Interlude : Roda Dingle
I. Roda Dingle
She stood legs crossed, one hand on hip. Half a dozen shopping bags dangled in the crook of one arm, and a wicker bag hung off the other shoulder. A scorching wind, stinking of exhaust, kissed her long raven locks casting thick strands across a small nose, a nub of a chin, and thick pouting lips. She wore a loose fitting spring dress with a floral pattern. Glancing coyly over her shoulder, hair flowing out behind her, she flashed a flirtatious smile toward the taxi parked thirty feet down the street.
Alec Farmer, heavyset, sweat glistening on balding dome, was sunken into a beaded seat cover. He rubbed the back of his hand against his brow in a futile attempt to remove the stinging sweat dribbling into his eyes, but the drops of sweat collected upon the coarse hairs of his arm only added more stinging nectar. He started up the engine and turned the AC up to tornado. His features were thick - fleshy lips, drooping lids, and a prominent chin. His fat fingers dug into the half eaten burger resting on a greasy wrapper on his lap. The paper flapped from the blasting AC in real danger of casting the drippings from the burger everywhere, so he balled it up and cast it in the take out bag sitting on the floor.
He brought the artery buster to his mouth when his hands froze - burger poised just before parted lips. She stood at the bus stop and she was all woman. Wide hips, a thin waist and her ample breast was pressed toward him, Alec Farmer. She could not be looking at him. She was too far away - wishful thinking. Then, she flashed him a flirtatious smile.
She uncrossed her legs and positioned a high heeled sandal so that she faced him, feet spread a little wider than shoulder distance. She was probably twenty-five and her skin was smooth, without blemish; the subcutaneous fat perfectly distributed. As if the heavens, too, wished to view her glory, the sun peaked forth from behind a white cloud. Light rained down upon her haloing her flesh, silhouetting her form, radiating the sheer cloth dress to translucence.
Half the creamy goop dropped from between the buns and splattered on Farmer's lap. The burger lowered from his open mouth, and his eyes transfixed upon the girl. Electric sparks radiated outward from his stomach straightening his spine and pulling his shoulders back. Anger rose, bordering on rage, that any man would force a girl like that to be subjected to the inconvenience, or worse yet - the dangers of the city bus.
Large emerald eyes drank in his world before being cast downward in subtle submission. She was the kind of girl he could take home to meet his mother timid and feminine. Snatching a napkin from the take out bag, he scooped up the mess from his crotch, and tossed the paper, along with the unfinished burger, into the bag, then shoved it under the seat out of sight.
He turned the key in the ignition. A horrible grinding noise startled him - the engine was already running. He steered the car toward the girl never noticing the city bus.
Only reflex, honed by many years of high contact city driving, sent the Bus Driver's foot down hard on the brake pedal, palm to horn, and collision was averted. It was another moment before he removed his hand from the horn. He cursed silently to himself then he, too, saw the woman.
Farmer threw open his door, causing a passing car to swerve and honk. He was out of the cab and standing before her.
The bus driver yanked the doors open with an angry hiss and leapt to the ground. Farmer turned, fists clenched, prepared for the slew of insults and curses for his foolish driving. The bus driver scrambled forward shouted angrily, "She was at the bus stop. She wants to take the bus!" He turned to the woman, cap in hand, "Don't you, miss?"
With a wink Farmer motioned toward his cab.
The woman frowned staring at the sidewalk. "I haven't got the money to take a cab."
"Don't worry, miss, we're running a special today. Free," Farmer said as he guided her to the back passenger door, and opened it. He took the shopping bags from off her arm and placed them in the trunk. After firmly closing the trunk he saw that the young woman was not seated yet. She was leaned forward, palms resting on the roof of the car, wincing.
"Are you all right, Miss?" Farmer asked. "Miss?"
"I'm all right," she managed to gasp at last between clenched teeth, and sat down in the cab. He made sure she was completely inside before carefully shutting the door. He waved an, "I'm sorry" to the bus driver as he trotted around to the driver's side.
Alec Farmer's flesh poured into the driver's seat and the stench of fast food filled his nostrils. It could not have impressed his lovely young passenger.
The bus driver watched with envy as the cab pulled away from the curb.
II. In the cab
Roda Dingle's female belly was aching and even though it was spring the temperature was a blistering ninety degrees. Despite the painful cramps she was happy. Not only was she riding in an air-conditioned cab rather than a bumpy city bus crawling with the indigent, but for the first time since she had left Boston Rodney was coming.
