Pedal steel guitars and dusty windshields on heavy-duty pickups
that're actually used for work and not just for cruising to look
big and cool. Days of wind and sun and arid sand so thick you
could drown in it. Washed out skies and cracking desert –
everywhere you look is another variation on the colors of rust
stretching out in gaping hunger. It's a sight that makes words
like forever seem nearly comprehensible. A forever of crimson,
umber, and amber. But it's not a muddied landscape. Mud would
imply water, but there's not much of that. Least, not that you
can see, or dive into, or ever really clean off with. Soon as
you're out of the shower the inescapable dust starts to cling
before you're even toweled off.
Or so it seems to me.
Instead of blue or crystal clear, the liquids 'round here match
the earthen, sun-drenched hues of the land. Brown whiskey, yellow
beer, and gold tequila. And it's sucked down and sweated out by
men in boot-leg Levi's and Wranglers. Not stone-washed or sand-blasted
or otherwise altered from the factory. No – just the heavy
deep indigo and red tabs from the factory that wash out and settle
down on their own. They stride with loose, loping gaits; easy
and deliberate. Big belt buckles, bigger hats, straight backs,
leathered faces, sinew arms and slow drawls. And the boots on
all of 'em. Lord, the boots and the way they squint. They squint
even past sundown, if they're looking up at the impossible nighttime
I don't blame 'em for squinting up at that darkness.
That black yawning chasm that would seem unbearably dreadful if
it wasn't broken up with the litter of glittering stars. I'd never
seen anything like it before. The vision was always framed or
broken in some manner so that evidence of mankind would cut into
the awesome, intimidating arena overhead. But that doesn't happen
out here. You look up and it stretches beyond you, around you.
That's when you realize it's a vastness that goes forever; encircling,
encompassing. Encroaching. Infinity, looping around and looming
That's when the eerie howls are most welcome. Now they are, at
least. That spine-tingling, hair-raising, bad-mojo, lonesome wail
connects somehow; pierces through the magnitude of the impossible
illusion of it all.
First time I heard it, I sat up and shivered. I was scared enough
about the scorpions and rattlesnakes. Now here was a bigger, bloodthirsty
predator. I whispered, "Wolves."
Wes corrected me. "Coyotes," he said. "Don't got
wolves 'round here, darlin'." He didn't laugh at my mistake.
I wasn't settled. Different name; same matted fur and drooling
harm people none," he told me.
neither. Make 'em skittish, that's about all. Reckon we might
lose coupla heads o' sheep tonight though." Then he smiled,
but I knew he wasn't joking. That was his way of soothing. It
worked. Same as everything else he did worked, even though it
shouldn't have. If it didn't, I wouldn't have been there that
night. Or any of the nights.
He didn't exactly sweep me off my feet. Nevertheless, it was the
same night I met him that my Manolos were kicked off and sprawled
next to his Tony Lamas. That was in the city. That was before
I knew that he was the real deal. He and a friend strode up to
a blackjack table I was playing on. I was working, deep in concentration
on the count, had it in my favor. That's what I'm good at. Watching
cards, figuring odds, and keeping counts to make money. I had
the table to myself, just how I like it. He sidled up beside me,
his friend next him. Even in my tunnel-vision absorption, I noticed
him. Tall, dark, rugged. Handsome. Serene.
I ignored him and focused on the cards. I doubled my bet because
I knew the pretty ten cards were headed my way. His friend played
and fumbled by trying to pick up the cards. I didn't reprimand
him, the dealer took care of that. I just swept my eyes across
the table and did the math, satisfied as I looked at his hard
17, my hard 19, and the dealer's hard 15. But then Wes's pal fucked
it up with a rookie mistake. He took a hit on his 17. He pulled
a Jack, which busted him. Worse, the dealer pulled a six to beat
me. I cursed as the dealer took my chips. Disgusted, I got up
to leave. That's when Wes caught my eye again. He was just placidly
you goin' Ma'am?" his friend asked me.
