Tough Beauty

This story has been drawn from Vol 2. No. 2 of the American Reader, available in Barnes and Nobles and in independent bookstores nationwide, as well as in our Shoppe. It will appear in the collection, Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, published by FC2, an imprint of The University of Alabama Press.

I am H. Roc your man, but in love. Meaning I am your man and in love and I am your man except in love. Meaning please figure it out, Cocksucker. Meaning please listen up. Please pay attention—for once.

Julie Townlove and I had been up at the Interstate Motel? Me! H. Roc, or have you forgotten? As in, you’re not paying attention? As in, so you kept reading and didn’t pay attention?

We had run and gotten and come back. Only, I had not rushed up and gotten and come back with Julie. I had smoked and bit my fingernails and hung my arm out the window, pushed wheel and pulled stick, commanding the driving through the West with the radio cranked. Me doing the driving, with Julie, but Julie clearly commanding the real comings and goings, Julie getting and running. I like a woman in command of some of my comings and goings, staying even, I like a woman in command of all of me and my moving, and I was doing pretty much nothing but jerking around in the car so I could keep up my image of conducting, though then I was cowardly and what would someday come to me had begun to come with no command under myself or Julie’s control.

In the Interstate Motel, Julie’s blonde pussy was open with her robe’s slip opened and Julie was working herself out on the California king—and we were both open. Us human kids. The sun through her pink lips and in her open eyes—hair all free from her head but still in her head at one end and rock and roll streaming through the radio—freedom galore in a motel with a crank window.

Oh, to be free and young again, in a motel in some wide-open country with animals. Pine trees. The smell of water in summer by a river.

The sun was sluicing through the blinds and sitting in a wingback in the room, I was handsome and proud but nervous of the feelings I had inside of me watching Julie in her nudity, dreading how to get myself dredging inside her to dip lightly rather in easy hopes to satisfy our prurient young urges, so not dreading, no, but wondering at what moment, and how to begin it, what part to touch, or stroke, or place, etc. the hands? I needed only begin and she would take me.

I was roasting a smoker toasting up California and its fruited plain and Julie’s fruit was shining and we were rich, I felt the sunshine on the carpet’s plaid pattern and on the checkered wallpaper and also on the pictures behind glass of the shadow and pre-patriotic dogs hunting in the pre-American-seeming woods with foxes and horsery and leather gloves, tight legging pants. Oh dream of The Alabaster City, as we were just above it, as in America the beauty. Liberty was our nakedness and my knife was across my chest because I liked it there. There was nothing but time and freedom.

Julie was sitting up in the midday talking about the pure dream of land, her hair free and some pasted to her forehead with sweat. Julie was on her back sweating out details of buying land. My American hard-on was soon standing up for itself, big and proud, because what else could I do with myself? I know you are getting dulled out—not listening—as usual—thinking of yourself—as usual—as I predicted you would—remember—or asked you not to—and you want a story about home and family and a city, but I was out hunting in a hotel and sucking up pussy with little lady-sized thighs of my own and my hard-on digging into the brilliant motel covers.

In that motel was the start of all things—I thought I could get away with living. I’d grown up in the woods peeing in little holes, stalking the trees and watching through soft vision for tan deer I did not see but saw in my mind. Seeing the road too the first time. Then I had taken the road alive a few years after. I had not kin like-minded for figuring my life out. They were crazed in the home, in the oak and hickory (or they gave me everything for success and I was a nut from the nuts stage before matching with egg and starting the delicate balancing act of being male and female but more so male), and I was in the motel with Julie Townlove as a young man with taut thighs and we had money and were near enough to the Pacific northern coastline, but not trapped against the ocean with nothing but sand and water to stare at or sleep to—alive and firing—just above the golden dream of the Alabaster city on the hill in youthful California.

Sitting in the motel wingback, I could feel through the walls—the sun and sky. Pure peace and meditation, plus Julie with her legs nude plus all the rest of her all gleaming in sun. The sort of blue the sky was I was feeling out into redwoods of the valley, sensing bridges trembling in traffic in the golden city, and the old veterans in bushes near the hill, like bears, keeping the country great even still, maddogging the old city, growling, shouting around about remembering Fort Knox, live generals, terrific fish smells in their pants, dreaming of sex and explosions—do not forget Julie nude—and the old lunatic cowboys and hero women and fucking in fortunate places with fine drapes, men in the markets, and I could happily hear a tit or two harden in valleys between here to NYC, of Midwestern girls and their mothers, in training bras and big silk braziers with hooks and straps and eyelets and lace trimming and big pads, as nothing was beyond me, I’m saying I could still feel and sense so far out, I could let myself go all the way sitting in the wingback and letting the air move through my blood—I could hum, I say, loving all to the sun. Yes, I felt god inside me in the motel, Him agreeing with how agreeable I was to the easy law of Yes. I was like flat water moving through the valley of the hottest real sun—or some picture.

