Moreno - original fiction by Chris Castro

polaroid, leather cuff off-the-cuff shot, Moreno Valley, CA

Rachelle was in the car I think, she said "Damn that sky looks crazy over there!" I looked over, grabbed the camera from the passenger side footwell and I held the steering wheel with a knee, put the car window down and snapped this. I recall hoping the pickup in the shot wouldn't pull out right into me.
photograph by Chris Castro

"it takes ridiculously little, an insignificant breeze, to make what a man would have put his life down for one minute, seem an absurd void the next." -Milan Kundera

for adolescents the town was an embarrassment salved only by a stoic pride in literally arising from this valley of dirt. resplendent in ochre and burnt sienna, the valley existed as a sort of storage reservoir for smog and heat. every ounce that los angeles county could spare was blown inland where the lungs of the residents of the valley waited to assimilate it. to remember a youth spent in this sort of environment is to recall only a desire for wind, a willingness to brave rattlesnakes in order to gain the summit of some nearby hill and feel for a few moments a bodily equilibrium, the deep sigh milliseconds before the tingle of flesh now risen in the chill.

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there are parallels aplenty when you look at how one behaves early on in response to utterly new situations throughout ones life. when i was young and beginning to walk, i'd lead with my head and if i got some speed and my legs happened to take me directly towards a low table, i got a black eye. i had many learning to walk, there were often raised eyebrows from nurses and doctors when i went for checkups or because i had the ubiquitous ear infection: "he got BOTH black eyes from walking into tables?" incredulously. i never quite mastered the enjoyment of ineptitude, the newness of movements would only prompt me to become frustrated and expend myself in a frenzy of practice and fail, practice and fail. as it was then, so ever.

when similar situations arose in regards to females, it was once again, headlong that i went forth. i didn't know i was acting differently, but obviously i couldn't act as i had before, the situation was new, time was marching forward, hands now rested nonchalantly much higher up on my thighs than previously. it was a practical lesson in zen as only a female could provide; 'you may have sex, that which you have idolized (literally made an idol of) for years in your head, however your behavior must remain the same'. for a mere novice in hypocrisy, the center of adult interaction as invisible as marrow in bone, it was a difficult lesson.

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karim and i sat trading a small bong back and forth in his parents backyard, having just finished swimming for the afternoon, towels draped around us as we sat at the glass outdoor table.

"when i heard about people having to live on overpasses after katrina happened i started thinking about it, spatially at first, like where you could put a tarp up or one of those partition things, then in terms of actual living. but i mean like, what if something happened like that everywhere?"

"like a hurricane everywhere at once?"

"no, not a giant fucking hurricane, i mean like...but think of if that happened at the same time as a serious earthquake and some other shit too. i don't think i'd live on an overpass no matter what, there's got to be better places."

"where the fuck would you pick to live, it's not like they had places lined up for them, everything else was flooded."

"but an overpass?"

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the only activity enjoyed by the residents of the valley when it began to get hot in spring was observing and ridiculing those who were specifically and generally worse off than they were, if the shitty sitcoms watched almost universally had ever defined “schadenfreude” for them, it would have been recognized immediately. the man at work in the massive construction warehouse store would chuckle quickly at the hordes of sunburned and sweating homeowners who came in with plans for elaborate backyard structures, after making their purchases the homeowners would leave and shake their heads solemnly at the migrant workers lined up just beyond the parking lot who, at the end of the day would return to their cheaply made apartments, redolent of arroz y frijoles, resignation and laundry.

i remember days as a sixteen year old, seeking the solace and breezes of the mountain behind the tract of houses i lived in. alternately pushing and pulling a mountain bike up the sometimes steep slopes, an hour or two to reach the top. then the ten minutes or so staring at the sprawled suburbs clambering up hills and filling in folds in the land. it was nearly impossible to resolve what shape the city was, even from atop that high hill. houses continued on until the haze of brown smog dissipated them.

it is strange to have the preconceptions that such a place will ingrain in you, in fact, it seems, in retrospect, more truthful a place, years before global warming was trumpeted as the dead hand which would do us all in there were days in the valley when it was suggested that children be kept indoors due to the pollution, i'm sure such a thing rarely if ever happened in santa monica, the southern california polar opposite of the inland empire. sea breezes and prescription medication managed to keep the air, and the assurance all is well with the world, clear. however, the only thought which i had after hearing such jarring declarations as "unhealthy/dangerous air quality" was this;

"i have to get out of here."

