No Way To Say Goodbye

No Way To Say Goodbye

Khirijan, working through the lonely night, bagging and loading 25-pound blocks of dry ice in a plant in a remote canyon far from what anyone would call civilization, dreamed of warm sunshine. At the end of the long night, Khirijan removed her gloves, sucking on the tips of her numb and bleeding fingers, smashed between the heavy blocks of dry ice she stacked inside the long, empty trailer.

Weary from the sleepless night, the sun still tucked behind the canyon walls, she climbed into her peacock blue 1956 Thunderbird convertible, the one joy in her life, and flew along the serpentine canyon road toward town.

It wasn’t much, this small town. And she asked herself how in the hell she had ended up here? She came from Romani people, which made her Romani. Her mother, young, wild, and beautiful, pregnant with Khirijan, had escaped Ukraine before the Nazi onslaught, somehow managing to emigrate to the United States, waking up one day in the stink of New Orleans, where Khirijan was born and raised by a band of gypsies in the belief of spiritualism. The Romani, terrorized and persecuted, had a close connection to the dead. Their spirits came to them at night. In shadows. But the spirits of the dead came to Khirijan in a different way, touching her lightly on the shoulder, their fingers raised to their lips, shush, stay quiet, look, do you see? They asked her to see and understand things they couldn’t ask of the others, they asked her to travel back and forth between the world of shadow and the world of light.

As a shaman, she was protected inside the gypsy culture, but the constant strain on her time became unbearable, and at nineteen, she escaped New Orleans late one rainy night with a small duffel bag filled with a change of clothes and a toothbrush. She walked until she could walk no more. At the edge of night inside a cold rain, she sat down by the side of the road, bedraggled and defeated. Wild Willie Potruska, screaming by in his red 1957 Cadillac, in the near dark, spotted her hunched on the side of the road and slammed on his brakes, screeching to a sliding halt.

She didn’t even have the strength to look up, so Wild Willie rolled down his window and asked her if she was okay. Taking a quick glance in his side-view mirror, no one coming up behind him, he stepped out of the car and walked over to her. He squatted in front of her and gently lifted her head.

“Hey there,” he said.

She looked at him through black eyes.

“Anyone in there?” he asked.

She stared at him.

“Where are you going?” he asked.


“Yeah, don’t you have a direction?”

“Nope, just going,” Khirijan said.

“We need to get you out of this rain,” Wild Willie said. “Come on.” He helped her up, threw her duffel bag into the back seat of the Cadillac, and settled her into the passenger seat. He found a blanket in the trunk to wrap around her and turned the heat up. As he drove down the highway, he looked over at her. How does someone end up in a rainstorm along a desolate highway between Bayou Gauche and Paradis?

He watched her sleep, driving through the dead of night.

In the morning, with the sun behind them, he pulled into a small roadside café. She woke up, glaring at him. He smiled his devil’s smile.

“Good morning,” he said.

“What?” she asked. “Who the hell are you?”

“Name’s Wild Willie. Nice to meet you,” he said, holding out his hand.

She held out her hand reluctantly. “Nice to meet you, I guess.”

“You’ve been sleeping for twelve hours. Must’ve been exhausted.”

She tried to shake the cobwebs out of her head. “Where are we?” she asked.

“Ozona,” he said.

“Ozona? Where the fuck is Ozona?”

“Good question,” he said, laughing. “Where, indeed. All I can tell you is that it’s somewhere between where we began and where we’re going.”

“And where’s that?” she asked.

“I’m going to Las Vegas. You’re welcome to come along. It seems to me that anywhere is better than where you’ve been.”

She nodded.

“Come on, time for some breakfast. You look hungry.”

She stretched and ran her head through her tangled hair. “God, I must look like a fuckin’ mess.”

“A sight for sore eyes,” he said.

“I have to pee,” she said.

“Well, then, let’s go. Must be a restroom in the café.”

He slid out of the Cadillac and went to help her out. She took his hand and stepped outside. Smiling into the sunshine, she grabbed hold of his arm as they walked across the parking lot to the café. Inside, they slid into a booth that looked out onto the parking lot. He stared at her and when she looked up she turned away embarrassed.

“I must look like a fuckin’ mess,” she said. “Besides, I gotta pee.”

She stood up and looked around. She asked the waitress for directions and looked back at Wild Willie smiling at her from the booth, turning quickly and walking away, thinking what the fuck am I doing here?

The waitress asked Wild Willie if he’d like coffee.

“Yes,” he said holding up two fingers.

He studied the menu, although he already knew what he wanted. The waitress brought the coffee and he smiled up at her. She didn’t give a damn, he thought. But the coffee was hot. He held it to his lips, looking through the streaked window out into the bright parking lot. The place was quiet. Sunday. It’d probably fill up later.

Khirijan slipped into the booth across from him, her hair a tangled nest.

“Feel better?”

“Not really. But at least I don’t have to pee anymore.” She picked up the cup in front of her and held it unsteadily to her lips, blowing steam into her face. She sipped the coffee and set the cup down, looking across at Wild Willie.

“I never got your name,” he said.

She hesitated, not because she didn’t trust Wild Willie but rather because her name didn’t come to her right away. She rummaged through her memory looking for it. Hmm…what is it? Who am I?

“They call me Queen Romani.” Yes, Queen Romani. Not Khirijan. She was left behind.

“All right then, Queen Romani, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said. “And they, I assume, are friends and family? Husband maybe?”

“Sure,” she said. “Friends and family, no husband.”

“You hungry?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said. “Can’t remember the last time I ate.”

“How in the hell did you end up along the road between Bayou Gauche and Paradis?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. All I remember is leaving New Orleans. And I walked until I couldn’t walk anymore. I walked all night until I collapsed by the side of the road.”

“Why were you in such a rush to leave?” he asked.

The waitress came to take their orders. Wild Willie waited for Khirijan. She looked up at the waitress, unsure of how she needed to respond.

“Do you need more time?” the waitress asked.

“No. I’m not sure. What?” Khirijan said, flustered. She looked down at the menu and ordered eggs.

“Two eggs? One egg? How do you want them? With meat? Hashbrowns? Grits?”

“God no, no grits,” she said. “Eggs, over easy, two of them, and toast, rye, hashbrowns, yes, that’s it.”

The waitress looked at Wild Willie. He stared across at Khirijan, thinking he might be falling in love. The waitress tapped her pencil against the pad.

“Oh, sorry,” he said and looked down at the menu. “I had it a minute ago. Hmm…let’s see, I think I’ll have the biscuits and gravy.” He held out the menu to the waitress and smiled. Ignoring his smile she took the menu and stared down at Khirijan, who sat looking out the window. Wild Willie reached across for her menu and handed it to the waitress. She spun around and left.

Wild Willie sipped his coffee staring across at Khirijan. She hadn’t answered his question. But maybe she couldn’t. Maybe there wasn’t a reason. He’d felt this way lots of times. No reason. Even when he found a reason, afterward it never made much sense. So, now, he just acted. Fuck having a reason. Just confused everything.

He was curious, however. She was young and beautiful. A gypsy. Black hair and eyes. What was behind those black eyes?

“Queen Romani, interesting name,” he said. She didn’t look at him, just continued to stare out the window. He looked over the rim of his cup at her.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

She turned to him. “Thinking?”

