It's going be a another dry spell, I just know it, and I wish my brain were a sponge to cool-soak my thoughts. The Texas sun glitters over the rusted fenders, old cowl hoods, grill inserts, aluminum front and rear skid plates, you name it. All these things left to waste in a land of milk and honey. It's the fifth junkyard we've visited in a week. I watch my twin brother, Jocko, hold up a pair of shock absorbers. Jocko, with his tightly knotted arms and head of stringy, thinning hair, yelling out to the Kid, These'll finish off the front suspension, don't you think?
The Kid, all of eighteen and Jocko's boy, cruises around piles of iron and stainless scrap in his electric wheelchair, pushing the black-cherry colored throttle sideways to swing some sharp turns. His mouth opens in some kind of hay market delight. Maybe like a lottery winner on a shopping spree in a supermarket. The wheelchair never tips over, even when he performs wheelies to buck Jocko and to impress me. And I wonder how he does this, as he leans to one side, his blonde ponytail flying in the stream of wind he creates with the sudden turns. But for me, with my history of bruised shins, I've never appreciated the fact that the throttle—a man-made device—is quicker than the leg.
"Yeah, it'll do," says the Kid, squinting his eyes in the blistery sun, the one hand gloved, fingers poking through. The kind you see hard-rockers wear, posing on the cover of Spin, their smirks intimidating like weapons.
Jocko and I load the scraps of car parts into the pickup while the Kid watches us with this serene smile, as if his thirst isn't rabid like ours. I mean, sometimes I have to help the Kid steady the clear bottle to his lips, using a strip of long tubing as a makeshift straw. Not that he doesn't have good motion with his hands, the right better than the left; the right's got the glove. And the legs are coming along, he told me. By the time we reach Mexico, he might even be able to stand up.
So Jocko trudges up to the yard's owner, a skinny Vietnamese dude with Ray-Ban shades and a wicked Stetson, cream-colored, too large for his head. Jocko pays him and we drive back to the shop outside Corpus Christi, our rumps baking against the hot seat of the cab, the sound of the loaded parts jumping and jiggling in the truck's bed.
I'm helping Jocko insert an upper radiator hose and some other parts for the heater. We're rebuilding a truck for the Kid, the kind he wants, with a rumbling exhaust and a full force suspension. The Kid says he wants to drive to Mexico in something that is uniquely his, something with four-wheel drive and Grade 8 hardware, something that can earn him a write-up in the Dallas Record. He says he'll spray paint along the driver's door the words, Who's your daddy?
For months, the Kid was telling me that he read about this island off Mexico—off Yucatan, actually—where people live without addresses, roam the beaches as they please. He said there are exotic birds of bright white and red feathers, birds which hoot and coo the strangest sounds, birds they don't even have names for. And the air is so clean, cleaner than the white crystal sand that is free of litter and probably pampers the body better than a goose feather mattress.
And maybe, the Kid pointed out, this is the kind of place that the Aztecs practiced rites of sacrifice, so remote yet not, separated by some flimsy channel of water, where retired movie stars come to jumpstart their dreams of leading private lives, without the paparazzi and hidden cameras. People don't die there, the Kid was telling me, angling his cornflower blue eyes toward my forearm tattoo: the word Mimi, a former live-in. They just kind of take on new identities and get reborn.
Well, I always had some idea of Yucatan, maybe an afterthought to California, some gray straggly tail on a map. But the three of us to live on some island off it? The Kid said he read about it from a travel newsletter he had a special subscription for. And how he convinced Jocko to go along with this was beyond me.
I sat next to a mission-styled night stand as the Kid stared at a wrinkled map spread across his low bed. Man, oh, man, did his room reek of soiled sheets. With a shaky finger, he pointed to a speck on the map he had torn from the newsletter with his teeth, and said that was it, the island. I squeezed my eyes and thought that might be it, or maybe just a mark, a thumbnail scratch that meant nothing. But the Kid said there were pictures. The Kid was starin' at me, goggle-eyed and droop-faced, dumbfounded as a pup, as if there was something wrong with my vision and not his.
I'm lying back on a bed at the Red Bull Lodge, a hole-in-the-wall stop close to the Mexican border, thinking about how, after it happened, there were days of thunder, a welcome rain, the kind you hardly see in this part of Texas. And the old windmills that reminded me of tiny pinwheels at a distance. It was weeks after Jocko overdosed himself on potassium pills, at least I thought so, but an old Daily Gazette reported otherwise. But who am I to say. Maybe nothing you could prove or disprove. I had dug myself from the dregs of a past life, trying to get reborn into another.
