Jules Vasquez

Of the Minor Saints of an Imaginary Las Vegas

The scent’s the first thing you notice. You can’t place. A man’s musky cologne, foreign, imported, not suited for a by-the-hour motel. Under flickering neon signs announcing girls girls girls liquor gold bought here slots slots frantic misspelled names of God. A fine brand of cigarettes. A black and gold foil box on the grimy threadbare carpet. Someone blares a ball game on a fritzy radio down the hall. You can’t place it. No, now you can. A bottle of fine liquor, now emptied of every dark sweet drop, opaque black glass, engraved, ornate, as if centuries of an artisan’s hands lavished great skill upon it, heavy to the touch, easy to let slip. Everybody loves a big fancy liquor bottle, until it’s smashed in a casino parking lot, puncturing tourists’ tires. Last week a car full of blonde teenagers launched over a median, colliding with a convertible, newlyweds, at the height of rush hour, then rolled both into a blooming Chinese lotus in seconds. Everyone sticky black dust before sirens were in sight. A rusty screw in the tire. It’s always tourists. The locals, the losers, the reedy thin faced ravenous coyotes that curl around bars like vines dressed in the same filthy suit, ageless, ancient, but always tailored. Or the women, oh, women. If one falls into the orbit of this place too long, she’s a crucifix wrapped around a telephone pole on the highway with electrical tape. Everyone in this town is tragedy, then carries the weight of others on their backs. If they could put it down, they could go. You could. Here, the first piece of red-black glass, splashed, evocative, on dull linen sheets. Like an ancient artifact emerging from gray sand. Don’t mind the bead of thin, unworthy blood that runs down your thumb across it. This is my blood, shed for you. It catches the light. Not the light from the windows. The smoggy sunlight is a distinctive bland lemonade. Not the static on tv, long after late-night preachers sign off, after National Anthems die in their beds, God’s off the clock and on the mend. When the dead Russians in the sky sing, coffins caught in endless iron wind. Sometimes you turn on the set to listen. Untranslatable as the empty skull of a president. That day, you walked through the oil slick streets, hoping to see the face of judgment reflected. But the shard, the black-red shard. Not reflecting the seizing overhead lightbulb. You’re afraid to drag on the chain, it’d burn out entirely. Like the fire in your heart. No, the shard reflects a perfect prism band, no thicker than a fingernail, now hovering over your ring finger. The exact size of the ring you pawned ten years ago. The weight of a first marriage, like lightning striking a peak, sliding off your finger, then spinning, dull with weight, in circles on the counter. The pawnbroker with eyes like cracked emeralds, his yellowed teeth holding a lit cigar as he peered through a loupe. He knew your con. Everyone has one. Not that it wasn’t real. The desperation clear as the crease on your sleeve. Won huntreth. The syllables thick, awkward, half a sick nuclear continent, an ocean of plastic, between his home and the greasy shop. That’s it, you’d plead. Hey, he shrugged his shoulders. You’d take it, he’d known, you did. He chewed meditatively on the end as he rattled a handful of curling ones into your hand, on top of everything. Not an apology, an insult. He hurried you out the door with a condescending pat on your shoulder, then pulled the shades down, flipped the sign from open to closed. It kept your veins full for a day. More than it’d been worth. Every day, you tried to forget that heavy, bold gold ring. Maybe it’d been on that newlywed’s finger. Inevitably swiped by a lucky morgue technician. The prism hovers. The shards emerge, like locusts, from the bed, dozens, perhaps hundreds. Points and spines, delicate, baroque, until a red vibrant pulse surrounds the stained sheet. You should go. As sure as the face of a pock faced janitor, patron of bad omens, just vanished past the crack in the door behind a wheezing floor cleaner. Everybody likes a big fancy liquor bottle until it caves the side of some pretty young thing’s skull in. Yes, a splinter of it lodged here in his crown, staining a section of straw blonde hair crimson. He’s not young now, poor kid. Nobody’s young or poor in this city. It’s not just in those muddy half lidded blue eyes, sclera now bulging, swelled with purpling blood. The hunger in that lean face, filled with ancient sly sorrow, a bottomless hunger, so broad it could swallow every corner of creation in a single gulp. You know that look, that expression. Sure enough, the delicate circular pock, like stigmata, at the corner of his elbow. It means nothing. Tell yourself it means nothing. The biggest shard, a crown jewel choker, still lodged through the grubby porcelain blue throat. When you first flicked the lights on, it was like a long, sinuous nightgown was flowing off him, luxurious. Then you realized. Scatters of bruises litter the boy’s anorexic hips. His insides filled by now with cooling personal Judas. If you let yourself drop beside him. You will. It’s been too long since your last dose. When did you sleep? If the blind, cruel-eyed TV will cast its gaze away. It will never. You have no tears, or if you do, if there is no way to shed them. Yes, to be guilty Longinus. The weight could bind you to the Earth. Below dread cosmonauts like many eyed angels. But a moment, before the grubby lightbulb swings again, and, like the void, flicks out, at that base of that dark ascent. Wondering, before sliding onto the wet sheets, if the world has reversed. Fall, without a scream, up into the fallout sky. 

Jules Vasquez is nonbinary, queer, an abuse survivor, and thriving with a mood disorder. Their first novel, Plague City, won the Kenneth Patchen Award for the Innovative Novel from the Journal of Experimental Fiction (2019). Their chapbooks include Fallout, Saints and Dirty Pictures (little m press, 2009), and Yet Wave (the Lune, 2017). They also coauthored No Titles in the Bounds (2022) The Smoke Bar (2022) and Waiting for Samuel Beckett (2022) with Leslie D. Soule. They enjoy noise/drone music, cheap takeout, B-rated gangster/scifi flicks, and long walks off short piers.