and slide the car perfectly into place in the far corner of the gravel parking lot. I was ready for a woman.
She was alone, the only woman sitting at the bar, which had been installed, I was told, right after WWII, made possible by a large donation from a P38 pilot who had managed to survive 27 combat missions. He had been known to jaw everybody. Said he just wanted a soft place to land, a place to lay his head, so he popped for the leather and wood, cut up his flight jacket and had it sewn into the top left hand corner of the bar. It was his special place. He sat there every night for forty years, until a few weeks ago, when he stopped coming in. No one asked why.
Now, she was sitting on his stool, rubbing the crossed eagles, picking at the palms and sipping her beer. She looked up sharply, tweaked her nose with two fingers and sniffed at the last of three week old wildflowers that were sticking out of the tops of the beer bottles that lined the back of the bar. Everyone knew that pilots had photos of their wives and girlfriends pasted on the dashboard of their planes. Bars only posted the empties on the back shelf, with flowers for effect.
I’d been staring at the string of blinking Christmas tree lights that were strung above the painting of an Appaloosa being brought to its knees by three cowboys under a full moon. She snapped her finger against the back of my head and asked me to buy her another cold one. She wanted to tell me a story.
She had done things by the side of the road, and she had done them often. She had begged them to do her in the shadows or in the rainbows that melted into the early morning light. Then there were the special times, the really special times when she announced that she didn’t give a shit about anything at all, and in those moments, she was more than willing to lay it all down in broad daylight. Right there for everyone to see. She loved the attention. She craved bringing astonishment into the world. And she could bring it. That was for certain.
She knew the smells. After she rose from the sand, she sweltered with a stink that covered her clothes with dark scrapes of Apricot Mallow and Jimmyweed. Once, they had been a comfort, a padding five good strides from the side of the road, but now, even they had something to say. They encouraged her to spread her hips wide open for the stars, on her back by the side of the arroyo, pressing into the sand and Brittle Brush, leaving a map of welts and pricks on her ass, her mouth stuffed with Wild Carrot and Creosote, the sweet scent of the desert bleeding out after a hasty rainfall. That was where she belonged. Even the vegetation agreed.
I couldn’t understand why I thought that fucking with her would absolve either one of us. I was pretty fucking sure that she didn’t think so. Perhaps if we could find a motel by the side of the road and split a pint, I could be persuasive enough for both of us. I’d ask her to rub me into her sagging breasts and into her wide cracks. I could wallow between them and wipe myself with her, even though I knew I could never get any closer to the truth, even if I rubbed all night. Sure, she would moan and cry, but that wasn’t going to be enough. I wanted sainthood. I wanted to go down and confess all of our sins right into her pussy. I would plead guilty for both of us and I would absolve her. I would absolve us all. I would push her legs apart and make the speech of my life.
We clicked final shots of Jack and walked out the door, hand in hand, with fake porcelain hearts that somehow kept us believing. Across the street, beneath a thick crusty cluster of yellowing moths, we bumped into the motel manager. He recognized her immediately, smiled, offered me a discount and told me that she would be doing more for me than I could ever dream of doing for her. He turned and walked over to the front of the motel to settle into the porch rocker to wait for sun to come up. He knew what it was like to wait for the heat to rise with the sweet scent of Devil’s Trumpet closing in, that was for certain.