Photo via Larry Nieheus.
My grandaddy was a jumper. Right on the tracks at the Norfolk Southern Station. Just a few miles out from in the holler where he’s born. Where he’s living fore I left. Jumped right front of the engine as it was coming on in. Nobody even seen him. Not no one. Nobody seen him till he’d done it, and when they did, nobody really cared all too much to who’d seen him coming fore it done happened. But there he was. Every last inch of him. Flesh strung out all the way from where his head was laying to the parts of him that landed few yards down the line or so. Flesh painted thick on the steel tracks of that line. Painted thick and waiting for all’um to see. That man’s body ripped open in just about every which way it could, ways I reckon people just ain’t never really able to make much sense of. Real ugly like. Got himself in the paper’n everything. Mama said he owed a lotta money to a man named Eugene Baker but that she don’t think that’s why he done it. Cain’t figure what else being the other though. There just don’t seem all too much glory in that way to go. But he went on and did it.
I still cain’t look at’um tracks any kinda easy. Even after all these years. Just ‘cause I wudn’t born when he done it don’t mean I ain’t seen it. I know that don’t make much sense but I come to learn that sense ain’t cheap and God cain’t go giving it around like it grew back. Mama used to take me down there every year or so when I was little, crying and squeezing my hand so tight I thought my bones might just about break and fall in along the tracks with him. Me just standing there next to her. All I could do was stare out at’um. Still cain’t go down to’um without seeing the little bits left of him that bubble on up over the steel posts. I got enough sense to know they ain’t really there, but I know they gotta be and I see’um with just about all of me. Blood running thick like sap down the rail spikes, oozing its way on down out the gravel. Putting on a show. Just for me.
I just cain’t help to think a man could do all that living, end it up like he did and have it all just be clear gone. No, sir. I think that poor fool ground himself deep into that rail-line, and he ain’t never leaving. Least not while that line’s still running. I reckon those kind of people carve themselves an everlasting place in the land of the living. The sad ones that is. Or least most of’um find some kind of way to. Not that I know any way to make of that. But I know it sure do happen and that there’s a truth bigger than what imma ever be able to let you in on.
When we first got to New Mexico I seen something that don’t make much sense according to the laws I’d come to know from any living I’d done before it. Barron and I’d been driving a few days east and then another one north. Clouds hung around us low and heavy, like blood running red through cotton. So bloated and so angry that they seemed to’ve dragged the sky right down on with’um, pressing them heavy on an earth that seemed already sucked clean by the sun. Plains around us made their way out with no sign of an ending, and, in the middle of’um, snaked a long and jagged sliver cut out from the flatness of the earth, a canyon carved out by something that must’ve been bigger’n lightning.
We pulled through and got out of the truck on a bridge off of the 68 that joint the two sides of the canyons and when I looked deep down into the bottom of that gorge I realized we must’ve been driving to it the whole time. I follered Barron as he walked right out to the center of the bridge and stared straight down. About a mile’s drop the Rio Grande was moving real slow. So smooth and so quiet like, like it’s always been, least that’s what he done told me.
After a some time with our heads cocked under us leaning out and down against the railing, we came up, and noticed a couple of officers a ways down the bridge together talking. All of’um staring real hard out into the bends and walls that made up that river. I kept watching’um. They kept getting calls and pacing the bridge looking out over that gorge with some kind of fever. After a while I went up to one just so I could figure out what was going on. I knowed I already know what happened, but I reckoned I might as well hear it. A girl had jumped the bridge, he said. Few hours back, he said. No one been able to find any kind of trace of her. No hair blood skin bones clothing no nothing, he said. Even a few miles downstream he said.
Like the earth right up and swallowed her.
A bloated gust of volcanic dust rippled through the valley. The air pulsed and hovered lazily, a murky veil on the already swollen morning. A cloak of sagebrush spanned the vast plains, the plains themselves somehow contained by the distant hills, all of which created an undeniable friction in the pair’s ability to gauge where exactly they were standing in that valley on the morning of that day.
