Tuesday I wake up damp with a clenched jaw. Dirty towels on the ground reeking of mildew. Why do people record their dreams? Dreams are trout in bare hands—let them slip free! Mine are so generic anyway. I pluck out my teeth one-by-one like daisy petals. He loves me, I say with blood pouring down my hand, he loves me not. I move on. I weasel out of New York lease. I get out of bed. I go into the bathroom. I put on the clammy moist bikini hanging over the shower rod. I lay by the kidney-shaped pool in the backyard.
I’m still in Arizona—the McMansion in the Sonoran Desert. It’s the house I grew up in that my dead mother left to me. I’ve been here a month. By now, I should have renovated the house. I should have listed it on the market. But for who to buy? The houses in the neighborhood are still boarded up and owned by banks. Occupied by squatters. No one’s moving in. I should have signed the deed over to my stepdad, Neil. But I’ve done nothing except lay by the pool.
My friend in New York texts me: WHAT is even in the Southwest suburbs?
I reply: Pools.
This pool is where I had my first kiss. It’s where the Mormon girls in my neighborhood baptized me by holding my head underwater until I felt the walls of my lungs vacuum seal together.
I lay across slabs of sandstone, basking in the sun. Lizards join me: geckos and horny-toads.
When my dead boyfriend was alive, he called me reptilian—an ongoing joke that I hated. He first mentioned it when he saw how freakishly long my tongue was, then in passive aggressive jest about my short attention span. Sometimes he mentioned it when he heard my croaky morning voice, and once when he noticed the yellowish green of my eyes. Mostly, he said it when I was cold. I resented this. Being called ectothermic—associated with cold-bloodedness.
In the Sonoran Desert, the children are playing in the cul-de-sac and the teenagers are overdosing on Fentanyl. I take a deep breath of air polluted with endocrine disruptors. Yesterday I parked behind the drug store and watched a malnourished coyote lap up roadkill. Today I see the sun glittering like chrome sparks off the pool’s little wakes. Everyday, I get up and drive twenty minutes to the nearest Starbucks just to hear someone tell me “good morning” and remind me I exist.
Wednesday I wake up, put on the damp bikini, lay by the pool.
At noon, Neil comes over to check the chlorine levels, filters, and pumps. He circles the perimeter, skimming out leaves and drowned moths. “The Little Guy is broken,” he tells me. The Little Guy is what he calls the suction scooter that scours the pool like a bottom-feeder.
The older he gets, the deeper his voice becomes. I now hear the Oklahoma drawl he suppressed for years. Though, he’s not “old” per se. He’s only sixteen years older than me. I run the numbers in my head. Married my mother when he was 24, she was 47, I was 8. Oddly, the older he gets, the younger he looks. Maybe it’s the relief of my nutcase mother being in the ground, maybe it’s his even tan, or just the glow of new sobriety. He’s got those angular lower abs that gesture toward his dick. Had he always had those? I can’t believe my mom made me call him Daddy.
I dog-paddle to the narrow part of the kidney and rest my elbows on the lip of the pool, letting water dribble out of my mouth.
“Neil,” I say, “the jackrabbits are committing suicide.”
“I don’t blame them.”
“I’ve run over several on the road underneath the arroyo. They hop out into the middle and just sit there. I swerve, they leap in the same direction. Splat!”
“Don’t swerve. Jackrabbits seek thrill. They play chicken. You just go straight at ‘em and they’ll jump out of the way.”
I think about games of chicken. Two fighters racing toward each other only to surrender at the exact same time, pull out in the exact same direction, collide anyway. Two cowards who die without dignity.
That night I wrote a letter to my dead boyfriend.
Are you one of those people who see animal instincts as omens or warnings? You know, how in apocalypse/natural disaster movies the first sign of things taking a turn for the worst is always strange animal behavior? I’m one of those people.
This is why I left Arizona years ago. There were animals—animals everywhere. I’d walk out my front door and see roadrunners darting down the sidewalk. I saw coyotes sniffing through the garbage. Late at night, I’d pull into the driveway, headlights beaming onto cottontail families as they scurried out of the lawns. Their habitats: the sage, saguaros, and brier, were being torn out and scorched to the ground to lay down concrete. New roads paved. The foundation to build bigger but weaker houses; ugly houses with confused architectural styles. This isn’t to say that the animals “sensed” an economic crash, but it was a sign (more literal than symbolic) that something was about to change.
I wish you could smell my skin now: coconut and chlorine. Maybe I don’t shower enough. I am so tired and sun-drunk and regular drunk. I drank a lot of tequila. I ate a lot of Xanax. Perhaps I’ll see you in Hell very soon.
Until we meet again,
Thursday I wake up, put on the damp bikini, lay by the pool.
Another friend texts me: Damn the desert’s a VIBE
I reply hell yaaa and swat a wasp away from my thigh.
U working on anything out there?
No. Just vibing.
When the sun sets I drive to Starbucks and take the road under the arroyo. A jackrabbit is there, as always. I charge straight at it, as Neil advised. It doesn’t jump away. My heart swishes around my chest like a squid in a small net when I feel the crunch under my tire.
At night, Neil calls to tell me that my yard is infested with scorpions. It’s nice of him to help out as much as he does, I think, considering he’s a gold digger who didn’t get the inheritance he married for. I feel an odd responsibility to take care of my dead mom’s cowboy gigolo widower. I’ll give him money, but I’ll never give him this piece of shit house.
I go outside with a blacklight. He was right. I see scorpions glowing fluorescent blue—too many to count—they’re crawling on the ground and wriggling up the walls. People who don’t believe that there is pure horror in this world have never done this: gone into the desert night with a blacklight.
Friday I wake up, put on the damp bikini, lay by the pool.
The least serene day of the week: band practice. A death metal band plays in a garage up the street. There are guttural shrieks and heavy base. Boys squealing like injured pigs—various patterns of the words:
It ends with them repeating:
I roll over onto my stomach and untie my bikini. A lizard is back. He doesn’t flinch. He holds his head regally high toward the sun.
I jump into the pool and hold my breath. I wonder if I can stay down long enough to feel the walls of my lungs kiss like they did the time I was baptized.
I imagined New York, slinking into bed when my boyfriend’s body was still warm. I swung my leg over his leg, braided my knee under his knee, my ankle over his ankle. He said he felt the night’s chill soaked into my skin. His was burning feverishly. We lied there entwined, regulating each other’s body temperatures. Morphing into one another. Yin and yang. The next night an ambulance flashed lights over our unmade bed. Ripples of blanket and sheets looked like the waves of a red hot sea.
I emerge from the water’s surface and gasp. I climb out of the pool and offer myself to the sun. I turn toward it. I indulge in it. It warms my lizard blood, and when the wasps come buzzing, I’ll shoot my lizard tongue twice as far as my height and eat them. Later today, I’ll find a way to numb my lizard brain. And when I no longer like my lizard tail, I will chop it off and it will grow right back.