The Other Side of the Door
By mid-afternoon, the sun was flaring its nostrils and spitting fire and when I walked out of the rough cantina in Juarez, I had to shade my eyes because the light stung them like a burning wasp.
I stumbled into the tide of people and turned this way and that in a state of confusion trying to determine which way it was to the border. I saw the policeman, walking slowly against the flow of people, and I saw his eyes fix on me and Anton Chico panicked for a second, moved to the edge of the flustered queue and stood against the hot stucco of a building until the officer passed.
I knew it was time to get out of the country; the paranoia was creeping in again and I felt an attack coming on. I swiftly moved back into the flow of people and headed straight for the crossover. When I reached it, I deposited a quarter and pushed my way through the turnstile and sighed with relief when I saw the buildings of El Paso, cloaked in heavy and hot smog, just beyond the crest of the bridge.
I walked fast. The sweat was pouring out of me like someone had gently squeezed a sponge. I smelled like the remnants of a wild fiesta. That familiar ache in my head and the churning in my belly began to rise and I was dying for a drink of water. Agua.
I stopped outside the checkpoint building, where the Mexicans show their green cards, and smoked a cigarette watching the herd of people moving along like desperate and bewildered cattle. I crushed the smoke on the ground and joined them. I had no green card but showed the officer my American driver’s license.
“American citizen?” he asked with a stern look.
He moved me through, and on the other side of the doorway was America.
Swallowed by the Night
No soul to touch, no voice to caress, no hand to crush to dust. The little car hummed along the highway at dusk headed toward home. El Paso faded like a dream behind me. I was feeling a bit sad having to leave that place. As big and dirty and electrified as it was, I began to miss it; or in all actuality, miss the being away from the doldrums, getting more doldrum by the day, and the ache in my belly began to roar again as I thought about having to return to my shaved-face reality; my 4 p.m. check-in and well-behaved, well-dressed mannerisms.
It was all soaking fake and dull and leaving me shaking with a shame about my own false reality and pious lies and imperfections seething through the cracks in my well-oiled skin as I desperately tried so hard not to break down and scream and rant and rave and cry up a mad tempest all down my sweaty, shaking face as I smiled, feigned smiling, for the camera, the camera called the eyes and lies of every beating heart human that surrounded my very bland every day activities.
The blood in my veins boiled, the acid in my stomach fizzed, the marrow in my bones bubbled, the curvatures across my brain pulsed, rhythmic creation in an underskirt, my diary of madness scratched on the inside of my eyes in a calligrapher’s black ink.
It was dark as death as I pulled into my space at the complex and killed the engine. The moon was full and beaming down through the tall treetops like something out of a famous love story. I opened the car door and reluctantly trudged my pack with me up the short steps to the door. I fumbled with my key in the lock and pushed the door in. Black silence came over me. My fingers fumbled for the light switch and when thus the place became illuminated it was no brighter than when it was completely dark.
The place smelled as if it had been vacant for months; stale, dry rot, cumbersome, old, gray, nicotine smeared and cold. I set my things down and went to my favorite living room window, the tall and narrow one, pulled aside the curtains and opened it. The vacant lot outside was just as I had left it. A car rumbled down the road. I looked at the scattered remains of porch lights at this late hour. A dog barked. A bug of some sort slammed himself against the screen and then fluttered off dismayed. I sighed and went into the bathroom to shower.
The blaring sun woke me up. The curtains were thin and an ungodly melon color – bed sheets really – and I threw the blanket off me because I was already beginning to sweat. So some words about that unholy oppressive heat I had come to so despise during my desert life:
The heat was like an arrow of fire, like a spike dipped in burning coals thrust through the flesh at high speed, like hell, like an oven, like crisp and dead leaves beneath a Boy Scout’s microscope… The relentless ball of fire hung in the sky like the devil’s eye, unleashing its burn down upon the land, the desolate harrowing land of death and solidness, of pain and captivity, a burrowing fever that boiled the brain and cooked the buildings and the asphalt, a harrowing, searing blaze boiling all in its path, an unending glare, the fireball coated white hot and spitting its hot lust down upon the earth in every spot I stood; there was no relief, no shelter from the sun that never hid its face from view, always there, always hanging there like a hot jewel ripe to burn the skin right off your bones.
It made the town more depressing than it already was; at least the rain would of washed some of the sin away, but no, not here in this place, no rain, just wind and dust and hot, everything dry as dead bone, every drop of moisture sucked from the living; the river ran so slow and shallow and brown, the sun sipping every morsel of wet from the land’s soul and the skins of humans dry and cracking, wiped over with lotions and moisturizers every morning and then one would step outside and simply burn, burn, burn… The beads of sweat came forth suddenly and poured down one’s face; a sick, laborious heat that pushed the boundaries of human endurance far over the edge, where one would kill for a place in front of a breeze, one would kill for an ice cube or a fan or an Alaskan vacation.
I and others like me would sleep draped in our own sweat because even once the sun did fall for the night the temperature would remain high; the heat, absorbed by the buildings and the streets and the earth, would be belched back out to recycle its pain throughout the darkness, a warm velvet glove cupped over the city swatting away any attempt of coolness trying to come down and breathe upon us all; the heat, there was just no escape – the swamp coolers hummed and rumbled but not a dent would they manage to carve into the grip of suffocation.
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