Lara, the altar


I didn’t end up in Houston for its extracurricular charms. After 18 months trudging the Canadian tar sands, I wanted to be somewhere warm and vague. I had in mind to offset my carbon footprint by volunteering with a non-profit restoring avian habitats. I wanted karmic validation. What I got was Lara.

Three weeks in Houston and I was wiped. I stopped in a Neartown dive after work, my jumpsuit upper tied at my waist and splattered with petroleum globules that might as well have come from North Alberta.

So I here I was. Full circle. No release. Lara behind the bar.

Her gaze was stone, her skin was pearl and her clothes were black. Her tank top revealed an inch of the sides of both her breasts bridged by an indecipherable logo. From her neck hung a raven’s talon on a silver chain.

“What you need you can’t pay for,” she said, flat. But was that a smirk marring her porcelain facade?

We didn’t talk, or make eye contact for hours, but she kept feeding me Miller High Life. At closing time I swept up the Marlboro butts and peanut shells, and she readied the mop. We finished the silent ballet, and then she called me a cab, locked up, and left me out front.

I didn’t go back to work the next day. But I did show up for happy hour, as I would for the rest of the week. We’d repeat the routine each day, moving from tears (mine) to beers (hers) before the clean up (both of us). I felt her power so acutely, I could barely speak. Which was good, because she didn’t like to chat.

On Friday, she locked up, called a cab, and pulled me into it.

We stopped at a suburban ranch house. Silently, she led me through dark hallways into a square room. She lit a candle at a corner shrine with a tiny Buddha dwarfed by animal skulls, single feathers, and snake skins. The rest of the room was lined floor to ceiling with books and records. She took a plastic canister from under the altar, and we both swallowed a massive quantity of bone-dry mushrooms. Or she did anyway, and I felt like I had no choice but to follow.

In 40 minutes we opened up. She was a former street kid, of parts Creole, Korean, Scotch Irish, and Native. The native was all that stuck.  She was an autodidact, and could talk Baudelaire, Black Metal metaphysics, and Sumerian mythology. Relating the biography of the Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut, she shed tears and cut her finger over the altar. The blood dripped off a rodent skull and began to tap the floor with insistence.

I had been silent for hours. Now I grabbed  the knife still gouging her finger, and then her, hoisting her tiny frame to mine. She put her hands to my face and kissed me so sweetly, so gently, I welled up too. “If you keep going around you’ll never get out,” she whispered to me.

We lay on the floor, our bodies wrapped , staring into each other’s eyes until we nodded off.

In the cruel optimism of a Texas morning I untangled myself from her, and found my way to a bathroom. I vomited, and then slurped from the sink all I could. My head up, I looked in the mirror. Her blood had smeared and dried  in the middle of my forehead. I wanted out.

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