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A fast trip through the American night

Mike Wilson

Rockabilly

Translated by Jordan Lee Schnee


Published: 04.11.2016

Only the lonely 


Know the way 


I feel tonight 


Only the lonely 


Know this feelin’ 


ain’t right

Roy Orbison


Rockabilly 


Rockabilly began digging late one spring night with a rusty shovel in his backyard.


Everything had begun a few hours earlier. It was getting late, the lights in the neighborhood were starting to come on, and the red stain on the horizon was growing faint. In some houses TVs flickered. In others, families gathered around the dinner table. But Rockabilly had no family, no TV. He was in the living room, under a weak light bulb, kneeling on a pile of old newspapers, his greasy fingers working to take apart a transmission that he had picked up at the junk yard. He wiped a hand across his forehead, replacing the sweat with a black smudge. Satisfied, he went into the bathroom. As he was soaping up his arms in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the dark streaks that clung to his skin, something fell from the sky.


First he heard a high whistling sound, then a dull thump on the roof, an explosion, and a muted impact in the backyard. Rockabilly ran out of the bathroom. The edge of the roof was in flames, the gutter hanging precariously. Without panicking, he got the extinguisher he kept in the kitchen, and put out the fire. Once the smoke had cleared, Rockabilly inspected the damage. Besides a charred semi-circle, the only evidence that something had fallen from the heavens was a hole the size of a coin through which a single star shone.


Rockabilly put down the extinguisher, and stood looking at the backyard. He scratched his chin, contemplating the small domestic apocalypse. An incandescent mist was floating on the grass, the earth was gashed open, and scraps of vegetation were lying around the yard. He took a few steps towards the center of the furrow, following one of the tendrils of fog’s path. As he advanced, the movement of his legs dispelled the mist, allowing him to see for an instant what was under the surface. He continued cautiously until he came upon a hole in the yard. He kneeled down and could see the misty contours of a small crater. The fog was flowing down into it.


He stood there for a few minutes, not knowing what to do. He thought about calling someone. The fire department, the police, anyone. But he discarded the idea. He had a criminal record, and preferred to keep a low profile. Anyway, everything seemed to be under control. The fire was out, the roof wasn’t about to fall down, and the yard... who the fuck cared about the yard? Besides, he was tired. He hadn’t slept the night before, and he didn’t want to deal with the authorities. Rubbing his eyes, he decided to take care of the mess in the morning. Without looking back, he lit a cigarette, and lay down on the sofa.


Rockabilly had been living in the house for four years, but he hadn’t found the time or the need to buy a bed. In fact, besides a couple of folding chairs, a small table, and a tattered sofa, the house had no furniture. Instead, there were countless pieces of junk all over the place. Screws, spark plugs, shock absorbers, dismantled motors, vintage tires, and rusted tail pipes. The mere idea of having to organize this chaos exhausted him. Still, even though he was dog tired, he couldn’t calm down. He felt restless. He couldn’t stop thinking about the crater, how it could be a rock from outer space, a meteorite or something like that. He remembered an article he had read once on one of the scraps of newspaper covering the floor. Something about the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of man’s walking on the moon. It said that the moon rocks they had brought back were worth millions of dollars. Rockabilly couldn’t get this figure out of his mind. The chance that an extraordinary rock was buried in his yard kept him awake. He was already imagining selling the meteorite for thousands of dollars and finally being able to buy the parts he needed for his low-rider.


He swept aside the covers, put on his jeans, went to the garage and got the shovel.


The night was warm and it was hard work. The thing was lodged down deeper than Rockabilly had thought. Drops of sweat ran down his face, and his shirt stuck to his skin. He took it off and kept digging energetically. He didn’t doubt that with every huff, every grunt he was nearing his prize.


While Rockabilly kept shoveling, without him suspecting her presence, she watched him from a dark window. Her eyes’ shining betrayed the same ardor that corrupted Rockabilly’s. From the safety of her house, she spied on her neighbor’s efforts. How the muscles in his arms and torso contracted, how the tattoo of the pin-up girl that covered his back seemed to dance in the light of the full moon.