need tourists fucking up my game," I told him. A thousand
bucks, that's what his mistake had cost me.
it's just a game," his friend said. I later found out he
was a ranch hand of Wes's. They were out here for his bachelor
party. Cliché, yes. Such is Vegas.
a game involving money," I told him. "And you just cost
me a bunch of it with that bonehead move. If you hadn't hit that
17 the dealer would've busted and we'd have both won."
got the disposition of a rattlesnake, don't you Miss? I didn't
mean any harm to you. I apologize, but you don't have to be so
I was unnerved. Not only by the kid's gosh-shucks, contrite demeanor
and my own embarrassing bitchiness, but mostly because of how
Wes just sat there. Not slack-jawed stupid, and not awe-struck
lascivious either. Just smoldering…Smoldering.
Finally, he spoke. He was talking to his buddy, but he fixed his
eyes on me. "Don't think she's nasty so much as spirited,
It extorted an apology from me. "Sorry. You're right, it's
not your fault. Enjoy the table."
Then Wes stood up and in his soft drawl and husky voice introduced
himself and insisted on making it up to me.
A half-hour later I was still teaching them how to play blackjack.
And four hours after that my shoes were getting acquainted with
Wes's boots. And a week after that, I was shivering and listening
to coyotes howl deep into the night. In the morning, I woke to
the sound of a gunshot. I'd never heard that before either, but
I was pretty sure of what it was.
I'd heard six more rounds go off by the time I ran outside and
found Wes with a shotgun. When he handed it to me, I nearly dropped
it. I'd never held any gun before, let alone a shotgun. They didn't
look so heavy in movies. Wes had a chew in, which I didn't mind
cause he didn't hassle me about smoking. He spit and just said,
"Don't pull the trigger. Squeeze it." Then he nodded
to some empty bottles of Cuervo about 20 yards away.
hell is all this about?" I asked him.
is all he said.
gonna go shoot coyotes?"
be teachin' you to shoot if I was fixin' to do it?"
Shit. You want 'em gone, you shoot 'em," I told him.
Shiiit," he drawled and spit. "I wasn't the one up all
really don't bother you?"
a nuisance I tolerate."
It's legal? To kill 'em, I mean?"
I listened, did as he said, and then squeezed. Ready as I thought
I was, I still stumbled from the kickback and the butt cracked
into my shoulder. The reverbs stung my ears. And I'd missed, by
a lot. I put the gun down. That night, I kept my eyes closed and
stayed still when the howling started.
It was only four nights after that that the howls stopped, or
at least I stopped hearing them. That was the night after Wes
brought in the new stallion. For me. He said I needed a horse
to get around and explore on my own. I said I'd be happy using
his Jeep. He smiled silently, smoldering. There was nothing else
to do around there anyhow, so I hung by the fence as the stallion
grazed and freaked out. Grazed and freaked out. No one went near
him. Wes laughed every time I ran away from the fence when the
horse'd go on a bucking jag. At that time, he was letting me ride
other horses around. I knew he had plenty of horses I could ride
anytime I wanted. This was more about him showing off to me than
anything else, so I indulged him.
After four days of that nonsense, Wes saddled him, or tried to.
That mustang damn near kicked Wes in the head, and I damn near
picked up that shotgun again I was so scared. Those were long
days. Wes seemed amused. I was impressed. He was unfazed by the
braying and struggling, content to let the ruddy dust settle in
the slight crevices of his face. He kept egging me nearer, somehow
convincing me to do more and get closer while the sun sizzled
down on us. But those nights were quiet. I didn't hear the intimidating
stomp of hooves or the whinnies of objection. I didn't hear those
longing howls. I'd only hear Wes's heavy breaths in my ear and
feel his wet kisses as he'd do things to my body the same way
he did everything else – easy and deliberate. I told myself
that's why I was here, only because the way he rode horses was
nothing impressive compared to how he rode me. Then, after, I'd
just close my eyes, remember to forget about the awful, limitless
sky overhead, and let my sore body go to sleep.
