Like water

blues

One night my new wife admitted to me through a veil of tears that she’d been sleeping with my father, so I got in my Jeep and started driving, just to clear my head. I drove through the city shimmering beneath that crescent moon and I drove through the rural towns and half-towns bathed in blue shadow and before I realized what was happening I was in Ohio and it was daylight and I couldn’t remember how I got there. I refueled and kept driving west through the gloom and the wide barren fields sodden and infertile and I drove through the rain and the endless stretches of farm and highway, our American pastoral spread out in pastel yellows and grays and hues of green and brown. Into Missouri and then Kansas where so much of our nation’s young blood had been spilled, but then in the Earth’s advanced age, hasn’t blood been spilled just about everywhere? My wife kept calling me and calling me, leaving messages at all times of day and night, pleading and sobbing, and so I tossed my phone out the window somewhere in Colorado and kept driving, driving, until I woke frazzled and soaked in sweat in a Las Vegas hotel room wearing the same clothes I left my house in.

It was evening and so I showered and went down to the lobby and asked the desk clerk where could I get a good escort. Something clean, you know. Something nice. Nothing too rich, but nothing cheap, either. The clerk stared at me for a long time and then said, You really ought to use more discretion. Then he pointed to a suited man helping people with their luggage and I walked over and asked him, Sir, do you know where I could get a decent hooker around here. What kind of girl are you looking for, he said, leading me to a quiet corner of the lobby. Something clean, I said. She’s got to be clean. And I don’t care what she looks like as long as she’s not too hefty. Any skin or hair color, it doesn’t matter, I continued.

No, the man said. I mean money. What type of girl are you looking for? Five hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?

“Holy shit,” I said. “I was thinking fifty bucks, tops,” and the man walked away from me without another word. I paid for the room and found my Jeep and drove west through the night frustrated and exhausted and feeling more alone and damaged than I ever had. By the time I got to the California border I was so fatigued that I pulled off to the side of the highway to get a few minutes of rest and when I woke it was daybreak and a patrolwoman was at my window. What are you doing here, she said. Sleeping, I said. You can’t sleep here, she said. I’m not sleeping anymore, thanks to you, I said, and sat up.

“Give me your driver’s license and registration,” she said, and so I dug through the miscellaneous paperwork in the glove compartment and handed it over to her. She walked back to her squad car and sat inside for several minutes before returning and handing the paperwork back to me. “What are you doing here?” she said again.

“I was sleeping. I’ve been driving across the country and I was tired.”

“Why are you driving across the country?”

“Because I’ve always wanted to.”

“Are you carrying any weapons or contraband?”

“Nothing of the sort.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“I’ve been sleeping.”

“No,” she said. “Before. Were you drinking before you were sleeping.”

“How long before?”

“Last night, ” she said.

“No,” I said. “I was driving through the night.”

What do you say you step out of the car, she said, and so I got out of the Jeep and succumbed to very prolonged and rigorous roadside examinations. I stood very erect with my feet together and touched my nose, I counted backwards from eighty-six while patting my head and rubbing my belly, or maybe I was patting my belly and rubbing my head, I recited the entire Greek alphabet in Japanese while hopping back and forth from leg to leg, I sang the words to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” while standing on my head in a patch of weeds, I urinated my name into the dirt at the patrolwoman’s request, after which she arrested me for public indecency and put me in the rear seat of her squad car and drove me back to Las Vegas where I sat in a small solitary jail cell for a few hours, brooding, worrying about my Jeep, imagining my wife and my father licking and sucking each other’s asses, thinking about the quiet discomfort of living life beside those other species blessed with less intelligence and far less cruelty.

I asked the guard in the jail if my Jeep ever got towed to the jail, is my Jeep here yet. We don’t give that type of information to prisoners, he said. Then he unlocked the cage door and said, You’re free to go now, and he let me out. I asked him again about my Jeep and he just pointed to the exit door of the jail and I walked out into the sunshine, alone, not sure where to go, and so logically I walked into the first bar I saw, a tiny dark place just off the strip. I ordered a whiskey and a beer and drank them and then I ordered a cheeseburger and began talking to a man about my age two stools away from me. He said he was a journalist sent out here from back east to cover race riots, but so far he hadn’t run into any race riots or even heard about them happening. “See this empty glass?” he said, rolling it over in his hand. “I’m going to piss in it and airmail it to my editor.” He said it with such sober conviction that I believed him completely.

Do you know where I could get a decent hooker for twenty bucks, I asked him. I’m in the mood to use a woman. Use her and discard her. I don’t mind paying.

Twenty bucks? He said, and laughed. Twenty bucks wouldn’t get you one bedroom eye, let alone a pair of them. Haven’t you ever bartered women before? No, I said. But I want to. Well they’re not cheap, he said. Not anything worthwhile, anyway. If you want anything of quality, you’ve got to pay for it. What do you need a hooker for, anyway? You’re a decent looking guy. If you want to get laid, all you have to do is try a little, especially around here.

No, I said, it’s nothing like that, and for the first time I felt stupid about wanting to hire a prostitute. I felt stupid about being so far away from home, about running away to this shithole in the desert with its luminous depravity and musical currency, everything bought and sold and gloss and subtle wickedness. I felt stupid about everything and I wanted to go home. Then the bartender brought my cheeseburger and I ate in silence and ordered a round of drinks for me and the journalist and I also bought a drink for the bartender. Then the journalist started talking about time travel, about how he’d been having these dreams about building a time machine and traveling to the farthest reaches of time and space, and as he was telling me this I looked behind the bar at a bruised hardback book, its cover all black and scuffed and stained, and there was an odd glow seeping from it, as if the pages themselves were made up of the flames of candles or the residue of those flames, and I leaned over the bar to get a look at the title of the book stamped into it ever so faintly in green foil, Jade Visions, and then the bartender dropped a glass at the other end of the bar, shattering me back into what the journalist was saying.

To read the story in its entirety, you’re gonna have to buy the book when it comes out.

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