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i would imagine what i must look like from several hundred feet below, a single figure high above visible only because of the contrast between the color of the boulder i was perched on and my clothing, glanced at by a middle aged woman leaving the toys r us with two toddlers in tow, a stray second of acid flashback silence.

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the most kind man that i personally know nearly met his end on a freeway leading out of the valley. he told me months and months later, i saw him rarely enough that i nearly felt responsible for that particular fact once he had told me the entire story. throughout the years justin has changed but little about what motivates him has, i mean, he was fired from a local grocery store for being too helpful to customers, leaving his stated duties to help anyone who needed anything. it is second nature to him to think this way. what exactly compelled this man to enter the modern military is beyond me. the desperate lack when it comes to a modern army of a connection to the "people" with whom they have entered into an assumed contract with, a feeling of simply being a tool that could be fitted interchangeably into any other fighting force, when fighting prolonged conflicts far from hometowns, is overlooked at our peril. i imagine a cut-scene done in the style of the recruitment commercials detailing the all too well known impact of warfare, replete with an action movie trailer voiceover.

“ARE YOU,
nervous in large groups, have frequent nightmares and suicidal thoughts?

ARE YOU ALSO overmedicated and unable to reconcile the two formerly disparate parts of your life, war and peace?

well then, the military is already done with you....so, thanks for your service.”

needless to say, he took to it, like everything that had captured his attention as a boy growing up, and perhaps because he took to it too well, was discharged early for an "inability to adapt".

one night, driving after too many drinks, he was cut off and allowed the asshole to convince him to pull over. the guy pulls a knife, both men staggering drunk on the edge of a desert men were never intended to live in, my friend justin, returns to combat mode and disarms the thirty something gangbanger, breaking his wrist in the process, hearing it crack and a shriek, unexpectedly high pitched from the burly 5'6 frame. justin then merely

walked to his car,
ignoring, against his nature, the still screaming man behind him
and drove away.

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once, after i had left and karim was alone in his parents large house, he had a waking dream he told me of later. in it he recalled with great clarity an instance that happened to him during his sophomore year of high school at the birthday party of an acquaintance of his. he had been driven by his mother to a restaurant out in an unfamiliar part of town, the drive was convoluted in his mind, but strangely, when he arrived and got onto the deck outside the banquet room, he could see the city he went to school in, far off but distinct in the distance. most of the evening passed rather anonymously, after the presents were opened and cake distributed he wandered back outside. feeling strangely petulant, he walked further along the deck towards a dark corner and after riling himself up, he heaved the glass he had been drinking punch out of onto the darkened slope of ivy leading downwards from the restaurant. there was no satisfying shatter, but the mere act of throwing something so fragile with all his might felt good.

he walked back in, half expecting to be taken aside by a waiter and given a stern lecture, however, no one had noticed and he made his way to his table and found another glass set at his seat. he quickly glanced around the room to ascertain whether someone was watching him, after a minute or so, he stood up and made his way outside once again. a group of older students was standing along the railing talking as he walked out. one of them, lindsay, called him over. she was a slightly overweight girl who had an attractive face, Karim had often heard her making comments about how cute she found him but had always taken it for some sort of light joke played on him, knowing he was within earshot.

"what do you think of the party?"

"the place is pretty nice, and she invited a lot of people, i guess it's a cool party"

the two girls who had been leaning against the railing on either side of lindsay drifted away towards the party.

