My trip to London now appears to be off. We may sponsor an event at the book fair and if that happens, then the owner of the company is going there to host it. Fortunately, I hadn't bought my plane ticket, yet, and the hotel didn't require a deposit to hold the room. Oh, well...it would have been nice to go...
I worked on "Desert Land," last night. Polishing and honing it even more. I'm lost in this one and can't move on till it's done. It's in four parts; here's the opening one.
Kyle Michel Sullivan
I hate El Paso the moment I see it. Bleak dusty haze filters hovels of clay and tile under early morning light. Mountains dance around each other like wary partners. Everything feels brown in shades barely varied. Streaks of grime and shattered bugs on the windshield frame it. I drive since mother can’t. Her husband waits for us, here, so mid-60’s Texas allows me a hardship driver’s license to let me pilot the old station wagon on a twelve-hour journey down a freeway half-constructed, at night to avoid the heat of the day...so long as an adult sits by me. Mother qualifies so sits in the passenger seat chewing gum as my brother and sister sleep in the back, suitcases for pillows and partitions to lessen chances of anger and betrayal.
“There’s no green.” My first words in hours.
Mother pops a bubble. “Can’t do anything about that.”
Shite, say I, unspoken because she now scratches her left wrist with her right fingernails. I know better than to speak.
Passing through the city gathers more dust from holes dug in the earth. More highway to come. Heat quickly drowns the cold night. I can bake in the car or roll down a window and cough. I choose the latter -- but mother growls, “I’ll get asthma,” and wields her inhaler to prove it.
We stop at a light. I wait until mother’s eyes grow sharp and angry before I grip the window’s handle. Only half a roll up before an old, old woman in black, shiny rosary wound around withered hands, smelling unwashed in the heat, leaves the crosswalk to touch my hair and whisper, “Ay, qué lindo. Por Dios.” I tolerate these attacks because Nana said “Mes-cans” think redheaded children mean good luck. I wondered if that meant stepchildren, too? She laughed but did not answer.
“That’s why you keep the windows up,” mother snaps then inhales her fake breath. My brother and sister cry, “I’m hungry” and “When we gonna eat?” and mother replies, “We’re almost home.”
Home? Here? I grow so, so sleepy, but I drive on.
Instructions wait for us at the airbase entrance. Home of the 95th Bomber Wing, but not much longer. I show a guard my driver’s permit and Air Force Dependent’s ID to prove I am me.
“Christ,” he says. “Tesas le’s babies dri’e cahs!” His accent reminds me of London. I almost laugh.
He puts a sticker on the windshield then passes us through. Follow the road to a parallel street facing the runway. Number 465. We find the house -- white cinder blocks, black trimmed-windows, green grass and trees desperately trying to take hold, an oasis in the middle of nothingness. All houses are its twin, each with a fenced backyard, each with a weary air cooler atop the roof, wide strips of dirt and grass between them.
I park on the street. Mother’s husband is on duty. The key mailed to us unlocks the front door. We enter.
Mother sighs. More block walls in white. Linoleum floors. Furniture shoved about and boxes everywhere. A small kitchen and noisy refrigerator. Hallway straight down the middle to four bedrooms. Once officers’ quarters, now the base is about to close the Air Force feels generous to its non-coms.
I look in the first room on the right. Not the biggest but my bed, chest, desk and art table fit. How did her husband know this one is mine? Because the bathroom is across the hall? I look at the bed. I smile. I don’t need a sheet to sleep.
“We need milk!”
I go to the kitchen. Mother checks the cupboards and nods to the refrigerator. It holds cheese, bottles of beer and soda. “I need money.”
“When your father gets home.”
No, your HUSBAND. Unspoken, again. She slams empty cabinets, scratches her wrist. I leave the house.
A base exchange sits in a corner of the fake oasis, just up the street, there for quick food, candy, beer and cigarettes. I walk past half a dozen homes to hunt and gather like her husband should. And to keep from falling asleep.
Milk, eggs, Frosted Flakes, bread and peanut butter take the three dollars I have left, plus a few pennies from my pocket. I hope she pays me back, this time.
By the door, I notice a magazine rack with things like “Hunter’s Digest” and “Popular Mechanics” and “Gold Key Comics” -- and three physique pamphlets with photos. I saw one at a news kiosk in Piccadilly. I casually choose a comic book, sneak a pamphlet up and flip through it. Inside are strong, beautiful men. A tiny cloth covers their privates. My heart quickens but no one screams, “’Ere, shove orf, yer buggerin’ lit’le bast’d.” The clerk is busy so I slip the pamphlet in the bag of food and buy the comic with my last dime. Outside, I slide the pamphlet into the comic and put it in my back jeans pocket. It’s my reward for bringing my family safe to this hideous place.