In the mornings, I'd wake up stiff and exhausted, feeling dusty,
desiccated, and beaten before even climbing out of bed. But that
only drove me harder. And after a couple weeks, I got on that
new mustang for a real ride. Wes'd been breaking him himself –
getting on, getting thrown off. The horse was yielding, he was
manageable for Wes now, he didn't get thrown anymore. I was scared,
but Wes told me to stop being so full of shit and get up there.
He threw me, of course, the horse did. But not right away. And
it wasn't as bad as I expected. Wes was proud, I could tell. I
named him that day. Loki. And that horse broke before I did. It
wasn't a sudden change, took another couple weeks actually. The
bucks started to feel like undulations and his anger seemed to
give way to spirit. Then he kept getting calmer and spooking less
often until he stopped bucking altogether. And then he was mine.
A few nights after that, the coyotes came back, and I woke up
to them. With Wes asleep, I went out to the stalls and found my
boy Loki sleeping soundly, not the least bit bothered by the haunting
I went back inside and nudged Wes awake. Didn't matter how sun-worn,
sore, or sleepy he was, he always woke up and obliged me, and
that night was no exception. I couldn't tell right away if instead
of pleasure it was out of pride or a feeling of obligation on
his part. He wasn't moving quickly, his hands were barely roaming,
and his kisses weren't devouring.
He just lay there, sprawled on his back, one hard-calloused hand
brushing the hair off my neck and lazily rubbing my shoulder as
I leaned over to him. Teasing kisses, I pulled my body on top
of his but didn't straddle him, waiting to see if he was going
to catch fire or not. He was hard already, but that wasn't unusual,
and it wasn't all that telling. I wouldn't touch him there. Instead
I kept my hands on his sides with our naked chests pressed together.
I kissed him deeply, and he sighed. That's when I was pretty sure
it wasn't out of pride or responsibility that he was obliging
I kissed a while longer but finally put my head down on his shoulder
and nudged myself to his side. Just to make sure, I guess. It
didn't take long. I was hoping it wouldn't. I was buzzing all
over already, and if he'd've gone back to sleep and let it go
I probably would've had to wake him up again.
But he didn't roll over and go to sleep. Instead he took hold
of my wrists and rolled himself on top of me. Deep and hungry
kisses right away, he hummed as our mouths met and before long
that buzzing that I'd been feeling sparked and I was flush and
fevered for him. I longed to touch his body all over. His lean
stomach brushing against mine, all those sinewy muscles in his
arms. But he kept my hands locked down near my head while he did
the work with his body and mouth. He was teasing. Pressing his
chest into mine, then undulating, rising up while pressing his
hips into mine. He was rock hard, I was wet. And I was certain
this was about a lot more than pride or feeling obligated. And
probably about even more than pleasure. I didn't care. I wanted
I spread my legs and wrapped them around his waist, tried to force
him down into me. I got him close, but not inside. Instead he
was careful and controlled. Still holding my wrists, he kissed
me deeply and slid his erection between my lips, gliding across
my hot spot. Repeatedly. Repeatedly.
Lord, all that kissing, his hot breath. And that gliding, the
rubbing of his dick against my clit. Friction and pressure and
deliciously taunting rhythm. Wasn't long before I was panting
and bucking. He obliged then and sped up, and when the pleasure
got too intense and I started to shudder and come, that's when
he shifted and plunged deep inside me. I was the one howling then.
I couldn't escape it. It was nearly overwhelmingly intense, I
thought my heart was going to beat right out of my ribcage as
I bucked wildly. Wes took it easy then. He stayed inside, still
hard, still throbbing, but mercifully stopped thrusting. He still
didn't release my wrists, but he did let me settle.
Once I'd calmed, he started again. The kissing stopped when the
panting started and it wasn't long before we were all out fucking.