Roda placed her purse, a vintage fishing creel style basket with a braided leather strap, into her lap. It jingled with loose change. She opened the leather top and dug through her treasures.
"Where can I take you?" Farmer asked.
Roda removed a disintegrating tissue from her bag and cast it to the floor of the cab. She moved a man's eel skin wallet packed full of cash, and removed a half eaten candy bar in its wrapper. She quickly gobbled down the remains and dropped the paper beside the tissue on the floor. She pushed the garbage underneath the front seat with the bottom of her shoe. Underneath two checkbooks she discovered a pair of large round Jackie O. sunglasses and put them on checking her reflection in the rear view mirror. "Well, I have to make a couple of stops." She said as she adjusted her hair to fit the glasses. She shook a bottle of headache medicine and though it was empty she replaced it in the bag.
"A couple?" His nostrils flared. A strange odor was invading his cab, and it was not emanating from the take out bag.
She continued rooting through the contents of her bag. She pushed aside a nail file, a huge key ring with dozens of keys, several loose credit cards - one which she stopped to read the name, her Passport and then blandly stated, "I can take the bus if it's some sort of problem."
Farmer's heart raced and his eyes shot to the rear view mirror. "No, no, no it's no problem," he assured her, "What's the first stop?"
Roda had not heard the cabbie. She was busy examining hand cream, wet wipes, and a restaurant matchbook. When had she been to the Hillstone? She shrugged, then moved a small Ziploc bag that contained a yellowish powder. She carefully moved the bag and found what she had been looking for the bus schedule. She paged through it, sighed, and her shoulders dropped in exasperation. Then she giggled when she saw a crumpled sheet of paper that had made its way to the top of her purse.
"Have I seen you in the movies or TV?"
"No," she laughed.
Farmer was trying to think of something witty when he remembered that he was driving a car. The light ahead was red, and he was forced to break a bit sharper than he liked. The pungent smell had overpowered the scent of greasy meat. It cloyed his nostrils, sweaty and spicy, sex on a summer afternoon. He snorted fighting the urge to wretch. He was having second thoughts about taking on the beautiful but smelly fare.
Roda straightened out the crumpled sheet of paper and it was covered with looping artistic script. "I've only got directions for taking the bus. I forgot to write down the address. Do you know where Indio's Curiosities is?"
Farmer's eyes were watering. He had not heard the woman. He was inhaling deeply. A car horn brought to his attention that the light had changed. He maneuvered the car over to the curb and stopped the cab. He glanced over his shoulder and stared into the loveliest green eyes. He breathed in Roda's scent and smiled dreamily. "What's that scent? It's delicious." The smell was no longer repulsive. It was intoxicating. It stirred something within.
She giggled playfully. "Oh I don't wear perfume. Can't stand the smell."
"So it's just you that smells so good?" He shifted in his seat to face Roda. His eyes moved over her body.
She shrugged, with a tilt of her head and pressed her eyes closed.
"Where did you say you were headed?"
"Indio's Curiosities, but I don't have the address."
"Indio's on Logan?"
She nodded. "Yes, you know it?"
"You came to the right man. Been driving a cab in Phoenix for ten years. I don't think there's a place in the city I don't know." He pulled back into traffic and took a right at the next corner. "Came here cause it was supposed to be good for the lungs. Got really bad asthma."
"Don't be, much better now." He used that as an excuse to deeply inhale the woman's scent.
Roda Dingle smiled pleasantly, then bit her lip and pressed her arm against her belly. The cramps were gaining in intensity. Roda breathed deeply doing her own version of a Lamaze class. She could not start her period, not in the middle of the city in the back of a cab. It would be more than embarrassing. It would be disastrous.
"You new to the city?"
She nodded. The cab driver kept glancing at her in the rear view mirror. She wondered if he was paying enough attention to the road. Men were such weak creatures. None of them were like her Rodney.
"I knew it." The cabby smiled, "Where are you from?"
"All over." It was as good an answer as any. She had lived in over twenty-five cities in the last ten years. After two years in Boston she had thought it would be the last move. Then Rodney, well, it was no use crying over the past. She had been in Phoenix for nearly a month.
A crudely painted sign reading "Souvenirs of the Southwest" swung on chains outside Indio's Curiosities. It was more of a shack than a store. Nearly all of the pink adobe façade was broken off the front wall in the process of renovation. Underneath were weathered wooden beams - shrunken and gray; groaning under the weight of a rusty tin roof. Slats between the bowed boards revealed only darkness as if the sun itself could not pierce into the world within.
