Outside Tennessee, Talon Hadfield, 2017.
She stopped underneath the Spanish Moss, her face speckled with shadow and sun. He followed her then collapsed beneath the oak. She fell too, as graceful as she was, smelling that anxious new love rising from the end of afternoon. In arms they took each other for who they were and always would be, knowing quite well they’d try to change that part in one another. The part they loved more than hell.
“We’ll stop somewhere,” he began, “where the ground is steady and you can find your flowers.”
“Yes,” she teased, “and you can find yourself.”
For a moment, they laughed.
The fan still spun. That’s what she first noticed. Not the exploding glass shooting from each step, or the broken bedframe, half burned Polaroids, a medicine cabinet shoved in the shower—water running, toiletries and jewelry clogging the over flowing toilet. A monster at peace. He stood in the wreck of it all. Some brutal la pieta comforted not by a mother who mourns but the impression of a reluctant temperpedic. A sad mattress holding the shadow of what was once a life. A death of pathetic result.
And somewhere amidst the rubble, he remembered to turn on the fan.
She thought about crying only to conclude this would not help with anything. She held a narrow jaw, strawberry jam lips and eyes that enjoyed swallowing the world. She kept them closed while cradling the body. “Come on now,” she beckoned, “Come on now you big dummy.”
No response came out of the endearment.
For the next hour she took the caution of showering the body and dressing it in what were his favorite clothes. Old black jeans growing thin in the groin region, white t-shirt along with its unbleached paint splotches, and a corduroy coat ready with warmth from Autumn to Spring.
He looked good, as good as dead gets, and she kissed his pale lips then went about cleaning his ruin. While she cleaned she sang:
Oh the flood, oh the flood
Oh when your levy broke
You came for blood
Oh when your levy broke
You came for blood.
She held her hands in front of her, snatching up old trinkets and decimated drywall with crooked fingers.
The woman finished and the only rubble left was her love, bent in between his fanned legs. She clapped her hands until her palms stung, ecstatic with how the room looked. Impeccable! Spotless!
It was their day to take the country. He had obviously shit that plan out of the hatch. Now she was left with one dead drunk and a lonely room. Still an ease warmed her core. The body’s life had left and yet his presence remained. That was enough. You always had a way of pissing on things and making them smell pretty.
She sat in front of the body, scouring its awkward spine, its disregard for the stress in cartilage. She sent her fingers through his hair then propped up the head so the body’s sunken eyes could meet hers, “I’m finding my flowers. You promised and you said I could. I’m telling you now—we are going to find my flowers.”
She half expected a moan, but received no such thing. Instead the body keeled over once more with a grotesque thud against the vinyl.
The woman stood then and took one last look at the room. One fucked up play that continued well past the epilogue. Some joy maybe? Sure, she decided, some. The body rolled over onto its side.
I’m finding my flowers
She left before dawn. The body sat in the passenger seat, strapped in its seatbelt. Its head rested against the window, watching the country open into an early morning. “No comments on driving, huh?” she asked, “Not one thing? I’m going well past seventy, honey. Wanna see how fast I can go? Hmm? I can go fast baby.” She started cackling, then opened the window and howled out to the falling moon.
As the day rose, the Louisiana humidity was quenched into what must have been the dryness of Texas. No time for signs. And a redness grew across the land. Morning frost screamed as it desperately clung to the yucca.
She stopped for gas and coffee. The 10 cut south Texas in half—through Houston on to El Paso. The sun felt good out the window. Morning chill vanishes and some summer breeze comes charging through like an old herd of lions. Gimme some music, gimme some stones, gimme some boogie-baby, go ahead and rock my bones. “You taste the sunshine, love? Gotta love the smell of sunshine in the morning.” The woman sent the automatic up to eighty, and they were flying once more.
Traffic slowed. A line of cars snaked away from a toll booth, quarter mile off. Police officers and border cats stood looking all John Wayne from north to south, sunglasses reflected the world away from their reality.
She pulled into the booth and parked the car. The officer motioned for the window to lower and the woman obliged. The man stared down at his clipboard then greeted the woman with a tip of his hat, “Ma’am.”
“Osifer,” she smiled.
“Y’all got passports?”
“Yes ma’am, passports.”
“We’re still in America aren’t we?”
“Yes ma’am but this is also El Paso.”
“El Paso isn’t America?”
“Some would argue so.”
The woman nodded then fumbled through the glove box before finding a beat up blue passport, “That’s mine,” she said handing it over, “can’t find his, must be in the back somewhere.”
The officer began to browse through the passport’s contents. When the man was satisfied he returned the thing. The body had slid down from the window and was now bent toward its feet, “He asleep?”
“Oh yeah,” she winked, “Long night you know?”
The officer lowered his glasses, “He don’t look so good.”
“Tex Mex ain’t for everyone right osifer?”
“Hey speaking of Tex Mex what would you call that osifer: American food or Mexican food?”
“Couldn’t tell ya,” he responded.
The woman shot one wide eared grin back to the man, “Bit like El Paso, eh osifer?”