We usually moved a lot, but not that night. He kept my hands clamped
down by my head and he stayed on top. When I tried to wiggle or
thrust, Wes was having none of it. He set the pace, and he set
it well. I didn't care, I was getting high again, getting close.
The way he was driving into me I don't know how he was holding
out so long. But I was starting to get an idea of exactly what
this was really about.
That's when he released my hands and put his arms around me. Instinct,
I guess it was, I put my arms around his neck and held him close.
As high and hot as I was, I could still feel the details, like
his sweat dripping down onto my neck, the rough stubble of his
cheek scraping against mine, moist hot breath in my ear, the heat
and silken steel of his chest pressed against my breasts, the
muscles of his shoulders working and contracting under my hands,
and that glorious frenzied fucking going on.
Everything I thought I knew about us changed when I gripped him
tight inside, felt the start of another orgasm overtaking me and
heard him whisper in my ear. Breathy and low. Urgent. Just my
It pushed me over the edge.
He didn't stop calling my name and we didn't stop fucking. He
called it louder, I shuddered, he thrust very fast, very hard.
And I said his name, called it out loud. "Wes."
He came too. I was clenched so tight around him I felt every spasm
through his body, every spurt deep inside.
The day after that, I left for the first time.
I was out in the searing sun too long maybe. Or just pissed off
about all the dirt everywhere, I got worried it was going to keep
traveling up my sinuses and start to scratch into my brain. Maybe
I needed a break from everything being a variation on the color
of rust. Or, most likely, I had a jones for vodka instead of tequila.
Maybe all that tequila was making me crazy. I never really cared
for people before, but now I missed them. Or something. Then again,
maybe those lonesome howls were just getting to be too much.
Whatever it was, when Wes came in for the evening, I told him
I had to go.
Let me tell you, that really pissed me off. Honestly. I was geared
for a fight anyhow, but I figured the son of a bitch would at
least have the balls or pride to try and stop me.
But he didn't.
I went home. I went back to car congested streets and high reaching,
tight-woven buildings built to the hilt to wash away the sand
and natural dirty dust. To oscillating neon lights that bounce
off hard concrete, all advertising and promoting. Selling and
promoting money and sex. The home of money and sex. America's
true heartland – Las Vegas. The aberration in the desert.
The power of greed, nowadays, Incorporated. It's one big trick
and mirage in this desert, and the illusion will never die because
even though it's a paradise of sin, it's all shrouded in the most
basic human grace. Hope.
These are the things I understand. Vices and logic. Sex and money.
The honks and clinks and shouts were a welcome relief. The sun
pounded down, but man kept the balance with manufactured lakes
and swimming pools. Clear and cool and blue, ready to dive in
and able to wash away the last lingering remnants of dust. The
closest I got to a cowboy was a 50 foot tall neon one named Vegas
I gambled, that's my job. Sometimes high stakes, sometimes not.
What mattered is that it had order, same as always. All I had
to do was watch the cards come down, keep the running count, and
then I knew what was likely to be coming next. I courted the tables,
drank the vodka, and slept with the men. Normal men. Tourists
I wouldn't have to see again. Men who'd yell back if I picked
a fight. Men who'd lean close and crowd my space at the bar. Men
who walked fast and spoke even faster. Men who couldn't fuck their
way out of a paper bag.
And deep in the coolest hours of the morning, when I was alone,
the only sound I'd hear was the whir and hum of the air conditioner.
* * *
I went back only because I felt guilty. I swear it's true. In
those quiet hours before drifting off into numbness, I'd think
of Wes and how lonely he had to be out there. The guilt gnawed
until I went back to throw him a conciliatory break-up fuck. When
I got back, he greeted me with a nod and just said, "Rita."
Like he'd been expecting me for dinner. He opened the door and
asked, "Comin' inside for a while?"
He didn't look heartbroken. He looked fine. He didn't need me.
