I’m in a car. I’m driving the car. You never let me drive. It’s Chris’s car. He’s in the backseat. He’s told me to drive him home. I thought someone was going to kill me, but it was just Chris with a harmonica pressed against my head. It felt like he was bruising my brain, not that it would matter much. These decades of liquor on gray matter. What I thought was some Cosa Nostra knockoff—the type that break your fingers after you count to fifty-two and back—was just Chris in his camos. But I didn’t know it was Chris until we were past the security guards in the parking structure and into the car.
He wasn’t quiet about the abduction. But the guards were preoccupied by the fire. Not abandoning their posts, but leaning out of them like med students on the balcony of an operating theatre.
We, Chris and me, had been in a dumpster. Like I said, I didn’t know it was Chris then. He was wearing an olive balaclava. Still wearing it, in fact. Snoring through it. Drooling all over it.
He told me to get past the hills. That any shortcut was admissible. So I’m off-road in his Volkswagen. A car titled after a sport most closely associated with wealth. I won’t talk about wealth. Or that I beat your father on the links.
The justice of the desert is brutalizing. The brutality of the day, the only terrain with no water where things boil. But the bone-chills of the night. The cosmic eraser taken to the chalkboard sky, curling a circle where the sun will place itself, with the absence of love riding its coattails.
Chris’s asleep in the back. Exhausted from—well, from everything.
A few minutes back I saw this hole in the ground. Three shovels surrounding it. I saw it when we arrived yesterday. There are two shovels missing. You’ll never read this.
Chris doesn’t have cold feet. Oh, I guess I should mention he’s getting married. Now some of what I’ve written on these napkins makes sense. It must. Something has to start making sense.
Chris just wants to be away from this place, this Morongo.
So do I.
Which is why I’m writing you this while I drive. On whatever road. That should be this road’s name: Whatever Road. There’s nothing distinct about the desert. It’s not the plains, not the flatness you see in those gorgeous westerns. I’m heading toward the hills, avoiding boulders when I can.
Chris’s Golf’s got some new scratches. I never took care of our cars.
I don’t know.
We pulled out of the parking structure with but a dozen difficulties. None big problemos over here with these sarcastic joke-spokers. Just distracted firepersonas and a fat hotness that’s bleeding in through the back window, which I’ve regulated by way of the supra-frigid AC.
Remember that? The way we talked? All, like, “Big burger men want your soles, Id Est, your very being, your shoe-bottoms,” and we talked in prefixes that “made none sense,” us pointing to “the belows of our shoes” after eating In-N-Out saying, “My soul, it’s so ruined,” neither of us really knowing whether it was “our soles” or “our souls.”
Your bottom is the tops. The bee’s knees. The cat’s mee-yow.
You’re the only one that’d get it.
So you’ll get this: “I don’t wanna, no I don’t wanna see no looking back to see no dangerousness. We gonna make it out okay, yesiree bobby-bob.”
I’ve been drinking since—No, you wouldn’t want to hear about that.
Though, that was one of our fights before you got big and beautiful with Celene. How you were “half-black” so we could “ebonicize” whatever we wanted. I was trying to say—I have no idea what I was trying to say. I just know that I meant to say the opposite of what I said. That you were right and I was wrong.
I can still see you, the first time I was graced with the ability to put eyes to human paper: you in your flower-print dress, cute as punch. The stories I wrote on you in that moment. That one of untold poetic moments. A daydream the length of a life held in a single frame. A single image.
The way you set yourself to the task of getting the highest score. That look you gave me when I was trying to be suave, pushing past your friends to hand you your crutches after you did, in fact, score higher than any other drunk in that idiot bar that fateful night.
You told me after I did my best to pick you up that “nobody likes cripples.”
Well, at first I did. This you’ve heard before. That you had a line of guys, which you later called “suitors,” knocking at your door, leaving flowers and poems on your doorstep. I brought you, you remember, that copy. I spent a month’s pay on that Shakespeare & Company 1926.
