The bones of dead fish bleach in the sun at the edge of Salton Sea. We hadn’t seen a single sign of life on the way over here. I was staying on the couch of a mechanic’s workshop at the time. It’s a long story that ends with ‘my wife left me’ and starts with all the usual lines.
We grew tired of one another.
We grew tired of ourselves.
We grew tired of the town we lived in.
We grew tired of where we worked.
We grew tired of things slowly getting further from when they were the best.
And we grew tired of not knowing why.
Maybe there were some gambling debts.
Maybe there was a horse that never came through.
Maybe if the Jets had a better Quarterback.
Maybe if I hadn’t met that girl in the bar that time.
And maybe if I hadn’t changed.
There wasn’t much shelter in the workshop and when it rained you had a hard time not getting wet. It was basically the husk of a garage in an old scrap yard, filled with cars that had once been the best in the world but were now rusted out and broken down, given up on and left for dead, replaced by shinier, newer, faster models. Near my bed there was a stack of speakers topped with a megaphone. They had played all the best music at all the biggest gigs in town but now their wiring had gone a little crazy and they stayed here with me. Friday nights I’d plug in an old beat up guitar and crank out the juice like nobody’s business. I was alone for miles in either direction, so the neighbours would never complain. Saturday morning I’d jam with those demented speakers as the sun came up, and Saturday night the faulty circuitry would keep the stars awake. They were good speakers. I liked the crackle and the hiss they made. A good round of tinnitus keeps you honest. The kitchen sink was the old washroom and it was littered with planks of wood and various mechanical tools scattered about the workbench. The windows were filled with grime which meant nobody could see in and I, thankfully, couldn’t see out. We had an understanding. The rats stayed out of my way and I stayed out of theirs.
Brianna didn’t see the beauty in it, though.
“Is this where you work?” she said, disgust on her face, not yet grasping the true nature of things.
“Sort of” I replied.
The glamour of it all was clearly lost on her as she refused to sit on the lawn chair I kept for visitors or even move the rags from the washing line and use them as a blanket on the floor. Instead she just stood there looking at me then looking at how far it was to anything resembling civilisation, then back again at me.
“So…” she began, putting the microphone under my nose, “what is it like living in a lakeside town after the lake has gone?” Her lips curled into a sneer. It was more a challenge or a riposte than a genuine question. I smiled and let it go. Instead I put on my black chemical gloves and welder’s mask and began to go to work.
The land was arid and kicked up too much dust. It was peaceful out here, but it stunk sometimes. Rent was dirt cheap and cancer was rife from the toxic water and chemicals in the air. For the price of one B2 bomber we could build a pipeline from the ocean to here, giving us much needed water that would last for generations. But they didn’t have the foresight or the plain good sense to do that. Too many people needed showers in Los Angeles.
“Everyone wants their Mcmansion and their swimming pools” my friend Ron said. Ron operated a pirate radio station out of Owens Lake. That place was the model of where we were headed if nobody intervened.
“They want to wash their yuppie cars. It’s all water.”
Brianna gazed languidly at Ron from beneath a Gucci dress. It had been a long and arduous journey out here, one the network had made her do. She was trying to take it all in. Ron had cycled over here and was wearing his red Elvis shades and wellington boots. He had a grizzly bear’s demeanour and sun scorched features that made it look like he slept in the sand. His beard was all different shades of rust and he wore his hat at a menacing angle. He had on black leather gloves and a hooded grey sweatshirt advertising the World Championship Crab Races. Ron was one of those guys who was burdened with knowledge. You got the sense he might have been better off if he’d never read a book in his life, never learned about the true nature of the world.
Poor Brianna was getting that same, queasy feeling right about now.
I looked out at the surrounding lands. The scenery was spectacular here, truly breath-taking. All oranges and blues. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this place certainly was beautiful to me. There were torn up shacks and rusted out trucks. Empty and abandoned homes from where people had left or died. When the stars came out you could see them stretch for miles. You learned to live with the poison and the snakes.
“What’s it like living in Los Angeles?” I asked
Brianna glanced nervously at the camera. “Well… the traffic sucks. I don’t really like it. I’m from Wisconsin.”
“Why do you live some place you don’t like?” Ron asked reasonably. She didn’t have an answer. Instead she straightened out her fine pink dinner jacket and asked if we would consider moving away from this place.
“Never” Ron replied, serious as death. He said that like it was a challenge.
“Aren’t you worried about the dust storms and the air pollution?”
“I dunno, are you worried about rent control and the crime rate?”
A tension filled the air to rival the acrid smell of dead fish.
“I think we’ve got all we need here” she bristled, signalling to the cameraman to cut it off. A ghostly silence followed in this remotest of ghost towns.
When the car pulled away, kicking up dust, we waved them off as they headed into the glorious orange hue of a desert sunset.
“How do you think it went?” I asked Ron, taking off my chemical gloves and mud encrusted wellington boots.
“I dunno” he drawled languorously, fingering a mysterious yellow stain on his World Championship Crab Races hoody. “You can never really tell. People from the city are weird.”
About Steven Storrie:
Steven Storrie is the author of three poetry collections, including his latest release 'Yours Sincerely, Axl Rose', published through Weasel Press, and a short story collection, '4pm In Los Angeles', published by DevilHouse Press. A novella, 'Drinking With Ulysses S Grant', will be published later this year, along with another new collection of short stories. His work is available on Amazon and all the other, usual dark corners of the globe.