Next, we are on a farm but not farming vegetables.

Harvest and I was a tall wreck of nerves and bandits came. We were dope farming. Dope. Do I have to spell it out to you? I fished out my pistola and got nervous and shot one bandit through the foot or it was a plant. Another escaped my .44 Vaquero shot, but twisted up his ankle and limped himself off the side of the hillside trotting and whining. I had one bad boy, all of 19 or 19 1⁄2 or no more than 19 3⁄4 and I got mad and busted his mouth out with the butt of the revolver and sent him away, child bleeding with broken teeth and gums and his tongue twisted up like a dark small foot in his mouth.

We had bags of money to high heaven smelling of heaven’s high stink, skunky, but at the bank we get defiling looks from marginally flunkish bank tellers at the counter behind bulletglass. First thing, Julie is set on spending our time on Reservations. She’s had enough talk of my youthful Injun visions, and wants to see what was before uncomforting white people such as us. What was woman to me but wanting more than the sham of self I created all alone out of myself with her in the red Californian dirt growing pot plants the size of tubas and my skin tan forever? 

We are next with the Injuns drinking beers on the rez in a tin ranch. Then them to whiskey with the two fat cousin braves and a pair of kissing girls, their sisters, in thick hair, making the boys snicker. What are we doing, why? Julie has picked up a case of lice and I have a young beard growing crazy all over my neck and cheeks and ears. The darkness in the shack is growing and I’m drinking cola, waiting outside for us is sun with blinds drawn. I am still wearing the knife but their dog is growling, and they are skunked. We are having a good time, but it’s a trap—like most things native, may I speculate, from the little I’ve seen hot-dogging around the planet in cutoffs and something stupid as a banana yellow midriff.

I don’t trust the Injuns when it comes to us spending time together, and that’s only a feeling I have for the shade they live in is/was from our terrible white doings and our lack of openness in the time of our time on the earth— how we tortured them and murdered their people, you don’t have to be a genius to figure about what I’m saying.

They’re covered in their secret sitting and being calmly dark featured, and their history is a thing blood kept, but in their historical minds nothing but landscapes or bloodbaths, how can I know?

We stay like this a long time with a great clay pot on the table with four cacti of knowledge, their white heads crowned and humming up power. We gobble them through the long lip of unspooled night. We eat in ceremony, but I’m terrified stupid. They chant and drum and you can hear only parts of their praying but understand it in its totality. Injuns! An entire round of them playing and singing and calling out from the teepee all of us watching the fire and being outside of time for all remaining time. It is a great and evil sin what we did to them, but somehow we just forget it as part of the premise of our own minds. The peaceful Indians. Or they were always killers, or it varied tribe to tribe, I’d have no real way of knowing. My breathing grows chopped and I have stepped into something I should not have. There is no airplane or helicopter door out and no time. Worlds warping, preying dark. Here is rebirth, horrid to watch, I’ll tell you, and a coward in ceremony is no friend to anyone.

Then something’s in my eyes and there is a blur over all I see and it feels false. The Injun spirits start crowding us. We’re dripping, Julie and I, or it’s just me. All across the wall’s heat are savage demons of pretime’s dawn dawning. Each bird is headless behind my closed eyelids for years after, but animals come to me in my open-eye time. A slant-eyed Fox, or a Coyote young, or eagle or Hawk or Mountain Cat. Am I anyone who runs a nature show, or is an Indian who talks to animals, no, but they come anyhow and I stare in awe. My eyes can’t see them right, though, so I am on the earth sucked into it and come back out ugly and the people are awful and death and walking dead with extended tongues. The knife is on my chest, weakly. We’re both dripping in shadows and hell everywhere, or it’s just me. No one could ever get a hard-on again if this was the human way of seeing, and the population would zero out in a few generations, so I know this can’t be correct.

For daylong to years passing it’s gray flesh and the memory of better times with my spirit as it was like a chapel in the bone desert church of New Mexico—now gone—only a place of human hair voodoo relics and fear in my upper neck bones and back. ever since, I am nervous and can’t smoke dope right or drink.