I still read him. I still see you in his pages. It’s the copy with your marginalia. The copy you left behind.
Our copy. With our arguments described within. The scribbled words wrestling, two ragged penmanships.
The allegory, the manipulation, the triple-meanings. I didn’t pay any attention to them. They meant nothing then. Nothing meant anything then but you and you reading to me. The one time, in our near decade, when I fell ill.
“…[B]earing a bowl of lather.” You carried one to me in the dark of our restroom with the unchanged lightbulb when you’d shave my back, for when we’d RSVP’d to the those pool parties we didn’t attend.
I liked you from afar as I saw you aim, your face scrunched up, like killing that digital deer was the only thing that mattered.
Still, you were still. You were steady.
With all your addictions, you remained just about as still as a hummingbird’s wings. Making pancakes, toasting bagels, reading books.
And the boyfriends. The ones you had, the ones you’ve had, the one you have.
But, no. It’s not the time nor place for resentment.
That night we met, you remember, after your friends and my friends had gone off to sleep. You tapped my shoed foot, my sole, with the rubbered end of your crutch, and asked if I was scared of you. Me sitting in the infrequently sat in chair near the television, playing with the mini-bar’s handle.
“No ma’am,” I lied.
I think I was trying to—I don’t know what I was doing. I never knew what I was doing.
And, you remember, we swam in the hotel’s half-drained Jacuzzi until we were in your room, and then my room, and then we were asleep, and then we were awake and you told me, I’ll never forget it, “We’re never gonna get married. You snore like a fucking bonobo.”
I didn’t know what a bonobo was. Still don’t.
The sun’s out there. I can feel it wanting to show itself. Driving this road. This lightless road. Chris tricked me. But not like you tricked me.
Chris asked about you tonight. Told him the truth. Hadn’t talked to you in I couldn’t remember how long.
That night after she stopped breathing, you were right on time. The way you pushed my gun against my temple and I, yeah, you know it all came out of me there. Onto your bed.
Chris smells like that now. Or it’s me. Probably both.
I think I still love you, for worse. But that goes on forever. Good luck with what you have. Remembering it’ll never be this. The me that walked you from the ER to the car.
I’m happy you can walk naturally. I’m happy. I’m happy for you.
The hills grow closer. The fire’s light has left the vision of the rearview mirror. The fire. It’s like a memory had by someone else that they’ve whispered to me in my sleep. I’m sleepy. The desert, though it brightens, is still just a cookie sheet covered with a thick layer of corroded brown sugar. The sand looks wet in the shade of the hills. But it’s not wet. Nothing’s wet but my insides and Chris’s self-slobbered face.
You were wet. You were always wet.
When we met I thought I’d seen everything. Then you married me. All of a sudden. That’s really when I saw it all. When Celene came. And after Celene and the reaction.
Seth’s here. Or, really, back there. At the casino. Far as I can tell he didn’t bring any peanut butter sandwiches. If forgiveness could return her, our C.C., I’d keep my anger to myself. But if forgiveness could cure anything we might be somewhere together, like we’d been planning, making C.C.’s younger brother or sister. Listening to Al Green or Nancy Wilson or someone you loved.
I’m sorry I said that. About after, with the gun. There is no “after” after Celene. She was the perfect combination of our combined heredity, and sometimes I think it was better that she went before she could turn.
You and me both know we’re werewolves.
All my facial genes were recessive, so she had your smile, your eyes. All she got from me was her allergies.
If I head into this sandstorm—there’s one approaching—maybe I’ll find you in there. As much chance of that as anything else. And if we make it out the other side I can drive up the hills and out of this wasteland.
I’ve said every word I know aloud, to myself, about you. My apartment has your face all over it. Things I’ve printed up using weird programs I’ve downloaded. You watch me while I sleep.
I’ve also said everything about the you and me. The big “us.” I’ve said: I hate you, I love you, You broke me, I die now, I don’t matter, You never mattered. There’re only three words that make sense for us:
I miss you.
