BÉBÉ MÉLANGE


An illustration of a bandito with a big sombrero, riding on top of a fierce horse.
          Edward Borein – “Mexican Steer on the Prod”, 1914

My name’s Diana and the first time I thought about this kind of thing, I was, like, twelve years old? This had to be about 2020. Covid was new, and it was weird vibes. The “boomer remover” joke was funny, but it didn’t matter, you would catch serious nerves off the grown-ups. They were bouncing from one freak-out to the next one, like whatchacallem, bumper cars?

     My family had an apartment and you know, it had a lot of mildew. Is it mold or mildew? It was probably bad for us, but you don’t smell it unless you leave the house and come back to it. I didn’t have a bed. I was sleeping in the living room, on the couch. Well, I don’t really remember sleeping because the lights, and sometimes people would come in and play TV or video games, and I’d be in and out of sleep so much. But when you’re a child, that’s OK. You’re good at it.

     I remember the room was pretty small; even small as I was, it looked small. But when you’re all sunk in the couch cushions and close to the ground, you can imagine it’s bigger. The carpet was light brown like desert sand—dirty too—so I dreamed it was a big desert. The biggest thing in front of me was one of those wall TVs nobody put on the wall, sitting on cinder blocks with all the wires and video games around the bottom. In my dreams, that was a big old rock like the ones they have in the Southwest.

     The gamer chair and bean bag would be smaller rocks, and the junk like shoes and grocery bags would be little boulders. Littler stuff like socks and tiny bits of paper and crumbs of dry food that get in the carpet. Well, you know…

     The sky was blue where the TV touched, mixed rainbow from the LED string stuck on the back of it. That was like the day and the night sky all together, over my little desert. Tiny people, sometimes tiny me, we’d be out in that desert—going here or there. It didn’t mean anything.

     Anyway, my mom’s boyfriend Peter woke me up that night, cussing softly in the kitchen. He made a little noise, then came out to sit in the gamer chair—one of those rocking things with no legs that sit right on the ground.

     He remembered I was there and turned the chair halfway to see me. “I’m sorry, girl. You wanna watch me play GTA? Have something to eat?”

     “No,” I said. “I mean, I’ll be OK. I can see from here if I want to. Go ahead.”

     He sighed and grumbled again.

     “What’s the matter?” I asked.

     “I don’t have my burritos.”

     He was talking about those cheap microwave burritos. I should have known he was mad that he didn’t have those, because I didn’t smell them. They smell like cat poop, so much that my mom would think the cat farted, before Peter came out with two burritos on a paper plate.

     “Did Mom forget to buy them?” I asked.

     “Naw, baby. It was the supply chain.” He emphasized it, like it was real significant—a revelation.

     I was interested, but still kinda dreaming about my desert. “What’s the supply chain?”

     “I shouldn’t tell you about it. It’s grown-up stuff. Scary stuff. Covid stuff.”

     “You have to tell me now.”

     He told me about how the pandemic was making it so we run out of random things, because truck drivers got sick, and there weren’t enough cops to stop thieves. Last time him and my mom went for groceries, they didn’t have his cat poop burritos, or sour cream, or trash bags. If it kept up, he said, there’d be nothing left.

     “What happens when there’s nothing left?” I asked.

     “Total anarchy, like some Mad Max-type shit.”

     “Oh. Like GTA.”

     “Oh yeah.” He didn’t think about the game he was playing, how it was like he said. You steal stuff and the cops can’t stop you.

     He finished his baloney sandwich on the loading screen for San Andreas, with all the cool tattooed cartoon people, and I went back to dreaming under the TV-colored sky.

     The bean bag would be the place where the bandits would strike. I think in my dream it was like, a little bit Wild West, a little bit Grand Theft Auto. The target was a big rig with wagon wheels, sticking to the trail behind Gamer Chair Rock—for the moment. The bandits waited by Bean Bag Rock, loading their pistols one bullet at a time.

     So that’s why I was thinking about it when I was only twelve. Peter was a Samoan guy, very Christian, but maybe he didn’t always say the right thing to children? It was probably fine. I was fine.

     There was a ridge on Bean Bag Rock where the banditos sat in a little row. They had the high ground, and they were going to shoot up the truck from there. Bean Bag Rock was in the shadow between blue day and the night of rainbow constellations, so the men could not be seen. They were something drab and gray, between all the colors.

