In March, Sean took Annie’s car, an Audi station wagon that used to belong to father, for a check-up and an oil change. Annie hopped up and down on the sidewalk, hugging herself against the cold, and they threw all her stuff and Sean’s skis into the back of the car. They stopped for gas and coffee and turkey sandwiches. They ate some fruit and cookies she’d packed in a paper bag, and Annie snapped pictures of Sean’s profile while he drove. After a few hours in the car, Annie lit up a cigarette and cracked open the window. Sean was driving west with her so that she wouldn’t have to drive alone, he said, but they both knew she was leaving him.
They stayed in cheap motels. Even though the rooms were cheap this was still exciting, still that feeling of putting the key in the lock, not knowing what you were going to get. On the second night, Annie pulled out her mother’s credit card and they stayed at a bed and breakfast near Roanoke. They sat in the mirrored, flowered dining room and ordered dinner. Sean ordered the duck, and Annie ordered the salmon. A few minutes after the entrees came, they started to fight. Annie took a few bites of her salmon, but then she was crying too much to eat. The salmon was delicious. It was thick and fresh, with a light cream sauce. It came apart in big flakes when she cut it with the side of her fork. The waitress took the dinners away, and Annie and Sean went up to the room. Annie locked herself in the bathroom and cried, and then they both fell into bed, drunk and disappointed. She still wanted to be with him, so much, although he wasn’t the right one for her and she wasn’t even sure if she loved him—he was necessary in this uncomfortable, imperfect, exhausting way—he was someone else. He loved her. The beds were twin beds pushed together, and as she slept she rolled toward the hard, uncomfortable middle and woke up with Sean’s bad, drunk breath in her face. She rolled back to the center of her bed, and she was awake and hungry, her head clear, the fight gone. She thought of her salmon. She said, “I wish I had that salmon.”
Sean was awake too. “I wish I had that duck,” he said.
In the morning they ordered room service: coffee and scones and two soft-boiled eggs, in little cups.
There was no room service at the motels, but the second best thing was a TV with a remote, the white cleanliness of towels, a mini Mr. Coffee. After a long day in the car, Annie was glad for these things. She brushed her teeth and showered and then she and Sean lay together in bed and watched sitcoms.
It was snowing as they drove into Santa Fe. The Audi churned through the flakes, working hard. Water dripped down the windows like sweat. Annie loved being in the car. She dozed off in the warmth when she wasn’t driving, which was most of the time. She didn’t like to get out when they stopped, even when she really needed to stretch. Her father had bought the car in Santa Fe, ten years ago, after his own father died. Annie and her mother and brothers flew back to New York and Annie’s father stayed to take care of things. He called up Annie’s mother and said that he’d bought a car and was driving home. “But we have a car,” Annie said to her mother. Her mother said, “It’s just an excuse for him to not come back right away.” There were still some things of his in the back: a hand exerciser, a Daniel Lanois tape, some golf balls, a pair of sunglasses which Sean put on and wore, for a joke, until Annie told him to take them off.
The sign on the highway said, New Mexico, Land of Enchantment. Sean said, “I always feel like Tattoo and Mr. Rourke should be standing at these signs, like, ‘Welcome’!” They checked into the Budget Inn on Cerrillos. They pulled themselves and their stuff from the warm Audi and into the room. They went out to eat at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. The waiters and waitresses wore Western gear. They seemed young and clean. “You could work here,” said Sean. “You should come back and see if they need someone.” It was late. They were practically the only people in the smoking section. Annie ordered a salad, a chicken quesadilla, and a glass of wine. Sean ordered fajitas and bourbon on the rocks. “You can’t drink wine at a Mexican restaurant,” he said to Annie.
“Sure you can. Why not?” said the waitress. She put down the drinks. “I’m Angel,” she’d told them when they were seated. She said, “Sangria is wine. Besides, this is Tex-Mex.”
“Sangria is a Spanish drink,” Sean said. “Not to be rude, but . . .”
The waitress looked at Annie, and raised her eyebrows. Annie shrugged. She sipped her wine. “Whatever,” the waitress said. “Mexicans drink wine. They have wine. Trust me.”
In the morning, Sean went out for a paper. When he opened the door, the air came in, shaky and bitter. Annie drew the chain in the lock and started the Mr. Coffee. She listened to the sound of it at the end, like someone clearing their throat, then poured some into a white plastic mug. The room was thick with artificial warmth. She propped herself up on the bed and sipped her coffee and watched cartoons.