Soon Julie’s mating with my suspicions to an Indian from across the dirt, and dogs growl at her heels, and her crotch is full of crud and curds and she’s hiding a great sorrow or evilness, or I am wrong. She’d held me and then did not. I saw the sun on the path and the sun was not the sun but the memory of the sun. No horses to ride. We had no motel. I didn’t like anyone. I got frantic. The dust.

The Injuns had taken it as theirs. Everything!!! We had to sit and listen at their talks. I had dreams while awake. Then Julie took down with a guy from the rez for a spring term of rez community college and I find out—I mean she’d been fucking him frequently after history. I take the chief’s compound bow-and-arrow and am hunting the Ponderosa restaurants where her fat Indian likes to eat, Crow told me so, feathers black hanging from the bow stave of the chief’s kowtow, only my brain is trash and I might not be there at all. I got moments of rock and roll and rivers and delight, then back into blurry torment on twitchy more manly-sized legs, but I would gladly be young again. Stronger medicine.

Julie Townlove’s in this Ponderosa where I also am, with her brave Injun she’s been fucking and they are at the salad bar loading up the chow. Her blonde hair and bent ears. Miniature corns and spinach meatloaf and broccoli dripping cheese sauce in baked potatoes and metal canisters of soup. Salad tongs, and I am going to kill that Injun, or at least arrow one of his legs.

Slipping inside the can, I loop up the bow and unfold folding arrow from a bag. I am stalking like the boy I once was in the woods, but am outside the restroom in the restaurant on the carpet barefoot as a barefoot man. I’m squeezing my legs together around a bottle and I’m squeezing my guts and I know how far I will go, which is all the way, or at least for the leg. Inside my pants is a fruited wine. For Julie for after I kill the Indian, or pop him in one leg, one of the two, whichever! There is only liquor and darkness, and the things of the world I wish still held the light but do not. I hid behind a vinyl booth.

Her man sits down and I drew the bow back and rose up on one knee. I heft over the booth’s back and steady handed I let it rip. My fart releases itself and I cough and choke and one evil spirit released from me, and do I feel better? Less even though I aimed for the savage’s lower parts, the arrow gores his brain and he flops back in booth screwing up at the air, humping up to death. Julie curses my name, by a wrong name, and spits on the carpet, and the people eat and we get out. Only, is this Ponderosa?

We kiss with our bodies and mouths, I pushing into her in the parking lot bushes by the curb down in the mulch and cigarette discards and chewing gum chewed balls and her pushing back. For a moment I can see her correctly and I am telling you she is a stunner, clean and clear in a glow of blonde lightning. Pulling back while she’s grunting, “You sonofbitch,” she says, pants and panties around her ankles, “Human,” she moans, bees in her hair. “Anyhow, time is running, ruining you like we all could have guessed,” she goes. “You’ve never had any love and when you find love, too old, who even cares you’ll be fine. You’re irrelevant.” I looked down at Julie and one of her two eyes had nearly popped out, she’d grown yellow skinned and horrible and humping her I come to grips with what I’m doing wrong. Right as about to let myself squirm, I pulled out and took myself mean-groined to a U.S. recruiting station, and signed up to the Afghan mountains because I had no idea and was scared to go to jail for the Injun’s murder, if I murdered anyone? Who knows what was what anymore? No one. I had lost track of which side of the tracks I was ever on, in terms of the sound mind, in terms of the being able to hear the sound of the train with any surety of the mind filled with sounds of the talking me, whoever, that was telling things loudly to the head. I didn’t know when the last time I had really truly seen Julie was anyhow? That all had or hadn’t happened? And what was left in or of America? I was going to the army.

I had no way to know what had happened. I had camo and a beltpack—and a commercial plane ride to the Mid-east. I’m in it and up and there’s no getting off the ride, like always. No retreat! the recording on my headphones repeats. No surrender! “I hear you!” I shouted over the plane’s engines. I didn’t know how loud since I was wearing my earphones.

After Air America, I was on my way to kill with gun and my eagle knife strung across my chest. Yes, I have always known luck. I still don’t see like a person, but I feel many fine things such as when I see poor people having small fires by a lake, or a child in happy slowedness, or quickness, though most children look disposably half-formed incorrectly. Music, too, most often affects me. A stone building built in the old fashion in the desert in the humid heat makes me feel patriotic and I at times see the sky correctly. It’s amazing how much you can surmount and keep going over or through or through over once it’s too late.

