Matthew Dexter

Doing the Blowfish

Heat haze hovering above blonde curls, camouflaged by dying rhododendrons, she hops from yellow school bus to hot asphalt as a bumblebee embeds its stinger behind my earlobe and they shuffle hand-in-hand across the dog shit-strewn lawn toward their trailer. Being a single mother is tough, but being raped doesn’t make it any easier and how sweet she was, the sweat on salted lips as I braced her against the stairs of the abandoned lifeguard shack and we struggled toward the moon and the beach so full of glass and broken beer bottles, her body a comet. My eyes full of sand, she kicked away and blurred into ocean.

The bee sting swells and rises as if a cancerous mole has taken shape inside me, an appendage broken into a soul, an embryo borne by the powers that be. Homeless after her parents denied her desire to keep the child, the woman raised the baby with assistance from the government. Now fatherless, blooming into reckoning and a nefarious muse, she sends me letters against the advice of her mother. She has forgiven me, though the courts will not let us meet.

The screen to their trailer banging against moldy wood, the cicadas mating, the dragonflies having sex midair, I crawl on scabby knees toward the windows facing the lake. Life cannot be so bad beside a body of water. Watching the leaves and logs flutter and the teenagers who fornicate beneath the branches while stoned and sometimes if you listen hard, you can hear a woman screaming.

Few crimes are ever reported because trailer folk usually have something to hide. How often men are involved with shooting drugs and the women are convicts and their children are fugitives who throw pebbles and large rocks at the headlights and brake lights of strangers’ cars. Return to an orbit of glass and cigarette butts chasing faded echoes of youth.

Sometimes a sober woman will not remember how drunk she was the night before. Consent is lost in the doldrums of regret that marinade in morning sunlight and mix with the stale ach of yesterday’s bloom.


In prison, I let them push me against the bunk when the guards disappear, into that black hole we spun, cursing against time, the gyrations of glory itself.


My Chevy is packed with girl clothes and my glove compartment is full of candy. When I was a boy my greatest ambition was to fill every inch of the glove box with sugary bags and bars of chocolate that would never melt. By the time I got my driver’s license, there was no desire to go to the candy store. Instead, I filled it with cocaine and methamphetamine and began taking long drives along the coast at night, stopping at beaches, skinny-dipping with jellyfish.

She sticks her lips against the glass and does the blowfish. There were days when I would dance over telephone poles in the backseat of my father’s car dreaming about filling the glove box with candy. She leaves a mark on the glass. She draws a heart through the murk and then shoots an arrow toward the fire pit where a teenager is teasing a puppy with a spray-painted stick.

I can identify a truck from an eighth of a mile away by the sound of the engine. The Toyota pulls onto the gravel and a group of boys drop their rocks and jog with bicycles in the opposite direction. I watch as the electrician dressed in an orange hunting jacket returns home, beer gut bouncing against his metallic lunch box. He shuffles past the screen door. A dragonfly follows him inside. I watch from the safety behind a maple tree with curses carved into the bark.

He screams her name. I creep closer to the window. There is no neighborhood watch. Nobody notices anything in this place, except when the cop cars arrive, or somebody’s corpse is rolled across the gravel from trailer to morgue caravan, or a police chopper circles overhead late at night with spotlight beaming across the tin roofs as strung-out neighbors clog filthy toilets.

They kiss in the kitchen. He fills a blackened spoon with tap water from the sink cluttered with dirty dishes and fills it with baking soda, then reaches in his pocket and fishes out the baggie. He scoops some small rocks and drops them in the water. He fingers his gums and rubs his front teeth with the motion of a toothbrush and licks his lips as if there was peanut butter stuck in the folds. His gums are rotted and spotted white from years of smokeless tobacco. She prepares the hypodermic needle and sticks it in his arm. He braces back against her rotting refrigerator and she pins him tight so he doesn’t fall on the moldy floor where the carpet has been gnawed by mice and discolored by floods.

She pulls the needle from her arm, helps her mother drag him down the hall into the yellow bedroom where the air conditioner is blasting. I cannot see them but I imagine they are propping him up with pillows, his hairy legs sweating into a stained mattress, against all odds, she holds him for all life. She has no other options. I watch as she returns to the kitchen and her mother fixes a needle for herself. She slams the cocaine, he prefers the heroin.

Broken glass drones out cicadas making love and ripples through the trailer park, and then again. A Pontiac is getting busted on the other side. Laughter of degenerates fills the sticky breeze with fables as a rape victim slams the flesh between pink-painted toes. She pulls a drag of her Marlboro, drifts off into a world where men will not stick themselves in a hole. The trailer has one painting: a beach beneath a moonlit tsunami and a lifeguard shack full of decapitated heads.

The girl runs from the backdoor and in my Chevy I can tell she is not being followed. Her mother loses track during that first half-hour of paradise. Nothing matters more than tobacco and the girl reeks of smoke. For the first time, I can touch her; smell it, the skin above and below the stale stench of her trailer. She is my daughter and she hugs me.  The hairs from my nostrils are brushing against her neck, her thighs with little blonde hairs and her halter-top frayed on the left shoulder.

We drive into the sun as a police cruiser races in the other direction. We hold hands and laugh; not demonic, but mellifluous. There is no color on the map we cannot travel, and she unravels it on her lap, her bare knees sticking out beneath the glove compartment like sweet candy.


Like nomadic Pericú natives before him, Matthew Dexter survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, cold beer, and warm sunshine. He lives in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.