Desert and the Beatific Vision

(This is another piece that I wrote over a decade ago. I submitted this in a creative writing class–and actually got away with it. I doubt such would fly today. I have cleaned it up a bit. Anyway, it is a cross between Cormac McCarthy and Walker Percy.)

The sand sizzled. The white ball overhead followed him. Everywhere the man looked, desert. There were creosote bushes: pubic hair of the desert.  Even the damn rodents and snakes have better sense than to come out during noonYou can’t hide from God, and you sure as hell can’t hide from the damn sun. He fell down a few times. Every time he fell down, he arose with more sand and silt clinging to his sweaty hands. He felt the sweltering intensity penetrate the soles of his boots. I must keep walking.

Earlier this morning, he had made love to his wife and then had gotten out of bed to rock the baby back to her sleep. He and his wife had made too much noise in their small trailer.  Making love to the wife and loving the child: I guess this is all there is to life—I need some cigarettes. He told his wife that he was going to get a pack of cigarettes, but did not stop at the convenience store. An hour and a half past Gila Bend, going southwest on I-8, he pulled over onto the shoulder. Dust covered his white Mazda B1800 truck like a hair shirt. He got out and looked at the baby window visor on the passenger side window. I’m doing this all for you; damn it, Pookie.

He drove off-road in order to follow a Harris hawk. No wonder there’s no road—a road got better sense than to be out here. He stopped his truck and started to walk. He walked longer than he planned. Pulsating mirages lied to him. Fine, I’m not looking for no water, anyhow. He came across a dead black-tailed rattler. He rubbed the toe of his right boot into its head. Bubbly grayish mush squirted out on all sides and immediately began to fry on the oven-top sand. Poor bastard. You’re a scourge to mankind, but I guess even scourges have their place in the scheme of things, don’t they?

There’s no way a man could do forty days and nights in a place like this. A saguaro cactus broke out with small white bell-shaped flowers. He rubbed one of his fingers over the bristles to make sure they were real. He licked a few dots of blood off his pointer. Even in desolation, you ain’t gonna hide, are you? Fine, I’m here, now what?

The noon sky opened its mouth and gasped its hot, dry breath on him. He took off his baseball cap and scraped his scalp. I knew I should of got that damn haircut Tuesday. He kept pulling at the hair that fell between his shirt collar and neck. He could smell his armpits, so he took off his shirt and stuffed it into a back pocket. Beads of sweat attached themselves to scattered chest hairs. He looked at his chest: Melinda.  He had promised her that he would tattoo her name to his chest once they got married. Three years ago last month—I’ll be damned.

He fell down again. The sand stung his back and trickled its way into his pants. He intended to scratch his ass but instead covered his eyes from the sun’s indifferent glare. He felt his throat crack and peal. Only two bottles of water—damn genius. He pulled out his pack of Marlboro Lights but then threw them on the ground. He kept the lighter. You never know.

Even though he covered his eyes with his hands, he felt the heat pierce through his hands and scorch his eyeballs. Solar crucifixion, huh? Right now, more than anything, he wished to be with his family, but he did not think of turning back. This ain’t no great revelation; I could of stayed home. This godforsaken, fucking desert. Pookie, your dad ain’t a coward—he just had to know. He sure as hell does now, don’t he ever. A gila monster peaked out from behind a rock. It looked left and then right. A lizard—you know what to do, don’t you?

*****

The day before, the man and his wife had argued. They had started with the milk.

“Buddy, I told you we needed some more milk. Why didn’t cha’ get any? Good thing Pookie’s not old enough to eat cereal or you’d have two grumpy girls mad at you.”

“Sorry, forgot.”

“You’re always forgetting.”

“Cuz I always got stuff on my mind.”

“Right, the only thing you usually got on your mind is sex.”

“Naw, that ain’t right. Got food, too. Just not milk, I suppose.”

“Oh, kiss my ass.”

“Be nice to see a little ass these days.”

“Maybe you will when you starting acting the papa.  Maybe when you starting acting like something—anything. You never want to do anything. You just sit around all the time like you got the whole damn world on your shoulders.”

“Better than having nothing going on in your head, ain’t it?”

“What are you saying? You saying I ain’t smart or something?”

“Ah, baby, no, I ain’t saying that…. Just that I can’t help all the time being distracted.”  He wrapped his arms around her from behind.