On the main service road, over there, with our boys, fighting fired up. You’d think that in a war men can shoot, but they cannot, Lord. Women either. Everyone’s missing everyone. In the fallout of some blown-apart office, I see silver tears coming from my forehead and hear Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and love everyone and all things are goodness. Then the helicopters come like the drums of the Injuns, and I am shaking and praying to sky, though I don’t know why, since the poor people we are killing don’t have aircraft. Nothing means anything. I wish I was praying for them, but it’s me as usual. Dragons appear, only not dragons, fierce little Apaches, great compact brown Boeing bastards—weaponized shithawks from McDonnel Douglas and GE bearing down into the field with their mounted 30-mill Cal M230 Chain guns and wingtips loaded with hellfires and other firework-named explosives, to where you forget what imitates what. Do I have to tell you what they were shooting for? Not Yours Truly. Not the boys and girls beside me. Could anyone see anyone? Give me a joke. With the winds kicked up by those spinning from on high, the winds anyhow, the trash and rubble and dust. Any woman or kid or mankind in cotton and headdress, any herder in boxer shorts, any group carrying a video camera, any box not yet blown to smithereens, they were shooting to shit.

Look, to be young and or to be kind is to be left open to evil, maybe? Or maybe only if you’re partly kind? To be evil is to be old or to be lonesome or should be.

There was once a time when it was all beautiful. Now where is that? I used to hum with love, when I got transcendent or in the right mix.

I walked off toward the mountains, leaving others back shooting.

Hubudabis found me and took me farther into the mountains to their caves with rugs and fans and refrigerators run off generators and showed me how to smoke opium, though obvious, it’s got great flavor and took the world away as good as pussy ever had.

All those old poems about roses just meant pussy anyhow and what did they really mean but woman is our great double-sided enthusiasm. That after war or toil, woman is the only respite—and I hope men are so for women but doubt it, and wonder how come? Being a man is tricky, but surely less so than being a woman, I’ve heard. Being a man now, or a woman now, that’s not really the way things are going. It’s just about being a person. Sexless. Mainly. And calm.

I decided to get free and start loving. I was going to get clear, aside from the opium scenario. These Hubudabis played great music on record players and they wore cotton and danced with their children. I have always wanted to be everyone else, but have had to be me for so long as to watch others. I’d hope to be evil and done with it all but am afraid of Hell and nurture within me also a great hope for my true heavenly union with Christ and family. This is no joke or hyperholy. I got into dancing and moving around really lightly and in subtle rhythms. There were perfect birds, Jesus.

Sleeping in caves, I was seeing jungle cats and women with long feet and hairy limbs. I took to dressing only in my knife and long sheep leather gown and my hair grew out and I took to the gooch of local girls, whose names I couldn’t remember—by gooch I mean roses. Little kisses for rose and rose alike. I walked with a wild man’s dance and never switched my clothes. I was woman and man finally. Finally for all my searching I was in balance most sexually. Oh, they thought I was something else. Inside caves the Hubudabis banged on things and made music and burned fires. They loved country western songs from the old gentleman outlaws and I knew every word sometimes and other times made shit up and mumbled. I loved it there with those fine people. Some days or nights the worst fiends in the land came through and played a sort of ball outside on the sand or sat by the fires and drank yak tea. One of the worst had this beautiful overhand spinning serve and he could place the white ball anywhere he pointed his sultanic nose.

The slap of the ball in sun I enjoyed, and too lusted after their abilities on the court. I played fairly well, sure, but with my vision I often biffed the closest saves.

I got clearer.

Now the yellow men from the east from Asia from who knows the Hubudabis were not—but were—I felt—beings who trotted out of the first global dawn in Africa. People stepping clean out of the sheer pages of bibles. Curly headed lamb-like people— only the evil ones were forcing themselves into the party, as far as I could tell. The good ones paraded around in the sun and floated and swam to the sky.

I got sick off yak milk or gooch—or the opium getting to me at nights. I’d sweat and see the wounds inside the world’s deep belly. everything moving each time I opened my eyes, but also a loving community. Deer with blue dots on their foreheads. White sky light. I only wanted my youth back so I might waste it again—Oh, America, what was Katherine Lee bates on to anyhow?

Where to the gold dream of any fruited plane?