A 40-ish hooker from the Miss Lonely Girl agency struts in front of me, skin chalky with a permanent blush across the cheeks; the hair, sand-colored and puffy, like some dirty angel on loan. There's a butterfly tattoo above the base of her spine, and the loose wrinkles of fat at the back of her thighs remind me of streaks of gray clouds. She asks me as I'm flipping pages of an old Reader's Digest if I'd like her to dance and grind in her red underwear. Before she starts, she says, it always works 'em up. I tell her I just want a massage and a hand job, and then, I say, no, just the massage, a really good rub, that's all.
On the TV, reruns of All in the Family, Archie Bunker yelling at Meathead to get a job and forget his unpatriotic protests against the Vietnam war. Miss Lonely Girl pours some burning oil across my back, the scent of cedar wood and something smoky, maybe angels' wings on fire. She's doin' me justice, workin' the shit deep into crevices and areas I never thought much about, and I wonder if that oil is some kind of Spanish Fly, because, well, hell, I've never used or even seen the stuff.
Honey, I say, one side of my face nestled in a pillow, could you rub a little lighter, and lower. My spine is kind of stiff. Travelin' in that wheel chair for days. I'm so stiff, I tell her, they could stuff me on a wall.
Archie, you don't know a damn thing what you're talking about.
Her hair brushes against my nape, and she giggles in my ear, a playful whiff of air, her breath, warm, yet on loan, but I won't disown it.
Darlin', I say, my chin resting on my fists, answer me this one stupid riddle: Why does it hardly rain in Texas?
Aw, geez, Edith, get me another beer from the fridge, would ya?
She says, Oh, it does, but so infrequently, but when it does, like a storm, and her little house near the water, she worries it might be someday blow away, maybe as far as the Louisiana Gulf, maybe father inland, where they speak Cajun and Yat.
At Jocko's shop, the one he's selling, we're finishing the suspension, plumb wiring valves and tucking a set of 22-inch wheels with extended frame rails. Later, the Kid hums some cherry-happy tune, sandpapers and buffs the body, then wheeling around the truck, remarks it will drive faster than a Hemi A-Bomb.
Jocko, with his bad heart, wheezes and coughs. He inspects for one more time the 5.6 liter engine and the new air filter he used to replace an older air box. He shuts the hood and we break for a late lunch.
In the heat, Jocko and I dig our teeth into barbecued hot dogs, mine chili, his plain, and I help the Kid with some microwaved mush. His meals are mostly bland, today's less so, ginger ale, some minced meat, and sweet potatoes, mashed and creamy, so hot he complains it burns his tongue. The Kid usually barks at me not to help feed him; he can handle it. And after the fork tumbles over for the third or fourth time, he does manage to handle it because I tell him I'm not picking it up again.
Whenever he chews, it is with great concentration or maybe he is thinking about that island or the possibility of women from the mainland, flowers in their hair, the reflection of thick-billed parrots in their eyes, glimmering like shiny pesos. I imagine a hypnotic sea courted by blue heron and gull. I imagine the blue secrets of sea-turtles.
Digging into a sectioned Styrofoam plate, I tell Jocko I'm still considerin' whether to join them, and I repeat this, even though the Kid has already decided I will go, that it will be fun, the three of us. I have nowhere to go since Jocko is selling the shop and taking whatever money he has saved. And what if there's a dysreflexic crisis with the Kid, the shit building up inside him like a time bomb, or Jocko has a heart attack? Who's goin' to transport them on a ferry to the mainland, to some hospital? They must have hospitals in Mexico. Which is exactly what I bring up.
"Suppose one of us gets sick or the money runs out?"
Jocko and the Kid throw me some queer look, as if I hadn't understood the point of going to Mexico at all. That the point of going to a place like Mexico, the Kid is telling me, is to forget and live with your feet planted firmly several feet above the ground. "You could plan till your brain is knotted," he says while masticating with a stiff face, "but the hammer always falls when you're lookin' the other way."
Jocko pitches the end of a hot dog roll across the back lot, near some thread worn tires. The ants will have a field day.
"Ain't it the truth? Count up the number of days in your life you plan for something. Count the number of days you worry about something. Then count the number of days you actually do something you enjoy. If you're lucky, you wind up with a hatful of days you have actually lived, and most of it when you were still smart enough to be a kid."