Barron put on his hat, let Quentin out, and shut the passenger door of his Bronco behind her. He walked around its side to the trunk, pulled out two 22s and a box of ammo, unlatched the tailgate and took a seat. He grabbed up the first rifle in his hand, let the magazine fall, loaded it, and clicked it back into place.
“You know Miss Quennie, rabbits a lot faster then I bet you’ve been thinking.” He placed the rifle down, picked up the second 22, and ejected the magazine just the same.
“Well, I figured they’s fast, but I’m not gonna have to run after ‘um, am I?”
Barron loaded the second magazine and clicked it back into place.
“Well darlin no you ain’t, but your barrel sure as hell gotta. Soon as those suckers pop their heads outta the brush and you make eyes, they gonna be gone. Spook real easy and been around enough of us to know better.”
Quentin perched herself right next to Barron on the tailgate, grabbed the spare 22, and cocked it at the telephone pole at the mouth of the scant road from which they had come.
“Call it, old man.”
“Quen, by the time you pulled the trigger that thing’d be gone.”
“Fine. Knob in the center.”
Quentin made sure not to look back at him and fired straight and sure, the bullet planting itself into the left side of the pole, a few inches under a large knot in the wood.
“You know, you’re real cute when you try’nd show me out.”
Still looking straight ahead, Quentin’s face curled slightly towards a smile before she remembered herself. Her fleshy baby face, doe-eyed, the coffee-stain birthmark on the top left of her lip that curled into the bottom of her nose when she forgot herself – all the things that made her all the easier for some people to decide just how they’d like to take her.
“C’mon, Barron, I’m getting me a goddamn rabbit.”
“Yes, ma’am. If the lady says so.”
They set off through the brush, Quentin staggering slightly to the right behind him. Her eyes soon dried out from surveying the branches of the chaparral. The midday sun fixed itself deep-set into the sky. The wind was still sluggish, the only thing left moving in and out the shrubs was the odd desert sparrow. Barron’s impatience began to reveal itself in his jagged stride, in the way he’d take off his hat and begin to whip the beads of sweat off his brow before they even formed.
“You know, Miss Quennie,” Barron planted his feet in the dirt, his rifle swung up on his shoulders as a brace for his dog-tired arms, “I think you went and scared’um all off.”
“Hah! And what I got to make from doing something like that?”
Barron swung the rifle back around his body, and kept his eyes locked on a shallow hill a mile or so north towards the serrated peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Ashen white and indifferent, the mountains felt estranged from the plains they cradled.
“C’mon, won show you something.”
Mama never was the same after her Paw died. Least that’s what they’d all been saying. Sunk back eyes and a small and far away kind of voice that’s words just fall off into nowhere. A sad kind of woman. But then again that’s all I come to know so I cain’t say much about no changing. Shamed to say it, but I’ll confess it felt some good when she went. Not that I wanted her gone or none, no, just that I know how much she wanted it. Or least just didn’t care either what way about it. Cain’t say I’d be able to think back on a time where she seemed much too keen on living. Always off somewhere or another. In her head I mean to say. Least something like that. I reckon she figured herself somewhere half between the living and them that already gone. Like her time already done passed and she sitting there all sorts of confused, just waiting. Figured that must’ve made me elsewhere too, always alone in that house with her. Just me, her, and her daddy.
Few days after the service we put on for her, I sold my Wagoneer, bought a bus ticket to Los Angeles, pocketed the change. Just turned nineteen. I ain’t know much about many places, and that city seemed just about as near unlike to Lee County as I could get my head to think of. Found a job as a western style bar on the strip, and was let out a room just above the place by the owner, fit with a bed, dresser, ironing board and hotplate. Didn’t know no one and cain’t say I did either by the time I left.
