This is a companion piece to Bite of the Oven Salesman.
Cigarettes For a Saint
Once I was west and with the oven selling in Omaha behind me, I set a half-empty pack of Marlboro cigarettes on the stone feet of St. Francis outside the great cathedral in Santa Fe as a sort of offering. It was dark save for the spotlights beaming down from heaven.
I felt strangely safe in the shadow of the church and the tall trees that surrounded it. The tolling of the soothing bells sent shivers up and down my skeleton. I sat on the courtyard wall and looked out at all the rummagers of history, drunks, confused tourists and well-to-do sophistos sparkling around the town square like ice rink skaters high on New Mexico gas and good credit.
I had spent most of the day in the old city, a sort of day trip to quell my very own madness. Just the night before in El Fuego, my new town in the southeast quadrant of NM, I went to bed in a manic stupor and full of brat meat and beans and German potato salad on a pretend Halloween night that brought no spirits to the surface, no goblins to the door other than my own tar-caked demons living in this rattling, oily rib cage. I scared my own self with my innate ability to fall prey so easily to bad habits. Easily. So easily. Frighteningly easily. Addiction to addiction. Lack of self-control. Bent on self-destruction no matter what. A bomb. A nuclear bomb. Love bombed the will to live right out of me. My heart was Hiroshima all over again.
The Nightmare in Clines Corner
It’s a little stop where I-40 and Highway 285 meet up in the great expanse of nothing but wide-open wonder. There were a couple of gas stations, a gift shop, a restaurant, stray dogs, diesel trucks and the dreamy distant sound of traffic zipping by on the interstate. West to Albuquerque. East to Tucumcari. And me in between, slumped over in my ride, head spinning and stomach lurching. I was trying to sleep a bit before pushing on to the more than 100 miles I had yet to go. It was late. After midnight I suppose. Traffic was pulling taffy wide with ghost groans. Zooooom … rumble, rumble rumble … zooooom. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I couldn’t get comfortable. The giant Shell sign perched up high on a tall metal pole was too big and bright. A yellow and red beacon to travelers of the night; my menace at that moment and more.
“Go to sleep why don’t you,” I thought out loud. A big diesel truck rolled into the gas station noisily. I had to get out and walk around. The air was cool enough at night still and maybe a stretch and some air could get me coherent again.
I unfolded myself from the car and walked around the lot a bit. Everything was so bright and stinging my eyes. My head was still pounding. Some juice, I needed some juice. Gatorade, lemonade, first aid. I pulled the door to the convenience store open wide and stepped inside. Quiet but for the buzz of the yellowish lights. A cricket in the corner was making love to the silence as I yanked open the cooler door and fumbled around for some juice. Apple juice is good. Took it to the counter and cleared my throat. The clerkie was rummaging around in the back somewhere, counting cigarettes or playing the French horn. I don’t know. He came out to the counter and mumbled something like, “Izz thut ell for ugh?”
Yes. That is all you greasy bastard. That is all. I have to get moving. Lots of driving to do. Too much empty space to pierce through like a dart with angel wings sailing for the sunken promised land – El Fuego. It will be hot tomorrow. It will be too hot. It is always too hot in El Fuego.
The Desolate Crash
I managed to get the car back onto the road and in motion again. I crossed over I-40 and into the darkness of the less traveled 285. It wasn’t long before I came upon some sort of clamor in the roadway. I slowed down as I came upon the wreck. It was three or four cars; I couldn’t really tell in the twisted dark. Three or four cars wrapped around each other like lovers in an orgy of metal and hissing steam. It was silent mostly, except for the soft groans of people trapped and the tears of a teenage girl pacing back and forth in obvious shock and awe. I rolled down my window. She moved her mouth away from her cell phone; she was shaking.
“Are you all right?”
“We’re fine, we’re fine,” she answered.
“Is anyone hurt?”
“Yes… We’re all hurt. I think someone might be dead.”
I looked past her at the wreckage. Surely someone was dead.
“I can give you a ride somewhere.”
“No. The police. The police are coming already. I called them.”
I looked off ahead of me into the dark distance and could see the tiny pops of blue and red drawing closer. But where did they come from? They weren’t coming from the interstate. There’s nothing else out here. This is a wasteland.
“I’ll stay with you until they come. You can come sit in my car if you like,” I said to the trembling girl. But she didn’t hear me, didn’t notice me. She was crying harder and shaking more violently, mumbling to herself and dragging her feet across the roadway as she walked in tortured circles near the wreckage. I looked off into the distance. The blues and reds were growing larger. I could hear the faint sound of sirens. I put my car in gear and drove away, watching the scene of despair and pain fade away in my rear-view mirror.
The cops blew by me with such speed it nearly forced my car off the road. If they didn’t slow down, I thought, they would bash right into the whole wreck scene and cause even more misery. I watched their lights disappear over a hill. They were gone, I was gone, and the darkness swallowed me whole as I rumbled on.