I grab a napkin, wet it with my spittle, and wipe the Kid's lips. Probably the sweet potatoes that give his mouth an orange crust. You're crazier than he is, I say to Jocko. Across from me, he leans forward in a white cedar folding chair and stares out at the truck, its bare wheels and the new cotter pins he's bolted on. Like they are speaking some secret language to him. Sure ain't Creole or Spanish.
I notice how Jocko hardly smiles anymore. Maybe he hates to part with the shop. Maybe he still blames himself for the Kid's accident. And the Kid. His arms are wasting and his belly grows flabbier. Even with all the vitamin milkshakes and exercises. Even with the home health nurse who comes to visit three times a week with a mouthful of do's, don'ts, and why-didn't-you's.
The Kid's lusterless eyes suddenly jump and bulge. "You'll see, Kip," he says. "We'll be partying with them Mexican girls every night. Watch 'em dance barefoot in the sand. You know that, don't you? Falling asleep every night drunk on mescal or tequila or some shit like it. Mescal. Is it mescal, Kip?
"Yeah. Whatever. Las chicas córneas."
"If you say so."
"Been practicing my Spanish. Horny sons of bitches. Giggling like their lungs are helium-filled."
"Better curb those hallucinations."
They'll be back for more, says the Kid. Count on it.
The Kid then wheels over to the side of the truck, ogling it. Almost there, he says, right, Jocko? He doesn't wait for a reply and zings around the lot doing figure eights, or tilting the chair back on its rear wheels, maybe imagining it as some chariot.
Jocko swallows two pills and washes them down with a swig of soda. He stands and his gait is somewhat cockeyed, the voice raspy.
Remember when I rebuilt him that wheelchair? he says, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. He spits and screws up his face, remarking that the pills taste nasty, how the regurgitated acid erodes his teeth. Put in a motor so he could go faster than the piece of shit from the medical supply company. Aw, the shit is nasty. And you said I couldn't do that. The bio-med guys visit every six months. It goes pretty good now, doesn't it? The guys from the supply company couldn't give a shit what I put in.
It took me about ten years to arrive in Corpus Christi and declare it my city of gold, since Jocko and the Kid were the only family I had left. It really pissed me off when Jocko said he was selling the shop, but I didn't protest. I didn't need some magical island with its azure-rumpled or great-crested birds of paradise.
Before joining Jocko, I worked for a Dodge dealer in New York City, dreaming about the fresh air of Sacramento. In Sacramento, I missed New York and its hustling movement, its women from every part of the globe and how they carried their ten thousand different definitions of beauty.
Then one day, as if crossing some invisible border, this time in Chicago, I gave up working on cars. The routine, the long hours, the customers' bitching, downshifted my enthusiasm. If I worked on cars any longer, I'd choke a tune-up, might even sabotage a front axle. I then took odd jobs: cashier, electrician's helper, mail clerk, even a bowling alley attendant. I got fired from the last one. Actually proud of gettin' booted out of that one.
I lived with a woman. I wasn't averse to the idea of it. But my idea of a woman was not the same as living with one. My idea of a woman was always some other woman and not the one I was living with. The woman I lived with accused me of finding fault. I accused her of cheating. She said how could I expect our life to be as beautiful as this one ceramic ashtray she always kept on our dresser, its concentric tiles of myriad colors, when I don't even listen.
With a ball-peen hammer, I smashed the ceramic ashtray in front of her, and watched it shatter into a thousand odd pieces. I knew I could never put it together the way, perhaps, some struggling mujer handcrafted it. A mujer, paid by piece work, dreaming of the kind of birds that fly north of the border.
So I left, knowing that I might never find the perfect woman. After I moved on, I missed the woman I was living with. I really meant to make her cry, so she'd remember our life, in some way.
Months later, tired of living in cheap motel rooms, of being hustled by dead-eyed hookers in trailer parks, I called Jocko, whom I hadn't spoken to in months. I told him things weren't working out, that I was low on cash. Join me in Texas, he said, could use some help. I thought it was just the shop he was talking about.
There was a silence and later, his voice grew distant, words moving like sludge. He told me he had been in an accident, a bad one. He was driving his ex-wife, Meg, and the Kid, seventeen at the time, to a rodeo near Laredo, off Highway 35. His truck overturned, killing Meg, leaving their son crippled with a C-7 spinal injury. Jocko was rushed to the emergency room, a bad perforation to his chest wall.
