Chapter 64

God! Even my boredom is hot. The sun is beating down on everything with hot, flaming hammers. I think it’s safe to try and follow the group. I can at least start off this way and then make it up as I go. I mean north is north after all.

I’m glad to be wearing these clothes. I can see why they used to wear them like this. They’re good protection against the glaring sun and the oven-like heat in this desert. I can only imagine how hot I’d be if I were wearing levis and a black concert t-shirt. Those clothes were made for a civilization with air-conditioning.

My hands burn from the ruthless breath of the desert. I wonder if these clothes originally came with gloves.

About every half hour or so I sit down and take a break. This heat is sapping my strength. I feel like I’m in an oven and I’m being cooked. I grab a couple of sips of water, take my sombrero off and use it like a fan. I can tell I’m getting sunburned. My face and hands are scorching hot.

I kinda remember getting pretty dark when I was a kid. Then Mom told me about Dad, and that was also the last time I went outside without a shirt on, or sunscreen in my pocket.

Dad. I’ve been angry at him for a long time. It looks like he might not have been such a bastard after all. Maybe. It just doesn’t seem real somehow. I mean, I have no real proof he’s dead. For all I know he did run out on all of us.

I need to get going again. I put on my hat and walk with the sun over my left shoulder. North is all I need to know. Each step takes me farther into my own country. One step closer to home.

Roselyn. I wonder how I look to her?  What does she think of me? Why is that even important?  I guess because she’s the only person at work I really look up to, or don’t—didn’t look down on . . . as much. It’s like she’s the Queen bee of Taco Bell and everyone else is just worker bees. Drones.

Work. Robb. Darren. Darren is still an asshole. Robb? Yeah, probably too. Cream rises to the top. Impress me. Yeah, they deserve each other. But then, what do I deserve?

Now that I think about it, I’ve been living like a Mexican all along. I work and bring home money for my family. The only difference for me is I still live at home. I bet a lot of people would still be at home if they could work closer to where they live.

I wonder if it’s true that Americans jack up the cost of living down there. I know they lower wages up here. Why hire an American when a Mexican will work for less? Why will Mexicans work for less? Why won’t Americans work for less? And why does shit keep costing more for the same thing all the time no matter what we do? We work hard to get a raise but gas prices go up, the cost of bread goes up, car prices go up, the cost of clothes go up, ticket prices go up. The whole cost of living goes up and the wages go up with it. It’s really meaningless to get a raise if it’s just going to cost more money for the same stuff.

Wouldn’t we get the same results if everything just stayed the way it is now—forever? Then we wouldn’t need raises. We’d be making the same amount of money every year and the stuff would cost the same every year too. You could call it zero-flation. Maybe if you wanted a raise all you had to do was spend a little less and save a little more, or get a second job, or a real promotion, or made some kind of art or product or something. There must be some reason that isn’t the way it is, otherwise, it probably would be the way it is. It sure makes a helluva lot more sense than the way we do things now. We just live with the perception that we are improving the quality of our lives through hard work and sacrifice. The truth is we work really hard, sacrifice time with our families, go to school longer, stay at work longer, just to live the same as we did before.

God, I’m hot.

This water is going fast. I think I can smell the plants cooking.  What kind of stuff lives out here, besides scorpions and snakes? I don’t even see a bird in the sky. What’s that over there? Looks like a pile of clothes on a piece of wood. Who would leave their clothes . . .  That’s not wood.

A cold flash rushes through my body, and nausea squeezes my stomach. Is that what I think it is? I slowly sneak up on it, careful not to disturb it. Holy Crap! It is. I don’t want to look at it, but I can’t help myself. Who is it? What happened? The sand around him or her looks wet or stained. It’s much darker, closer to the body. Yech! This person cooked to death. Its skin is dark and caved in. The clothes look loose and ripped. Why did this person die? Did someone kill him? I think it’s a him. The hair is pretty short, what little there is. The clothes are still on too, so it’s not like a woman got raped and killed. Not this time. Ugh! There is no breeze so the odor spreads out like an invisible foul mushroom cloud.

This person died trying to get to America. People do die here—it’s not an exaggeration. People aren’t just making that up to justify some liberal immigration propaganda bullshit. It’s right here in front of me. I gotta keep my distance, don’t want to get any on me.

The sudden realization that this could happen to me ratchets up my heart rate. I feel myself unconsciously inviting that black cloud closer as I wonder how my mom will find out if It does? I have no ID. I’m in the middle of a frickin’ desert. Some animal could eat me.

The sun baked face makes me look at it. It seems to scream in pain, mouth open, face turned up towards the sky.

I get another picture in my head. This one sadder, more profound; maybe this is what happened to my father. Maybe I’ll die like he did and my mother will think I abandoned her too. She’ll wonder what the heck is so wonderful about Mexico that the men in her life go there and never come back. The darkness wraps itself around my heart like a cold, wet glove, and the hand inside pulls downward. This is hopeless. I should just give up.

