Sometimes I feel the sockets around my eyes. I’m reminded that there’s a skeleton underneath all this. Like the ones in cartoons and pictures and TV shows. That beneath everything that I perceive human and special, is just hard bone. I’m reminded that human sentience is soulless and empty. That we’re all just blank pages in a book that no one’s writing.
I awoke abruptly in a room I couldn’t quite determine or remember. I was in a bed with red and purple satin sheets, lying next to a dark haired woman I didn’t know. My head hurt. “You were crying last night.” said a voice of porcelain honey and soft latin tones, “In your sleep. You cried.”
She turned to face me.
Before me: celestial beauty and angel light, gold and soothing and calm. It filled the room, took me whole. The great heavy blackness in my chest, the bondage on my lungs, began to ease. No more pain. No more weight. Just beauty. The room cleared. Her features defined: button and delicate and perfect, her eyes big and bursting saturated with pure soul. “Are you ok?” she asked sincere. I just stared back at her, enchanted.
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. “Ey gringo! What the fuck, man? It’s 11 o’clock already. You still in bed with my fucking whore?” It was Ricky.
I got out of bed and started to get dressed.
“Ey Paola, tell this stupid pendejo to get a fucking move on, ah?”
We two, her and I, locked in the infinite majesty of a few sacred moments before I was to bade her goodbye. She, Paola now, her beauty omnipotent.
“It was nice to meet you.” I told her.
“Hurry the fuck up, Robert.” shouted Ricky from behind the door.
When I didn’t respond he burst in and grabbed me by my jacket sleeve, pulled me out of my reverie, out the room into the hall and on our way. “Fucking gringo. We got a busy day and you fucking standing around like some stupid fucking asshole. You know I got you on probation, right?” He slapped me on the back and we walked through the club and out into the parking lot.
“Ey, nice fucking suit, hombre. My boy Rami got good taste, ah?”
We got in the car. Ricky started the engine and we got on our way.
“You have a good time last night, esse? Paola’s got some fucking titties, am I right?” Ricky asked.
“My head is killing me.”
“You fucking hungover, gringo? How much of my whiskey you drink last night? I’m gonna start you on a tab when we get back you know.” He slapped my leg. “I’m kidding, gringo. Relax.” He looked me over. “That’s a nice fucking suit but you know you gonna burn like a motherfucker out here today in that shit. Grab some of my shit. In the back.”
“Ok.” I reached over to his backseat and found a black garbage filled with silk pattern shirts of every creed and persuasion. “You got anything else?” I asked him.
I put on a black short-sleeve shirt with swaying palm trees. I looked just like Ricky. His hair curly slick though, mine brown and scruffy and mediocre.
As we rolled past midday and on to the early afternoon my hangover began ease past its familiar brutality and into a more comforting haze. The desert outside high-contrast, stark and beautiful and desolate. Ricky was quiet now. I sat quietly too, trying to salvage the floating wreckage of the previous night’s events. I could clasp only superfluous flotsam and inconsequential debris: A girl on my lap, refilling my glass. Blonde she was. Whiskey. Dice. An American man, loud, his arm round my shoulder. Sick on a toilet stall door. Whiskey again. Then her. Paola.
Ricky turned the radio on.
“Where are we going, Ricky?”
He sat staring far out front and took a long drink from his water bottle, “A job, man.”
“Why do you need me?”
“Why do I need you, man? Because I need another guy to help me with this shit.”
“Why couldn’t you bring Ramirez? Surely he’s more suited to whatever were doing out here, which I assume isn’t landscape gardening.”
“You being funny, gringo? Fucking landscape gardening. I need Ramirez back at the club seeing to my affairs. This is a 24-hour-a-day business, gringo. Serious shit.”
“What about Lola?”
“What about that skank?”
“I got the impression she was the madame of the club or something?
“Madame, man. What you think this is, some Moulin Rouge shit? This is Meh’ico, gringo. Ain’t no madame my club, man. Lola’s my employee. She looks after the girls. See’s to all their fucking bullshit.”
Ricky wiped the sweat from his forehead, “Why you asking so many fucking questions anyway, man? The fuck is this?”
I didn’t answer.
“What?” he shouted.
“I was just wondering is all.”
“You were wondering? You were fucking wondering, pendejo?” He was getting angry now. “You broke or what? You wanna make some fucking money or what? And you just fucking wondering? I try to help you, pendejo, and you just fucking wondering about shit? Ah?”
“Sure Ricky. Sorry.”
“Then why you gotta ask all these questions then, man? You drink my liquor, I let you fuck my girls, man.” He stopped for a moment. Started to calm “It’s not cool, man.”
“I’m sorry, Ricky.”
“It’s not cool.”
We spent a minute or so in awkward silence before he glanced at over at me, forgiving and remorseful, “Ah I’m sorry, kid. I don’t know what came over me. The heat or something, makes me kinda loco, you know?”
“What the fuck? Your bags?”
“My grocery bags, Ricky. I left them out at the hotel. The food’ll go bad.”
He laughed, “what, gringo? Your fucking grocery bags? Buy some new groceries, man. We got a Soriana a few blocks from the club.”
“I need them, Ricky.”
He stared at me wry a few seconds, “Ok, whatever gringo. I send someone to get your fucking groceries from the fucking hotel.” He looked back out front, “Crazy ass white boy.”
We drove for an hour deep into the vast lifeless countryside and past another hour until we reached once again any semblance of civilisation: a small pueblo out in the middle of nowhere.
We pulled up next to a dusty pick-up truck in the grey gravel parking lot of a small convenience store. We stopped and sat silent while Ricky chewed something over, something unsure. His dark brow closed down over his eyes and his forehead wrinkled heavy with lines. Heavy with thought. As he grimaced darkly at the steering wheel a tidal familiarity washed over me. His cruel and spectre visage was as the same I’d seen in a life before, my life, but in a different time in a different place in my snowy past. Ricky, this latino man sat next to me, was soon manifest no more, naught but shadow and shade, a semblance of something I couldn’t properly recall, echoing though, echoing frequencies paternal.
“Robert.” A name called in the darkness. “Robert.” My grandfather. “Robert. What do you think you are doing? Put the gun down, you fool.”
The barrel was stuck hot against my cheek.