The girl he imagines speaks to him. She says she imagines him just the same, knows him like he's God's only man. Pretty little thing knows me alright, she’s got me down down down.
He was in from Sulphur. Through to Texas he lowered the windows for the Gulf scent - legendary salt. At night he pulled past refineries looking sprung from the earth, lights on them like cities in miniature. The day brought silos and the forlorn sound of ships signaling in the channel.
Squatting birds rose from the road and his hands rose briefly from the wheel in a faith healer's pose. Do you know what cordite is? he once asked. He held a finger out, then two, then three and on, counting.
He stilled the engine at a drive-in. The engine wouldn’t start again. He left the car and sat on a bench and watched the girls on roller-skates. They moved and moved and there will always be a future, he thought, if only for someone else.
He had bills wrapped in neat bands. He had a note written on a flattened paper cup, inked with the soot from burnt matches because he didn’t have a pen. I am the hard life’s renaissance man, its grimy Leonardo.
Girls in small Texas towns are supposed to chew gum, bored-looking since they’ve seen the sky stretch so far. He closed his eyes and pictured knees pressed together in backseats. One million pairs of pale knees. The imagined girl told him to be a gentleman, he imagined. I can still dream.
He read anatomy and trauma in solitary confinement. They let him do that. Penetrating wounds through the intercostal spaces, into the lungs. Try to speak and you'll sound like you’ve breathed helium. He came to smell certain words off the page. He couldn’t hide from them. Leave the book open too long and your cell reeks of eschar.
The towns and their bizarre names. The days were hot and they looked that way in pictures, but the humidity you couldn’t tell. Not from photographs. Bleached grass swaying all around. She had a lot of trouble reading the note. You want all the money? she asked. Like, from the vault? The hard life makes a man impatient.
He smelled his hands. Cordite. The town of Sulphur. A girl on roller-skates fell. She was only a few feet from a car but now the ground was covered with ketchup and fries and a pink milkshake. He thinks site of impact. He thinks radius of destruction. Breathe and it’s my hands again. Every day is its own lonely tragedy.
The imagined girl is real. She sits in a park and pictures him in a pool hall, smoking and talking. She’s a Frenchie and he only thinks he knows what he really knows. Each believes the other is pure fiction, the undercurrent of dreamy symbolism. He had the diner but he wanted shade from cottonwoods, a forded river. He wanted men emerging from behind scalloped tree trunks. But no, he is afraid of sound and smoke now. Smoke drifting downriver along the water like it’s hiding there, like the sky wants no part of it.
She couldn’t read the note. Then her voice went high, real high like this and on the bench he raises a hand up from his hip the way he did before. You are blessed. He knew a little anatomy and he closed his eyes and wished he didn’t. He looked to see what moved upon the long stretch of coastal road but the diner was set in a depressed acre. He tried to imagine the imagined girl, incidentally real, but he lost her somewhere. Picture me just a little while longer, if you can. You’ve got me down, pretty little thing… down down down.
About the author:
Paul Kasmai was born in Houston and currently resides in Southern California. His work is forthcoming or has previously appeared in Sundog Lit and Gone Lawn.