For days now, Blanche had been expecting something to happen. She went about things as usual, going to work at the Valhalla Drinx where she was a hat-check girl, eating lunch at the truck-stop next door, picking through the magazine racks afterward, looking for something, looking for something. It was hot in San Felipe. Southern California in August: the air shimmers, palm trees wave through the shimmering. She liked to wear white tennies, but heat of the pavement came through the rubber soles. It was always nice to get back to the Valhalla, into the dark cool of the air-conditioning. In there it was always midnight. The rumbling air-conditioner, the hiss of the bar hose tap spouting bubbly water, the cool flamenco guitar music they piped in over the Muzak. She had to work in a booth next to the door, patrons opening it to let the sun glare in. She could feel the gust of dry heat. She was new, so she worked the day shift. No tips. But the last few days, every time that door opened, Blanche looked. The person silhouetted against the light might be the one. The one what? She wasn't sure. It wasn't too clear. She was simply waiting.
When the light outside was finally going, at nine, Blanche's shift would be over. She had a bicycle she liked to ride home on. She liked cutting through the breeze as the temperatures cooled and the white-blue daylight shaded little by little into violet and the sun going down made gold and purple strips over the ocean, sometimes on the clouds too, when there were clouds, bottoms painted like golden cotton candy, royal shadows on the wispy fringes. It was warm compared to the inside of the Valhalla, and the smell of the sea came in on the breezes. Blanche loved the ocean, it was just over the horizon. The desert around San Felipe came right up to the water. In the sky sometimes the vultures circled, but every evening around dusk there were seabirds in ravenous screaming hordes.
The same ride every night: along the neon strip back into town, trucks booming by to her left as she pedaled down the straight level road between the highway and the drainage ditch. Straight ahead into that sunset, straight towards the Pacific. Sometimes she thought of keeping on. Right through town, right past her apartment court, over the scrub and the sand. The sand wouldn't bog her down, she'd fly right over it, her wheels would be skimming and singing. Right over the glassy wet sand the last thing before the ocean, then beyond. Magic bike. The ocean curved away and where it fell below the horizon, that was Hawaii, that was China and Tahiti. The men in nothing but sarongs, women with beautiful blue orchids in their hair. The cool sweet ocean breezes.
The apartment was small, but Blanche made it pretty. There was light everywhere, yellow sheer curtains, bright potted flowering plants. She had geraniums in a window box, Degas prints on the walls. This time of year there was a lot of daylight left, even after her shift. She put a tape on, Al Dimeola, and stepped into the shower. The grit of the road washed away, the hot water brought a flush out on her breasts. Then she lay down naked on the bed, without the air-conditioner. The heat dried her. The sheets were smooth, comforting. She would sleep and the same dream would come. A waterfall: cool boulders behind her, the falls concealing her from the woods beyond. Violets in the grass, intense. She was singing the most haunting, the most beautiful song. A man was singing too. She was singing with him. His voice moved her beyond anything in her real life. It was knowing, sad and kind, she wanted to melt into it. There was a place she once had been. She wanted to go back there, but the song said it was lost, forever lost. Always the same thing then: a growl, deep-chested, huge. A panther would emerge from the white effulgence and penetrate the sheets of water with its yellow eyes. A panther, huge, muscles under a coat of bright black fur. Belly brushing the grass, coming close. The sunlight around it, blinding, blinding. It thrust its head into the curtain of water. The crashing stream would soak its face, its fine coat would separate into little clumps like the tips of paint-brushes. It would open its jaws: the tongue and the gums so pink, glistening. Its breath so heady and intense, vomitous acid reeking of stomach juices and saliva. Blanche would wake with that smell in her nostrils, heart skittering. Wet, down there.
A man at the bar was watching her. She felt him nearly every night, out in the darkness. Sometimes, she thought she heard his voice, hearing him talk to a woman on the stool to his left. Blanche felt that he always took the second bar stool from the extreme left, the end of the bar nearest her. Only a few feet separated the hat-check booth and the cash register from that side of the bar, but she couldn't see the man because there was a pool of yellow light between them, pouring in from the billiards room that gave onto the dining-room there. He was protected from her gaze. Blanche imagined him as small, bony, a big Adam's apple bobbing under the skin of his throat. A black-haired man in a flowered shirt. A gold tooth. Not handsome. She tried not to think about him, but he seemed to be in there nearly every day, invisible, watching her from the darkness. She wasn't afraid, not really. Men were always staring at her, she was still young. And besides, it was daytime, at least it was outside. Just beyond the leatherette door with its rusty shiny studs and its little square window. The strip bathed in glare: cacti, trucks, cars.