Suicide Girl


I’m in my room, looking at myself in the mirror, trying to see myself in a way that doesn’t disgust me. I scrutinize my face, looking for an angle, a shadow, an expression, anything. I know I’m not ugly. I know how the boys at my high school look at me. I guess they think I’m hot, but right now I can’t convince myself. I open a drawer, and take out my make-up. Dark eye shadow, and the reddest lipstick that I have. I start putting it on. I want to look like her. I put up my hair, I grab the eyeliner, I draw a beauty mark on my cheek and a tattoo on my arm. It’s the silhouette of a woman. I picture her posing in an old-fashioned bathing suit. Now I look better. I’m about to step away from my reflection when a radiant light fills the room. I feel the light, its weight, like it were hitting me. It penetrates my whole body, it goes through me, it transforms me. It all happens in a matter of seconds. The light is followed by a bang. Something—dirt—splatters against the window. My lizard hides behind a rock. Then it gets dark. Silence descends again over the neighborhood, and a few moments later the crickets restart their chirping, like they couldn’t hold their breath anymore.


I stick my head out of the window and see my neighbor with a fire extinguisher, putting out a small blaze at one end of his roof. I bite my lip and sigh. I always do this when I see Rockabilly. I can’t help it. I think I spend more time spying on him than anything else. I know his routine. He goes out to look at the sky when the sun is setting, and then he doesn’t reappear until early in the morning, before I go to school. Mom gets really angry when she catches me watching him. She tells me that a 15-year-old girl shouldn’t be going around spying on people. Especially on a greaser like Rockabilly with his junk cars, his hell-raising motorcycles, his pornographic tattoos, and who knows what else. Oh yeah, and that she is worried that a girl my age is so clearly turned on by looking at a man who’s over 30. She says I’m playing with fire.


Rockabilly has left the yard. I throw myself down on the bed and shut my eyes. I hate my room, I’m sick of the pink walls. They haven’t changed since I was seven. Another one of Mom’s whims. Pink walls, pink drapes, pink closet, pink dresser, pink hell. My only “luxury” is Chuck, my lizard. The day that they gave him to me was a dark day for Mom. She hates him. She thinks he’s a creature that harbors god-only-knows-what diseases. When she told me that, I fell in love with Chuck. I went to the pet store and bought him everything he needed. Now he lives in a terrarium on my desk. It’s furnished with a couple of smooth rocks, sand, a dry stick, and a heat lamp. Reptiles need warmth, or else they get stiff.


I hear him scratching. I open one eye. Chuck is staring at me, his neck stretched out, his front legs extended and planted down. Something’s wrong, he seems agitated. That strange light must have scared him. I lie still, not doing anything. Chuck stretches out even further, and his tongue comes out. I get up from the bed, and Chuck goes berserk. He gets up on his haunches, and his little claws start scratching at the terrarium’s glass. I go over, and he get’s even more agitated.


What’s going on, Chuck?


He doesn’t stop staring at me, but when I get closer I realize that his miniature eyes aren’t looking at mine. They are fixed on my body, on my breasts. I look down and see that the left side of my pajama top has a wet circle.


One of my nipples is oozing milk.



Babyface


My head is heavy, it’s hard to open my eyes, my body is lying motionless on the La-Z-Boy, my hands, bars of lead, won’t respond. I manage to half-open my eyes, I see faded shadows. I’m able to unstick one of my arms, and I start feeling my face, exploring my cycloptic skull. Slowly I rediscover the dimensions of my head. Huge, round, soft. I run my fingers through the silken fuzz that barely covers the crest of my scalp and inhale deeply a couple of times, trying to get oxygen. I grope around my thigh until I find the catheter, pull the device and feel how it releases from my bladder. There is a burning sensation as it slides out of my penis. I wet myself slightly. My tongue is dry, I forgot to take out my dentures. My gums hurt. I start breathing again, close my eyes. I find the chair’s lever and raise up, wait for gravity to take care of draining the fluids that have built up in my head. It hurts like my stomach is tearing at my brain. Slowly, my ­senses sharpen. My vision is restored, I recover movement in my legs and other arm. I dry the spit from my chin, and I’m about to stretch out my hand to turn on the lamp, when a brightness invades the living room. I reach up with my forearm to shield my eyes, but before I can cover them, the radiant light disappears. I want to go and see what’s going on, but my body still wont allow that. I’ll have to wait a little longer.