“Yeah, what’s going through that mind of yours?”

She turned back to the window. “Where’d you say you were headed?”

“Las Vegas,” he said. “Had enough of Gulfport. Enough of the boats. Fed up, need to see some new scenery. Heard Las Vegas was far from any ocean. You ever been to Vegas?”

She looked across at him, not sure what he’d just said.

“Las Vegas. You ever been to Las Vegas?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Never been out of the bugs and swamp of New Orleans. Leastways, not since I left my momma’s belly.”

“What did you do there?”

“My mother was a fortune teller, a real seer. I watched her. Studied her real hard. Scary what she saw. Scared hell out of me. Scarier what she did with her powers though. She sat on the right-hand side of the devil. Her gaze followed his. I swear, wherever his gaze drifted, hers followed.

“She came from Ukraine. Escaped during the war. Escaped the fuckin’ Nazis. Hungry and pregnant with me. How she ended up in the swamps of New Orleans I’ll never know. But she met a Cajun, my step-father. I guess he was. Not sure if they ever got married. A real bastard. No principles. A liar and thief, but he could swoon the ladies. A real looker. Fast and hard and careless. Devil-may-care, if you know what I mean? Kind of like you.”

“Whoa,” Wild Willie said. “Devil-may-care? Don’t know if that’s fair. I try to do the right thing, whenever it don’t get me into trouble.”

“Yeah, well, doing the right thing ain’t always so smart. Besides, how do you even know what that is? The right thing?”

“I guess you don’t,” he said. “You have to trust your gut.”

“Yeah, well my gut is telling me it’s hungry,” she said and laughed.

“Mine too,” he said.

The waitress came with their plates of food and before she could set them down, Wild Willie asked for more coffee. Without acknowledging Wild Willie, she set the plates down, turned on her heels, and was back with the coffee pot to fill their cups before they’d even noticed she’d left.

Wild Willie needed coffee, his eyes weary from driving all night. He wanted to stop, rest, pull up somewhere for a few hours. But he didn’t want to give Queen Romani the wrong impression. Sure, he could fall in love with her. In a heartbeat. But they still had a full day’s drive ahead of them. Coffee and speed, he’d be all right. Still, she was beautiful, and he’d not always acted with the best of intentions. This time, he would try to do the honorable thing.

“So, what’re your plans?” he asked.

“Plans?” She seemed confused. What were her plans? She didn’t have any plans when she snuck out of New Orleans in the dead of night. She just needed to get away, from the sorcery, the darkness, away from things she never wanted to see again, from having to take on the suffering of everyone around her. It wasn’t fair. She never asked to see these things, she never asked to be the sponge for everyone else’s pain. Her own mother didn’t even know what Khirijan saw, what horrors she felt. There must be a way to turn these powers away from the dark and toward the light?

“Don’t have any plans,” she said finally. “Not a one. Never thought I’d need them, I guess.”

“Well, you’re more than welcome to tag along with me for as long as you’d like. Who knows, you might even like Las Vegas. A lot going on there, I hear. A city that’s wide open for new blood. We’ll take it by storm. What’cha think?”

“I guess it don’t matter a whole lot what I think since I don’t have any plans anyway. Sure, why not. New blood. Sounds kinda nice.”

“Perfect,” he said and raised his cup. She smiled. Her beautiful gypsy smile that went straight to his heart.

Back on the road, he felt a renewed energy, full of coffee and speed. The road stretched out in front of them like a ribbon. A blue ribbon, the kind he used to see tied neatly around Christmas presents. Christmas. It’s always Christmas in Vegas, he thought. Always.

She relaxed, leaning back, staring out the window. All of this was new and exciting. She didn’t want to think about anything, just enjoy the moment. Besides, there was nothing ominous about Wild Willie. She saw things in people, dark things, so dark and angry that she could never relax.

She thought about Rico, telling Wild Willie how she had wanted to love Rico, wanted to allow him to love her. She desired it with all her heart. And then came the dark cloud. She saw it settle over him, swallow him up. Every time she looked at him, she saw pain and despair. Only when they were deep into sex did the black cloud lift. An hour, maybe less, but it was exhilarating to have that time away from seeing. Away from dark clouds. Afterward, however, the dark cloud would settle back over him, darker than before.

She looked over at Wild Willie, dazed and bleary-eyed. Had he been listening? He seemed to be peering through a thick pea-soup fog, trying desperately to see the road in front of them. She worried about him. But what struck her at that moment was the absence of an aura around Wild Willie, no dark clouds.

“Hey there, Wild Willie, you okay?” she asked.

He turned toward her. “What? You mean to drive? Sure I’m okay. We’re still on the road, ain’t we?”

“Yeah, we’re still on the road but you look like you’re having a little trouble seeing.”

He smiled at her. “Can’t say I’ve had a lot of sleep in the past couple of days. Maybe could use a couple of hours of shuteye.”

“You want me to drive for a while?” she asked.

“Can you drive?”

“Why not? I’m old enough,” she said.

“I wasn’t worried about how old you were, just wondering if you’d ever drove before?”

“I might of grown up in the swamps, but there were cars. Not many, but a few. And I learned to drive.”

Wild Willie pulled over and stepped out of the Cadillac and Queen Romani slid across the wide seat and reached for the steering wheel, bigger around than a barrel, looking far down the hood to the twin blades that cut the air like sharp knives.

“How in the hell can you see where you’re going?” she asked.

Wild Willie, eyes already closed, head leaning into the seat, smiled. “You’ll figure it out.”

Khirijan pulled the long red boat out onto the highway, pointing the bow toward the West, away from the stink of rotting fish and seagull shit.

Inside the long, red Cadillac, Khirijan and Wild Willie left Ozona, Texas behind, moving easily toward their next destination. The miles clicked behind them, Queen Romani in charge of the ship’s wheel, never looking in the rearview mirror. Where she was going didn’t matter any more than where she’d been. She didn’t care, simply trying to find grace in the turmoil, trying to pretend she had found meaning where there was none. She wanted to live. Be a part of something. Even more than that, she wanted to find love. Love is a different thing altogether. It awakens the soul. Spicy hot. She needed it. Scorching hot. Sweat pouring off her forehead, love that would take her breath away. Breathless and broken, once in a while put together, then slipped, in the dead of night, from beneath the black cloud.

Wild Willie snorted, slapping at imaginary bugs tickling his nose. Queen Romani laughed out loud, thinking Wild Willie just discovered he’d been thrown into a deep, dark dungeon. Fuckin’ pirate. Got what you deserved, she thought.

Balance. It must exist. Through chaos, the universe sought its balance, as water seeks its own level.

The towns clicked by. Five hours, Wild Willie still asleep, Queen Romani, feeling a bite in her stomach and needing to pee, pulled off the highway along the Rio Bravo del Norte into dusty Esperanza, looking for a café. When she pulled into the parking lot of a small roadside café, Wild Willie, rubbing the dead from his eyes, looked over at Queen Romani.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

She stepped out of the car without answering and walked quickly inside, looking around for the restroom. Wild Willie opened the passenger door and stepped out into the bright sunlight, stretched, and wobbly from sitting too long followed behind her. Inside the entrance, he hesitated, trying to get his bearings. A waitress told him to sit anywhere he liked, so he walked to a booth that looked out onto the parking lot, and slid in facing the entrance. He was admiring the red Cadillac when Queen Romani slid into the booth across from him.

