They call it running, but you do it with a car, running away, running to … To, from what? Places, things, people, circumstance. Seems I’m always passing through New Mexico lately. East to west, west to east, north to south, south … north. Always in a hurry. Last time before this latest trip, it was Tucson, Arizona to El Paso, Texas, zipping across the flats of New Mexico in between mountains, scudding along with the dust devils eighty, ninety miles an hour on I10.
Three months later, was going back to Arizona again, my history not far behind me. Just this once, though, I changed my routine, decided to pick a town right off the road in New Mexico and stop long enough to smell the flora, check out the local fauna. Stopped in Deming. Not a beautiful place, just interesting. Kind of place I can blend into, well-worn jeans, boots and belt buckle kind of place. Stopped for pancakes off the main drag, met a waitress named Maria, a lovely woman with a bosom like a minor miracle.
She smiled, leaned over the table with a towel, wiped the whole top, lifting silverware, wiping, laying it back with a gentle diligence. Same with the napkins, the sugar jar, salt and pepper shakers. Picked everything up, wiped the whole table, though I thought it was already clean. What do I know? At the last before she zipped off down the aisle between booths by the window and tables, she leaned in close to me reaching with the cloth, not quite touching, but she left third degree burns on my face from the aura that surrounded her. You can’t see an aura unless you’re holy, or an artist, a painter of saints and the Virgin, but you can feel them. I felt hers.
She smelled just lightly of onions and lilacs. A passionate mix, heady perfume for some men. For me anyway. When she came back with a pot of coffee and a cup, some cream all on a tray, I asked her to marry me.
Six months later, I’m still in Deming, working in a shop that’s open to the weather on three sides. I’m welding steel, working metal on a lathe, a grinder, or one of several other ancient machines designed for the purpose of cutting, punching, turning, shaping steel into useful objects. It’s the one skill I have that’s never lost its relevance, a trade. Every man should have one.
Love the sweet and sour smell of the leather I use to protect my hands and arms when I’m welding, love the smell of the leather burning when little molten balls pop from the molten puddle in the steel and land on my gloves. I love the heat of the day, the crackle of the welding rod, the shape of the liquid steel under the brightest arc a thing I can only see when I look through a number nine glass in my face shield. My boss? Maria’s uncle. We’re family. Every morning I wake up next to her, my soul singing arias and Latin hymns about the beauty of life and the loving touch, joy in the little things.
So for those six months, it’s heaven.
You understand heaven, right? Heaven’s what you want but can never have as long as you’re tainted with human imperfections, like me, a man with history. Hell of a history I’ve got, one that always seems to catch up with my shadow no matter how well I’m hidden. But that’s as close as I’ll ever let it come … to stand on my shadow.
You know? You can almost feel it coming.
“Death crossed my shadow just now. It gave me a chill.”
Sounds pretty dramatic. Fits my situation. People like me can’t stop for long.
“Death crossed my shadow …”
I heard that somewhere. In a movie, maybe. Read it in a book? Who knows? Either way, I always seem to know when my history’s just about to whack me upside the head like a two by four. It’s a sixth sense. Keeps me breathing. Breathing is a good and a precious thing. So simple. In. Out. You don’t realize how precious a breath can be until you can’t breathe. Lose that, you lose it all.
Maria would tell you that … if she could.
I feel a chill.
Can’t stay in Deming, so it’s time to travel on and today? I’m heading north toward Albuquerque. From there, it’s east on I40. Stop in Tucumcari for the night. I know a motel there. Place where I’ve slept before on a similar trip. There’s a nice steakhouse nearby where you can wear a black Stetson while you eat and nobody gives a damn. I’ll move on toward Texas in the morning. Maybe this time, I’ll head east until I run into an ocean and rest again for a while in the arms of a woman. I get far enough away from the last place I stopped? Maybe I’ll be able to rest a while longer.
Meantime, I’ll just drive. Feel better behind a wheel than I ever did standing still.
Senseless? You bet. Necessary, nonetheless.
Call it … a guilt trip.
published 20 Aug 2011