I could surmise what he was really asking. He wanted me to pitch in and help with the Kid. I moved back to Texas and lived over his garage, in some rooms he built, and all three of us, separated by thin plywood walls, were never a horse whisper from each other.
We learned to nurse each other's wounds, physical or not, and to tolerate the pain that was our private backwater. It was the Kid's, especially.
At first, I resented the routine of helping to change and wash the Kid, or being awakened by his groans in the night. Sometimes, I got to wonder if he'd be better off left in the hands of angels and not half-assed amateurs like us. But this time, I couldn't just walk out, say, the way I did at the auto shop in Chicago. Felt this obligation to see the Kid through. He became my link to a definite space outside Corpus Christi, an anchor to a levitating body. I worried it might all dissolve with the move to Mexico.
Maybe it was a tin can dream. I promised the Kid that someday I'd see him walk, if only for a few steps. So, everyday I had him practice his exercises, stretchin' and what not, from his bed, just like in the manual the nurse left us. It had pictures of stick figures and clear instructions at the bottom of each exercise, so there could be no question of misinterpretation. And I said to the Kid, when you do walk, Jocko will take a picture of us smiling, brighter than a pair of homecoming queens in a rose parade, and you would like that, wouldn't you?
Kip, he said, opening his mouth of gluey teeth, do you think much about dyin'? Can it be as slow as livin'? Like two trains running side by side.
No, I said, that's crazy talk. Even though I knew it wasn't. And when the Kid got lazy, I'd yell at him, perhaps too harsh, just enough to make him cry and give up. He'd try pressing all kinds of buttons, calling me a worthless drifter who never kept in touch. I let the insults fly till he was tired out. He got tired.
Then I promised him a ride in the pick up, and we sat on Cuervo Hill, watchin' the sunset, and he said, OK, that I was forgiven. But from the outside in, said the Kid, you have no idea, the pain, day in and day out, the spasms, the body like an accordion. And I really should be inside out before I yell at anyone. I really should. And days later, I said, OK, been thinkin'. Yucatan. Or China. Wherever you want to go. But no promises. Just considerin'.
The Kid smiled, a kind of fake smile, as if appeasing that home health nurse, always pretending to be deaf, always checking the supplies of Xanax and Oxycontin, and said he had planned the shortest route to Yucatan, the island off it, so quick, the distance to it—the speed of a thought. (The Kid was always good with numbers and physics.) And when I asked him what route was this, he was already napping, one half of his face bathing in the sun's red-orange glow.
She says her name is Concetta, but everybody says their name is Concetta. The woman I once lived with said her name was Mimi, and I believed her, but there must be so many more woman named Concetta than women named Mimi.
Whenever I mention Mexico, Concetta goes on about how back in Miami she was once voted Miss Latina. And, honey, she says, with a low, breathy cackle, I had legs that could make a gator drool. So help me, God, I don't think she speaks a word of Spanish.
In the mousetrap of a room at the Red Bull Lodge, Concetta claims she's got some fine hands, and that when her son grows up, she'll go back to night school. She's gonna start her own massage school someday. Don't exactly know if I believe her, just like with the name. But chop, chop, chop, say her hands, dicing up and down my back. And I almost believe her.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Does that thing still work good? I mean, you know what I mean."
"It does. A little slow since the accident. But it does. Sort of a delayed fuse."
"Then, you sure you don't want the egg cream climax, stud? I use gloves."
"The name's Skip."
"Skip. Yeah. Like in Skipper. Sorry. Forgot to ask, lover."
Then, kneading her tapered fingers into my shoulders, pinching a tent of flesh here and there, she whispers in my ear whether I would like to do something kinky. You know, she says, freaky. Because, well, you know, she's known men with different tastes, and she's not saying I'm one of those guys, but since I don't want the hand job, maybe I should try somethin' different, might like it, why you could learn to like anything . . . Of course, it costs a little more.
Some guys, she says, laughing in a kind of forced, subdued way, request the girls to ride them bareback. Like taming broncos. Some are too shy to ask for it, but you can tell by their eyes. The way they talk about their wives like far away moons.
"You got that far away look too," she says, "and I ain't makin' nothin' of it."
No, I say, turning, reaching for a drink of straight rum on the nightstand. The massage was fine, and I gotta go. Headed to Mexico by wheelchair. Yucatan, actually.
"You're travelin' to Mexico in that wheelchair?"