“You better try sometime soon. I mean, Pookie can’t have a papa that’s all the time somewhere else in the head, and I can’t have no husband like that neither.” She started to pull away, but then stopped.

“Listen, baby, I’m sorry.  It’s just that…naw, nothing. Never mind. I’m gonna change.  Just you wait.”

“Buddy, you know I love ya, right?

“Right.” He squeezed her and threw her on the couch. “I’m gonna go call in sick for work, and when I get back, you better be butt-naked.”

“You can’t do that. You gotta go to work.” She had already started to unbutton his shirt that she was wearing.

“Babe, it’s not like the shop’s been getting much action anyhow. Neither have I.”

*****

The man decided to put his shirt back on. Damn back’s gonna peel for days. Nothing smart about this. If I don’t die out here, Melinda’s gonna kill me. A roadrunner lifted its tail, dropped it, cooed, and ran away.  Hell, what’s next—El Chupacabra?  He continued to trek, following the cacti that showed him the prettiest flowers. The flutter of hummingbirds darting in and out of blossoms started to make him drowsy. Damn shame to die out here, but, I guess, it’s a damn shame to die anywhere really. Can’t go back to the truck. Probably hotter than hell inside now. Perspiration stung his eyes. The Harris hawk returned and circled over his head.  I knew you’d come back to me. Where to now? The hawk lighted on a chimney cap of an adobe house located on the bottom of a slope he had just now noticed. As he approached the edge of the slope and surveyed the metal roof of the house, the gravel under his feet gave way, and he rolled the entire way down, slamming against the back door. Damn you! Damn you to hell forever! He lobbed handfuls of gravel toward the slope, but laughed after he realized what he had just cursed and what he had just done. He raked the sand off his arms as he waited for the owner of the house to open the door to investigate the ruckus, but he wound up just waiting. Well, I may be breaking and entering, but it’s better than sitting and dying. He kicked at the deadbolt; the door swung open. Well, shoot me or don’t; I need your water. He ran toward the kitchen sink and turned it on. The facet sputtered but nothing came out. Ah, holy hell! Come on! He swung open the refrigerator only to find stale warm air. He began to open every cabinet in the kitchen.  Keystone Light? Hell, it’s better than nothing. Don’t Indians drink water like everybody else? Who am I kidding? He gulped down three tepid beers and immediately began to feel sick and sleepy. He plopped down on a couch and awoke a few hours later.         

Sun’s lowered, but it ain’t setting time yet. I got to get back to the truck—sure don’t want to piss off any Indian. After he crawled his way back up the slope, he tried to remember which way he had come. At least the sun feels about fifteen degrees nicer. He remembered the trail of cacti he had followed. About five hundred yards from the slope, he spotted an unmarked Dodge A100 van. As he approached the van, the smell of hot cottage cheese, pork, and milk hit him.  Good God! Don’t tell me…. He pulled his shirt over his nose and pulled open the right backdoor of the van. An arm that looked liked sculpted raw liver fell out toward him. He jumped back and projected a stream of vomit inside the van. His puke showered five decomposing bodies huddled together. Oh, Christ, some poor spics trying to sneak into Arizona. Oh, Christ! He started to vomit again, but his dehydration allowed only for violent dry heaves. He sunk to his knees and grabbed his stomach as it wormed up and down. His eyes watered as the odor of raw human flesh filtered into his nostrils. Shit, shit, shit! As he pressed his forehead into the sand and rocked back and forth on his knees, a baby cried.  For God’s sake, no baby! Getting up from his knees, he wiped off the drips of vomit that clung to his stubble and walked around to the passenger side doors. The doors nearly folded opened of their own accord. A ten-month old or so baby lay on the ground in front of the first booth seat. Shit! How the holy hell you still alive, baby? Either it’s a miracle or whoever left this godawful mess came back and dropped you off here not too long ago.

The baby lifted his arms and wailed toward the man. He leaned in, picked up the baby, and held him close to his chest. The baby buried his face into his shoulder. Thank God, the smell of dead man’s flesh ain’t seeped into you yet. Whoever put you here, put you here a little while ago. Probably watching my dumb ass now, I bet. You need some shade and water. He held the baby with one arm and took off his shirt with the other. He loosely wrapped the shirt over the baby. I’m giving my back for you, spic baby. But, hell, you just a baby‘bout as old as my little Pookie. Hell, babies are babies. The man looked at the baby again and put his cap on him.

