Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Girl Named Nostalgia (Short Story)



    I can’t tell you whether or not she actually existed. I suppose it doesn’t matter either way. What I can tell you is that all the space before I met her is filled with irrelevance. Allow me, if you will, to share this magnificent story of how she changed my life.

    I found myself, one early afternoon, in the forgotten Mexican town of Canutillo, on the banks of the Rio Grande and just West of El Paso, Texas. It was my yearly pilgrimage - a promise I had made to myself to honor my best friend who had thrown himself into these very same waters, five years ago. He claimed to have relinquished his soul to a beautiful Mexican girl outside of Mexico City and stated he had no purpose in living without a soul - a statement I found to be ridiculous at the time. He flung himself into the fervent river, right from this very bank and at a time when the river was almost overflowing with water for the surrounding farmland canals.

    I digress. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I parked on the service road of the river and situated myself on the small sandy patch to dream. It was one of those days where the sun and clouds sparred for attention. I listened to the tepid desert wind whip through the cattails and tall, dry grass - the lethargic sounds of the town in the distance. I was lost in the moment when I heard, “Seems like you’re a dreamer just like me, huh?” I turned to see her dressed in tattered jean shorts wrapped around thin, bronze legs that ended in cowhide cowboy boots. A white tank top wrapped around meager breasts and her hair was an auburn-hued bridled frenzy. I can’t say she was beautiful because that word is reserved for those worthy of its definition. She was beyond that. If it helps, I will say that her eyes were the reflection of storm clouds just before the thunder. When the desert wind carried her scent to me, I was staggered. She was the painfully-sweet scent of nostalgia. A scent I knew well.

    “What’s your name?” she asked, pushing strands of hair out of her face.

    “Luis. What’s yours?” I replied.

    “Does it matter? Wanna go on an adventure, Luis?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “I know a place just down the road from here.”

    “How’d you get here?” I said, looking for another car of which she would’ve arrived in but there was none.

    “I walked,” she replied. “Come on, Luis. It’s getting late.” I had a white Honda Del Sol back then. The type where you can remove the top and put in the trunk and I did just that. We rode down the thin, snaking old highway and slipped into the state of New Mexico, speechless, until she said, “It’s right here.” She was referring to a peeling-paint stucco building titled “La Union Station.” We were the only ones seated at the rough-hewn, Mexican-themed bar that day and it was understandable being that it was that awkward time between late lunch and early dinner. We had Margaritas and tacos and I watched as her eyes rolled back with every bite. “God damn, that’s good!” she exclaimed, slamming her hand on the bar and laughing. She was exploding with positive energy and it was difficult to not be influenced by it. My mood was lifted. Whether or not it was the effect of the Margaritas doesn’t matter.

    We got back into the car and she directed me to continue down the road and that she would advise me when to stop. “You got an auxiliary input in this thing?” she asked. I handed her the chord and she plugged her iPod into it. She played The Smiths and I swooned. We listened to “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” as the increasingly hot wind slapped our faces. She released her hair from its confines and it whipped about the interior like Medusa’s. Strands struck me on the face and they smelled of Creosote after a storm - a smell that reminded me of my Father. I instantly recalled how he would gather the leaves in his wrinkled hands and say, “Doesn’t it smell beautiful, Mijo?” When I thought my heart could melt no more, she played Depeche Mode and that feeling hit me. You know the one - where you’re taken back to the freshness of youth and all that accompanied that moment. When your eyes, ears and heart were untainted. When you and your friends heard that same song in your favorite club and you felt invincible. In that moment, I felt like that again with her. Who was this girl that, on an otherwise unassuming, regular weekday, had made me feel so profoundly of my youth?