I don’t know how much time has passed, I think I dropped off again. I hear a sharp, repetitive noise. It’s coming from my neighbor’s house. I get up, my bathrobe is open, I’m swaying slightly, and stabilize myself against the wall. I direct myself towards the window that looks onto the yard. I see my reflection in the window, and my jaw twitches. I still can’t get used to my appearance. My body swollen, hulking, a dense, rounded bulge. My yellowy skin, and my head... I turn away. The kids from around the corner are right, I’m a grotesque Gerber. A freak.


Three years ago, my body started to deteriorate. My head’s flesh grew and swelled, my skull too. My teeth fell out. And my hair. A slight fuzz took its place. My eyes and ears got bigger. At first, the doctors didn’t know what it was. They published articles, took photographs. They examined me, took measurements. Nothing, until one day a paleovirologist discovered I was infected with a virus that was thought to be extinct. It causes a disease called FCI, facial-cranial infantilism. The face in the reflection that returns my gaze is a 40-year-old baby’s.


I rest my head against the glass and block out the light with my hands so I can see what’s happening in the darkness of the neighboring yard. It’s difficult to see, but my eyes adjust to the low light. Rockabilly’s sweaty torso is shining in the moonlight as he feverishly digs. The hole is up to his knees. The rhythmic movement of his labor makes the tattoo covering his back seem to come alive. I close my bathrobe. I watch him a little longer, trying to figure out what he’s looking for, what he’s planning. I remember the light, that brightness. My head is starting to hurt in this position, and I pull away from the window. I feel how the skin on my forehead unsticks from the glass, leaving a humid mark in its place. There’s something strange there, and it’s hard to focus my vision. I manage to right before the steamy print vanishes. I see translucent letters, written in the sweat. They shrink, like an anorexic code about to expire. The word evaporates and the glass returns to transparency. Still, when I close my eyes, I can see the letters. They are clear, neat, meticulous.


K I L L


Bones


That light did something to me. My head is full of things, ideas, words, I think. I can’t stop panting, it’s exhausting, it feels like a bee has gotten into my head. It won’t stop buzzing. It’s got something to do with the neighbor. I scratch, scratch, scratch. I don’t know why, but since I saw that light, my head has been talking to me. Every time I do something, it tells me. I scratch. It’s bested me. I can’t fight it. I walk towards the fence. I walk to the fence. I know that the neighbor is in his yard. I can smell his butt. I smell his butt. It’s about 25 feet away. I smell his butt. I know the neighborhood’s butts. I know when they go out into their yards. Right now, Rockabilly’s butt is in its yard. I scratch, scratch. I get closer to the fence. I get up onto my hind paws. I see Rockabilly’s butt. His butt is digging. I know how to dig. It’s one of the things I do. Dig, shit, eat, sleep, dig, scratch, dig. I also smell the other neighbor’s butt too—Babyface’s, but it’s further away, indoors. I smell it anyways. It smells like baby powder. I scratch, scratch. Suicide Girl is further away. I smell her butt, and milk too. I want milk. I want milk. I want milk. It makes me want to bark. I do my hungry bark. I do it 18 times: Hungry! Hungry! Hungry! Hungry!... and on and on until I’m satisfied. I look again at the pit Rockabilly’s butt is digging. Something is bothering me. I know how to dig. I know how to dig, but it doesn’t turn out like that. It’s embarrassing. I want to dig like that. I want his hole. I want to go inside and turn around six times and lie down. I hate Rockabilly’s butt. It’s humiliating me. I want Rockabilly’s butt’s hole. I should hatch a plan. I scratch, scratch. I don’t know how to hatch plans. I need to get my head to tell me how to plan. I raise my snout again. I see the painted skin, the woman on Rockabilly’s butt’s back. She smells different. She looks at me, and she smells different. Her eyes speak to me. They offer me what I desire. They tell me how to get it. I don’t know how, but I know I should do it.


