"Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing." -- Luis Buñuel
It is six years ago, and I am walking back to our apartment from the Dairy Queen, and I can smell the popcorn blowing out through the Texaco door when the Friday night black jackets go in. This is my secret Texaco walk, I am speeding in my mind, and I am barefoot, on the tar, trusting the night that there is no broken glass to step on, knowing this isn't a broken-glass kind of night. The sun is still in the tar, and my feet are hot, and I walk to where the cars are parked in the spaces, and smell the engines burning, and I breathe the fury.
A Mexican boy with a net on his head (though I'm sure he calls it something else) looks at me and I smile, but he is trying to be cool, and he looks away, and he adjusts his net in the rear-view mirror. I have a bag of bottles, klinky pink bottles that I bought at the Texaco. The condensation is making the bag wet and I worry about dropping them, because I spent six dollars on them, six dollars to get drunk and do things that I really want to do but am afraid.
I walk through the shadows, under the red star, where I have to watch out for those prickly things that grow around signposts, a vampire.
There is a car lot by the Texaco with a shot-out rusty sign that says JORGE'S USED CARS. I walk onto the pavement then, past Jorge's cars, past the Tuesday-Friday trash dumpster where the garbage men squished a bum once, and I see a van where a man in a brown cowboy hat sits in the driver's seat, and the shadow of his hanging plastic Mary is moving across his forehead, as a car pulls into the parking lot.
As I walk past him -- slowly, so I won't offend him -- I can smell his life in the van: marijuana, sandalwood, oranges, tortilla chips, and underarms.
I walk under the windows of our complex where children are inside, getting ready for bed in rooms with soft lights and Cinderella lamps, and I think of how I may want children someday, someday, I say someday, then every morning I wake up and wipe out my life from back to front so that I only live that day, and I don't plan children in that way, and then I smell the van again.
I wonder what it is like to know people like that, to ride around in a van in south Texas and smoke pot, sitting beside sweaty bodies with brown skin, men who would touch me and make me feel like a little girl again, and inside I would scream for them to stop but really want them to go on, and I would jump out crying, and then my van ride would be over, not what I thought it would be, so I decide I wouldn't go on a van ride with them after all, but maybe I would sit out on the curb and talk to them, and ask them which badges they wear, and tell them about a spider I saw one time in a park in Del Valle that changed colors when I blew on her to make her move.
That would be a cool thing to tell cool people who ride in a van, and then my gypsy laughs. I hate her, but I want to keep her around. She says: Your wanderlust is going to kill you.
I walk on, I get to our apartment but I don't go up, I decide to drink with my girlfriend Cheryl. She is cool, a Mexican I met here. She likes beer, and I like wine, and together we sit and have a grand old time, and she tells me stories about her Mexican family that is spread out all over Texas, and about Mexican tradition and cultures. It all spins together like whirling gold, and occasionally she tells me a racist joke to keep me in line.
The first time she told me a joke about white girls I laughed, even though my face cracked. I saved my cry for later when I went home, though, because a tiny whisper told me it was like an initiation, because Cheryl is tough, and I have to be tough to hang with her, so I was. I sprinkled in some Oh Hells and some Holy Shits, it felt weird but I did it, and I don't know why she likes me, I never know, but I don't ask, either. I probably wouldn't like the answer, because, like I said, Cheryl is tough.
This morning she told me she had gone to a funeral last night for her cousin who was hit by a truck, and I said I was sorry, and she told me about her family who got into a fight over who loved the dead cousin the most, and they knocked the casket over, and her cousin fell out all stiff, but nobody was in the funeral parlor because it was some kind of midnight mass (she called it midnight mess), so they all just helped stuff the body back in, and her brother got the body's lips caught on a handle fixture on the casket and tore the body's stitches, so they all pretended they were so upset that they had to close the casket lid, and the next day when the public came in no one knew his mouth had been torn off, and she laughed all through that story. I don't know anybody like Cheryl, she is tough but she cries when she is drunk, and she swears like white trash from back home but her house is clean, so I never really know what to think about her.
