It was macabre. A gothic children’s exhibit. A series of blackened and burnt structures had been cobbled together to form a methamphetamine miniature golf course in the center of nowhere.
Jarette was on the border of Utah and Nevada just outside the small town of Baker, and he was with Delilah. She was inside the trailer nearby. A plain, tin building up on a series of cinder blocks with faded red letters spray painted on the side that read: SNACK BAR.
Broken glass, old Matchbox cars, black tubing, bits of Barbie doll heads, cut-up garden hose, and melted GI Joe action figures surrounded the astroturf intended to be used as the green for this demonic course. The turf was torn and upturned in places making it impossible to putt between the decaying dollhouses and rusted-out toy trucks.
There were no families here and no children laughing. No couples on dates and no one eating snacks. This roadside amusement was only filled with the charred remains of ghosts now. A cemetery in hell. Constructed by meth heads strung out for days.
Jarette kicked a stone as if it were the substitute for a golf ball. It bounced off the turf and broke into pieces against an old pinball machine lying on its side under a dead tree.
How did I convince myself to come out here? What am I doing with her?
Five days before, after Delilah finished her story of extreme violence in the Yucatan, she had led Jarette through Middlegate Station. Into a door that led to her bedroom upstairs above the back storage room of the bar.
It was late morning and Jarette was half-drunk. Images of Manuel bloodied in a cabana and Rosa Marie’s strangled body in the surf sloshed in his head. He was pulled into Delilah’s bedroom and she leaped upon him. They became frantic animals with claws and teeth bared, and at the same time, they were tender, moving in a sultry dance.
She felt for his belt buckle like she was robbing a safe. And he brought his lips to hers, biting on them as he would a succulent peach.
Jarette felt as though she were an apparition and would disappear at any moment, but he desperately did not want to lose this desert spirit. His aching body disappeared into her curves and shapes.
Her body was a familiar reminder of how lonely he was. Her skin was a gentle earthquake that made him forget all the natural disasters he had left behind. Her wetness a cascading river that led to a waterfall, and he went over the falls, plunging down into her depth.
She whispered as she mounted him, “Hide here, Cowboy. Hide in my little oasis.”
When she arched her back, raised up, and called out into the room, it was the call of the coyotes she had mentioned just hours before.
Then, she looked down and intently stared into Jarette’s face. In the broken sunlight of the room cut by curtains, her eyes cast a spell. He bucked up into her and she cooed, “That’s right, Cowboy. I like a man who comes when he’s on the run. A fugitive in my little hideaway.”
Hours passed as she took him into the afternoon. He was her captive and he wanted to be.
The last thing he heard before he fell asleep was her saying, “I’ve got plans for us.”
Jarette woke in the darkness from a sleep so deep he felt he’d gone to the underworld. But he kept his eyes closed. He wanted to forget that he was once someone. He wanted to forget he was even there. When he opened his eyes, he wanted to exist in a completely different world than the one he created for himself. Or to have vanished completely.
A light wind blew in from an open window across his bare chest. It was nearly silent except for the sound of light breathing. With eyes still closed, he reached over to feel for a body.
His fingertips touched the skin he had just studied with his mouth and tongue for hours. He smelled the air. Mingled with the coconut, lime, and cigarettes that had emanated from Delilah when they met was now the smell of decaying sex, fresh paint, and desert air.
“It’s hard to find a man that can go as many rounds in the sack as I can, but you did a pretty good job, Cowboy. You’re a good sparring partner. I even might say you’re a sex samurai.”
Jarette opened his eyes and the small room was dark except for the starlight shimmering into the room.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“You’ve been asleep for almost twelve hours. I’ve been awake a while. I don’t sleep much when I drink, but after what you did to me, I nodded off for a good chunk of time. Then, I got up, did some painting, and came back to bed to make sure you weren’t dead.”
She inhaled a deep breath and let out an even deeper sigh. “Mmmm, that was a good morning. I’m glad you rolled into town, Cowboy. Time for breakfast?”
“Isn’t it the middle of the night?”
“For some people, it’s always night.”
They went to the bar and Delilah dropped some coins in the old jukebox. A strummed guitar blended with a walking bass and Waylon Jennings began singing, “Cowboys ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold…”
“I figured I’d play your theme song,” she said and went into the kitchen. He could see her through the door from the bar room.
Jarette said, “I’ve performed this song before. It’s a classic. Songs don’t get much better than this.”
“Well, look at what I don’t know! Here all I thought I had was a fugitive and it turns out you’re a troubadour, too.”
“It’s one of the reasons I’m out here,” Jarette said as he watched her crack eggs.
“It doesn’t matter why you’re here. I like you. And you don’t seem to have to be anywhere in a hurry. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have spent so much time in my bed.”
Jarette kept his eyes on her and gave a half grin. He realized he had barely smiled in days. He listened to the music and now Willie Nelson had joined in and both voices were singing together, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…”
“I’ve got a proposition for you, Jarette. I want you to join me on an adventure. I gotta make a deal out in Baker.”
“Where is Baker?”
“Baker’s 275 miles east.”