“Have a good pee?” he asked.

“Marvelous,” she said. “You should try it.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said and slid out of the booth and leaned over to Queen Romani to ask her where it was. She nodded toward the entrance. He looked toward the entrance and then back down at her. “That’s a rather vague description. Wouldn’t mind being a little more specific, would you?”

She nodded even more emphatically toward the entrance as if to say, if you go in that direction, you can’t miss it.

“Lose your voice, did you?” he asked.

She shook her head, “No, but what the fuck, Wild Willie. How many places d’ya think they could hide the goddamned bathroom? It isn’t a contest. They want you to find it.”

“All right, all right, I get your point, but I haven’t heard more than two words out of you since we left Texas.”

“I hate to break it to you, we’re still in Texas.”

“You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me,” he said. “How big is this fuckin’ state?”

“Go pee, I’m hungry,” she said.

“Order me a burger,” he said, still leaning in toward her.

“What kind of burger?”

“What d’ya mean, what kind of burger? How many kinds of burgers are there? A fuckin’ burger on a bun with the works.”

“The works? What in hell are the works?”

“You know, tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles, mustard, the works,” he said. “Where you been all your life?”

“The swamp, remember? Ain’t no fuckin’ burgers in the swamp. And sure as hell ain’t no works.”

He laughed and walked away. She sat staring out the window, shielding her eyes from the glare through the dirty window. Hoping to get away from the glare, she moved to the other side of the booth, facing the entrance. When Wild Willie returned, noticing she’d switched places, he wondered what this meant. Was this an invitation to sit down next to her? Probably not, but he took it as an opening and slid in next to her. She scooted over to give him room.

“What the fuck?” she asked looking hard at him.

“What? Am I crowding you?”

“Not really, but there’s a whole other side to this booth. Why not utilize it?” she asked.

“Maybe I like the view from here,” he said.

“What view? This is fuckin’ Texas, every view is like every other view. If you see something I missed, let me know, okay?”

“I mean I kinda like the intimacy,” he said.

“Intimacy? You’re kidding, right? There ain’t no intimacy here. Ain’t no intimacy anywhere as far as I can see,” she said.

“Life without intimacy is a dreary, lonely place,” Wild Willie said.

“Life with intimacy is a dreary, lonely place,” she said.

“Someone musta hurt you awful bad.”

“Nope, never been hurt. Don’t intend to be hurt either. I see things, remember?” she said.

“But do you feel things?”

“Sure, I feel things, but I’m smart, ain’t gonna allow myself any heartache,” she said.

“Without heartache, you’ve never lived,” he said. “It’s what life’s all about. Heartache.”

“Can’t see how it’d do me any good,” she said.

“That’s because you’ve never been in love. You should allow yourself that, at least. Love. Life is an empty vase without love.”

“An empty vase? Shit, Wild Willie, you some kind of poet? Life ain’t a vase, it’s a stain on the wall.”

“No, here you’re wrong, dead wrong. You need to open up your heart a little.”

Before she could respond, the waitress stood glaring down at them. Khirijan thought, lovely, a sweetheart, someone you’d really enjoy getting to know. She’d seen them her whole life, miserable wretches who wanted you to give them something to believe in, some kind of sign, some hope. She had run out of hope to give. Could she help it if all she saw hanging over them were dark clouds?

Wild Willie ordered a burger with the works and the fact that the waitress didn’t ask what in the hell the works were amazed Queen Romani, so much so that she laughed out loud. Wild Willie looked at her.

“What?” she said. Wild Willie just shook his head. “What the hell, let me try one of those burgers – with the works.”

The waitress disappeared as fast as she’d appeared and Queen Romani wondered if this was some kind of dream, some crazy, wild dream. She looked at Wild Willie who was staring back at her. At least, they had got off the subject of love and, what was it, vases? Why were they talking about vases? She caught herself before she asked Wild Willie. She didn’t want to open up that conversation again.

“So, how long do you think it’ll be before we get to Las Vegas?” she asked.

“Could be ten hours, could be twenty. Since I have no idea where we are, how in hell would I know?”

“Well, you gotta have some idea where we are?” she asked.

“I was asleep, remember? You were the one doing the driving? Hell, I don’t even know if we’re headed in the right direction?”

“I kept the ship pointed in the right direction, Captain. Straight as an arrow, heading right into the dying sun,” she said.

When the waitress returned with their burgers, Wild Willie asked her if she knew how far it was to Las Vegas.

“You headed to Vegas?” the waitress asked. Queen Romani swallowed a laugh, thinking, what the fuck, why else would we ask?

“Do you got an extra seat?” the waitress asked. “Need to get out of here bad. Know what I mean?”

Wild Willie looked at her, unsure how to respond. “Sure, we gotta big boat. Always room for another passenger.”

“I wish,” the waitress said.

“Why not?” Queen Romani asked. “You got somethin’ holding you here? You on probation or something?”

“Nothing like that, just a family, you know, a slob of a husband and a bunch of ungrateful kids. Life, you know. Yeah, life,” she said, looking out the window.

“They need you?” Queen Romani asked.

“Need me? Nah, no one needs anyone else,” she said.

“Not true, not true at all, we all need someone,” Wild Willie said. The waitress and Queen Romani both looked at him as if he were a singing seal in a circus.

“What?” he said. “Are you both aliens? Are your hearts so cold that you don’t feel the pull of love? Passion. What about passion? Nothing? You have nothing in your hearts? Sad, so damn sad.”

The waitress hesitated, as if it were possible, thinking, why not? Why the hell not? The job, her life, all of it sucked. And why not? But the little voice in the back of her head was screaming, are you fuckin’ crazy? Las Vegas?

The waitress looked away from the window and down at Wild Willie. “Tempting, very tempting, but, you know, I’ve got responsibilities.”

“What about the responsibility to yourself?” he asked.

“Hell, I haven’t thought about myself in twenty years. Maybe longer.”

“Never too late,” he said.

“You’re wrong there, it is too late, it is way too late,” she said and turned and walked away.

“Hey,” Wild Willie called after her, “What about Las Vegas? How far away is it?”

She stopped and turned back toward them, “It’s in another galaxy far, far away.”

Wild Willie laughed and turned back to Queen Romani. “There you have it, it is far, far away. Guess we’ll have to refit the ship with rocket boosters.”

Queen Romani shook her head and leaned into her burger. “Fuck, this thing is half a cow,” she said.

“Don’t forget to eat your french fries. You need your vegetables.”

Queen Romani looked over at Wild Willie and shook her head, trying to get her mouth around the burger.

After Wild Willie paid the bill, they walked out into the sunshine. They were in no hurry to get back into the red Cadillac. Who knows what lay ahead of them, how many more miles they needed to travel.

“Do you feel like a walk along the river?” Wild Willie asked.