There’s a growl in my chest.


Suicide Girl


I see him digging. I turn off the lights in my room, and I open the window so I can watch him better. She’s with him. She’s always with him. Beautiful, seductive, eternal. He buries the spade forcefully, and she reacts, swaying her hips as if she were trying to shake off the drops of sweat that are sliding down Rockabilly’s back. I see the pin-up’s voluptuous chest and I remember my own breast. It’s swelling up more and more. It hurts. My chest looks strangely lopsided. The milk keeps coming out of the left nipple. I covered it with a sanitary pad, but that was no use, the liquid soaked through in no time. I’m afraid. I feel like telling Mom. Maybe she will know what’s wrong. It could be a remnant of puberty, I don’t know, something hormonal. She probably knows. But I change my mind, I’m sure she’s going to think the worst, like I’m pregnant or something. Mom is sure I’m a little slut. Once I heard her talking to one of her friends who comes over once in a while. I was in the hallway, they were in the kitchen. Mom told her that she had given up on me. That she had a daughter who dressed like a skank, and she was sure I had gone all the way with more than one guy. Since that day, I haven’t stopped hating her. I don’t care what she thinks of me, and I’m not even going to bother telling her that I’m still a virgin; that I’m afraid of sex. It’s not like I don’t want to. Sometimes I even get obsessed with thinking about it. But I like imagining it when I’m alone... The other way seems painful. Like monkeys. I don’t know.


A sharp pain takes me by surprise. I suppress a scream. I can’t take it anymore, it hurts, my top is soaked. I admire Rockabilly for another few seconds, and close the window. As I massage myself, I remember something that might soothe the pain. Mom still has an electric breast-pump from when I was a baby. I find it in a drawer in the bathroom, still in its original box. I go back to my room, close the door, read the instructions, and plug in the machine. It still works. I take off my nightshirt. Chuck goes wild, hopping around, scratching the glass, battering his head against the walls. It’s disturbing. I cover the terrarium with a blanket. I can still hear his scrabbling. I ignore it. I look at my naked breasts, the left one is almost double the size of the right. I apply the suction cup and press it to myself, following the instructions. With my other hand I squeeze, like juicing a citrus. I’m not sure if I’m doing it right, but I have no idea what else to do. I turn on the machine, which starts to hum and I feel how the suction pulls my breast. I feel a burning in my nipple. Suddenly, the milk starts coming out in spurts, not a continuous stream. Spurt, pause, spurt, pause, spurt. I want to laugh. After about ten minutes, I feel much better. The swelling in my left breast is gone, and the little recipient that connects to the pump is almost full. The milk looks creamy, delicious. The bottle is warm, and for a second I want to taste it, but I reconsider, and pucker in disgust.


Chuck is still scrabbling around. I feel bad, and uncover him. He sees the bottle of milk in my hand and freezes, his little eyes glued on the creamy liquid. I don’t now why, but I understand exactly what I have to do. I stick my arm into the terrarium and move my hand towards the shallow bowl to fill it with milk, but I don’t get that far. Chuck jumps up and bites my wrist. I drop the bottle and pull back my hand. I’m bleeding. I bring the wound to my lips. He’s never attacked me before. I look at him in surprise. Chuck doesn’t seem to be aware of me, his head is bent down, and he’s desperately drinking the spilled milk. I watch him for a little while. I know that reptiles aren’t capable of facial expressions, but I swear to God that on Chuck’s face is an expression of sinister euphoria... insatiable.


Rockabilly


It’s hard for him to get the spade into the ground. The heat of the impact crystallized the soil. It crunches like glass cracking. Rockabilly needs several minutes to break through the upper crust of the crater. Slowly, the earth starts to give, changing from a rigid shell to sandy mud.


Rockabilly smiles as he throws the dirt over his shoulder. The neighborhood is quiet, the spade disappears into the dark silt. He doesn’t get distracted, he continues to work steadily. A mysterious will has taken hold of him. He feels his arms getting tired, the muscles in his back burning, but he can’t, nor does he want to stop the hunt. A drop of sweat travels down his vertebrae, the hot fluid caresses the pin-up’s stomach, and crosses her as if it were cutting her in half. The droplet leaves a lustrous trail, a cauterizing wire. As he digs, he could swear he hears the hiss of it evaporating.


