April 26, 2010

Gary Presley


Billy Joel on the radio, "She can ruin your faith with her casual lies."

Damn, I think, but I still have my Navy duffel bag.

T-shirts, blue jeans, underwear, red silk dress shirt, black necktie, leather jacket, laptop, and a .38 Colt Cobra.

I hold the revolver, faded-blue-to-steel-gray, grip-nicked, sights filed off, remembering the kid who had it poking out of his pocket those hard years ago when I was the drunk who taught night class junior college English. I wouldn't have turned the kid in, a kid who needed a gun for balls. I never turned anyone in: booze or hash or pills were a decent bonus.

I find a black Sharpie on the hallway table, trade the house keys for it, and write "I don't think I'll come back" on the door after I pull it shut.

Into the sun, down into Texas, not stopping—well, except for beer and NoDoz and gas—not in the crush of Dallas, not out on the llano where the Comanches chased buffalo and stole women—not until somewhere before El Paso, not until her name flashes on caller ID, not until I toss the cell phone out the window and watch it bounce. Then I stop on the shoulder, wait, sipping at a beer, counting the number of lies it takes to burn trust to ash. Finally I back up, hear shatter-crunch, and move west again.

Deming, New Mexico. Lean against the bed dumping dollars into the truck gas tank, twenty hours into the trip not wanting to drive anymore, think anymore, forget anymore.

Red neon. Butterfield Stage Motel. A mom-and-pop, 57 Chevy I Like Ike place with little cabins. A slender fair-skinned Mexican woman, black hair cascading over blue western shirt, stands silent as I ask for the cabin closest to the highway. I pay cash, watch her count the bills twice, and then look up, dark eyes narrowing, as I ask, "Where's a liquor store?"

She points left.

"Gracias," I say.

Tequila, television, and my grandfather's Barlow pocketknife. Unloading the Colt, palming one bullet, and tossing five on the opposite bed.

Tequila Anejo, smoke-echoing fire, television-noise, and Barlow blade etching L I Z into the shell casing.

Tequila Anejo, sharp-green-sweet, and L I Z snuggled into the Colt's cylinder.

Another long sip, resting against the headboard, spinning the cylinder, closing my eyes, and listening to the television say, "The new Focus gets 34 miles per gallon on the…"

Sun. Shades glare open. Thirst. Bladder. Revolver on floor, empty, L I Z gone, and gone the five rounds from the other bed. Gone too Tequila Anejo…Un producto de Hacienda San José del Refugio, Amatitan, México.

Sleep again. Wake again. Shower. Dress. Wait. Eyes closed.

I smile, touch the Sharpie in my pocket, write, "Vaya con Dios," bold black, on a hundred dollar bill. I tuck the hundred under the Colt waiting silently on the floor, cylinder still open, as open as Highway 11 to Puerto Palomas on the border, and as open as all I might find down there among the haciendas or the cuidades or wherever a reformed drunk might teach English.

The slender Mexican woman watches, arms crossed, standing on the office porch as I turn onto the highway.

Our eyes meet. I drive south.


Gary Presley's memoir, SEVEN WHEELCHAIRS: A Life beyond Polio, was published in October 2008 by the University of Iowa Press. Find links to his other work at http://www.garypresley.com

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