by Albino Carrillo
Guadalupe Santos Trujillo had been riding a silver-green15-Speed Ross Mountain Bike since he saw it for sale during a dope run over to the college campus. After he dropped off some G-13 for a couple dumb hippies from Vermont who were waiting for him in the all night Laundromat (these were in his “bicycle days”) he found himself in the tree-lined part of town banging on the heavy oak door of an old Professor who was waiting for a Ms. Julia Walpole to take a look at the thing: a sky blue 1967 Volkswagon Squareback. He had seen it in the distance and likened it to candy. Sweet metal candy. The coolest thing was that it was in almost cherry condition. After selling a pillow, Guadalupe had the cash then and there, and even though this greatly confused the old man at first, twenty minutes later they were at the kitchen table, filling out the title transfer.
Guadalupe had plans. Snatching up the title so quickly that the professor’s yellow Lab barked from where it was on floor beside the stove, he strode out, just as Julia Walpole knocked on the door. He slipped past her and past the professor, who still held tightly in his weak hand the wad of fifteen 100 dollar bills that he’d just made. The only thing Guadalupe left behind was a certain acidic smokiness that wouldn’t linger in the air much longer that Walpole’s patchouli. Her eyes were wide with astonishment.
Now the car had never acted up before, and with the car Guadalupe thought he could extend his business and his social life. He had been riding up to Santa Fe on the Sun-Runner every weekend to sell weed to the hippie crowd frequenting the Japanese-Style hot-spring baths, the same who went dancing to World-Beat music all night at El Club Suroeste. Guadalupe Santos Trujillo’s main problem was that he was always running away: this started when he was a boy. He’d sit at his desk all day at school making up other realities—he thought for a while he was the son of a king, lost and adopted, certainly not the son of his real father, an old alcoholic encyclopedia salesman who’d disappear into the deep expanses of Central Texas for days in search of profit. Because he could too clearly imagine his father hobbling up to a small one-story stucco house framed by 3-foot high galvanized fencing in search of a sale, he could also imagine that he’d be rescued someday, recognized and taken to a castle or palace that would be all his, somewhere in La Extremadura de España. Of these places he’d read, and had spent hours copying heraldic shields from the set of Britannicas his real dad had won in a sales contest.
So when he found The Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky under the passenger seat one evening while he was trying stash a pillow of Diesel under it, the first thing he thought was how far he could already see: back then, the night sky in New Mexico was still clear and black and icy. He drove to Santa Fe on the back road, through Madrid. The crowd at El Club Suroeste was typical for a Saturday night in mid-June: güeras from the U, local gals from Taos dressed up like their mothers, like fresh young hippie things: toe rings, hip-huggers and flip-flops. The boys and men mostly a mix: the Santa Fe locals who, as lawyers in the daytime, wore pressed chinos and starched shirts; the locals with black, straight hair, leather jackets and big belt buckles; the star-struck boys who liked the wild hippie southwestern look—turquoise rings, maybe even a heishi, faded 501’s, Birkenstocks, the distant pot-soaked bedroom eyes of John Lennon.
It occurred to Guadalupe, at that moment of intimate self-reflection when he dug his hand around and underneath the passenger’s side seat in the blue VW and could hear the noise of the band playing on the patio, that he had come upon very lucky moment: kneeling, with the door open, Guadalupe, while fishing for the big bag, grabbed the book instead—with it, the first thing he did was turn to the point in the book that is full with color pictures of stars, nebulae, and galaxies, in particular a crystal clear shot of M 51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The streets in Santa Fe are small, narrow paths that remind you that the Spaniards built this city in the 1600’s. They reminded Guadalupe of the time he’s gone to Spain for the summer, actually traveling to the small city Alburquerque. It was the cobblestone, the neat two- and three-story stucco buildings that did it for him. In the bar, he immediately and without plan ran into Julia Walpole who of course, when the blue VW pulled-up on the curb, next to the bar, was sucking on her second clove smoke, her schooner sized margarita almost drained. Walpole had become what a TV producer or urban sociologist might call a semi-regular—she knew two of the waitrons by name and the host often talked to her about his trouble getting good bus help. This because Walpole had once accused an ugly, slightly chubby Peruvian bus-boy of stealing her watch from the bar where she’d left it while talking to a friend she’d met in the hallway by the restroom. It was behind the door labeled Mujeres all the time. The watch, a sliver-banded Bulova, actually had been her father’s; she simply picked it from the bedpost the night after her father died in his sleep—all it needed was a new mainspring.
