Hau Tree Green

October 4, 2016

 

      Baskets hung from the balcony railing, trailing vines. The building had a stucco face, like all the other buildings, but it was washed pink. A wooden sign over the door said 'Pez en un Árbol', which I read as 'Fish in a Tree'. It didn't make much sense, but the letters were badly faded and my Spanish wasn't very good, so it might not have meant that at all.

 

       It was the place I wanted though, so I set my suitcase down.

 

     Inside the cantina, it was cool and dim and quiet. The ancient cement walls were soaked with the odors of spilled beer, dark coffee, and peppers fried in oil. Ceiling fans turned slowly and paddled the warm air. A tin advertisement was fixed to a column. The old painting sported a blue-and-yellow parrot, sitting on a branch. Surrounded by green leaves, peeling letters spelled “One Hundred Percent Unbleached”, in English.

 

     In the farthest corner of the room, a woman sat at a table, with her back to me. Her head was covered in plain muslin, her face hidden by the fringe. The loose drape of dress ended just above her elegant ankles and bare feet. There was a lemon on a plate in front of her, beside the knife she had used to slice it with.

 

     She sat absolutely still as I crossed the room slowly to her. My balance felt off, and I heard my own pulse. I was afraid that she would vanish before I got to the table.

 

     There were no colors, and yet she seemed to radiate every color. She was lit in the center of her own rainbow. When I was beside her, she looked up at me. Her skin was honeyed, and her eyes were liquid and impossibly dark.

 

     “It gets a little cold here at night,” Annie Kahlo said. “Still, it's pretty wonderful. Why not stay here with me, for good?”

 

     “You know I’m leaving,” I said. “How did you know?”

 

     Her smile was perfect. She gave the smallest shrug. It didn't break her stillness.

 

     “Since when do you have to tell me anything out loud?”

 

     I scraped a chair back on the stone floor and sat across from her. I took the telegram from my breast pocket and spread the flimsy yellow paper on the table. She didn’t look at it.

 

     “Back to California,” I said. “We left owing some favors. Things have to get squared away, sooner or later. I’m going to start driving back tonight, while it’s cool. I should cross the border in the morning and be in Santa Teresa in a couple days.”

 

     She carefully cut a slice from the lemon and squeezed it into her glass.  

 

     “Are you glad?” she asked.

 

     “To be going back?” I asked. “I'm here because I want to be. I belong with you.”

 

     “For the full nine innings?”

 

      “Yes,” I said. “The whole nine.”

 

     The only reason Annie wasn’t waiting for the gas chamber was that the police in California thought she was dead. She had killed at least a half-dozen people. All of them had needed it, as far as I was concerned. The cops had chased her into a crash, and a dozen of them had watched her car burn until there was nothing left, with her inside of it. A judge had signed a paper that said she was dead, so nobody was looking for her. She hadn’t been inside the car though, and now she was here, in Mexico.

 

     I was here too, as much as I could manage. I didn’t want to be anywhere but wherever she was. The newspapers had said she was dangerously crazy. I thought she was dangerously wonderful.

 

     The light outside was beginning to fade, and the street outside the cantina door was water-colored blue and gold. The sun was setting, and I wondered if the walls of Corazón Rosa had turned pink. I wanted to see it, but there was no hurry. There would be other evenings.

 

     “I think you’re going to need my help,” she said. “I’ll come when you need me.”

 

     “You can’t go back to the States, Annie, ever again. If they find out you’re alive, they’ll put you in the gas chamber and make you dead.”

 

       “I’ll come when you need me,” she repeated.

 

    She finished her drink. I watched her throat work, and wondered why everything about her was so completely graceful. She set her glass down, and looked at me. She was ready to leave.

 

      “Remind me of everything I've wanted to tell you, forever,” she said. “Deal?”

 

     I nodded, and pushed back my chair.

 

     “Deal.”

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© 2016 by Bob Bickford