A buzzard follows its shadow a half-mile below, an inverse spotlight circling a roadside diner. Inside is one cook, one waitress, and one table, at which sits Friend B. He wears a suit, once tailored, now white as coal. It no longer fits him, as if it, too, has outgrown him.
One cup of coffee, gray. An upturned infant’s skull holds the sugar cubes, which Friend B now counts. He asks the one waitress for seventeen more.
He stirs and stirs, staring at the leaden swirl until dead noon. He peers up, out the one window: one road, one cactus, and one shadow, the buzzard’s.
A motorcycle crests the desert’s one horizon. It grumbles like an aftershock except before, a preamble to collision.
Friend O sits upon a Harley Davidson, neither moving nor approaching, but growing bigger and bigger until he is here, in the parking lot, tremendously present.
Pink and periwinkle streamers dangle from the handlebars. A sunbaked rattlesnake carcass is zip-tied round the headlamp. Deflated blow-up doll limbs sag limp from the saddlebags, having given up on their escape.
Friend O is plump now, haggard now, naked now except for a pair of alligator cowboy boots and a polar bear pelt, its claws knotted loose at his clavicle. Together his and the bear’s maws twist toward the window. Upon spotting his dear old friend inside, he pummels his chest and helicopters his genitals in greeting.
“Some things,” says Friend B, “never change.”
Friend O, never one for doors but always for entrances, spears himself through the window. Shards everywhere. The desert heat hisses inside. Outside the buzzard’s shadow passes.
When the waitress approaches, Friend O sweeps his furry cloak open, flashing his crotch like a badge. She understands immediately.
One cup of coffee and eighteen sugar cubes are served. The friends embrace. Less an impact than a friction.
“So,” says Friend B, loosening his tie. “How you been?”
“Last year, Greenland. Skinned her myself.”
“Me?” says Friend B. “Not too hot. Suppose that’s why I asked you out here after all this time.”
“Between you and me?” Friend O chuckles. “Well, let’s just say all them rumors are true.”
“Nancy?” says Friend B. “Fine, I imagine. She took the kids. What was left of them, anyway.”
Friend B lifts his hands like he means business. “No, no, no. Wouldn’t want to bore you with my sob story.”
Friend O kicks off a boot and sets his foot, corned and acrid, into his friend’s lap. Friend B spits into his palms, starts massaging. Just like old times.
“Blubber,” says Friend O. “Not just any, though. Got to be whale. That there’s the secret behind the world’s most supple plastics, and to all my success.”
“Oh, of course I still trust you,” groans Friend B. “But where to even begin?”
“From the very start, Nance and me had always promised to wait till the kids had grown up and moved out if we ever came to splitting up. Made sense, seemed fair enough.”
“Easy,” chuckles Friend O. “Just stormed from igloo to igloo.”
“But things happen—worse—things change,” says Friend B. He pauses, dabs toe jam along his gums, yet so despondently now. “But want to hear the worst part?”
“Yep, it’s a tough market, alright. The Japanese ones are so lifelike.”
“And, yes, even more horrific than little Timmy’s wood chipper snafu, believe you me.”
“But mimesis gets pretty darn cumbersome, bud,” says Friend O. “The inflatability, the portability of my product is what keeps me afloat. I mean, who don’t get lonely on the road, right?”
“It’s that I can’t blame her. Just look at me, O. Look what the years have done to me. Her new husband, Geronimo? Perfection on hind legs. Even the kids adore him, or what’s left of them.”
“For you, B? Heck, you’re a brother to me. It would be my honor to give you one.”
“Yes, O, the Geronimo.”
“At cost, naturally. Best twelve grand you ever spent.”
“I love his show, too. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to admit that?”
“In pesos?” Friend O pinches his beard. “Why not. What are friends for?”
Friend B wrenches O’s ankle, whispers, “And I still tune in every week. Geronimo, he’s brilliant. Leaving me for him was the smartest thing Nancy’s done in seventeen years.”
Outside Friend O rifles through the saddlebags. Limbs flail. Flesh squeaks. Mouth holes gape.
Inside Friend B says, “Get out. That’s my all-time favorite episode, too.”
“All I got left is Pacquiao or Pippi Longstocking,” shouts Friend O.
“How Geronimo so humanely subverts bourgeois trammels without overtly lauding animal torture, it’s genius,” says Friend B. “He is. A genius, a virtuoso of both his craft and familial duty.”
As Friend O struts back to the table, broken glass burrows into the sole of his one bare foot. He huffs and puffs the companion substitute into still life, his cheeks flaring as red as his footprints and her plastic braids.
“So in pesos, that’ll be,” gasps Friend O. He tallies his fingers, then his toes. “Fifteen even.”
After putting his boot back on, Friend O squints. He double-checks his math on his fingers, which he then uses to slaps himself across the cheek, hard.
“Ten! In pesos it’s just ten,” says Friend O, almost bashfully.
14: 15: (8:)
Still sniffling, still lollipopping the plastic braid, Friend B whimpers, “You’ll never know how much this means to me.”
Friend O nods with the wisdom of a sage, of Geronimo. “That there’s the reason the Inuit got seventy-one words for rattlesnake, bud.”
“You’ll never know,” says Friend B, “how much you mean to me.”
“Some things never change,” says Friend O. “You’re right. Yet again and as always. Seventeen different names for cacti, not rattlers.”
Outside the one sun is setting, its sky arctic. The desert sand billows like a cape of infant pelts. Beyond the one window frame, the one shadow is neither moving not approaching, but growing bigger and bigger until the buzzard lands, perching itself on the windowsill. It chirps, merrily, now that the three have at long last reunited.
“Sure is beautiful,” says Friend B. “Only need one word for that.”
Friend O nods in serene agreement. He echoes his friends, first with a jolly squawk before saying, ever so tenderly, “Horror.”
Just like old times. And, as it was some seventeen years prior, tonight it still will not matter whether it is the buzzard or Friend O who now smiles, asks after Nancy and the kids.