     We continued West and to a place I knew well but visited seldomly. It was Chope’s, a place everybody from Las Cruces to El Paso and beyond knew to be an institution. “Come on!” she said, jumping out of the car - her boots kicking up dust from the parking lot. We sat at the bar and she ordered two forties of Corona. I looked to her in surprise. “Whatsa matter, Luis? Scared of the forty?” she asked, bumping my shoulder with hers and grinning. She took a long drink and I watched as she, with eyes closed, gulped half of it before slamming it down on the counter and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. I sipped mine. “How are you, sweetie?” she asked the aged, leather-skinned bartender, genuinely meaning it. We both listened as she told us how she had been born and raised in that very town. She had worked at Chope’s for as long as she was able to recall. She spoke of how she had tried to escape this drowsy town, to make better of herself, but was forced to remain to care for her ailing mother. “It’s not so bad, I guess,” the bartender said, shrugging her stooped shoulders. I looked over to the girl to see tears welling in her eyes. The girl insisted on paying our tab and we left, but I had forgotten my sunglasses so I returned to the bar. When I opened the door, the bartender was holding a $100 bill in her hand, beaming. “Thank you so much. Que Dios te cuide,” she said to me with a toothless smile. “That was very nice of you,” I said to her when I returned to the car. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied, winking.

    We continued down the road, passing decrepit homes, fertile farmland, flowing canals and the smell of almost-ready-to-pick onions permeated the air. All-the-while, the imposing and majestic Franklin Mountains lay in the background, slowly giving way to the equally majestic Organ Mountains of New Mexico.  “Turn here!” she suddenly said and I turned into the dusty parking lot of La Vina Winery. I had been there several times, usually during the wine festival and several other times with my ex-girlfriend of whom I had been estranged from for many years now. She ordered a plate of various cheeses and a bottle of Reisling. We sat on a patch of grass and I attempted small talk with her but she shook her head, smiled and said, “There’s no need for that Luis. There’ll be time later.” She breathed in deeply then sighed in content before leaning in and kissing me. Oddly enough (and despite the fact that I had not seen her smoke) she tasted of camp fires and moist, desert earth. I suppose I should clarify this statement by saying that her kiss conjured up memories of camp fires rather than actually tasting like them. After kissing me, she squealed like a teenager and rolled around in the grass, giggling. “You’re a great kisser, Luis. Come on, let’s go!”

    We reached the point where the road intersected with Gadsden High School in Anthony, New Mexico. “Turn right,” she said and she directed me to a spot where the Rio Grande bent and the water pooled. We parked on the unpaved access road and she jumped out and ran to a small sandy spot where the murky water lapped the shore. “Come on!” she yelled back to me as she removed her shorts, cowboy boots and socks. I watched as she slid into the water in flower-printed panties, squealing at the coldness of it. “Don’t be such a pussy, Luis! Come on in!” I hesitated for just a moment before saying, “Screw it. Why not!” I disrobed to my underwear and joined her in the water. It was refreshing against the sweltering air. After our brief swim, we found ourselves lying on the hot sand only in our underwear, not talking for a long while. Her wet skin glistened in the scorching sun when the thought struck me - could this stranger be conspiring to rob me or to cause me harm in some way? After all, I have no idea who she is. Anger began to rise within me and when I was about to question her intentions, she had a question of her own. “What are your goals in life, Luis? I mean, what do you hope to accomplish?” she asked me, squinting against the intense light. The question caught me off-guard and put my anger at bay.

    “Well, to be rich and successful, of course,” I answered. She looked to me with confusion on her face.

     “But why? You can’t buy this, Luis,” she responded to me, gesturing to the surroundings before touching her chest and then mine with her palm. “This is worth more than anything you could ever buy. This right now - this little slice in time, and the countless more to come, will never happen again and that makes them priceless.” I was humbled.

    We dressed and got back in the car and headed farther West. We made small talk, mostly about where I grew up, my upbringing, etc, when she suddenly told me to be quiet. We were approaching a point in the road where the massive trees of the pecan orchards stretch their limbs lazily over the road. It was a place endearing to me and of which I had passed through many times before. She stood on the seat, stretched her arms out and closed her eyes. It was at this point that I felt her profound freedom. It was bursting out of her. This stranger, who I had picked up on the side of the Rio Grande, was the epitome of liberation and she was standing right next to me. When the stretch of trees ended, she sat back down - her hair now a violent sea of keratin. “So beautiful,” she said, looking out onto the blistering road ahead of us. “Life is so beautiful, Luis.”

