Damage flowed from my fingernails, which I’d painted a bright shade of indigo. I was obsessed with indigo back then, a time I can barely reconstruct now. I named my rescue cat El Salvador. That country is the world’s largest producer of indigo. I squandered time back then, down Internet holes. India is a name related to the word “indigo.”
Why was I hell-bent on sabotaging every good thing? Consider Keegan. Keegan stepped up when a ladder truck turned the corner on a very hot day. He’d called for the ladder truck. On the sidewalk, panting, my darling Indigo looked at me accusingly, a stab deep into my heart, identifying my betrayal. Whenever I go into a downward spiral, a ladder truck seems to be somewhere nearby.
But Keegan wrapped me in his wiry arms and assured me that we would climb the steep path to the summit together. He brought me to the cemetery to build up the muscles in my legs, to acclimate myself. We climbed the spiral staircase. Leaning against the parapet, I broke into a smile. Keegan had just told me that he loved me, and I felt something shatter deep inside, a quietly ecstatic shattering accompanied by a sense that I’d been waiting forever to hear that something shatter, break apart.
Downstairs again, we chanced upon a body. I touched the body with my fingertips and suddenly breath flowed from its mouth. As a part of me knew must happen. Our phones declined to place a call, out of respect for the interred. Keegan told me what to do. Keegan had told me that he loved me and a part of me knew that I’d just lost Keegan.
I sprinted down the hill at breakneck speed, dodging the grave markers that the earth had begun to swallow, the moss-covered markers and all the dead beneath them oriented so as to be gazing blindly at the sky.
I was lost. A gate was somewhere, an exit out into the street and away from that lethal rasping breath I’d brought into being through my hesitant touch. I couldn’t find the gate. I ran from path to path until I came upon a vehicle, an ordinary parked car, in the shade of ornamental trees, beneath the ornamental clouds, the summer afternoon clouds.
Later, Keegan told me that the face of the body had changed in hue, from an ashen gray. The mouth had opened and words reached Keegan, but Keegan didn’t understand the words. No matter. By then, Keegan and I were no longer speaking.
I tapped on the window of the car. I did so even though under normal circumstances it was a car whose window plainly said “Do Not Disturb.” An innocent car parked in an isolated glade. I didn’t need to tap a second time. I apologized. I was out of breath.
It was awkward and at the same time my fingernails had tapped the window. I was delivering a message and my messages were always about damage. I watched the couple speed off, flustered, doomed, making a beeline for the exit from the cemetery.
I should have left then, walked out on Keegan, followed the car, gone back to El Salvador, moved the inevitable along, transformed my life so that my messages were all about, say, azure.
But instead I retraced my steps—I climbed again to the base of the tower and I fell in with Keegan and the reviving man. From the top of the tower everything looked different: the city was revealed as a dense forest in which tiny clearings had been made to accommodate the lives of hemmed-in people. At the base, the forest contracted into a park laced with winding paths. Keegan radiated the obliviousness of someone who has just professed his love. Soon we heard sirens. A little later, we watched as a bright red ladder truck attempted the impossible and bent itself around the switchbacks on its way to where we huddled.
Fortunato Salazar lives in Los Angeles, and his writing is or will soon be in/at Guernica, New World Writing, McSweeney’s, Nerve, Mississippi Review, Los Angeles Review and elsewhere.