It looks like this person is talking to me . . . yelling something . . . Run!

I start running northward, fast at first, but then I slow down to a jog in order to keep it up for awhile. It doesn’t take long for the heat to start pressing down on my shoulders, weighing me down, making me weak. It’s like the desert doesn’t just rob you of just water, it also takes your energy. It wants all I have. Then it’ll discard me and leave what is left on the desert floor for strangers to see and animals to devour.

I still have some water left, so I’m doing okay.  I have to get home. I can’t do that to my mother. And my other family. They’ll both think I abandoned them. Maybe this is my reward for blaming everything bad in my life on my father. Now everyone will have to go through it all over again. They will all think the same about me.

I stop running and look at the ground ahead of me, trying to take my mind off the subject of death. Maybe I already died and this is Hell’s version of Groundhog Day. I keep trying to get across the border, but keep waking up in jail and sent back to Mexico. That would make me, what, Pancho Murray?

I finish the last of the water and stop fanning myself. I need to walk on but each time I do I get tired quicker. I’m also cursed with the vision of somebody’s thirsty relative, dead in the desert, and they will never know what happened to him. Think about it—somewhere out there, there’s a boy who’s angry at his father, not realizing that they were loved so much their dad risked—and lost—his life trying to get back home. Somewhere out there, someone will grow up with hate as their best friend.

Man, I never should have come here. I could have been happy as a Mexican. I could have learned the language—maybe. I already know some of the dances. I have the blood. I can’t let the desert soak it up like that thing back there. I can’t go out like that. I gotta get home. My pace quickens and fear strengthens my resolve.

Water stations. There have got to be some water stations out here. I used to hate the assholes who left water for the illegals. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I’d be the one needing the water.

So who is the bigger jerk? The bleeding hearts that make it easier for invad—Mexicans to come into the US, or the people that sabotage a humanitarian good deed in order to protect their country, and actually kill people?

Shane and Willie. Do I still want to be like them?

The heat coming off the desert floor makes it look like it’s alive. Moving. Living. Breathing. Scary.

The smell of drying sage brush is a constant directionless landmark. The desert stretches on for miles without any civilization in sight. I have to keep my eyes on the ground in front of me and watch where I step. I don’t want to wake up any rattle snors or scapions, or whatever else they have out here.

Coyotes. I wonder what a coyote would do if he saw me. Would he run from me or want to eat me? What am I doing out here? This is insane. I’m an American. It should be against the law to refuse me my own country. It’s probably illegal for me to live in Mexico. Shouldn’t it be illegal to make me go back to a place where I’m illegal? Hey, that’s a double illegal. Does that make it okay?

My feet are booting in these bakes. Why is my shirt dry? Maybe it’s cooling. I don’t feel cooling. I feel pretty damn hot. My whole body’s hot. My mouth is dry. I’m gonna have to drink this water pretty soon. Oh shit, that’s right; I have no water. That stupid baking is sun on me.

I gotta sit down. There, that’s better. It can bake my butt, I don’t care. I feel a major headache coming on. I’m so tired. I wish I tired to find some shade. This sombrero is busted. I’m hot. I see green up ahead, or greenish-brown—whatever . . . but I can’t tell tree from frush with all the moving squiggly heat coming off the . . .

Why can’t we just pay more and hire legal residents? Wouldn’t it be cheaper than all this hiring and firing and training? Then all the prices can stay the same.

Can’t. Not much profit in food. Too many mouths to feed. Managers pay . . .  good because they have to produce . . . If they don’t they get the fired. Owners. That’s what I want to be. Screw this manager crap. Not you Romelda. Romelda? Who the heck is that?  I meant . . . What’s her name again? I think it starts with an R. Anyway, what was I . . . Why is that body following me?

The whole world is on fire. Flames ebb & flow like a hellish tide.

Another dead body—just like the last one.

I gotta get outta here before I . . . What? Another one?

And another. They’re all around me.

I must have stumbled into a desert cemetery. How did I not see this? These bodies go on for miles.

Someone is watching me. I can see him. A faint numbness comes over me. Maybe he has some water. He kinda looks like my father—like his pictures, anyway. He even dresses the same, but my dad would be much older now. What is he doing in the middle of all theses bodies?

The closer I get, the more I see he really doesn’t look like my dad. He looks more like Cheech. Cheech? How did he find me?  He’s walking away from me, then suddenly, he dives into a bush.  I hope he brought some water, Gatorade, something. Heck, I’d even drink a beer right now.

I crawl into the dark space that’s under a low-lying tree. It looks like a bear or something carved this out to make a shelter. I crawl inside. It’s cooler in here.

I see him. His back is to me. He slowly turns around. “Hey Chee . . .”  he’s dressed in a black flowing robe. I can’t see his face. A bony hand comes out of the sleeve and holds a long pole with a curved blade at the end of it. The Grim Reaper?