Farmer's cab pulled up twenty feet from the store and stopped. Roda stepped out of the cab and into the desert air. Farmer had offered to accompany her but she had ordered him to stay put and under no circumstances to exit the vehicle. Then she laughed in a way that made it more a silly game than a serious command, but he would obey.
Roda smiled as she stepped toward the building. It was in a lot on the edge of an industrial area, and though so close to the highway that the noise of cars speeding by was nearly deafening it somehow seemed isolated. She could feel the energy of the place. Her cramps accelerated, but she willed them into submission.
Roda paced around in front of the store, eyes capturing as much of the quaintness as possible. Attempting to store the experience in her visual memory. Perhaps there was a tattoo hiding in the textures and tones of the stone and wood.
A Dust devil, a tiny tornado, whirled around outside the store, and kicked up pumice lying in a pile by a lonely adobe wall surrounding but a large patch of weeds. The extremely light stones were caught in the torrential winds and shot out at Roda striking painfully but not causing any true damage. The aerial lapidation did, however, drive her into the store.
Upon entering she was surprised at how far back the store went. Wind chimes whistled from a hot breeze that swept through the front door and out toward the distant back whether door or window she could not tell for shelves blocked her sight. Sunlight fanned out across the room from in between the imperfect carpentry. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she moved with caution hands held out before her.
There was sand in every corner of the shelves. Cacti in pots, a miniature Yukka in one corner. A bleached cow skull lay on a pine stump. Arrow heads and Native American artifacts lay unsorted in bins and on tables. It was cluttered but in an organic fashion that hinted at some underlying deep order.
She rounded a corner through the labyrinth of shelves and a wolf leapt through the air. Lips snarling, jowls foaming with saliva, ears perked, claws stretched forth and eyes glowing red. Roda stood directly in its path gasping in horror. "Oh, please don't eat me," she begged, and then giggled into her palm.
She walked around to the other side of the wolf and gently reached out her hand to pet the enormous beast. The fur was unbelievably life like; a rich range of hues leapt out to Roda's artistic eye - smokey topaz, carmel, russet, a veritable panoply of earthen tones highlighted with ash, cadet, and slate grays. Pressing palm to chest she half expected the beating of a heart.
Tears formed when she saw its back paw fastened to a a stand made to look like a clump extracted from the desert. It would be forever mid leap, slavering jaws never to taste the blood it craved. The taxidermy work was the best she had ever seen. The wolf was an incredible specimen and she was a connoisseur. She kissed it's nose and stroked the fur upon its face. She had never felt fur like this on a mounted animal. The eyes were not plastic and they seemed to radiate life. She kept waiting for the beast to take breath.
A loud thump came from under the floor. She stopped and listened. Several more thumps and then the sound of stairs being traversed. She looked in the direction of the footfalls and saw a doorway a seemingly impossible distance away given the miniature size of the shop from the outside. Based upon the chemical smell it must have led to the workshop of the taxidermist.
Roda stifled another gasp when a leathery hand reached around the doorway and flipped a light switch. A naked bulb over Roda's head hummed and sputtered yellow light in uneven pulses before working up to a full sixty watts, thereafter dimming slightly to cast more shadows than illumination. The sounds of the city were gone, replaced by the humming bulb. Her heart pounded with violence. It was hotter inside than in the burning desert that was Phoenix, and she feared that if she were to go back outside, just ten or twelve steps back to the door and through the frame the world outside would be gone. The building would stand in space empty and vacuous.
An old man stood in the doorway. He wore a cowboy hat with a plain leather hatband, a turquoise bolo tie with silver tips, starched faded blue jeans the color of the desert sky. His rattlesnake boots had dust nearly fossilized between its scales. His coffee with milk colored button up shirt was starched to perfection, and he drank from an old tin cup that was soot covered and pitted with scratches and dents. It smelled of strong pack coffee boiled from open flame.
Liver spots seemed to crawl across his flesh.
She half expected a six gun at his side, but was more afraid that he was unarmed. He did not even have a knife on his belt. He was a traveler, she could tell, and he had nothing on his person to aid him for he needed nothing. He was self contained. She knew that he was Indio Chavez.
A few more thumps from the basement and Indio stomped so forcefully on the floor she expected him to break a hip. The noises ceased.
