IT WAS A STUPIDLY BEAUTIFUL SUNDAY AFTERNOON. Dry as old bread, breezy, hot in the sun and cold in the shade. The few clouds that drifted past the sun sent alternating waves of warmth and coolness rolling down the hill. Juan del Llano slouched a little lower in the dead landlord’s patio chair to rest his head on the top of the cushion and watched the woodpeckers and the doves until he nodded off. His slumber didn’t last, though, not the way he felt. Half-awake, he kept his eyes closed tight and listened.
Dogs barked everywhere, though not too close. The wind hissed through the chamisa and rustled the elm tree branches. A woodpecker hammered on the dead aspen tree down by the acequia. Someone far away was playing with a chainsaw. Doves cooed out their useless mating calls. Every now and then an idiot kicked a cow. Juan allowed his eyes to open as a magpie chattered overhead, but the bird flew off and left him pure. That could have been unpleasant, he thought, sensing life and danger everywhere.
Six hours later, the moon rose over the mountain. A total eclipse was already well underway, with a sizable arc of the orb in darkness. Juan stood outside and watched a long time in the strange warm air. More dogs barked than usual. As the sky grew dark, he imagined it was colder and went back in the house. Outside adobe walls, the wind picked up in bursts, unsettled, looking for something to push. The edge between the worlds was open if one knew to smell it. Unlived lives shot out from holes.
In the morning Juan awoke some ounces lighter in his heart. It was not known how this came to be. Later he bought a belt and shirt at Walmart on a whim. The flashlight batteries he’d come for were too expensive and the windshield washer fluid the wrong kind, but he kept them anyway. It was clear that nothing perfect was forthcoming and it didn’t matter.
The next time Juan sat down to write, he waited calmly for the voices. For once he didn’t wonder how to sell the words but let them pile up any way they wanted. There was beauty hidden in the thing, no intervention. The end result was short but pleasing, something of a mating cry, as if he were king and queen of weird and just got married to himself.