"Yeah. You can't go much further. Try wheelin' past Yucatan, and you fall off the edge of the world."
"First time for everything, I guess."
"Gonna make a world's record. First man to reach Yucatan by wheelchair."
I swing my head around and up at her. I wink. She tilts her scrunched up face at me, her lips, a thin gap between, spreading.
I turn over and she kneels, straddling my legs, gripping my ankles. I know, she says in a weeping-willow whisper, as she leans forward, scanning my face, in this intense, swivel-eyed way, like she's imagining her eyes as tiny periscopes. It was somebody in your past, wasn't it? Everybody always got somebody in their past. Did you in real good, huh?
By the way, she says, fluffing her hair, like the way you would a jumbo taco salad, what's in Yucatan? Is the cactus there any different from the ones up here?
Ain't no cactus at all down there, I say. There's a place where you, everybody, gets a second chance. You meet up with folks you once knew up north. But not the same. Everyone walkin' like they got their feet on clouds and blue sky for a memory. Kinda like heaven.
Across from me, on the bed, her lips squeeze together, like she's munching on some words that she rather not spit out. She nods her head to mean no.
There ain't no heaven, mister. If there is, it's in your mind. But if you like, I can be a fantasy girl for another hour. Just tell me what she does. Had a trucker last week who wanted me to dig my high heels into his hands, cuss' him out and call him Jesus, 'cause that's what his crazy aunt once done. I wasn't ashamed. Give you one bad-ass discount.
I lunge forward, grabbing her wrists, mashing them really; they are like twigs in my huge fists. I could break them so easy. Her face, shaking, turns mottled, the colors of some melted candy cane.
It's not a riddle, I say, it isn't a joke. Do you know what pain is? Do you know what's it like to live with pain day in and day out? Do you?
I release my grip and pace around the room to cool off, stopping in front of her. Her eyes are wet, distant moons, not far away.
"So you can walk, you lyin' son of a bull-tease! And you'd had me feelin' sorry for you."
"Honey, not only can I walk, I can dance."
I flip several bills on the tousled bed, offer her my brightest, most heartwarmin' Sam Houston of a grin, plop into the Kid's wheelchair and push the black cherry throttle forward. The concave screen door slaps against the balsawood frame in a breeze, and I don't look back at the flies stuck to the mesh. They are waylaid travelers in a dry spell.
Outside. The silence of the desert. The silence of the air. The silence of oil pooled in deep underground channels.
I can tell the Kid is really excited, and if he could bounce up and down in his seat, he would. We've already packed, setting to leave this morning. Squatting next to the Kid's wheelchair, I watch Jocko make some last minute adjustments, lying under the engine, his back against a rolling slider, the front of the truck on lift blocks.
He writhes and squeezes his body so he can get at obscenely difficult spaces, commenting that something needs a lube here and there, and he's not exactly happy with the bolt joints and the spindles. But it'll do. I'm worried that the truck might roll off the lifts and crush Jocko's chest. Lord knows. I always think the worst.
He then opens the driver's door, checking the steering accessory for the Kid, a cork-shaped device he inserted called a "spinner" and the hand controls for the accelerator and brake. The kind of things you'd install for disabled drivers.
The door slams, Jocko turns and bows, sweeping the ground with his hat, like he's Gene Autry having just finished a ballad and expectin' to win a woman's heart and says he thinks it's ready. Nods and repeats this. The voice fainter. He brushes off caked dust, grime from his jeans.
Wait, says the Kid. Somebody has to test drive it. You don't take nuthin' out on the road unless you test drive it.
"My exact thoughts," says Jocko.
"Then you're a genius," says the Kid with devil eye and smirk.
Jocko digs into the pocket of his smeared jeans and whips out a set of keys. He dangles them high over his head. So who's gonna test drive it? he asks in a flippant voice.
Me! says the Kid, attempting to move his crooked elbow from the wheelchair's leather armrest. It's my truck and I'm driving it to Mexico. Hell, I'm eighteen and got a license. Right, Kip?
Who's your daddy? I say.
You taught me to drive, he says.
Jocko throws the set of keys up into the air. The kids pushes the throttle and tries to reach up with his better arm, but I snatch them first.