Indio Chavez was familiar with the waterless places. He knew them.
For untold decades he had wandered the Sonoran and the Mojave - alien landscapes, erosion's progeny populated by waxen scrub brush, Yucca, Devil's Claw, and Ghost Flowers. He had sojourned arroyos, playas, and mesetas; a desiccated creature perhaps eating locusts or drinking the milk of cacti. Wandering among sand dunes, buttes, and hoodoos painted in the reds and yellows of perpetual magic hour light found only in the Southwest.
His flesh was a testament to his knowledge. Singed in desert suns, blasted by white sands and pumice, the crags eroded by late night gales till all that remained was nearly mummified into unevenly corrugated cardboard as if the vistas he had spent a lifetime traversing had wended across his flesh, no into the tissue of his heart, to the wrinkles of his brain. Bones popped and creaked when he moved and sometimes when he did not, an ancient edifice settling on its foundation. The irises were sandy brown with flecks of gold, the pupils but a pinprick having seen their share of yellow light made white from innumerable shards of quartz.
"Don't look to deep. Might never climb your way out again." She had expected a thick Mexican accent from the man, but it was only hinted at in the melody of his speech. His voice was dry and hollow like that of what she imagined the dead would speak.
His head was large for his thin neck and bony frame. White hair, losing its curl, had taken the texture of straw. His haughty stance projected a tall and lean if aged nobility - a sinister Don Quixote, but as Roda moved closer she was amused to find him measure shorter than her five foot eight.
"Who sent you?" He commanded.
"You are the one that called?"
"No one sent me. I heard of your from Laura."
"What was your impression of the child?"
Laura was in her sixties. "A pretender that knew little, believed less. A hypocrite and liar, but she could procure my supplies."
"She is a distant niece of my brother's progeny."
Roda did not believe the man. It was common among sorcerers to claim to be antediluvian. It was nearly always a lie that only the speaker believed. Though his claims to being ancient were not without some truth, he was probably in his sixties, and for a sorcerer, who as a people tended to die young, he was ancient.
"The items you requested, what will you use them for?"
"Do you have them?"
"The ones that exist."
"What do you mean?"
"Naïve child, most of the items you requested are not real."
"Laura had no trouble finding them."
"That is because you had no trouble believing she had found them. But these that have existence on our plane - wolf's blood, peyote and amethyst? What sort of magic do you practice?"
"Laura was a fool, but at least she had the decency not to pry. What do you practice?"
His fingers brushed lightly across the counter top feeling the dents and nicks of time. As his fingers slowly circled a groove he peered deeply into Roda's emerald pools.
With iron will neither one of them blinked. Wind blew through. Sand tumbled in through the front door. Tiny crystals rolling between them.
"I just came for what I asked for on the phone. If you don't have it, I'll go."
"Will you?" He adjusts his bolo tie. "Oh I've got it. What do you got?"
Roda cautiously stepped to the counter and set her bag upon it. She pulled out a wad of cash.
"I don't want money."
She shrugged dropped the wallet back in place. "What do you want?"Ran her fingers along the neckline of her dress pulling it out. The slightest twitch of his head and eyes and she knew the flattery once attributed to her by a construction worker that she could give wood to a dead man was exaggerated, for the man before her though animated she doubted any blood flowed through his veins. It was sand.
"However old you think I am, well," he chuckled and expelled a dusty cough. He sniffed at the air and frowned. He leaned over the garbage can, blocked one nostril and blew out a long string of yellow snot into the can. He withdrew a pouch from the front pocket of his jeans, opened it, took a pinch and sniffed it deep into the nostril.
"You come in with nothing to bargain?" His lips curled back revealing teeth the same bone white of the sun bleached cow skull.
"You made no mention of payment on the telephone."
"Everything cost something."
"I brought cash."
"What good is cash to people like us?"
"Cash is good for everyone."
He laughed. Then stopped. "Not for me. You know any stories?"
Kalley had told her one. "Salamangus,"
"The light that casts a shadow."
"The thousand souls reborn."
The man nodded to her.
"It is said he made the world and it is said he but discovered it. I know not which. Yet all agree he sired many children upon the earth, as to who those sons and daughters might be there is much dispute. Sorcerers declare Salamangus lord of spells, Yet the watchers claim him Sorcerer's bane. But I have heard tell the father set his progeny to war to prove which side is rightful heir."