He remembers that day with a heavy heart. It’s been months since he thought about that sweltering afternoon. He had managed to push it out of his thoughts. And now here it comes once again. The abandoned house in the suburbs. They sold crystal meth, and repaired choppers, and in a dirty bathroom a woman who did tattoos was waiting. She wore a flower-print house coat and had unicorn hair clips. She was made-up like a perfume saleswoman, had on brown tights, and boasted pure skin. Unblemished, not even a single line of ink. She said her name was Penny. She had on a ring with an enormous diamond. Her breath smelled of coffee and cigarettes. The rest of her body smelled like hairspray.


Rockabilly pulled up his shirt, exposing his back. A Johnny Cash song meandered through the house. She was chewing gum. She turned on the tattoo gun, the machine buzzing, she moved it towards his skin.


Are you sure?


Yes.


This is gonna hurt... A lot.


Babyface


I tie the bathrobe and go out into the front yard. The street is dark, on the corner there’s a stop sign, and an anemic light is coming down off a lamppost. Across the street, a voluptuous old oak tree hangs over the sidewalk as if it were waiting for some distracted pedestrian. Meat to feed the night. The sky is cloudless, a flock of nocturnal birds eclipses the stars, flying by silently. I prefer to go out like this, late, when everyone else has retreated into their suburban caves. I can walk easily, without having to deal with bullshit from the kids. Fucking kids. I adjust my slippers and go onto the sidewalk. I walk. This is part of my ritual, doing a couple of laps around the block, strolling in the moonlight, listening to the slippers scrape against the cement slabs. I forget my monstrosity, the weight of my head, the fragility of my body. I go at my own pace. Slowly, stopping when I need to breathe a little extra. I feel good. Alive.


I go by Rockabilly’s house. I can hear him digging. I remember the message on the glass. I close my eyes, and can see it again. What’s strange is that I’m not so worried about this business of the window, the letters. What makes me nervous is that since that moment, I’ve rehearsed the actions in my mind more than once. I’ve been thinking about how I would kill him. Strangulation. A shot to the head. A knife to the kidney. Or maybe something more sophisticated like arsenic or a simulated accident or suicide.


I go by his house a couple more times.


What’s weird is that I barely know him. I don’t have any reason at all to hate him. In fact, I don’t hate him. I even think that I might like him. Him and that beautiful woman that graces his back. Still, when I imagine his murder, I have no doubt in my mind that I’m capable of doing it without the least hesitation.


The neighbor’s dog has started barking. I go around the corner and pass the girl’s house. The one that haunts my dreams. She dresses like a teenage version of Rockabilly’s tattoo. Sometimes I watch her from my house, but I hate myself for doing it, I feel like a pedophile. I feel like I’m degrading myself on the inside, that I’m becoming the monstrosity that my body projects. I need to keep a core of goodness, I can’t be that man. The man who lives in a quiet suburb, who stalks young girls, a vile man. I close my eyes and soothe my urges by thinking of Rockabilly’s pin-up, but inevitably her seductive form transforms into my teenage neighbor.


I adjust the bathrobe and keep going. I walk in circles, well, actually in squares, connecting my neighbor’s houses until I can’t take it anymore, the irrefutable idea once again takes over my mind. I seize hold of it, playing out Rockabilly’s death again and again. My indifference to the act no longer seems strange to me—just the opposite, now I find it comforting. I close my eyes again, and see myself strangling him with my own two hands. I am in the pit he has dug, kneeling on top of him, crushing his trachea. I see his body convulsing, see my shoulders and back flexing, him digging his nails into my forearms. I want to see it all, see how his face contorts, how he goes pale. I want to be the first one to appreciate the blush of blue that tints his features. But no matter how hard I try, my efforts fail. I can’t see his face.


My fucking head is blocking my view.


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Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson

born in St. Louis, Missouri, is an Argentine-American writer. He teaches literature and philosophy at the Universidad Católica in Santiago de Chile and is the author of several books.
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