When Sean came back, his face and hair sparkled with drops of snow, like he’d been dipped in glitter. He threw the paper onto the bed. He held up a white paper bag. “Bagels,” he said. “Cafe Azteca.”
They circled a bunch of places in the paper and called the numbers. She circled, he called. She sat at the blond wood table. She loved reading about the apartments: “1 bdrm, Palace Ave, crtyd, frplace. 600 mo + util.” Or, “Studio apt, walk to town, prch, 400 mo.” She liked picturing herself in these apartments, making coffee and toast, the floor stretched out all new and waiting like a made bed. Sean knew Santa Fe. He told her which addresses were good, which weren’t.
They rang the doorbell of the Palace Avenue place, and a Native American woman in her thirties answered the door. She was drunk. She was subletting the apartment, she said. They looked around. The woman’s child sat in the corner and banged on the floor with a wooden doll. The apartment was nice. But later, when they called the agency that handled it, someone told them that the woman was being evicted and that the apartment was not for rent.
They went back out and started driving, and in a little while something happened. Another car sideswiped them, and they pulled over and got out. The people in the other car were an elderly couple from Texas. There was a small scratch on their car, a smaller one on the Audi. Sean said to them, “Don’t worry about it. It’s a company car, it doesn’t matter.” Annie got out and looked at the car too, and she said it didn’t look like much. The elderly couple was very sorry and they clucked and nodded their heads up and down, calling Sean and Annie “son” and “honey,” and then they all parted on good terms. But when they were back in the car Annie felt a rage rising through her head and limbs. She said, “Why did you say that? It’s not a ‘company car.’”
“They were old. You don’t care. This car is not in great shape anyway.”
“But you said it was a company car. That’s stupid. It’s my father’s car. He has a company.”
“I meant that your father used it sometimes for work, right? You said he used it for clients and stuff. So it’s sort of a company car.”
She knew that he just liked saying “company car.” She gazed at the side of his face and she hated him with a gruesome, quivering hate. She wanted to make him get out and walk, drive the car around herself, but they were out somewhere on St. Francis Drive and she didn’t really know the way back. She was scared to drive in this snow, not knowing the way. She needed him.
He saw the sign. They drove down West Berger Street, into the cold, red, brilliant sun, and there was a group of men on a roof, working. Sean stopped the car. A tall man came over to see what they wanted. He said that he owned the apartment complex and that his name was Rashid. There was a sign on the street in front of the complex, a picture of a dog with blood dripping from its jaws, skull and crossbones underneath. Rashid showed them the apartment. “This is the fireplace,” he said, like they could have missed it. It had different levels, like shelves, and it covered a third of the room. “Nice,” said Sean. The doors and windows were shaped into delicate arcs. “I’m half Turkish,” Rashid said fiercely. He walked them through the apartment, showing them how clean it was, lifting the top of the stove and opening the refrigerator. “Look at these windows,” he said, and banged on one. “Made of Plexiglas. No one’s going to get through these.”
He said he’d have the lease ready for her the next day. They all shook hands, everyone with that pleased feeling of having worked something out with a stranger. Annie and Sean drove off and they saw Rashid get into a black truck covered with hostile bumper stickers. One of the stickers said, “Behind Every Rich Woman is a Broke Ex-Husband.”
“Wait a minute,” said Annie. They were about to turn off Berger Street onto Galileo. “I think that’s my grandparents’ old house. With the fence around it.” Sean pulled over again and they both got out. Annie peered through the cracks of the fence. “It is. It’s their house,” she said. Once someone threw a rock through a window of the house when Annie was there alone. She’d been lying on the living room rug, reading, warm in the thick, soft, colorful, murky dream world of a book. She heard a loud crash from her parents’ bedroom and she ran in there and the rock lay on the bed, dirtying up the white Mexican bedspread. She hid under the couch in the den until her parents got home.
“Tomorrow, let’s go to Wal-Mart and get you set up with everything,” Sean said. “Pots and pans, a telephone, a futon, stuff like that.”
