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Oct/Nov 2016 Fiction

Reading the Kingdom

by Becca Yenser

Image courtesy of the British Library Online Photo Collection


If you press on the corner of your eye with your thumb, your own pupil will arrive, right in front of you. I know this because when I was living in Albuquerque, I would ride the tram down from those watermelon mountains every evening after my shift, and back then I guess I would've rather looked at myself than the city spreading her legs out before me, all twinkly and shit. I guess I got tired of the whoosh of the car when it hit those poles: a quick up and an even quicker down. I guess I didn't care for the altitude anymore, or the special creatures who lived in that magical sphere above a certain number of feet, where the ground squirrels have stripes and the plants are either medicinal or deadly. It was just the end of my shift, and my legs were sore and my eyes tired from reading the tiny print of an alcoholic's receipt. Why drink on the top of the mountain if you didn't even climb to get there?

Anyway, Jackson was at home playing with himself. I had to get home and start dinner in the microwave or on the hot plate. We were living in a one room apartment in the NE quadrant of the city. Things were bad, but we'd seen worse. We used to wake up incomplete. We had to spend the day putting ourselves together again. Jackson used to run in the morning. I did yoga for a spell, but quit when I couldn't afford the right clothes. The right clothes matter. Don't let them tell you otherwise! Now we had cockroaches, but we woke to them dying gentle deaths next to the bed, feet up and barely struggling. Corpse pose. They were brown or black or brownish black. Once I saw a baby. That one I stepped on, just in case it was in pain. It's guts were a gooey sunshine yellow that took forever to mop up.

 

Things were going along predictably. Jackson would go to work in the mornings, and I in the evenings. On our days off we would drink tequila with beer backs and play cards. If I won too much, he would stop playing. If he won too much, I would insist on playing more. Always more, until it was 1:30 in the morning and I'd lost ten hands. It seemed better to not give up, but now I know I should've stopped at the first sign of failure. Also on our days off we would go to the Asian market and buy cheap plastic kitchen items, crinkly packages of rice noodles, and boxes of candy that were never good. We didn't have much money, but we had enough. The main problem was Jackson's rash. We didn't know why, how, or when. It appeared like a map across his back, and I'd describe it to him. I would get real close, my eyes one inch away, and I could almost see into the cells of the virus. "You need to see a doctor," I'd tell him, but he always said, "I will. At the end of the week." He was so cheap, he'd rather not pay. So the map spread, and I began to look at it at night and tell him stories based on the kingdom of the rash. Like I said, things were bad, but not so bad we'd given up.

 

And then something happened. Something even out of the ordinary for this town full of hoodlums and meth heads and new-agers. I was driving the Jeep out to the open spaces to walk around and clear my mind. A block away from the apartment was a roadrunner, standing still with a dead lizard in its beak. It saw me, dropped the lizard, put up its black tail, and ran off. The lizard lay dead in the gutter. It seemed a bad omen, but I kept driving down Los Griegos, heading East. A few miles later I stopped at a light. I heard my name, and looked out the window to see a tweaker shaking her finger at me and calling, "Sophia. Sophia. Soph!" I pointed at myself and saw my reflection do this in the rearview mirror. Me? I mouthed. "Soph!" She called, which is what my friends called me. "Yes?!" I don't know why I started talking to her. The light would change at any moment. "You need to get out! The king says all ways point to death. He says Las Cruces will save you! Get out while you can! Sophhhhh!" Her voice followed me as I peeled out and washed through the green light.

I'm used to crazies, so I just kept on. I drove to the open spaces to walk around, to clear my head. How did that lady know my name? How did she know my dream about Las Cruces last night?

Open spaces was loud with cicadas. Giant blue birds swooped in front of my path. I saw a cairn and decided to hike up to it, even though it was 95 degrees out. The clouds circled the mountain tops like halos. I walked slowly, feeling faint. The air so hot it made a loud noise in my ears. When I got to the rocks, I could see they'd been marked with paint. Fake petroglyphs. Spray paint formed the outer edges of hands. Through a deep gap I saw a snake's head rise. It was white, and I knew it was either a Bull Snake or a Western Rattler. I turned and jogged down the trail, and I didn't stop until I got to the Jeep, out of breath, shaky. I could hear my phone ringing from inside the car.

I unlocked the door and reached my phone. It was Jackson.

"Baby?" He said.

"Yeah?"

"Are you okay?"

"Yes," but my voice shook. "Why?"

"I don't know. I had the feeling you weren't. Is that weird? There was a crazy lady on the corner of Los Griegos and Alamos, and she knew my name, and she said to go to Las Cruces."

I was quiet.

"Baby?"

"I saw the same lady."

"Really? But... how?"

"I think she's psychic, Jackson. And I think we should leave."

Silence.

"We both hate it here. Why not?" he said.

"I'm coming home. Wait for me," I said.

 

Las Cruces was a dirty city, full of motels and box stores. There were people sadder than us. I found a bar that was also a restaurant, so I could also serve. I began to dream less at night and more during the day. I still read Jackson's rash at bedtime, which was beginning to look like the US highway system, with freeways and highways and little country roads that seemed to go nowhere. At night I would walk out under the stars and watch the satellites go. They were all satellites. There were no more stars in the sky, it turned out. I think someone took them away.

 

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