El Dorado Springs, 3E, 3000 words

Murmurs press the walls. Uninterrupted breathing rasps the afternoon heat. Above it a clear voice sifts to a hole in the wall where an air conditioner is missing. The sexless singing voice says to the breathing: This is a story I heard. Fallen trees choke deep creeks and narrow dry rivers all the way into El Dorado Springs. Dozens of red tail hawks monitor empty roads from bare posts. The chalk parking court is empty. Tire ruts have weathered in the virgin complexion of wind. Tantalizing oases of salty groundwater in shallow sinkholes capture the flat gray sky. Present happenings sink into the soft earth, reaching out from pillowy dust to claw at the funneling blankets but only in pull them down into the hole. The story struggles to anchor a center; it must become the center of the center, and that center’s center. I tell you because you know the story. We cling to stories we already know. Anything new seems implausible. From here Death Valley seems close. The written name shows through, reversed because it is seen from behind and ghostly from the imperfect pulp of the air and browned by watery parchment of the sky. The shiny water-repellent quilt on the bed was pulled back when I crawled into the room. I didn’t do that. One coat hanger dangles from the rod over the lamp. The collection of furniture is a hip-nudge or slow blink away from making a slightly different place. I talk about these things not to avoid what isn’t now in the room, but because they cause what isn’t in the room to come around again. A man found routine in the abduction of an unconscious boy. You may look, but you must not get too interested. Beneath a stiff blazer he choked out of a thick, ribbed turtleneck. He carried the boy out of the city to a motel in the mouth of an arcing valley. Distressed bricks on the low building. Black doorframes. Orange doors. That first place was much like the last. There were many. Those places were much like this. His black curls bound the red burn of shrugged eyelids and captured heat in hooks and prongs and loops piled thick and the scalp swelled. A black moustache frowned above the expressionless line of his closed mouth. Baggy, high-waisted trousers fastened just behind the middle button of his three-button blazer. Through the first night’s window a spur of the Milky Way ribboned over the sky, insinuating arms winding in toward the future, setting up the conditions upon which an entire coagulated terrain, an entire cast of inanimate characters, the flotsam and accrued errors of distraction would be pulled all together across the sand and grass and across living cells and electricity, of fences and farm roads, and of brick chasms, carpet baseboards and rooms full of unplugged lamps, into one empty point, one room, carelessly decorated with those same spirals, in futile perfection that can only be missing some serendipitous calamity, a vacant cause. One empty room, one empty motel, to which the dawn mountains advance, the mist of canyon morning arises, rivers braid like recalcitrant beards, all weather conditions compress into one thick, brilliant paste of overwrought noise. He carried the boy to a motel deeper into the valley every few days. They ran arbitrarily to the same places, though only going one direction. This was one place. It looks the same as any other. Here are the same things. A luggage rack is the type with straps. Four straps span the uprights. Handles on a desk and two-drawer nightstand are twisted antique brass strands end each with two flaccid leaves. It is hard to summon form from nothing. A square armchair is upholstered with a grid of dingy colored fields with different icons: four bars, a diamond, a loose collection of dots, a star, a thick involute spiral. Though mismatched, the combination of rectangular shapes adorning the quilt is also marked by variously collected spirals. He’d unpack the contents of a clinking sack of trinkets taken from the boy’s home into an array on the broadest flat surface in a room. He said you are a thing. The things around you are things. Their stories are only what we can both see. Your story is what is happening at this very moment, because of these things, amidst these things, nothing more. With the room arranged he’d scoop the boy atop a bed and wrap him loose in all the layers. With moist rags he dedicated weeks of hopeful attendance. He squared furniture in precise arrangements. He arranged the trinkets. The boy drifted about on a bed on shivers and sweat. He buttressed him with pillows. He slept in a large square armchair facing a bed. The rags dried stiff. They were silent as one man. He found weathered work clothes blown across the valley floor and dressed in them. The fine old clothes were folded in a drawer in each room to protect them from stains. The different offices of attendance that kept him busy were each in response to minor aberrations of the boy’s breath timbre, skin temperature, position on the bed. At intervals he cooked a small pot of rice on a coil hotplate and attempted to feed the boy small clumps. He adjusted the pillow sarcophagus to imperceptible migrations of the limbs or trunk. From dire vigil in taupe dark portal to the water closet edges he approached with a rag moistened with condensation from the front panel of the air conditioner. His weary mantra grew threadbare. You may look, but you must not get too interested – let alone touch! Burdensome new symptoms arose. He moved automatically. Free spaces for indulgence widened in the palliation of the boy’s invalidity. Minor changes to the routine of which he was unaware emerged through error and were repeated. These inflections betrayed his gentleness to the boy. The boy became tangled