~chapter 9~
Talking to Strapping
The Obligatory Hallucinogenic Desert Scene, Pt. 1

Father? Father can you hear me? I'm sweated dry. My nostrils begin to shrivel. Dust sticks to my eyeballs, the world goes soft, cataracted like a love scene. I creep up on a basking lizard, lung. It disappears in a puff of smoke. The horizon waves like a plate glass window, punched just short of cracking. The funhomes of water drag me onward and I face backward dragging father forward by his wrists but the oases are pots of promises unfulfilled. Southward I plod, tendons creaking, teeth ground to nubs. A concave trail follows us. It meanders. Southward we plea. Southward we flee. The afternoon grows long, I stomp my shadow into crumbs. They stick to the soles of my flip flops. Father's skin pinkens. I punch my own nose until it bleeds. Mix the blood with sand and rub it on Father's face and hands. It dries and cakes and smells like a carcass but shields him from the blisters that I feel amassing on my nose. Our trail crosses itself. We are no longer heading south. My heart knows no despair, only desperation. I kneel and shovel my father and then myself under the sand where we wait for sleep.

I am awakened by a shudder. I sit upright, sand cascading from my shoulders. It is night-time. The moon is an eyelash. The stars cast a thousand shadows upon the dunes. My eyes adjust to the greys and blues. I am not boiled. I blow sand away from Father's face. I will find food. The animals come out at night. Snakes, lizards, mousey things. They feet upon one another. The cactus, they say, stores water like a camel. I cannot stand. I crawl. Follow tiny footprints. They lead over a crest of sand and disappear. My arms collapse, I roll downward, come to rest with my face inches away from a patch of cacti. They're grouped like a pile of horse dung. They have nubbed spines. They look like turtle heads with puckered lips. I pull one out of the ground and rub the dirt from the root. It is moist to the touch. I nibble. It is sweetish and spicy. Like a pickled jalepeno doused in honey. I devour the rest of the root, flick the spinelettes off the top of the plant and eat it as well. My strength is returning. Saliva reappears. I pull the rest of the plants, make a basket of my shirt and follow my trail back to father. I chew the roots into pudding, spit them into father's mouth and massage his throat until he swallows. He is my birdling. My blood flows again. My legs are strong. I see a falling star. Then another. I turn my head and the sky is filled with streaks of light. Eyes closed, I stand. When I lose my balance I fall to the ground and open my eyes again to see the entire cosmos raining upon me like an omniversal firework.

My stomach lurches, I heave to my knees and watch with glee as my vomit carves a crater into the sand. Splashes of chewed root stick to my hands. Drops of acid form balls and roll down the dune.

We must move. We must make hay while the sun is down. We must strike while the iron is cool. We must ambulate southward. I wait until the stars return to their positions. I follow the milky way to the big dipper and from there negotiate with the sky until the north star shines its beacon upon me. I turn my back to it and pull father onto my shoulder.

A dozen steps later, I fall. I've never skydived before. The earth approaches with dignity, almost imperceptibly, for ages and my heart swims laps outside my ribcage but within my skin. My parachute does not inflate. My parachute is a comatose human being. Together we strike the earth with violence.

Father lands, face beveled into the sand ankles twisted. I've overestimated my strength. I'm dusting sand from my knees when I hear a voice:

“Are you trying to kill me?”

I spin around three times a dozen times, corkscrewing myself up to my hips into the dune. What manner of trick is this? The only other human within a dozen miles is Papa and he is…

…sitting upright. Approaching. Hooking me under the shoulders and dragging me to my feet.

We face one another. He is strong again.

“I'm trying to do your bidding.”

“When did I ask you to drop me on my face in the middle of the desert?”

“I can't get you mounted in America .”

“That reminds me of a joke. There were these two gay guys. No three. They all lived together in an apartment. There were three of them and two of them died in a car wreck. The third one, the one that didn't die goes to the taxider—”

“You're better.”

“Fit as a fetus. You look a little peaked yourself?”

“I'm bedizzened.”

“I forget the rest of it.”

“I've forgotten what ‘it' is.”

“The joke. But the punchline is, ‘No, holding hands is fine.'”

“You've always been clever.”

“You're an idiot.”

“Everything is goes wrong.”

“I really thought you'd turned the corner when Nancy started peeling off her clothes for you.”

“You were watching us?”

“Listening. I was in a coma, remember. You really screwed that one up. She whored herself out to that pale, freckled ex-boyfriend of hers to save your idiot ass. And you thanked her by…let's see…you humiliated her by yanking Freckle Neck out from under her pedanto copulato , you accused her of being selfish, and then you left without trying to explain yourself.”

“How do you know he had freckles?”

“I peeked.”

“It's over. She was holding me back. I'm taking you to Mexico .”

“Why? I'm no longer knock knock knockin'. I can dance and jig. See?” He stirs up dust.

“So I just go back to her?”

“Down on your knees.”

“And she'll have me back?”

“I'm not a clairvoyant. If nothing else, though, you'll give her a chance to wiggle out from underneath Cletus.”

“How do I do that?”

“Just show up. Whimper. Tell her you think about her all the time. Avoid adjectives like foxy and pinchable. She'll see how pathetic you and dive at the chance to brighten your miserable life.”

“I can do that.”

“Just don't Don't DON'T tell her what to do. It has to be her choice. And don't attack the ex-boyfriend, verbally or otherwise. It'll make him look more miserable than you. This would confuse Nancy . And be prepared for the very real possibility that, even if she does leave with you, she'll ditch you the second you're out of Phoenix .”

“You've never given me advice before. Why are you doing this for me?”

“Don't flatter yourself. I'm doing it for Nancy .”

“But she kidnapped you. She might have killed you.”

“I have my reasons.”

“Father. I love you.”

He points to a glowing patch of the horizon. “Thataway.”

We walk toward Phoenix .

--Elk Undercarriage, November 2005

 

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