"Thank you." As she handed the man his jacket the voice muttered it, the same one she had to strain to hear through the flamenco music and the ice tinking and the air-conditioning. She was sure. It was clear. He wasn't small; he wasn't ugly. A blond man in his thirties. He was wearing the flowered shirt, though, the same one she had imagined. His forehead was tanned and flaking, a little leathery, pinkish swatches of skin underneath. Thick hair, highlights in the incandescent light from the bar. He stared as she handed him the jacket. Pale blue eyes. Then out the studded door. He disappeared into the glare. He was a black smear in the center of that white power, shrinking, melting.
It was four-thirty and Blanche had only just come back on, but she opened the waist-high gate to the hat-check booth and whispered "Right back" to the cashier and followed the blond man into the street. She looked to the left and the right, the sidewalks were empty. Trucks, heat, vultures. The smog from Los Angeles was a violet dome to the north. She stood there, wondering what to do, wondering what she was doing. Then he pulled up from around back. It was a red Porsche. The headlights were covered with a black leather mask. Leaning over the death seat he said, "Come on." The red door swung open and Blanche got in. She could smell leather and oil.
He was smiling, one eyebrow perching higher than the other. Blanche wanted to say something, but there was nothing she could think of. She watched him as he puled onto the strip, brown forearms on the wheel. He looked strong. Gold hair on the arms and poking between the buttons of his red, blue, green flowered shirt.
"I just want to drive for a while," she said.
"All right," the man answered, nodding.
Blanche relaxed in her seat, thinking it was crazy. The man turned a switch and the air-conditioning came on. She said, "No, turn it off. Please."
He did it. Blanche rolled the window down and the hot wind buffeted her.
The man said, "You are terrific. I've been looking at you for days."
"Let's not talk now," Blanche said.
"Sure," the man said.
They were headed for town. Blanche said, "Turn around, towards the desert."
"Sure," the man said again, and swung a U-ee with rubber squealing. The road was empty, his bravado was empty. She didn't like that. It was strange, she felt mean, she felt control.
"I want to fuck you in the desert," she said. He didn't answer. "And then I want to go to the beach. I want to do it by the ocean."
"Anything you want," the man said. He laughed. He hooted. He yelled, "Shit!", wagging his head.
The strip was behind them now. Ahead, the brown scrub and the empty sky.
After a while, Blanche said, "This is good. Stop here."
He cut the gas and let the red Porsche coast slowly to a halt. The car listed to its right. There was a grade from the blacktop and in its shadow a little gully.
"Do you think there are snakes down there?" Blanche said.
"No snakes hereabouts," the man said.
"You want me in that dirt. You don't care about anything else. You don't give two shits about any snakes."
"You're a smart lady." He grinned. He had a pair of sunglasses on now, aviator style, gold rims. He looked stupid.
"I'm dreaming," Blanche said.
He leaned over and put a hand on the back of her neck. It was big, it sent a chill down her spine. She had goose bumps. He pulled her towards him and kissed her on the mouth. She smelled beer, pulled back.
They stared at each other.
The man said, "What?"
"What would you do if I changed my mind?"
He shrugged, smiling, eyes masked.
"Would you hurt me?"
He laughed, shook his head. "Jeez, a live one."
"Did you ever hurt a woman?"
He laughed again. "Jeez! Don't talk like that, lady, you're making me nervous."
"God. God. God." She rubbed her face, stroked her cheeks downward, then in circles.
"It's getting awful hot in here," the man said. "Do you want to do something or not?" He reached over, put his hand under Blanche's left breast. He lifted it. She felt a it go from the nipple straight down to her cunt: a thrill like electric current. She moaned and he put the hand inside her white cotton blouse, three fingers between the top two buttons, rough fingers, rubbing the skin there, scraping it.
She said, "Stop." The man had both hands on the buttons, he was too clumsy. Blanche said "Stop" but the man didn't, he was trying to undo the buttons. They wouldn't come. He said, "Shit!" His mouth was opening, the tongue was like a snail, it was like a penis, the beery breath.
"Stop," Blanche repeated, but she had her hands down on the seat, gripping the seat in her two fists.
"Christ!" the man said. He put both hands on the edges of her blouse, curled the thick fingers inside and yanked. The blouse came undone. He was leaning over her. He put his whole mouth on hers, his tongue was in there, thick like a thick python. She was gagging. She retched. He reared back, bumped his head on the low ceiling, grunted "Shit." Blanche had sour yellow vomit on her blouse. He tugged at it, pulled it out of the elastic band at the waist of her pink slacks.
