Originally posted 3/31/2011.
We called him “the Old Man” because of our lack of imagination.
He was usually seen smoking a fat tube the same color and size as the ubiquitous local lizards.
We assumed these were cigars, mostly because it seemed unlikely that he possessed the requisite igniter to get a lizard to burn.
We were there because of our lack of imagination.
Our art was escape, not arrival.
We had been on the run so long, place names seemed superfluous.
The relationship between us, if you can call it that, was superfluous.
On the rare occasions we fell into sex in those days it was usually due to losing our balance versus our having been open to abandon.
As the days wore on, we surrendered to a lack of definition.
We lost entire weeks in the calendar grid.
Began referring to the Old Man as the Lizard Smoker, having forgotten our earlier decision that this could simply not be so.
He taught us that the trick to smoking a lizard is to put the tail end in your mouth and use the dry skin around the eyes as tinder.
Once you’d learned the trick, they were remarkably easy to light.
The hardest part was learning to coordinate the biting of the tail end to create a vent for the draw.
It had to be timed perfectly with the ignition of the blowtorch.
That first drag was a doozy — all the gut and blood bubbling inside made for a strange if not entirely unpleasant taste.
It was not unlike that recalled from the factory air of our youth, with a trace of bewilderment in the aftertaste.
That were were torturing animals never occurred to us.
We’d been tortured animals ourselves, after all, and casual death seemed natural.
Accustomed, in some ways; I’ve already testified to our lack of imagination, after all.
Weeks turned into days.
Instead of marking the passage of time (however poorly we’d done at it) we simply rose, lit up, and passed the day in the company of the Old Man.
He told odd stories of bureaucracy and petty intrigues, then fell into bed at dusk to await the next sunrise, the next smoke.
That there were names for the days seemed superfluous.
We awoke one morning to the Old Man’s death rattle.
That one of us might have killed him did not occur to us until we saw the blood, the knife, his blowtorch bubbled skin.
We thought at first it might have been the lizards, but there were none to be found anywhere in the village.
The local constabulary arrested us, charged us with various types of extinction.
There was no trial, and we were incarcerated in the flimsy local jail to await transport to the regional prison to serve life sentences.
Fortunately, the bribes required to get us out of town were small enough for our meager savings.
On the road back to our long-abandoned homes, we realized how long it had been since we’d had to think of schedules, itineraries, names.
We had little imagination, but managed to concoct a story to explain our absence to our loved ones.
We told them a story of exploration and suffering, of the smell of desperation and bewilderment.
We told of the kindly Old Man who’d taken us in and showed us the way of the indigenous culture.
The story was bogus-sounding, but as we came from places where lack of imagination was endemic, it was accepted with little hesitation.
Of course, it was all but true, though we’d left out the lizards and the mystery of the Old Man’s murder in consideration of the delicate sensibilities of our simple homefolk.
We sat on a hill outside of town, staring into the curls of autumn smoke above the plain chimneys.
We made love again as we once had, stable and grounded.
This was a temperate climate, after all; no lizard temptations here, and we knew the names of all the old men and women there below us.
It was almost good.
The next day, we left for Los Angeles; bought blowtorches before we left, betting on the possibility of lizards.
The memory of the taste and the bubbling of the blood and fragile skin was so strong…maybe there was a movie to be made of all this.
Something to fire the imagination.
Something not to be seen as superfluous in scant years after it was made.
Something we’d be remembered for.