A short story with accompanying ambiance.
“The Unicorn” by Terry Skaggs
The neighbor's party was finally swallowed by the lateness of the impossibly hot night. Sleep had long since been supplanted by cold anger. Schemes born on nights as humid and late as this only had grim finality and madness in their weave.
He was shocked by his resolute, inhuman coolness as he stood outside and heard the cries coming from the flaming house. Despite his astonishment, he savored the moment.
The soles of his feet trembled. His instincts were running before he took a step. He shook himself from this terrible reverie and, letting the inner drives take hold, got in his car. It was parked facing west and so it was in that direction he drove, fast, and without ever looking back.
He'd stop only for fuel and coffee. He'd drive as though the road would never end. He'd drive until the car died or he did. Drive until the guilt was scoured away by the wind along the highway. This was the plan where only an hour before there had been no plan, only a deep need for quiet and sleep and to compliantly awaken for his job in the morning: rush hours bookending office pleasantries and anonymous cubicles. All had been replaced by the fever of the road and DNA-level self-preservation.
In order to preserve what remained, he would die. Or at least appear to die. He told himself that only then would the debt of cowardice and shame he suddenly owed the world be repaid.
After a count of days, the sensible sedan finally gave its last at the ocean. He set it ablaze and continued on foot down the cliffs, across the beach and westward into the sea, swimming hard until his breath was raw and the coast only a jagged shadow cut into the horizon.
At dusk he came ashore well down the beach, near a rocky inlet into which he'd seen daysailers darting for cover from the night. As he walked, in his periphery he caught the flashes of the emergency vehicles among the silhouette of the crowd gathered near the smoldering remains of his car. They would try for hours to locate the strange man who had started the fire and walked wordlessly into the ocean, but he was now 'dead', and no one would see him again.
The next morning he went by the name of Ray Nova, and hitch-hiked south into Baja. In the back of a pickup truck he rode with a young Mexican couple who spoke no English. Despite the language barrier they all sang Sandy Denny's "Solo" at the tops of their lungs as the miles funneled away behind them.
At a roadside bodega he watched a small boy with a rusted hatchet behead a chicken. The body danced wildly through the dust until it came to rest near a large rooster. The rooster then mounted the headless bird and consorted with it before wandering unashamedly into the shadow of a shattered Volkswagen.
Within the bodega, ignited by milky sunlight strained through dirty windows, he found a spider that had weaved an ornate web upon a Crucifix. A congress of flies waited in neat, still bundles as the spider mended and prowled its divine stratagem.
Ray grew his hair long and would sometimes play bass in a band of ex-pat Americans. They performed Jimmy Buffet covers for tourists. Between sets he would bed sexually frustrated middle-aged American housewives whose husbands were unfailingly "back in the room, drunk."
Still, his heart always belonged to Consuela.
Oh, Consuela! Speaking her name made his heart race and chest grow warm. Twenty-two, with dark eyes and long limbs; bright and pure like a sky so blue it made your eyes hurt just thinking about it. She worked at a small shop in the town and would always smile at him through the long dusty light of morning when he'd buy cigarettes and a newspaper he never read.
Ray had every reason to suspect that she didn't know his name.
When Consuela was nine, her mother died in a bus accident in the mountains. Her older brother was a priest and her father a fisherman with nine fingers. They said he was descended from revolutionaries, but he spent his days drinking hard cider and talking about a giant sailfish that he knew waited in the canyons a few miles offshore.
One night Ray walked alone near small cove, watching carnival lights dance across the water. Music and laughter moved with the gentle waves through the evening and swirled among the rocks and shadows. He remembered Sara twenty years ago, making love on the rooftop of their building while the small-town night whispered and sighed below them. He yearned for a time long misplaced when love was uncluttered and young, and the world had more tomorrows left in it than yesterdays.
He also thought of Consuela.
Tomorrow, he promised himself, tomorrow . . .
Ray would never get to know Consuela: that morning he stopped at her shop and she was gone. Her father told him that she'd moved to America and lived in Chicago with her half-sister. She'd taken a job as a waitress at a diner near the Loop.
Afterward -- and forevermore -- he would cry when he thought of snow.
released October 25, 2012
Written, performed, and produced by Terry Skaggs