in the sheets or rolled off a bed and broke thin forehead skin on the corner of a nightstand and bled on carpet and into toilet paper folded endlessly into a pad that bled through. Blood across nightstand glass darkened green lamplight reflected and made an island of a palm-flesh-colored phone on rubber feet. He bound the boy to the bed with twirled blankets. He rolled the boy over and spilled a bit of steaming rice on his cheek wrenching a slender groan. The scalding rice he packed in the boy’s mouth blistered the flesh and cooled. Sometimes hours pass between one word and the next. He whispered in charred breath, angel, let’s fly. Through twilight desolation swept on vapor-loomed floodwaters of dust flew and alighted. From place to place he set up the convalescent cell. His sedimentary rhythms and tendencies that had escalated from routine into ritual as the boy lay unconscious continued with new monstrous significance in the boy’s waking weeks. He held back a kiss when the boy first sat up with cold bile flumed over smooth chin skin. The boy’s gray eyes collected dust on air conditioner dried lenses. Water burned. Water dried quickly. He spat in the boy’s eyes. Through foam woven lashes and beige bubbles dozens of bearded faces exploded and coalesced as the bubbles burst. People are disgusting but things are lovely. He arranged the trinkets. Paint and edges wore down. So often unloaded clinking and tumbling from the bag with soft pats onto resilient though scabrous bedspreads they showed accelerated age. Beneath their shells was dull clay or particleboard. He wiped the boy’s face. Springs of mucus filled bed reservoirs and hollows. He left rags stuffed around the boy’s face. He left stiff rag casts as they abandoned each room. His mouth was charred and seeping brown moisture with black flecks. The heavy blanket of damp spread across the boy’s face and that sour, desolate odor of teeth and tongue bore down. His hands pinned little shoulders. I wander the room with my eyes. Dark blotches dapple the carpet. Was there scrambling about on knees, hands knuckling onto the carpet, cheek against ancient stains? Was the cheek creeped to the bed to peek beneath? Is it an open bed frame festooned with shredded box spring gauze, or does it sit on a hollow, dull black platform? The room echoes with captured empty space. Was there a knock, desperate for a knock back? Those rooms with frame beds harbored no secret tombs. When the boy sulked and kicked he bound the boy all over with blankets and sheets atop a bed. These haphazard pinions became refined into openworks of elegant elongated diamond-knots and diamond filigree. Each room slightly different, each room the same attempts. Gaps in the bindings shrunk and the boy was covered almost entirely. Insular slots of skin gasped in rotation one at a time from the bindings. The human form is unmistakable even in its slightest increment. Breath bore down on a strip of hip, hand, ear, elbow, and stung the skin. He spent his freed time ordering the reordering the trinkets the boy had upset kicking a desk. He chewed and spat rice clumps into the boy’s mouth. Exposed spots of skin, chapped and moist from interment, sloughed in oily paste under attention of a thin abrasive towel, or, after cooking, were altars for still steaming offerings of starch-mucus’d rice in icons formed with two spoons. Diamond burns on bare skin drank the motel lotion. He’d look into the boy’s pupil with the rust eyes of a bird and through the pupils with a column of hollow night between, and then away, then back, and then off the other direction mechanically. The boy’s wallowing mouth was a circle that made noise. I cannot construct the story with complexity only simple shapes. Many hours and days can buffer words and phrases. The greensick lamp beyond the bed reflects in glossy paint on the wall. I notice these things, and these things are part of this story because they are inescapable. I will tell you the rooms with platform beds brought the boy peace. In the dark beneath beds, walled in a leaf of neglect the boy was transported on the night currents of a warm sea. Gripped with leaden flux the boy fell straight down sinkers through great distances in deep chasms of the dark and through the gentle cumulative pull of deep currents surfaced again somewhere almost normal to the foaming vortex above, though all the time sinking. Cracks of lamplight looped their unctuous substance into slender spiral cords anchoring the tumbling boy. When the man pried a board away carpet crept under a bed with the light like hands across scrambling across sand. The diamond figure that appears infrequently on this armchair come again in the rotated grid of diamonds quilted on the bedspread. I tell you this not to avoid the life of the story, but because it is impossible to discover the edges of the story if the details don’t emerge and become concrete through some lonely process. They stood outside an orange door locked with two locks. The boy slumped against his waist. The painted bricks beside a door jamb were chipped. They waited all day. The sun melting over the mountains saturated the sands with an oily sheen. He stretched out his arms from beneath the arcade as if into a rainstorm. Chalk puffed from his footsteps. The boy’s hands were bound with terry towel and looped over the man’s neck from behind. His toes dragged and stippled chalk with tip steps. The boy’s cheek forced against his back. They walked out across a chalk court to the field of small craggy, interlocked rocks. Each dusk they walked across the rock field to the edge of a shifting lesion of sand dunes. When the boy walked independently it was with a finger slipped through the man’s chambray belt loop. Before