Between Borders (1984)
Dunn was waiting, stretched out naked on a chenille covered motel bed too short for his length, gazing at a television. Between his dangling feet Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane were blasting away with pistols, shooting for the hearts of love, betrayal and each other in Orson Welles’ black&white funhouse mirror maze.
Finally The End glowed on the screen in slanted script across Welles’ back as he walked from the dead, toward the Pacific, past Play Land. Dunn looked away from the television and up to the ceiling–a freshly painted pale blue that deftly bore November morning light from twin windows open to the Atlantic. It was an old fashion room, probably built the year he was born, 1945. A high ceiling supported by thickly plastered masonry walls, now also newly blue.With its bulky blonde oak furniture and weary barkcloth drapes fading with anemic tropical foliage, the room was anomalous relief from the American motel mantra, a monotonous rosary of air-conditioning and air traffic along which Dunn traveled, formica cell to waiting formica cell, a numbing chain that feigned mobility, linked by airport bars and rental cars from empty morning parking lots to Interstates in heat and rain, with coffee shops and truck stops and filling stations and rest stops to some terminus of sodium vapor and neon where the deal was done and then it was back along the beads, the motels and the motels and the motels….
Dunn rolled off the bedspread he hadn’t bothered stripping down and crossed to the windows. He rested his thin hands on his knees and leaned forward until his nose pressed the corroded window screen. He smelled the rust and the sea and remembered his first sight of the ocean as a child of the landlocked plains brought down to the Gulf by a his parents and two other tipsy adults. It was then, on that day, he felt The Outsider for the first time, thinking himself more a clever foundling curiosity than child or son.
–Just wanted to get away from Them. And flee. Down the beach, forever gone. Running alongside all that big water breaking and beating. Forever gone. And moving.–
A little thrill shivered through Dunn with the recollection as he peered through the salt-encrusted screen and aw the slate weight rising above a pale shore. The slat blood odor cut through the oily stink of paint and the smell pulled down thirty years: Dunn stands in front of his Mom on that strand. She’s deliriously perfumed in a blue dress of dotted yellow Swiss and it blows around her hips like a Disney summer night.
The vividness of this memory startled Dunn and he turned away from the window to stare at the imprint his body had left in the chenille.
“Where’s Mom this morning?”, he thought aloud.
Dunn glanced at the Casio on his wrist and adjusted for the one-hour time difference. She was back in Arlington, Texas sipping her second–no, third beer and V-8, waiting for the phone to ring. Just as her little boy was now doing.
–There’s no summertime breezing dotted Swiss today, Mom–
Dunn rubbed his face with his fingers, pinched his nose and crossed to the television where Phil Donahue looked very, very concerned about something. He pushed a button and snapped Phil off to oblivion. He looked again at his watch. He had been awake since this time yesterday. In another state, in another time zone, in another room. But still, waiting. Time zones and room weren’t reality any longer. Waiting was reality. All the rest was just backdrop, sets, like television, like Playland.
Dunn picked up a set of keys from the top of the television and brought them to a black rubberized briefcase resting in brutal contrast against the livid green and yellow cushions of a wornout rattan chair where he had dropped it on arrival. Taking up a key, Dunn unlocked the satchel and took from it a minicassette recorder and a small pigskin case.. He placed the case on the dresser next to the television and sat on the foot of the bed. Behind the cigarette-scarred blonde dresser was a mirror that was filled with the blue of the walls. In was the bamboo-framed print of palm trees, hysteric in a storm. In it were the lampshades on either side of the bed, each covered in plastic like specimens of rare skin. In it was Dunn, the recorder clasped in his hands, his forearms resting on bare pale thighs. A child’s cry carried from the beach on a nor’easterly gust that billowed the thin drapery at the window, rippling its fabric leaves. Dunn switched on the recorder and held it up before his face that reflected back from the mirror.
“Mirrors,” he began. “Are deceptive surfaces. Contrivances. Of fire and water and sand. They’re where we attempt the reality we choose. No. We desire.”
The child’s cry was answered by another’s and then gulls joined in. Dunn turned to the windows and listened. Then returned to the mirror.
“They’re essential when we wish to hide something. Where. We make certain the reflection. Reveals no more than we wish the world. To perceive. Mirrors. Are where we perfect our. Guile.”
Dunn focused on the eyes in the mirror. Motes of light, tiny balls of fire swam in the blue background.