“Why not?” she said. But she wasn’t sure. While she saw no dark cloud hanging over Wild Willie, the fact that she didn’t, didn’t see anything, bothered her. There was always a black cloud. Maybe she looked for it. Rico always told her that the evil she saw brewed inside her. She resisted this like a cold wind, like the quiet days before hurricane season. Whenever she let her guard down, whenever she began to feel hope, he was sure to come home drunk, dragging her around by her hair, kicking in her ribs, calling her a gypsy dog. She’d let her guard down the last time, vowing never again, and with broken ribs and a bloodied mouth, she left, crawling home to her mother’s hut in the swamps. She swore to herself she’d never allow this to happen to her again. She would kill the next man who laid a hand on her.

They walked to where they found a path along the Rio Bravo del Norte, running brown and ugly. Wild Willie turned to Queen Romani, reaching down to grab her by the shoulders. Holding her between his hands, he was startled by how small she was. She tensed under his touch.

“You need to learn to relax,” he said.

“Relax? Easy for you, not easy for me,” she said.

“Listen, I’m not Rico,” he said.

“Who cares? It doesn’t matter,” she said.

“I disagree, I think it matters a lot.”

“What is going on in that mind of yours? What are you thinking?”

“Thinking? Nothing really, just taking in the moment,” he said.

“Do you wanna fuck me? Is that what’s going on in that sleazy mind of yours?” she asked.

Stunned, Wild Willie pulled away. “Where did that come from?” he asked, wondering if those thoughts were going through his mind.

“You’re a man, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m a man, but not like every man,” he said.

“Every man is like every man,” she said.

Wild Willie turned away from Queen Romani and stormed up the hill toward the parking lot. Queen Romani watched him walk away, sensing his rage and fury, wondering if he would leave without her.

When he got to the red Cadillac, Wild Willie jerked open the door, sat down hard, and slammed his hands against the steering wheel. What gave her the right to judge him?

He stared out the windshield, blinded by the glare of the sun. Unable to settle his nerves, he got out and walked back to the café. Inside, the waitress, noticing him walk through the front door, asked if he’d forgotten something.

“No, not really. Just wondering if you have a road map.”

“Where’d you say you came from?” she asked.

“Gulfport,” he said. “Mississippi.”

“You came all this way from Mississippi without a road map?”

“Well, yeah, I guess,” he said.

“What were you thinking? Las Vegas was going to beam out radar signals to guide you in like an airplane?” she asked.

He looked at her, asking himself, what was he thinking? He hadn’t really thought about it much at all. He guessed if he headed west, the route would come to him. Now, however, unsure of where he was, he thought it would be helpful to have a road map to consult.

“Not exactly,” he said. “But I guess I hadn’t thought it through very well. A roadmap would come in handy.”

“Sorry, we don’t have one here, but there is a filling station down the road a piece that would probably have one,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said. “You know, you’re still welcome to come along.”

“Well, yeah, I appreciate the offer, but, you know how it is, I’m kinda stuck here right now. But thanks anyway. I’ll look you up if I’m ever in Las Vegas.”

“You do that,” he said.

When he stepped outside, he saw Queen Romani leaned up against the hood of the red Cadillac.

“I’m glad to see you,” he said as he approached the car.

She walked up to him and held out her hand. “I’m sorry about what I said. You didn’t deserve that.”

Wild Willie shook her hand. “Well, I appreciate that, thank you. Now, why don’t you get in and let’s light a fire under this rocket? We got some miles to put behind us.”

“Yes, we’ve got some miles to put behind us,” she said.

Before he let go of her hand, however, Wild Willie looked deep into her black gypsy eyes. He could fall in love with her. But that would have to wait. For now, his destination was Las Vegas.

They drove into the setting sun, and Queen Romani kept looking over at Wild Willie to make sure he was awake. She worried that exhaustion would overtake him.

“You doing okay, Wild Willie?” she asked from time to time. He simply smiled and gave her a wink.

The headlamps of the red Cadillac cut through the long dark night, Wild Willie whistling to the radio. Queen Romani drifted off but never slept soundly, waking up often to check on Wild Willie, and then staring out into the darkness. When they stopped for gas, she got out, looking up into the deep night, here in the wildness of Arizona feeling as if she were in the middle of the universe. And she was. With no beginning and no end, everywhere was in the middle of the universe.

Wild Willie asked her if she needed anything and she smiled and wrapped her arms around herself.

“Love, yeah, love, that’s what I need,” she said.

Wild Willie looked at her, the wild gypsy dancing beneath the stars. What was happening? Love. A funny notion. Something that had always eluded him. Maybe it had come – finally.

The air was warm in the Arizona desert. Wild Willie held the road map under the light of the station canopy. From what he could determine, they had roughly four more hours to Phoenix and from there another five hours to Las Vegas. They were getting close.

Queen Romani moved close to peek over Wild Willie’s shoulder, her hot breath arousing joy in his heart. The world opened up in front of them, and he turned to look deeply into her black eyes in the overhead lights. “We’re going to take that place by storm.”

“Las Vegas?” she asked.

“Any place, any place we land, it’s ours,” he said. And she believed him. Why she wasn’t sure, but she believed him.

“How much further?” she asked.

“Not far now, a straight shot through the stars,” he said. She smiled up at him, and thought, yes, a straight shot through the stars. No matter what direction you went, it was always a straight shot. That’s all she’d ever wanted, a straight shot. Her mother never knew how to give her that, wrapped up so tightly in her omens and prophecies. What did she really see? Khirijan never knew. She asked, not out loud, but with pleading eyes. She asked, but her mother never had an answer. Steeped in her prophecies, she never had a moment to say, I understand, daughter. It’ll be all right. I understand.

“It really is a straight shot, isn’t it?” she asked.

“It is, it is a straight shot,” he said.

Through the dark night they moved farther away from the stink of rotting fish and voodoo magic. They accepted their fate, side by side in the long red Cadillac.

In the first light of morning, they cruised through Phoenix, stopping only for gas. Wild Willie was inspired by the prospects that lay ahead for both of them. Around noon, they were getting close to Las Vegas, moving steadily up the desolate highway, surrounded by nothing but scrub and mesquite trees.

He looked over at Khirijan, quiet and staring out the window at the emptiness of the vast desert.

“What d’ya think?” he asked.

She turned toward Wild Willie. “As far back as I can remember, everything pressed in on me. There never seemed to be anywhere I could go to escape the noise and dreams and the uproar of life.”

“Do you think about that life?” he asked.

“Do I think about my past? Nah, I don’t think about it except to feel this sudden surge of freedom. My mother saw things, she saw things in tea leaves, in crystal balls, in tarot cards, in the eyes of marked men. It wasn’t about the tricks, the cards or tea leaves or crystal balls, it wasn’t about any of those things, it was what she saw in their eyes that gave them away. She had this amazing ability to see the future. To see the tragic ends to things. But she withheld this truth from them. Her livelihood depended on them coming back. You aren’t going to get many repeat visitors if you tell them that they’re doomed. They’ll seek advice somewhere else. So, she kept the truth from them. But she always told me that it didn’t matter, none of it mattered, it wouldn’t change anything. Their behavior never changed, even if they knew they were going to die next month or next year or even tomorrow. They would go on lying to themselves. People get through life by lying to themselves.”

“Did she ever read your future?” he asked.

“Yes, but she lied to me just like she lied to all the rest of them,” she said. “I’m no different than anyone else, I can’t handle my own fate.”

“But what if you were one of the lucky ones, one of them who is going to live and prosper for a long, long time?”

