Mudlark Flash No. 105 (2016)

Love Remains
by Morgan Hobbs

Drop a quarter in the jukebox, high five the Great Wall of China. An asthmatic has a heart attack. I go behind the blinds. There’s a lady there, waiting to feed me some wine. Put on your top hat and drown the lights. A fall on the stage. No reason to let them down gently. A blown line. Envision the audience on fire. Cut her in half. Your knife is a match. Blow on her hair. Kiss her back, let the air out of her tires, linger on the black eye. No reason to flinch. Got your fill at the bawdy house. Popcorn in the driveway. A man in a cowboy hat, steering the Cadillac around the cul de sac. No way out. The world opening up like a mouth, like a canyon. Silence the sand man. Serum on your lips, sing your good byes. To the bottom of the La Brea tar pits, fly a weather helicopter through the dry air, heat lightning, sand storms, strobe light in the cockpit, trail a rope ladder into the roof top pool of a high rise. A fat millionaire and a blond bombshell swaying in the night. The Champagne bottle slips from his hands, sailing away. It explodes on the roof of a taxi cab 90 stories below. The giant lizard gave us all a good fright, made Dallas, Texas, look like Nagasaki after the fire fight. Sky scraper towers and subways like time release capsules, a steady diet of trigger happy Tibetan monks hopped up on radioactive bromides — split the atoms and have a blast. Hard cider down the hatch, the grey matter maps, a clue or two about the treasure, six feet under the sacred burial mound — no matter, the master in alabaster, lit up like a table lamp, his mascara smeared around his eyes, he’s been crying since lunch, the waiter delivered the check via pony express from the Monte Carlo hideaway. The host implored his guests to consider the evidence, the butler was a Chinaman with no fingerprints, had his hands pinched, and he was a master of disguise with leanings toward Japan. He was not welcome back in his homeland. Not the martinet, with her nice round ass and black leather straps. Despite the bull whips, chains, and blotter acid, she had a reputation for smoking cam shafts and transaxles — real back seat baby — lost it to a Barracuda stick shift, hit third base with a 65 Mustang exhaust pipe and blew out on the coastal highway. They found her hung up in the trees in a weather balloon hammock over Laurel Canyon, smoke in her voice and motor oil around her eyes, lips around the barrel of a .45, gunpowder under her nostrils, bullets melting in her eyes. Sayonara, Charlie Chan. This long shot solved by a little bit of legal tender slipped under the door of Emperor Hirohito’s Las Vegas cathouse. No sake sake, but plenty of Margarita and Mariachi. The serial number tattooed on the dash, a CAT Scan of the automatic pilot, married to a serpent, conceived in a car crash. The beautiful heiress shields her eyes, she’s a laminate, smile behind bubble wrap. The price of life, dental work in a suitcase, lip gloss and tear drop eye shadow, spying a brown skinned bather in blue head wrap, up to her knees in the clear river, she bends forward, breasts touching the water, prey to the early morning light, the silhouette of a man on a rock, smoke from under the cowboy hat. He butters a piece of bread. The bather undoes the head wrap, hair falling to the small of her back, the wrap slides around her waist and trails in the water. She bends at the knees and the waist, her lips, her face, dipped. Bare back curved over the river. The man in the cowboy hat, smoke screen silhouette and the sparkling water. Time measured in water and sunlight. A propeller plane skims the treetops, touches down on the jungle strip. A man steps from the plane, carrying a briefcase, followed by a woman with a face like bone China. Her eyes are gone. She’s dressed for the climate, sun glasses, loose white clothing, wide brimmed hat, eyes of hate. The daughter carries a parasol. She wears a pink summer dress. Her lips are as red as blood, eyes on the make. A flock of green parrots lands on the plane. The pilot takes a sip from a silver flask. A woman hands him a cup of hot coffee. His eyes drift to native Spain. The landing party raise their cordials in a toast with the local jefe. He’s bald, heavy set, in a dark suit. The bather curtsies in the deep, up to her eyes in the running water. The cowboy hat tilts forward. She can hear the proposal in the babble of the river, his thoughts echoing in the current, a message that feeds directly into her open lips — wife number seven thousand four hundred and twenty-six. A map of the planetarium spread out on the hood of an old Jaguar. A black dot for every pinpoint of light. The transit of Jupiter a golden chariot ride. Planets fade out. Stars rain down on the windshield, streaks of lipstick on the glass. She doesn’t know you anymore. She can’t remember your name. A fog rolls into the valley. She loses her earrings. A voice calls out your name. No one says anything. The pilot hangs his head at a corner table. A dancer in a sequin dress moves in. He can smell her over the whiskey. An Indian language, large sparkling earrings, black choker, long black curly hair, her stomach pressed against him. She turns around, glares back at him. She lifts the strap. He takes a bill from under the glass, slides it in. The band plays just for him. The bartender counts the bills with a magnifying glass. The pilot staggers out the door, the sun on the horizon like a bomb blast. He shields his eyes. A city of long shadows, buildings covered in vines and sand, a wishing well in Siam. The golden haired girl throws herself in. Manna from Nicaragua. Healing powers of the ancient mud bath, blood crackers. Clay idols, great pyramids cut from lime. The man in the cowboy hat steps from the maze. He’s dressed in black. The bartender pours a clear drink. The man — he has the head of a bull — pays in cash. He looks expensive. He tips the cowboy hat. A dark haired woman ogles the nose ring. He leaves with his entourage. They pile into a cargo plane parked in front of the casino. The plane taxis, lifts off the Vegas strip, into the Zodiac. A crash landing. The plane hung up in the trees, the pilot comes to, blood on his head. He pushes open the hatch, a silver tea set slides out after