After the Event and the long ten-ton year afterwards Isabela became understandably depressed and, after picking herself apart at the seams for a while, she ended up where she was wont to be: back in Las Cruces, sitting in The Hanged Man with her back to the wall, high off her tits on acid, waiting on the man who was supposed to buy the dope in her backpack but mostly just feeling sorry for herself and thinking about Hawke, when—here’s the part where the angels sing—in walked the woman herself, stalking towards her hips-first with her hands fisted in her pockets like a bird of prey, hat sitting crooked as an evil omen on her dark head. Framed as she was by the last slant of golden light Isabela could very nearly hear the glow of her halo if she held still enough, shrill as a papercut or the chorus of voices in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and when Hawke stopped right in front of her Isabela’s stomach did this funny balletic leap up into her chest like she was coming down with food poisoning, or perhaps the entire last year of suffocating sexual frustration had come to manifest in the exquisite existential horniness that always seemed to rear its stupid fucking head whenever Hawke was near with the buttons at her collar obnoxiously undone.
“Well well well,” said Hawke, her voice cutting through the bar like a bell from underwater, “what do we have here.”
Underneath the chemical haze in her brain something else called out at the sound of that voice, firing across every raw neuron like honey or velvet. Nostalgia, she thought, wild naked yearning running like pure crude oil through blood and bone and spongy gray ganglion until she was made of nothing but music and memory, every tendon and every vein clamoring in rubber-band vibrations for Hawke to kick out the other chair and sit down like she used to do. In the silence her head spun out for a moment into some past life where perhaps they’d been destined to kill each other, but then Hawke—hallelujah, breath of life, orgasm, pure fucking dopamine crush—kicked out the chair and sat down across from her.
“What we have here is some kind of glitch in the space-time continuum,” said Isabela, watching Hawke take off her hat like some kind of Wild West villain, which sandwiched nicely into the past life where they were meant to kill each other. If she held very still she could feel the space where she was meant to say something else, like a warm skip in a beloved record. Then she realized it was just her heart beating.
“You’re cooked,” said Hawke, “your eyes are practically going in two different directions. Completely fried. Not unlike the first time, if I remember correctly.”
Hawke always remembered correctly. It was one of the worst things about her, and the source of at least sixty percent of their fights. What Isabela mostly remembered about the first time was that she’d been the one to initiate it; she’d also been the one to fuck it up and end it many, many times. This put her, she supposed, at some kind of cosmic deficit on which she was always owing and Hawke was always collecting like some sort of dimension-hopping bounty hunter always out for Isabela’s soul, though she understood even now deep in the prismacolor flush of her acid peak that that wasn’t what it was about at all. Probably never had been, but having a self-worldview roughly equivalent to roadkill baking in the desert sun tends to warp your perception of these things.
“You were way more impressed the first time but I was, you know. Trying a lot harder the first time.”
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘performing,’ Isabela.”
“You fuck off. What’d you think, I was too stupid to tell?”
The blow of hearing this put so bluntly after so many years was almost physical: she recoiled into another galaxy for a minute or maybe a couple of years, and then, tongue loosened with the peace of knowing she’d been here before on the astral plane or whatever, she said, “I was kind of counting on that, actually.”
“No, listen—obviously I know you’re not, but it’s like, I don’t know. Why would you want me if you knew the half of it. Why would anyone? So I just, you know. Adapt as the situation demands.”
“You’re not half as good at that as you think you are.”
“Fooled you, didn’t I?”
Hawke just stared until Isabela had to look away and started picking the blood out from under her fingernails. Outside some drunk dumbass was fighting with his friend over the car keys and her mind careened off distant cliffs in deep sympathy until she dared to look back across the table to find that Hawke was still watching her; it felt like looking down from the mountains into the west, or being fourteen again and looking at the gold laid out on her mother’s kitchen table, weighing out what she was worth—all she was worth. Her eyes slid off to the side again and down to the scratched wood of the table into which was etched hieroglyphs detailing futures yet unlived, paths untraversed, people willing to fuck backwards, upside down, and sideways for dope.
“Okay, maybe not,” she said.
