El Paso

Anisa Marmura

Jenny was a total soak. Never left a barroom, elbows collapsed and sticking to the countertops, (fleshy pads of stranger’s fingertips pressed heart-shaped imprints into the tacky beer) dry. Never left a bedroom, bottles tucked under the bedsheets (glass tops glazed in sugar and saliva), dry. Never left her best friend’s West Texas kitchen, with coffee-stained walls the color of a crisped, fat salmon, dry. The summer she lived with her best friend Mary May and Mary May’s husband in a sooty suburb outside of El Paso, Mary and husband put a lock on the liquor cabinet. Jenny drilled a hole through the wall of the cabinet beside it, moving aside neatly stacked cans of brown baked beans, tuna, coffee, and creamed corn. Jenny always knew that they were preparing for the end. The end of the gold sky that bathed their home. The end of their squirrelly and sweet love. The end of El Paso. Through the hole in the wall she began suckin’ back bottles of tequila, Rebecca Creek whiskey, Peach Pie moonshine; whatever else her sinning, trembling hands could reach. She’d sit there, sweating like a sow on the peeling away stick and peel, pickle green countertops; and soak until she was as juicy and ripe as the peach on the frosted glass bottle by which she was deluged. She felt the birds on the wall clock above the kitchen table gyrate with every hour that passed. If sober enough at 5:00 she’d peel herself off the counter and crawl to the guest bedroom where she lived. She’d lay atop the cool comforter in front of the dust sputtering fan. It was just about 5:20, Mary May’d be home real soon from her job at the bank with a doggy bag full of sweet ribs and macaroni salad. Mary May always made her own slaw with low fat mayo and would wash down her dinner with a Diet Coke. Mary May’s long, almond shaped, taffy pink nails made a stunning snap when she pulled the tab on her Coke can. Jenny shifted on the comforter, an idle attempt at escaping the Texas sun, pumping heat through the cracks in the blinds. Unable to fight her listlessness, she’d fallen asleep leaking like a busted old engine on the bed. The perfume that rested delicately on her wrists and throat, the booze that flowed through her body and seeped out of her gaping pores, and the sweat that exuded, all pooled at her resting place. She stained the slippery polyester bed with the bile, exhaust, and mistaken tenderness that shrouded her that summer. Jenny hoped to be sacrificed. The next day she realized she’d slept through the tip-tapping of Mary May’s nails on the Coke can, the crinkle of the brown paper when she’d pulled her meal out of it. In the wake of missing this routine pleasure, she felt miserable. Whatever God-forsaken shred of comfort she had left had been snatched away when her eyes shut in resignation. The birds on the wall clucked along all afternoon, singing for the sun that never missed a beat. She stayed on top of the comforter on the bed again that day, repenting in haze. At 5:24 she heard the screen door slam, the bag crinkling, and Mary May’s nails cracking open her Coke can. That summer, Mary’s movements sounded like angels singing. She could imagine Mary May parked in her blue fold-up chair, leaning against the chain-linked fence in the backyard. Sun hitting her nails, shining with the promise of another hard day’s work and cutting through the heat, charming even the cosmos, growing along the fence. She smiled and soaked in the sounds of her best friend. She stayed layin’ where she was. Jenny was ripe, ready to be plucked, nearly sour. That summer, the bugs were enchanted by her pungency, and pleaded with her skin for a drink. Mary May could smell her out in the garden. Jenny’s scent bled, reaching all the way ’cross the border to Mexico.

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Image by Mike from Pixabay