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Authors: Hari Kunzru

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BOOK: Gods Without Men
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Nicky tried to act nonchalant as he sipped his Coke. He wasn’t a fussy eater. On tour he happily scarfed down greasy-spoon meals that would turn most people’s stomachs—fried eggs swimming in fat, sausages made from bits of pig they didn’t even have names for. But however bad the food was in Britain, at least they didn’t put sugar in everything. He’d ordered the Mothership Chicken Basket, and the whole lot—meat, bread roll, chips, salad dressing, even the lettuce, far as he could tell—was sweetened. No wonder the waitress was a pig. He got some of it down—he was hungry—then had to give in. He pushed his chair back and slapped a twenty on the table. The young Marines gave him the evil eye all the way to the door.

There was a queue at Dee’s American Eagle Liquor Store. More short hair, more tats, more staring. Two blokes even came out to watch as he got back into the car. A six-pack of Coronas and a bottle of tequila—frankly, it was going to take at least that much booze to calm his nerves. He drove round the corner and stopped in the car park of a Taco Bell. He would have gone in and got a sandwich, but there were more military
nutjobs inside and he just couldn’t face it. The paranoia had woken him up, and he didn’t want to go back to his purple cave quite yet. Fuck it. He had everything he needed. He should just get on with what he came for. He could spend the night outside and wait for the sun to come up. It was still over eighty degrees. It wasn’t like he was going to get cold.

So he drove on, and after a couple of miles found a turn signed
NATIONAL MONUMENT
. Up ahead the sky was clear, blue-black. As he swung round, the headlights caught the shapes of huge cacti at the roadside, reaching their hands to the sky. He followed the road for half an hour or so, then stopped and switched off the engine. The sound of insects rose up in the darkness, an industrial sawing and scraping. He sat on the bonnet and drained a beer, gradually feeling his heart rate slow. He threw the empty bottle out into the darkness. It made a little thud as it hit the dirt.

He fished the plastic bag of peyote out of its hiding place under the passenger seat and ate a couple of the buttons. They were so bitter it was all he could do to keep them down and he swigged tequila to take the taste away. Bad idea. After he’d spent almost a minute trying not to retch, he had to give in and spit a nasty mess out onto the ground. Silhouetted against the sky was a rock formation, a huge rounded boulder that looked like the back of a big sleeping animal, topped with three teetering stacks of rock. It didn’t seem so far away. He wiped his mouth, dropped a few supplies into a plastic bag and started walking in its direction. In the bag the gun clinked loudly against the bottles and he had an idea it might accidentally go off, so he fished it out and tried to fit it into the waistband of his jeans. His trousers were too tight as it was and with the gun in there he had to walk like a constipated person. If he broke into a run, he’d probably shoot himself in the arse. He ended up just carrying it.

After ten minutes the rocks didn’t seem any nearer. He hadn’t brought a torch, and he kept stumbling. There were these little furry cacti dotted around, all at about knee height. They were very hard to see and he kept walking into them, getting spines stuck in his jeans. Despite himself he was beginning to think about snakes. And weren’t there wolves out here, or coyotes or whatever? Don’t be a pussy, he told himself. You’re
the lead singer of a band. You’ve got a gun. You are Jim Morrison. You are the hero of your own adventure.

No one knew where he was. No one in the world. But then again, wasn’t that the point of coming out to the desert? You had to get lost to find yourself. Which sounded like the sort of thing Noah would say. Fucking Noah, it was all his fault. Checking the ground carefully, he sat down and had another beer, following it up with a few shots of tequila. So what if no one knew? How did life feel when people did know? No one really cared anyway. He had another go at the peyote, swallowing big lumps of it, trying to chew as little as possible. Something bright and white raced across the sky. The stars were like pinholes in a cloth. You could believe you were seeing through to some incredibly bright world on the other side of the darkness.

But the thought kept going round in his head. No one knew. No one knew. He took out his phone. He still had bars. She probably wouldn’t understand, but he called her anyway, just to hear her voice.

She picked up, sounding hoarse and sleepy.

“Baby? It’s me.”

“Nicky, it’s the middle of the night. I have to work in a couple of hours.”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“I have a really early call. Phone me later, OK?”

“What’s wrong with now?”

“I’m going to look like shit.”

“And that’s all you care about.”

“It’s my job.”

“Where are you?”

“Paris.”

“Again? Are you with someone?”

