My room smells of incense and I love my boyfriend. I made rent the week before, though it was a mad scramble to make it on time. Not that it really would have mattered. My landlord, an aging hippie named Eunice, was always mellow about it.
Also, she was often hard to get in touch with. She seemed to live part-time in an Airstream in West Texas. But it was only trouble when Eunice was desperate for the money, like last week.
She had to fix the radiator on her automobile. Eunice drove a 1952 Buick Special. The car was dark green, the last of the straight-eight engines. The roof was dented deep from a flip on an icy road in North Texas in 1979. Eunice was so short she put a copy of the Yale Shakespeare under her woven seat mat.
Until the check from the salad prep job at the restaurant arrived on Thursday, I had ten dollars and the good graces and patience of my boyfriend, Sean.
Sean comes over to show me the dark mysteries of his power. Aspects manifest themselves in ways that are at first subtle to the eye, but soon are seared into your consciousness in a cruel and unforgettable manner.
One is when I play Them’s “Could You, Would You.” He dances to the song and with each movement and gesture, reveals an avatar of his Self. One moment he is a crystalline being, another he is transformed into an anthropomorphic tiger.
As the guitar riff picks out the last measure before the second verse, Sean is a demon. In the chorus he converts to flame.
At the fade, he is Sean again. He stares at me with his deep green eyes and brunette bangs; a devilish smile gracing his lips. This smile is not that of a young man, but a knowing old soul who has lived many lives.
I did not figure that out until Eunice declared he possessed such, yelling it out from her Buick when she pulled out with the Airstream in tow driving off to another extended trip to Terlingua, out in Big Bend.
When Eunice returned, she brought us a piece of cinnabar, from which liquid mercury is refined, but which can also can be used to create paint. It would make us sick, she warned, if we held it too long, or tried to leave too close to heat. But she said this example of the cinnabar held magic, and the night after we were gifted it, Sean danced for the first time.
I kept the cinnabar wrapped carefully in a drawer next to my bed, bringing it forth when Sean arrived to reveal all of his old soul.
With cinnabar providing the pathway, we whisper plans afterward of going to the desert, to give more time and freedom for her alchemical transformations. To dance to more than a particular song by a 1960s rock and roll band from Belfast.
I fantasize Eunice starting a campfire by the Airstream in the desert night, while Sean and I pitch a tent nearby.
As the fire burns in the shadow of the Christmas Mountains, I pull out the battery-powered record player and drop the needle on the old 45.
As Sean dances to the song, the mountains rise behind him. Above, billions of stars cast a magnificent veil while he shapeshifts to and from each persona as Van Morrison sings, “could you, would you?”
My heart rises to the beat. I kind of go into a fade at that. I return from my vermillion dream renewed and aching for more. I want us there. Under the stars, the Milky Way, the crackling of the fire amid wondrous desolation.
But until then, I have to be content with this room.
Mike Lee is an editor, photographer, and reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in formercactus, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, and others. More at his website.