"My camera, I forgot my camera."
Franklin opens his key ring, gives her his house key. "I'll wait for
you in the car."
Celie unlocks the door, her other hand steadies the key. Genuflecting
before the Virgin Mary on the mantle, she gives the hollow statue a
brisk shake. She scrambles through baggies filled with pot, downers, and
other drugs she has no name or immediate desire for. "Sweet Mary,
deliver me," she murmurs, smiling, her hand closing tight around a bag
of black beauties. She runs her tongue around the inside of her mouth,
working up saliva to swallow one capsule, then another. Pocketing the
baggie she packs the other drugs inside the statue, crosses herself
Franklin's car speeds through the dark toward the Taos Pueblo. "A
bruja," he says suddenly, "what do you think a bruja feeds you on vernal
equinox? Maybe Tila uses the magic to seduce men, like you, huh?"
She evades the hand he reaches out to stroke her hair.
"Hey!" Franklin shakes his fingers as though the air between them has
scorched his skin. "Be nice tonight, huh? I need Tila's power pieces.
The Indians will never work with me if I don't have her. This is a big
deal, her inviting us to this ceremony, letting you photograph her."
She turns up the radio. Rocking in her seat, she beats out the rhythm
of the song on her thighs. Two weeks she's been with Franklin and
already she's tired of listening to him go on about his art center. Tila
should be interesting, though. Not just a witch, but a witch who deals
drugs, a witch practicing sacred rites.
"Ready for your appetizer, compliments of our hostess?"
She takes the windowpane Franklin hands her, hiding the tiny
celluloid-like square in the curve of her fingers. He places the acid on
his tongue, kisses the cross around his neck, winks. "Lord we give
thanks for what we are about to receive."
She pretends to put the tab in her mouth, lets it instead drop off
her fingers. She is content to go on flying, listening to the secret
buzz her blood makes rushing headlong through her brain, clattering past
her ears, pulsing through her limbs. Her hand plays across the cache of
black beauties in her other pocket. Franklin never mixes drugs. By the
time he wants to speed, he will be past history for her.
She presses her face against the glass, the darkness, relieved not to
see the inverted dome of the sky pressing down, insistent. She came here
for the open land, the views, but now Taos feels enclosed, a series of
dark rooms where she is gradually losing her sight.
Her hands play over the small camera on the seat beside her. Tracing
the smooth arc of the lens, closing her fingers around its predictable
compact heft, she feels herself take on substance. She holds the
viewfinder to her eye, centers Franklin's dark shape in the frame.
Photography is easy. Unlike relationships, it just comes. The camera
shunts off distractions, makes the world clear, defined. Even in this
light she can see there is nothing about Franklin to hold her interest
Outside Tila's, chickens scatter, settle beneath the trailer. A
chained, wolf-thin dog paces his prescribed circle of dirt, yellow eyes
arcing in the headlights.
Franklin taps on the door twice, walks in, turning around to make
sure Celie sees how familiar he's become with Tila. The tiny
wood-paneled living room is dark except for the light from a candle
burning in a mayonnaise jar.
A big Indian is on his feet, aiming a shotgun at Franklin's head.
"Are you crazy, man, walking in here?"
Franklin's hands shoot up. Trembling fingers graze the low ceiling.
"Hey, easy." Tila puts herself between Franklin and the gun.
"Leonard, this is Franklin and his lady. They're people."
"Fuck." Leonard cocks the safety, lays the gun beside him. Ignoring
them, he goes back to dividing the pile of grass on the spool table into
nickel and dime bags.
Franklin retreats to the corner, to a seat pulled from a junked car,
an apologetic smile frozen on his face. He's a coward, Celie thinks,
watching him sweat.
The stagnant air holds the smells of marijuana and old cooking
grease. The window behind Leonard is boarded shut. More closed dark
rooms, she thinks, just able to make out the big painting of Jesus on
the opposite wall, Jesus praying in a cool overgrown garden. She wishes
she were back in the mountains, in the snow, the thin air exaggerating
her amphetamine high. Her feet in their heavy boots skim along snow and
ice. Despite the freezing cold and her thin coat she is on fire on the
slopes, drawn to the creek where water flows black through blue snow.
There is no sound but the click of her shutter, the crackle of ice
beneath her feet. Quick, her eye keen as that of the ravens and gross
beaks flying above her, she balances beside the boles of aspens, beneath
spruce trees white with the froth of frozen vapor.
"Celie." Franklin pleads, his voice small. Franklin's gotten off. She
trains her lens on Leonard's hands, big hands, hands so big they could
snap a neck. In her mind she sees them close around the shotgun, point
at her. She goes wet between her legs.
"What is this shit, Tila?" Leonard tosses aside the bag he's working
on. "What's she doing pointing a camera at me? You fucking nuts, too?"
he says to Celie. "Don't you see what I'm doing here?" He picks up his
gun, aims it at Celie’s lens. "How about this, you like this shit?"
