They are piling leaves and dirt from the desert and all day we watch from the
hospital out this window with this view of the hill and the saguaros and these men with
seven arms shoveling the fallen earth into ashy pyramids. Every now and then these
workers will look at the sky and shake their rakes toward the cumulonimbus. We wait in
the locked room till the doctors can decide what to do with us. We have already convinced
the psychiatrist of something.
The nurses are peering through the rectangular glass. They check our piss, ask the
simple questions: Where are you, what is your name, phone number? Why is your face
covered in paint?
We must have messed something attempting to go the extra mile. These things
happen when you get locked up. Manic emergency room visits are the worst. Usually they
only keep us behind the triage curtain and learn that we have no insurance so there is no
reason to hold us. Now things are different. You never know what the slow brains of the
employees are thinking.
The pyramids were growing and the remote control to the television is sitting on the
chair beside the adjustable bed. The blue buttons are shiny, full of bacteria. Death clings
to the boogers on the walls and depression seeps into the leather cushions of the couch,
the color of moonlit ice. The window is weak. This is the normal part of the hospital.
We know this much for certain. The psychiatric ward has layered glass and we would
be wearing pajamas and shackled to sweat-soaked mattress. That’s how it happens
when they know you are a genius.
We tap the window with our knuckles. The men raking orbits around barrel cacti
and agave turn their neck as if they hear. The nurses enter. The nurses stick a small
mirror upon our smooth upper lips so we can examine the damage in the fluorescent
rainbow nostrils. Our eyelashes and scalps and every inch of blackheads and freckles
and hairy moles are painted. It had been days since we have been able to breathe
through these useless orifices.
The nurses ask what we were looking at outside the window. We tell them the
workers raking leaves and the hill. They look at each other and scribble two lines in
our files. The pyramids are growing. The paint has dried and our nails are clogged
with coagulated toxins.
The doctor tells us we must return to Home Depot. The migraine only grows worse.
The Home Depot welcomes the cops. Orange flags borne by the breeze are audible
as we approach the electronic doors. Children are staring at us, parents sheltering
them into the warehouse that reeks of freshly-sawed lumber. The officers escort
us through the greenhouse, the aroma of flowers fighting to persevere beyond
the paint and the housewives at the register with their diamonds on their lips.
When we get back to the hospital, the nurses inform us that we cannot leave. There
is no place we would rather be. The workers are picking leaves from the thorns of
cacti, clippers with orange handles glimmering beneath splintered sunshine. Pink
and yellow peddles are left intact amid the arms of saguaros. There is a nest near
the top where a family of purple martins is harmonizing their disdain for gardeners.
There is a cage of parrots in the corner next to the flat screen. They flightless birds
are pretending to sleep. The room has an ultrasound machine and they rub the nozzle
against my stomach. Somebody sticks a needle into my arm, and another one.
The gardeners are sitting on the window ledge. They speak with lungs full of leaves
and particles. What the toxic substances did you take? What is wrong with
your decisions? Their English is perfect. The nurses thank them and the men
climb down the wall. They leave the window open. Their pyramids are finished.
We admit and admonish all we can remember. Paint was the straw that killed the
camel. Doctors ask the dumbest questions. Why don’t they care about the gilded flickers,
house finches, owls, and Gila woodpeckers that nest in saguaros?
Nurses do not know what we have to saw through to drain juice from the bone. We
have to dig beneath cushions to make Home Depot runs in broad daylight. Waste hours
fumbling for another quarter, oblivious to cleaning our faces before getting out of the car.
The gardeners are sculpting the grains of sand and perfecting the hill. They raise
rakes–toasting the star that feeds them. Offering sweat to soil, they chug from
a two-liter Coca-Cola bottle. Painted faces like us are the weeds that keep the clinics and
hospitals and halfway houses in motion.
The nurse approaches with caution. We are exhausted and must have fallen asleep.
She offers some horse pills. The doctor wants to know how our brains work. They shoot
something into our veins. The horserace was the last place we needed to be. The ticket
window closing in; the starting gate is wrapping around our waist. We win enough to put
down a stallion and the dwarf who whipped him, but get robbed a few blocks from the
track and they take everything except for the crap that we hide in our socks for
The paint is embedded beneath unkempt fingernails. The cop will write his report.
There is nothing he can hold us on. Home Depot does not want to file charges. The
doctor’s only concern is the public. We convince him it was a drug-induced psychosis and
he hands us a paper with some numbers.
We swagger out that hospital into the sun stretching upon the desert beneath the hill.
We serpentine into traffic, summersault into pyramids. We rise only to dive deeper,
climb higher, peeling the layered paint from purpled eyelids. With moans of
dead butterflies and mouths full of leaves and grains of wasteland, we wait for the
rake to guide us home.