"What are you doing?" Blanche said.
"Fuck you," the man said and slapped her, two strokes with the right hand.
She covered her face and said, "Don't be mad, please don't be mad."
"Shut up. I have a knife, bitch. You little bitch." He had her blouse off, he was putting the fingers into her bra, they were seeking the nipple. His left hand was on her right shoulder, holding her down. She pushed against it and he pushed her down into the seat. He was strong. Blanche stopped struggling. He was pulling at the elastic band of the slacks, tugging them over her hips. He got them down around her knees. Pink panties, wet at the center, she could feel it, his hand was right there. "Bitch," he said. "Bitch. Bitch." He was wriggling, left hand on her shoulder, right hand now catching his buckle, his zipper. He got it; he got it down. He was panting, smoker's wheeze. He put his hand back over her vulva, clutched it too hard.
"Please," she said.
"Take them off, you cunt." He was pulling his briefs down with both hands. She saw his buttocks rise, brown hair on the pale skin. She had an urge to laugh but she bit her lip instead, she cut it. Then she felt his hands on her knees. She tried to scream but her throat clenched air, the voice wouldn't form. She wanted to vomit again, then he pushed into her. He wasn't very big. He pushed hard, just once, and his back arched, he winced and groaned. He still had the sunglasses on. He sighed: long, thin, like a baby's squall. He said, "Wow." He pushed at her between the legs, pushed her into the seat, but it was limp, it was gone.
"Sorry 'bout that," he said.
Blanche was staring out the window with his weight on her. Her bare feet pointed out the windows, one each side. Ridiculous. She could see a vulture up there, dipping one wing then the other, coming down. Pale sky.
"You like the rough stuff," said the man.
"What do you mean?" Blanche was panting, rage coming up like tears.
"What now," he said, lifting up, elbows stiff, weight on his hands.
"It'll be better next time." He grinned. "At the beach."
"Hey, I'm just warming up!" He caressed her under the chin. "I like you. Let's see a smile."
"You threatened me. You called me a cunt."
"I wouldn't hurt you, babe!" He patted the glove compartment. "That's just here for emergencies. I just got carried away, hon." He rolled off her. They struggled to upright positions as a caravan of sixteen-wheelers rolled by. Four, just above them. Blanche could see the shotgun riders in their cab windows. One looked at her, his eyes popped, then he was gone.
"I want it different at the beach," she said.
"Anything." He was sticking his underpants over his feet.
She sat there nude except for her bra, watching him dress. The Porsche was an oven, her behind slipped along the slick cushions on a layer of sweat.
"It's hot. Let's go," she said.
The man glanced at her. "Like that?"
"Let's drive over to the beach right now."
"Sure, honey." He did as she told him. Blanche was trying to think of something. They did another squealer on the highway. It was busier now. She thought: let them look.
The man said, "Can you believe it. Right through town. Holy Christ."
Blanche said, "I'm sure these things happen every day."
"They don't to me, babe." He was hitting the gas at every light.
"You'll get us killed," Blanche told him.
"You'll get us busted," the man answered.
They got through the town. It was seven or eight and the sun was low. It was settling in a wallow of its own fire. Clouds hung out there in immense bands, violet. Blanche felt that was the light of Heaven shining between them. Angels were there.
I am the light of the world.
She said, "I'm crazy, right? I have to be."
"You're a good kind of crazy, sweetheart, sweet honey. I'm going to make you happy up there." He nodded towards the beach in front of them. The road bent right, to the north. The man drove straight ahead, onto a rise next to the left lane. The Porsche coasted into a clump of tall reeds, stopped.
"This is better," Blanche said. It was. It was cool here. Gulls were calling. Terns with black-tipped beaks that hooked down swooped across the sand looking for food in the wire garbage cans. The sweet salt ocean breath, the glory shimmering on the rough surface of the water.
"I want this to be just like a dream," Blanche said.
"Uh huh." He had his glasses off, finally. She could see his eager, worried eyes.
"Put them on again," she said.
"It's getting pretty dark."
"Put them back. Please." He did it.
"I wish I could see you better."
"I'll show you everything." She opened the door on her side and stepped into the reeds. She unhooked her bra, gaily flung it away. She raised her arms, stretched herself towards the sky. She felt his eyes on her from the driver's seat, on her arms, her bare sides, her belly, her breasts.
"Come here and touch me," she said.
The man opened his door and Blanche said, "Wait." He stood there looking, door open, eyes masked. She was still on tiptoes stroking the empty air.
