Last Christmas in the Desert
It was a damn beautiful sight, being home, Theodore Saunders and the rest of The Cosmic Cowboy Gang, home for the holidays, top of the charts to happiness, with a bullet. Christmas in the desert was Geronimo in boots stepping on rattlesnakes, Sticky Fingers with a new floozy, dressed in rags, sans-makeup, and him saying over and over again, mantra-like, “She’s as beautiful as a sunset,” so much so that surely he was on something. “Give me some,” I told him and he handed me purple pills, which I gulped down with a tumbler of Rye as Sticky Fingers’ girl winked at me.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Phyllis,” she said.
“Really?” I laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“I guess I just expected something different.”
MacDougal Franks, Theodore Saunders, Geronimo, Sticky Fingers, and me, myself, I — The Cosmic Cowboy Gang, home for the holidays, like I said. Franks turned up the radio and The Castilles played groovy chords, CGE, over and over again, and then THEM came on the radio and finally, lastly, last song before the sunrise, was “Feeling Like a Million Bucks,” by The Albatross Society, guest vocals by Raymond Feelgood.
We’d all stacked into the car like canned tuna, a beat-to-shit Corolla that someone’s mom had bought used, cash-only, on Craiglist. It was born red, but the desert had its way with it and now it was pink in its old age. Sometimes it smoked, and it always jarred and buckled like a mustang from the nineteenth century, but most of the time it rode and this time it rolled us down the slope of Old Man’s Bluff, to the Valley of the Dead Crickets where Geronimo once claimed to have seen a UFO, and to where I can attest to seeing roughly one million dead crickets in the early morning hours of November 9th, the first of many plagues to wipe shit-eating grins off orange oompa-loompa motherfuckers and their disciples.
All the crickets were gone now and in their stead was red earth, blue sky, yellow sun — all of it so settled into a cosmic grace that it was impossible to disturb, it’s fantastic indisputable, it’s hypothetical smile beaming and clean, bright and shining, tie-dyed in the colors of the desert. It was a beautiful sight in an ugly world.
The purple pills took over and blanketed us all in a hazy gospel of good-times, and Sticky Fingers went off with Phyliss to howl wolf to the sexual skies, and Geronimo stumbled into The Valley to find rattlers, and Macdougal Franks and Theodore Saunders and myself climbed up Old Joe’s Bluff to paint our masterpiece on the blank sky. Cowboy boots lack traction so we slipped and slid on loose rubble from age unknown until we reached the crest, and looked out over The Valley of the Dead Crickets, where the sun came up on the good side of the world. It was Christmas official, and in the muted sunrise it began to snow on us, trinkets of grey gold, acid and mushy on the tongue, and with the snow it became impossible to forget that the world around us burned, that on our tongues was no doubt someone’s arm, eye, shoulder blade, breast or heart, lungs, someone’s face or even someone’s tongue — the last meaning that in our version of these end days we’re french kissing with dead strangers.
For years our radioactive society had been scheduled for disintegration. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but each Christmas will be our last, until there are no more places like Old Joe’s Bluff, no more Cosmic Cowboy Gang, no more time for creatures, cultures, or cunt, it finally, at the end, being more convenient to list the things that remained than the things we’d lost. But what do we know? We’d still ride the rollercoasters of our purple highs, we’d still pack the Corolla, we’d still fancy sunrise over sunset, refuse to bury the optimism that comes with the beginning of a day, the freedom of future, and an unlit matchstick. There’ll come a time to burn, but not yet baby, not yet.
I emerged from my druggy reverie just as Sticky Fingers, Phyllis, and Geronimo reconvened the circle of us on the top of the bluff. The sun was high up in the sky then, and afternoon approached. “Why’s the sky blue?” Phyllis moaned, stretching her arms out to meet it, to sink her slender fingers into a cloud. I told her that Aristotle believed that all air was blue. But it was a wispy blue. A slight blue. And only when all air stacked on top of itself did you get the colors of our overhead skies. “If you go to the top of the world, above the clouds,” I said, “the sky would get paler and paler until finally it gets close to white, and that’s when you get to heaven, not a white, just the lightest shade of blue.”
“That ain’t it,” Geronimo said. “It’s the refraction of sunlight. That’s why the sky is blue.”
Phyllis shook her head. “That’s how the sky gets blue,” she said. “I’m asking why.”
Geronimo started to speak but stopped, unable to corral whatever epiphany lay dormant inside himself, and nobody talked for a good while. I decided that I wanted to believe Aristotle’s reasoning, and that we were seeing the best sky, as it lived its bluest self, science be damned.
When it came time to go the others hopped in the Corolla and I stood outside it, my body a shadow on the desert rocks, silhouetted by the Corolla’s single headlight. “Let’s go,” they chorused, but I waved them off. “I’m going to stay,” I said. “Someone needs to stay outside.” A few of them laughed and asked what I was talking about. But how could I explain to them what I could not even understand myself? Some neolithic organ inside my gut, some nameless constituent of my soul, knew then that it would be our last night, and that as the birth of that day’s namesake marked the beginnings of our Anno Domini epoch, its death would come then, same day, new hour, two thousand-odd years in the making, and that for us, for everyone, it was the last Christmas in the desert.
As they drove away I could see a growing fire stretched across the whole of the horizon, getting bigger. It changed the color of the blue sky and turned it black. I stayed outside.
Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on October 19, 2016.