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The Desert


The car cracked and creaked, cooling after a full day of driving through the desert. How strange the way your face fades from my memories of that particular rest stop, that evening, that moment. Just the sounds of the car settling into the desert silence remains clear to me after all these years. That and the harsh tones of your voice echoing in my discomfort. I remember the car because the car never gave me cause to get defensive. The car never intentionally hurt my feelings.

As I got out of the passenger's side of the old Nash Rambler station wagon, that good old flat head six, my thighs made adhesive sounds pulling away from the sticky vinyl. I wanted to walk. I wanted to stretch my legs and walk out into the desert-for days, leaving you a shimmering mirage in the dance of heat waves, as the high-pitched whine of air molecules batter my ear drum, breaking the desert's stillness, filling my head, easing my heart with momentary distraction.

"Where are you going?" you asked.

I didn't stop walking. I didn't even look around. My heart shrank at the tone of your voice. The same tone you had been using with me all day, no, in fact for a couple of days. It was an authoritarian tone, laced with rebuke and disdain. As if this trip were my idea. I couldn't recall what I might have said or done to warrant your royal displeasure. At first I was scared that it might have been a thoughtless word or action on my part. I felt if I could make it up to you it would be all right, but no, you continued with your harsh tone and I withdrew. Now I didn't care what had ticked you off, all I wanted was a break from you, from your voice and my defensive reaction to it.

"Oh I thought I'd just walk to the nearest fine food store and buy everything that came from another country," walking away from the voice, the tone, the creaking car shimmering in its own heat, "English tea cakes, French brie," walking through gravel and small dust clouds stirred up by my feet, "Swiss chocolate, Italian ice cream...". I let my voice trail off the further I got from the roadside.

I found a crevice about 2-3 feet deep in the sloping dried earth, with some brave scraggly bush leaning to one side as if to listen to my attempt at sarcasm. I searched in my pocket and found a wadded bit of tissue, with lipstick smudges and invisible boogies sticking some folds together. With my find in hand I pulled my panties down to pee by the bush. I recalled sending out thought vibrations to the bush, that this was an offering of nitrogen fertilizers and H2O, distilled from my body. The source of which was a couple of warm beers half-heartedly sipped over the last hundred miles. "Who knows," I said to the leaning bush, "the water in this beer, from my body, may have come from some Rocky Mountain stream, or from an Artesian well, think of it!" I said cheerfully. Then I realized this was the first cheerful thing I'd said in days and it was to a bush.

"Oh, there you are." You said with a self satisfied air. As if it was a big deal to find me.

"Jesus!" I got up quickly, pulling my clothes back into place. "You gave me a start!" I walked away from you and the drinking, leaning, grateful bush. I wondered how much of my body fluids would be utilized and what portion would evaporate.

The sky was blushing a lavender magenta on one cheek and steel blue on the other. The high-pitched whine of the desert was beginning to be accompanied by unseen insects and light footed scurrying things darting intermittently in my peripheral vision. The desert was coming alive in the cool of evening. I kept my face turned away from you. I wanted only to remember the night easing over us, exposing an inverted bowl of stars.

"So what are we going to eat? I'm starved." You said as you buried your upper body into a confusion of cardboard boxes orchestrating a weird melody of cook wear clanks and paper rustling. You extracted plastic bags like a proud obstetrician after a breech birth and then unceremoniously dumped them on the gravel besides the car. I wished I could shove you into one of those boxes, in slow motion, folding you up like some origami creature, only to open you up 3-D when we got to the end of the trip. Then on the way I could drive, eating international foods, talking to the cousins of the scraggly bush as they fly by in the blur of travel. I would be able to watch the stars wake up and blink in confusion without any other sound but my heart beating, and the flutter of the road rippling under the wheels of the car. I would be peaceful then but no such luck.

"Make a fire, O.K.? I'll do up some brown rice and veggies." You ordered without looking over your shoulder. I shrugged my shoulder to the darkening sky as I began to gather the English Tea cake colored rocks and place them in a horseshoe pattern on the ground, about 6 feet from the car. If the flames from this tiny pit could jump 6 feet to the car's fuel supply then we were meant to be reduced to cinders, in the desert, under the inverted bowl of stars, like dust on the dried pea beneath the hustler's walnut shell, now you see us and now you don't.

I arranged the rocks and then I went through the trash for bits of paper, wrappers, cellophane, milk cartons and a bit of wood I found at the last roadside rest stop. I wondered if the wood had come from some fruit crate. I wondered what kind of fruit, grapefruit from California? Apples from Washington? Peaches from Georgia? I recall I thought a lot about fruit grown in cool green orchards where the shadows were heavy with the smell of ripening fruit, while I was in the desert.

It must be the perversity of my nature to desire what I do not have and not appreciate what I did have. Then I thought of you.

I stopped to look at you. You were rummaging through bags and pulling out food like a magician pulls little animals and flowers from invisible pockets. Were you the desert that I did not appreciate? Was it because I did have you to myself I took you for granted? I tested the feeling of being without you. As if you died suddenly and I was shot through with such pain that tears came to my eyes. I had to turn away from you this time to hide these tears, just when I wanted to look at you and drink you in my eyes. I was surprised at how much I would miss you. I felt faint as a second wave of grief crashed over me, all the losses I've ever suffered all became one and I was adrift in a sea of sorrow of my own making.

I thought of these things as I squatted like a squaw, breaking up bits of wood, looking out on to the shadows growing across the mesa. The western horizon was a thin band of cobalt blue and the sky was gaining strength in its multitude of stars which were cart wheeling in my self induced tears. My puny fire spat and waved flame fingers at the distant fire of galaxies, as if to reach and blend fire with fire. How insignificant my fire was in the cosmic scheme of things. How insignificant was my anger with you when we were like aborigines, alone except for our fragile connection of wanting to love each other, the wanting that had been lost for a couple of days of hard traveling. It made me sad in a different way.

"The sky sure is pretty isn't it?" you said in an altogether different tone than you had been using towards me all day. I looked up at you for the first time in 250 miles and I didn't care what I had gotten defensive about. I wanted to reach up to you, like the flame fingers of my tiny fire.

"Yeah," I said cheered, standing up, my legs shaking from the strain of squatting. "I was thinking of how it looked like an inverted bowl, the way it just covers the whole sky with stars right down to the horizon." You came up to me and put your arms around my waist from behind. I could feel your chest breathing evenly against my back as I leaned into your solid shadow behind me. I could smell the mixture of sweat, gasoline, and the wheat bread on your breath.

"You come up with the most unique way of seeing things," You said to the crook of my neck, "that's one of the things I love so much about you. It makes me sad when you are moody and don't talk to me." Tears came to my eyes again, now for a better reason. "Look!" you said suddenly, pointing upward, your arm cutting into my blurred field of vision. "It's a shooting star. Make a wish!" We stood there, very still except for our breathing in unison as a shy breeze curled itself around our legs, nudging bits of paper into the envelope of darkness, and I wished the rest of the trip would be as sweet as I felt that moment with you. For a split second I felt as all women felt with their men, standing together in the dark, with only their camp fire to light the night, holding onto each other, exorcising evil spirits with nightly rituals. For a moment I was kin to all the lovers who wished on some totem for good feeling to last until there was no more time for wishing.

"Let's get cooking, I'm still starved." you said as you let me go with a light bite on my neck, making me shiver and laugh. We then both set about to getting dinner ready, together between the light of an opened car door and my tiny camp fire, beneath an inverted bowl of stars.


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