“None of us live a long, long time. If we live to be eighty, we want to live to be eighty-one. If we live to be a hundred, we fear that we might not live to see a hundred and one. Our egos fight for every breath. The sad thing is that every breath is wasted. Expelled. Spit out in disgust. Hoping the next breath will give us life.”

“And you? What is your gift?”

“My gift? I haven’t any gift,” she said.

“But you see things?”

“Sure, I see things. Everyone sees things. Not many people believe what they see. They pass over it like it’s some kind of illusion, a mirage shimmering on the distant horizon. I’m only different because I never saw it as an illusion. What I saw I knew was real. I can’t explain it exactly. But there is an aura around everyone. In this aura is a truth. Some people have a good aura, a positive energy. Some people have a bad aura, negative energy. It’s all about these energy fields. Animals always see these auras. That’s why dogs behave differently around different people. They know. So do we, but we have lost our ability to see. We’ve ignored these energy fields for so long that we don’t recognize them anymore. Most people don’t. I still see them.”

Wild Willie stared at Queen Romani as she turned away to once again look out the window. He wondered if she could help him. He was running out of chances, he needed his luck to change, or else he’d be back in the stink of the Gulf. Las Vegas offered a new beginning. Maybe Queen Romani could give him a chance.

In the fierce sunlight, squinting through his sunglasses, Las Vegas wavered on the horizon like a mirage. They drove into Paradise, past the Flamingo Resort and Casino, Wild Willie filled with an enthusiasm he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Look at it, Queen Romani,” he said. “Just look. This is it, this is where we hit it big.”

Khirijan wasn’t impressed and stared over at Wild Willie in amazement. What could he possibly see in this city of dust and fake sparkle? Wild Willie continued down Highway 91 into downtown Las Vegas, turning onto Fremont Street, the hub of Las Vegas. He pulled into the parking lot of the Fremont Hotel and Casino, looking over at Queen Romani, hoping to see the same expression of awe cross her face. But she only looked away. He reached over and she turned to him, her black gypsy eyes piercing his heart.

“Are you ready for this?” he asked.

“Ready? For this?” Khirijan shook her head. “Listen, Wild Willie, you have been kind, you have brought me along on your wild adventure, and for this I am thankful. But I’m not sure about any of this. I can’t promise you anything, okay?”

“Sure, I understand,” he said. “But we’re here, let’s go inside and take a look around. Want to?”

She smiled and nodded. “Sure, let’s go inside and take a look.”

Wild Willie jumped out of the car and hustled around to open the passenger door for Queen Romani. “Your Highness,” he said with a sweep of his arm. “After you.”

Khirijan curtsied and smiled. “Delighted, your Majesty. Let’s see how the peasants live, shall we?”

They walked boldly into the Fremont Hotel and Casino, immediately swept up in the blur of lights and noise. Khirijan was overwhelmed by the noise and cigarette smoke, while Wild Willie was caught up in the smell of fear and sweat. He looked around in amazement, not knowing where to begin. He looked at Queen Romani, who stood paralyzed by the commotion.

“Well, what d’ya think?” he asked.

She was too startled to answer, just stood there shaking her head.

“Come on, let’s take a look around,” he said taking her by the arm.

They walked in a large circle, Khirijan’s head spinning in the confusion. Wild Willie stopped from time to time to let Queen Romani catch her breath.

“I think this is our ticket, Queen Romani,” he said. “Let’s do our thing, want to?”

“Our thing?” she asked. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Let your magic guide us,” he said. “What are you feeling?”

“Disoriented,” she said. “Confused. I feel a headache coming on.”

“Ahh, give it a chance,” he said. “You’ll settle in.”

Khirijan wanted to leave, go lie down somewhere, it didn’t matter where, she just needed to get away. But Wild Willie had been so good to her, she felt a strong urge to repay him. But how? The energy here was too much for her. She reached for his sleeve and he turned toward her. He could tell she was in some distress.

“I tell you what, why don’t we get checked in so you can rest up a little. We’ve had a long trip, and neither one of us has had enough sleep. Come on,” he said and led her to the hotel lobby.

Once they were upstairs in their room, she felt a sense of relief. Wild Willie threw his bag onto the bed and began to unpack while Khirijan took her small duffel bag into the bathroom. She didn’t have much, but she hoped a hot shower and a change of clothes might make her feel better. After turning on the hot water in the shower, she looked at herself in the mirror. Where was she?  Before she undressed, she locked the door. The shower felt good, the hot water taking off the dust and stink of the road. She wondered what would come next. For a seer, her vision had become clouded. As much as she was enjoying the heat and steam of the hot shower, she realized that Wild Willie was waiting. She stepped out and wiped the steam off the mirror. Standing in front of the mirror to dry her hair, she realized she didn’t even have a hairbrush. Once dry, running her fingers through her tangled hair, she slipped into clean jeans and pullover, stuffing her dirty clothes inside the duffel bag, and stepped out into the hotel room.

Wild Willie turned to look at her. Stunned by her beauty, he fought the urge to go to her.

“Feel better?” he asked.

Khirijan nodded and sat down on the bed to put on her flats. Things had become awkward between them. Wild Willie wanted to loosen things up, get her to relax a little. Rubbing his hands together, he asked her if she was hungry.

She looked up at him, realizing suddenly that she was.

“Why don’t we go down and get something to eat. Afterward, we can do a little gambling?” he said.

She nodded and stood up, looking around the room as if she’d misplaced something. Everything she owned she was either wearing or was stuffed into her small duffel bag. Sad, she thought. But she was out of New Orleans and away from the black magic.

“After you,” she said.

They went to the elevator and down the twelve floors and into the restaurant. Wild Willie could barely contain his excitement, hoping that some of his enthusiasm would rub off on Queen Romani. She was subdued, which worried him. He’d hoped that she’d feel something, see something, sense a little of this energy she’d told him about. He needed an edge. This was uncharted territory for him, and he’d feel more secure if she chose to join him on this journey.

When the food came, they both ate in silence. Wild Willie looked over at her often, hoping she would relax. Once they were in the middle of the action in the casino, she would loosen up. Sure she would, he kept telling himself.

“How’s the food?” he asked.

She looked up and nodded, still wondering how she got here.

“I think you are under the impression that I have some power to see the future,” she said. “Listen, Wild Willie, I don’t have any special powers. I see energy fields, that’s all. I don’t know how that is going to help you.”

“Don’t you see,” he said, “once we get back to the casino, you just need to do your thing, pick out the dealers who have that black cloud hanging over their heads. See, that’s our advantage. You don’t have to know what card is coming next, just let me know the dealers who are struggling a little bit, you know, the ones who aren’t quite in sync with the cards. I’ll do the rest.”

She wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but she was willing to give it a try. She owed him this much.

After they finished their meal, they went straight to the Blackjack tables. This is where Wild Willie felt most comfortable. She looked at each dealer, hoping to see something, but the blur of lights and the thick cigarette smoke confused her. She focused harder. Maybe she was trying too hard, so she tried to relax.

Wild Willie sensed her struggles and asked if she’d like something to drink. She shook her head and turned her focus back to the tables. They walked slowly from one table to the next. Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks. The dealer, busy dealing cards to four players at the table, was half-hidden behind a thick black cloud. She jerked on Wild Willie’s sleeve, turning him aside.

