Empire Of Dirt
by Gemma Files

"I want you to hurt me."

That's what the blind man tells you--orders you, really, feeling his incautious drunken way along the wall. The hotel is full of dust and light and surprising silence, for a Sunday in Mexico; no churchbells ring, no fireworks off in the distance, not even the occasional gunshot. Maybe that's because it's by a graveyard, but you wouldn't want to bet on it.

And: "I don't want to," you reply, strumming lightly. Knowing that you could have just as easily said "care" instead of "want", because it's as much a matter of convenience (or in-) as anything else; morality's such a damn slippery thing even at the best of times, which these--aren't. Not to mention how the blind man himself could confirm that for you, if he let himself think about it for more than the half-second it takes between tequila-slugs...

"Hurt me, fuckmook!"


Not likely. Not interested. Not...

...just yet.

Out there in the graveyard, barely visible from the window you slump in (your guitar at the ready, guitar-case also close to hand), a half-eaten sugar skull lies smashed between two tombstones, engulfed by ants. What might have once been MIGUEL reduced to its last two letters, like some cheap joke from Hell. Thank god the blind man can't see it, because you know exactly what he'd say--

"I can pay, you know."

"What with? Fideo and Lorenzo already took off with all your dirty money, remember?"

The blind man pauses, lodged in the doorframe. Strikes a pose.

"People have been known to swap me stuff for--favors," he says, deadpan. "In the past."

"Back when you had eyes?"

"Yeah, that'd be it: Fuck YOU, Mexi-can't. Last I heard, your wife'd been dead for quite the while, and I'm willing to bet your dick slaps up at justabout the same angle everybody else's does..."

"Maybe I have taste." Sharp turn from one tune into another, snapping: "And don't talk about her, either. You don't have the right."

"No rights?" He smirks. "Now I know I'm still in Mexico."

And so it goes. Sundown at last, blazing red ball sinking headfirst into a stream of gold-shot pinky-blue, like pinata colors: Tomorrow the sky will crack open again, and who knows what'll pop out? Could be anything, like finding a peso in the crack of your boot-heel or a votive candle to La Flaca, the Skinny One--la Muerta Gloriosa, glorious death--burnt nearly down to wick and wax in a nook just behind the motel room's ricketty toilet. Like finding an eyeless enemy dressed up to the nines in gunfighter black on some dusty street and deciding watching him drink himself to death would be somehow more amusing, more fitting, than simply letting him bleed to death where he sits.

You don't know why you did it, even now, though you're pretty sure it wasn't to be kind. Because it's not like you've ever gotten any thanks for that, thus far, aside from the occasional offer of "favors"; ridiculous and grotesque, most so whenever you factor in the spasms of genuine interest this maimed freak continues to be able to raise.

Because you're used to dead people, after all--dead, or half-, or soon-to-be. A skeleton choir in your head, singing and dancing and clicking their bones like castanets in some horrid tango: Dead wife, dead daughter, dead brother, dead friend. Dead lover jacknifed in the white dust at your feet by the side of a never-ending road. Dead spot in the middle of your palm, where the tendons which worked your guitar once nested...

Oh, they work all right, after all your long practice--but not like they used to, never again. And all that hand wants to touch now is dead things, like the blind man's white, sweat-slick skin whenever he crawls over you in the middle of the night, breathing tequila-fumes into your mouth. When his lank hair hangs down around you both, hiding the blurry, red-tinged holes where his wicked black eyes used to be; eyes that once promised everything and nothing at the very same time, a double negative cancelling itself out on contact.

Everything for the asking. Nothing at all for free.

Death crying out to death, a hole in the very center of your world. Like that dry, dead place the blind man has instead of a soul, empty since long before Barillo and his daughter made sure that his outside and inside finally matched.

"Well, catch you later," the blind man says at last, appropos of nothing much. And raises the last of today's bottle in a sort of haphazard toast, while he does--spills half of it down his shirt-front, too, streaking the second "I" in CLEAVAGE INSPECTION AGENCY yellow in much the same way he always leaves a trail against the bathroom wall, 'cause he's got no eyes, shit-for-brains. Or maybe just because he wants to: He's that petty, sometimes. More often than not.

One tune blending into another, into another, into another--familiar feel of wood beneath your fingers, the rhythm instinctual, impossible to chart or stem. Like a night tide's current dragging you back, dragging you down.

Later. Tonight, in the dark you both share. When you'll press the blind man's face into the pillow and hear him pant and swear; tear at each other with your mouths, each probably thinking of other times, other people. When you'll come to with his tongue tracing your scars and a dirty-palmed hand cupping your balls, or your lap suddenly full of renegade cultural imperialist, his inner thighs sticky and straining against your own; former agent Sheldon Sands pumping liquid ticker-tape across your chest and clamping down 'till the explosion he triggers makes you just as blind as him, if only temporarily.

Hissing: "So you tell me, 'the'--you really think this doesn't hurt?"

And oh, at that moment, you know you'll hope it does.

All these days, all these nights. All these dead minutes passing by in an empire of dirt you've somehow agreed to jointly rule, you and Sands, while a painted papier-mache sun lights the tombstones outside up like teeth in a false white smile: America the beautiful, Mexico the brave. America astride Mexico like a three-dollar whore, laughing all the way. And any of the above might make pretty good lyrics for this song you seem to have been working on, together, if the blind man could only see to write them down somewhere before you forget them again...

Or you could only stand to sing it, if he did.


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