Peter Case

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Chapter 12

THE WATER YOU DRINK

We headed up into the Sierra De Juarez mountains, on this little one lane road about an hour after we woke up. It was mid-day, and the temperature was up over 100 degrees, I’m guessing, maybe way over. The sun was closer than I’d ever seen it, and we couldn’t escape the burn. Through hills of scorched brown dirt, and dead blonde grass, on this tiny jagged line of a road, Eric pushed the Corolla through the turns, taking the bumps full on, driving as fast and as hard as he possibly could. His eyes looked slightly mad behind shades or like he was angry. I didn’t know why, and I figured there was nothin’ I could or wanted to do about it.

The batteries in the cassette player died the night before in Tijuana, turning Jagger’s “let it loose, let it all come down” into a dirge, finally a croak, then conking out completely. Oh well, there was a song in my head anyway; I was writing one of my own, so I’d brought the guitar up into the front seat with me, where I was strummin’ it sideways facing Eric, but then turnin’ my head to the window to sing, where my words were lost in the roar of the wind. I had the music, and I was singing nonsense words, just sounds and syllables, like another language almost.“Rock French.” One thing was for sure, it wasn’t Spanish, I knew none of that, and I was feeling the lack. I was starting to feel very far from home.

The pattern on the guitar turned and wound back into itself, a riff like a mobius strip. Kinda like the road we were on. The song changed from a jungle strum to a tropical dance, then to a beach ballad with the Three Big Chords. Over and over, through the noise of the engine and the grind of the gears, I kept playing it. But even miles wouldn’t finish the song for me, and finally I laid it down.

We needed water, but there was no water in sight. It was so fuckin’ hot. There was nothing  but sun, mountain, dirt and dead grass blowin’ around. No towns, no farms, no people, no cars travelling in either direction that we could see. Hot, dirty, dusty, and dry. Dazed, amazed, unfazed in the rays. I had a pen somewhere but that wasn’t worth writin’ down. I figured it’d come.

Eric pulled off the road to the left, onto a deeply rutted dirt road that led up onto a bare rugged hillside. As we climbed over the ridge, past some withered trees, we saw a tiny little wooden shack about 50 yards away, paint worn off, roof all ragged open boards, and some tar paper. There was a broken down, old, rusted flat-bed farm truck up on blocks, parked like junk, off to the left side of the house. Pails and tools were everywhere, spread on the ground, stacked on the crooked porch. A little red rooster fled around the corner. A bumper, some fenders, an old flywheel with broken gears: and a whole garage-worth of abandoned metal and wood lay in the

grass. Gasoline and kerosene cans, funnels, chains, and lots of farm wreckage. There had to be some real Mexican hillbillies livin’ in this place, I figured. I turned to Eric and said “I hope we don’t scare them. That might not be too cool.”

They saw us from the house and came out on the porch. Two very thin older men, of maybe 50 or 60 years. They weren’t smiling, just watching very quietly. Eric braked the car, shut it off and got out. He was grinning, trying to look friendly, nodding his head and making faces, walking around their yard like some kind of a jokester or mime, but instead of conveying harmlessness, he probably just looked like a freak to these guys. They didn’t respond at all, hardly moved, just watched.

Eric was going through the full sign language routine, with a bit of Brooklyn style thrown in. “Water.” He smiled and made a gesture towards his lips, as if holding a dipper. “Agua?” His eyes were wide, he was hamming it up, trying to get across, nodding his head up and down. The men looked at him there, in his jeans and t-shirt, sandals and shades, and they saw this scarecrow of an American, with a bowl haircut and a goofy face, trying to look innocent at them. Then they looked over at me.

They weren’t going for us, that was clear. They pointed to an ancient trough, over on the side. We went over and looked. It was full of water, alright: brown, brackish, dirty, oozing, swill-like water, suitable for overheating radiators maybe. There was straw and mud and pebbles in the trough, which was rusted red and orange.  Almost. Nah.

Eric turned back to the two: “The water you drink. Can we have some of the water you drink?”

The men just gestured at the trough and went back into the house, and after a minute or two, we left.

We didn’t have any cash left. We’d gone through it all in Tijuana. We’d gassed up the car on the card right before we crossed the border the day before, so we had nearly a full tank. I guess we figured we’d just have to rely on credit to get by the rest of the trip. I say “I guess” ‘cause we hadn’t really talked about it.

The day was wearing on, but we didn’t see any more opportunities to get water. It was starting to get seriously uncomfortable, but there wasn’t anything we could do; it seemed there were no more people anywhere on the whole mountain range. We just kept driving.

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