The bar was a tourist trap with gallon-sized margaritas, and a mechanical bull. Told me they hired me ‘cause I was “pint-sized cute,” “pretty like a young Lauren Bacall,” and mostly ‘cause I “spoke country.” Figured the customers would take a liking to that. It paid like shit and was truly run by a bunch of assholes. Few months in, and I was still poorer’n shit and with nothin much of anything to show for myself.
A man came in every Tuesday night ‘bout seven or so. I pinned him late thirties, early forties. A young forty. The kinda forty that you could still tell how damn handsome he must’ve been back when it was his time to be the handsome one. Sandy blonde hair and bright blue eyes that could make just about any kinda face look young. And yet that man’s skin looked if it been left out in the sun too long for too many years—the kind of skin you just plain know ain’t meant for that kinda sun but somehow figured on doing it anyways. All topped off with a friendly sort of stupid side-mouthed smile. Always had a wide-brimmed Stetson he’d take off and put on the counter right beside him. He’d sit down at the empty bar, order something straight, and try to talk to me ‘bout something foolish. I’d ask him if he wanted another, he’d start acting real nervous or guilty or something—something I could never quite get at—and say he better not. He’d stay for a while after that, but then when I started giving him a quick “mhm” to everything he told me, he said he better be leaving. Went on like this for a few weeks. Just like that. I couldn’t help but get real bothered by that after all’um times he came and done it.
One day he come in same as always, shot his drink up quick, and asked me to dance. I half laughed before I caught myself and seen on his face he wudn’t joking. All earnest and so goddamn determined, figured I might as well at least owe him this. “You know how to two step, don’t you?” he said, and fixed his hand through my arm onto my back ‘fore I could even say anything. I laughed and told him I might not, but I damn sure as much hoped so. And there we was. On the floor looking real foolish. Me gladder than ever that we’s alone, the only people still at the bar another regular named Milton, who sure as shit took care of himself, head half nailed to the counter and haden come up for air for the better of an hour. Worst could happen be I’d lost my job I didn’t care all too much about keeping.
“So what’s your name,” he said, and I told him, and he told me his was Barron. “Quentin’s a real funny name for a girl,” he said, “Your mama must be some kinda different.”
“She was,” I told him, and he got all shades of sorry.
“Aw shit, you gotta forgive me, I got a sorry sense of humor fixing on making me look a real fool sometimes.” Told me it suited me alright though anyways. We kept on moving.
“So where you from, Miss Quennie?” he asked, and I told him.
“Well dang! Got me a Virginie girl! I swear I pinned you the first time I heard you talking. My mama’s Bell County. Just a skip on over the Kentucky border. Well dang! That’s sure something, idn’t?” he said, and I couldn’t help but look back up at him and smile before I caught myself and told him that, yessir, I know Bell County, I know where his mama’s from.
“I’m from Odessa. West Texas. Ever been to Texas?” and I shook my head.
“Well, it’s hot as hell, full’uh dirt, and you might as well be in Mexico. Least where I’m from.” I didn’t say nothing and just leaned more into his lead. “You know, Miss Quennie, I hope you take this half decent, but there’s something awful familiar ‘bout you. Maybe that don’t make no sense but I figure why I been coming in here much as I do got a whole lot to do with that,” he said, and I told him he was a long ways away from home for someone so damn sentimental. All he’d been able to push back out was, “Yes, ma’am. I sure am.”
Some karaoke number rang out as we was dancing, and then that smile came back real big and stupid like. Making a fool outta ourselves. He won. Right then and there. Hook bait and sink’um. “Ever been to New Mexico?” he said. The next morning we started the drive.
Quentin’s head finally bobbed over the hill, and her eyes aligned with a ramshackle sprawl of trailers all faced in on each other in the sink of the valley. Three of them total. Around them a flood of rusted out car parts, scrap metal, garbage, and broken bits of just about anything.
“What is this?”
“Used to spend a lot of time here. No one must’ve been in here for the better of ten by the looks of it. Seems like tweakers been through it a few times over though.”