“There, that one,” she said indicating the dealer at the table in front of them.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said.

Wild Willie hurried to the cashier’s, bought a hundred dollars in chips, and hustled back to the Blackjack table. He sat to the dealer’s left, first base. The other players at the table studied him, as he placed a two-dollar bet. He was dealt a queen, thinking, perfect. And then an Ace. Blackjack, right out of the chute. Again he put down two one-dollar chips. He was dealt a king. The dealer dealt to the rest of the players, and then back to Wild Willie. A queen. Another winner.

Khirijan didn’t understand the game, but Wild Willie was stacking more chips, which she assumed was good. He looked over at her and winked. Anxious and unsettled she wandered around the casino, trying to escape the lights and noise and thick cigarette smoke, while Wild Willie continued to win.

After doubling his money, and with a change in dealers, Wild Willie left the table to find Queen Romani. She was sitting in the hotel lobby. He approached her slowly, she seemed so far away. He understood she didn’t want to be here, not in the casino, maybe not with him. He had been selfish and wondered how he could make it up to her. When he found her on the side of the road, she looked as if she’d been dragged through the mud of life. It had broken his heart. And now, seeing her this way, broke his heart again.

“Hello,” he said. She looked up at him with her black gypsy eyes.

“How did you do?” she asked.

He smiled at her and nodded. “I don’t know how you did it, but you certainly picked out a good table for me. I won over a hundred dollars. And it’s just the beginning.”

“I’m not sure I did anything at all,” she said. Looking at him made her uneasy and she turned away. He touched her shoulder and she turned back to look at him. He wanted her to respond to his touch, wanted to believe that his touch did something to her, made her quiver as he quivered whenever she touched him. But he didn’t feel any response at all.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m just worn out, I think,” she said. “All this noise and commotion is hard for me to take. I might go up and rest for a while.”

“Sure, I understand,” he said and handed her the key to the room. “I’m going to stay down here a while and check out some of the other tables.”

“Good luck,” she said and stood up and walked to the elevator.

Wild Willie went back into the casino and sat down in front of a slot machine. When a waitress came by he ordered a whiskey. He put a nickel in the machine and pulled the lever, sending the reels spinning. When they came to rest, there was no payout. He put in another nickel and pulled the lever. Again, no payout. He sipped his whiskey, thinking that there was no future in slot machines. He wondered if Queen Romani might get a feel for a machine like she did with the Blackjack dealer? Did machines have energy fields? He guessed they did. He would ask her when she came down. Or when he went up.

He took his glass and walked back to the Blackjack tables, studying the dealers, trying to pick up their energy. But he didn’t feel or see anything. Obviously, he didn’t have Queen Romani’s gift. But maybe he had his own gifts. Maybe he was a gifted Blackjack player. What if it wasn’t Queen Romani’s gift at discerning negative energy at all? What if it was simply his skills at Blackjack?

He found a table and sat down, placing a two-dollar bet. The cards were dealt and he busted a fourteen. He placed another two-dollar bet and the dealer stood on a face card. He hit his fifteen and busted again. One more time, he told himself. And once more he busted. He gathered his chips and left.

When he got upstairs, he knocked lightly on the door and waited. He knocked louder until he heard her stir inside. She opened the door, her black eyes weary with sleep. She turned and moved trancelike back to the bed and folded herself up inside the comforter. The curtains were closed and the room was dark. He stood in the doorway, not knowing what to do or where to go. There was only one bed. As much as he wanted to lie down beside her, he wasn’t sure of their arrangement. They had never talked about it. Besides, he had lived too long inside his own hell. He’d had a few relationships, but they never went very far. There was always a point where he backed away. Tenderness wasn’t one of his stronger suits. In fact, he didn’t possess this trait at all, although he felt tenderness now toward Queen Romani. He wanted to comfort her. He wanted to wrap her up in his arms and take away all of her pain.

She didn’t move. He walked to the desk, pulled out the chair, turning it to face the bed, and sat down. He sat there, didn’t move, didn’t make a sound, just sat there. How long could he sit there?

Finally, unable to stand it any longer, he stood up and walked over to the bed and bent close to Queen Romani. She turned up to him and smiled. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Nothing, I’m just standing here,” he said.

“Why don’t you crawl in?” she said.

He didn’t say anything, just slipped in under the comforter without even taking off his shoes. He slid his arm around her waist and nuzzled his head against her back, listening to her breathing. Her steady breaths comforted him and he fell asleep. They slept through the long afternoon into the evening, never stirring until, just before midnight, Khirijan awoke with a start, a chill running through her like cold blood. Sitting up suddenly, she roused Wild Willie. Startled, he asked her what was wrong? She looked around the dark room, at first not knowing where she was. Finally, recognizing Wild Willie’s voice, she turned to him. He cradled her face between his hands.

“You’re all right, Babe,” he said to comfort her. “You just had a bad dream.”

She slid back down under the comforter. Before he even realized what he was doing, with his hands caressing her face, he reached over and kissed her, and she held onto his kiss. There in the dark, in the dead of night, they held each other closely, desperately. Even in the darkness inside the hotel room, Wild Willie could see the passion that flowed from Queen Romani’s black gypsy eyes. He pressed closer to her, giving over every ounce of himself. She slipped out of her sweater and jeans, and he did the same, and they moved closer together.

Before falling asleep, Wild Willie felt contentment unlike anything he’d ever felt before. Khirijan, too, felt a release, a lifting of a burden that she’d been carrying around with her for a long time. They slept until dawn.

In the slip of morning light that came through the slit in the curtains, Wild Willie strained to see her outline as she dressed. She didn’t seem real, more like an apparition, a ghost. He wanted her to be real. Once she was dressed, she went quietly into the bathroom, and he listened.

When she came out, he was sitting up in bed. She bent down and kissed him. He smiled.

“Hey, Babe, thanks,” he said.

“Thanks? For what?” she asked.

“For last night.”

“Sure,” she said.

While Wild Willie dressed, he looked at Queen Romani, “I don’t know about you, but I am ravenous.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” she said. She walked over to him, and wrapping her arm around his waist, she nudged him toward the door. He pulled up and kissed her.

Downstairs in the restaurant, they sat in silence, looking across the table at each other. When it became too awkward, Wild Willie looked around the empty room. At this early hour, even the casino was empty. Khirijan could sense Wild Willie’s anxiety.

“You’re dying to get to the tables, aren’t you, Willie?” she said.

He looked up from his plate. “You called me Willie,” he said.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but you’ve never called me that before. Come to think of it, you’ve never called me anything at all. I’ve felt kind of like a stranger, someone who just happened to wander into your life, someone who you believed wasn’t going to stay around long enough to get to know. Is that how you feel?”

Khirijan looked hard at Wild Willie, wondering if that was how she felt. No one stayed long in her life. Or maybe she never bothered staying long in anyone else’s life. Even her mother seemed to be a shadow. She never really got the chance to know her mother, so wrapped up in her fortune-telling. What about her? Who was she to her mother? Another future she saw in the tea leaves? At that moment, however, Khirijan felt close to Willie, a closeness she had a hard time putting words to.

She wanted to tell him, something, but she didn’t know what. His eyes pleaded with her. His eyes were begging her to say something. He wanted to be more to her than just the owner of a red 1957 Cadillac.

