THE FIRST SHOT
Toni and Lola are good to me when they can be. Afterwards, they call it A Good Time with Derrick. Derrick is an oilfield supervisor and he's old but loaded. Derrick is a fatback young white boy off the Gulf rigs. Derrick is an underwater welder father of four with slick fingers. Derrick is a pickup truck of scrubbed and hard and eager oilfield accountants ready for action and Derrick's bills stimulate our local economy for weeks.
When Toni and Lola have a good run with the oilmen, we all get to go up to Dallas for steaks and Neiman Marcus and drink thirty dollar cocktails made with real gold. Tina finished paying her forty-eight blowjobs for the red mustang convertible and it's hers now, fair and square, and Tina and Lola in front and Toni and me in back and there's no need for a hotel because we're not ever going to sleep again. Sleeping is for people who haven't been paid. Right now we're rich enough for bacon stuffed potatoes and a pound of steak for each of us. And we'll each get five-color eye shadow compacts at the Christian Dior counter, and we'll use their ladies' room and we'll try on their furs because in Dallas, even at Neiman Marcus, it doesn't matter whether you got your money fresh from a Derrick if you're beautiful and young and you ask for Andrew, who takes care of all the women whose lesions don't show yet.
I've only just now learned to be a woman. When we got hold of her, Toni and Lola like to say, she looked like an Amish mail order bride. They shaved my body in the bathtub, finding fissures I never knew existed. They cut my hair and dyed it copper mahogany red and after six hours and three joints it was a fabulous bouffant, high and bright and confident. Tina, our thief, lifts the Chanel samples and we have lipstick and eyeliner and base and rouge and contour cream and the first afternoon I become a woman's eyelashes.
Lola is so jittery with cocaine that she glues my eyelids together and I have to stay blind and calm listening to Twilight Zone and drinking Southern Comfort and mezcal from a straw until she comes down enough that her hands stop shaking and she can pick my lashes apart with a safety pin.
Tina and Lola and Toni strap me into one of Tina's push up bras from before a Derrick paid for her to be a 36DDD and they slide me into a tiger stripe polyester thong and we go out for whiskey and molé night at Cantina Rosalita: the girls set me up for my trial run, alone in the taqueria patio around the oil can meat smoker.
They tell me not to let their best polyester dress catch fire and melt all over my skin because even Mary Kay can't fix that shit, she's tried.
They tell me to look for an oilman, and I do. Almost. He's an arms dealer on his way to Austin. He thinks it's his lucky best day. He tells my hot pink lips and my false lashes all about the anti-tank mines and the RPGs. He thinks maybe my tiger striped pussy should come with him to Austin where Bush is going to finalize the contract for supplying our boys heading for the Gulf.
The arms dealer talks about surface to air missiles and he inserts an index finger into the cleavage between my first and second toes, and draws a sloppy heart in the sweet Texas dust accumulating on my patent pleather stilettos. This is how I learn to be a woman.
He comes back from the toilet smelling of fresh urinal cakes and Stetson for men—he's going to get lucky—It's in his eyes, small and round and happy.
You and your girlfriends want to see the jacuzzi in my hotel?
I go inside to the bar to get advice from Toni and Lola and Tina. They're miserable, because it's not their music here. They're sick of Tejaño because no matter how drunk they get it's still not disco. Nothing here is fabulous. There’s no gold lame for them inside this favor they're doing me, but they've done something big for me. They've taken me out as my first-time woman to get my first man and they're going to see this through.
So Tina cracks her head in the arms dealer's direction and curls her lip in a breathtaking Christian Dior sneer of contempt and says, you can do better, honey, you're too young for that slab.
I look at my slab and he looks no different than how they've described their Derricks, all sweaty and thick and pink in the Texas two in the morning border diesel bud light neon sludge and they say nah, honey, you're not going down like this, not yet.
The girls lead me back to the weapons dealer and they pretend to drop their lighters, and their lipsticks, and their car keys in the dirt. And they bend down in front of him and his eyes widen, all pink in the whites, because they have the finest asses in all of South Texas and they're young and tight and brown and barely covered in American flag spandex down there and they're bending, and bending, their asses high up in the air and down they go, long acrylic fingernails digging in the dirt and their asses to him and he sees their seams, where panties meet whither and the rich rolling spheres of their testicles packed just right and he says shit fuck what kind of a game you running here and alongside the shape of his hard-on in his bleached pleated jeans is the shape of a longer, fatter pistol barrel and that's when I know he's anxious.
He looks at me with an explosive burst of shit fucks and says, are you a woman or are all you girls she-males and ducks his head under his hat and he's gone before Toni and Tina and Lola stand up laughing so hard they barely gasp out the instructions on how fast I've got to run now in those stilettos.
The girls know how to jimmy the locked latch of the back gate for just this kind of prank, the prank that sometimes means when we go into Dallas for steaks and gold dust in our liquor they've got bruises down the side of their magnificent cheekbones, but tonight means we go to the gay speakeasy and I'm the least convincing woman there.
I look around and I see how much I have to learn. How much harder I'm going to have to work at this being a woman thing.
I look at the queens in their beauty, their blond wigs and mile-high legs with thighs for nights and days and then all the nights in the world that will never be enough. And I know that all I want to be is a lesbian, if this is where it’s going to get me.
THE SECOND SHOT
El Viejo Jorge. The one who always stands spread legged and flat-footed on the tarmac and sand and grit with a brown paper lunch bag filled with a can of beer.
Always keeping too close to the clustered clans of old women and young women and their grandchildren and children who have lived on this grit for decades. Somewhere near where he is right there, says Nelva when his body is a thin horizontal crease along the ground, there’s where the water broke when Jorge got born.