"No," I told him.
It was four weeks after that that I heard the coyotes for the
first time during the day. Wes was out somewhere doing something.
Work. He'd maybe tell me a few words about it later when he got
home. I assumed it had something to do with hammering fences or
rustling things around, or maybe even hogtying a few things. Wasn't
quite sure though. Anyhow, that's generally how the days had been
going for the past month, him off working during the day, meanwhile
I'd been keeping busy cleaning up the ever-accumulating dust and
cooking dinner. That was easy. Barbeque. Oh, I shit you not. Barbeque
fucking ribs (short ribs, baby-back, beef, you name the rib, it
got barbequed), barbeque chicken, grilled steaks, barbeque shrimp.
I was happily rebelling against the feminist notions that it was
exactly what I shouldn't be doing. To feel less girly, I'd go
out and shoot some then. I got to the point where I shattered
beyond recognition a dozen Cuervo bottles. Then I'd sometimes
take a ride around the far perimeter of the house on Loki, the
mustang I'd broken before I left. Or I'd try to get a tan, thinking
I was getting darker only to realize it was just the dirt caking
onto my skin. But I'd lay there in the thin breeze nonetheless,
watching the sun turn the browns into brilliant oranges, then
the orange into blazing red, then finally settle into a pink in
the sky even more electric than the neon on Las Vegas Blvd.
I was laying there just like that, flat out in the midst of that
great expanse when I first heard the mournful call during the
day. I chilled in the intense heat. I saw Loki freeze. I grabbed
the shotgun, jumped on him and rode home at a gallop.
That night, I asked Wes if he doesn't get lonely out here.
is all he said.
what I got you for," he said, smiled, and took a slug of
don't HAVE me," I informed him, pissed off.
Rita," is all he said.
That night, when we went for a walk outside, I gazed up at the
stars and swore I could almost see them crushing down around me.
That great expanse of black smothering and cloaking all around
us. I had to pull my hand away from his just to get enough space
to breathe. I tried to calm myself by counting them. But I couldn't.
That's what I do best in life is keep a count to create order,
but I couldn't add up all them stars. Mercifully, later, when
Wes fell asleep, the coyotes' call cut through the night. A temporal
loop of beastly familiarity slicing through the inky dark.
I held on for a couple more weeks.
But then day got as bad as night. The dirt filled my nose and
the lack of color glazed my eyes. The open, sun-bleached days
wore away at me. Wes sensed the noose tightening, I guess. He
took me out a couple times. I got to drink vodka in the saloons
and honky tonks. But all I heard was the whining slide guitar,
or the crying pedal steel. Stetson hats and snakeskin boots were
the dress clothes. Bolero ties. Big belt buckles. Everything was
made of wood, which I just didn't understand. There weren't many
damn trees around. I'd feel like a moron when my spike heels caught
between the slats of the floor when we'd dance. I looked around
at the other women. Sequined T-shirts and permed hair –
with bangs and scrunchies to tie it back. Hats and boots.
A few other nights, we'd play poker with some of the guys, alternating
between stud and hold 'em games. The only illumination was the
nearby crackling glow of a bonfire, citronella candles, and the
lonely neon of a bug zapper. But I always won, and I didn't take
much joy or pride in it. Winning Ben's paycheck or Walt's drinking
money didn't particularly hold a lot of satisfaction.
So on a moonless night when I was having trouble breathing from
the dirt clogged up in my sinuses, I sat up listening to the howls
closing in and looked down at Wes stretched out next to me. I
couldn't take those devilish howls anymore. I pushed him 'til
he woke up. He was not annoyed. Instead, he reached up and started
soothing me. But I'd had enough of that, so I pushed him off and
said, "I'm leaving, Wes."
Reedy voiced, he went, "I figured that was comin'."
mean, I'm leaving now. Right now."
then," was all he said.
you even wanna know why?" I was a little miffed he was so
cavalier about this.
know why, Rita. Do what you need."
do not know why," I snapped. "If you knew why you'd
be more upset."
go on then, tell me why if you want."
leaving you," I explained, "because I have inner demons."