him. He climbs the stone steps, crawling with vines, to the high altar, the dying stars above, the ruins in the morning. The pilot puts on the helmet, made from the horns of a ram, and drinks red wine from a silver chalice. The helicopter rises from the pyramid of ash. A wind burned forest and silicon afterglow. Lightning etched in the jet black sky. The pilot reels into the lavatory, turns on the faucet and splashes water on his face. A dark haired Irishman bent over sideways with a pint of beer in his hand... you’re the best you’re the greatest you’re the coolest you’re double everything. Wild eyes staring straight through you. The pilot steps past him and out into the night. He takes a walk through the center of town, not a soul on the street. He slings the jacket over his shoulder and lights a cigarette. The smoke dissolves in the roiling shadows of a lunar eclipse. A woman leans out the window, breasts heavy on the sill. He listens to her breathe. Her dark hair, her eyes alone. He stops under the window. They pass the time like that, in conversation about the feel of the night, the man in shadow, she offers him a drink inside. Around midnight. Top of the evening. He takes the drink by the ash can, beneath the ceiling fan, the woman in a silk robe, showing the inner curve of her breasts. Bourbon in cut glass. He finishes it in a single swallow, the robe slides down her back. He holds her in his arms, and she looks at the ceiling. Pheasant under glass. Red wine in the bath. The sex that I have, she says, fills me with moonlight. I’m a candle without a hurricane lamp, all pretty scent and hot wax. One big gust, and I burn down the house. The beasts on the wall, their faces smiling forever more, my husband bought them at a market in Cairo, along with the forged documents and a mysterious past. Hasn’t been around for some time now. When I first saw you out on the street I thought you might be him. My girlfriend said the other night she made it with a Japanese spaceman. A night much like tonight, strange lights in the sky, he came in through the window. When you have a moment, point up, show me what planet. I laid her bare ass down on the Afghan. Just before I did so, I walked over to the mantle and stared down at the fire, my drink in my hand. Before coming here tonight, before I was a pilot, I was working on a case at the National Opera house. A bomb threat. The three tall trees in the lobby, all exotic varieties, in an arrangement by the master from Japan, the waters trickling down their trunks, mingling in the soil, a chemical combination potent enough to blow the lid off the skyline. We searched for the detonating device, leaving no stone unturned, a small bomb capable of setting off the chain reaction. Time was running out when I realized, out of the blue, that the bomb was inside me, that it was inside my stomach. I immediately alerted the other investigators. I don’t mind telling you, it felt exhilarating. You’re the bomb, baby. Next time, try to lay off the Chinese after midnight. And to think all that time I thought I had an ulcer. Turns out I have a cast iron stomach. One too many Molotov cocktails, I guess. I torched her right there in the ashram, her bare ass in my cold bare hands. Steeple of flesh. Nice and easy, big boy. The cold hard rain against the glass. A shower after the fire fight, Bloody Mary down the drain. Smoked salmon and caviar. Bath tub filled to the rim with gin. Your woman counts money, a trader counts skins. There’s an area on the back of the hand that tells you things, not like palm reading, more like the I Ching. That’s why I hold her hand to my lips — money smells like skin. Sign language doesn’t tell you everything. A pearl rolling across the woman’s back disappears in her hair, pearls scattered all over the floor. The woman’s red nipples as she turns on her side, the pearls that roll like bowling balls, that sparkle like buck shot. Red lips and hot red laugh, hair falling down her back. The pearls burst beneath her as she rolls toward the fire. The feathers in her hair catch the light — tropical greens and reds, satin blues. The skin of a boa constrictor hangs from the lampshade, silk stockings tied to the leg of the chair, the birth mark on her thigh tastes like nectar, black as an oil fire. She hears you moving in the hallway, your rapid breaths. All those times you said that you were leaving. Hat hanging on the bed post. Red and white kerchief wrapped around a bundle of hash. The woman stares down the dark hallway, listening, counting her precious skins. It’s still early. The maitre d’ glides across the ceiling. The woman takes off her ring. You’re an outlander. Your ship has come in, and you sail to the end of the sea. The sun on the horizon is the back of a white whale. Starry eyed reflections in the deep. Love remains. Adrift in lavender fields. The man hangs his hat in the branch of the tree. The woman is there waiting for him, lying naked in the lavender on a bed of skins. An airplane lands in the middle of the field. The man dials the cell phone, says a few words in Chinese. In the distance a man in a white suit steps from the plane, the whale. The man folds the cell phone and puts the instrument away. Teeth brightening between her lips. Love remains. Above all things. Creature comforts, salamander slide across the ballroom floor. On all fours, like a tadpole. She shimmies and shakes. I walk through the first open window, a woman playing blackjack alone. She cuts the deck, spreads the cards out on the felt. She takes out a cigarette, and I reach across the table with the match, knocking over her glass. Her reflection seeps into the table. I draw the flaming sword from her mouth and the chandelier comes down with a crash. She remembers me from the subway. We got locked in the turnstile. The door closed, and she blew me a kiss. Sayonara, pretty baby.

Morgan Hobbs graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, with a degree in English and History. He currently resides in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Pindeldyboz, Shattered Wig, McSweeney’s, Hollywood Dementia, Nocturnal Lyric and others. He recently published his first novel, I’m the Bomb, about a diabolical movie mogul.

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