The man pushed those glasses up the brim of his nose and made a scratch on his clipboard, “Go on through,” he said.
The woman flipped the car in gear, and before driving off said, “Hey osifer, lemme ask you a question.”
“You still keeping kids in cages?” The man dropped the clipboard to his side and blush ignited like fire coral beneath his skin.
“Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, bitch,” and she took off, sending one foul finger out the window, along with a cloud of dust.
That night they stopped at a rest stop ten miles into New Mexico. She had moved the body into the back. The seats were down and they lied on top of a mess of sheets and pillows she had thrown in at the beginning.
And they were there, together, face to face. The cold of night wrapped itself like a pale blue membrane around the car. Occasionally the chill would permeate and she would move closer to the body, one without shine to warm.
She moved her lips to his and whispered, “Do you remember that time in the park? That time when your world was falling? And you stood there in the grass, holding the mask, and I held you and told you to cry? Just to go on and get it over with,” she kissed the crease of his cheek, then his chin, the brim of his nose, “You push everyone away, baby. Especially those who show a kindness. But that’s OK right? Because you have the Big Plan floating around up there, somewhere. And you’re just waiting for the sky to open up so you can tell the world to screw. Huh? Ain’t that right?”
She leaned her head back into the pillow. With one hand the woman caressed his neck, the other held his limp hand, “That’s not how this works, love.”
A lonely car split the stillness of the night, and she listened to the wind swallow the motor’s roar then vanish off into the wildness of the country’s curtained plains. Slowly. She moved his hand along her collarbone, let his petrified fingers float down her sternum, her navel. To bring the light before morning. “That’s not—,” her breath shuddered, back arched as her eyes fluttered into the nether of her mind, “how—.” Cold penetrated the labyrinth of her suffering. She leaned into his chest, tears swelled and fumbled along her cheeks, “love—love—.” The small of her neck constricted, legs desperately quivering in a glorious light. Heat warmed her core and thin beads of perspiration glinted from her brow.
Her breath caught and the heat settled and soon the moisture along the back of her neck was only another cold sweat. She turned to the body. Its eyes lay suspended in an awkward stillness, mouth parted in mid speech. She traced the outline of its lips then kissed her fingers. To bring the light before morning.
She slept then.
She left the car parked beside the road. Illegal probably, but that would not matter, she would be quick. She stepped off the asphalt and into the brush, careful of her step, knowing clear and well the land could drop at any moment. She didn’t want the crowds. And they were there as they always would.
The brush cleared and a red peak crept out into the fire of the fading canyon. Layers of time cut smooth and slow by water’s wicked blade. Slow as all things must go. And the orange and the red boomed out of the magentas in the east, trailing what was left of day. If only for one last hour.
The woman felt the corner of the peak and removed a rust colored stone then rubbed the thing between her hands. In those final moments, she thought how quick the land could take what was foreign to its mass. How deft was decay when not in motion? What is time to running water? Take me, take my baby. Don’t take my love, honey. I need to be set free. The woman stared down toward the river below. One small tear. She allowed him one small tear. The stone followed the tear into the canyon and vanished out of sight. She waited for the sun to set, then she stood and walked her trail back to the car.
The elderly woman crouched on her knees in front of her purple house. It was an early afternoon and the day was beautiful and this made the woman happy. In a wicker basket, she kept a bushel of plastic roses. One by one the woman would reach into her wicker basket and pluck out a rose and bury the stem in the soil in front of the purple house. Then the woman would smile to herself and move to the next rose. And a cool air came from the ocean.
A car pulled in front of the woman’s purple house. Soon the elderly woman was interrupted by a knock on her fence. There stood a young woman with curled hair and a dangerously sweet smile. The elderly woman stood and smiled, “Hello.”
“Hello, ma’am,” the young woman said, “My name is Dane.”
“Hello, Dane,” she responded, “My name is Violet, but my friends call me Vi.”
The woman named Dane nodded her head with a careful smile, “What are you doing there, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Gardening, dear,” Violet picked another rose from her wicker basket.
“Why the fake flowers?”
“Oh honey. Flowers are as flowers does. One may not smell the scent, but surely one can appreciate the beauty. And this way, their beauty will never die,” she presented a rose to Dane as if in some way to demonstrate its immortality, “You know baby, you got a southern smile with that California charm. Anybody ever tell you that? I gotta boy that’d fall on his knees for you.”
Dane stared down at the dirt on her snake skin boots. Where you been walking, girlfriend? And the ocean’s breeze blew once more. “Ms. Violet?”
“Am I insane or is it beautiful outside?”
“Oh baby you’re far from crazy.”
Dane smiled then and stared up into the afternoon sky. Then she opened Ms. Violet’s mailbox and dropped the car key inside.
Dane looked at the elderly woman, “Goodbye Ms. Violet.”
Ms. Violet smiled and Dane left the woman and her plastic garden. She left walking against the wind that rumbled off the sea.
Photo by Francesca Heston, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Talon Hadfield is a Writer, California Cowboy and Accidental Studio Art Major at Tulane University. He loves the ocean, women, old books and road trips. Talon is from Santa Monica, California.