“You Construct Intricate Rituals Which Allow You To Touch The Skin Of Other Men,”
--Untitled, Barbara Kruger.
“In the war film, a soldier can hold his buddy—as long as his buddy is dying on the battlefield. In the western, Butch Cassidy can wash the Sundance Kid’s naked flesh—as long as it is wounded. In the boxing film, a trainer can rub the well-developed torso and sinewy back of his protege—as long as it is bruised. In the crime film, a mob lieutenant can embrace his boss like a lover—as long as he is riddled with bullets. Violence makes the homoeroticism of many “male” genres invisible; it is a structural mechanism of plausible deniability.”
-Kent L. Brintnall, Tarantino’s incarnational theology: Reservoir Dogs, crucifixions and spectacular violence.
regret and remorse.
amends and atonement.
that's life right? but this next one is for you.
all you lost souls racing down that long road to redemption, and all you sinners running from your past, but heading straight into that bitter darkness up ahead.
we're all on that same endless highway.
the one with no name and no exits.
looking for a way out of tonight and into tomorrow.
well, they’re gonna try to stop you, but you got to say "fuck it" and keep moving.
because this is your highway,
and tonight might just be the night you finally outrun those wicked demons, once and for all.
and i’ll be right here with ya, making sure you get where you’re going.
--southbound (2015) dir. radio silence.
always open, the sign on the door says.
“rough night?” the gas station store clerk asks, her eyes piercing right through you and coming out of the other side unfazed.
behind you, Coyote scoffs out a laugh and starts heading towards the men’s room. it is then that the ground shakes. junk food racks, racist cherokee paraphernalia, cassette tapes in their cassette tape display and stale coffee machines all jingle and creak and shudder in place and it makes you and Coyote share a look. the look. the look you have perfected through years of scraping the road and scouring the maps and knowing when something hangs in the air like the first signs of a sand storm. you can’t name what it is just yet, but it sticks to the back of your tongue and turns your mouth into a barren wasteland.
the patrons sitting at the tables do not turn to look at you, either of you, not even when the earthquake dust rains on them, not even when Coyote takes his bloody shirt off and hands it to you (he’s exhausted) and you reach and slide your shotgun into the empty strap holder of his (you are too), a comforting ritual here: dry blood and tattoos, gunpowder and his thumb on your thumb, a wordless exchanges of blessings before you part ways.
the dust settles. flies circle this place like vultures. in the distance the desert rumbles, as familiar to you as the dry scent of lukewarm whisky on glass, or the stickiness of cigarette smoke, or maybe a storm coming in through the northern horizon, fat dark clouds rolling on hot orange sand. a storm. a storm? you can’t remember the last time you were in a storm.
“sure,” you reply, self-conscious of the way your voice is the ragged-dusty edges of the road, like if you say too much everyone will be able to see you right through your mirage, and you offer no further explanation. your face is not your face. your body doesn’t feel like your body. you can smell the spell seeping out of you in waves like a heat haze, road glimmer, distorting the warm color of your skin and the lean shapes of your face ‘til nobody bothers to glance twice at you.
the clerk turns the page of her newspaper; “satan skull found in new mexico!” and the ceiling fan spins slow and sluggish above her, the blades crowning her like a halo.
the cash register whirrs in agony. the clerk stares.
“come again soon.”
you drive away.
“rough night?” the clerk asks, leaning against the gas pump outside, smoking.
your eyes meet Coyote’s eyes.
the look becomes the well, fuck look.
Coyote slides his arm around your seat to stare at the smoking clerk as you step on the gas and drive right into the same road again.
“yeah, it’s been a rough motherfucking night ya one-star whore,” Coyote grumbles out of the window of the truck you stole together, flipping the blank-eyed clerk off as you grab the steering wheel with all your might and veer violently into the same highway.r
the store clerk doesn’t smile. “come again soon!”
in the distance the desert rumbles.
you drive past the creatures.
handfuls of them. they tower in the distance between old abandoned gas stations and sagebrush, electric lines and rocky hills and long, impossible stretches of road. the creatures are long, impossible stretches of dark. you can see them in the corners of your eyes, feel them in the sick, cold shiver in your spine the closer they get. you’ve been driving for so long now, so long, Coyote’s high-strung air and your helpless stare and nothing but the highway and this silence between you. fat dark clouds rolling on hot orange sand. the storm in the horizon and Coyote and you and the silence that’s been here in the truck with you like a lost child since that first night with blood on your hands, and the creatures in the distance, looming, knowing, waiting.
you can feel the medicine man’s spell seeping out of you, the warm light under your skin threatening to glow through the arid stretch of your disguise.
they’re closer every time you look out of the window.