She brought out two plates and set one in front of Jarette. He had a slight whiskey headache but more than that, he was famished. He hadn’t eaten much in days. Only the whipped cream that had garnished the top of his Irish coffee.
After his first bite, he asked “What kind of deal?”
Delilah’s emerald green eyes sparkled in the darkness of the bar. Her hair was tousled into a beautiful mess he had helped cause. When she spoke, her smile had a quality that was magnetic.
“I need to sell some art.”
“Can’t you do that on your own?”
“I just want some company and I can’t think of a better sidekick than you, Cowboy. I’ll give you half.”
After agreeing to go with her, they spent five days in Middlegate as he recovered from the road. He didn’t know exactly why he’d said yes, but she was right. He had nothing waiting anywhere ahead and only burnt bridges behind him.
It wasn’t making a little money or even curiosity that was making him accompany Delilah to east Nevada. Even though she exuded danger, he craved more of her. She was steam rising from a volcanic mountain you know you shouldn’t climb because it could blow, but he needed to reach her peak.
During his days in Middlegate, Jarette sat at the bar sipping beers and listening to music pour from the jukebox. As Patsy Cline sang, “I knew you’d love me as long as you wanted and then someday you’d leave me for somebody new,” his memories floated in the air like musical notes.
While he slid into the past, Delilah waited on a handful of customers who came through. There were a few travelers en route to Great Basin National Park, and there were some ranchers who came in for beers and lunch and to shoot pool. But few others walked through the door.
At night, he slept in her bed and they stayed up devouring each other. She rarely slept, and every time he woke up, Delilah was already gone.
She explained, “I paint when I don’t sleep.”
During those days and nights in Middlegate, Jarette realized how much he enjoyed being nowhere. Among the coyotes and the wind and the sky rolling on to infinity. And accepting Delilah’s touch on his skin was like accepting a memory he had tried hard to forget. She was an oasis from his nightmares.
But along with the calm he found, his anxiety grew. He had not forgotten that Delilah said she murdered someone.
What really happened down there in Mexico? Is she really a killer? Does it matter?
Jarette chose to ignore his anxiety and dove into the pillowy comfort of Delilah and the desert.
On his sixth morning there, they loaded Delilah’s truck with five framed paintings, each wrapped inside plastic bags and then in burlap sacks. Georgia O’Keeffe-styled flowers and landscapes. They weren’t the work of a genius but Jarette was not an art critic. He figured she might get a couple thousand dollars for all of them.
The drive to Baker took a little over four hours. It was a gorgeous day. The sun streaked across the desert and the mountains beyond them. They left early enough to enjoy the late morning sunlight, and Jarette felt emancipated from all that he’d left behind in San Francisco. He could almost say he was happy.
Baker was a quaint little town, but there wasn’t much there and no one in sight. Among a smattering of small homes with lonely clotheslines outside, there were a few boarded-up buildings.
They drove past the Stargazer Inn, a ground-level motel with a vacancy sign that was burned out except for both A’s flickering. And they went by the Bristlecone General Store, which shared a wall with Sandra’s Little Villa restaurant. Both were closed and their shades drawn. After that, it was desert again.
They continued past Baker on further to the east.
“I thought we were headed to Baker?” Jarette questioned.
“We’re close,” Delilah said with a cold chill.
Delilah’s mood had gone from frivolous to stoic. A cloud gathered over her face as they turned off a dirt road and went several miles down it. The light was blood orange against the long clouds that stretched over the mountains when they pulled into the charred and broken methamphetamine mini-golf course.
A black convertible Mustang with the top down was parked in front of the tin trailer. They pulled next to it and Delilah turned off the engine. No one greeted them.
Delilah kept her eyes on the trailer and said, “I need to go inside alone.”
She opened the door and got out. Jarette watched her walk to the trailer, go up two steps to a rotten wood platform, and then she knocked on the trailer door. It opened and she disappeared inside.
Jarette realized she hadn’t brought anything with her. The paintings were still in the back of the truck.
A half-hour passed. The sun began to leave and a bloody light fell over the apocalyptic amusement landscape.
Jarette was still kicking rocks outside when Delilah appeared walking quickly toward the truck.
As she got close, she said with staccato urgency, “Get in the driver’s seat. You’re driving.”
Jarette was puzzled, “You want me to drive?”
“Now!” Delilah yelled and then through gritted teeth she said, “Fuckin’ get in and drive right now.”
Jarette got in the driver’s side of the truck and as he did, he saw the trailer door open. He saw a Latino man in his thirties walk out onto the decayed platform in front of the trailer’s door. He was wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a white shirt. The front of the shirt was covered in blood.
The man looked at them briefly, then he staggered against the trailer. Seconds later, he fell down the stairs and lay on the ground.
Delilah kept looking straight ahead through the windshield from the passenger’s seat. She spoke with razor words, “I said drive. So, drive.”
Jarette pulled backward into the dirt road. As the bloodshot sky turned a bruised purple, he gripped the steering wheel and began driving forward toward Baker.
Tedium part 9 is coming.
If you missed any part of my Tedium series, click any of these links below:
Part 3: The Alamo Inn
Part 5: Rock ‘n’ Roll Meltdown
Part 7: Delilah’s Confession