Just like that—I’m jolted awake by an involuntary muscle spasm. For real this time. The rest of the bus is asleep. Things can only be this still in the aftermath of a collision or a conspiracy. I look for a sign that we have been involved in some sort of accident, but my eyes are still adjusting to the light so it’s hard to tell. Laying in my lap is a shrimp tail—or is it a cuneiformed tube sponge or a tuna-laced elbow macaroni? Whatever it is, it’s still fresh and raw and pulsing. The weight of Manuel is leaning against me. By the reflection of our headlights I can see the bus driver slumped over the wheel, the engine still running. A red digital clock in the darkness above his head flashes 12:00 12:00 12:00 over and over and over. It was always this way—no one ever bothered to set the initial conditions.
Propping myself up, a pinched nerve in my neck shoots an aftershock down to my toes. My senses are paranoid, on high alert, to overcompensate for the lack of light. Olfactory particulates in the air include, but are not limited to: wool, adobe, milk, excrement, lava, incense, dried chrysalis, diesel exhaust and cornhusk. Needing to tend to my bodily functions, I grab the overhead luggage rack and extract myself from my seat, swinging like a monkey over Manuel to the aisle. Manuel’s rooster coos a few times from under the seat, then goes back to sleep. There’s a conch shell on the aisle floor and I think a hermit crab retracted itself in the split second before I looked, but I can’t be sure of anything in the darkness of this bus. There’s a ringing echo in my head and corresponding ultraviolet colors swirl into my field of vision, until I blink and it all goes away for the time being. A pre-recorded announcement in Spanish periodically tells us, “there’s no smoking in the toilet,” and that thirst and hunger are the strongest human desires, so “¡disfrute!” (segues into a commercial for red ChocoMilk). I need water but would die for a licuado de platano or coctel de camaron right now.
I forge my way up the aisle, using the other passenger’s shoulders as beacon handrails in the darkness. Even the mariachis are sleeping with their instruments propped in their laps. Everyone is so still that it occurs to me to check for pulses. The only sound beside the engine’s drone is the ringing echo coming from the cavity of my head, or the bus, or beyond that even. I inadvertently pluck a nylon bass string as I walk by and it resonates and decomposes the black hum into corresponding harmonics, triggering Manuel’s rooster to cock-a-doodle from the back of the bus. I expect a cascade of waking, but everyone remains sleeping.
The bus driver’s gloved hand is already resting on the door release mechanism. I put my hand over his glove already on the handle and swing the door wide open. The brisk night is laden with the purring of insects and burning smells from the valley below. We are parked smack in the middle of an intersection—one sign says Malpaís 16, another sign says Las Animas 45, and we are steered halfway in between. Illuminated by the headlights of the bus are what appear to be unidentifiable roadkill remnants scattered in a broth of primordial ooze. The jist of it looks like it used to be a dolphin, but there are also miscellaneous fish fragments, barnacles and other creatures of the sea. This is my interpretation, in a sense, of the crime scene.
While I am relieving myself, other passengers come filing out of the bus behind me. Some speculate that this is the work of the notorious chupacabra, or an alien abduction scene. Another swears they’re pieces of bona fide pig, “I should now, I work in a slaughterhouse twelve hours a day.”
“But a porpoise is essentially a pig that went back to the sea,” chimes in another passenger. I’m relieved to know I’m not alone in my thinking.
“How would a porpoise get all the way out here?”
“By some sort of amphibious or evolutionary means.”
“Whoa, let’s take a step back. Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“Definitely animal. And these remnants definitely came from the ocean. There are scales, and look, here’s a blowhole. Or at least the rim of a blowhole.”
“Here’s a patch of fur. Nothing in the sea has fur.”
“Seal’s have fur. So do penguins.”
“Don’t suck you ox, penguins have feathers.”
I have nothing to interject since I am still taking a leak, trying my best to keep my backside towards the passengers. I look down and I am urinating on a horn from a saddle. Or maybe it’s a hoofed foot, but it appears that a cowboy was involved in all of this since there are also frayed bits of a lasso and a detached spur. I zip up my pants and a pelican with a crooked neck roosts on the shoulder of the road in front of me.
“How do you explain that?”
“That’s easy. One of our women is pregnant.”
“Don’t suck you ox, that’s not a stork. And that’s all a myth. We weren’t created just like that.”
Then there’s a chorus of noses sniffing that starts with the eldest and works its way to the youngest human beings.
“I smell tacos. Tacos of tongue.”
“We must have collided with an al pastor cart.”
“That’s funny. I smell shrimp cocktail. No, eggplant parmesan.”
“I smell jellyfish in oyster shell sauce.”
“Not I, I smell meat flaking off a bone. Lamb shank.”
These are the things we want to smell or see because we are able to stick them back in our body to be replenished. I am not immune to such recursive logic. I see a spigot mirage and know full well that when I go to pump it, it will be dry. Looking back, I now see that we didn’t come out of a bus but a monkey cage. The zookeeper designed the cage to mimic our natural environment. Speaking of the zookeeper, he is still slouched at the wheel, but his eyes are opening. It’s hard to tell because he is wearing a wooden mask. When I look again his eyes are still in the process of opening.
The sun is rising over a dormant volcano. My plexus sags under the weight of my hanging organs. I am still leaking all over the place. As long as I am conscious of it, the leaks keep dripping. The pelican with the crooked neck is not there anymore, but there’s a goat in its place that pulls up a weed and the earth starts to quake as a consequence—until the goat itself stops chewing and looks up and it all goes away for the time being. I look to the horizon and the sun is an endothermic orb of hickory-smoked cheese, still rising.
In the absence of a proper judicial system, we are left to our own devices. The attention turns from identifying the roadkill, to what caused the accident in the first place. After all, we agree unilaterally that it is biological in nature—that it was living, but is no longer.
“This is all a setup.”
“I get the sense that our parents made this all up off the cuff.”
“They didn’t know any better. They can’t be held accountable.”
“This is an isolated evolutionary snapshot.”
“This is what would happen if you threw away the loom before finishing the tapestry.”
“There’s nothing here that makes me believe we came into contact with anything.”
“It’s hard for us to say, bound as we are to our carnal flesh lattices.”
Manuel crouches to examine the remnants. Everything is solidifying into a thickening puddle of blood. “Don’t draw any haste conclusions. Let’s just leave everything as is until the Feds get here.”
Of all the shapes and forms we could have been, this is how we end up—standing on the perimeter of the accident we call our lives, trying to make sense of it. “Where to now?” ‘I’ ask.
“You’re asking me?” Manuel heads north and all the other passengers disperse in different directions.
I’m left standing alone, feeling as diminutive as a postage stamp on an envelope whose delivery is inexorably irreversible. Regardless of where I end up going, next time I send (or receive) a package or letter to (or from) a foreign country I have never been, I will think about what it went through to get there (or here).