Great Balls… of Fire

Copper walked out of the jungle into the circle of firelight and rhythm: an emergence that echoed the story of her life. She stood at the edge of the pounding drummers and girls swirling around the bonfire, holding her hands behind her back but weaving to the deep tattoo of congas and djembes. Steven looked up from trying to keep his crisp Senegalese djembe rhythm aloof from the chaotic hippy “dope beats” and saw her standing there, head tilted forward to strafe him with that seductive half-smile from under the spillgate gush of flame-colored hair. And thought; Uh, oh.

She wove her way through the circle of dancers: post-Deadhead hippies swirling dreamy in clouds of white gauze, Euro clubbers pogo-ing in tubetops and mini-wraps, two athletic Oz chicks joyously stomping, colorful sarongs twirling like petals. She came right up to the wall of drums, leaned in over his sunfishing hands, and yelled, “You think of Palenque, what do you think of?”

“Ticks? Leeches?”

Paco, whamming away on a set of three congas, yelled, “Cockfights!”

Disgusting. After all she’d gone through to find these things. She held out her hands, heaped with fresh-picked Psilocybe Cubensis, then screamed, “Shrooms, you moron!”

She dumped the sacred mushrooms into the fanny pack riding low across her tight belly and slammed her hands onto the two closest drumheads, popping out a pattern of contra-rhythmic dissonance she’d picked up from Kenyan drum master she’d had a fling with in Santa Cruz. The dancers faltered, the drummers stuttered and stopped, confused as to why their beats weren’t working out.

Livid, her coppery mane seething with fireglow, she screamed at Steven in the impactive silence. “We’re here in Palenque, you putz! In the shadows of Mayan wonders. We’re surrounded by shroom vibe and you don’t get a clue.”

She sneered at the long-suffering Steven and spun around to dress down the dancers and assorted flautists and didgeridudes. “You should be swarmed over with hongos here, for shit sakes. The people who built these temples were shroom-heads: you can feel that in a second. Just look at those carvings and shit: stone cartoons for people tripping. Zap Comix for Mayaholics. Get with the program, you… drones.”

She turned back to Steven, washed over with the realization: What am I doing, hanging with this eunuch? She strode over to her pack and grabbed her chains, then flashed back to the circle of drummers and embarrassment. She stepped up to lean on his drum, right in his face. “By the way. I’m out of here, you clueless dork.”

Steven shrugged, “How you gonna dance with no drummer?”

She held out her hands again, but this time each held a charred ball of Kevlar cuffed to her wrists with two feet of chain. “I don’t dance to music, dickhead. I dance to fire.”

She stepped back, brushing through the dancers, almost into the flames. She extended her hands over them and leaned her head back, eyes closed. Invoking the closest thing she had to a religion, the cosmic circles of blaze. Then she turned her hands over and the balls fell into the fire, the white gasoline they were soaked with immediately turning them into crackling comets. She turned and her two fireballs swung around her: Deimos and Phobos sizzling out tight orbits of streaking light. Blurring into arcs around her as she danced, sheltering and exalting her in a red-orange sphere of hot light.

The drummers started up again, as if on command, and she moved smoothly into the shifting polyrhythms. Several of the drummers grinned at her. You go, girl. The dancers also swung back into motion, but outside the hot circle her dance carved around her.

She stalked out of the thatch lean-to wearing her road warrior drag: Doc Martins and jeans, big old backpack slung over both shoulders, liter bottle of gasoline dangling behind. Ah, shit, Steven thought, standing up and brushing off the remains of the green tamales he’d just had for breakfast. Another one rides the bus.

“Yo, Coppertop,” he called out, moving to intercept her as she moved out of the encampment and towards the village and highway. “Hey, thought we were going to do some shrooms.”

“Wasted on you,” she snapped, obviously in no sort of kiss and make up mode. “I’m going sola, asshola.”

“Where?”

“The coast. Make some money for a change. Meet a better class of drummer.”

“Meet the class of veterinarian who’ll sell you enough Ketamine to veg you out again.”

She nodded grimly, continuing to stride up the path. “Vitamin K deficiency; you bet. But also need a cash transfusion. And a man who can keep a beat and swing his meat.”

“Oh, dick is a big priority for you now?”

She stopped and turned on him, her simmer breaking into open fire. “No, but a man is! You know, human male? I’ve been carrying our busking, and I’ve been carrying the whole relationship. Making all the decisions, dealing with all the crises while you space out. I’m sick of having to be the macho around here. Now get out of my way before I slap you and make you cry.”

That pretty well did it. He recoiled and slunk off, bitterly aware that he was proving her point. She turned back towards the highway and ran into Paco, a hammy sad look on his broad indio face. “Copper!” he said as if deeply wounded, “Where do you go?”

She leaned in for a quick peck on his cheek, avoiding any further contact he might have in mind. He was another one who’d seen her as being essentially bereft of proper male company and had offered to remedy that lack, do his part to serve her pale flesh, fiery crest, and tigrish moves. “To a Caribbean island,” she said brightly.

“You having that much money?” Paco asked with more than passing interest.

“No need,” she called over her shoulder as she continued to hit the dusty trail. “I know the guy who built it.”

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