This is West – A Dirt Town Brown and Cupcakes


I could tell it hurt. This time was different. He winced when I said it and in that moment the words solidified for me and I chewed it up with green chili and warm pizza dough and swallowed.

“You’ll be back,” he mumbled with confidence. He spoke into a brown ale that was our favorite. It was hardly ever available anymore at a local pub where we’d met.

“Let’s talk about something else. How did the interview go?” I asked over my pizza and my eyes turned downward.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Did you get it or not?” I pleaded, but I didn’t know for what.

He didn’t engage.

“Six years.” He shook his head.

“I’d change it if I could,” I said.

“Me too.”

A New Mexico Spring has a wind that makes bodies ache; it swirls out the dead from the ground and they wander around barren fields with cow shit patties from the beginning of creation or the great divide. It’s calming, sometimes, to hear it howling outside of a studio apartment where his checkered vans with drawings on the yellowed parts lie next to the mattress on the floor. Watching the dust collect on his skin and form greasy clumps and kissing tumbleweeds floating on his cracked lips. The harshness of it all becomes bearable. Almost. Until you forget about the layer of your skin that’s rubbed raw from going outside, and you nurse it on his couch. And the way the callous on his thumb forms to the guitar in the corner that hasn’t left its case in months you’ve stopped counting. And the time he used paintbrushes to leave a mark. And then, the tattoo gun.  Comfort collects on his white walls and I can’t remember what water tastes like in the air. You forget that the wind’s not so bad.

“You’ll be back,” he said again. “Everyone always come back.”

We parted at the stoplight. I didn’t kiss him. I didn’t want him to be right again.

I felt the sting of dirt on my bare legs underneath my skirt. I faced the sun. I would miss its dry heat for the last time.

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.