Signs of Life




Santa Fe, New Mexico

September 2016


“Rightly or wrongly, all remembrance of things past is fiction.”



There are no accidents.


Wasn’t that the last thing she had said to him? And his response had been what? For the life of him, Harlan couldn’t recall his rejoinder. No doubt some smart ass quip born from his gin infused carnal stupor. He opened his eyes and allowed the painting hanging on the far wall to slip into focus. In the dim light all he could make out were the vague outlines of an adobe structure. In the almost twenty hours he had been sitting here, every minor detail of the image had become imprinted on his memory; the muddy brown stucco walls, the rank of potted plants on the rumpled parapets, red geraniums, he imagined; the towering cascade of the cumulus cloud on the horizon just beyond, and a lone figure cloaked in a native blanket hunched against the wall, his or her features muted in the shade of a cottonwood.


He stared at the image for a moment before lifting his cell phone from his lap and flicking it on. Ten fifteen. What had they been doing at ten fifteen the night before? Walking back along the river to her hotel? He dropped the phone back onto his lap and looked over at the figure lying on the bed. Her face appeared unnaturally slack except where the the tape holding the endo-tracheal tube pinched her cheeks. He could just make out a hint of the tiny scar on her left cheek peeking from beneath the tape. It made him think of her other scar; the angry web of of purple that ran down her forearm to the crook of her thumb. He recalled sliding his finger along its smooth ridge that night in the hotel. She hadn’t revealed the nature of either of her wounds, all the while interrogating him on his own varied disfigurements.


He listened for a moment to the rhythmical soft whooshing of the ventilator before glancing up at the monitor perched on the shelf above the bed. Blood pressure eighty-eight over fifty, oxygen saturation ninety-eight, respirations eighteen, pulse sixty. As he studied the screen, the jagged row of heart beats hiccoughed, jiggled, and then returned to its relentless rhythm. PVCs the nurse called them. Pre-ventricular contractions. Not unusual for someone in her condition, she said matter of factly. I even get them myself if I drink too much coffee, the nurse added without bothering to make it sound like anything but false reassurance.


He dropped his gaze back to her face. For the first time, he noticed the fine delta of wrinkles around her eyes, her makeup and the bar lighting the most likely explanation for him not noticing them before. The halo from the overhead light made her hair appear more auburn than he remembered. It was shot with gray around the temples. There was one other thing he hadn’t noticed. A small mole peeked from her hairline just above her left ear. He found it oddly disconcerting all the features he had overlooked. Maybe it wasn’t just the bar lighting or the martinis. And later, in the dim light of the hotel room, their frenzied coupling hindered anything more than casual inspection. Or maybe you just want to see what you want to see.


He reached over an fingered a lock of her hair that had fallen onto her forehead. A flicker of some nascent memory caused him to pull back; his face buried in her hair, the smell of it, lavender and sweat, the shiver of sexual excitement. And then it was gone, only the ethereal glimmer of something lingering, a sudden remembrance of the challenging glint in her gaze when they first exchanged glances at the airport they day before. That had been…what? Not even forty-eight hours ago, he thought slumping back in the chair. He closed his eyes and thought back to their first meeting.

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