     Why did I say men? Of course, any kind of people can be bandits. But when you’re a kid, you don’t know everything, so in my mind they were all men. They were in sombreros, vests, and chaps. One of them was real pretty, like Lil Nas X. They were tiny so he would be lil Lil… I’m sorry.

     Anyway, the big rig wagon was chugging along, headed their way. I figured there would be a guy on the passenger side with a shotgun. Peter told me that’s why it’s called shotgun.

     I didn’t want Lil Nas to get hit with a shotgun, because it can blow your whole head up. That’s just gross. So the bandits had to be smart. The top of the truck was not bulletproof, and shooting downward with pistols has more range than shooting upward with a shotgun. They just had to shoot when the truck was close, but not gone by yet, because you couldn’t get bullets through the back part of the cab as easy. It’s heavy there, full of truck parts? And the trailer is right there too.

     Lil Nas held up a hand. His arm was bare, but he had a cool pink glove with embroidered black patterns and two tassels. He waved for the guys to get ready, and they all pointed their guns at the truck. Some had pistols, like those big long ones you see in old western movies. A few of them had rifles, with that part you cock to put out the shell and load another one? Very cool.

     It’s sad that the wagon driver and the shotgun man had to die. But you can’t think about stuff like that, or you’ll never get your cat poop burritos and trash bags. Or anything. That’s what it all comes back to, in the end. We all need to eat, but there isn’t enough stuff for everybody, so somebody has to lose.

     I didn’t feel too bad about it, because probably if somebody was driving a truck wagon, he was a red hat. The shotgun guy might even be a cop that shoots little kids. Gross. Lil Nas put both hands on his pistol and opened fire. He was just so cool that his bullet went right through the top of the windshield and hit the driver in the head. From all the way up there, in the night and the shadows. That guy didn’t even suffer.

     It was harder for the shotgun man, because all the other bandits weren’t as good with their aim. But they were smart. They used that element of surprise, and the high ground, and they filled that cab with so many bullets.

     The truck kept rolling away. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you shoot a driver. Does he have one foot on the gas? Does it go down heavy? What if his other foot was over the brake? They were sort of lucky. Both of his feet came down on the brakes and the gas at the same time, so the truck wasn’t going as fast as it might be.

     The guys ran down the ledge to a lower part, where they could jump down. At one point, it was so steep they had to slide on their butts. When they got to the ground, they pulled their motorcycles from behind a big sock.

     They chased the truck into the night side of the desert. The rainbow lights on their colorful clothes were so fancy, like a music video. Their bikes were dark and shiny, so rainbow stars reflected in them, then slipped off like raindrops as they passed.

     Somebody had to be brave enough to get on the truck, because it was still possible a guy was alive inside it. Lil Nas didn’t want to risk more men, even though it would be safer if two went up at the same time, so he did it alone. He rode his bike up by the driver side, then let it skid away in the dirt as he hopped on that runner thing—the steppy part under the door.

     With one hand on the truck and one on his gun, he looked inside. The shotgun guy was still alive! He was kind of woozy because of blood loss, and a bullet got him in the head, but not enough to kill him. He tried to raise his shotgun, but Lil Nas was determined. He had to feed his horse, and probably that white guy from his video too.

     No hesitation, he shot the cop in the temple. By that time, I was sure the shotgun guy was a cop. The pistol was one of those big ones, so the exit wound was all huge, and bloody brains sprayed all over the window. That wasn’t too much, was it? The driver man’s red hat head flopped in between and Nas couldn’t see the gross window anymore.

     I thought about all this and it didn’t bother me when I was twelve. It still doesn’t bother me. That’s all I’m saying. You know, I don’t think I would be as cool as Lil Nas at first. I could just be one of the other guys, with sombreros. You get some experience, and maybe you will be cool enough to be that guy on the door.

     And if Lil Nas had wanted a guy on the other door, to watch his back? I would have done that for him. Supply chain banditos stick together.

     You don’t have to tell me yet, if I don’t have the job. I’ll be OK? Probably? It’s a really nice hideout you have here, and it’s been a privilege. I’ll just be showing myself out?

     Thank you for your consideration.

An ink drawing of cactii
Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp – “Gezicht met cactus op de berg Vesuvius vanuit Sorrento” (detail), 1884-1950


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