I knock but Cheryl isn't home, and I feel a twinge of jealousy that she is out doing something else, without me, even though there are a million places in Austin for her to be. I go upstairs and sit my bottles in the refrigerator, and get a plastic cup (because soon I will be drunk enough to break glass), and a straw (because I get drunk faster with a straw), and take my first bottle out to the porch, where I sit at night and watch the twinkling Christmasy lights downtown, and I wonder about all the lives going on down at 6th street. I wonder about all the music playing in the bars, but I hate cigarette smoke, so I don't go.
I am so hot, sitting in the patio shadows in my white wicker chair, the wind is blowing my skirt up, I wish I had a man, and I drink.
I think about a Mexican boy I saw mowing the grass today, so hot, working out in the sun, with the Marquis de Sade for a boss, no doubt, and I went out and took him a can of pop, and I held it out to him, and said, "You look so hot, I had to bring you a drink."
I handed it to him, but he didn't take it. He said, "No speak engless, no speak engless," so I gestured and said, "For you. To drink."
"Thank you, thank you," he said, and I turned and walked off, I thought maybe I shouldn't have brought him strawberry, it would make him even more thirsty, but when I grabbed it out of the fridge I grabbed strawberry because that was my favorite, and I thought it would be nicer for him.
In my queen chair I think about his white t-shirt stretched across his tight chest, and his boy arms with the muscles already developing, how he was pushing the mower, how he looked at me like a kid, and the breeze blows my skirt again, and I am sickened with myself, using him now, when earlier my intentions were pure, and isn't that just like me? Yes, says the spider.
I drink some more, I am halfway done with my strawberry wine and I go in and get my radio and put on Patsy, a perfect voice for this perfect night, and I watch a fight out in the parking lot of a bar down the way, I think I may see somebody get stabbed tonight, it would be my first time, I have never seen violence this close, and not do anything about it.
One man is Boss Hogg-fat and his yellow shirt is undone to his bellybutton, and if I got close to it there would be lint in it, just like my dad's. The other one is just a greasy weasel, and I feel sorry for him, I try to imagine his life and all that comes is bourbon in my throat after I have thrown it up. If this were a movie he would be the one to get stabbed and bleed to death in the dark parking lot while clutching a picture of his girlfriend whom he had made a promise to that he would quit drinking.
They are swaggering around each other, calling each other "redneck," and I laugh, what kind of thing is that to say? Maybe they are friends, really, they know "redneck" is stupid, and they are trying to diffuse things, do men think like that? They are both rednecks.
I see the man next door come home, his name is Joe, he is from Brooklyn, and he married a lady from somewhere in Asia whom Cheryl calls "gook" when the lady is going in and out of her apartment. I pretend I don't hear Cheryl when she tries to get me to agree with her, or when she gives me those looks. Cheryl's brother was killed in Viet Nam and she told me never to talk about it, and she hates the song "Billy Don't be a Hero," so I never play the oldies station with the windows open.
Joe is fatherly, even though he is just a little older than me, and his black hair matches his black brows, and he has a happy-sad face like those men in the '30s who wore flat hats and stood in line for soup and bread. I like him. I would fuck him, too, because he is so odd, so different from me, I don't have any reference points for him in my mind, and I could enjoy myself.
One day Joe comes home and Cheryl and I are shooting water guns, and he says hello with the big box of Air Force religion under his arm that says Miller High Life, and I say hello, and he says, "You'd better bring your cat in, it's Halloween," and I say, "Do you mean somebody might put a firecracker up No Name's butt?" and he says, "No, the Satanists are out cruising for black cats." Just as pretty as you please.
"Thanks," I say. That is about all I have said to him except hello, and hello Joe in a singsong voice when I am horny and proud of it, and he smiles different.