"what were you doing over there?" she pointed to the darkened area of the deck.

"nothing"

she looked at him with one eye slightly narrowed and asked if he had a girlfriend.

"not right now"

"not ever is what you mean"

he attempted to keep from blushing but her short giggle told him that it was unlikely he succeeded.

"have you ever kissed a girl?"

"not really"

"well, you have or you haven't"

"no, not since..."

because of his embarrassment he had looked away while beginning this sentence and been stopped midway through by her lips on his. his whole body stiffened and his wide open eyes registered his own lack of experience in not closing his eyes as he looked into her face, long lashes slightly clumped with mascara, cheeks not yet shed of their baby fat, curly hair done up on top of her head, small coquettish nose changing angles as the kiss deepened. as soon as it had started, it stopped and she stepped back against the railing, his eyes finally closing in the last fractions of a second before they separated opened quickly in surprise.

"well now, you have"

"yeh-yeah, i guess i have now"

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it seemed there was little enough that could truly pierce karim's pleasant womblike world, on some days, however, when he stood on the diving board of his parents pool, he could feel the tiniest intrusion, like the very tip of a knife against his back, disconcerting in itself but more so knowing he was completely alone. one day, with the sun going down setting off the brilliance of a smog enhanced skyscape, violets, oranges and bruised shades of blue, he climbed the roof of the house on a whim and was amazed to see the spiral trailings of a rocket launched from vandenberg, now malfunctioned and spinning off back to earth. in the crazed tracings of its effluence he could once again feel the touch, the possibility it had laid out for him, plotted on the unimaginable bulk of the southern california sky. the promise of it, violence and cataclysm occurring even amongst the most brilliant of man's endeavours entrenched itself deeply on karim. perhaps because of how little went wrong or was even unplanned in his everyday life besides the erotic tanglings of the newly tumescent, it was disconcerting to realize how little the excuse of having done everything right was worth in the face of a such a terrible yawning lottery.

karim’s mother returned home as he was climbing down off of the roof, she was a beautiful woman in her time and had grown used to the comfort and assurance of dismissing as pointless intellectualizing all problems which money could not affect.

"what the hell were you doing up there?"

"watching the sky, the sunset was beautiful"

"i'm sure it was just as beautiful from down here"

"i couldn't tell you"

she fixed him with a look which was still capable of bringing a guilty roll of eyes from Karim.

"could you PLEASE put the garbage can back where it belongs?"

"yes"

he walked to the side of the house with the garbage can in tow, hinged plastic top still dented from where he had stood to gain the roof's summit.

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when i was ten or eleven years old and getting a ride home from my grandmother, i had my arm out the window as i am wont to do. without taking her eyes off the road my grandmother rolled up both passenger and driver side window and my arm got stuck, she didn't keep pressing the button so it was a nearly painless situation. about four or five seconds passed before i quietly spoke up, no pain or anxiety in my voice.

"nana, my arm"

looking over, she gasped and lowered the window.

"why didn't you say SOMETHING?!"

"i did"

there are several other situations that reminded me of this tendency in myself. when i was very young i was plagued by ear infections, along with their attendant fevers. my mother, not a nurse herself, but knowledgeable from working at a doctors office, would wait patiently until multiple thermometers and multiple tests made it clear my temperature was nearing a dangerous level. on a few occasions this happened at a time that required an emergency room visit, we would show up, sign in and wait amongst the squalling and bandaged in the waiting room. i'd sit quietly and play with whatever matchbox cars my mother had secreted away in her purse. after twenty minutes the nurse would call us back and the unmistakable slow condescension would build as he or she grilled my mother on symptoms, taking note of the lack of discomfort i exhibited.

"oh yah, lots of kids his age get ear infections a lot, mmmhmmm, yes, but if his temperature isn't way above normal, usually just some childrens tylenol and some ear drops can take care of the problem."

this calm demeanor would disappear almost immediately when they took my temperature.

