Some people called her ‘Plain Jane’. Others named her ‘Skeleton’. I found her graceful.
A skinny and frail girl with high sharp cheek bones, she carried a subdued confidence that walked slow and tired. She worked as a waitress, and wore the bruise of poverty. In the desert, the poorest people never really look clean. Dust is another part of your wardrobe. It hangs on you, and falls asleep.
I would watch her as I drank and played video poker. She fascinated me. She seemed very young. But the dust made it impossible to tell her real age. Up close, she looked older than I believed she was. Heavy makeup unsuccessfully covered the acne on her chin and jaw. Her eyes were dull, but could tighten and darken when engaged.
There was something in her that I gravitated towards. I could not name or describe this allure, but it was there. She reminded me of Audrey Hepburn. Something magnetic lived and breathed inside her bright and neon. I tried to envision the glow that hummed and buzzed in her chest. I knew it was there; surrounded by a fence of smooth, white ribs. I wanted to be near it.
We would talk to each other sweet and nice. The conversations wouldn’t last long. They were defined by an uncomfortable feeling that neither of us wanted to say anything more and ruin the pleasantness. It was as if neither of us had faith in words and gestures. We nervously took what we could and quickly retreated.
We started to make plans to meet places. Every time, one or both of us wouldn’t show. It was a strange dance of refusing commitment based on fear of rejection. But we kept making plans, hitting our head against the wall. It became our thing, a dark, sad, and twisted game of flirting; each of us taking turns extending our hand and then pulling it away.
People would tell me how she had been seen out on the edge of town. A guy I knew from the electric company told me the story. He was called to a transformer on the outskirts of town—out where there is nothing but stoic rock, angry dirt, hot screaming winds, and pretentious mountains. When he got there, a red pickup truck was sitting next to the transformer. He swears to me that ‘Plain Jane was blowing this guy that had to be seventy years old!’
Part of me didn’t believe him, and part of me thought it made sense. This desert town is so remote and other worldly, anything is usually possible. It is a land of dark magic that hides in whatever shade is found. A place marked by dried and cracked open wounds that mirror the landscape. How you ended up here is predominately the reason why you do the things you do. There are no excuses here, only the fact that everyone is broke.
It is a place that is unforgiving, because it doesn’t seem to notice. The constant sun melts your strength like a box of liquefying crayons, where all the colors become one—survival. The heat yelps in your ear as it rides your back. Faith must be taken away and buried deep in the earth in order to stay cool because the hot dust covers your eyes, coats your lungs, and paints your brain. In no time at all, things begin to become so real, so stark and primordial, that you believe them to be unreal. All hope is lost in the middle of nowhere, saturated by poverty and dirt. The only thing to do is to see how far you can go in the only direction available, the wrong one.