Quentin’s eyes stilled, overtaken by the spectacle. The air stood sober.
They kept on walking towards the trailers.
“You’ve been here before?”
“Ye-up, came here just about every summer when I’s a little one. Lived here a while when I’s older. Place was kept up a hell of a lot better’n you seeing it now, I’ll have you know.”
Boxes and heaps of detritus poked out in all directions from the rotted out crevices of the trailers. Dunes of filth stood around them like burial mounds without dedication. Every vestige caking itself deeper and deeper into the earth.
Quentin picked up a mold-eaten baseball glove from the pile closest to the first trailer. Its fingers looked well worn by a hand much smaller than her own. Its smell sour and enduring.
“Barron whose place is this?” She asked, needing then to pull it back inside of herself.
“Well, it was my daddy’s, so, guess that makes it mine now though.”
Barron kicked through a few more piles, made sure to take off his hat, and then climbed his way into the largest of the three trailers. A few minutes passed, and Quentin made her way in as well. A broke down pine bedframe laid in pieces in the center of the small single-wide room. Cardboard boxes of photographs, books, envelopes, and loose papers spilled out over the floor like a carpet. Furniture was stacked up into the corners, creating barriers between imperceptible openings in the trailer’s architecture and the outside world. The wood-burning stove at the far end still pregnant with the soot and ashes of a long winter. The kitchen table at the far side of the room littered with countless jars of food left to rot. The air stood rank, everything covered in a layer of silt, then dust, droppings, paper clippings and stale tobacco.
“It wudn’t like this, Quennie. I hope you know it wudn’t like this.”
We didn’t pack much. Just a bag for each of us so we’d have room to sleep in the bed of his truck if we figured on needing to. Radio said as much as they’d be a heatwave where we’s going, and they sure as hell wudn’t lying. That night we pulled into Kingman, the heat still coming up something fierce from the asphalt, blowing hot at my bare legged skin. Stayed at a motel that got two beds in it right off the 40 that Barron went and paid for. Gave me cash to go’n get him a bottle from across the street while he went and warshed up. Time I got back his was sitting shirt off’n crossed-legged on the floor, shuffling cards, hat hung on the back of the door. We played some odd games of five card draw using torn bits of paper from the check-in brochure to do the betting with, and went on till the bottle was at just about half. Cain’t say I remember who won. Don’t think it mattered all too much.
When we was done he got up, put his hands round the sides of my face, and kissed the top of my head. He said “goodnight,” stepped out his jeans and boots, then tucked in the further bed with his back facing on at me. Stood there a few seconds more, then took off my clothes till I’s just standing there in my drawers, covered in chicken skin from the cold of the AC we’d left running. I stood there a little while longer, just waiting, looking at the freckled backs of his shoulders, waiting to see if he’d go’n move, then got in the other bed.
I woke up next morning to him fixing us coffee. Smiling real big. He’d already out and gone to pick us up some breakfast and check us outta our room. We quick packed up and kept heading east on the 40. Stopped at a couple of roadside spots ever now’n then long the way that day. He didn’t much seem on wanting to, but after some begging he’d just smile and say, “Yes, ma’am. Anything my girl wants,” and pull quick off the road. The sun still burned angry, and the sky was full of clouds, bigger’n Goliath, that seemed on getting closer and closer to us the further on east we went.
We crossed the New Mexico border just about before sundown, and when the dark got too heavy we pulled in a motel just on the border of a town named Grants. Barron grabbed both of our bags as we headed in the check-in room, making sure to take off his hat soon as he poked his head through the door. The woman at the counter was real wiry looking and smelled heavy like menthols. She had dark little eyes that looked like they’d been holes punched out the leather of her skin. So small you could barely see the whites in’um if you figured on trying. “Two full sized beds for you and your daughter, Mr. Gunter?” she said, while I was still looking at her eyes, realizing that they’s focused on Barron. “Yes, ma’am, that’ll do,” I heard him say, still fixed on the woman’s eyes, which I seen clear in the light from her computer screen. They’s the darkest and hardest of blues I’d seen, almost black, and when I did notice, she finally looked on back at me.