"this can't be right, it's says his temperature is 103.8. i'll take it again."

another test would confirm the initial measurement.

my mother would stand vindicated and say "that's the temperature i was getting every time i took it for the half hour before i came down here."

"why didn't you say SOMETHING?!", the nurse would nearly exclaim, calling a doctor over immediately and in some cases, several other nurses to start bathing me in ice water in attempts to lower my fever.

"i did."

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driving a car seemed sure to be the turning point to me as a young adolescent, as surely as a first kiss or first fuck, perhaps as a symptom of the stifling quality of the heat and smog i endured the cool feeling of night permeating the car from windows rolled down seemed perfect, pedal to the floor as street lights filed past in a quickening parade. it was simply the few first seconds realization of the sheer joy of velocity, minus the raw experience of having seen its capacity for injury up close and in person. the procession of such thoughts at inopportune times might even prove to be one of many influences dictating a certain dire statistic (whatever the percentage you wish to give, it's always mortifying) stating that teenage drivers are far more likely to end up as car crash organ donors than your standard run of the mill commuter.

one evening in early spring, driving down a certain street i knew well, karim and i happened upon another car laden with teenage testosterone and the inevitable high speed contest began. i dropped down to second gear, the revs instantly howling, barely below red line as i quickly shifted into third then fourth, no time to risk a sideways glance but knowing Karim's own face mirrored mine, wolfish grin, eyes pasted to the scenery, palm tree lined center divider cascading past as the speedometer reached 70...80 miles an hour. we had negotiated a few small turns and a short steep climb, i knew from experience that there was a fairly gentle right and then an stoplight intersection perhaps 350 yards after the curve, having barely pulled ahead of the other car, i negotiated the turn first and when i saw the light was red and i was pushing 95 miles an hour i did what every sense screamed at me to do, slow it down, bring it back quickly under control. i tapped the brake and knew it was too early, the steering wheel was still turned slightly and the rear end of the car began to come around.

it is not ever enough to compare anything to the capabilities of a brain in peril, or ever enough to truly convey the force 3000 pounds of metal creates when moving at such speeds. the spin was over in 4 seconds, 540 degrees of rotation and we'd come to a stop in our original lane, facing backwards as the other car, boys i have never and will never meet again inquired after our safety in incredulous tones, we simply nodded affirmatively, our mouths too parched to speak.

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one of just a very few real tragedies that is dowsable from the supposed "war" of the sexes is a situation in which after the end of a relationship, the world seems to expand and leave one nearly out of breath, the amount of humanity with which you could plausibly interact becomes legion, specifically that of the opposite (or same) sex. having cast off the bravado of "two against the world", the mind wanders between the colder desolate "truth" of life being intrinsically lonely and the fiery, more sexual "lie" that if you touch one person long enough, you can keep them from ever leaving. when you are directly in the middle is when the tragedy occurs. furthest aid from either the truth or a lie is when you are set upon mercilessly. you have thought long enough on the two that neither seems without flaws and you are weary from it.

if and when you meet this person, you know it, they are wandering between whatever touchstones comfort them as well, when you fuck, there's really only one of you, as lonely as a landmine.

when you are done fucking, there are two and more, every opinion of every friend on the utility of rebounds and one's own feelings on the matter crowd the awkward room with choking silence. they all seem to push you one way or the other, "lie to me or die everyday alone".

whichever you choose, they will choose the opposite. the algebra is unbreakable. that is the tragedy.

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other nights the car itself was a bystander, no longer the berserker weapon we had narrowly survived, the cargo carrier or the ass-getter we convinced ourselves it was. in your hometown, common sense can sometimes be lost among assumptions that people didn't fuck with you there, you're from there. still in lots of places in the valley, gas stations should be considered closed after 9 pm at night. they look open, well, because they are open, they just should be avoided as if unemployment was hovering around 25 percent, which it was. of course, i thought i'd be fine.