“But. Alice’s Looking Glass. Gazing through the surface. Seek through the scars and moles. Chipped teeth.”
The face in the mirror grimaced.
“The deepening lines. Lines. Make memory of smooth skin. And conscience. Vivid. Clear. Vivid.”
On the glass before Dunn, ingenuous features struggled to cohere like weak microwave signals from some distant satellite, and then–a young man’s face giving beads of sweat to a hot blue sky in a border town spring morning, 1964.
“There was this kid…”
The Kid leans against a black 1957 Ford Fairlane outside a cementblock farmacia on the outskirts of Ciudad Acuna across the river from Del Rio waiting for his partner to come out of the shop with the stuff. The Kid’s sweating through a blue chambray shirt with its tail hanging out over his Levis, smelling the poverty of Mexico, chewing Wrigley’s Doublemint, kicking rocks with his roughout Noconas and grinning at this hazardous world before him with all the self-absorption of New Frontier American youth and 600 milligrams of dextroamphetamine. The Kid’s rush is further propelled by his flash on the situation: like, actual felonies are taking place here! His drug-fueled Jesuit-trained brain quickly flips this reality into service of the business at hand: like, this is not real crime like murder or robbery or rape but the acceptable kind like his friends and parents and everybody else got along with, as..well, against the law but only “bad law”like bootlegging or gambling. Little sins of mischief. Venial trespasses everyone fell to every once in a while, but shit–not really wrong.
Even as The Kid nimbly unravels the ethical knots involved on this Mexican trip, he knows full well the world of shit ready to fall upon him and his partner should they somehow get nailed on this caper. This sudden contour of calamity, along with the speed hammering through his system, gives the The Kid such a charge that he fears his brain will skid should he think of the consequences on second more. He spits out the pellet of gum and watches it ricochet off a dead tire on a crumbling GMC pickup sinking into the pale caliche street. A scrawny white and liver pie-bald animal crawls on its belly from the shadows behind truck’s wheel. Part dog, part rodent the pathetic creature scuttles to the wad of Wrigley’s, snatches it up with narrow jaws and turns a triumphant rheumy eye up to The Kid before it quickly retreats to its rusty haven beneath the truck. The Kid feels the clammy hand of fear at his neck and is relieved to see his partner emerge from the farmacia carrying a much-abused paper sack. They get into the Ford and drive further into the country to a truck stop beneath a green Pemex sign. Having spread out their buys among three different farmacias, the four bottles of dexedrine in the bag has brought their day’s total to twelve. Splitting the bottles between them, The Kid and his partner begin the tedious work of securing them with black electrical tape beneath the dashboard. They disconnect and reconnect the wires to the radio twice before the pills are all firmly stashed deep against the firewall. They go to this trouble because the thought of driving all night through Texas to Oklahoma without Wolfman Jack blasting out of XERF in Ciudad Acuna was simply beyond question.
Twenty minutes after crossing into Del Rio, The Kid is doing seventy miles per hours on Highway 90, closing in on San Antonio. it is long after dark and north of Austin when The Kid and his partner take off their Ray-Bans. Riding on a high-octane amphetamine vector with the cool wind blowing up through the Fairlane’s open windows and the even cooler sounds of The Wolfman chasing them from Del Rio, The Kid feels completely in control. Regardless that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life or where he’s going after Norman, Oklahoma. Things are breaking very fast and the speed rushing through The Kid’s veins increases his sense that other possibilities, other realities are cresting on a wave that will sweep all the old fart politicians, peckerwood racist sheriffs, warmongering generals and the great gray masses off the face of the New Frontier and into the footnotes of bad history. The Kid is holding forth on this inevitability and the best of all possibles coming as his partner puts on his dark glasses and thrusts his face through the open passenger’s window and into the onrushing wind when the lights of Dallas sputter to life on the horizon dead ahead as The Wolfman brays.
“AAAAAAAaaaaaaawwwright bay-bies! Here’s sump’n you ain’t gonna bee-LIEVE! IT’S DA ROLLIN’ STO-OOOOHHHHNES-UH! An dey got TIME! ON THEY side! What’s happenin’! baby!”
A high-pitched sing string blues guitar picks its way out of the dashboard followed by a sneering pissed-off snarl:
“Ti-i-iyime is on mah side…Yesitis!”