As they walked back to the adobe house, a dust storm with shooting rocks billowed toward them. A maroon Cadillac Eldorado sped toward them. A piece of lavender chiffon flew like a flag from the antenna. The Eldorado stopped a few feet from them. The driver wearing lipstick, eyeliner, and a blond wig leaned out the window.

“Well, Georgianna, look at what we have here. Isn’t he a piece? And he’s got a little something with him. Must be a breeder—well, we can’t all be perfect, can we?” The driver drug his tongue across his upper teeth.

“Yeah, just walking my baby. I’ll be on my way.” Shit, Indian desert queens. Horny cocksuckers.

“Wait, me and Georgianna will give you a ride. We’ll even let you sit up in front with us.” Georgianna crawled over the driver and stuck his head out the window.

“Come on, fierce little man in the desert, me and Lily need a little amusement—or are you just a desert mirage.” Lily playfully pushed Georgianna off him and drug his tongue across his upper teeth again.

“Thanks, I guess, but I never liked Cadillacs.” He strengthened his grip on the baby and started to walk away with no intention of acknowledging them anymore.

“Oh, you are impossible!  We’ll see you again, sweety-sweaty.” Georgianna laughed as they rumbled away, leaving small swirls of dust.

He approached the beginning of the slope. Oh, not again, you sonofabitch. He sat down and slowly slid until he reached the bottom. Baby, that wasn’t so bad, was it? The back door was still open from earlier in the day. Maybe you and me will have the place to ourselves tonight, but you still need some water. Come to mention it, that wouldn’t be so bad for me either. He placed the baby on the living room floor as he entered a bedroom and then a bathroom. He came back with a bed liner and a towel. Bringing you back water, baby.

Clusters of cholla cacti punctuated the grounds around the house.  He kicked off the smaller cylindrical stem segments and, with the towel wrapped around his hand, dropped the segments onto the bed liner.  After collecting several pounds of segments, he tied together the four corners of the sheet and drug the liner back into the house.  The baby traced patterns in the dirt on the floor. A giggle bubbled forth. Glad you’re easily amused, but, I guess we all have our amusements, huh? By the way, these belong to me. The man put his shirt and baseball cap back on.

He dropped a number of segments into a cooking pan that he had found hanging on the wall and started smashing them with a can of tomato soup that he had first seen while looking for beer earlier in the day. After he smashed a while, he tore off a piece of the bed liner, stretched it tightly across the pan, and used it as a sieve. He poured what he could into a mug that had been left on the counter; he wrung the rest of the water out from the bed liner. He walked over to the baby and sat down. I’m glad you know how to stay in one place and ain’t walkin’ all over. He gently grabbed the baby’s face, squeezed open his mouth, and poured water down his throat. The baby began to pull at the man’s hand, but, upon tasting the water, let him have his way. The man drank what was left.  He repeated this process until he had gone through most of the segments.  He put the remaining segments by the couch, picked up the baby, and began to rock him to sleep.  The sun began to set, and without electricity, the house grew dark. Well, baby, there ain’t much more for us to do; let’s get us to sleep. We’ll make it an early morning tomorrow. He placed the baby between himself and the back of the couch, so the baby would not roll off. Is this what I came out here for? He threw his cap off. They both closed their eyes.

*****

The man woke with Lily’s knee brutally digging into his back.Georgianna held the baby with one arm and shined his Mag-lite into his face with the other.Lily was naked from the waist down. He was also wearing the man’s cap over his blond wig.

“Listen, my little sweaty bitch, you try to move and I—I swear to God—I’ll fucking crack your little spine.” Lily whispered into the man’s ear and then proceeded to drag his tongue along the curvature of the man’s outer ear. “Also, you try to escape, and we’ll fucking wring that little baby’s neck.”

Georgianna started to dance with the baby as he twirled the flashlight around the otherwise dark room lightened by moonlight. The baby screamed, so Georgianna violently shook the baby and pressed the Mag-lite against the baby’s chest.

“Would you shut that little shithead up! He’s going ruin the mood for me.” Lily’s claws dug into the fleshly ends of the jaw of the man underneath him. Georgianna took both the baby and the flashlight with him into the adjoining bedroom.

“Do what you want to me, you fucking faggot, but don’t touch the baby!” Moonlight streaming through a window illuminated the remaining cacti segments by the couch.