"it's my town", right?

10:54 at night one february, gas station a mere 100 yards away from the sixty freeway. i needed gas, and didn't notice this guy til i had hopped out of the car. i suppose there was an opportunity for violence from him, but in immediately treating him as i would anyone else i defused it, his flimsy excuse for approaching me lost as i did what i'd have done if it were noon and i was sure he didn't have a knife, listened and answered his questions calmly. i drove across the street to the mcdonalds parking lot with him in the car, as he talked about his life, in my mind i decided to have the debate over whether it was bullshit some time later. he told me he was gonna be straight with me. he said he was planning to rob me, but was instead confiding, saying this he took out a extendable xacto knife and ski mask from his pocket, putting them on the dash of the car.

"you see that, man? i'm givin up my ghost. that's it, i mean, that's the fucking truth and you know it now, it's sittin right there"

we talked for nearly forty minutes, i gave him thirty bucks and dropped him off a few miles away at his mothers house. the original nebulous plan for the night was drifting away as i considered every aspect of the past hour, something in his demeanor seemed genuine despite the nagging feeling of having gotten taken. i thought and thought about it for the few short minutes it took to get on the freeway but it seemed mean-spirited to assume he always played the hustle that way.

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"holes?"

"you seriously believe i can tell my mother to drop me off on the side of the road at 9 pm with the explanation that i'm going to meet you and rick somewhere between your house and ralphs?"

"why won't that work?"

"it just shouts 'i'm gonna do something illegal and i can't let you know where i will be or who i will be with.'"

"make up something better then, shit, just have them drop you off at my house."

"there's nobody there, the questions gonna be 'why isn't there anyone here?'"

"dammit man, do whatever you have to do, i'm just saying my parents are gone and the key is under the mat, if you want to fuck maria you'll have to figure out some excuse"

"fine"

after i had convinced my mother (i suppose at times, as a parent you must know you are being lied to) to drop me off midway between our house and karim's i made my way towards his house. it was halfway through an underage night, 8:45 pm. i ran up the sidewalk in between seeing cars coming round the easy 45 mph bend, jacket blowing behind me, knowing there was a beautiful girl with eyes so dark brown they seemed black at night waiting for me there.

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there was an air force base on the opposite edge of town from where i would perch and contemplate the scenery, since then it has become a reserve base. the great buildings with old generals names on them which used to house dental offices and such sit dormant with weedy and cracked parking lots rolled out before them. there were then, and still are now, airborne tankers that perhaps once or twice a week circle on training runs about the huge valley. from where i sat atop the rocky spine of the hill i would attempt to communicate with the pilots, inquisitive as to how they went about their lives, curious to know whether any had harbored dreams similar to my own, to become a fighter pilot, but along the way some part of their minds or bodies had failed them. i had lived through my own revelation, having to get glasses at the age of ten i had cried, knowing that without the perfection of 20/20 vision i could never become a combat aviator. i felt a camaraderie with the invisible pilots of those huge graceless tankers, as they circled endlessly, dreaming of only one perfect pirouette in a spitfire.

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sex remained no different from the less candid relationships i had with females, i willed myself into a paralysis of good manners and polite interaction. to the extent that the girl often had to state plainly "i want your cock in me" in order for things to move ahead in that direction. i assumed the act itself to be like asking a somewhat inconvenient favor that took a half hour and often required cleanup. that is to say, i acted like a misogynist.

however, if i am to offer a defense i will state that there were no or next to no sources of the truth, or as close to the truth as can be said about such a blanket statement: the truth being that females enjoy sex as readily as males, albeit with more concerns involved. the rote speeches on abstinence did so little to avert the rush of hormones it was cosmically perfect to imagine that 80 percent of the bored wandering eyes in the classroom hid fevered dreams of fucking or being fucked, bent over the large teachers desk (the height of which always seemed to invite it seemingly) or on all fours out in a spot of sunlight in the quad.

obviously with such naivete intact there was only the laughably fleeting pleasure of reveling in the so often dreamt about physical feedback from penetration before the inevitable. the silence, breathing, exhalations, then the cringe inducing question

"did you come in me?"