If you want the keys so bad, I say, you work for them, boy. So the Kid drives towards me with this big goose of a grin, and just as he's a foot or so from me, I throw the keys to Jocko. And this goes on, this back and forth game of throwing the keys. So, finally, the Kid, pale and huffing, screams out to give him the goddamn keys. And I do. I drop the keys in the Kid's lap, tickled at the sight of his groping for them, the jerky movements of the left hand, and the color eventually returns to his face. He holds the keys, jiggling them, taunting me. Somehow, the shoe always winds up on the other foot.
OK, says Jocko, you test drive, but with me.
I scrape my boot heel in the dirt, making some kind of lame skid mark.
No, says the Kid, I can test drive myself. Right, Kip?
His lips coil into a tiny smile. I shrug at Jocko.
Jocko eyeballs us, first me, then the Kid. His gaze is glowering, stern. His lips mesh and punctuate a comma at one end.
"You never drove alone. It's different when you drive alone."
"It's not my call," I say, "but it should be OK. He done good with me in the pickup. And there wasn't no spinner."
"But you took the wheel good part of the time, huh? Suppose he spasms out? Or maybe somethin' loose?"
I turn my palms up to the sky. "Jocko, what can I say? You wanna break his heart? Go ahead. He's your kid. Me? I don't think he needs a chaperone."
Jocko shakes his head, aiming his forehead towards the ground. He paces back and forth, the steps, gadding and annoying. He stops. The stern gaze is replaced by a fragile one.
"I don't know," he says. "I don't like it."
"Remember when you were a kid? You never took a risk? You can't live like that. You said so yourself. Only a hatful of good days. The rest is bullshit. Your words, hombre."
Jocko slides a hand around his neck and rubs it. He sticks a straight finger towards the Kid. "Just a short distance. From here to where the road bends. You hear me?"
"Deal," says the Kid.
"And you come right back."
So the Kid, smiling like some cocky game show contestant, wheels over to the truck. I lift and carry him into the cab, his lifeless legs dangling, and adjust the front seat back. The Kid is tall and lanky, although from a sitting position, you might not guess his correct height. I buckle him in.
He starts the engine, brimming under that slender nose, a nose that God knows he didn't inherit from us. Jocko's is bulbous and mine too, but creased.
No speeding, yells Jocko. Keep it 35 and under.
"35? A squirrel's ass."
"I mean it. Hey! You listening?"
Jocko turns to me, raises his shoulders, spreads his hands.
"See what I mean?"
"Don't worry. He's cool. Won't speed."
"He's just like his mama. Give her a five, and she wants a twenty to blow on lottery tickets. She never won a nickel from lottery tickets."
Jocko's cheeks puff and collapse. He throws a mean stare into the Kid.
We watch the truck take off, down the long dirt road that stretches past a growing haze over the distant hills. My thoughts drift towards the shop, how I will miss it, how nothing good ever lasts.
The engine grumbles, then roars, the truck picking up speed too soon, weaving on the road, and Jocko shouts out, "Slow down! Slow down, you son of a bitch."
But the Kid continues to race and swerve. I want to look away, maybe to someplace over the hills, to the source of the haze, the looming sunrise, its tangerine glow.
"He's gonna lose it," says Jocko.
"He'll do alright," I say.
C'mon, boy, whispers Jocko, let up the speed and straighten her out.
My thoughts rattle. Jocko's neck veins popping, blue and snake-like under a thin gauze of skin.
The truck grows distant and smaller, but the engine continues to whine and whir, the shrill sound of it swelling in our ears, hurting mine, until it winds down. Then the whirring again, the clanking of the truck's body bouncing over dirt and stones, the sound of the automatic transmission revving, a whine soaring into space. Jocko yelling out to turn back, the drop coming up. You crazy kid.
The Kid's doin' OK for awhile, straight and all, then the truck veers off the side of the road, and Jocko's screeching voice to brake, to brake, for chrissake. The truck smashing up against a boulder, Jocko leaning forward, squinting his eyes, their tight azure prisms intense and ravaged, the front end up in the air and starting to roll, Jocko's arms, bent at the elbow, raising like two levers, fingers beginning to clench, the truck nose-diving into a gully, spinning over.
The explosion—a bright orange flame.
It's like the kind you see on CNN, of humvees and buildings exploding in Iraq. But the sound of the truck bursting, distant, yet too close. The kind of thing you'd deny, like the image of your face in a bending mirror.
Jocko and I stand in some primordial sense of dumbness. We are cavemen uncomprehending a distant fire. That fire. Our fire.
I rush into the garage, grabbing two fire extinguishers, and Jocko shuffling behind, the sound of the door opening to the pick up.