Soon as we were in the room I asked Barron why he didn’t say nothing to her. “Lil girl, one day imma teach you a lesson on somethin’ called the path of least resistance. You heard of it, girl?” he said, and I told him ‘course I did, but that I ain’t his goddamn daughter. He fired back real quick, “But you damn as well could be! Goddamn, Quennie! You are stubborn.” I took my bag and walked to set it down in the closet in the other side of our room, got out my toothbrush, and went to the bathroom to warsh up for bed. Time I came back in, he was still sitting on the edge of the first bed, elbows tucked in his knees, head in his hands. I walked over and stood front of him. After a little while, he looked on up at me. Thought he was gonna say something but he never did. Just reached up and lifted my shirt up off over my head, pulled my pants down and unhooked’um out from my ankles. Put his arms round my waist, pressed his head deep against my belly, and I held it, cradling it to the low hum coming out from the mini-fridge in the corner of our room. Stayed like that for a while.
We slept in one bed that night. He didn’t go’n touch me none though. I mean he could’ve done, but he wouldn’t. I’d go’n lean my body on into his and he’d go and have it, laying there stiff. He just laid down, real still, with his arm down around my waist. I tried to climb top of him and kiss him, but he rolled over’n put his back to me. “No, Quennie,” he said, right before he went and turned out the light.
Barron appeared back through the door of the trailer with a lawn chair on each arm and a bottle of something brown. His face no longer held the weight it had minutes before. He took off his hat before placing the seats on the silt soaked floor beneath him.
“Quennie! Okay okay! Now we gonna have some fun, alright? Figured we as much as earned some by now.”
Quentin was still in the corner of the trailer near the stove where he had left her, seated on a milk crate, reading through a ’67 Amarillo yearbook.
“You got family in Amarillo, old man?”
“If you call an ex-wife family.”
Quentin closed the book and rested it on the makeshift cardboard window sill next to the woodstove.
“Didn’t know you’d been married.”
The muscles of Quentin’s face held tight to an unexpression.
“You never asked.”
Barron grabbed the first of the lawn chairs and placed it along the entryway wall that looked on towards the kitchen.
“Now, okay, Bonnie, why don’t you do yourself a favor and sit right in this here chair.”
“What I got to make from doing that?” Quennie said, mouth quickly back half between a grin and a smirk.
Barron picked up the second chair and placed it right beside the first.
“Goddamn, Miss Quennie, you damn sure are stubborn,” Barron said, as he grabbed the two rifles and sat down in the furthest of the chairs with his bottle.
“I live to serve,” Quennie slid back at him, now fully grinning.
“C’mon over here,” patting on the vinyl backing of the empty chair beside him.
“If I must.”
“That’s my girl.”
Quentin walked over to the chair slow making sure not to kick up the sediment between them. Once in the chair, Barron handed her the second 22, and pulled her head down to kiss the top of it.
“Okay okay, so this is how this here is gonna work,” Barron said, quickly rubbing his hands together and then shaking them out towards the ground before handing her the bottle.
“I’m gonna call something out from over in the kitchen, and you gonna shoot it. Simple enough?”
Quentin gave him a crooked salute and a “Yes, sir!” before taking a few sips.
“Okay, lil girl, so if I say green pitcher in the corner, what you best do next?”
“I’m gonna go with shooting the green pitcher in the corner.”
“There she is! Okay, how’s this for starters? Strawberry jam jar on the edge of the butcher’s block.”
“Hell I’ll hit it in one go if you tell me about this wife of yours.”
“Got yourself a deal, Bonnie.”
Quentin pressed the stock of the rifle deep into the sinew of her shoulder. She waited a few seconds then shot clean into the jar, its glass exploding in a frenzy, the viscous red filling crawling down the sides of the table towards the floor.