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when a car airbag deploys, the powder it is packed into the steering wheel with explodes out from where it has sat for years or months and covers a good portion of the car. it smells terrible, an artificial reek like a thousand rubber gloves ground into dust. i contemplated this minute bit of knowledge as i climbed vertically out of the rental kia i had until recently been driving. it sat on it's side about 45 feet from the curve i had attempted to negotiate at a speed more suitable to my slick, hunkered down volkswagen jetta. there wasn't anything simple or straightforward about this certain night, it's circumstances or the route out and away from this wreck that my three drink addled brain had created. i had been attempting to reach a destination far distant from the circuitous and busy bullshit that life in anybody's hometown will devolve into if given enough time. there was a girl at the end of the trip, one i wasn't expecting much but distraction via her unerring ability to talk only of herself and her own problems right when mine seemed about to loom too large. i quickly called two friends to retrieve me before the inevitable arrival of the local police. one pulled up mere minutes before a sheriff's helicopter appeared on site. as i climbed into the back seat i tossed my wallet into a dark corner below the drivers seat, hoping that my identity, along with my behavior, would be safely hidden for the time being. hoping also, that the officer poised at the window asking whether anyone in the car had been involved or witnessed the accident didn't notice the smell of airbag.

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karim's mother was the youngest of 10 and had a ph d: neither of which traits she most often described herself with was any indication or gave any idea of how utterly unappetizing her food was. it was uncanny. every occurence of it i was unfortunate enough to face made me doubt people who ate it could actually survive to adulthood, it also gave some small bare clue towards finding a way to describe karim succinctly. his intelligence, not to mention that of his brothers, was superlative, it was unspectacularly reflected in his grades because of his unique and effective guerilla warfare against his own academic record and, to a lesser extent, teachers at our catholic high school. one would assume i am engaging poetic license when i describe his deeds and his general effect on students and staff alike as that of an unofficial combatant but if they had seen fit to include this award in the yearbook, there wouldn't have been another soul in that picture. this situation was cosmically in perfect balance as both of karim's parents held ph d's in education. before it was observed too closely the chaos that beswept the family household was titillating.
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it was evident from the moment that connor showed up that the night was in for a bitter ending. i'm often tempted to paint him in broad strokes as a cartoonish character, because in truth i have never encountered anyone of his ilk before. based on earlier instances observing connor at parties it seemed he existed only for the adrenaline of physical altercations. i've known plenty of stupid kids who wanted to fight when they got drunk, but for him alcohol seemed only secondary, an afterthought or an excuse. the green eyes of his would be lit as if from within as he stalked around, a couple of moron lump friends as backup and provacateurs. his physique completed the illusion that he was already in whatever prison he was dead set on gaining admittance to. i was, at the time, on crutches, recuperating from knee surgery and hoping to catch up with friends and wake up without too much of a hangover. the party itself was split, most likely right down the middle between friends my age and younger siblings. it gave the party a distinct dichotomy: the "adults", often a mere two years older, but an important two years, and the kids, who had just graduated high school. as the fight appeared out of the mists like a fucking ugly irish iceberg, i contemplated simply driving away, but a morbid curiousity and the threat of a second dui in seven years combined to keep me stationary.

an acquaintance of karim and i was unfortunate enough to stand up for himself with a distinct lack of back up in the vicinity. as he made his way to his car some ten to fifteen minutes after the initial confrontation, the four whom no one had invited followed him out. i stayed put indoors and the next thing i knew there were people pouring in, two or three at first, shouting and covered with blood. what a fucking unsurprising end, the dumb kids goonish sidekick nearly died on the way to the hospital in one of their broke ass cars, laid open from elbow to shoulder because they didn't think anybody would be stupid enough to defend themselves.

i would later regularly re-assess what had happened and how one person who could not be ignorant of the responses he would provoke with his actions had turned the night on it’s head. how a few small things coalesced into justification enough for an extreme act of self defense by a person i knew and cared for, how an ignorant person could fail to imagine the endless consequences of this one attempted act of violence.

