Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Cactus

"But metafiction isn't even cool anymore," says my friend, rolling a cigarette. "That shit hasn't been cool since Vonnegut died in '06." he licks the paper and twists it into a tight bundle before he presses it between his lips. He lights it.

"He died in 2007," I say. "And he wasn't the only one who did it. I gave you that Kundera book." My friend inhales and looks at me. "Fuck that guy," he says, and spits near my shoe.

"How am I supposed to write about the word mint without making it self-referential?" I ask. "If I talk about people in a bar it's cliche. If some guy roofies some girl it's cliche. If some girl roofies some guy it doesn't make sense. The only things left are mojitos and mint chocolate chip ice cream."

My friend scratches his face and then runs his hand through his hair --the one not holding the cigarette-- to create a kind of static lift. He does this whenever he is thinking.

"Ok," he says. "How about this: the story could be about a guy. This guy's name is - is - is fucking Dave, or whatever, right?"

I nod.

"Ok," he continues. "Dave is gay, right? But he's married and has a kid, so, he decides that, one day, he can't take it anymore. He gets really drunk. On mojitos. He makes himself like seven mojitos in his nice backyard in his nice house on a nice street in a nice neighborhood in a nice part of town and then leaves to pick his daughter up from school. He makes a mojito for the road.

I nod again.

"So --swerving through traffic and shit-- he picks up his daughter and drives her to an ice cream shop where he buys her two scoops of mint chocolate chip and tells her that he has to go away for a long time, that he might never come back. And the whole time he's telling her this he's chewing up mints like fucking crazy. Yea, mints, because his breath smells so bad, like alcohol, just handfuls and handfuls of mints into his mouth, crumbs of them dripping down his chin.

"He leaves. He gets into his car, this mint colored Cadillac from the fifties, and then he leaves her in the ice cream shop. Just fucking leaves her there. This girl is in fucking kindergarten, right? And then he drives to Mexico. They live in San Diego or some shit and have a house made out of coral.

"He drives and doesn't stop. He can't stop. If he stops, something will catch up with him. He can't explain it, he just knows he has to keep driving, eighty, ninety, a hundred miles an hour, to escape this feeling. He makes it through border patrol, and keeps driving.

"He gets lost. He has no idea where he is. He pulls over at a bar. He ends up getting wasted because he feels so guilty, he just wants whatever it was that he was running from to catch up with him, and so he's waiting. Just waiting. There's all of these locals at the bar. Some of them speak English and they invite him over to come sit with them. They drink. They order mojitos and mint chocolate chip ice cream and tequila and they're laughing and drinking and eating ice cream and clinking glasses and spilling alcohol all over their dry, dirty fingers while the ice cream crusts against the corners of their mouths, and then someone drugs Dave. He passes out. They strip him naked. They drive him to the middle of the desert and leave him there to die.

"In the dim light of the moon, Dave wakes up and wanders through the desert past the tall rows of cactus that line the earth. They glow a soft mint color in the night. Pretty soon the cactus start looking like people. Reminders of the abandoned. He runs his hand over them, carefully. The spines of the cactus brush against his fingers. He thinks about how fitting this is. Like, how, even when he touched his wife, his daughter, his family, his lover, this affair he had with this other man, it's like they were never really his -- like he was never really touching them at all, like he had never touched anyone in his entire life. He hears a coyote in the distance. This is what he's been waiting for, you know? This is what's been trying to catch up with him. Not the actual coyote, but, the sound, an omen. Like he's arrived at himself. And so he walks, naked, through the desert, towards oblivion. And like, that could be the end. That could be it, you know? Why don't you write about that? Why don't you make that your story?"

I look at my friend and don't say anything. I wear my disapproval on my face. I shake my head "no."

He spits on the ground again and stamps out his cigarette, which he has finished smoking in the time it took to tell the story. "Fine," he says. "Fuck it. Don't write about it. Write about some other fucking people putting drugs into their drinks so they can fuck each other like awful, dying animals. Here's a story for you. I tried quitting smoking once. Chewed on mint toothpicks until my gums bled. Why don't you write about that? Why don't you write about that dumb shit instead?"

I shake my head. I do.

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