It was the way he was sitting in the car that drew her attention. Guadalupe had bought the car before anyone even had a chance to drive it around the block or make an offer. It had been sitting for a while. The truth was that they had known each other in college, 20 years ago now, the desert still the same night after night the same stars, the same lonely people, now in their 40’s driving drunk between ‘Burque and Santa Fe, still looking for kicks and UFO’s out there on the Turquoise Trail, stoned on ecstasy or G-13. Being lost in the Southwest was a gift and a sentence. The blinding blue sky literally drains your will to move on, drains you of ambition and color. And even though you may be skin-darkened by the insufferable sun, that is in itself is a reminder from the desert, of human frailty.
At the wrought-iron entrance to el patio del Club Suroeste, then, Walpole walked right up to poor stoned Guadalupe and with one hand grabbed the book of stars and kept smoking with the other:
“Hey, motherfucker, that should’ve been my car.”
She pushed him hard, like Elaine Benes would, as she grabbed it, twisting with all her weight like she’d learned in a self-defense class. Too stunned to react (he had smiled broadly at her as he entered the courtyard) he stumbled away.
“Hey man, what the fuck…nice to see you, too! He pushed back against the wall and she slipped in a puddle of beer. He kept his hands up like he’d learned in jail. “No way. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it, and I had the money and I, you know, it was the right time. Like it was all set up, cosmically. I wanted something like that car since High-School. Have you seen the dashboard? Not a bit of sun rot. And, anyway…why do you want an old hippie car? Some goddamn book came with it too.” Guadalupe knew he was lost. The book might explain, what? He was way past that here, and the alarm was ringing in his head. They opened it together.
On his right, the open portico to the street yawned and was tired. Walpole hung back on the patio wall and Guadalupe was vaguely sick. “Have you ever seen the stars from behind the Sandias?” he asked, as he hot-boxed Marlboro Menthols and nursed a beer he didn’t want.
“No. Well, driving, yes, she said. You know I’m from Missouri. We have stars out there too.”
“Naw, what I’m talkin’ about is the thick white Milky Way you can see if you drive to Madrid and then over the mountains. There’re some clear meadows out there and you can see forever!” He said this as his heart pounded and he wondered if he were really alive. Julia drank another Lone Star as she flipped through the Field Guide, dog-earring some pages as she went.
The drive down to ‘Burque is always furious. Even more furious that Walpole was following him down I-25 at 75 miles an hour in her 1985 Ford Ranchero GT. After sitting in the bar for almost an hour, they’d decided to go out to the llano to see the stars in the naked black sky that was there, hanging over the desert.
It’s almost all downhill to ‘Burque. Guadalupe could see Julia closing at times as he neared the Sandia Reservation cutoff that would take him into the dark hills. They drove like racers, taunting each other, flying by at 85, shouting, flipping the bird at one another, laughing, thowing empty bottles of beer out their windows. But it was on a straight two-laner just north of Burque that his mind began to drift into the dark night swallowing the foothills into fog. He had formed a map in his head: soon, he and Julia would be sitting on the hood somewhere, staring at the nothingness that is space, naming stars from a book, looking for a page not in that book.
A bottle tumbled carelessly under his feet as he made the wide, dancing curve that took him onto Sandia Pueblo land. He could see the lights of ‘Burque far to the south and they looked like lost stars from a map he imagined. He gunned the engine, with Julia riding him parallel along the two-lane highway that lead to the other side of the Sandias. They threw kisses and cursed one another. Going east briefly, his eyes caught the dull, surprised eyes of a coyote crossing the road. As they both roared past, it vaguely turned to watch a rabbit farther down the road. In a few minutes, the rabbit would be dead in the coyote’s jaws. Far in front of him, in the darkest corner of the northeast sky he could see the Pleiades rising, its cup of hot blue stars casting a 440 year old light on the scene.