Maybe that’s what’s in that can, says Perla. We’ve all been wondering. He’s the one who all the international aid workers avoid, and ridicule, and call The Drunk.
I smoke and talk with him most mornings, when I don’t want to get to where I’m going on time. I hate the aid workers, come from anywhere but here, and here is where I live.
I’m not really a drunk, he will say to me most mornings. This can is fake. Look.
He’ll take the beer out of the bag and hold it upside down and nothing will come out. See, he’ll say. Fake.
His eyes don’t match: one aims to the left, and one aims to the right. Wherever he sits, he watches out in both directions.
I’m the reason you can sleep at night. He says this most mornings. He says this as though he knows—I don’t sleep at night. He laughs. His hands are the same size as mine, I like to think, but they’re larger and stronger.
We sit on crates in the dirt and watch the rest of the neighborhood rushing towards and away from their problems. Our life. It’s always too little, or too late, but we don’t care. We’re not into it—we’re beyond the horizon. We’re in the cactus. We’re already buried in the sand.
He hands me the bag with the empty beer. Hold it, he says. Now you’re the drunk.
This morning I sit on the crate and pretend to drink with Jorge and he asks me if I know what happened in the house behind us.
Nope, I say as I exhale my Newport, because anything I know will be a dull spark of the bonfire that is the truth that he will always tell me. Why go through it twice. There’s no need for us to do this kwariya dance together yet again. I inhale as I say, What happened there?
The building was built of sticks and mud and the 1890s and upgraded with concrete blocks and uranium in the 1950s and attached to it is a trailer painted haint blue and I ask the question because I need to hear him talk, even if I already put on my eyeliner and mascara twice this morning because of tears.
He says, it’s an ugly place.
And it is, from some perspectives. This is why we have aid workers. Along with the aid workers, we have rats. They travel together. And then there is always some kind of notice to vacate.
They say our garbage isn’t adequately contained. It’s a reservation, and everything, they say, is in need of containment.
Jorge takes the empty can from my hands and drinks from it.
I killed some white guys here, he says, back in 1986. They broke into my brother’s room, ten of them, and they shot him in his leg, and then they shot him in his other leg. So he couldn’t run. And then they raped him for a couple hours. Because they’d already made sure he couldn’t run away. Then they killed the girls. The police, n’ahm, they didn’t give a fuck.
He hands me the can and says, here, go be the drunk.
The aid workers reprimand me for morning drinking with The Drunk, for listening to his bullshit, for crying, for hitting one of them last week after work, for being late, for reeking of Newports, for my thong showing above my jeans, for my cleavage, for my language, the cursing, and the drinking. For a lack of respect. For contradicting. For saying their policies are never going to work here. For pointing my lip. For raising my chin. For not backing down. For the lipstick smeared across my cheeks when I come back from lunch break—it’s unprofessional.
And Jorge. His eyes don’t match: one aims to the left, and one aims to the right. Wherever he sits, he watches out in both directions. Always keeping so very close to the clustered clans of old women and young women and their grandchildren and children who have lived on this grit for decades.
THE THIRD SHOT
I can talk to you about my deaths—the ones I own. They’re mine, fair and square. My line, my life, my thread, my scissors. Is it necessary to know the moments of your own deaths? Is it necessary to know what you know, the hours when you could go, like that—a snap, a snip. Snip. Snip. Yes, I own my deaths, every one of them. I want to write about her deaths, and their deaths, and his death, and her deaths, and her deaths, his deaths, and his death, even your deaths: let me tell you all about our deaths. The Best Buy manager’s gun to the side of the neck of the woman I loved, aimed upwards and emptied into her brain. The heart bashed into a mass of afterbirth behind the gay bar after the Austin accountant left some trick, the man I loved, for dead. And so many long gone fetuses first, second, third, and sixth because the punches to our bellies were so well placed. Maybe the day-break rape of those boys in the practice field, the locker room, the sanctuary. But it’s his story. But it’s my story. And her story. And his. The boots in the sternum of the woman I loved who didn’t get those ribs checked but should have when they hissed out their last poem of rage.
But they are not my deaths, right, they are the deaths that belong to those others, not to me. To the friend of mine who worked with me at the shop and was still alive when her husband and his brother wrapped her fat body in barbed wire and towed behind her husband’s truck for six miles in the desert and stopped when there was nothing but a carcass left and a barrette, well, fuck, whose story is that.
I want to know the rules of what I see and what I get to say because the story I want to talk about is yours, and what if you decide to keep it secret. And what about my stories? I’m alive because I am, but not because I should be, or I wasn’t killed. I just made it through. And the stories. Who do mine belong to. What do I bury. What do I exhume. What do I leave for dead.
For three years we were in love and she never let me know why it was I could not put my mouth on her cunt unless she was dead drunk. She said it was her story but it is mine, the way my mouth had to find other things to do, when she was sober, like talking. She got maudlin when she got drunk, like all good soldiers, she was off duty and if I got lucky, then I got lucky, and her deaths came out, when she was drunk, and the trip to El Paso, what she did with the gun, where she dumped it, the name of her cousin, two years old, a god daughter, she said, a god damned daughter and there he was on top of her, that fucking mother fucker, the same uncle on top of her same as he’d been on me, and his name and the make of gun she chose and his boot prints in the mud when she called him out or did she call away her little cousin first, you see, it’s not my death, it’s not my death to tell but she’s getting drunker and I thought this would end better but no, she shot him through the throat about six times and then she got on a bus to Sells, to the border—past the border—into Mexico, and that was where the story of her death ended and my life began, as I tried to make her feel good, did all the tricks I knew with my lips and she said no, honey, not down there, I can only go down there when I’m dead drunk.