Día de los Muertos: Chapter 5

Five

Amigo Motel / 6:15 A.M.

Celeste followed him into his room at the Amigo Motel, still not knowing what exactly what to expect from him. They hadn’t talked much in the jeep. Calhoun could tell she was disappointed by the place but tried not to show it. He explained he kept his things here, not offering any more of an explanation than that.

“You can clean up here.” Celeste looked around the motel room. The blinds were drawn, the bed unmade. It was dark inside and seemed always to be that way. She went to the window and opened the shade. A courtyard full of busted-up old cars sprang into view. She closed the shade again.

“I’ll be back later.” Calhoun opened his wallet and put fifty dollars on the dresser. She turned around. “There’s some money if you need anything. I suggest you buy some new clothes. I’ve got to go. I’m late.” He watched her slide the backpack off onto the floor. Calhoun noticed the detail of her neck, that it was thin and beautiful and tanned from the sun.

“Why are you doing this? Why don’t you hate me? You have every reason to,” Stone said.

“I like to do good deeds for old friends. You know, good Samaritan.”

“Are we friends?” she said. “I mean, after what I did, I wouldn’t expect you to…I’m sorry I acted stupid back there. It was a shock seeing you like that…”

“Forget it. Yeah, we are.” He smiled at her. He wasn’t sure why he had brought her here, all he knew was that he wanted to look at her. He wanted to see her broken like this, be superior to her, give her money. She pushed the hair out of her face again. He half meant what he’d said. “I let bygones be bygones.” The phone rang. Calhoun looked at it and let it ring. They both watched the phone.

“Can you do me a favor?” Calhoun said.

“Sure.”

“Pick it up and tell whoever it is I’ve left.”

“Whoever it is. What if it’s your girlfriend?”

“That’s right, whoever it is.” Stone picked it up. She stretched out on the bed. Calhoun saw her stomach, the shirt pulled up over the flat white hardness of her stomach. Something got bolted to his groin then and he let it sink in.

“Hello…no. He’s not here. Sure. Me…? Jane Doe,” She said. She looked up at him and smiled. “That’s right—Mrs. Jane Doe.” Stone put the phone down on the cradle.

“It’s someone called Breen. He says he has to talk to you. To come by the office as soon as you can. He sounded disappointed.”

“Well, I’ll let you get cleaned up. I’ve got a business meeting—maybe we could have lunch later.”

“What do you do?” she asked.

Calhoun laughed. It seemed a stupid question for some reason, and he realized he was angry, that he’d gotten angry the moment he’d seen her climb out of the bus, and that he wasn’t sure why he wanted her here in his room, but he did. He knew that. He wanted her here when he got back because he wasn’t finished with her. He wanted to do something to her, he didn’t know what. He wanted to fuck her, he was sure of that, but something else, something to pay her back for what she’d done to him.

“Computers…I sell computers.”

“Oh…” she said “…right.” Stone looked at him, narrowing her eyes. “Somehow you don’t look like a computer salesman, Vince. What happened to the Marine Corps?”

“I got tired of the uniform. Who was your friend in the plaza?” Celeste sat on the end of the bed and looked around, avoiding Calhoun’s eyes, as if the scene on the plaza were just another event in a long series of events: men, bedrooms, and houses and parties she shouldn’t have gone to.

“The warden at Rio Sangre.”

“He seemed to be upset about something.”

“I’d like to forget the last six months, Vince.” She leaned back on the bed. “Sometimes a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do,” she said. She moved her legs like a kid, leaning back, elbows on the bed. She let him look at her that way.

“Are you going to tell me what you really do? Or is that going to be a secret?”

“I’ve got to go out.”

“Okay…go out.” There had been a slight shift in power. He was losing his control and she was sopping it up.

He watched her walk to the bathroom and close the door. He waited a minute, then opened the drawer. He had two guns in the drawer and his extra harness. Something told him he shouldn’t leave them in the room. He picked up the harness and slipped one of the guns into his coat pocket, then on impulse he took out another hundred dollars and laid it on the bureau. He wanted to give Celeste money. He didn’t understand why.

Stone opened the door unexpectedly. She’d taken off her shirt and bra and had a towel around her. Her face was wet, her hair pulled back. She saw the guns and harness in his hands. “Somebody forget to pay for their computer, Vince?”

Dia Spacer

Calhoun drove out of the motel parking lot and remembered it all. The whole mess of his past.

Their home town was called Palmdale. It was one of those desert towns you pass through on the way to Calexico and forget immediately. Everything wavers in the sunlight—a strip mall, Mike’s Gun Shop, a hardware store, three stoplights, a dozen bars. Rural California, it never changed. Maybe you’d remember the way the river moved, flat and thin-green, toward Tijuana 25 miles away, the way the sun would play silver coins on it at one in the afternoon, a few spindly cottonwood trees along the banks, a desultory breeze moving the air if you were lucky. Palmdale was just another jerk-water border town.

That first morning Calhoun had seen Celeste Stone in the hallway of the high school his whole world had disintegrated and been rebuilt with just two people in it: Vincent Calhoun, a student teacher, and Celeste Stone, high school girl with a body that tore you up. It was a paradigm for temptation.

In his mind the lights dimmed, or seemed to, and they weren’t in a high school hallway seeing each other for the first time, they were already doing it. That’s how fast it was. Why are words so small in the face of something so big? She had been like one of those flash floods out in the desert—no one believes it, until you hear the roar of the water and it’s on you.

