Oasis: Missouri Vs. Mexico City
Jon Steinhagen

He comes to life to the sound of the knife grinder. Then the garbage truck. Then the gas truck. Then the news crier crying the previous night's atrocities and crimes. He wonders if he is responsible for any of them. He checks to see if his brother is dead.
His brother is not but he looks it. His brother is prone in the front room. His wife-beater is stained yellow with sweat and it appears he has been ill sometime between passing out and now. The women the night before had told him his brother was beautiful. Que lindo. He's only fifteen, he told them over and over again. Their interest only increased. Fine, he said. Pick the flower.
He goes to the sink and wrenches the tap. It stutters a brownish glass full of alarm clock. He takes the water to the front room and pours it on his brother. His brother comes to life.
There are four million cars registered in Mexico City, he says to his brother. I recommend you be useful today and help get me one.
His brother sits up spinelessly and fishes the last Camel out of the crumpled pack on the floor. He hears the neighborhood. The ironmonger. The crier still crying. A baker has murdered his wife. His brother squeezes a loose cough into a pale fist.
By which I mean you can be a great distraction, he says to his brother. Get your trunks on.
The public swimming pool is not essentially different from the public swimming pools they ran away from in St. Louis. He escaped first and his brother followed him a few months later. He had to escape but for his brother there was no such necessity. This was not about freedom for either. This was about not wanting any more of what was had. The public swimming pool has artificial beaches and palm trees. It is an oasis. Everything to them is an oasis.
He watches his brother saunter the edge of the pool. He is cool and pale in comparison to the burnished bodies splashing in the water. Que lindo, he hears again and again.
He does not wait to watch his brother be devoured. He strolls the parking lot with a ragged guide book held up to his face while his eyes appraise the cars. He is in a land of absent alarms and easy windows. One of these will be his today for a short while until money is exchanged and he can go back to the little house and have the women come by again.
He looks up and sees his brother standing on the diving board. His brother is a foal made of hip bones and knees and smoothness. He watches his brother take a slight grim step off the board and plunge straight down like a knife into the roiling water.
We love it here, he thinks as he jimmies open the door of a blue sedan. He can hear the crier crying about this already.

Jon Steinhagen is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists; his most recent play, SUCCESSORS, opened early this year at the Signal Ensemble Theatre. He has fiction in or coming from The American Reader, SmokeLong Quarterly, Chicago Literati and others.

Read more of JS' work in the archive.

Graphic on main page courtesy of Fred Seibert.

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