Khirijan remained silent. Wild Willie, unable to handle her silence any longer, shifted in his seat, pushed his plate away, and called for the waitress. At that moment, Khirijan felt utterly lost, the noise of her solitary existence crashing down around her. Wild Willie paid, stood up, and walked away, heading to the casino. Khirijan followed him with her eyes until he was out of sight.


With Khirijan’s abilities to see the black clouds that hovered above certain dealers, Wild Willie’s luck at the Blackjack tables continued, and he’d saved close to forty thousand dollars. As Khirijan continued to guide him to the right tables, her headaches grew more intense. She found herself pleading with Wild Willie, trying to explain that the noise and cigarette smoke were causing her unbearable distress. Wild Willie pleaded with her. “Just a few more weeks and we’ll have enough to begin a new life wherever you want.” In just a couple of weeks, he told her, they’d have over a hundred thousand dollars. “Imagine what we can do with a hundred thousand dollars,” he said.

The headaches were constant now and she couldn’t take any more. She felt like she was dying, she told him, she begged him. He could stay, but she couldn’t stay any longer. Not here. Not this life.

Wild Willie was starting to feel the pressure from the casino as well. His winnings had been noticed by management, and the dealers and pit bosses kept a close eye on him. They knew he was cheating but couldn’t figure out how. He felt their presence everywhere he went. He even tried the Golden Nugget, but they had been alerted and kept as close an eye on him as the dealers and pit bosses at the Fremont. He wondered about the casinos on the Strip, would they be different?

He knew Queen Romani was struggling and felt an urgency to push hard now before she left. He couldn’t afford for her to leave. Besides, he was in love with her and seeing her suffer tore at his heart. Couldn’t she see that he was doing this for her more than for himself? How could he make her see?

One day, over a week after they had arrived in Las Vegas, Wild Willie was winning big at a table she’d pointed out to him. He felt the charge of adrenaline coursing through his veins. He couldn’t lose. Even with a change in dealers, he continued to stack chips. He was beginning to believe that while Queen Romani assisted him in the beginning, it was his own skills now that were responsible for his earnings. Khirijan stayed on the periphery of the casino’s watchful eye, aware that they were keeping a close eye on Wild Willie.

But as her headaches intensified, she worried that she was becoming careless and that they would be discovered. She wasn’t sure what the casino could do to them, but she didn’t want to find out. No longer able to endure the pain, she walked to the lobby and found a chair away from the commotion. She sat there until even that became unbearable and went up to their room.

After losing five hands in a row, Wild Willie looked around for Queen Romani. She wasn’t there, so he racked his chips and stood to leave. One of the pit bosses blocked his path and Wild Willie glared at him.

“What’s your problem?” he asked.

The pit boss just glared back at Wild Willie. “Leaving already?” he asked.

“Yeah, you got a problem with that?”

“Yeah, I do,” the pit boss said.

“Well, that’s too fuckin’ bad,” Wild Willie said and brushed past the pit boss. He went straight to the cashier’s cage and cashed in his chips. Worried, he rushed upstairs. Inside the dark room, Wild Willie could just make out Queen Romani sitting in the corner, her head buried under a bath towel. He sat on the edge of the bed and reached over to touch her forearm. She didn’t react, so Wild Willie touched her knee, moving it from side to side, hoping this would bring a response from her. She pulled the towel off her head and looked at Wild Willie.

“Hi, Willie,” she said. “Still winning?”

“No,” he said. “How are you, Babe?”

“Not doing so good,” she said. “Not good at all.”

“Listen, Babe, I’ve been selfish, maybe we need to take a break for a while.”

She smiled at him and nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Where would you like to go?” he asked.

“Anywhere, doesn’t matter to me.”

Wild Willie hadn’t really thought about leaving Las Vegas, so he didn’t even know what else was in the area. Wondering how far California was, he asked her if she’d like to go there?

“California? That sounds nice. What’s in California?”

“Hmm…I’m not sure, but I know Disney Land is in California. What about going to Disney Land?”

“Disney Land? Never thought about going to Disney Land before. Sure, why not? Probably as good a place as any, right?”

“Probably,” he said. “Sure, that’s what we’ll do, we’ll go to Disney Land. Why don’t we get some sleep? You look beat.”

“I am beat,” she said. “Sleep sounds good.”


When Khirijan awoke the next morning, she looked around the empty hotel room. Wild Willie’s clothes were gone. The thought rushed through her mind that not only his clothes but Wild Willie was gone as well. She hurried out of bed, not understanding her panic. In the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror, a stranger staring back at her. She ran a hand through her tangle of hair and searched for her toothbrush, noticing that Wild Willie’s toothbrush was still sitting next to the sink. She relaxed. What the fuck was that all about? she thought. What the fuck?

She went downstairs and into the casino. Her stomach ached for food, but she knew that she’d find Wild Willie in the casino. The noise, even early in the morning, pressed in on her. She couldn’t take this anymore. She thought about going for breakfast until she realized she didn’t have any money. Wild Willie controlled that, all of it. She needed to take care of herself, she needed to ask him for her share. She deserved her cut. The headaches she endured, the late nights, the noise and bright lights, all of it was killing her. If Wild Willie wanted to kill himself inside this hell, that was his choice, she needed to protect herself.

Wild Willie was sitting alone at one of the Blackjack tables, looking dejected and forsaken. Khirijan walked over and touched his shoulder. He turned, his eyes bleary and red. He stared at her.

“We need to go, Willie,” she said.

“Go? Where?” he asked. “I packed. All of my clothes. Packed up everything and took it out to the car. But where? Where are we going?”

“It doesn’t matter. Anywhere. But we’ve got to get out of here. This is killin’ us.”

“It’s not enough, Babe, not enough. And I can’t leave while I’m losing. I need some of your magic. Where did you go, Babe?”

“Nowhere, I’m right here, but there isn’t any more magic. I can’t see through the fog of cigarette smoke. I’m dying here, Willie.”

He looked up at her, shaking his head, and looked back at his small stack of chips on the table. “I’ve lost over five thousand dollars tonight, just tonight, in one fuckin’ night. You got to help me, Babe.”

“The only way I can help you is to get you out of here. We got to go, Willie, got to get out of here. Come on.” Khirijan tried pulling Wild Willie to his feet, but he sat there, unable to move. His fatigue and despair ripped her heart in two. But deep down she knew, she knew he wasn’t going anywhere. He’d die here, in this harsh light blurred only by the fog of cigarette smoke, the sledgehammer pounding his brain to a pulp.

As Khirijan’s headaches became more intense and, more and more, she hid out in the hotel room, Wild Willie’s losses grew. As he drank more and his desperate pleas turned violent, Khirijan knew she had no choice.

In many ways, she owed Wild Willie her life, but she couldn’t stay, not this way. She had known for a long time that his gambling was his distorted way of reaching out for love, his desperate attempt to turn away from the world’s ugliness. How is it that you can sacrifice your soul for what your drunken mind believes to be your salvation? He was lost. And she, she had to leave.

There was no way to say goodbye.


