At first, the town of Palmas Muertas seemed to live up to its name. Asteria had been surrounded by lush green hillsides and forests thick with trees and swarming with life. Palmas Muertas is dead. Dead brown plants that grow brittle in the sun. Dead, dusty earth that blows in the wind and stings your eyes. Rows of blocky buildings surrounded by lifeless red rocks.
A part of D.J. seemed to have died, too. He wouldn’t speak to me about what had happened to Keith. In fact, for the first two weeks, the only words he spoke were, “It’s over. It’s gone.” He’d held up his hands so that I’d understand his meaning. Catherine’s golden touch curse had ended. We did, however, still have those two golden rocks, which D.J. cashed in at some sleazy cash-for-gold pawn shop. Instead of using the money to travel the rest of the way to California, we ended up renting a house.
D.J.’s morose state lingered on and on. He spent hours just sitting out in the desert. Meditating, I guess. Burning, too. He’d trudge home with downcast eyes and lobster-red skin, which he slathered with aloe vera gel. When he wasn’t cooking himself under the sun’s rays, he just lay on the sofa, zombie-like, or cooked his lungs with cigarettes, another one of his new habits. I wondered if Catherine’s curse had some residual effects on D.J.’s personality.
Then all of a sudden, he was himself again. Like snap! He woke up from the Black Sleep of the Kali Ma and was ready to live life on the edge. “Let’s own this town,” he said, almost jittery with excitement. So out we went to discover all that Palmas Muertas has to offer. And I have to say, it isn’t as bad as I thought at first. The town has lots of interesting shops and clubs and interesting places to hang out and eat. I tried Mexican food for the first time ever, which is funny, considering how my Detroit friends used to call me the Mexican.
While exploring the town, I made two great discoveries. The first was Honest Bob’s Used Car lot. Most of the cars were total wrecks, and possibly illegal to sell under state lemon laws. But still, there was a Help Wanted sign in the window, and before I knew it, I was a salesman. It wasn’t too hard to talk people into buying cars, since I was sincerely excited about them, and knowledgeable, too. I tried to steer people toward the working cars, and spent my spare moments fiddling around under the hoods of the junky ones.
The other great discovery I made was the Prickly Pear Botanical Garden in the center of town. Not because I was into botanical gardens, but because that’s where Lindsay Tate works. Who is Lindsay Tate? She is a rose blooming in the middle of desert sand. She is the reason why I decided that the desert is the most beautiful place on the planet. (Yes, even more beautiful than the savanna). The desert is not dead and lifeless at all! The land is teeming with life, and the sunlight glows red and gold against the sculpted crags and peaks, and art-like desert plants reach toward the blue, blue sky. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice that from the start.
As for D.J., well, he was too busy spending hours inside of casinos to see much of the desert beauty. He had discovered a new religion, trading in the cult of desert meditation for the altar of the Almighty Poker Chip. I went along with him a few times, and watched my hard-earned sales commission get eaten up by hungry slot machines.
But where my interest faded quickly, D.J.’s only grew. When at last I deserted him, preferring to spend my energy at work or peering at Lindsay from behind giant saguaros, D.J. found a new friend to spend his time with – Mo Yung. I didn’t know it then, but Mo Yung was bad news. If I could have foreseen the future, then I would have been a better friend to D.J. I would have warned him to run. Run fast.
Your (lovestruck) friend,