What could be more withdrawn and peaceful than a piece of metal? Of course, I am assuming it’s not moving, trying to find flesh and bone.
I have been gone for almost two years. My new home is another broken down hotel located on the edge of Ciudad Acuña. The border town is the kind of place where the sunset kidnaps the dawn for next to nothing. Prostitutes unzip flies in my lobby bar. Abused orphans watch hurtful things out front. Men with thin mustaches push dope with a touch of evil. What a normal place. I was living in a whorehouse in Bangkok right before I caught the flight back to the North American continent, so the whole show looks familiar. I am here to write, but not just in my private notebooks. No, I am here to begin my novel, which people tell me will be optioned for a major motion picture starring a guy who looks exactly like me.
Between jobs I sometimes fill notebooks about what has just happened. These are not evaluations or after action reports, but only spontaneous thoughts that climb fences and pick fruit from the backyards of Kings and Queens. I’d usually find a quiet place in a bar or along a beach. Fueled by beer and local amphetamines, I’d write for ten or twelve hours. Women and men would come and go from my table. I was always polite, but eventually I’d beg off and return to the writing.
I wish I had those notebooks with me here in good old Acuña: the ones with bright colors and pictures of animals and robots on the covers. They were timeless. I always felt so innocent when I’d take my pen and start writing as if I was in the 8th grade again, but with ancient problems weighing upon my developing frame.
I had about twenty of those notebooks crammed with my thoughts. Then, a few years ago, while I was wasting time in Tucson, I learned about the death of an old friend. He was somewhere between the Khyber Pass and Kabul when some men stopped his vehicle. They marched him a short distance away from the highway and executed him. Maybe it was revenge or just something to do that day. When I got the news I started drinking and during that cold night, the one with the scattered snow, I thoughtfully gathered my old notebooks and piled them up in the front yard. It was on the corner of 9th and Tyndall and there was no mission, no mandate. I dumped gasoline on the notebooks and lit a match. The whole thing exploded in my face. I went into the house and brought out all my math and history books, plus a wicker basket of my first writings, the ones with the sappy love poems about soldiers getting their eyes burned out by phosphorous shells and the French girls who ate ice cream from bloody sockets. The fire disappeared the new phrases with balls of orange and yellow edged in blue.
Burning old words feels like the earth cracking and the fire is on one side of the divide and you and a jazz song are on the other. It’s a self-imposed peace and a bit like turning inside out to please a vague feeling about the end of something.
One needs a story. Without an ordered, comprehensible text people tend to stop reading after a few sentences. I guess that is fair.
There were rants and facts in those lost notebook pages: I worked for different agencies run by Englishmen, Thais, Central Americans, Africans, Europeans, and North Americans. I lived in refugee camps, isolated villages, along borders; anywhere touched by war: always the wars. There was one very detailed story about Thai camp guards and border patrol police thinking that I was a spy. I told them it was true. I spied while they swam in the hill streams. I wanted to know if their dicks were as small as everyone said they were. They thought that was funny, but I was still a spy. Then we’d laugh again and return to our game of Thai poker. My reputation among the ignorant was sealed when I made a comment about putting sugar in the gas tank of an especially mean camp guard and the next day a cuckolded husband attached a car bomb to his ignition. It went off and he lost a couple of legs. I was always associated with that incident. I was lucky that nobody particularly liked the guy, ever the adulterous woman he was sleeping with. Still, I half expected a hand grenade to be rolled into my hut.
All of those emotional impressions went up in the Tucson fire.
Anyway, here I sit in Ciudad Acuña in the hotel bar, swatting away mosquitoes and the whores. How to start the novel? The only things I need are a title, a beginning, middle, and end. That’s it, nothing more. I am distracted, but I have this image of a girl hiding in a basement and I quickly jot down a few sentences: “The severity of her breakdowns was usually temporary, but catastrophic. Mirrors couldn’t be trusted and she would wander naked down strange hallways or in the yards of next-door neighbors. Clothes seemed unimportant to her when she changed into something ugly. Men usually drowned in the sheets of her bed as they tried to hang on as she dove deep. Everything shrank in her mind. To call a man a lover was out of the question. She was much too alone to even have herself as company.”
Other thoughts come, about how a dead baby is chasing the girl over continents and oceans. She eventually tries Laotian monkey therapy and then I begin to write again: “The black monkey hits the white monkey. They roll around play fighting and then the wise old hermit, spitting magic, sends them both flying. These are professional monkeys so nobody gets hurt. But then the dead baby materializes, dancing in a red-diamond skullcap with little silver bells that ring every time he moves his head. The baby is laughing as he grabs one of the monkeys and swings it around over his head. The hermit is having a fit, but the baby doesn’t care. He just keeps waving the monkey in the air until the head rips off and monkey blood shoots out all over the girl in the basement.”
A big idea hits me: I will write about a baby who sends monkeys to do things. The baby starts a new religion. It will be a play on the Christ story, but with monkeys and a girl in a basement. The movie pitch should be easy and it is sure to attract an agent or two. Perhaps studios will bid on the manuscript. A prostitute moves to my table. She wants to be an old lover and looks like the solitude of metal. I decide to stop writing for the day or is it the night? I really don’t know, but what is even better, I don’t care.