I stepped in one moment to another. I got some goochy and visions. High feelings and plenty wrong with me. I had too much not good inside me, as well as you, maybe do, but it wasn’t hidden behind sex anymore, it was clear. My goodness and the goodness of the earth and all gang, but also some real terror and shit. But listen to this: a good time was had by all. You turn me on? The way we talk in the world is gorgeous. I took a long axe and chopped off the arm of the worst fiend ball server at the sticky bone stump while stoned. It was his serving arm. He would never play so beautifully again, nor dance with both arms in the high Arabian style. He would never play between the poles of good and evil with both arms in the fashion most have grown accustomed. It was for those Towers, I’d be happy to say, or for Country. Christ, him speaking graciously of the days of freedom while his men gathered around him at the fire, drinking yak milk and praising all the dark bandits of death and bombings, but I really did it because I was tired of him hotdogging around. He was almost entirely evil—but there was a miserable hope in him—which I likely hacked off or made stronger.

The next thing, I’d feared I’d be AWOL, I went back to base wearing the skirt of sheep and screaming about the heavenly city lost to me and Julie while waving the hacked-off arm around. “I love and hate Injuns because I had not the guts they had,” I tell the boys. “Still I long for Christ Jesus,” I couldn’t care if they listened on or shot at me, I was dealing with the indifference of real truth and feeling. “I have lost too much of myself to badness I invented or found, but I know what I know and what I believe! I just need more time with family and a better regiment of church and true love and sitting pretty. And I finally mean to moan for how I long for Christ,” I say. “I had Him and lost him like a disciple back in that old book,” I kept to my lecture, “and you are not supposed to do what I have but what can I do but hope he’s still with me after all I’ve done wrong without letting myself be evil, even? What is war? Uplift me Yahoosah!” Where was the arm? Nowhere! Just look at me next to all those men and women. They seemed to understand me, all green and shocked out from war greasepaint faced and smoking and plus I lied when I said no one could shoot, they were all sharpshooters covered in death and anxiety. They were tough sons and daughters, and I was the fool kid with his heart out.

I guessed they guessed me a freed-POW and the Colonel gives me a medal and sends me home with a letter explaining my condition to the general public and health care.

The Letter:

       Here is our man. H. Roc. We thought he was lost, but he is found. Let him go. Let him come home. He has no idea that he’s perfectly stupid. He’ll be fine. We’ll keep everyone else stop-lossed and make them sweat. Hump hump, Hoooaaaah.

The Colonel

She is at the station. Julie, the old bat, her hair a long nest, one tit nosing out. Why, I’m not much better in sheep’s leather and my top removed at the station. The buses pull in and idle nowhere. I have a bad bandanna and America has turned to Shitholeville. Everyone seems flat.

We make it back to the motel where we turn on the calm music. All the way back it was her driving and the sky. Inside our room, the president’s a black handsome boob in a suit on TV, who shoots people in secret, and I remember sex but it will fail me in the old ways. I don’t want to even try and make myself try again. Not with her. Not then. I have a cold drink. I taste cinnamon in my coke a cola. The sun out the window.

The old california king still lives on, but we’ve been through the slop, Julie and I. Together and apart I and she have been through the world’s puckered-up old butthole. There’s a bird that makes a lot of noise out the window, plus rock and roll and cigs. I smell the sea faintly and feel sleepy, and out the window are pale and pastel lights.

I drag Julie into the bath to clean us off from all the fictions. I guide her by her hand into the tub. I begin to fill the dry tub by turning a handle. We stand in the tub in our clothes getting wet. I remove Julie’s blouse. I unbutton her buttons. I kiss her belly and her breast and her other breast. We hear the water on our skin. I’d like to say I can fool her and make her feel I care enough, but all she feels is that I care enough to try, even though I can’t deliver what she needs, which is nothing, probably, but to get back to her own people wherever her family is, or find a different man.

I wash her. I kneel with her in the waters and I wash her back and shoulders. I get shy and she loves me and hates her man, which is and wasn’t me. I wash under her arms. I wash her face, and keep the soap out of her eyes.

I have this and that. I have gotten tired of myself. (You’re going to miss me! I swear I’m not coming back for a good while. You’re going to miss old Yours Truly out there all alone for a long time. Without Yours Truly with whom to talk.) I have an old sense and a memory of impressions that were wonderful and fresh and then horrible and now pretty madman vast and familiar, and Julie is hundreds of women that weren’t for me, and I was hundreds of men that weren’t for her.

I have this and that. A life of highs and lows of mania. Night and fear. A great land that is going away but still has a chance. You are going to miss H. Roc. You’re going to miss the party someday, Cocksucker.

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