"Can you see?" she asked.
"What? Tell me."
He shrugged, shook his head, stuck his hands in his pockets. He said: "Shit!"
"Tell me I'm pretty," Blanche said. She put the tips of the fingers of her two hands together in a little arch and pirouetted.
The man went to take the glasses off and Blanche said, "Don't you do that."
"I wish I could see you. You're pretty, all right."
She could see his erection. He was in tan chinos. It made the front of them look like the prow of a ship.
"Am I driving you crazy?" she said.
"Come here and touch me, just touch me." He walked towards her slowly and, when he was a few feet away, reached out with his left hand and touched her right breast.
"That's right," she sighed, "that's right," as his hand skimmed the surface of her belly and brushed the brown puff of hair below. The birds were still calling, she could hear that. His hand went deeper and Blanche said, "No," and the man pulled his hand out right away.
"Smell it," she said.
He sniffed his fingers.
"Do you like my smell?"
"I like your smell."
"What do I smell like?"
He licked his lips and then he said, "I don't know. Smells good."
"But what is it like."
"It just smells like a clean cunt."
He went to unbuckle his belt, but she said, "Wait."
The man put his hands down. The palms faced her. The hard-on stuck out, looking desperate.
"Does it hurt?" she asked.
"Do you believe this is real?"
"I hardly do."
"Take your clothes off now."
He dropped his pants. She saw his hard little penis reaching out for her out of a sparse cloud of yellow hair. His balls were retracted, two compact pink eggs.
The man stepped out of the chinos and Blanche said, "Stay there."
"Come on lady!"
"Do it there."
He stared at her with open mouth. His loose shirttails wafted in the breeze, blue and green and rosy-red. Then he sank to his knees groaning "Oh my God!" and clenched it in both fists, squeezing it. White gobs spurted, landed in the grass. She looked at the small purple head, white fluid on it, drool. Disgusting.
Something in Blanche relaxed, a weight sagged voluptuously. A hot something was flowing inside her, her breath came faster. She felt a soft breeze lifting perspiration off her, cool. She laughed, drew her hands together above her head and brought them down in a praying gesture. She leaned over, cackling, screeching, she could feel her neck and face going scarlet with it.
Blanche panted deeply until she was a little calmer. She said, "Come over here."
The man stood, brushed sand from his knees, approached her. He placed his hands on Blanche's hips. She kneeled. It was getting stiff again, she licked it off. She licked it all off. She sucked it, pulling away and licking her lips so they'd slide over it. The shaft was extraordinarily smooth, Blanche felt every silken ridge with her lips. There was a faint smell, too, of his balls. Roaring surf foaming on the sand behind him, reeds waving dark green in tufts. The sand was glassy, it reflected black specks, birds circling.
His pelvis began to thrust, the prick hitting the back of her throat was too much. Blanche gagged on him, she pushed him away. But then she wanted him again, wanted to suck all of it and swallow it. She reached behind and grasped his buttocks and pulled him towards her. His hands were on her shoulders. She mashed her face against him, her nose flattened to one side on the hard bone. The blond hair was on her lips and in her nostrils, coarse and fresh like shampoo. He did smell like shampoo, it was Herbal Essence! She sucked and she sucked, his prick swelled up in her mouth against the back of her throat. But the gagging was still too unpleasant, Blanche thought she might heave. She pulled back.
The man said, "Unbelievable."
She squatted slowly down, lower and lower until she could feel the strands of hair between her haunches brush the ground. The hair was long there, she liked that, it was her secret pride. She swayed, letting the brushing motion caress her.
"Come on," she said, sinking down, rolling onto her back. Grass and stones. She was wide open. He leaned over, cast his shadow on her. His small beer paunch touched her, the hair brushed the skin of her belly. He found her opening, the prick sank in. He was small, though, she didn't like it very much, she couldn't feel him.
Blanche said, "Do it harder." He began to ram it, he was grunting with the work of it. She twirled his hair around her fingers. It was beautiful, brassy hair shining in the red light of the setting sun.
"My God," the man said. He winced. His back arched, Blanche knew he was coming. She felt it pulse inside her.
"Oh no no no," she moaned. She yanked at his hair. "Don't stop. Keep going," she said.
"I can't." He collapsed. He was a dead weight all over her.
"Blanche moaned: "No. No."
The man stirred. "Sorry."