“This keeps happening,” said Hawke, leaning in across rivers, state lines, constellations, “and it’s gonna keep happening until we both stop fucking up and until you get your shit together. Do you really wanna be seventy years old making dope deals and suffering metaphysically in shitholes like this and running away from the best fuck you’re ever gonna have.”
Hawke wasn’t any more particularly attuned to the nature of Isabela’s suffering than any other spoiled white woman fallen on hard times, though she’d always thought herself different. For a minute she thought about saying so, but instead something blew apart at the seams behind Isabela’s solar plexus. Tasted like it, too, like a pomegranate seed bursting in her mouth, sticky-sour and warm as blood all the way down her throat. “One, I won’t live to be seventy, old girl. Two, how the hell do you know—”
“Who the fuck do you think I am,” said Hawke. Leaning on the table like this Isabela could see the curve of her breasts in the shadows of her loose shirt, just like Hawke knew she would; didn’t look like she was even wearing a bra. Under the table Hawke kicked at her backpack, sending an ice-melt of shock along all hundred thousand nervous synapses in Isabela’s body as understanding broke over her like a crescendo of music echoing off the vast canyon walls that was her acid-drenched prefrontal cortex. “We’ve got a deal to make, you and I.”
“Castillon’s been delayed.” Hawke leaned away, rolled her shoulders back the way she did when she used to hustle in places like this, or when she knew Isabela was about to slam some dumbfuck’s head into the table; she could almost hear the teeth chattering across the floor. Goddamn, Isabela thought. Goddamn. She had shoulders like sheer granite and a face that belonged on wanted posters etched right beside her own, a hundred thousand for the matched set; what more could a girl really want? “There’s a train coming in tonight, nine o’clock sharp, which means about nine-thirty. There’s someone on it who’ll pay better, if we’re willing to take on some extra cargo.”
“You conniving little fuck,” said Isabela, breathlessly. “If we didn’t have somewhere to be in an hour I’d take you upstairs right now. You wouldn’t be able to walk in the morning.”
“Hold that thought until you come down and then we’ll see.”
“Maybe I’m hallucinating this entire thing and we won’t get another chance. Ever think of that?”
“No because I’m not the one who’s tripping because she can’t cope with reality or read the signs that have been blaring at her in screaming red neon for like, five years.”
“Alcohol is a drug, Hawke.”
“Not the same way.”
“I think you’ll find science isn’t on your side there. In fact the entire multiverse including your poor fucking liver and your calcified third eye favor psychedelics over alcohol.”
“Shut up. The point is, we work better together and I want us to work together again. I also want to bury my face between your thighs, so I think this arrangement is gonna be beneficial for both of us.”
“If we don’t wind up killing each other.”
“Big if, right.”
“Mm. I think we can work out our problems like adults,” she said, watching the light and the bloody haze of desert dust from the bar bend and warp around Hawke like a transmission from distant stars. “It feels—you know right now I feel like molten lava.”
Hawke made a noise; if they’d been outside she’d have spat into the dirt. “You said that to me once, you know. Not otherwise under the influence of anything.”
“Except you’d just made me come in the middle of the fucking desert at midday.”
“Except that, yeah.”
Hawke would never really ask her, she knew; perhaps this was cowardice. Perhaps it was cowardice, too, that Isabela wouldn’t say it. At any rate it was a stupid question, and there was no answer but the obvious, which was seeping out of Isabela’s ears and her lungs and her eyes like honey, the sound of it like warm velvet on bare skin in the dark, or a bath while off your ass on peyote, which felt like ten thousand hands and/or tongues all over one’s naked body. It oozed in from other dimensions and galaxies just out of sight, like shadows made by desert dunes; if she held still she could feel the clamor of their breathing with the swell of her own lungs, like she’d swallowed them all whole.
Something—Hawke—aimed a gentle kick at her shin with the toe of her boot, forcing her out from underneath the forest floor of unfutures and cosmic inevitabilities and into the present full of dope deals and murder and intimidation and the promise of really, really good sex when it was all said and done. Perhaps, her treacly mind supplied, perhaps perhaps perhaps, if they stuck together for good this time, there could be good sex on the regular, and perhaps even that thing they did one time while blissfully stoned with Hawke’s hand around her throat. The thought of it alone sent a thick electric twist of something pulsing between her legs and the insides of her thighs up the base of her spine, melting her all through like chocolate or butter on her tongue.