Celie focuses on the barrel of Leonard’s gun, the rest of him drops
off in a blur. She clicks the shutter once, twice.
"Come on, it's all right." Tila, smelling of sage and juniper, grabs
Celie's arm, pulls her into the narrow kitchen. "Leonard gets mean
sometimes when he's tripping. Sit here," she points to a stool, "shoot
The speed hits Celie. She paces up and down. Bunches of drying herbs
dangle from the ceiling, catch her hair. With each pass she takes in
objects on the kitchen table, a plastic sandwich bag filled with
feathers, branches from a cottonwood tree, sanded and smoothed, a worn
flannel shirt, its back cut into narrow ragged strips.
"What is all that?" she asks.
"A blessing for the land." Tila stirs a pan of refried beans, a
boiling pot of sprouted corn. "I carve dolls, dress them in clothes from
the tribe members, make headdresses from feathers I find on our land."
She tastes the beans, shakes the salt box over them. "I put the dolls
around the Pueblo and out by Blue Lake, our sacred site in the
Celie photographs the feathers, the wood, working her way around the
table. "What about tonight?"
"On solstices and equinoxes I go back and move the dolls further out.
It's old magic, from stories my grandmother told me. Somewhere we got
lazy, stopped protecting what's ours. Little by little I'm reclaiming
Celie turns her camera on Tila, swinging the lens from the curve of
upturned breasts beneath her sweater, the silver cross and skull
dangling from her earlobe, the blue lightening bolt tattooed along the
index finger of her right hand. She will make a collage from the
photographs, rearranging Tila until she understands her.
"Show me some dolls."
The steam from the cooking rice obscures Tila's face. A smile plays
at the corners of her mouth. "Too late for that. All the ones I've
finished have got the magic already. Nobody but me can see them when
they got the magic. You come another time, maybe, watch me work."
Tila holds a chicken under the faucet, water running pink over her
hands. She begins to chatter, indifferent to the rapid-fire clicking of
Celie's shutter. "I forgot about the chicken. We'll eat it when we get
back, there's beans for now. You don't care do you? No, I bet not.
You're thin, you like to fly too much. That stuff's no good for the
woman's body, it eats at you, takes away all your curves." Tila has
plenty of curves, from her almond-shaped black eyes to her rounded hips.
She tosses her hair, smooth gleaming black silk. "Better be careful.
Nobody wants a bone but a dog. You know how I got Leonard?" Tila's
breath, sour with tequila and limes, mingles with the heat of the oven,
rises in Celie's face. "I cut a heart from red cloth, I heated three
needles with a match until the metal turned blue, then I said a spell
when I stuck the needles in the heart. You could do that."
She watches Tila baste the chicken. The brush pulls at the bumpy
skin, picking up stray feathers. Beneath the floor she hears the rustle
and cluck of the other chickens. Leonard killed this bird, she thinks,
breaking its neck in one quick twist. She moves to the door, stares
straight into the red glow of his cigarette.
"I got something for you, something for tonight." Tila opens a bottle
of tequila, drinks a healthy amount, pouring the rest down the drain.
She holds her hand under the mouth of the bottle, closes her fingers
around the worm. She offers it to Celie. "Chop it up, put it in
Franklin's beans. He's going to love you all night."
She looks at the worm in her hand, pale, anemic, bloated with
alcohol. "Nobody eats when they're tripping."
"Go on," Tila urges, handing her a plate filled with beans and rice,
the boiled corn greens, a paring knife. "In the beans. Just a bite, just
a little bit, that's all he needs. Here." Tila hands her another plate.
"Give this to Leonard. He can always eat."
Not Franklin. Freaked by Leonard and his gun, he is trying his best
not to let Leonard see what a bad trip he is having. Celie gives Leonard
the beans with the worm. Watching him attack his plate, she feels a
hunger deeper than food.
"I seen you before." Tila says from the kitchen door, the charge in
her voice telling Celie she knows what she has done. "Yeah, in the
In her mind Celie sees a crow land in her viewfinder, train its sleek
black eye on her. She shivers in acknowledgment. Started, the quivering
continues, building to a full blown case of the shakes. The plate falls,
a dead thud in the orange shag carpeting.
"You remember," Tila whispers, her eyes suddenly small, glittering,
familiar. "What are you looking for out there? You looking for the one
that's got you hiding in the desert, the mountains? My grandmother can
show you his face."
"Cut the witch shit, Tila," Leonard says, not bothering to look away
from Celie. He sets aside his empty plate. In one stride he reaches
Celie, stilling both her hands in one of his. "Speed running away with
you?" he asks. "What is it, blacks?"
"Yeah,blacks," Celie manages to get out.
"You know about the black mirror, white girl?" Tila moves closer, her
eyes darting to Leonard. "That's obsidian, the black volcanic rock under
the ground. It forces you to look at your devils. Looks like you seeing
some of them now."
Leonard pulls Celie closer. "Hey, shut the fuck up, Tila."
"She used my magic on you, Leonard." Tila's voice climbs several
octaves, rising over Franklin's moans and mutterings.