In the morning, she signed the lease and they went to Wal-Mart. It was fun, picking out the pots and pans and towels and sheets and stuff, even though she just got the basic versions—white, off-white, aluminum. She got a futon and a card table. She got a toaster, a Mr. Coffee, and a checkered tablecloth. She wanted to get the really cheap stuff, but Sean encouraged her to go one step up. Sure, she said. She could afford it. He liked to watch her spend money because he didn’t have any of his own to spend. Sometimes she bought things she didn’t want or need or even like, just so he could watch.
It was almost time for Sean to leave. He was flying out of Albuquerque on the fifteenth. Annie’s right nostril had started to bleed. When she woke up in the mornings it throbbed and felt unbalanced. It wasn’t a wet bleeding, but a dry, constant crusting. Inside the nostril was a small swollen ridge. She pressed at it gently with her finger, trying to get it out.
They drove to Taos for the day. It was warm, suddenly, and Annie put on a pair of cutoffs and packed a long skirt. They stopped at a McDonald’s and Sean started the car as she was fixing her coffee, and coffee spilled all over her crotch and her bare thighs and the frayed ends of her shorts. She screamed and put the coffee down, and he stopped the car and turned off the ignition and looked over at her and she started to cry, and he waited until she had stopped crying and had wiped off her arms and legs and put cream and sugar in her coffee and lidded it and peeled back the plastic, and then he started the car again and they pulled out towards Taos. They stopped at Woolworth’s and she went in and bought a fresh pair of underwear, cotton and hot pink. Sean said, “That’s some of the ugliest underwear I’ve ever seen.” He went skiing and she sat in the ski lodge and drank beer and ate chips and salsa and read magazines, and at the end of the day he came to get her and they went to the bar in the Taos Inn. She went into the bathroom and washed her face and changed into a sweater and her long black and white flowered skirt. She looked really pretty, she thought. She put on some eyeliner and lipstick and she brushed her hair and she did look so pretty, she was twenty-two, and she went out into the bar which was so warm with round tables and booths and a jukebox, and it was sort of early evening and they sat there and she got a margarita, and Sean got a bourbon on the rocks. A little while later, they ordered beer and tamales. Her father used to love the New Mexican tamales. He’d order a whole bunch and have them sent back to New York and he’d put them in the freezer, big boxes crowding everything else out. She smoked cigarettes, waiting for the tamales to come, and they picked some songs off the jukebox and they sat there close to each other and talked and drank for hours. Annie didn’t want to leave. She wanted to come back to the bar wearing all her favorite clothes on different days—her plum velvet T-shirt, her green wool dress, the black crochet sweater she’d taken from her mom. But then she knew that she would really only come back once or twice if at all, and if she did come back it would be without Sean, and therefore almost like it wasn’t really happening—she would be alone, or with someone else, someone who didn’t, couldn’t, see her in that way that Sean did, that way that made her, well, possible.
On the way back the sky was bright and huge with stars, the air clear like the clarity of stepping from a warm house into the dark. She played a tape that she’d made, of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Springsteen songs—Sean called it, “the tape of guys with really crappy voices.” The window was open and she lit another cigarette and she was relaxed, somehow, with the liquid burn of the coffee still on her thighs. This was it. They passed Espanola and the houses were little shacks, small shapes in the beautiful clear night, and the mountains behind them were huge like a hand pointing, and she flipped the tape and it started to play again, and she kept wanting to be something or somewhere else, but she wanted to stay stuck on the mountain with Sean in the clear air—she wanted to end like the song and play over and over.
His flight was in the evening. They drove to Albuquerque, past Los Alamos and the weird buildings. Annie and her family used to visit her grandparents at Christmas, and they would land in Albuquerque after dark and get in the rental car and drive towards Santa Fe, and the whole town would be lit up with candles in paper bags arranged all up and down the adobe walls. Her father would take her in the car and drive and she’d sing Christmas carols softly to herself in the front seat, looking out the window. The snow and the air and the pine trees were pure and wintry and sweet, and they drove past the dark churches and the Christmas lights in restaurants and stores, and she watched the hot holy glow of the candles in their bags, farolitos, her father called them—little Mexican lights. Back at the house, she drank thick cocoa in front of the fire and rubbed her feet across the wide wood floor, the bright thin rugs, and she and her brother hung the tree with tin ornaments. It was so different, this, from home—it was a whole other life that lit up her own and showed her the shape of it.