Indio laughed. "Is that your story? Salamangus fathered both? What sorcerer does not know that? When have you seen a watcher, child? They are dead, all killed in the last great war, or at least their institution was destroyed."
They faced off a mystic high noon. Sand filled up the corners and crawled out across the floorboards, much of it falling into the spaces and cracks in the ancient shrunken wood. Yet still it came.
Roda's eyes darted at the invading desert gauging how long she could safely remain in the store. The ceiling, a tin roof was rattling with powerful gusts of wind, the plates were widening letting in more sun.
The cactus in the corner was surrounded by sand, the pot swallowed. The sandblasted skull was half buried a spine was peeking out of the sand.
Roda took a step back. She was out of her depth. He had lured her into a trap. The building was not gone, but the back wall had disappeared revealing open desert. A rattle at her feet. A snake slid sideways across the sand leaving S's in its wake.
Bizarre shaped stone pillars raised in the horizon fingers of an earthen god clawing through the detritus. The bones of the earth protruding. A land of waiting, a land of enduring. Living in suspended animation. A horned toad sleeping for years, punctuated by flash floods of activity.
A struggle against time itself. Evaporation that inverse hour glass not sand pouring down but water going up.
Sand was inextricably bound to time, not just the hour, but eternity. Mountains brought low by winds and rains. More plentiful than the stars of the heavens those crystal shards twinkled upon the earth. It led to the suspension of belief, the personification of aeons ground to particles, who could stand against such power that could grind mountains into dust? Who could endure? Indeed who?
Roda shrunk within herself.
Wind blew across her flesh. Evaporating sweat chilling to the bone. Wind and water now eroding her.
Her cramps spasmed. She felt the change. Felt it boiling in her blood, but to do so would be to die. She knew that somehow. Maybe it was what Indio wanted. Wanted her to change before him. She focused her will and drove back the instinct and raw animal desire. Her hand twisted spasmodically cramping powerfully into a gnarled fist, but she straightened out her fingers.
He was no longer seeking. He had found. Found his true soul in the desert.
A dried out tumble weed, roots so close to giving, held against an arid breeze that only circulated stifling heat like a convection oven.
A mule brayed.
"I have a story for you." His words distant, timeless. The little shop of curiosities was gone.
A naked man lay spread eagle just inches above the burning ground, wrists and ankles bound and fastened to posts driven deep in desiccated earth. A perhaps younger Indio stood over him painting on his flesh with an improvised brush - a twig and two snips from the pack mule's tail. The brush left no color only a clear liquid that evaporated leaving behind sugary residue.
They were in a playa, a dried out river bed. Thin strips of sun baked clay lined the ground sculptures in leaves and shadows. Snaking shadows crawled toward the man from an Elephant Tree that rose ten feet above the earth. Its multiple trunks protruded in all directions, each one stout and curling like an anaconda.
They were coming marching in the thousands, up the posts, across the leather straps over chest and back until finding the invisible symbols painted in prickly pear juice. Thousands of feet tickled the victim's flesh. He strained against the bonds that held him just above the earth to no avail. As if in unison the ants began to bite. They tried to crawl across his face to get to the symbols there, but his head was free to move and he succeeded in shaking off some of those, but others stung him.
Indio drank in the sorrow and the screams.
By nightfall of the third day the man was dead.
Water, most rare in those spaces, flowed freely from Indio. He wept. Not for the man's demise, but that he was so soon taken. Three days suffering, even burning in the sun eaten alive in tiny bites could not repay. Too great had been his sin. A man whose name Indio did not know had robbed him of all, in death robbed him even his humanity.
With an act he thought a kindness, the man had taken from Indio his life's ambition. After that day Indio had outlived his death.
The unnamed had found Indio starving, sun stung and dehydrated. Blistered in the sun. Shedding flesh like a snake - a burning snake. He had taken the mostly dead Indio and nursed him back to health. Treated his skin with herbs, wetting his lips, taking him inch by inch by inch out from the wasteland.
A week had passed and slowly Indio gained his strength until at last he woke.
The good Samaritan smiled at his charge, and then his face transformed as he saw the log, coming down upon his brow. He awoke tethered to his doom.
Indio had been at the cusp, the utmost edge of El Dorado. Seven years wandering the barren earth - purified by wind, by sand - by fire. Emaciated till naught but necessity remained.
As he lay there, perhaps dying, perhaps in life's final throws he saw. Saw the golden city no mirage born of desert storms, more real than waking life is to a phantasmic dream. He saw. Only to be drawn back, taken, stolen, robbed by a man and his ass.
