She steps into her skirt, pulls it past the lace of her underwear. She bends to grab her top. The curve of her back shines in the dim light of this hotel room. You almost forget that it’s past midnight, the way her skin glows.
She grabs the dollar bills, slick against her fingertips, and tucks them under her skirt. It’s too hot for a bra, she says. I don’t remember her ever wearing one anyway. She runs her long plastic nails through her curls and grips the mass of hair tight in her fist. As she fastens it, she looks at the TV. She doesn’t have any preferences when we do this except one: noise. A lot of noise. Silence gives her the willies, she says.
She keeps watching. I grab my jeans. I slip back into my shirt, the buttons undone. I tie up my boots and see she hasn’t left the room yet. She never stays this long. She’s always gone before my clothes are back on. I ask her if she’s okay, because it seems like the right thing to say. We don’t ask questions, we don’t get personal. It’s in and out. But she’s stuck.
She says that she’s fine. I don’t ask questions. I stand from the bed and grab my keys.
Do you have anywhere to be, she asks. My hand’s loose on the door handle. No, why, I ask her. She turns off the TV; it’s nothing now. Take me somewhere, she says. She swiftly moves her hand under the hem of her skirt and retrieves one of the bills she collected. She presses the slimy paper into my chest. For the gas, she says.
We leave the room without speaking. I follow the sway of her skirt into the parking lot. The air is hot and sticky. She reaches in through the open window on the passenger side and pulls up the lock. She gets in. I put the car in reverse. Where, I ask. I have never taken her anywhere but to a hotel room. Turn left, she says. Sweat drips under her brow. She fixes her make-up in the passenger seat. There’s no wind. Bugs stick to the windshield on impact. A plastic bottle of water begins to boil in the backseat.
I ask her where she needs to be dropped off. She tells me to keep going. The city isn’t big, but I have never gone where she asks me to take her. There are trees everywhere. There are more trees here than I ever imagined seeing in the whole city. It’s even hotter here than the city. Stuffier.
She asks me to turn by a church. Do you go, she asks. Her eyes shift my way for a split-second. I scrape at the cacti growing along my chin. No, I say. Have you ever been, she asks.
I used to go to church with my grandmother every Sunday. My grandmother said it was good for me. She said that the gospel would teach me something. She said that even though we sin we can still get “fixed” by God.
I don’t go anymore, I say. I think about my grandmother on her deathbed. Her favorite story was David and Goliath.
What about you, I ask.
She says the only thing she remembers about church on Sundays is grape juice and cornbread.
She says to turn here.
She says to pull over to the side of the road. The headlights make out a dirt trail. The trail is surrounded by a mass of thick trees that ascend high into the atmosphere. Besides the hum of my car, everything else seems quiet. Muffled and hushed.
She says I can leave whenever I want. She gets out of the car. She peels away her top. Her back is slick in the headlights. Her skirt discarded, she walks. She avoids the trail. The trees are mountainous in front of her. She sneaks between them. She begins to disappear.
I ask her where she’s going. I get out of my car while it runs. I need the light. I follow her.
I see her barely, a silhouette between trees. The grass crunches underneath me. I ask her what she’s doing, where she’s going. She doesn’t reply. She keeps moving. I tell her to stop walking, that I can’t keep up. My shirt clings to my back, my neck. The trees brush against my body and push me out of the way. Like they’re trying to keep up with her too.
In front of me, the trees step aside and all I see is darkness. Once I get through the opening, I stumble on something. Her heels. I land on my knees and groan in pain. The ground is no longer crunchy. It’s hard and rough. Rocks. I think I hear her laugh. The same laugh when I’m too drunk to get my pants off on my own.
I get to my feet. With the trees gone, I see her better now. I see her bare body moving on the path of rocks, ascending higher and higher. She walks across them, each step so gentle on the pads of her feet. One rock bursts open, water trembling from the spout.
I don’t follow. I watch. She keeps walking. She keeps walking as though she does this all the time. More rocks burst. Under her feet, they begin to weep.
She stops walking and looks down. Black air surrounds her. Water trembles underneath her. She calls to me. She doesn’t look at me. She asks if I’m baptized.
She’s so far away from me now. I realize that she could fall, voluntarily or not, and I would see that. I can feel the minerals quake under my toes.
I watch her body glow. She hovers over the peak of the highest rock. She stands so calm, so natural. I can suddenly hear the water heavily below us now. It roars. It aches. It must feel like heaven.
If I’m not baptized and I die, she says. She hesitates and stares down. If I’m not baptized, do I go to hell?
I don’t know what to say. I don’t want her to jump. The way she says it—like she already knows the answer to her own question. She isn’t baptized. She’s a sinner. She knows she will go to hell.
As if I said my thoughts aloud, she laughs. It’s a different kind of laugh this time. A laugh that I’m unfamiliar to. It chokes her a little, and her body quivers. Her laughter doesn’t end. Each one causes her body to shake more and more.
Eventually she quiets. She bends down and holds her hands between her legs. I watch her in silence and wait.T