Nod is a miner. He has long dark hair and owns probably a hundred different pairs of overalls; he likes to go dancing in cowboy bars. Because he weighs about two hundred pounds and is no taller than I am – about 5’ 4” in my bare feet – the sight of Nod, dancing, has been known to arouse the kind of indignation in the hearts of cowboys that, in New Mexico, can be dangerous to the arouser. Cowboys in slanting hats – not only their Stetsons, in fact, but often their eyes are slanting, and the dark cigarettes stuck in one corner of their mouths, the ash lighting only with the brief, formal intake of each breath – watch Nod dancing with the slight contemptuous smiles with which they slice off a bull calf’s genitals on hot afternoons in July. The genitals themselves are like plums buried in soft pouches made of cat’s fur; if you are not quick with the small curved knife the scrotum slides between your fingers, contracting against the calf s ermine-slick black belly, the whites of its eyes almost phosphorescent with fear. The cowboys, with what seems to me an unnecessary lack of tact, often feed the remains to the chickens. Sometimes, living in the desert, you understand the need for an elaborate code of ritual laws; without them, the desert makes you an accomplice in all kinds of graceless crimes. They are not even crimes of passion – they are crimes of expediency, small reckonings made on the spur of the moment before the white chickens boil around the rim of the bloody, dented bucket.

‘Want to go dancing?’ Nod says. It is still early and he has just called. I stare at the picture on the wall by the phone: my ex-husband, standing up to his knees in a stream, holding a trout. In the picture my husband is wearing a dark T-shirt and the water in the stream is the colour of iodine. Only the trout is silver. ‘That job came through,’ Nod says. ‘The one in Texas, you remember? It put me in a bad mood. I want to go sweat out my anguish in a dim-lit bar. And it’s Saturday night and you’re a lonely woman with love on her mind. Come with me. You’ve got nothing else to do.’

I pause. It is true, I’m not doing anything else: on the television in the other room a long-haired Muppet with a quizzical expression is banging on a black toy piano with a toy hammer. My ex-husband is in Oregon. The trout, when he had opened it, was full of beautiful parallel bones. I was amazed by the transparency of the bones, and the fact that they had been laid down so perfectly inside the fish, lining the silvery gash of its intestines. My husband was pleased that I was taking such an interest in the trout; ‘This is an art,’ he said. He showed me the tiny minnow he had found, perfectly whole, inside the belly cavity. The minnow had tiny, astonished eyes. I wanted to put it in water. He refused. He wrapped it in a scrap of newspaper and threw it away. ‘It was dead,’ he told me. When he finally called me from Oregon, I could hear a woman singing in the background. My husband pretended it was the radio.

The Compartment
Monster Deal