We drive closer to the orange flame that burns wild, that mocks us. A second explosion. This one less violent. Clouds of black smoke billowing. Behind the steering wheel, Jocko's face is frozen, as he stares out at the stretch of winding road.
"No, Scott, you ain't dead," he says. "You ain't out of time. You were gettin' strong. Hell, you weren't gonna walk. You were gonna dance." He accelerates and I think it won't matter. The speed. Not a bit. His marble-like gaze, the slack-jaw, remind me of lifeless horses on carousels. The clutch grinds out a low metallic rattle and the pick up stutters and stalls, vibrations humming inside my body.
Lord, grant this stir-crazy fool one more miracle, he says, lowering his head.
We jump out and spray the Kid's truck with a white mist, me taking one side, him the other. The heat from the flame scorches our faces, pulverizes my thoughts.
I'm looking for any sign that the Kid might still be alive. Ducking under the overturned truck, I spray towards the bottom. The hiss of white mist. Red-yellow sparks flaring. I inspect the cab through the flames. Gasping. In a broken side mirror, my face is reflected in bits and pieces, crack lines and jagged angles.
I spot the hand and part of the arm, the flesh black and copper. The sound of Jocko crying like a little boy echoes in my brain's endless prairies. My brain growing numb to all cactus prickly pain and coyote-like hunger. A third degree numbing. I wish.
For weeks, Jocko blames himself for not doing a thorough check, that the truck wobbled a good bit, that he had spotted it too late. I often imagine the truck, its burned frame and springs, its corroded tie rods and rocker arms, the ruined axle, lying as refuse in another junkyard, the sacrifice of whatever exchangeable parts.
In a small trailer we've rented, the shop already sold, Jocko stands sipping a morning cup of instant coffee, the color of a lizard's eye, his back towards me. He says he's headed west, maybe New Mexico, maybe Albuquerque, start a new shop. I tell him I'll be gone in a couple of weeks too, where, I'm not sure, but that he should hold on to whatever memories, the three of us, we managed the best we could, didn't we?
I tell Jocko that at first I had nightmares about the Kid, the way he would stare, saying something about the speed of a thought. But lately, I've been dreaming about that place, that island, all crazy kinds of thoughts.
He turns to me, like someone unfamiliar, a man impersonating Jocko, and not Jocko, and there is an unfocused cast to his eyes.
"Wouldn't it be somethin' if the Kid made it to Mexico? I mean, even though we saw the arm and all . . ."
"Sure. It would be."
" . . . and things like that happen all the time. I mean, people claiming they see old relatives given up for dead, or even, it's crazy shit, aliens land in the desert. You know, stuff like that."
"Sure," I say, "I know."
"And he'd be having a ball."
"Girls offering him their titties."
"Sure. The Kid was still cute."
"The Kid was."
"This world cannot hold his ashes."
"No, it can't."
"Maybe . . . maybe at a taco bar on the moon."
"The moon. Sure. Taco bars are everywhere."
With deep hammocks stretching under his eyes, Jocko offers me a slow, lingering smile that could be mine. After all, we're twins. It's a smile that could sail for days.
Before we packed and separated, we whittled away the days, pretending to be busy, but we weren't, hardly talking to each other, maybe lost in our own thoughts of carefully guarded worlds. I started to dig up the Kid's old stacks of newsletters, perusing them, searching for that article he showed me.
Pictures of desert basins and burros, orange and red limestone mountains puncturing through the top of one photo, an old train station, maybe a tourist attraction now, a straggle of travelers with their cameras, sun glasses, women with large, floppy hats. A grove of Joshua trees. I shuffled and reshuffled through every stack. No, I thought. It wasn't in any of them. That blue sea-turtle, its shell of a portable home, the endless stretch of a white-washed shore.
I thought about telling Jocko, but maybe, for all I knew, he could have taken the newsletter himself, kept it or tore it up. Who knows. I didn't ask.
Then, outside the camper, I'd sit in the Kid's wheelchair, maybe for hours at a stretch, just staring out, surveying the vast expanse of plain and desert.
When Jocko wasn't watching, I'd try to imitate the Kid's deft way of performing sharp turns, sudden spins, the wheels churning out a chalky dust. Couldn't quite get the hang of it. I began to tinker with the wheelchair, entertained the notion of inserting a double-motor, a new controller, some grade-A Honda parts, just to see how fast it could go. Just to see how far it could travel.
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