Frumpy jewelry. The bitter taste of yesterday’s lipstick. Thinning mascara accentuating the bags under my eyes. Mottled foundation. Amalgamation of artifices. An aerosol cloud of faded perfume. Dehydration. Old coffee in a styrofoam cup. Ashtray palette. The tart smell of saliva and the proliferation of bacteria between my gums and teeth. A tingling pocket of halitosis sealed inside the prison of my scorched mouth by weary jaws. Misfiring axons hanging from fried dendrites like defective dreamcatchers. 1
Once all the smell of burned hair was gone, the meat started releasing a pleasant smell of carne asada, which made some of the witnesses hungry. But after a while the smell of burned meat scared the few remaining spectators. For a few hours, Doña Matilde poked with a stick the carcass to make sure everything burned. When only the ashes and some of the larger bones remained, she swept them into a pile. A few months ago someone gave her a black garbage bag. Doña Matilde didn’t remember who, because she didn’t care. She was saving it for a special occasion, since it was thicker than any other bag she ever owned. With her hands, she carefully placed the bones and the ashes into the black plastic bag. After methodically collecting everything, Doña Matilde carried the black bag as if it were a baby, and placed it next to her bed. That night, for the first time in decades, Doña Matilde slept deeply with the notion that she wasn’t alone in her home any more. 2
“You aimin’ to do the work of a man, yet you thank you cain act like a child right now. Let me get you in on a secret, you ain’t never goin’ to feel better after takin’ a revenge.’
“You might not, but I will.”
“You thank you hate him right?”
“I know I hate him.”
“You ain’t even old ‘nuff to know the true hate. Child’s hate ain’t nothin’ close to real hate.”
“How do you know? You ain’t me. You don’t know what I’m feeling, if it’s real or not. All you got is your opinion.”
“I got an opinion backed by forty years’ experience you lil’ jackass. You got one that’s barely even left the womb.” 3
David stared out at the Basin spring watching the stream meet a boulder, split, and then merge on the other side. The waves smacked against the high bank. The rippling water shadowed David. He shivered as a wind gust slapped him. The tree he was standing under began to creak as though something was weighing on it. David looked up and cringed, frightened by what he saw. He could see the spirit that had invaded him. Its body hung right above him from the gnarled tree branch swaying, then, as the wind died down, slowed and turned and faced in his direction. It was Jonathan’s father Benjamin. He began dropping pieces of his life in front of David. 4
Later, Rich will miss the hotel’s starched bed sheets, the balcony from which he admired a strip of ocean, the bright oriel window, the paper delivered to his door, the stiff melon triangles arranged beside his morning coffee, the breakfast cart wheeled to the end of the bed, sheets flung over the footboard during a fitful night’s sleep, newspaper well-leafed under another cup of coffee—he will miss these luxuries, but not enough to return to them. There will be a time in Rich’s life when he will only dimly remember the name of the hotel, the month in which he stayed, the events of his life that surrounded his trip. He will revisit this city, certainly, but never the hotel itself. The hotel will host numerous visitors for decades after Rich’s trip, but, like many beachfront properties, one day close its doors to the encroaching sea, beach diminishing until dark waves lap at the hotel walls, the flooded city just another part of the ocean’s continental shelf. 5
We’re going up, up, up.
We don’t have enough momentum to go anywhere. Not really. This — wherever this is — it’ll lose its hold on us. Soon enough. But with bolts of light under my feet, with Jordan still here, and with enough fuel to stay suspended for however long, we’re not going anywhere.
Not for a while.
The Beyond can wait. 6
The most reassuring forms of animal locomotion belong to the symmetrically four-legged. Dogs, horses, and sheep hit the ground with each hoof or paw in a prescribed rhythm, either in pairs front back or the opposed corners. Their gaits can be classified ambling, loping, cantering and so on, a nomenclature related to the pattern of foot fall and the height and force of impact, resulting in speed or slowness, hurry or relaxed moving around the earth. When this kind of four-legged animal comes to a stop, its feet stand planted like a desk or a dresser. Both the motion and cease of motion of these animals we most keep near us assure us of order and domesticity. 7