“Jesus, Nicky, not that. I’m asleep. Leave me alone.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, leave you alone?”

“You sound drunk.”

“Not really. A little. I phoned to say I love you.”

“That’s nice.”

“I need you, baby.”

“Mmm.”

“I mean it.”

“Nicky, what’s going on? I had a call from Terry. He wanted to know if I’d heard from you. Has something happened?”

“I don’t know. No. Maybe. I walked out of the session.”

“Why?”

“It’s complicated. I didn’t want to be there.”

“Where are you now?”

“No idea. In the middle of nowhere.”

“Where in the middle of nowhere?”

“The desert. Listen.”

He held the phone up so she could hear the insects.

“Isn’t that amazing?”

“What desert, Nicky? What are you doing out there?”

“Thinking about you. I want you to come. There’s nobody here for me, Anouk. Only you.”

“How can I come? I don’t have a magic carpet. What about the others? What about Jimmy? Or Terry? Why don’t you call Terry?”

“Because I don’t give a fuck about Terry. It’s all turned to shit, Nookie. You’re the only thing that matters. I mean it. You have to come and get me. I’m near a place called San—something. Get on a plane to L.A., OK? I’ll let you know where to come after that.”

“Nicky—”

“OK?”

“You’re not listening to me.”

“Just say you’ll do it. Just come, Nookie. You’re all I’ve got.”

“That’s not true. You’re just being dramatic.”

“Don’t tell me what I’m being. I’m serious.”

“I don’t understand you. Why do you always have to be this way?”

“Come. I want you to come. Just get on a plane. I’ll meet you at the airport. I love you.”

“Why now, Nicky? Why are you saying all this now?”

“Because it’s true.”

“You’re only saying it because you’re afraid. You think you’re going to lose me, so you say these dramatic things.”

“I mean it. If you don’t come, I don’t know what’ll happen.”

There was silence at her end. He could hear her sigh, shifting position in bed. He imagined someone else beside her, another man kissing her neck, stroking her hair.

“Anouk, I’m serious. If you don’t come I tell you I’ll do something stupid.”

“You’re always doing stupid things, Nicky. You’re a rock star. You get to do stupid things.”

“I’ll kill myself.”

“No you won’t.”

“I will. I’ve got a gun.”

“You’re full of shit, Nicky. I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait. You think I’m full of shit? Listen.”

He held the phone up and fired the gun out into the darkness. There was a deafening bang. He didn’t expect the recoil to be so strong. It jerked his arm up and he stumbled backwards. The phone went flying.

“Oh, fuck. Nookie? Nookie, can you hear me? Shout if you can hear me. Shit.”

He had no idea where the thing had landed. The screen had gone dark. He kept shouting her name, then listening for a reply, shuffling around on his hands and knees like a dog. What had he done? Fuck fuck fuck. He took out his cigarette lighter, scouring the ground in little five-second bursts, flicking the thing off each time his fingers started to burn. He wondered if the phone had gone under a rock, turned one over, then thought he saw a snake. In a panic, he jumped to his feet and fired at it. This time the recoil made him step backwards and he tripped over one of the squat little cacti. The pain was excruciating. The calf of his left leg was now covered in spines, some of which had gone in quite deep. Even if he’d been able to take them out himself, he couldn’t see a thing. He had to get back to the car. At least in the car there was a light.

Keep your head, Nicky. Whatever you do, don’t lose your head. Picking up the plastic bag of booze, he hobbled back in the direction he thought he’d taken, but after a few minutes he lost confidence and retraced his steps. He could still see the big rock formation. Logically he ought to walk away from it. He just wasn’t sure. The ache in his leg
made it hard to think. Under his feet, the ground felt spongy. Was he going to die? Mate, he told himself, you really need to get a grip.

His mouth was dry, but he had beer. He could drink a beer. His hands were shaking as he fumbled with the top. Him and his plastic bag of booze, out in the desert, with all the stars smeared across the sky. The ground was breathing. That was odd. The whole desert was slowly inhaling and exhaling and he was just a little wounded animal, standing on its back. The giant rattle of the insects pressed down on his ears and he began to sweat. Every rock, every grain of sand, was pumping out all the heat it had taken in during the day. The cacti raised their arms up to heaven. He wondered about joining them, praying for forgiveness. He felt sick. Would Anouk forgive him? What about all the others? He got down on his knees. Sorry, he whispered. I didn’t mean anything by it.