Her hips were circling under him. Her fingers held his hair. She said, "Do something." She was lifting her buttocks up so his weight would cause friction where she was sensitive. She rubbed against him. He tried to thrust, but it was lost. He pulled out. Blanche reached downward and gripped herself. She rubbed it. The man watched her. She closed her eyes, she didn't want to see him looking. She lifted herself and rubbed, nothing touching the ground between her heels and her shoulders. She was all in the air. Her fingers went inside rapidly thrusting. Her free hand on the left breast, touching the nipple. It happened finally, in rapid squeezing fluttering in there. It was like little guns going off, but it was only muscles. The swampy heat she had felt before was gone. She passed the scream over her voice box, not through it, she didn't want him to hear anything. All he heard was her panting.
Blanche opened her eyes. He was looking at her, she didn't want him to. The frames of his glasses were red-hot in the sunset.
"Get my clothes," she said.
He picked himself off the ground, brushing dirt off his knees and backside, went to the car, returned with her slacks and her blouse. Blanche dressed quickly. The man circled her neck with his left hand and kissed her mouth. She let him, she didn't kiss back. His tongue like a thick blind worm in there.
He backed off, walked away to look at the surf and the sun going down behind it. He still had nothing on. Blanche wished to say something, she couldn't find the words. She was upset. There was pain inside her that passed through her nose, the back of her throat, and ended as a sick feeling in the upper part of her stomach.
She came up behind him. The man had long hair around the nape of his neck, the hot breeze was whipping it. The metallic hair against the creased, sunburned neck was pretty. He sensed her there and turned, smiled.
"I'm going to take a nap," he said.
She followed him to the car. The Porsche was on a rise, aimed skyward. He lay down on the grass in front of the headlights, curled up on the crest of the rise. Blanch lay down next to him. The sun was half down. It was like a god of fire alone on all the waters.
When she woke, the stars were out. It was still very warm. The man slept next to her, knees up, like a fetus. He was still wearing sunglasses, no clothing. The engine was warm too, Blanche smelled the miasma of fuel.
She leaned against the black mask on the headlights of the Porsche. Waves were breaking on the sand in a slow rhythm. It was the breathing of a crystalline animal, an unbelievably enormous creature, something that surrounded her. It wasn't human, it wasn't even alive. She tried to think about it. She tried to imagine it breathing on the lone sea islands and the distant coasts of Asia.
She noticed the absence of the birds, listened for their sounds, but there was nothing. Only the empty road behind them, the Porsche, the man beside her, and the beach, the waves, the stars. Then she was dizzy. Her chest froze because the sky was so huge, so huge. It was as though it all turned up-side-down and she was floating on an ocean of stars with nothing between them and she might fall forward into the abyss between the stars. Blanche breathed rapidly, heavily. It was the only way to breathe at all. She screamed, the man groaned and shook his head.
Blanche stood up. She looked for the lights of San Felipe, the lights of a truck. Nothing. It was so dark. She felt along the side of the Porsche looking for the handle of the door. She found it and crawled inside. She felt along the panel for the lights. She turned on the light in the passenger compartment. Yellow light. She turned the headlights on, slid back out of the car.
The headlights were masked, but she could see the man by the light from inside the car. He was grey and she wanted to see colors. The color of his blue and green and rosy-red flowered shirt. Oh but he wasn't wearing the shirt. She went back into the front seat, found it, crawled out again, draped it across his back and shoulders. He trembled. She slumped next to him. The leather mask on the headlights was very hot on Blanche's neck, it burned. She stood up, fumbled with the mask, it was hot to the touch. She finally had it off. The headlights shone white, brilliant, their beams went off into outer space. The white light showed colors: his pretty hair, the exotic shirt. Blanche tossed the mask as far away as she could. That was not far, it twirled a few times and landed in the dust.
She sat next to the man. He slept deeply but once in a while he moved, he shifted a limb or he would mutter something she couldn't understand. She stayed next to him for hours.
She must have slept. The sky was a little blue in the east, just a faint faint pre-dawn blue instead of the black of night. Anywhere but directly behind the car, night was in full sway: stars and absolute blackness, no moon. Blanche sat up, her legs tingled. She went into the car. The lights were dimming, the battery was draining. But the headlights were still as white as anything shining into the west. Blanche opened the door to the glove compartment. There was the man's knife, it was a buck knife. It had a fancy bone handle, the blade was wide and short, the edge was hooked in the Oriental arc of a scimitar. She picked it up. It was light. She gripped it. Tight. Tight.
She stepped back out and sat next to the man. He was curled up facing her. His hands made two tiny fists near his face. The shirt lay on his back. His penis was little, pink, round in a nest of pubic hair.
Blanche brought the knife close to the prick's head, she scraped it lightly with the point. He didn't stir.