“Haha! There she is! My girl!” Barron said, and pulled her head down again and loudly kissed the top of it.
Quentin smiled and then stopped herself. She handed him back the bottle and he thanked her kindly.
“Now how ‘bout your girl, old man? C’mon just gimme something I can work with. You cain’t just go on saying that and expect nothing outta me!”
“Okay, Quennie, two outta three and she’s yours.”
“Deal, but it’s your damn turn now.”
Barron’s toothy smile broke out through his lips, pale and desert-cracked, as he took another swig from the bottle, eyes still staring off in the direction of their small makeshift range.
“Okay old man, how’s about you get the can of beans on over the stove?”
“Well, Miss Quennie, I thought you was never gonna ask!”
Barron aimed his rifle towards the stove and then quickly back down at the ground again. He leaned his cheek in towards Quentin, “how ‘bout one for good luck?” Quentin chuckled and patted the side of his face with the hollow of her palm.
“You gone be needing a hell of a lot more’n that.”
He laughed back and tousled the top mound of her hair.
“We’ll see bout that, lil girl.”
Barron aimed the rifle back up towards the can and made a hole straight through it.
“Well I’ll give it to you, old man, you still got it.”
“Hah! We’re one for one. You still gotta way to go to show me up.”
“I might just let you win, old man. Imma regular Good Samaritan.”
Barron shot a look back at her and leaned his rifle against the side of his chair, surveyed the far end of the room, took a gulp from the bottle and picked the gun right back up by the barrel.
“Okay, see the ledge on the bottom shelf of that open cabinet next to the sink?” Barron said, motioning with the mouth of his gun, “The one with the little yellow can on it?”
“Lemme guess, you want me to shoot the little yellow can?”
“Dear Lord, why do you insist on solely blessing me with such hard-headed women?” he said motioning with his hands towards the ceiling, the side of his mouth cracked open with a smile.
“Don’t even pretend you ain’t about it!” Quentin gave back, laughing, just before she let out a shot towards the can. The sound that followed rang out hollow and low back through the room towards them.
“You think I got it?”
“Hm, I dunno, Quen. Didn’t sound much like a can to me,” he said, taking another swig.
Quentin delicately treaded towards the yellow can through a path of magazines whose pulp puffed up around her boots, leaving a distinctive mapping of her route. Bracing herself with her right hand hooked on the plastic siding of the sink, she looked down into the cabinet. The yellow can had been pushed to the far wall of the backing, the side of it clipped, and next to it a pipe showed a pea sized etching, a squashed bullet at its base.
“Shit. Think I hit a pipe.”
“Anything coming out?”
“None I can see. Clipped the can though,” she said as she pivoted back around to face him, “that count?”
“Imma give you a pass on that one,” he said, leaning his rifle down against the chair, gesturing towards her, and then patting his lap with the fleshy parts of his hands, “C’mere.”
Quentin made her way back the same as before and sat upright in Barron’s lap. He pressed his hands firmly on the tops of her thighs, and fit his head in the groove of her neck between her jaw and the small bones of her shoulder, rocking them languidly side to side.
“Okay Bonnie, how about you blow the window out?”
“Winder over the sink?”
Quentin sloped back into Barron’s chest, the small of her back pressing into his belly, the crown of her head braced against the top of the chair.
“I thought this was your turn,” she said, sliding his hands down into the warmer parts of her thighs, guiding them to squeeze her fleshiest bits.
“Mmmm, I don’t know about that right about now.”
Barron hurriedly pushed her hands away, and grabbed the meat of her shoulders. Her back again erect, leaning away from him.
“Okay sh sh sh, don’t move. See up on that cabinet door open right in front of the window?”
He reached again for the bottle and then set it down.
Quentin held her posture and turned her head jaw first towards the window. A small desert sparrow sat perched staring directly at the pair.
“Oh shit, how you reckon he got in here?”