It was all there in her eyes. She’d fixed on Calhoun, while she twisted her lock, returning Calhoun’s stare from her locker. Something passed between them then. She’d been wearing blue jeans and boots and a felt cowboy hat that was worn. Long red hair spilling out of the hat down to her skinny ass and very white skin. She was a ranch girl—no makeup, nothing about the city.

Calhoun waited for her to come to her locker before lunch, and then, armed with a lame excuse, he went out into the hall. He’d asked her if she could help him hang a poster. He didn’t wait for an answer, just dropped two tacks into her hand. The horrible thing was he’d thought the whole thing through. How he would get her to hold the poster, how she would have to bend over the counter and spread her arms apart, how she would have to turn around and look at him as he told her how to move it.

“A little higher,” he’d said and she’d arched her wide back. A little higher. She turned and looked at him, her butt pointed out, and she knew then what he was doing, and she took the tack she’d stuck in her mouth with the feminine ranch girl power and stuck it in the right corner of the travel poster without waiting for him to say that it was okay. Then she said the first thing she ever said to him.

“What’s your name?” It surprised him because of that voice, all its timbre, older than her, and deep and coarse. Like she’d been yelling into the desert wind all her life.

She was looking over her right shoulder, pushing in the tack. He saw how narrow her waist was. She got on her knees and pulled the bottom corners of the poster tight. He looked at the line of her jeans, the way it split her ass, and then at the worn heels of her cowboy boots.

“Vincent.”

“Teacher or student?” she said. He couldn’t stop then. It was like he’d been pushed down Mt. Everest on skis.

She turned around and studied him. She already knew what effect she had on men. She just let him hang for a moment. Like a side of beef in a slaughter house. Still slightly warm and bloody and steamy.

“Are you a student or a teacher?” she said again. She smiled, disarmed him. The smile was real. The ranch where her father lived was in her voice. The high desert people had that voice that seemed to be hollowed out by the big spaces up above Palmdale, the long arroyos and the strange rock formations stained by the sun and rain. She was part desert, part chicken farmer’s daughter, part 4H beauty. What he didn’t know was that she was a young girl who had just fallen in love. Calhoun smiled. He was twenty-five; there was no question he was a teacher.

“Why?”

“Because you look like a student.” She smiled again. “You look too young for the job,” she said. He noticed her lips then, how full they were.

“I’m a student teacher.”

“What do you teach?” Calhoun looked around the room for an explanation.

“Spanish…” Calhoun felt his mouth getting dry. He was suddenly sorry he’d asked her into the room. He felt horribly guilty. Why didn’t he just stop it…thank her. Nothing had happened yet. Nothing. She was a nice girl. But god, look at her, look at her. He turned and made sure the door to the classroom was still open. It was open, but not all the way. He went toward the door…

“You were looking at my behind. Weren’t you,” she said behind him. Calhoun froze, stunned. He put his hand on the door knob. And then he did it, he turned the corner that he would never forget. The corner that would get him fired, arrested, and sent to join the Marine Corps or go to jail. He closed the door and leaned against it, felt his shoulders on the cool wood. They were alone now. He saw how raw she was, something raw about her, and yet innocent. She had something that he wanted more than anything he’d ever wanted before.

“Yeah, I was,” he said. “And it’s real nice.”

 

Two weeks later he’d driven her home. It was as if they understood what was going to happen the moment she got in his car. She’d taken him out to one of the chicken sheds her father kept. The chickens, thousands of them, Buff Rocks, White Leghorns, Brahmas, making a strange sound, the automatic feeder machines buzzing and dispensing, the desert outside the long, low, clap-trap chicken houses dirty and boiling red at sunset. He’d never been in a place like it, the air filled with feathers, like a pillow had been broken, snowing inside, motes of glittering dust, the smell of feed. Calhoun could see her father outside through the slats of the coop, leaning over the front of a tractor, his big greasy overalls in the air a hundred yards away…and Celeste looking at him. The chickens wandering all over the floor, scurrying in a white blur toward the feeders, the vivid red wattles under their pecking tools.

“We can do it here,” she said. “If you want to. He won’t come in here now. Not until after dinner.” She was wearing a jean jacket and her jeans, worn at the knees, and western boots. He watched her take the jacket off and throw it down like a gauntlet and they kissed. And while she led his hand to her tit he looked out through the slats of the chicken house and saw, through the snow of feathers, feeling then the warm tit and her groping him, her old man’s ass in the air, big elbows, rusted tractor, the desert around them turning sienna crush and then red, and then the old man pushing himself off the tractor in a sloppy oafish way and going across the yard toward the ranch house. By then they were half naked and he saw her in her panties and bra. And it was the best thing he’d ever seen. He picked her up off the floor, the chickens milling under them as he made for a wall.

He remembered now, barely seeing the streets of Tijuana, the way the coop walls bent out and gave when he leaned her naked shoulders against them. How pliable it all seemed. How white her skin was against the dirty walls of the coop. The look of the feeder above her head, metallic hoses gurgling power. Her reaching up for the machinery to hang off of it as they fucked. How good it felt. He would never forget that, the way she hung from the feeder, her shoulders bouncing against the dirty boards, the rhythm of the machinery feeding the chickens and them feeding desire. He’d never come so hard in his life, scattering the chickens when he moaned. They’d slid to the floor. He was looking at that white ass in his hands, one boot under her leg. And he’d never felt so alive. There was no excuse for it and no escape. It was wild like the desert. And he had never forgotten it. Ever.

 

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