Phenomenon – Katie Borak

I should have called it off then, in that sushi spot encased in tall glass windows, which you baptized “our place” with a little bargain sake and a flick of your uncalloused fingers. You were tickled pink when I called you “kid;” you who shaves each morning though every other Sunday would do, you who has never owned a hatchet or a dog, you who has never found grit beneath his nails, you who ignored my flashing eyes and the punch of the “k” that flew from my tongue.

“Don’t go out there,” you said later, tangled up in the beige sheets. You were a small vole shivering in our one-bedroom, one-bathroom nest. You meant, don’t walk into the dark witching hour, into the hands of the night creatures, the black witch moths and scorpions and whiptails. They are not like us.

Kid, you’ve shined your light in all the wrong dark corners. You’ve failed to sense the sidewinder of me.

We night creatures come alive under the moon. We live in symbiosis, me and the half-lidded bus riders (who see themselves reflected back under fluorescents) and the sleepless (brewing a fresh pot) and the mothers (offering up their bodies for nourishment) and the men (soft hands slipping inside their waistbands) and the uniforms (who stop them) and the uniforms (who see nothing and return to their cars to rip up their reports) and the orderlies (scrubbing bedpans) and the convenience clerks (skimming the skin off the warm liquid cheese) and the waiters (rolling the silverware) and the kitchen boys (setting the washer’s last load to run in the hours we are all living someplace else).

We cannot be in the bright and the heat of the day.

You pulled my arm, pulled me back down to the warm bed. My teeth found flesh and bone. You yelped, you shoved me away. I warned you, I said.

Now all you say is, “Let’s go home.” The city lights are only another hundred miles, a blink through the desert.

But I turn off at nothing, at the dark exit and the road sign scoured blank by wind and sand. I blow past the nothing town, one gas station and a neon titty bar and a sign for fresh elk jerky.

You don’t say “back” or “left” while I turn right, right, right into the labyrinth of the arroyos. You don’t jerk the wheel. You don’t stomp the brake. You know I’ll draw red blood.

When I ripped out every mirror in our place last month, you learned to comb your hair in the glassy reflection of the Dixon print.

We bounce hard on our asses along the dried up gulch. I roll the windows down, inhale the scorched earth, and celebrate when it reaches up and rips away the transmission, pistons, belts, exhaust.

Keep our trail of guts, I think. Let the old bones of the chassis become an exclusive neighborhood for creatures who sleep through the bright and heat, who exit at dusk gnawing, scratching, stretching, searching. Let them claim the bluest, coolest places and give the children rooms of their own choosing. Let them make dens in the glove box, and parlors in the wheel wells, and paint the walls a nice ecru, and tear out the carpets in favor of hardwood, and force the extra leaves into the dining room table to seat all of the holiday guests, the whooping cranes who flew the 230 miles from marsh to the middle of this place.

Our wandering footprints are clear in the moonglow. You celebrate when we spot a house and people like you who lock their doors at night. They give us damp cloths to wipe the grit from our nostrils and eyelids. They follow our tracks back to the car. They tow us to the gas station, driving slowly, allowing you to walk behind and collect our strewn parts from the road. You shake their hands in thanks and expect me to do the same. Don’t be disappointed when I wander into the bar instead.

You follow me in, past the windows blotted out black and we take the chairs at the edge of the raised stage. The manager cues the music and a pale, lean woman with dark hair slithers out from between two velvet curtains. She paces to the beat. Dips down to the floor. Looses her bralette. Leads with her nipples. Makes eye contact with you, holds contact with me. Wants you to slide the dollars under her g-string.

Kid, you never have cash. You look at me like it’s my fault for coming in here empty handed. The manager appears in the wings, beckons you up, over, to the ATM.

And the dancer goes on. Even though you are gone, even though I have no dollars, she goes on.

She understands about expectation. She is so smooth. She moves like cream, rolling her shoulders, isolating her hips, arching her back so her long hair cascades in a shimmering curtain. And when she crawls to the edge of the stage, to me, some desert spirit speaks through her.

“Let’s shed our skins,” her slick lips move.

She slips down to the floor and takes the tips of my fingers in hers—fluids rising and pulsing in time, heartbeats in chorus beneath our husks—and leads me to the Exit sign, bralette hanging between her free fingers.

The sun is rising.

She’s got a truck out front with a small cab and a rough Hopi blanket. She does what you wouldn’t, pulls me up next to her, our bare thighs warming. We kick up sand and roar away, a different way than you and I came.

Kid, you are the warm rock I suck the heat from in the dying light. She is another night creature with blood as volatile as mine.

The dancer delivers us to an oasis. We go on foot through the reeds, pass through a narrow slot in the earth, and descend into a dark pocket where flat rocks give way to marine pools, where life slowly gathers.

We gulp down deep breaths and dive and search for the source. Even when I pull my body down into the dark water, I can still see her smooth, pale legs kicking above.

We speak in whispers and howls and groans, in a shorthand you have never understood, kid. It’s the first conversation I can recall in a long, long time.

Life is hidden in the land that God has forsaken. But it is here.

Finally, we are hungry and the sun might already be falling again, and she might have to work tonight. We emerge from the slot into the dusk, earth resurrecting before our eyes. Long winged shadows ripple over the primrose blooms. We feel the whispers of rodent feet hit the sand.

I know you, kid, are still at the bar. Maybe another dancer came in and you gave her all your dollars. Maybe the manager asked you to leave when the sun came up and you spent the day chewing elk jerky in a melting plastic chair. I can see you there, watching the mechanic piece the car back together, tapping your foot and rubbing the scar on your wrist, the raised pink arc of my two incisors. I can see you expecting me back.

Expectation is a narrow light.

Go ahead and keep the car, up and running now. Keep every key we have collected. Don’t tame your brown curls in the darkest strokes of the Dixon; rehang the mirrors. Switch the blackout curtains for something sheer, something to let the bright in. Whistle your happy day tune. Don’t open the door past sunset and, go ahead kid, kill those night creatures who slither over the threshold with the heel of your boot.

What I’m really saying is keep it all. Your city is an idea and lights. It’s nothing I need.




Born in northern New Jersey, Katie Borak escaped as quickly as she could. She is an MFA candidate in the Portland State University Creative Writing program and facilitates creative writing workshops with Write Around Portland. 


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