“Same as we did. Now quick, Quennie, now’s your shot.”
“Barron, wait, hold on.”
Barron’s hands gripped tighter, “C’mon Quennie, this is your bird.”
Quentin reduced to sharp, shallow inhalations.
“I’ll tell you about her.”
Quentin’s hands damp. The wood of the rifle grip slippery. The barrel heavy. Still pointed blankly at the floor. Barron’s hands moved deep into the heat of her inner thighs.
“Married her straight outta high school. Got her pregnant. Moved out to this place with her and the baby ‘cause it didn’t cost none. Lived here till she’s just about seven. Came back one day and they was gone. Not even as much as a letter since. That what you been looking for, huh? Now shoot the damn bird, Quennie.”
Quentin’s rifle raised. Towards the window. Swaying slightly. She took a few last shallow breaths, fired.
“I loved that lil girl and she went’n took her.”
A shot rang out. Her shot rang out. The bird fell to the ground, a few feathers suspended in the air. Her eyes still fixed on the window. His hands still firm on her thighs. Firmer yet. The light still coming in, now ambering the room, the soot and all else now fixed in the thickness of its sap. The feathers dissolving into the sediment beneath them. The air stale and strangling.
“That’s my girl.”
First week we got to New Mexico we slept in a broke down airstream not too far off from his daddy’s place. Didn’t tell me till a whiles later they used it for hanging up meat after they went hunting. Few days pass, the dust coming on in got all too strong for us just being able to be depending on the walls of that thing alone, so we fixed up a tent in the middle of that old tin thing as well. Didn’t work none too much though. Still woke up every morning covered thick in dirt’n soot. Trailer was always dark. Didn’t matter none what time it was. Never saw all too much what it looked like on inside. We went agreeing it was probly better off that way. Barron said that he thought it best us not to be stepping in that thing during the daylight anyways and I agreed. Went and told me he loved me, and I agreed. Nighttimes, we’d go and crawl back in the trailer, naked and sloppy like, finding each other by the skin. He’d kiss me. Hard and wet on the mouth, and I liked it.
Never sex though. I wanted it real bad. Some awful, shameful kinda bad sometimes. I’d be sleeping up next to him every night. Every night knowing well how good he’d feel for me. We’d be lying down. Folded up in one another. His arms fixed round me. My back on up to him. Feeling all of him heavy against me. Some nights I’d start to grinding on him. I’d start to begging. He wouldn’t go and let me have it though. But he’d kiss me.
One night I’s trying hard for it. Too hard for it. He went and shook me, pinned me down, yelled straight at my face, “What? What you want, Quennie? Want me to fuck you, cum inside you, never talk to you again? Or you want this? Can we just keep on like this? Please, just give me that much. You know I cain’t have you any other way’n that. I need this, Quennie. Please. I need this.”
The next day the light coming through the clouds burned white. The dust was too strong for us to go out’n look round for food. We figured on just staying put in the trailer a little while longer drinking till it cleared. There wudn’t really much of anything else to do daytimes else’n that. And he started kissing on me. Hard and wet. His breath tasted like soot, and I let him fuck me. Hard and wet, and I liked it.
The moon hung deep-set in the sky. The Milky Way burned off slowly behind it.
The only sound was the crackling of the damp floorboards the pair had pulled up from the underbelly of the trailers earlier that day.
“What you reckon your daddy’ed want done with this place?”
Barron adjusted his hat.
“Frankly, Quennie, I don’t think he’d give a damn if it just went to shit.”
“What you call this then?”
Quentin stoked the fire with a spare board. Sparks blew back, singeing the side of her face. Her hands swatted at her cheeks in sharp, fitful motions, brushing off the bits of ash that had already fallen from her face and joined bits like them below. The almost ancient bits, the ones trampled deep into the arid earthen floor, the floor itself eagerly waiting.
“Goddamn girl, you gotta be careful with yourself!”