No, the punishment had been too kind. He could not enact upon that man's flesh all the pain and torture of not just those seven years but all lost in an instant.
The man had Indio across the ass. And in that bumpy exodus he watched the sands swallow again his dream. He whispered, perhaps only mouthed, "No." time after time but was not heard.
The righteous pilgrim had been deaf to Indio's pleas. So, in return Indio was deaf to cries of mercy, but not the shrieks of pain. No longer loud but whispered screams that scarcely emanated from blistered lips and leathered tongue. Indio was conductor to a symphony of suffering and heard, too, or so he thought the scurrying of legs, the pincing mandibles, the severing of miniature chunks of flesh, the pin prink drops of blood upon the sand. The sizzle of the flesh, the twang of leather against their posts.
His crime had been foolish kindness the only punishment - a random act of senseless violence.
Cacti were the only witnesses giant Seguero, great barrels, chola, and the night blossoming, stood in the background silent witnesses to the screams.
The ants marched across the muddied ground clutching bits of reddened flesh in cruel mandibles, tirelessly, ceaselessly to their mound beneath the elephant tree.
Its branches a horrible cluster of anacondas.
The shadows seemed to writhe angrily in the shimmering air.
The old man took up a few stones from the earth. "The earth too holds magic and it does not willingly give a thing to man, but proves him if he has the will to take." His palm extended toward her with the rocks. The desert was gone. The building had returned. He dropped the stones in her hands. She looked down at three sand polished stones. She was sweating profusely. Shaking now from the air conditioner.
A fist sized object wrapped in meat packing paper lay on the counter. Something wet was bleeding through the side of the package. He nodded to her and she took it. She had paid for it, but she was unsure as to what.
"Come back to me when you're in need."
He had taken her into his world to show her that he could. He had released her. She knew that. It had been a demonstration. He dared her to challenge it, now or in the future.
"Come again. Real soon."
IV. Dropped off
The few stops turned out to be six. Farmer had spent half the day chauffeuring the lovely girl. As he pulled to a stop all he could think to say was, "Are you sure you don't need to go anywhere else?"
She gazed deep into his eyes, "Not today." She longed to please him and give into his desire, kiss and hold him, make love to him. That he was fat and balding did not make him unworthy. In fact his deficiencies made her want him all the more, not out of pity, but her body ached to thank him for his service, no not for his service but for his very existence. Her coldness to him was not an act of wanton cruelty but one born of necessity - boundaries had to be maintained. She was afraid and with good reason.
Farmer fumbled in the glove box and pulled out a business card and a pen. He hastily wrote his name and home number on the card. As he gave her the card he whispered, "Call anytime you need a ride. I mean it. Middle of the night. Don't think twice."
His skin tingled as her fingers brushed his. Farmer watched as the woman rounded the corner. He could have sworn she gave an extra wiggle just for his benefit.
V. Roda and Leslie
Leslie Jurgenson was leaned over the engine of his 1976 Mustang Cobra II. He was almost six feet tall, and fairly well built other than a nascent beer gut. His hair was cut short with a part to the side and his baby face belied his 32 years. Walt and Troy leaned over and pretended to have an understanding of the inner workings of the vehicle. The two cronies were about ten years younger than their leader.
"Take a good look boys. Got me that new muffler on her and I replaced the manifold." Walt nodded in a serious manner as Leslie spewed a bunch of muscle car babble. He understood a few of the words - muffler, and exhaust system, but was unsure about the manifold, or the horsepower ratio, or any of the other technical terms Leslie used. Had Walt known anything about cars he would have realized that Leslie was completely full of shit - though he had his suspicions. The one thing that all three of them did understand was five hundred dollars.
"Five hundred? How the hell are you going to afford rent?" Walt asked.
Leslie snatched the Pabst Blue Ribbon out of Walt's hand and took a swig. Walt, in reflex reached for the beer, but then pulled his fingers back flat against his palm.
"Mom's just going to have to pay the rent on her lonesome this month." He took another gulp from the appropriated can.
"Hey, get your own." Walt whined reaching for the can, but Leslie parried the half assed attempt.
"Why," he took another deep pull, "when I got yours?" Then he shrugged and shoved the beer back. "Here, pussy, take it."
Despite the numerous drinks and the huge gulping sounds Leslie had made, the can weighed about the same causing Walt to pause and considered the backwash factor, but he was not about to cast aside a half can of Pabst for a little spit. When a careful taste test revealed it was not too watered down he drank deeply.