What would she give, she wondered. What would she give...
“Stop looking at me like that,” she said. Hawke’s head was tilted, her mouth crooked with a slice of teeth like a cat playing with its dinner, the way it always was when she had a good idea.
“I’m awfully fond of you,” said Hawke, “that’s all.”
“You ever feel like we’ve done this before,” asked Isabela.
“We have done this before. You’ve run off, stolen my drugs or my money or else you’re running from something else, and then you either come slinking back into town on a dope deal or I chase you down.” Hawke looked down and tapped a broken nail on the rim of her glass before she finished her drink. “But that’s never even the biggest thing you’re running from. It’s just your excuse.”
“Thanks. I didn’t ask for the amateur psychoanalysis. What I meant was we keep doing this,” she said, waving her hand to encompass the bar, the sloe-dark street and the lemon-rime of moonlight, the vomit in the alley, Hawke, herself, the desert, the thousand horizons unseen and unknown, all alive, overflowing. “We’ve been here before.”
“No shit. Because you keep—”
“No, dumbass, I mean we’ve been here before. A hundred thousand million times. There—don’t you feel that? Like we’re supposed to keep doing this until something breaks, or we get it right and it all solves like an equation that’s actually really fucking simple once you solve for x, or the fundamental problem at the heart of the universe to which the answers are actually right under your goddamn nose staring you in the face, but you won’t open your eyes and just look.”
Hawke’s smile went a little bit wild, like a fox on the scent of something good. “Something you want to tell me?”
“Could ask you the same.”
“Well,” said Isabela, feeling eons, feeling life, “well, I mean, I love you, you asshole.”
Hawke blinked. “Only time you can say it is when you’re on something.”
“At least I can say it.”
“Touché,” said Hawke, looking at Isabela in the dark corner of the bar like she was a witch or a shamanistic storyteller at the end of the world. “And what are we gonna do about it.”
“Make a dope deal, I guess. Kill Castillon and then fuck it out.”
“And then what.”
Then this will happen again, she thought, mind casting out into the ink-spill at the edge of the world again and again and again, as many times as it takes for us to walk in the right direction together. When she closed her eyes she could see it so clearly she wondered if perhaps her powers of divination had come into late flower or else she’d fallen headfirst into an acid dream, but when she opened them again Hawke was still there, still with the smudge of shadow underneath her dagger-blue eyes, and she was still herself, and the world was still waiting, all the world and the other worlds, the darkness smoothing every possibility into a thousand golden threads like the spokes of a wheel, turning and turning.
“I’ve still got some peyote,” said Isabela, reaching out, running her thumb up the inside of Hawke’s wrist, feeling the contrast of her brown skin and Hawke’s pale heartbeat drumming in the blue branch of her vein-line, the sound and the color skipping like a song she hadn’t heard before, refracting in a milky shimmer all across her skin. “I’ve also got a Spacemen 3 record.”
“The sexy one?”
“They’re all sexy.”
“You ever done peyote before,” asked Hawke.
“Just acid. I was saving this for something special so I suppose the return of the once and future whatever is good enough.”
“You’ve really never done it.”
“Cross my heart.”
“Pussy if you don’t,” said Hawke.
“That’s fine. I love pussies. No stronger force on earth.”
Hawke laughed her breaking-glass laugh that skittered over the floor and under Isabela’s dust-caked boots, and then Isabela let her pull her up out of her seat beside her, hips brushing, her knuckles ghosting along the curve of Hawke’s ass to her thigh like an expert typist until she caught Isabela’s wrist and tugged her forward. The light and the music moved around them like a vision of another time, all of it stained sepia, sweet as myth or memory. Then Isabela grabbed Hawke’s hand and pulled her out the door and into the filmy gradient of the night, where she understood the great wheeling universe had begun to spin again, on to the next one, and the next. She hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder and led the way.