As she flew down the winding canyon road, she thought of Wild Willie. Once she left Las Vegas, she lost track of him. She often wondered about him. Had he been able to pull himself out of the hell he’d put himself in? There was no doubt in her mind that he’d loved her, in the only way he knew how to love. Like his gambling, she was a mirage, a place that existed only in his dreams. In his fantasy, he was unbeatable. But that has always been the problem with fantasy, when it disappears, only the stain is left behind. She didn’t want to think of the stain of Wild Willie. He had a good heart, just damaged.

After everything, when she really stopped to look at it, she believed Wild Willie was dead. Instead of making her sad, thinking of Wild Willie as dead relieved some of the burden she’d carried around with her. In that small duffel bag. So small, yet so heavy. She’d dragged it around for years. Too many years to remember. Too many years to forget.

Worn out from a long night bagging and stacking blocks of dry ice, she pulled up in front of the Rio Grande Café. She walked inside and took a booth along the row of windows that looked out onto Main Street. She ordered coffee and picked up the menu, although she knew what she wanted. She always ordered the same thing. The menu took up a few minutes of her day. She didn’t have anywhere to go, no one to see, no plans. No plans. The skeleton of her existence.

On her way out of Las Vegas twenty years ago, a premonition shuddered through her body. She wanted to ignore it, but it was too real to ignore. Her mother was dead. Suddenly. Khirijan was only 19 years old, her mother barely forty. Dead. Didn’t make sense. But Khirijan never tried to get in touch with anyone back in New Orleans to confirm her premonition. She didn’t need to. Her mother had nothing to leave Khirijan. Only more heartache.

Khirijan had managed to hitchhike to this small town on the edge of the desert with the blue outline of mountains in the distance. She told herself that she would stop over here for a month or two, rest her weary body, save a little money, and then head across those mountains. She was still here, twenty years later, and the blue outline of mountains still there in the distance. It didn’t matter, there wasn’t anything different on the other side.

When her breakfast came, she shoveled down the eggs and toast and sipped her coffee, staring out at the empty street. Her whole life had consisted of smeared windows and broken dreams. Even in the glare of Las Vegas, she found only the emptiness inside a hotel room. She wished she could have been more help to Wild Willie, wished she could have loved him in the way he needed, but she couldn’t and thinking about it now didn’t change anything. Regrets only cause more suffering. She pushed her plate away and picked up her coffee cup. Regrets and runny eggs. And toast that tasted like yesterday’s bad idea.

Staring out the window, nothing seemed real. She still saw auras and tried to ignore them. Sometimes she could. One thing she’d realized in 39 years of being on this lonely planet was that auras didn’t tell the real story. And the people beneath the auras could change, could shape their futures differently, if they really wanted to. Not many of them did, and this is what left a bad taste in her mouth. And brought on the sadness. She was no different. Staring out into the empty street, she couldn’t think of one excuse. She’d made a promise to herself when she left Las Vegas twenty years ago, she’d leave all her regrets behind her. She didn’t. She only left Willie behind.


  1. Dear David,
    There is so much depth in all of your stories…you are a brilliant writer…a sacred traveling Bard/a Troubadour of times past..sharing stories full of disguised wisdom…straight from the heart…a heart that knows life and death too well…and the total helplessness/the total loss of all control that one feels when faced with the imminent death of a soul partner/lover/best friend …child/only son…someone very precious to us that we have surrendered our heart to…briefly or over years of shared history. 

    Sometimes there is no way to say goodbye…devastating as this is for us. Chaos can grab hold and throw us around the room, out into a forest with a gun, jack-hammers pounding in our heads.
    Addictions can control us (drugs/gambling/cigarettes/food)…anxiety and depression can rule over us and trap our feelings in fear….swirling, obscuring brain fog…clouds of smoke that blind us.
    Tragedy totally knocks us down and tears our heart and guts out bringing extreme pain, leading us into trance-like confusion, walking for miles in the rain, sitting half-dead on the edge of a road, over-dosing on drugs from which there is the possibility of no return.

    Your story speaks to all of this…including love, suffering, and regrets. We always wish we could have been more helpful in the way our lover’s needs would have been better met. We wish we could have loved them into wellness and health once again. But we also know we can only change ourselves. 
    And,”regrets only bring more suffering.”  And we finally realize that people can change if they really want to, but only if they truly believe in the possibility, before they’re too deeply entrenched and ensnared inthe void of it.  Addictions, anxiety, depression and tragedy are some of the most difficult situations to overcome in this life. And unfortunately, stagnation and/or death by suicide, accidental or otherwise, bring us to the doorway of deep despair…wherein there really is no choice left to make. 
    This intriguing story has only two characters. One is a lifesaver for the other, yet in the end brings about his own demise. But, sometimes we just have to turn around and walk away,in order to save our own lives.
    This is a wisdom story…you will come away enriched by it’s tale of life, love, loss, and hope.
    Thank you again, David

    • Thank you, Virginia,

      Your insights into my story are keen, cutting, and informative. You have been through a lot in your lifetime, but instead of falling into self-pity and despair, you have used your heartbreak as a means to investigate, to see, to feel things in more meaningful ways. This is evident in your interpretation of my story. Only someone who has experienced deep loss, and come out the other side, would see the search for salvation, the search for identity, the search for the ladder out of the darkness that is the key that unlocks the meaning of my story. Life is filled with heartache and confusion, wrong turns, mistakes, but some of these we aren’t as a result of anything we did. Rather, things happen to us over which we have no control. Our attempts to overcome these things will determine whether we see our lives steeped in sunlight or in darkness. I am deeply moved by your insightful review of my story.

      Thank you,

  2. Dear David,
    There is so much depth in all of your stories…you are a brilliant writer…a sacred traveling Bard/a Troubadour of times past..sharing stories full of disguised wisdom…straight from the heart…a heart that knows life and death too well…and the total helplessness/the total loss of all control that one feels when faced with the imminent death of a soul partner/lover/best friend …child/only son…someone very precious to us that we have surrendered our heart to…briefly or over years of shared history. 

    Sometimes there is no way to say goodbye…devastating as this is for us. Chaos can grab hold and throw us around the room, out into a forest with a gun, jack-hammers pounding in our heads.
    Addictions can control us (drugs/gambling/cigarettes/food)…anxiety and depression can rule over us and trap our feelings in fear….swirling, obscuring brain fog…clouds of smoke that blind us.
    Tragedy totally knocks us down and tears our heart and guts out bringing extreme pain, leading us into trance-like confusion, walking for miles in the rain, sitting half-dead on the edge of a road, over-dosing on drugs from which there is the possibility of no return.

    Your story speaks to all of this…including love, suffering, and regrets. We always wish we could have been more helpful in the way our lover’s needs would have been better met. We wish we could have loved them into wellness and health once again. But we also know we can only change ourselves. 
    And,”regrets only bring more suffering.”  And we finally realize that people can change if they really want to, but only if they truly believe in the possibility, before they’re too deeply entrenched and ensnared inthe void of it.  Addictions, anxiety, depression and tragedy are some of the most difficult situations to overccome in this life. And unfortunately, stagnation and/or deep despair bring us to the doorway of death…wherein there really is no choice left to make. 
    This intriguing story has only two characters. One is a lifesaver for the other, yet in the end brings about his own demise. But, sometimes we just have to turn around and walk away,in order to save our own lives.
    This is a wisdom story…you will come away enriched by it’s tale of life, love, loss, and hope.
    Thank you again, David

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