The band is impossibly Black for a bunch of white Brits. Not a bit like those Beatles. Angry defiant troublemakers throwing down a tough fuck-you challenge that perfectly echoes The Kid’s rant as he cruises the black Fairlane toward the night lights of Big D.
When The Kid sees Dallas, he thinks of death. Seven months ago he was sitting at the runway bar of Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club, up the steep stairs from Commerce Street. Ruby had a round of drinks sent over to The Kid and his other underage pals as they watched a mean-eyed stripper grind her ass through another long late night. The Kid still had the woman’s eyes in his head when he was at his grandmother’s wake two weeks later while playing Pitch with his father and uncles at grandma’s in Shawnee when Aunt Marge came out of the kitchen with stunned eyes saying the President had been shot in Dallas.And when he made the drive back to Norman that evening there were two pairs of eyes in The Kid’s head and they kept getting mixed up as he cried the final fifteen miles into town. The Kid cried until his cheeks ran wet and his nose filled with tears. He had not tears at the funeral but he wept those miles later, sobbing down that asphalt backroad while the radio repeated the same terminal phrases like a malevolently trained parrot. Pictures of Dallas flickered in his mind. Dealey Plaza and the ramp onto Interstate 35 from Commerce. The stairs to the Carousel. The red and blue showlights. The hatred in the mascara-framed eyes of the stripper as she shook her spangle-tipped tits in his drunken face. The strange little fat guy in the shiny suit. A cartoon mafioso shaking his hand with soft damp fingers.
A few days after this terrible drive, The Kid would watch the funny little man pop out of a crowd on television and pull a trigger with that same hand. And The Kid could feel the connection in his palm every time they replayed the film on television. His hand held the hand that pulled the trigger on the gun that killed the man whose hand held the rifle that fired the bullet….”That Jack built!, says The Kid..
He looks into the rearview mirror where a widening breach of night is spreading between the Fairlane and Dallas. The giant ruby neon Pegasus that rode the Magnolia Hotel above the lights of the city is now shrinking in the mirror and soon, there is only the night and not long after, the Red River, across which The Kid pushes the smuggling Ford to something almost like home. In the mirror The Kid’s face can be seen fading in the dashboard light, fueled only by native conviction and speed, tooling the ’57 into another, darker, night.
Dunn turned from the mirror and spoke to the blank television screen. “Boys grow old.” A distorted Dunn swam on its surface, an aqueous fun house impersonation. “And boys get tired.”
Dunn switched off the recorder and returned the device to the rubber-clad briefcase, placing it between a Browning .45 pistol and a copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge. The title startled him and he nearly laughed. From the dresser he took the pigskin case and touched the tiny gold button on its edge. It opened like a book and inside its cover was fitted a mirror on which rested a small plastic zip-loc bag. From the bag, Dunn onto the mirror a tiny fist of shining lamina. The cocaine glistened slightly pink in the filmy light from the windows. He took a single-edged razor blade from the case and cut into the white lump which gave up myriad flakes, covering the glass. Dunn saw his face through the powder as he watched the blade tap tap tap tap the mirror to a finer and still finder dust until his face disappeared. The razor swiped the cocaine into long thin lines, crystal ques that positively sang with velocity and desire, finally revealing a face that could have once been the face of that kid back in Ciudad Acuna, 1964.
Dunn hovered over the mirror, a silver tube now between his fingers and thumb. Everything–his face, fingernails, the blue pastry ceiling, the twenty year old memory and its cafard of emotions were now wrapped tightly in a focus compassed on this glass. Beyond its edges, nothing. All the world fell away from this mirror. Beyond its border, not even dreams. He swiftly whiffed four lines. As the cocaine tipped his brain into paroxysms of neural ecstasy, Dunn looked back to the mirror and in its milky wash saw America, the insidiously perfect commodity only the Devil or a laissez-faire chemist could have conjured. And it was consuming itself. It was the stuff that actually goes looking for itself, endlessly. Dunn laughed.
“It just needs people to carry it around. We’re a service industry.”
Behind the metaphor, Dunn’s eyes gleamed recognition as the drug reflected itself between the glass the corneas. An immaculate decoction of illusions so seductive that it was reality itself. the thing that moved all and everyone it touched.
“You’re more verb than noun,” said the mirror.
As the verb moved Dunn to bend yet again to the mirror where no reflection signified, the telephone rang.
Text copyright, All rights reserved Joseph Michael Reynolds 1984,1989, 2012.