He vomited on the ground, clutching his sides. His head was throbbing. Oh God, he was all alone. He ought to have been with someone. He was a rock star. He could have anyone. The worse you behave, the more they want you. They humiliate themselves, lose the plot when you walk into a room. Men get jealous. Girls go down on you. It happened in toilets, in dressing rooms, in the little curtained beds on the tour bus. What they got out of it, he didn’t know. It used to make him happy, until he realized they weren’t really blowing him at all. Making it with a rock star—that was the point. Not Nicky Capaldi. When he came, they got points. They were blowing an idea, blowing fame. They were proving they could make fame come.

In the distance he heard his phone ringing. He stumbled towards the sound, which stopped as he got close. He used the lighter, tried to spot the place. Then, just by his feet, he heard a triplet of short beeps. Voicemail. He scooped up the phone and hugged it to his chest. His hands trembled as he called Anouk.

“Baby?”

“You’re alive!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“You bastard! You selfish bastard!”

“It was an accident.”

“You think that’s funny? You think it’s a joke, pretending to kill yourself?”

“I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“You’re actually crazy, you know that? A crazy person.”

“I dropped the phone.”

“I’ve had enough, Nicky. I’m not doing this anymore. You stay out in the desert and play with your gun. I don’t care. I don’t want to know about it. It’s over between us. Don’t call me again.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Don’t you dare tell me what I mean. It’s over, Nicky.”

“But I’m hurt. I fell over.”

“Mummy, I fell over. I’m hurt. You’re a little boy. A selfish little boy.”

“But I love you.”

“No, you don’t. I’m sorry, Nicky. You don’t love anyone but yourself.”

“That’s not true. Nookie! Nookie?”

There was no reply. She’d hung up. He called back, but she didn’t answer. He couldn’t believe it. This didn’t happen. They didn’t leave him. He left them, they didn’t leave him. His head spun. His leg throbbed. He drank more tequila and the desert breathed and the ground sucked at his feet like quicksand. Now he really thought of shooting himself. The gun would split his head apart like a watermelon. How had it got like this? When did he start hating himself so much? It was a mystery to him how other people ran their lives. What if he’d done more normal things? Washing up, cooking? He had no clue what was in his bank account. Did he have savings? People had savings. They saved up for things they wanted, things they couldn’t have straightaway.

Little by little, the heat went out of the air. He sat and shivered and held the gun out in front of him like a cross to ward off vampires and his mind skipped from one thing to another. His mum crying when she saw him on telly, Jimmy’s dad driving them to their first gigs. His kid sister, who got all the backstage passes she wanted, who did all the gak and drank all the Cristal and hung around China White’s trying to get off with footballers. Did she love him? What about his mum? He’d bought his mum a house. Finally dawn arrived, a thin sliver of orange
that spilled over the hills, lightening the sky until he could see some way into the distance and realized he’d been just a few hundred yards away from the car the whole time.

He drove back to the motel very slowly, along an empty road which seemed to writhe beneath his wheels like a snake. By the time he got there, the sun was over the horizon and his leg was broadcasting pain in great red waves. He limped to the pool and sat down on a lounger, still holding the half-empty bottle of tequila. When he shut his eyes, there was redness behind the lids, a hot, sick, heavy redness that smothered everything.

1778

To His Excellency Teodoro Francisco de Croix, Caballero de Croix, Comandante General of the Internal Provinces of the North

Señor
,

With due submission to the superior person of Your Excellency, I have, as instructed, made my way to the Mission at Bac and offer this confidential report on its condition and situation.

Misión San Xavier del Bac is located in an extensive valley, twenty leagues from the new Presidio of San Agustín del Tucson. Pasturage is scarce except in the vicinity of the spring. Around forty leagues to the north there is an abundance of pine, suitable for building. Mesquite, creosote and saguaro are found in the open country, along with quail, rabbit, hare and deer. As for harmful animals, there are none, save the coyote. While the land furnishes all amenities needed to sustain life, the air is alkaline and constipating, and all who come here suffer from chills and fevers. As the northernmost of the Sonora missions, San Xavier del Bac is vulnerable to the depredations of the Coyotera Apache, who make frequent raids and sorties, and harass the Pimas and Papagos in their rancherías, as well as the Mission itself. With these qualifications, it may be stated that the area satisfies the requirements for new settlements, as laid down in the First Law of Don Felipe II, registered in Book Four, Title Five, of the Laws of the Indies.

BOOK: Gods Without Men
7.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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