I stand eight miles outside of Carlsbad, my arms outstretched in a scarecrow’s stance. Or, perhaps, the crucified man’s. Over on the stripped dirt of a road sits my car, headlights on, casting unnatural light into this six a.m. space, a yellowed glow catching cactus and scrub. All the spiny things that know how to survive. The seasons unable to break them as they were once unable to break me.

“Don’t get out of the car,” I say, seeing Suzanna’s long legs slipping out of the passenger side. She is the latest of my women. A wannabe showgirl who’d been too clumsy to get a gig. I found her feeding quarters into a bar-top poker game – slow, one every few minutes so the barman wouldn’t charge her for the vodka. I asked her if she was lonely and she said she couldn’t afford company like mine. “I’m not playing that,” I said, smiling, as if she’d given me a compliment. Then I touched her shoulder.

It’d been decades since I’d allowed myself a woman. I told myself I didn’t want much. Just to touch her hand. Feel her lips against mine. But she was so young and alive in all the ways you want a woman. Skin like something oiled. Legs that gripped tight around my hips. She screamed for me that night. She called out my name. And, afterwards, when I held her so close I could feel her heart against my chest, she traced her fingers over the ridge my spine and said, “It’s like I fell into you.”

She’s lasted two days. Now the sickness has taken hold. A fever yellows her skin. Coughs send her into convulsions, eyes watering and hands filling with mucous, with blood. “I’m sorry,” I said, trying to make myself jump from the car, set her free. “I did this to you.” But she didn’t believe me.

We’d fucked three times that first night and twice again that morning in the darkness of a parking garage. We’ve been driving ever since and even as she’s grown weaker, not six hours have passed without us pulling to the side of the road and ripping our pants away, our screams so loud the passing cars must have heard everything. And thought we were just a couple. Ordinary. Alive.

“You’ll get sicker,” I yell at her across the New Mexican dirt and scrub. I can see her bare feet dangling from the car, not moving but not retreating either. She coughs and the rattle of her chest expands through the airlessness of the night, crawling across my skin. I want her to run. I want her to be twenty miles down the road, already forgetting the sound of my voice. But I can’t bring myself to send her away. Thousands of women. Millennia of hunger. Never once have I been able to send a woman away.

“Come here,” I say.

Suzanna rises from the car. Still so beautiful even in sickness. Even with her hair gone to string. Her face swollen with boils. She doesn’t even know how much her beauty pauses life, how much she makes your breaths hurt. “Suzanna,” I say as she picks her way towards me, my arms still outstretched in my attempt to touch nothing, feel nothing. If I had the will, I could hold my arms here for days. For weeks. She has made me so strong.

“Take me to Miami,” she says, close enough now that I can hear her wheezing, see the blood pooling in her eyes. She’d do well in Miami. Grow tan and confident. Grow happy. But I know she’ll go nowhere without me. She touches my waist. “You didn’t make me sick,” she says and wraps her arms around me, her cheek pressing against my chest. I want to lift up her skirt. To take her one last time before the sunrise. Leave her fallen.

On the horizon, the first line of gray sunlight spreads upward. “Go,” I say.

“But I love you,” she says, holding me tighter.

“No you don’t.”

“Yes,” she says. “You want me. Even like this you want me.” She says nothing more. As if that explains everything. Explains all my women. My phosphorus desire burning away their loneliness – for a day. For two. I want to tell Suzanna that there is no grandeur in me. No lasting hope, but she feels so warm. I put my arms around her waist and pull her as close as I can. She smells of sex and of flesh beginning to rot, and I grow hard thinking of the thousands I’ve found in bars and on corners and alone on afternoon walks. How I’ve needed them. Loved them. Lost them all to this savage eternity. This demon. The incubus. This fool.

On the horizon dawn expands. I lean towards Suzanna’s ear. “I love you,” I say and hope she understands the truth of that. The sunlight cutting down through my skin, my bones. No thorns. No salvation. I see her out in the heat of Miami. Tan. Laughing. And I hope she sees it, too. In this moment. As I lift up her skirt. Enter her. And burn away everything she’s ever had.