I was 25 years old when the Lady in Red entered the rodeo bar through the saloon door. She walked over to my stool and pulled the one next to me over by the heel on her stiletto boot; she was a tease. Gently she sat, pressing down her creaseless crimson coat with care; she was a perfectionist. Then, she lifted her gaze to mine with a rehearsed confidence but I couldn’t look at her eyes; only at her heavy red lips, slick with lipstick blood and I had the urge to kiss them. She leaned in closer; her lashes batting her brows; the lips became deathly omens and she was ready to tell me a secret. The Lady in Red pulled out the gun and shot me right in the head. And then: I died. I’ve never felt more alive.
That was only a year ago. Believe me, I wanted to die. I wanted to die every single minute of every single day. The first and last things on my mind each day and night was the otherworldly sensation of being gone. I craved it like nothing else. That’s the reason I ended up in a rodeo bar in the middle of the Arizonan desert; I was going to kill myself. No, I didn’t spend the last of my money on a fancy sports car or even a chocolate bar. I wanted to die somewhere fantastic and so, I got the first flight to JFK. Started with the point closest to home and figured I’d end up where I was meant to be; where I was meant to die. It’s stupid looking back that I thought my place to die was a desert in Arizona. After hundreds of miles, a few heart attack worthy ready meals and hours of listening to drawling accents I got off the bus in Arizona. Stop 089, I remember. The heat hit my face and it encompassed me down to the marrow of my bones. Some may say I’m a cynic but secretly, I wanted to be burnt. The first day didn’t feel right and so I decided I wouldn’t die that day. I holed up in the classic American motel hoping that some sort of angel would descend from the heavens and claim me. But, of course, that never happened. In total I lasted two weeks in that motel. A few nights I came really close, I held the blade against my wrist in the bathroom with every nerve in my body screaming just do it. But I didn’t. It wasn’t the right time. I put the knife back in the draw and went outside to sit and burn.
It was Thursday, I was feeling good. Three doors down was a man whose wife/girlfriend/hooker/kidnapped victim called him by ‘Slick’ (I heard her shouting through the wall). One time when I was going out to get some lemonade he was there, waiting by the door with a bandana wrapped around his bald head and tattoos hiding his scars that’s he’d probably gathered from numerous knife fights or possible bull wrangling episodes. Slick was the wild, wild west. He was a brick wall of muscle and barely comprehendible accents and so when he looked at me through his red sunglasses that day I simply smiled and ran for the lemonade. Anyway, this particular Thursday I was good with recklessness coursing through me. I knocked on Slick’s door and deliberated running for my life. My hand was still in mid air when he opened the door and stared down at me like the prey I was. I suggested a beer, he shoved me aside, stepped out the door, slammed it and started walking. I interpreted this as a yes. Honestly, I hadn’t really been in the mood to seek out the nearest bar so I was relying on Slick to take me there. He was so tall, his stride was double, if not triple, mine. When I got down to the car park he was gone and I was stood there with the remains of smashed bottles and blood stains and worn police tape. Slick pulled around the corner in a vast white pickup truck which bounced to a stop at my feet and he motioned for me to get in. What’s the worst that could have happened? I was going to die anyway.
We drove for literally five minutes in silence except for the sweet sound of Devil’s Chains blasting out through the speakers. The truck pulled up outside a shack next to other truck’s alike. We were in the middle of nowhere. Cactus land, almost. This is exactly what I imagined. Was I let down? Almost. Slick stormed inside and I bounced in after him.
It was a movie. Cowboys and their guns, their horses and their beer. Yet not their women. I presume this was their escape from the women who they claimed to power over. Take this: fear the woman on the earth more than the man on the horse. My senses tingled with the scent of smoke, beer, blood, sweat and the urge to fight. Slick led me over to the bar, flashed the man behind the counter a look who slung us two tumblers instantly. I hesitated to pick up as I read the words 2AM RIDE OR DIE carved into the counter underneath my hand. Maybe I’d die tonight.
I can’t count the silent beers we had or the amount of times Slick clapped my back and handed me the dart. I was good at darts. It was balanced between my fingers, ready for flight. It wanted to fight though. My dart hit treble twenty. A man punched Slick square in the face but I couldn’t hear what was happening; I just scored a treble twenty! Blood spurted across my face, whose I don’t know, and I felt powerful. Psycho. Slick was pummeling the guy and the guy pummeled him back like a punch bag. Who needs sports channels when the real fights are right here? Quality. And then everyone was fighting and there was more blood on my face and my hands; I think it was mine. Knives were pulled, guns were pulled. Shouts and screams; I honestly couldn’t hear them. It was truly a movie and an Oscar worthy one at that. I think a guy died but guess what? It wasn’t me.
Slick was gone, the guys were gone and it was just me and the stranglers left. They were doing their thing, playing cards and whatnot, whilst I sat there drinking every last drop this shack had to offer to me. The time escaped me like a lost lover. All I knew is that drinking your way out of life was not all that bad.
There was suddenly a chill and for Arizona that was strange. I felt it though, even though I’m not sure anybody else did. The heat that I longed to burn in was suddenly gone and I was the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Maybe this wasn’t a bad thing. Cold could burn too.
I didn’t realise she was there until I saw her in all her glory. To me, she was a red rose about to prick me. But then again, I was dying to be pricked. She was out of place here; she looked too damn beautiful. Her eyes did not rise to mine. The heel of her boot hooked a chair that spun to host her. Her hat was balanced on an axis atop her head with her blonde curls flowing around her like a musky halo. In my eyes her lips were flowers ready to be watered. Waterfalls that were ready to drink in one gulp. Curtains that were made to be thrown open. Her lips were mirrors that only I could see into and my reflection stared back at me and grinned. She didn’t look up; I did not know her eye colour-maybe she had none. Maybe they were red too. I was transfixed. She leaned in carefully and I knew she was deadly. Her cheek was centimeters from mine and I could still feel the chill. It wasn’t a chill. A whisper of death’s favourite song. The barrel of the gun pressed into my jaw. It was cold and
Burnt. Saved. He tells me over and over again that I ‘burnt him into life’. I didn’t do anything; I just gave him a reason to play the game. Each day I saw him, from the very first day we made a millisecond of eye contact on that plane to the days I heard him lying on the bathroom floor screaming his soul into a knife that he couldn’t yet drag across him. I was always listening to what he’d say to himself. At 2AM when he’d say riddles into the air I was listening and listening, trying to solve his crossword. I’m good at crosswords but this was a hard one. It didn’t make sense, there were no words to fit the lines. Eventually, I did save him, but only because he wanted to be. He confessed to me one night that he still doesn’t know why he didn’t kill himself that night in the bathroom- the first time. I told him that’s for him to figure out: I know the answer.
Whoever he thinks I am- his Lady in Red, his Mademoiselle Rouge? We were never meant to be alive, me and him. His death- I don’t think he knows it’s already happened. But I’m not about to tell him whilst he’s living.
story by zara