{ Living in the Eye of the Moon }
Daniel Guzman Negron
illustration by Dogan Pehlevan

runningToday, we walked for twenty miles before getting picked up by a passing truck. It was somewhere on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The sun bit our necks and our faces. My skin was red. Carmen looked worse, her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. The driver's wide face and shoulders filled the window-frame. We couldn't see his eyes under his baseball cap.
   "What are you doing up on this road?" he asked. "You lost?"
   "Uh-huh," I said.
   "Heading anywhere in specific?"
   "No, not really. Albuquerque, I think."
   "New Mexico, right?"
   "That's right."
   "I'll be pulling into Chicago tonight. I can take you as far as that."
   I opened the passenger door, and we hopped in next to him. His large hands steered the truck back onto the road. My teeth rattled. Carmen curled up next to me and closed her eyes. I spoke with the driver for a while about the state of the union, the end of the world, that sort of thing.
   "What's that new thing we should be worried about?" he asked. "Dirty bombs, is it?"
   "That's right," I said.
   "I'd head to Florida if it wasn't for the damn fires everywhere."
   In the silence that followed, I still wasn't able to sleep. Carmen was passed out on my shoulder. The seats were too hot, and I could feel my sweat sticking to my face. It would be another long hour before we arrived in Chicago.

They make love in the leather interior of the empty van. The rest of the passengers on the van, three in all, sit in the diner, enjoying their meals and dreaming of the families they would meet out west. They are wanderers, too.
   The boy and the girl cling to the cushions. The glove compartment opens, spilling out maps of the Southwest, pencils, a snowglobe with the city of Houston trapped inside, a brochure advertising an amusement park.
   The van driver, a long-haired youth with a tie-dye shirt, offers the hooker double what she normally gets. She unbuttons her blouse. The passengers in the diner finish their cups of tea, all the while talking about the fires to the east.
   The boy and the girl search through the glove compartment. The girl stuffs the Houston snowglobe into her bag. The boy finds $125 tucked inside the brochure. They leave without saying goodbye.
   "It's like...."
   "It's like living on the moon, isn't it? This land. So cold, so still."
   They are in a field now, somewhere in New Jersey, holding each other, the girl and the boy. They are lovers. They see the moon rise up into the large sky. They don't talk much anymore.

The truck driver dropped us off at a small diner about a mile from Chicago. We said our goodbyes and entered inside to get something to eat. Carmen looked a little healthier from her sleep.
   The lady behind the counter took our order. We sat down on the stools and shared a cigarette while we waited. The cook looked at us as he slid an order of hash browns to the waitress. He nodded a hello to Carmen. She blushed. I pretended not to have noticed.
   Looking at Carmen, I was reminded again how attractive she was. She had small, red lips and was wearing a little tank top. Her arms were too skinny, and her blonde hair was too dirty. It never stopped us from getting rides, though.
   We shared the cigarette in silence. She placed it between her lips, and when she gave it back to me, I found crumbs of red lipstick on the filter.
   "You wearing makeup?" I asked her.
   "Just a little for my lips," she said. "I'm surprised you didn't notice."
   "Where did you get the makeup?"
   "There was some lipstick stuck between the seats of the truck. I didn't think the driver would be needing it."
   She pressed her lips together and blew a kiss at me.
   "You like it?"
   "You shouldn't have taken the lipstick."
   I took a drag from the cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. "I don't know. Just don't wear it anymore, okay?"
   Carmen shrugged at me. "Okay, sure whatever. I don't see the big deal, though." Her eyebrows scrunched at me. I knew I would be seeing the lipstick again.
   She bent down on the countertop, arms folded, chin resting on her forearms. She stared at the ketchup bottle in front of her. Her tank top sagged down and I could see the tiny mole on the side of her left breast. I looked around to see if any of the old men in the diner were looking. I heard footsteps on the gravel outside the diner.
   He must have been around fifty years old, but he was in shape. Rugged, like the cops on television. I looked over at Carmen. She noticed him enter, too. I took our backpacks off of the stool next to mine and slid them onto the floor.
   The man came over and sat in the empty stool. He nodded to me, and then looked over at Carmen. She smiled at him. He gave a wink to her, and then turned his attention to the newspaper on the counter. Our plates of food arrived, so I excused myself to go wash my hands. As I left for the bathroom, Carmen glanced over at me with a confident look and slid her way into my seat. She turned back to the man and gave him a smile.
   By the time I came back, the man and Carmen were laughing like old friends. I sat in Carmen's seat and slid my plate over. Carmen giggled and placed her hand on the man's leg. Behind the counter, the cook was watching the three of us silently.
   "I would like to introduce you to Mr. Roberts," Carmen said. "He is a teacher travelling cross-country with his family. They are going to see the Rocky Mountains."
   I shook Mr. Roberts' hand.
   "They were tired," he said, "so I dropped them off at the hotel for the evening."
   "Yes, yes. Poor wife is tired from driving all the way from Philadelphia today," Carmen said. "They are from New York, same as us. Isn't that so in-ter-est-ing?"
   "Oh, yeah, very," I winked at Carmen. I noticed that Carmen's Spanish accent was thicker, almost to the point of being ridiculous.
   "But of course, we are not really from New York. No, no, no," Carmen said, wagging a finger. "We are really from Puerto Rico. We've traveled far, and are still many days away from our destination. Isn't that right?" She was asking me the question.
   I looked over at the cook again. He was still staring at us. I shoveled in a spoonful of rice and stared back at him with puffed cheeks.
   "So, Carmen tells me you are an artist," the man said.
   I nodded, unable to give a reply with all the food in my mouth.
   "Oh, he is. He is the world's greatest painter," Carmen added.
   "Really? The world's greatest!" the man said, his eyes focused on Carmen.
   "Oh, I think so. You should ask him to do a portrait for you," Carmen said. She stressed the word and looked at me.
   I shook my head. "I don't do portraits."
   Carmen jabbed me with her elbow. "Yes, you do. This man is very interested in a portrait."
   "I don't have any tools with me."
   "Use the napkin. Use my eyeliner. Here."
   She reached into her backpack and pulled out a thin tube of black eyeliner. This was yet another thing I didn't know she had. She slid it across the counter to me. "There. There. You have a canvas and something to paint with. Now, paint for us."
   Mr. Roberts smiled. "Oh, yes! Please do. But, could you do it of Carmen? I think she is a better subject for an artwork then I am."
   I looked up at the cook. He was still staring at me. I don't think he had blinked for the past five minutes. That cook! There was something very familiar about him. Hell, everyone was paranoid these days! There were fires in the east!
   "Ah yes, start with the eyes," he said. The eyeliner was too thick. It left a black trail on the napkin. Too thick, I thought to myself. I looked back up at Carmen, at that face I've slept next to for so long. I followed the curve of the eyes and went down to that nose, to that mouth I knew.
   "Keep going," Carmen whispered into my ear in Spanish. Her eyes were as unblinking as that of the cook. I looked at Mr. Roberts' fingers as they slid their way onto Carmen's hips. I noticed there wasn't a ring.