“Oh, you know, you’d be a lot more attractive if you were nice.” Lily slid his hands down the man’s waist and started to unfasten his pants. “As for the baby, we’ll see if we’re still hungry afterwards.” Lily began to tug on the man’s pants. In the other room, Georgianna slapped the baby.

The man rocked his hips from one side to another and then finally, with one forceful sway, lurched off the couch. As they landed on the floor, the man scooped up and squeezed a couple segments. Blood immediately started to drip down onto his wrist. He slammed the fistful of segments into Lily’s face, bursting one of his eyes and knocking both his wig and the man’s cap off Lily’s head. As Lily howled, the man quickly thrust his pointer and middle fingers inside Lily’s mouth and tore open his cheek. As Lily crawled on the floor, watching the blood pour from his flapping bifurcated cheek, the man stomped on the back of his neck and crushed the life out of him. Wretched man…    

The man fastened his pants that Lily had undone and walked into the bedroom where Georgianna had taken the baby. The room was dark because the Mag-lite had been turned off, but the man heard the baby crying on the bed. He also heard the frantic breathing of Georgianna in the corner to his right. All at once, Georgianna squealed as he rushed toward the man.  The man instinctively put up his arms to brace himself from a blow with the Mag-lite, but  Georgianna tripped and fell at the man’s feet. The flashlight rolled until it hit against his feet; he bent over and picked it up. The man clicked on the Mag-lite. Light flashed through the room; he noticed that both Georgianna and the baby were naked. Your life will be required of you this day…. Georgianna got up on his knees and began to beg for his life as the man flashed the light in his face.

“I was gonna, gonna let you be.  As sick as you are, I was gonna let you be, but then I saw this….” He tightened his grip on the Mag-lite.

“Please, please, please!  I didn’t touch your baby!  I was only going to have a little fun, but I wasn’t going to hurt your baby! For God’s sake, please!” Naked, Georgianna shivered as he slowly writhed his way closer to the man.

“In God’s name, I was going to let you go. You weren’t the one on top of me, but then I saw this….” The man swung the Mag-lite down onto Georgianna’s head; his skull loudly cracked as he fell to floor and began to flop. You wasn’t good for anything else but flopping on the ground, but who am I to decide like this…. God forgive me. He picked up the baby with the arm that was not covered both in his blood and Lily’s blood and carried the baby outside the room. The baby stopped crying as soon as the man grabbed him. He laid the baby on the kitchen table and poured the leftover three cans of Keystone Light over his arms to wash away most of the blood. He wiped the rest of the blood away with the bed liner. He went into bathroom and retrieved a large bath towel. He wrapped the baby in the towel. The desert’s gonna be cold, but we gotta get back to the truck. He carried the baby, the Mag-lite, and the bed liner out to the Eldorado. He opened the gas tank and dipped as much of the bed liner as he could into it. Before he walked back into the house, he pulled off the lavender chiffon scarf and used it to open the door. Ain’t like my fingerprints aren’t already all over this damn place. He placed the baby in the front seat. I hate to leave you here—even if it’s only for a minute, but you’re safer here than on the ground with all them night critters. He spread the bed liner over the couch, pulled out his cigarette lighter, and lit the couch on fire.

Returning to the car, he pulled the baby out of it and began to trek back to his truck.  There’s no greater motivation to keep walking than you, baby. A rattle hissed from a near-by creosote bush. They kept walking, guided by the Mag-lite and the moonlight. Something ran across them. You look like a coyote, but you ain’t.  El Chupa…. Ah, hell, this must be a night mirage.

*****

Sunrise broke out as he arrived back home. Before he had even gotten out of the truck he heard his wife scream.

“Buddy Lanier MacLemore! I swear to God, if I don’t kill you now, then may God….”  She dropped the rolling pin from her hand as she saw Buddy with the baby in his arms.

“Listen, Melinda, I know that I’m in a world of trouble. I’ve a feeling bad times are gonna come soon. You won’t understand; I don’t ask you to—none-at-all. All the time I have thoughts in my head, like what I’m supposed to do. I know now. I’m your man. I’m Pookie’s papa. I’m here to stay. And our family just got a little bigger. Let’s call him Desert.” Buddy offered Desert to Melinda. She took him and began to ask a question, but then stopped. She would ask Buddy questions later. She took Desert into the trailer and reappeared with both Pookie and Desert. She still had a question on her lips, but, at this moment—this very moment—they watched the sun rise.

About Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." ~ Kingsley Amis
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