“Old man you know well as I do there ain’t no way I coulda figured outta that”
“You coulda not been so damn hasty, that’s for one.”
Quentin sat back down on the milk crate she’d set in front of the fire, shot Barron a smirk. His head still fixed forward on the fire.
“You can just say you don’t wanna talk about it none. Whatever it is.”
Barron picked up an empty bottle to prod at the crackling wood.
“Even if it is some about her.”
Barron swung his body on his seat towards Quentin.
“I so much as go quiet the better of a minute and all a sudden I gotta have a damn reason?” His face now squared with hers.
“Shit Barron, you barely said much as two words to me all day. The hell I supposed to make of that?”
Barron still held his face squared to hers, his eyes clouded.
“You really won do this? You really won do this right now?”
“Well shit, least I’d get something outta you”
Barron grabbed the back of his neck with his palm, squeezing its flesh hard between his thumb and ring finger, and then tilted his head backward with closed eyes.
“Damn Quennie, I told you how it’s gotta be.”
“How what gotta be? How you fixed yourself on turning an asshole? How I gotta be stuck in the middle of damn nowhere lone for a man who won’t even talk to me none? Fuck my supposed to make of you, old man?”
Barron locked his eyes back with hers and released his breath. His skin blackened, the lines of his face corroded into reservoirs for the pale soot in which they carried.
“You know what we did, Quennie. I told you what would have to happen if we did and you still went ahead and made me do it anyways.”
“Aw shit. Hold on hold on, I made you do it? You really gone say that? All that time you was grabbin on me and rubbin on me and kissin me. I made you do it. You a funny man, Barron, imma have to give you that. The hell you think this kinda thing work? The hell is wrong with you?”
Barron grabbed the small of Quentin’s arm and turned her brittle body halfway towards his own. His eyes now heavy with salt and slick with water, he cradled the side of her jaw with his other hand.
“Quennie, I don’t think you understand.”
The pair hiked through the shallow brush back to their trailer, the plains echoing the familiar hum of dust rippling through the grasses. Barron unlatched the door, and helped Quentin in before taking off his hat and climbing up the low-hanging step behind her. They kicked off their shoes, got rid of their clothing, and lay in their soot filled bed, her body fitted tightly into his. Barron turned Quentin over, kissing her hard and wet on the mouth.
He finished deep in her belly. Quentin lay awake for the better of an hour after him, feeling the slick of his body drip down and pool between her legs.
That last morning I woke up in New Mexico our tent was empty. I just laid there a little while before I finally went on out the trailer long enough to realize his truck was gone. No sign of him nowhere. No note. No nothing. I threw my clothes back on, packed up my bag quick as I could, and headed out towards the road. Took about half an hour for someone to come driving on down it, but when they did they’s kind enough to pick me up and take me towards town. An older feller in a ’51 Chevy, just a rough patch of white hair coming outta a worn out brown Cattleman, and leathered out skin that hung in folds round the whole of his neck. Told me his name was Duane Autry and that he got a daughter that used to look just like me.
When we was coming up to the bridge to Taos that crossed on over the Rio, I spotted Barron’s truck, and told the man that if it was alright I’d like to be let out right where we was. He pulled on over to the side, and just before I stepped out the door, he told me that I “best be careful,” and that a girl much like myself gonna get a whole buncha trouble coming her way when she all alone like I was. I thanked him for his kindness and walked on towards the truck. It was airish but the wind wudn’t moving much as it just was humming. The sides of my face as soon felt stiff and swelled up. By the time I got to his truck, the red dust kicked up from the soil started moving in flurries round my feet, Barron still nowhere. The door was unlocked, his keys still fitted in the ignition.
After sitting in the car long enough to warm up, I made my way on over to the bridge. A pack of tourists were hovering round the lookout rails, and beside’um, further down the bridge, a group of police looking out on over into the gorge. I kept on walking. Time I joined in, I seen a wide brimmed Stetson hanging off one of the side poles of that bridge, nodding gentle in the wind.