"Why don't you work some magic on that sack of shit in the corner,
huh, shut him up before I get pissed."
Leonard inverts his plate, empties a vial of cocaine, divides it into
four lines. He hands Celie a tightly rolled ten dollar bill, nods his
She snorts a line, nostrils burning, the back of her throat numb. She
settles against the couch, into Leonard's arm.
"What are you doing, Leonard?" Tila keeps her distance, moves into
Franklin's corner, telling Celie Leonard hits her. "It's the equinox.
I've got to move the dolls."
Celie snorts another line, hands the ten dollar bill to Leonard.
"So move the fucking things," he says, twining Celie's hair around
his hand, pulling tight. He pockets the cocaine, the ten dollar bill.
"You got a place to go?" he asks her.
Celie leans forward, Leonard's hold on her hair making her eyes
sting. She runs her hand over her hip, feeling Franklin's key. "Yeah, I
got a place."
Leonard stands up, looks over at Tila pulling at Franklin's rigid
arms, trying to uncover his face. "You're wasting your time, Tila. Leave
him until morning, go on with your dolls."
Tila comes at him, small hands like talons. "I'll fix you for this,
Leonard, I'll fix her too."
"Wait for me in the truck," Leonard says to Celie over his shoulder,
like Tila is a stove he forgot to check, lights he forgot to turn out.
The inside of Leonard's truck smells like stale cigarette smoke and
saltbush. Celie kicks at an empty coffee cup, at the dried mud on
Leonard's work boots. He's left his keys in the truck. She turns the
ignition key over. Patsy Cline is singing "Walking After Midnight." She
opens the door for light, flips through the torn pages of a Hustler
"Jesus." Leonard takes the magazine, tosses it in the floorboard.
"You some kind of carpet muncher?"
Celie retrieves the magazine, opens it to the centerfold. "What took
"I had to fuck her, how else would I shut her up?"
Staring at the dark-haired model Celie tries to picture Tila pressed
up against the wall or maybe splayed over the kitchen table, the pieces
of her dolls pushed to the floor. "With Franklin there?" she asks
Leonard laughs, slams the truck into gear. "Him, you think he saw
anything? Why do you think they call it tripping? He's off on the
He grabs her chin, fingers pressing to the bone. "Hey, I can handle
my shit. I can handle you too."
She drives her hand between his legs. "That will take all night."
Near noon Celie stumbles into Franklin's living room, her eyes
half-closed against the sunlight's assault. She needs something. She's
too down, way down. She sinks into the couch, pulls herself to the
coffee table covered with Franklin's papers, discarded baggies,
ashtrays, and beer cans. Leonard's vial is here, empty. She had the last
of it during sex, refusing to finish him until he agreed.
She runs her hand beneath her nose, rubs her parched sore throat. The
thought of water turns her stomach and there's no beer, they drank it
all last night. She idly shakes the discarded beer cans. Warm, flat, the
beer soothes her, evens her out. She reaches for another, one more.
A drowned cigarette lodges in her throat. Choking, she grabs onto the
edge of the coffee table, heaving over an ashtray in panic, inhaling
ashes. She sees herself dead, her face smeared gray, a thin trickle of
stale beer running from her mouth. She remembers Leonard's hand wound in
her hair last night at Tila's. He would find her, pull her up by her
hair, let her drop back in the ashtray, leave her body for Franklin to
deal with. She sticks her fingers down her throat, makes herself wretch.
Panting, wet with cold sweat, she collapses against the couch.
Behind her in the bedroom Leonard's breathing continues, even,
untroubled. On the porch Franklin's dog scratches at the door,
whimpering. When she doesn't answer she hears his claws click along the
floor, tap in a circle, then the thump of his body settling on
Franklin's old denim shirt. He's probably hungry. She's heard him like
this before, other mornings when she and Franklin have been too wasted
to do anything for themselves, let alone the dog. She goes to the
kitchen, rinses her mouth, opens a can of dog food. She sits back on her
heels watching him eat. The dog wolfs his food, making her wonder when
Franklin last remembered him.
Taos will kill her. If not Leonard, then the next man, or maybe the
drugs, taking too much of one thing, making a bad mix, or being too high
to think of coming down from the mountains, in from the cold.
She gets up, steadying herself with the porch railing, and goes
inside to dress. The Virgin's gaze follows Celie, wide blank eyes seeing
inside her. She locates her clothes, gathers the change Franklin has
dropped and left lying. What had he said? 'Indifference keeps me from
need.' She empties the statue. Just the beauties she tells herself,
swallowing two. She has to keep going long enough to escape, then she'll
get clean. She finds her keys on the table, picks up the statue. She
could use someone watching over her.
Her brain begins to hum, the speed kicking in. She has her cameras,
her equipment, her leather jacket, the change of clothes she keeps in
the car, that's enough. She stops at the bank, then for coffee and gas.
Driving south toward Albuquerque and Interstate 40 she heads east, away
from everything she has become.