She smelled like sex and sweat and three days worth of cheap tequila and stale cigarettes.
I had met her in a bar outside of Juarez. She was young and impressionable, and I told her stories of my days on the rodeo circuit and showed her my scars; she told me stories of the ghost that lived in her grandmother's house and showed me her tattoos.
The sex wasn't even that good, it was mechanical and full of need, of hunger for something different after the taste of dust and ancient memories that settled on the back of your throat after you had been here forever. I didn't even remember her name: Juanita maybe, or Carlita. She lay curled up under my arm like it was salvation.
I took a swig of the remainder of the tequila, some local brand that could remove paint from a barn wall and got up to take a piss. She moaned softly as I moved, then curled languorously against the pillow, her soft hair trailing behind her.
Shit bro, time to go, you start thinking like that. Carlos's voice in my head, riding there like a ghost in a windstorm. You get latched on to a piece of ass like that, you'll get all soft, and that's when they gonna get you. Carlos had been my mentor, had taken me under his wing after a bar fight in Colorado, some pissant little town with watery beer and deep-fried bull testicles, the kind of thing that you only ate when you were young and drunk. I had pissed off some local yuppie cokehead who pulled a knife and tried to cut holes in me; I busted his head open with a bottle and was carving my initials in his face when I felt the big hands pull me off and haul my ass outside. He beat the crap out of me, gently, lovingly, enough to hurt the next day but not to leave scars, and then he sat with me and talked into the night. The sky was full of stars, and I remember each one of them by name.
Juanita-Carlita rolled over, her breasts almost glowing in the moonlight, the tattoo of a winged angel perched lightly on one pink nipple. She was fleshy: not fat really, but curvy and soft in that way that you knew that after a few more years of being rode hard and put away wet she was gonna start to sag in all the wrong places and she was gonna be stuck out here forever in the desert serving pie and coffee to horny truckers at 2 in the morning.
I found my jeans and quietly slid them on (Button fly, when had that ever been in style?), grabbed my shirt, and quietly slipped out the door. I suppose I felt a little guilty then, so I stepped back in and left her one of the stacks of bills from the duffel. Ten thousand, more or less. Enough for her to live on for a while, maybe enough to get out of this godforsaken place, into a small town where she could meet a nice guy who would give her lots of babies and the happiness that I could never give her. A dead man can't make a woman happy, not in the long term anyway. And I had been dead for about as long as I can remember.
That tequila fucks with your memory, Oso, the voice said. You're only as dead as you feel.