The hills are saying that the pinks and blues will become sharp narcissistic yellows, so I think of your hair. The way it fell down your back. The way Celene’s fell somewhere between your natural color and mine.
A brown better termed ‘patience.’
How’re your lawyers?
Chris is talking in his sleep. But he’s not saying the sorts of things I used to. He’s saying angry things. Something about death. I’ve had enough death for one life.
But one death remains.
“I wish you were dead.” I remember, in that massive vocabulary of repeated sentiments, that I said that to myself, sitting at my new girl’s piano. She’s nothing like you, and because she’s nothing like you I hate her. I hate her because she doesn’t smell, look, or talk like you do or would. Or would or do.
You did me in. A forked potato.
She doesn’t know what we know. But, what we know we only know together, in those idyll years, your head on my chest watching rotten films neither of us liked, dreaming of each other, ignoring the overpaid actors overplaying their parts.
I overplayed mine. I’m the worst actor I know.
I can’t bring myself to burn those Polaroids.
I’ve burned so much. The wall with your name and her name and—all the things about Celene.
The wall’s gone.
A few punches and the neighbors call the police.
I sleep on the floor. I get only cheap sleep. Your featherbed is short in my memory I think. Really, the memory is like one from childhood, something nebulous and embarrassing. Those things, things like featherbeds, rarely braid. But you always had that ability. To surprise. To make mention of hurt like it was something, whatever you went through, that we, all of us, experienced.
Cleo, I miss you.
The MapQuest directions to your new house. I have them. Where I’d drive and park a block down. Just close enough to see your then-boyfriend turn out the light in the kitchen before you’d fuck him. I heard you.
Every part of this road is haunted. It’s not funny. I want to think of a joke to tell myself. To write to you. Nobody can write anything truly funny.
Chris is farting.
You know him. He wouldn’t do that if he were awake and knew there was company.
You don’t know how hard it is not to see you.
The other night I picked up the knife you gave Tom, the birthday present from “both of us” that I stole from his apartment. I rubbed it, just rubbing it, on my neck. Wondering.
I’m joking. I was joking. About everything. Everything bad, everything you ever disliked: I was joking. It was a big joke and I’m sorry if it was in poor taste. Any of them. The jokes. They were all in poor taste.
I can see the sun now. It’s cresting with your face somewhere in its middle. Chris’s fiancé took his stereo, so I’m singing to myself. One of “our” songs.
The clothes you’re wearing are the clothes you wore before.
Things are looking familiar. I sense fire. The hills are hidden. Maybe they died and were carted away like C.C. was. Maybe the hills are buried in an undersized coffin next to your grandmother.
Chris might die tonight. We’re on our way back to the fire trucks and fireballs. I can see it all, through this windshield. Figures on fire running from Morongo. But more likely I’m asleep. More likely it’s a mirage. He’s, Chris—I’m looking at him now, turned facing the backseat, still driving—not doing much. He might be dead already.
I don’t care.
I didn’t want Chris to die, but it’s okay if he does. It’s not the worst thing to end up stiff and, like you’d say, “corpsed,” in the back of your own car.
Seth, Sam, Tom, Peter. They’re all going to die. Much like you and me. We’re destined for one thing. From the canal to heaven’s cabal, we do one thing: Try.
Weird how I wrote our wills. That you let me. I called your mother. You know I haven’t changed. I still—
She was nice. I pushed. Maybe she told you. She said I wasn’t in it. Your new will. No one’s in it. No one but you. And I’m sorry about your father. I really liked him. As much as I could.
The sun’s behind us now. Chris continues his flatulence. I’ve asked him, while writing this letter, if he wants to gamble.
“No,” he’s said over and over, like echolalia. Like a baby repeating words she’s just learned.
Remember C.C.’s first? I don’t.
But this I do know, as I park the car in a handicapped space and feel the heat of the flames on my face and drag Chris out of the backseat by a suspiciously damp leg: after a single night and one sunrise, we’ll all have to learn Morongolalia if we’re to survive.
Benji, The Killer of Men
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.