Leslie eased the hood shut and brushed it lovingly with his flannel shirtsleeve. The Mustang was black with a gold racing stripe down the center.
"Holy shit." Troy moaned as he elbowed Walt. The three of them turned to watch Roda working her way down the street.
"Would you look at that?" Walt added.
"Had my eye on that one for weeks. I'm going to hit that shit." Leslie said as he leaned his back against the door of the Mustang.
"Yeah right." Troy muttered.
Roda Dingle had cut down an alley and around another block. She had not wanted the cabbie to know where she lived. She had dealt with enough stalkers to be wary. Rodney had dealt with them, too. She wanted to avoid that.
The neighborhood was on the decline, teetering on ghetto. It was not the best place to start a family, but it was a good place to get a foothold in Phoenix. The rent was low, and in no time they would get the money they needed. They always did.
When she saw Leslie Jurgenson, Roda increased her steps. She liked the way he would make catcalls at her sometimes. It made her feel special, wanted. Sometimes she would even flirt a little with him. She hoped he would not see her, not today.
"Hey, Roda. Want to ride my Cobra?" He waited a moment before he patted the roof of his car. Walt chortled at the clever innuendo.
Roda's hand was pressed to her side, but her legs continued as if she were on a catwalk. The pain was increasing, but a lady should never show it. "Not today Leslie." She purred.
Walt snickered and mouthed, "Ouch." As he gave some skin to Troy. Leslie clenched a fist and continued, "Come on baby you need some loving."
"You're sweet," Roda said, but she kept walking. She would have stopped to flirt a little, but her cramps were grinding up her organs.
Troy shook his head. "You tried, man." He patted Leslie on the shoulder. "But she's just out of your
Leslie's shoulder jerked throwing off Troy's hand. "Fucking cunt," he said, not too loud, but Roda heard.
Hot tears streamed her face. No mascara ran, no blush was streaked, for Roda Dingle had no use for makeup. She fumbled for her keys, and in a moment was in her apartment building.
VI. Roda at home
Roda set her shopping bags on the kitchen table, took out a tissue from a box on the counter, and wiped her tear stained eyes. Any other time such a statement would not have fazed her. It was just a typical male response to wounded pride that she had experienced so many times before. She knew she was just being emotional, but that did not lessen her pain.
After wiping her eyes and gently blowing her nose she frowned. "Poor Leslie," she said aloud, "He sure picked the wrong day to be rude." She shrugged as if it could not be helped, and peeked out the window. The sun would be setting soon, and tonight would be a full moon. Poor Leslie.
She took out the package she got from Indio and placed it in a bowl and into the fridge. She turned off the pressure cooker that was percolating on the kitchen counter, ladled out a large portion of beef stew and sat down at the kitchen table to eat. She eyed the clock and nearly panicked. She had a lot to do. After a second equally big serving of stew she took out some peanut butter chocolate ice cream for dessert. She hoped it would be enough calories. She did not have any more time to devote to eating.
After washing up and setting out a bowl and spoon for Rodney upon his arrival she took the shopping bags, and headed out of the kitchen. The apartment was rather neutral in blues and greens and was immaculately clean. She headed down the hallway toward their bedroom.
Dozens of framed paintings and pencil drawings lined the walls most of them were of animals wolves, big cats, bears, mice, and one of a frog, they were extremely realistic renderings done in a variety of mediums. Roda had made them all.
She stopped before a door to the right and placed one hand on the doorknob and one to her breast. She turned away and entered their bedroom. It was simply furnished with a queen-sized bed, a chest of drawers. A stuffed owl hung on the wall. She laid the shopping bags on the bed and then started unpacking them. She hung up three shirts on hangers studying them before finally choosing a red one and leaving it out on the bed. She put the others in the closet. Roda took out a pair of leather pants and then took up the red shirt and hung them both on a hook on the closet door.
VII. Roda works
Roda pulled the rubber hose tight around her arm, injected the needle into the vein on her upper forearm and drew back on the plunger filling the syringe with blood.
Her arm was resting on a workbench cluttered with dozens of small bottles of inks in various colors and a large black case with brushed steel reinforcements on each corner. The table was stained with paint splotches. The Ziploc bag of yellow powder lay on the workbench along with the cooler. She removed the hose and took out the needle. She dropped the rubber hose to the table.
