By Gretchen Wing
When the Santa Fe River ran again, it took nearly a week to wash away all the footprints in its sandy bed. By this time the cottonwoods were greening into their impossible lime, the color of those tight tank tops the high school girls wear even when it’s cold. Up by the Los Alamos labs, where I commute to keep those atoms safely splitting for America, the trees are dying of drought and bark beetle. So I notice the green in the Santa Fe mornings before I have to leave it behind for work. Los Alamos —the cottonwoods.
“AJ ♥ LH 4EVA” is gouged into one of their trunks, I noticed on my run recently. My ex-wife used to call me AJ. The bark’s so thick, it’s amazing AJ didn’t just give up, pick a weaker tree to carve. He must have used a butcher knife. Alamo gordo, fat cottonwood. The tree still oozes.
I saw them once, AJ and LH, at least I like to think so, on one of my runs before work. I heard them first, but didn’t recognize the sounds in time. He was performing oral sex on her in the middle of the dry riverbed, not quite hidden by the Palace Street bridge. I saw her knees drawn up, rising from bagged jeans, and one white breast lazing out of a deep-yellow blouse, like the inverse of a sunnyside egg. His head was dark and bent; hers, thrown too far back to see. Probably her eyes were closed. I ran past, swift and quiet, and warned an elderly couple up the path to turn around.
She must have gotten sand in her ass. She must not have cared. She might have been a daughter of one of our older Santa Fe families. She met him at a restaurant, maybe, out with her girlfriends. He was their waiter, one of those dark, handsome boys who keep this city running. She called him AJ, or maybe just Tony. He called her mi vida, mi corazon.
Amidst the deaths of the old, this morning’s obits tell me: “Alfredo Juarez, 20, gone to our Lord. He is survived by his parents, his sisters and brother.” No mention of how, no tales of gouging, plunging, cutting through resistant flesh to carve a heart.
No mention of LH. You bitch, LH. Did you survive him too? He hearted you right there in the middle of the riverbed.
In the summer I take my kids to White Sands on one of our weekends; we spend the night at the Alamogordo Holiday Inn. I run loops around the dunes road while they take turns burying each other, patting and shaping giant knees and huge boobs in the ivory sand.
Not seventy miles or seventy years from here, Oppenheimer’s device, trucked from my lab, fused these sands to glass. What kind of explosion, I wonder, fuses up a young man’s heart so hard that he will carve through twenty years of life to reach it? Or, like me, give up carving altogether?
Copyright Wing 2018