Tonight the base looks like a UFO dream, what they must have dreamt our earth would be like on their way here, even if it took them just seconds, a light-up twinkle dream, like it is a beautiful thing, except I know that underneath, underground, undercover, buried deep, there are bombs, and dead aliens in ice, carved up, and their atoms are crying to be alive again and get out of the twinkle dream, because I fuck one of the men that goes under there, he told me because I wanted a secret in exchange for what he wanted, and he gave it to me one sacred night, which is all he had to offer me, and he knew it, after ten bottles of courage and some Whole Lotta Love.
Albert Einstein said that if you physically remember a place, it actually exists, though not materially, but that is the very last expression of anything, anyway.
So now, six years later, I think of the base, taps at ten, touch-and-go's at 9 A.M. every morning like a hurricane across the street, the grackles, La Chusa sitting on a telephone wire that Cheryl screamed at when she was drunk and told me to go get the hot peppers!
I carry that in my head, and I build it, with souls I love, who like to open the sliding glass door onto the patio and let the curtain blow out like a flying white ghost in our Escape From the Sun apartment complex, while we sit and watch Ra go down in purple-and-yellow stripes, an Egyptian-Aztec god who just ate his virgin Texas children, who is going to sleep now with his gold armor on, and we love the smell of charbroiled hamburgers from the Dairy Queen, and the sounds of the jukebox from the bar across the street that gives off amber glows from its mouth like a lust monster.
The base is mine now. I am going to keep all that even though one of the people on a BBS from Austin told me Del Valle sucks! because I sustain lives there, I work a weave with other people who think of the base, we all weave a blanket in space with our memories, our atta-boy-gung-ho-drink-like-a-fish-starve-til-payday memories. There are people sitting on the blanket, people ride on the blanket, the blanket covers Del Valle with protection still, it is becoming even though the base is gone now, it is woven in dark pink and golden thread, and it floats like a big square over Del Valle, like a flag laying down, blowing each time somebody thinks about his or her life there, and it doesn't suck.
I sit on the blanket and talk to my memory-friends: the people I baby-sat for; the pilot stationed there who died in a jet crash, and his mother is there, who was told all of her son's body was in the coffin (but it is a lie); the man who worked as a bagger at the commissary who gave me my hundred-dollar bill back when I thought I was giving him two ones; the dog I had to kick because it tried to bite me one night when I was riding my bike by the high school; the people who worked in the gordita place, and the men who ate lunch there and kept their hats on during lunch like it is some wonderful thing to wear a uniform, to be part of a blue collective; the indoor rummage-sale lady where I bought my straw chicken basket; the man who worked at the Texaco who smiled at me when I came in drunk for life and wine and told me, "You have a nice night, now, you hear?" knowing I would; the ghost-town elementary school that was flat and spread out just like an elementary school in the West should be, a mesa school, with overhanging porches like a turn-of-the-century boarding house and my name is Peregrine, only at night it was full of triangular shadows, children's kickball echoes, and their soul prints in primary colors, taped to the doors like mini Jesus-hands, blowing hello; the policemen who rode by and tipped their Texas hats, making sure all was safe, knowing about domestic violence in military families in the summertime heat; and my me s'hahnee friend Ed who wore his full metal jacket all the time even though I wanted him to take it off.
And sometimes I lay on the blanket I weave over Del Valle and stare at the stars, it is like laying on a waterbed outside on a roof, and sometimes I don't talk to anybody else, even though Ed comes and the policemen come and the pilots come and the landlord comes and the bartenders come, but sometimes I wish they would get off my blanket, except Ed, because I weave it best, but it is their blanket, too, and they weave, too.
Evangeline Mercury (email@example.com) grew up running wild in the West Virginia mountains, which are full of snakes. Her favorite road is Route 10. Sometimes she writes from a blue star salon in Morocco, while drinking from Kerouac and Lawrence Durrell. She has written books called Cowgirl Homily, Witcher Woman, Hollering Tree, and Radio Mija.
"Barefoot Sinderella" is based on Evangeline Mercury's time in Austin, Texas. She lived it while listening to Patsy Cline, and wrote it while listening to Mazzy Star.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 5, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1995 Evangeline Mercury.