"It's like...."
   "It's like living on the moon, isn't it? This land. So cold, so still."
   He loved her, but he knew she had been sleeping with the van driver. He felt the $125 in his back pocket. He held her in the field. They were silent for a long time. The stars moved while they sat together in silence.
   "Did you feel it?"
   "Feel what?"
   "The stars moving."
   "Yes, I think so."

I finished the drawing. It had a passing resemblance to Carmen. It was in the eyes. I mumbled out a weak apology. "I'm sorry. I can never draw Carmen when she's right in front of me. I always prefer drawing from memory."
   The waitress came by and gave us the bill. Mr. Roberts took it and smiled at us.
   "Payment for the drawing," he said. I nodded. I handed him the napkin.
   Carmen got up from the table and stretched her arms. From where I stood, I could see the curve of her breasts inside her tank top. She reached over and kissed me on the cheek. Her red lipstick smeared across my face. She turned and gave Mr. Roberts a kiss on the cheek, too. He reached over and grabbed her skinny thigh. I caught the smile on Carmen's face.
   She excused herself from the table and rushed over to the bathroom. Mr. Roberts looked at me.
   "You and Carmen, you are very close?" he asked. He spoke slowly to make sure I understood every word.
   I nodded at him.
   "She is a very special girl. You are very lucky to have her."
   He reached into his pocket and gave me a five-dollar bill. "Could you do me a favor and get me some cigarettes? They are in the back, by the telephones."
   I reached over, and stopped to look at the cook. His face was very familiar. I've been here before, maybe in another life. His eyes reminded me of my father.
   "Sure," I said. I took the money and walked through the back of the diner. I walked into the long hallway where the telephones were. I found the cigarette machine.
   It was only then that I realized that the man hadn't told me what brand to buy.
   When I came back, the man was gone. I sat down in the stool, and looked at my food. I reached into my backpack and pulled out the snowglobe. Carmen's backpack was still by my feet. I reached into it and pulled out something cold. I sat on the stool, waiting for Carmen to come back from the bathroom, wondering if she was still there at all. Her food was still on the counter.
   The waitress passed by me. I wanted to ask her if she had seen a man leave with a young Spanish girl, but I decided against it. The bathroom door opened, and a lady walked out. I looked at my hands. In the palm was Carmen's tube of red lipstick. I pulled off the top, and spread out a new napkin. I would draw her a new portrait, a better one.

back home.