They listened to the radio and she stared at the sky and saw up there a long dancing blue light, like a laser. “What is it?” she said to Sean, but he didn’t know, and they both watched it. Then there were two long thin lights dancing in the sky, and she saw that they were coming from a building. “There,” she said.
She got a job at a bookstore on the Old Santa Fe Trail, and she signed up for a photography class. She felt homesick for Sean when she drove past the Budget Inn. They talked every night, then decided it was better that they not talk. She started going out with a guy named Will. Will was tall and shy with hair like Lyle Lovett’s. He took her to flamenco dancing shows on Wednesday nights, and afterwards they sat in her car and made out and it was fun and nice, the way his thin shoulders felt and the way he ran his hands down her sides and he was sweet and gentle and told her she was beautiful, but after a little while she’d feel distracted and sad, a way she hadn’t felt with anyone since high school.
Rashid said he had to fix her shower. She hadn’t realized it was broken, but he said a pipe was dripping into the apartment next door. She was at work when he came to fix it. She’d cleaned the bathroom and counters carefully. She’d scrubbed the top of the stove. She’d never known how to be neat before, but now she swept every day and cleaned all her pots and pans right after using them. When she got home there was a note from Rashid about the mess—books and papers lying around, it said, clothes. Cosmetics. “I’m disappointed in you,” the note said. She went to Wal-Mart and bought a laundry basket, a wicker stand for the bathroom, a paper file box.
The snow melted off the mountains and the days grew sunny and mild and long. She spent hours driving to nowhere in particular, down the long, flat, empty highways. She knew her way around now. She shopped at Wild Oats, and on her days off she drove to strange, beautiful places and took photos.
One night, she got in her car to drive to the pharmacy. She stopped on Cerrillos, across from the Budget Inn, and looked to see if there were any cars coming. She had the green light but not the green arrow. She flipped through the radio stations as she paused, and there were no cars, so she shifted forward and turned left, and in the half-darkness suddenly was the black shape of a truck, and she slammed on the brakes, and the truck, a black Toyota, crumpled her hood and flung her forward then back in her seat, and she turned the Audi slowly into the parking lot of the Budget Inn. The Toyota pulled in behind her. She stayed in the Audi, holding onto the wheel. Her lip tasted warm and salty and she put the heel of her hand up against it. She got out of the car, shaking. The Audi was towed, and the tow truck guy dropped her off at home.
She wanted to call Sean. She sat up on the couch with the phone near her on the table. The couch, which she’d bought from the Salvation Army, was colorful and soft and probably dirty, but she leaned back and pressed her face into it. When she’d picked it out, it hadn’t occurred to her that it might not be clean. Then Rashid came over to check the heat, and he admired the couch. “I’ll buy it from you when you leave,” he said, but when she said she’d bought it at the Salvation Army, he said, “No thanks.” She wished there was more furniture in the room. There was just the couch and a coffee table, and the stand with the TV—it was hard to incorporate furniture, because of the fireplace.
She waited until she was sure she wasn’t going to call Sean. Then she went out onto the porch and smoked a cigarette.
Rashid was standing on the porch next door, talking to Annie’s neighbor. He was pleased to see Annie smoking on the porch, because there was a sign up inside the apartment that said, “No Smoking.” He called out, “That’s one considerate tenant!” Annie said, “No problem.” She ground out the cigarette in the corner of the adobe wall and put the butt in her pocket.
She went inside and heated up some chili she’d made the night before, and she sat on the couch and watched TV while she ate. And then she could have called Sean, but she didn’t. She washed the dishes and wiped down the counter. She got into bed, and she still didn’t call Sean. She lay on the single futon and pulled the off-white Wal-Mart sheets around her, and the anonymous red light of the clock glowed through the darkness.
The car was worth less than it would cost to fix it. “Just leave it,” said Annie’s mother on the phone. “Get a new car.”
Annie went to see the car at the junkyard. She took the stuff out of it: the hand exerciser, the Daniel Lanois tape, the golf balls. She took the sunglasses and all the maps. She left the McDonald’s wrappers, the empty packs of cigarettes. She looked back at it a few times as she walked away. She saw the scratch from the elderly couple. The car didn’t know yet that Annie wasn’t coming back. It glinted in the hot, hot silver sun—crumpled, but expectant.

Other Voices # 32

2 Responses to “Land of Enchantment”

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