Wes laughed pretty good at that. I shit you not, I was furious.
"The hell you laughin' at, Wes?"
is all he said, still laughing.
me? You're saying my deep and tragic personal inner demons are
Rita. I'm saying you're too full o' horseshit to have any room
left for inner demons."
Well. I never. Honestly. "You used to say I was full of spirit,
Wes. Now that things aren't going your way I'm full of horseshit
right," he answered, still sort of laughing. "It's the
same thing, darlin'. It's spirit when I find it appealing. Other
times, when it's not so attractive, it's just plain horseshit."
In retrospect, I suppose I’m woman enough to admit that
I was so furious because I knew he was right. Nevertheless, I
left in a quite a huff.
* * *
I'm back in the city.
The clatter of coins in trays and hard-edged music and fast walking
people are all around. Exhaust fumes waft through the air, and
Calvin Klein perfume as a woman brushes my arm as she clicks by
in her Jimmy Choos. Hi Karate cologne (yes, really) on the valet.
But at least there are valets. Valets and waiters and chefs and
bartenders and dealers and other hustlers. The lights are bright
and the buildings are big. Imported marble and polished brass,
and so many different colors of lights to keep track of. But within
minutes, I have the total nailed at 56. Now, somehow, these manufactured
monoliths seem dwarfed.
They're not as big.
And they're even closer. Pushing in and pushing down all around.
And all they want is money.
After a couple weeks, I start to notice other things. That's a
lie. I'm not noticing, I'm hyper-aware.
The drinks are watered, the chips are plastic and people crowd
very close even as they rush by in their frenzied state of hopeful
inebriation. People talk fast and talk a lot, but now I realize
that they rarely say anything.
I try. Lord, in my confusion I try. And I curse for doing this
A man I meet tells me I have a lovely little drawl in my voice,
and it makes me want to punch him. I say, "Horseshit, I do
not." So I let the guy fuck me, I suppose to prove everyone
wrong. But he goes too fast, comes too quick and I don't get any
enjoyment out of it at all. I recall this wasn't uncommon.
I could lie again and say it's guilt that drives me back to Wes.
But I know damn well why suddenly this illusion seems so much
On the drive back out to the ranch, the air gets thinner. The
honey sand mixes and changes; soft butter in direct sunlight,
bleeding to a rich mocha as the sun goes down. The sky above catches
fire, streaky fuscia fades and settles in the twilight, eventually
yielding to the deep, comforting sapphire that'll reveal millions
of glittering diamond stars. Way too many of them to count.
There's a distant, familiar howl as I walk up the path. Wes is
alone, his lanky frame stretched out on a single chair outside.
He's slugging tequila harder than I've ever seen him do. Not even
a beer chaser in sight. "What're you doin' up?" I ask
He squints up at me. "Couldn't sleep through all the howling."
it didn't bother you."
said that," he looks away. "I said I tolerate it, that's
He lets me pull the bottle from his hand and I take a long pull
off it. I ease down on the ground, lean my back against his shins
and take another pull.
Above me, he says, "Loki missed you."
He mope around?"
Looking up to the sky, the last trace of blue has bled away, the
infinite inky black has settled all around. I take a deep breath,
then another hit off the bottle. "Wes," I say, "You
better decide now, because I'm not like Loki. You will never tame
He reaches around and takes back the bottle. I expect him to laugh
and call me on my horseshit. Instead, steely voiced, he answers
me. "Well, Rita, my darlin'. Just so's you know. You won't
ever break me."
In the close distance, a coyote unleashes a long, mournful howl.
has two novels forthcoming. The first, 24/7, will be available
in January 2005, and the second will follow shortly after. She
can be found online at www.susandiplacido.com.
Blues © 2004 by Susan DiPlacido