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By Audra Coleman
It wasn’t until we crossed Deaf Smith’s County Line that it happened—how my eyes became chapped, how my lips swelled like two fat moons.
Or was it the other way around? Maybe you can remember even though you may or may not have had a minor heat stroke on those railroad tracks posing for the camera’s lens. “Veritable cowgirl poet returns home with work dirty hands and chipped purple nail polish,” you said as the shutter opened and closed. You—captured by mirrors in one sixtieth of a second. I have it still, hidden away in a shoebox of photos under my bed, you in your boots, too tight jeans and cowgirl hat, your nipples nudging against the white cotton of your shirt.
“To the listening ear speak, to the waiting heart come—just not in the state of Texas” is written on the back. But I cannot tell if it is from your hand or mine.
Do you remember how we longed for water’s color or the way we tried our best to speak with aloe words, and how when that failed, I applied half of tube of Chapstick before offering you the rest? Miles ago, the red earth of Oklahoma had swallowed up all those blue words and we both knew it. Only scorpions, with their spiraled tails, filled our thirsty mouths after that.
In the beginning, I only opened my mouth wide. “Let them escape,” I thought. But that soon grew irritating—always one leg or the others scratching at my throat. It wouldn’t do to swallow them whole.
“Of course, not,” you said never letting your eyes leave the stretched-out highway. “You have to crunch down on the cephalothorax with your back teeth. That’s the only way.” And so I did. After a thousand, you told me I should really stop counting—for the sake of my general mental health.
Truthfully, there was only occasional regret—like for the long gone extinct ones resurrected from museum collections. I should have spared them for the sake of science. I should have let them scuttle away to repopulate the desert, to have a little sex, to really grasp each other’s pedipalms. I should have given them a chance to finally release those pent-up pheromones and all that stored up spermatophore. You were right to say I was selfish for that…and for the one with two tails. You might have wanted to keep that one you said, to put in a jar just to be reminded that anomalies occur in every single species on the planet.
But it was the mother with her hundred scorplings on her back that pained me most. I never told you about her. About them. Every single one of them forever denied their mother’s protection. “You’ve made me into a murderer,” I whispered under my breath when I knew you could not hear me.
But now, I only want to dial you up, speak in Spanish Code—to say something. Anything. Maybe “Siempre Unidos” like we use to before hanging up the phone. I want to tell you I haven’t seen that mother rattlesnake sunning herself on the sun baked highway like you dreamed I would. I want to ask you if you remember the post card we bought of the Lady of Guadeloupe in that shitty little diner, how we paid with two hundred pennies, counted one by one. If you remember the trucker who ordered three eggs sunny side up. How he winked at you and said, “Just like I like my women.” Do you remember that?
Or how two days later standing under Georgia O’Keefe’s Lawrence tree you turned to me and said, “I should have told that trucker to go fuck himself. What does that even mean–‘sunny side up?’”
I want to ask you if you remember how high-noon’s crosswinds were forgiven each night, how we slept face up in Santa Rosa pretending to windsurf the broken constellations that our father had tried so tirelessly to teach us as children. I want to tell you that that very same night I watched as one last delicate exoskeleton slipped pincers first from between your lips as you slept. How it glowed a vibrant blue-green, fluorescent still from your ultraviolet mouth.