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whether or not my fervent wish that the kid, connor’s sidekick, had died been granted, simply so his cohorts would realize the flimsiness of their own lives and what a penchant for unexpected violence can result in, doesn't really matter. i had reached this conclusion somewhere around 3:30 am staring down at the shuttered nighttime lights of the valley. the spectrum of personalities that this place produced, with it's confluence of low income, rising unemployment, stagnant heat and a mesmerizing lack of culture, was skewed toward the sort for whom any warning, even one as dire as the death of a friend would warrant little notice, like raising a white flag in hopes of stopping an avalanche.

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along with a fear of pain, another terror went without much notice within the sheer id reaction of increased heart rate and thoughts of what to really lose control on your way down a set of switchbacks atop such a speck of a mountain might feel like, the consideration of the moment in between, once the realization (far quicker in a mind too young to be impaired) hit that the kinetic energy your weight and the bicycle frame you rode on had in reference to the unyielding boulders as they galloped past. the terror lay in a slightly deeper consideration, the thoughts of what entropy might have in store in the midst of such a fall, five hundred feet down the seven hundred foot, forty degree slope, rag-dolled within sight of high school band practice, perhaps your final auditory experience being the first time you hear carmina burana played, awfully, by sixteen year olds.

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there were similar moments, but as impairments moved a male adolescent closer to that which they, as a whole, desperately sought, the moments of terror lacked that glassy sphincter deep quality which immutably informed you what was real and what was not.

one moment which bears mention is an evening in which the entirely predictable happened, as naturally as lowering the radio to find an address, drawing closer when the knife edge bore down on you provoked an ease in unplanned touch. the car was full, four passengers, the keg, one third full, but deemed worth the risk, seemingly negligible upon our deciding on the much shorter, police invisible dirt road past a nearby dump which took us around the mountain the short way. this entailed a rally style ascent, full of oversteer and loss of traction on a fairly narrow road.

across the top of a keg is a cliche to say the least in describing the first place you kissed a certain girl, but less so in a moving and sliding vehicle. actually, she climbed over it then pushed the keg into her vacated seat on a long straight, settling into my lap and pressing her lips against mine. it must have simply been because i was there, but inside the small sphere of the car as we weaved our potentially tragic way home a balance of power was shifted and everything in my head was imbued with a rushing sense of what if.

tachometer climbing and falling hypnotically down a two mile long straight before the pavement cut off.
what if.
further off, past inevitable orange groves, forty five miles an hour, no streetlights, no safety pylons.
what if.
when we get out of the car, karim and rick in the front seat would assume and wonder at my fortuitous positioning in the back seat, would it come to blows?
what if.
would i believe some feigned bullshit about this being THE girl for karim when so often it was only drunken reverie and delusion? would it go any different this time? or would he proclaim his infatuation, only to have the girl shrink from him, taken aback by the force of his unwanted monomania...but what if she was, what if she knew?

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what if?

without the force of imagination to give these possibilities form i can't imagine what i would have done to provoke them into reality. perhaps that was the difference, a lack of imagination. a dearth of make believe. an inability to see what would happen were i to throw that empty beer bottle and begin a fight that would nearly take someone's life or return that doleful look blazing out from green eyes that held only a self hate so powerful it constantly sought exegesis in physical and emotionally catastrophic pain.

but i can imagine, and it is nothing that i want to see.

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Posted by Chris Castro on Sept. 19, 2020, 3:38 p.m. from Oakland, CA
Last updated on Sept. 21, 2020, 3:28 p.m.