Roda nearly dropped the syringe as a cramp struck her side. The cramps were moving now. Not just in her female belly. They were radiating outward. She set the syringe on the workbench.
A peg board was behind the tool bench. It had dozens of hooks with numerous pliers knives and other tools hanging on them. Another workbench stood on the other side of the room was nearly twice as large as the one Roda sat before. In the center of the bench was a complex chemistry experiment in progress. A light green liquid made its way through spiraling glass tubes extending from them into other glass containers until finally winding a dark electric blue liquid dripped one drop at a time into an Erlenmeyer flask.
Surrounding the mad science experiment were additional beakers, Bunsen burners, test tubes, and graduated cylinders in various states of cleanliness. A propane tank stood in the corner of the room fueling the three Bunsen burners set on low flames. An exhaust hood was placed above the laboratory equipment.
She squeezed a few drops of blood into each ink container, stirred them, and closed the lids. Afterwards she placed the ink containers in the case.
She was lonely. So isolated. It had not been like this before. She was not used to hiding away from the others. She had been one of them. Walked with them, talked with them. She was being foolish. She always had Rodney with her, in her heart
A distant sound awoke her from melancholy. It was the phone ringing. "Rodney?" She shook her head and laughed. She knew it was not he. It could not be.
She wiped her hands on a towel.
By the time she made it to the kitchen the answering machine recording a message. A woman's voice filled the kitchen. "Hey, Rod." The voice hesitated quaking slightly, "You there, yet? I just, I just wanted to talk to you, to hear your voice. It's me Bumpy." Then as an afterthought added, "I'll see you tonight."
Roda snatched up a pencil lying next to the phone and scribbled onto a nearby notepad "Rod, bumpy called". Roda dropped the pencil suddenly as if it had been a snake.
A battleground of warring emotions swept across her features. Her brows lowered in contemplation, nose drawn up as if smelling something rotten, and the corners of her mouth danced between a tense frown and a broad grin.
Her fingertips shot to her head and she rubbed deep circles around the temple each revolution building in force until her fingertips were digging with great pressure. Slowly as if she were turning a crank the muscles of her face relaxed into a neutral expression. She stopped the deep tissue massage and leaned her weight on both palms against the kitchen counter, head dropped between her shoulders.
Air blew softly through her rounded lips and a soft laughter grew in her belly building to hysterical laughter. It was completely ridiculous. She knew this. After regaining her composure she tore off the page from the notepad and tossed it in the trashcan under the sink. Before leaving the kitchen she erased the message.
Roda took out some cottage cheese from the fridge and sat down to watch the Oprah show. Rodney had set the VCR for her to tape the show every weekday at the same time. All she had to do was make sure the tape was in the machine. Rodney could be so considerate sometimes. She looked at the clock on the VCR, also set by Rodney. It was 9:00 PM. He would be here soon. She stopped the tape and headed into the bathroom to shower. She stepped out of the shower and reached for a pink terry cloth robe. She laughed and then put on a black silk robe that was a good two sizes too large.
She sat down and took out her knitting needles. She was nearly done with the baby beanie she was making.
A knock at the door disturbed her work. She stood painfully as the cramps were still increasing, and opened the door. Frank Stalich stood meekly in the doorway. He was in his late forties and wiry. He wore jeans, a white t-shirt, and a leather vest. His hair was long, but he was balding on top. He did not look at the woman. His arms were covered in tattoos. Fifties style Americana tattoos. Pin up girls, a 57 Chevy, an eagle, pistols, and Indian chief were visible on his arms.
He spoke with grave respect "Ma'am."
"Hey Frank. I'll get the inks."
Stalich made no move to enter. Roda returned a moment later with the metal case. "You want to wait in here?"
"No. Ma'am. I'll wait for Rod, I mean Rodney, downstairs." He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. Her smell was working on him. He left.
Roda sat back down and took up the needles and hat. After only a few rows her hands twitched. She tossed the needles back in the basket. Then her muscles twitched spasmodically. A gurgling noise erupted in the back of her throat. Spasms struck her leg muscles, then her arms. Soon all the muscles in her body were tightening like horrible cramps.
Hair sprouted from her pores. Thick black hairs on her chest, back, arms and legs. Her high-pitched squeals dropped two octaves. Her subcutaneous fat began to ripple and transform into hard bulging muscles. Her breasts began to shrink away. Her bones made horrible snapping and popping sounds as they began to lengthen. Her screams grew more savage almost animal in nature.