    She directed me to the Old Mesilla Plaza (the poor man’s version of my beloved Santa Fe, as I would call it) and into the parking lot of La Posta Restaurant - an historical building that was once a sprawling Hacienda. We entered the massive wooden doors and an explosion of color, smells and sounds greeted us. I walked behind her, down the long, saltillo-tiled corridor and into the brightly lit foyer where the cages of parrots sat. As we walked between them, the parrots were thrown into a frenzy, squawking and flying to where she was walking and flinging themselves against the cage. “Shhh, my darlings,” she said, running her finger along the cage. They quieted themselves and watched as she made her way towards the back bar with me closely behind. I watched as she swayed her hips, passing massive wooden columns, colorful tiles and the ghosts of Lorraine, Jane and Cherie of my past there.

    We arrived at the back bar to be greeted by a short, pudgy coffee-complected man dressed in a crisp, white shirt who was buffing wine glasses. “Hello. Welcome to La Posta. What can I get you?” he asked. She leaned forward in her bar chair and placed her elbows on the bar and said, “What is the best tequila you got back there, sweetheart?” The bartender scanned the rows of liquor behind him and said, “Well, that would be Amorada. I think it’s from Texas or something like that.” She ordered two shots of the Añejo and the bartender poured them into two thick snifter glasses. “Salud,” she said, clinking her glass with mine. As I was about to take a shot, she grabbed my arm and shook her head. “Never, ever shoot good tequila. You always sip it,” she said. “She’s right,” the bartender said, shrugging his shoulders. “He’s my lover, you know,” she said to the bartender, smirking. I blushed.
    After our tequila, she led me through the plaza, holding my hand, and into the Double Eagle Restaurant - a place known for its past elegance and ghosts. We had another glass of tequila at its massive, archaic bar and this is the point where she began to change. “This place is haunted, ya know?” she said.

    “Yeah, I know. I’ve been here many times,” I replied.

    “Well maybe it’s the ghosts of your past that are haunting it,” she said, her words slurring slightly. In any other circumstance, her last statement would’ve seemed comical but, for some reason, it actually made sense, especially in this precise moment in time. With the tequila lowering my inhibitions, I tried to kiss her but she pulled away and looked at me with confusion and disgust. “What do you think you’re doing?” she said before getting off her barstool and walking out the door and into the middle of the dark plaza. I followed and called out for her to stop.

    “What’s going on?” I asked.

    “It’s time, Luis,” she said, crossing her arms.

    “For what?” I replied.

    “Our journey is over. I have to go now and you have to let me go,” she said.

    “But why? How are you going to get home?” I asked.

    “Because it’s time to let me go. I am home, Luis. Just move on now, sweetie, okay?” she responded, a look of kindness creeping back onto her face, if only for a moment.

    “But you never even told me your name,” I responded as she began to walk backwards.

    “Oh, Luis, you have an obsession with names, don’t you? Call me Longing or Yearning or even Reminiscence if you like. It won’t make a difference either way. Just let me go,” she said, inching farther and farther away from me and into the embracing darkness.

    “I don’t understand,” I called out to her vanishing figure.

    “You will, sweetheart. In time you will,” were her last words before she became part of the shadows abound.

    I returned to the back bar of La Posta to have one more tequila. “You’re just in time to have one more before I close the place down,” the same bartender said. “Where’s your lover?”

    “She’s just a beautiful memory now,” I responded.

    “They all end up being just beautiful memories in the end, my friend,” he responded, not looking up from his task of buffing wine glasses. His words couldn’t have been more true. He let me sit at the bar while he cleaned up and shut the place down section by section - the waiters and waitresses bidding him goodnight one by one. He finally led me to the front door and said, “Don’t trip in the darkness, my friend. You’ll find various lights along the way. Have a good journey.”


    I made my way back to my car, passing stumbling bar patrons exiting El Patio and drove back down the same old highway and past the places of where we had just visited hours earlier - the memories still resonating from each one. It’s many years on now and, when in town from Austin, I still visit that same sandy shore of the Rio Grande hoping to see her again but I never do. I will say, though, that longing, yearning and reminiscence are no longer prevalent themes in my life. They’re no longer pervasive and debilitating. It’s as though I “let it go”, so to speak and I have her to thank for that, wherever she may be - the girl I’ve named Nostalgia.

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