they both disappeared the boy walked with difficulty at a distance from the man. A vague afterimage scattered and rolled in the wind. Flickering vestiges of their bodies in every station of their routine forged on regardless of their involvement in it. The coat hanger turns and turns on the rod. I don’t see it move but its orientation is variable. I walked out at dusk tonight. This could be anywhere. Quinter, Marne, Quanah, Montmarte, Mount Union, Wayside, Waco, Akron, Charleston. A room was dry and hot. Untouched upholstery creaked. Plodding waves of dusty obscurity lapped from wall to wall. Days passed by waving away the dim. They both wasted and sunk into sand-colored skeletons. He started leaving during the day. He stood against walls in the shade with waxy hopefulness from greasy night sweats that flash dried on his skin every sunrise escape and returned to find the boy waiting fully dressed in his clothes in the window. On their dusk walks he pressed further ahead across the rock field. His shoulders and loose shirt tails nudged aside the still terrain. The coronal arches of his curls out ahead captured the rose complexion of the sand. The features of the sky varied and the dunes were unknowable in flux. The boy orchestrated a distinct footing across the creaking rocks. The man banked wide at the feather edge of sand trailed by the boy who stopped only when the man was no longer visible, and banked away only when the afterimage of shoulders against the dunes disappeared. The dunes sing out to the boy’s feet. The dead scrub around a motel steeled against heavy winds all interwoven with bramble and rigor. The boy awoke spun in sheets between two beds. The man sat in a vinyl chair under a window with his hair in his fingers and thumbs in ears. His shoulders, ringed by an unfurled shirt collar, were purple from the sun. A real painting hung over a shared nightstand showed a monastic seashore; green light poached a wave lapped high by an offshore breeze. In a second hand a crude swimmer was drawn out of scale with a finger and ash. A face bobbed, inscribed with ink pen beyond the breakers. In motel after motel, days after nights, some vestigial transgression haunted their passages. The valley wasn’t nearly as big as he needed it to be for there to exist a virgin hollow unhaunted by this sad archaeology. Perhaps swollen out, crowded by the accumulating redundancy, the man wrapped a few shirts into another shirt and left before dawn. The door set audibly cutting off the boy’s gurgling snores. He paced around in the sand until the mountains beyond took a rose glow and walked without looking back and evaporated in the sun far down the road. He didn’t come back until the boy was gone. Two curtains never block out the light like one can. In their joint the white sun glow faded to brown. Alone in a room the boy found himself beneath the bed or twisted in the bedclothes. He explored the grain and texture of the room. He looked for repeating figures in the false wood grain. Stains on the wall that were painted over with a dry brush made new stains of paint through which the old blemishes haunt. Flat mountains grow this way in places not seen twice. After the sun flopped over the building, the boy dressed from the man’s old clothes, gray and shell tartan flannel and beltless chocolate work slacks. Discolorations along the fold lines segmented his upright figure. Acrid afternoon ash ate at walls and edges of solid things. He threw the curtains open and pressed against the glass waiting. The trajectory of routine is reckoned far in advance of its cure into a rigid form. At dusk the boy became aware of two things: that a sudden subtle change had permeated the atmosphere, which seemed rarefied, or perhaps compressed, or that the atmosphere was being strained by the working of some unknown force; that a door, which had been shut, was now ajar and dusted with rose sunset incandescence. A man entered, not by the door, but instantaneously flickering into the present. The skin of his face was pale orange and reflected in glossy paint. His chambray clothes are loose and unfastened and pulled and swim. He stretched out his arms from the door as if into a rainstorm. Chalk puffed from his footsteps. Broken loose brush drifted against vestigial fences. Needly stems and fans reached through wire diamonds and raked at the sand. The condensed air raining in the room peeled around the boy. The boy hit the dry air of the valley dusk and followed on through the smudge of wandering shoulders. The boy crossed a chalk court holding up the loose pants to the field of small craggy, interlocked rocks. Only vague shoulders and loose shirt tails carved at the rock field. Only the coronal arches of curls out ahead captured the rose complexion of the sand. The sky was raked by orange cloud fossils. They walk at a distance from one another. The boy cannot hear breathing out ahead. The boy orchestrates a distinct footing across the creaking rocks. Even in the coherence of the empty valley floor the thin smudges of shoulders track out to the scallops of sand fading with the sunken sun. The afterimage of shoulders against the dunes lingers. The dunes sing out to the boy’s feet and the boy sings out. Heat that is the heat of all things in one place already swells the empty room. It’s a dry heat. We taste salt on the part of our tongues that taste salt. Do you taste salt? Say these things with me, say gently, Death, let me fade into the next aspect of my composition, let me never know whence I came, let your inevitability never be assured by visions of your touch on me, let this edge just grow transparent, let it stop in the middle of an affirmation.

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