by Susan Smith Nash


Tinguely Querer found herself in Rattlesnake Bluff, Texas, wondering, rather vacantly, if she had been a sex worker in a previous lifetime.

Not a geisha, not a courtesan, not a prostitute in a brothel, not sold as a child by an evil aunt to a pedophile, but something more akin to a roaming, free agent -- a teen-ager in linen as blue-gray as the Icelandic skies, a young woman in silks from Kyoto or from the Maiden's Tower on the edge of the Caspian Sea - a free-range heirloom chicken, with bright eyes, flashy beak, and showy, brilliant plumage.

Of course, in the end, free-range heirloom chickens are killed and eaten.

A big, gray jackrabbit, with long ears and slim legs bounded across the road to the largely dried-up lake. There was a rest stop on the way, with fountains, walking paths, and lovely vistas of an arroyo lined with cholla cactus and prickly pear. She could hear the faint buzz of a rattlesnake, but it was far enough away that she did not feel alarm, simply awareness.


Abelard Tavollio joined the flagellant cult after he lost his wife to the Black Death. He took his scourge, bent the spikes inward, and mortified his back, chest, sides and legs until thin strips of skin and splatters of blood festooned the walls. Blood flowed and clotted. In the next room, a fellow flagellant howled and chattered in an alien tongue. When Abelard heard that, he wondered if they had succeeded -- if they had brought about the end of the world, and the New Heaven and the New Earth would soon follow.

When he regained consciousness, he was stuck fast to the old, fallen world. Abelard's wife was still in some unknowable place -- a place without a name -- hauled off by the death cart to some anonymous burial pit that would never appear on a map or in a churchyard registry.

As he blotted the clots and chunks of skin with a rag dipped in old wine and vinegar, tears streamed down his face. He rinsed his scourge in hot water, unfastened the spikes, and threw them into a corner. He fashioned the leather thongs into a braid, which he then interwove with flowers plucked from the garden under the anteroom windows. Carving her name into the handle, he plunged it into a sheltered place in the garden, next to a stone retaining wall and an apple tree laden with small, green fruit.


The man she had been searching for all her life drove up into the parking lot, his thin, tanned arm resting on the edge of the open window. She thought of Camelot, of sheath dresses, and flats with small leather bows on the toes.


The crack-addicted pop star broke the glass holding Chivas poured over ice and carved the name of the love of her life onto her stomach. The reporter who had been interviewing her had to leave the room. She tended to faint at the sight of blood.

"My lover! My love!" sang the pop star, as she traced the edges of the letters with the tip of a finger stained black.

When the reporter returned, the pop star laughed. Her voice had a serrated edge. "It was only a scratch."

After the love of her life was jailed, the tabloids often ran photos of the ragged highways the pop star had cut deep into her arm.

"I cut where he used to touch me," she said. At the same time, she was listening crackly, scratched vinyl playing the 60s girl group song, "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)."


Tinguely Querer's BlackBerry had stopped working at a place about 50 miles from Rattlesnake Bluff where a long line of high-tech wind generators shadowed old windmills pulling water from the Ogallala aquifer.

She could not check her stocks, the day's headlines, or her e-mail. The worst part of it all was that she was not able to stream the techno-trance station she listened as she drove across the high plains, the chaparral, and as she walked down into the canyon to check on the old pumping units and gas compressors to see which ones should be plugged, their pipe and casing pulled and cannibalized for newer, fresher production.

Without her BlackBerry and music from the Internet, she had to manufacture her own music. After all, if she did not dance -- at least inside -- her heart would stop beating. The beat, the images, the song were her heart. Echoes of the Silk Road and a small caravansarai rang on the rocks. Hoofbeats from Chingiz and the Mongols outside a sultan's palace in Sheki in old Azerbaijan flooded her ears.

Taking down notes, manually calculating the GPS coordinates of the equipment, Tinguely looked up the side of the bluff. A small black-spotted lizard darted across the weathered limestone.

The warm canyon wind caressed her arms, and it felt like music.

When she inhaled deeply, the sage and ozone from a thunderstorm in the distance filled her. Echoes, shadows, mirages.

A cloud passed between Tinguely and the sun. She should be punished for pleasure. The sun re-emerged. She should be rewarded for pleasure. She should dance, and dance as she saw fit, across lifetimes.


When his self-inflicted wounds finally healed, his wife came to him in a dream. "I'm going to whip some sense into you," the dream-wife said. He flinched. The spikes were still in the corner in a small, blood-stained heap.

His wife laughed. "I knew you'd take it literally."

She stood over him, stroked his reddish and pink scars. "Stop hurting yourself. The end of the world already came and went. It left you behind. So, whether you're in heaven or hell does not matter. I am with you."

When he awoke, he knew just where the death cart had hauled her body, and where it lay. It was on the edge of a small orchard where someone had planted peaches from the stones carried in a pouch from southern Persia.


The man she had been searching for all her life walked slowly to her car. His face carried the warmth of years of summer sun. He held a bottle of Coke in one hand, a book of poetry in the other.

"I have the sense we may not have much time together," he said. "We must bear that in mind."

She did not hear him. The music from his car stereo was making her heart pound, her mind's eye move into different directions.

'I have something to give you," he said.

She looked at him and took the book of poems he offered her. The BlackBerry in her field pack started working again. The GPS automatically registered their coordinates.