Issue 216, Spring 2016
When they became outlaws they gave themselves new names. He chose Miles Braintree: the first part after Miles Davis, the second after Braintree, the T’s southernmost stop on the Red Line. She chose Odelia Zion: Zion for the Promised Land, and the baby-name book said Odelia means “praise God,” but mostly she just liked the sound of it. Hamlet’s Ophelia but not quite. Lives of the Saints tells of the murdered virgin Odelia, patron saint of the blind. Can be shortened to Delia, Ode, O. A martyr, a lyric, a letter.
Miles had had his disagreements with SDS, split the organization before it crumbled and formed the Obscure Reference Collective with a handful of other radicals disgruntled by the direction the movement was taking. The bloodhounds were sniffing from day one, ORC’s plot to firebomb the New York Stock Exchange was botched by inside treachery, and the remaining true believers went into hiding. Odelia followed Miles to Paris, where they stayed for a few months, and then to Tangier. Money wasn’t a problem. Miles had money.
In Tangier they spent two years sitting on woven mats in cafés, eating roasted dates and drinking coffee as thick as motor oil, smoking kef from hookah hoses, sometimes holing up in their second-story two-room flat for two, three, four days at a stretch without putting on clothes, drinking wine, smoking, tripping, making love, friends sometimes dropping by to join in, the rises and sets of the sun as inconsequential and amusing and unreal as a TV show.
They burned incense and lit candles at night, and the days were bright blue, blinding bright, their flat acrid with the smoke of goat meat crackling below their unglassed windows. Barefoot brown legs pattered in dirt streets and in shady alleyways resonant with voices squabbling in Arabic and French. The streets were a jumble of North African and Western clothes: it wasn’t uncommon to see a man wearing a kaffiyeh and a double-breasted pin-striped suit. The call to prayer echoed across the city at dawn. That’s partly why they’d come here—to do the William Burroughs thing, do the Paul Bowles thing. The sunlight was sharp and harsh and made every shadow look as if it were painted on with ink. They took hashish and heroin and acid and opium and other, more exotic drugs, the names of which Miles told Odelia and Odelia forgot. Miles learned to fish for octopus: you dive down in the shallows, stick your arm under a rock, and let the octopus wrap itself around your fist, then you swim to the surface and beat it against a rock till it lets go, which also tenderizes the meat; then hang the octopus to dry on a clothesline. Dead tentacles dangling on strings. For a while they had a pet monkey, but it got sick and died. Miles and Odelia were married in a ceremony conducted in a language neither of them understood, officiated by a poet from Rhode Island in a turban with half his face painted red. Odelia gave birth to a boy they named Abraxas, named after a Gnostic deity mentioned in a Hermann Hesse novel who simultaneously embodies all eternal cosmic dualisms: life and death, male and female, good and evil. But soon they began to itch with paranoia. Strangers were following Odelia in the streets. A tall man in a gray suit and a gray hat showed up everywhere she went. Letters from friends in the States arrived with pages missing, the seals of the envelopes broken and taped back together. Miles thought he could hear the ghostly faint feedback signal of a wiretap whenever he picked up the phone, so one night he ripped it out of the wall and threw it in the fire. It melted and stank, and then they had no phone.
Miles contacted a guy he knew in Lisbon who hooked them up with some artfully forged Canadian passports, and that August, Miles, Odelia, and their girlfriend, Tessa Doyle, sold or abandoned everything they owned except for what fit in suitcases, and they traveled, the three of them and the baby, under blandly fake names they had trained themselves to answer to, by boat from Tangier to Algeciras and by train from Algeciras to Madrid to Paris, where they would board Pan American World Airways Flight 503 to Mexico City (with a brief layover in Miami), where a contingent of former ORC were hiding and could offer asylum.
It worried the hell out of Odelia to set foot on American soil, for even a forty-five-minute layover.
Miles said, “Relax, O, we’re gonna be in International. We won’t even leave the tarmac. Trust me. It’ll just be flip flip flip, stamp stamp stamp, enjoy your flight.”