“they can feel the mirage,” you tell Coyote, the light in your voice less and less dim every time you open your mouth, escaping out of you like a last breath. he notices. the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and you can see his tattoos, dark against his moonlight skin, slithering up his scalp.
“that’s how they keep finding us,” he agrees.
“what the fuck do i do.” another crack, gold slants in your voice. it itches like cracking off a layer of dry mud, like wanting to say something but not having the right words. “how do i stop--”
“just keep driving.”
you drive past one of them, with its long claws and its eyeless face, and how they seem to follow you no matter how fast you drive.
“what do you want!” Coyote screams in a rage, grabbing the first thing he can reach for and tossing it at them out of the window. something in your chest twists. you’ll get him another rosary. “what the fuck do you want!”
you both know they’ve come to collect.
it’s a goddamn joke that of all the things that he swore were going to kill him, a car accident in the middle of nowhere is what finally drenches you in his blood and fuck it, fuck it, fuck if God isn’t laughing at you right now.
the mirage is bleeding out of you and so is Coyote and with him bleeds the world, the weight of him in your arms heavier than anything you’ve ever had to drag through the desert, heavier than your soul in your body, his ribs half twisted in place, his face half scraped black and red, his leg half hanging off of him like the moon will soon hang in the sky.
you haul him into a motel room on the side of the road. the sun is setting and without the sun there will be nothing left. no fat dark clouds rolling on hot orange sand, no rough nights, no rosaries thrown out the window, nothing left of you and Coyote, his blood and your blood trailing a sigil on the floor as you kick the door closed behind you.
you knew the door would be open. you knew the room would be empty. you knew you’d lay him down on the bed and pray to the man looming on the cross above the both of you like the creatures loom outside this room, your lips trembling silently begging that for once, just this once, he lets you get it right.
the last jagged pieces of the mirage fall off you and you’re you again, your voice and your skin and the shape of your grief, the magic in your breath threatening to sink you both into the same goddamn corner of hell over and over until the sun no longer rises in the horizon.
“don’t say a goddamn word,” Coyote rasps out, his eyes on your eyes on his eyes on the bitter darkness. “don’t you dare, Texas.”
you shake your head, soaked in sweat and blood as you lean over him and look at his wounds and know that there’s only one way out of this purgatory.
outside the room the creatures whisper like metal on metal.
“no,” Coyote hisses, stuck in the way between tonight and tomorrow.
Coyote is sweating, shivering, shaking, screaming against the cool press of your hand against his lips as you clean the wound on his leg with … and he reaches to take the bottle out of your hand and tips it back. his soul left his body somewhere back between the road and the silence.
on the stove a clothing iron comes alive on the burner.
“i saw this in a movie once,” Coyote mumbles in his dazed state, slurred drunk, blood mixed with sweat, rambling mixed with prayer. “twice, shitload of times, in every movie with a rambo-type motherfucker, i swear to God, Texas,” he says, and it takes you by surprise, and you laugh and he laughs, and then he’s coughing up blood. you notice there’s tears soaking his face, his shirt, the place where his head meets the bare mattress, somehow you can tell them apart from everything else that’s on him right now. “Texas.” he says. “Texas.”
you reach out to press your hand to his cheek, burning where the horizon of your skin meets his. “god, ” he moans, for once turning his face into the cradle of your hand, for once breathing you in, for once soothed by the sweet morphine of your skin instead of running away from it.
you grab the iron.
i’m sorry, you want to brand into the spaces between now and the next loop, the last shattering moments of free will, of knowing, deep in your bones and deeper in your gut, where you thought you may once had a heart if it hadn’t been hardened by the blood on your hands and your face on wanted posters and the horrors that you’ve seen and the redemption you’ve held onto with both hands, that this time, goddamnit, you will make it
Coyote’s flesh sizzles and pops as you cauterize the wounds. Coyote screams into your palm and the pillowcase you’ve shoved in his mouth, bites through your skin, his hands clawing at your forearms, your chest, wild and terrified as he struggles, his back arches off the bed, his head knocks against the headboard, his mouth forms a sound so true and dark that you didn’t think it could come from him.
when you pull away he calls for mom, mom, mom.
Coyote grabs the pillowcase from his mouth and breathes in the world, wheezing sharply in his lungs before he collapses back under the pressure of your hands.
you curl up around him and it feels like a parody of something, both of you hot and sweating and shivering with a sort of aftershock, a moment after a climax, an earthquake, fat dark clouds rolling on hot orange sand, skin on skin sticking where he ends and you begin.
“wasn’t so bad,” you say, your hand finding his hand on the bed the moment he stops shaking.
always open, the sign on the door says.
the first drop of rain falls from your face into the crook of his neck.