*Published in the “Last Night On Earth” Anthology, 2011
I sit on a barstool at Tacos El Gordo while blood drops off a roasting spit of beef. Ryan devours tacos beside me. Everything in Tijuana is free; it’s all one big fiesta. Ladies in colorful dresses spin down sidewalks, mariachi music fills the air, kids send bottle rockets whistling down walkways. Drunken men brawl in an alley, knuckles bloody. A shirtless Federale laughs, unloading a machine gun into the sky until the clip clicks empty. But I—I stare at my phone, trying to muster the guts to call the waitress, the one who gave me her number before we knew the world was going to end.
“Give it a break, man! Why you so hung up on this broad?” Ryan puts his tattooed arm over my shoulder and points to the street. “Just look. We’re up to our necks in señoritas. Pull yourself together.”
“Look, it took me two years to finally asker her out. Two years! And, I know it’s crazy, but I really think she’s the one.”
“There is no one. And besides, there ain’t nothing you can do about it now but enjoy yourself.” Ryan rose from his seat. “Ready to get blackout, man?”
“Let me take a quick piss and we’ll get out of here.”
I walk around the corner and dial the waitress’ number. My guts gnarl into fists as I hear the first ring—it clicks to voicemail. I walk back and see Ryan talking to a beautiful girl holding a bouquet of roses.
“Meet my friend,” he wraps his arm around the rose girl.
“Hola,” she kisses my cheek and places a rose in my palm. She squeezes our hands and skips off down the street.
We drink another round of tequila shots and grab beers for the road. I light a cigarette. Revolution Boulevard is a river of cars coughing up smog. Scores of people stand on truck beds and car roofs singing, drinking, waving Mexican flags.
“Let’s hitch a ride,” Ryan says. “We need to find the real party.”
A low-rider truck, airbrushed with two bikini-clad cholas on the hood, inches toward us. The driver has a thick handlebar moustache, black Locs over his eyes, and catcalls hookers walking down the street.
“Hey!” Ryan runs toward the truck. “What up, tío? I ain’t seen you in a hot one.”
“Sobrino? What the hell you doin’ down here?”
“Me and my buddy, we’re looking to go out with a bang. What’s the haps?”
“I’m headed to Porky’s Place. Wanna roll?”
We leap in the back of the truck. Ryan and I have been partying at Porky’s since high school—an ‘80s bar with ectoplasm-green walls, packed with hipsters and goths and no other Americans in sight. We always got the spotlight.
“I’m Eddie,” Ryan’s uncle faces me, oblivious of the road. “This is Angela.” He points to the girl in the passenger seat and turns around just as we’re about to crash into a streetlight. A small statue of La Santa Muerte swings like a pendulum from his rearview mirror; her skeletal fingers grip a silver scythe.
We come to a wall of traffic. A mariachi band in green suits and sombreros plays on the corner. Eddie yells out the window:
Blow them trompetas, hombres!
Strum them guitarras!
¡Canten a las estrellas!
Their gold embroidered suits sparkle as the band plays louder, trumpeting their song to the stars. A zebra-striped donkey clops passed two lovers kissing. Angela caresses Eddie’s back. I think about the waitress. I check my phone to see if she called just as Eddie slams the gas. My phone slides across the truck bed. Eddie roars down the sidewalk and rams a row of garbage cans—trash explodes like confetti. He hits a curb. My phone launches into the air. I lunge over the tailgate like an outfielder diving for the ball and snag it just as Ryan pulls me back in.
Eddie parks in the middle of traffic. We follow him towards the tsunami of bass. Porky’s is packed with bodies gyrating to the beat. Girls dance on tables. Guys take body shots at the bar. The room is thick with smoke, sweat, and stink.
“Ay, I’m gonna head to the stage,” Eddie hugs Ryan and disappears with Angela into the crowd.
I’m getting anxious. Beer’s not cutting it. Ryan and I walk to the bar. “Excuse me, amigo,” he’s been my bartender since I was 16; I’ve never known him by any other name. “My friend and I are feeling a little sleepy.” He reaches under the bar and comes up with a plump white sack. He offers it with the handclasp hug of an old friend. Ryan and I grab a crate of beers by the bar. We’ve stopped asking permission. We take our party to a black booth in the back.
Ryan wants to do it with a $100 bill but the biggest we have is a five. I roll Mr. Lincoln up and take him for a ride. My sinuses burn; my eyes bulge. A rush trembles down my spine For a moment, I don’t think about the end.
It’s getting late. A fear rises in Ryan’s eyes.
“I need to get out of here,” Ryan pounds his beer. “I got to get back to my girlfriend. I’m gonna try and hitch a ride to the border.”
He’ll never get home before the end takes him on a dark road without anyone he knows around him, but Ryan is bullheaded; there’s no talking him down.
I toss him my keys. “Just take my car when you get there.”
He runs off to the exit. I am alone.
I suck down a flaming La Cucaracha shot. I am officially shit-housed.
A beautiful woman with big, brown eyes tows me to the dance floor. She wraps her fingers around the nape of my neck and bring her lips to mine.
“Ten minutes,” yells the MC into the microphone.
Everyone cheers. My vision blurs. As I stand at the edge of oblivion, a tiny echo reverberates in my ears. Do you see the meaning now? Can you feel it?
The crowd drips with sweat. People peel off clothes. We are all on the same plane plummeting through time and space, preparing to crash into absence. I run to the bathroom and fill an empty beer bottle with water from the sink. I take a gulp and pour the rest over me. I catch a glimpse of myself in a filthy mirror and stop. My body begins to fray, unraveling into millions of threads until there’s nothing but two spiraling strands that evaporate into mist. I pull away and stumble into a bathroom stall, slam the door shut, and sit on the toilet seat.
Through the walls, I hear the MC shout, “Three minutes.”
I comb my beard with my hand and feel something warm and sticky. I lean my head back to stop the bleeding. My pocket vibrates. I don’t recognize the number.
“Hello?” I grab a handful of toilet paper and stuff it up my nose.
“Hey, it’s me.”
I could pick that voice out from any lineup. She needs no introduction. It’s her. I say nothing and listen to her soft breathing.
“I can’t believe how beautiful the moon is tonight,” she says.
I scan the corroded ceiling above me.
“You ever try and tell someone about a dream you had?”
“Sure. Dozens of times.”
“I mean, you could have this amazing dream but once you start explaining it, you realize you can’t really put it into words and the only person it matters to is you. Kinda like life, ya know?”
We’re silent. Names are scrawled on the bathroom door. Soon they will all be gone.
“Where are you?” I ask.
The MC’s voice booms in the background, “One minute.”
“There’s nothing better than listening to the waves crash on the shore. Just you and the waves—God, it’s all so perfect right now.
“I waited two years to finally ask you out and now–“
“You ever skinny-dip under a full moon?”
“I’ll put it on my bucket list.”
“We’ll have to go someday.”
“30 seconds!” the MC announces.
“Fuck a bucket list. We’re going now. Together. You ready?”
She lets out a squeal of laughter. Her footsteps bound across sand. The wind rips through the receiver. The ocean growls louder.
There’s a splash—click. She is gone.
I spark my last cigarette but don’t smoke it. The ember retreats, tapering into ash. A stampede of basslines rocks the walls. Cheering swells into a roar.
“Ten, nine, eight…”
I toss the cigarette in the toilet, lean back against the roiling wall and close my eyes. I watch the full moon loom in the midnight sky as that final wave crashes over me.