He grabs me by the neck with long and bony fingers. I shiver violently. The shock of being really hot one minute and then really cold the next is tremendous. I start to breathe shallow and rapidly, like I jumped into a frigid lake. He picks me up, and throws me down, again, and again, and again. My body convulses in hot and cold spasms. I can’t control my breathing.

He steps back against the dark shadow that is this great open cave-like space, and he disappears into the blackness. He is gone. I breathe in coughs, and choke out gasps of life. The smells of dirt and scrub brush flood my nose. I’m drowning in this desert.

A few yards from me, to my right, lies another body. I don’t want to touch it. I quickly look away.  A few feet from it is the body I saw before, out in the desert. Stiff, dry, dark, deflated. Hair withering in the hot sun, and the dark, damp area all around it where the desert sucked out all his liquids like a big sandy sponge.

He moved . . . I think.

Yes, he did. First his arms, then his body. He takes a huge breath, and his saggy deflated body fills and expands. What is happening? Did this guy just come back to life or is something evil claiming his body? Why did he wait for me to get here to do this? His face gets more features as it fills, like a raft slowly filling with air. It’s . . .  it can’t be.

It’s my father.

He sits up, takes a quick, sharp breath, as if awakening under a grave full of snow . . . then my dad looks around.  His deep blue eyes search for mine, like two small flashlights with sapphire lenses. What the hell is happening? He doesn’t speak, but he smiles. Am I glad too?

There is so much I want to say, so much I want to ask. Is this real, or is this a dream? Or am I dying? His face grows visibly sadder.

He should come home with me—if I make it home. I wonder what Mom would say. I want him to explain to her why he never came back, so she’ll feel better about it, to know she was right all along. Then we can have a family and I can have a normal life.

I stand up and motion for him to follow me. Can we go now? I move toward the opening of the cave. He doesn’t budge. I notice a thick, heavy chain around his ankle. A thick shiny black chain glints sadistically in the dark from the light of my father’s deep blue stare. There is an evil living in that chain. Fear tugs at my chest and I shiver. At the other end of the chain is the dried, dead body I saw earlier. Is this why he can’t come home with me?

Grabbing him by the hand I pull hard to get him moving. Maybe we can just drag the body behind us and cut the chain off when we get home. He tugs at the chain trying to come with me, pulling at it with all his strength.

The dead body suddenly pulls back. It starts to fill, breathing, growing stronger. Its eyes spring open and it looks right at me. I feel another cold wave and goose bumps sprout up all over my body. The evil in the chain has infected the body, and it, too, gasps for life. The body takes on a female shape.

She falls forward, upward, quickly, and she stops violently in a standing position, dressed in a shimmering white satin dress. She wears long, white satin gloves, and her face is covered in a pearlescent white veil. Her black eyes stare at me, the only thing visible from behind the veil. They are like two black marbles wrapped in a sheer white bag.

I look over at my father for an explanation. He’s now dressed in a tux, tails, shirt, and shoes—all black. He doesn’t look happy. His face is painted with a watercolor guilt, which drips down his cheeks and onto his shirt. He cannot look at me.

She lifts back the veil, revealing long, snarling black hair, and a hard, chiseled beauty, like a stone gargoyle made from gleaming white sandstone. Black jewels glitter around her neck from the glow of my father’s laser blue eyes.  A tiara on her head, covered in black jewels, sprinkles dancing blue/black stars all around as she slowly walks toward me.

A Mona Lisa smile plays at her lips. There is a dark secret beneath her cloak and she flaunts it with an arrogance that betrays it. Secret—yet obvious.

My dad looks at me with sad blue eyes. He knows he let me down. The bride laughs at him. It’s a roaring, wicked laugh, and evil flies out of her mouth like angry, winged rats that scream out into the night and smother all the stars in the sky.

Behind her, many more men appear. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands—all in formal dress.  And there are women and children too, coming up from the floor of the desert, like they’ve been hiding there, waiting for this moment. They are all hers. She wills them forward. They rise from the plants, and the snakes, and the tarantulas, and beetles, and dead bodies. Dead birds fall from the sky, quickly balling up into sick colorful trophies that men and women and little children snatch up and shove into pockets so no one else will see their shame.

 

After everyone has assembled, she looks down at you and hisses disapprovingly. Your shoulders sag as you go to her. You have been hers for a long time. I cannot have you back.

I am consumed with longing for you, my father, the man I’ve hated all my life. I know you want to come with me, to tell me things, to reclaim some whisper of a stolen past. Selfishness wells up inside me.

You look over at me and smile as if trying to rescue any good that was born in this moment—the only moment we will ever have. You look happy to have had even this brief visit. The emptiness inside my heart begins to fill with a sad liquid that courses though my veins like thick black tar.

The dark queen waves her hand in the air and the cinema inside my head plays all the things I’ve missed—the things I hated you for. The little league games where you should have sat, cheering, alongside all the other boys fathers. The junior high school graduation, swim meets, creative writing contests. All the times I saw other kids standing with their proud mothers and fathers, and mine, forever absent. My mother, always working to make up for what you were not providing. You took her from me too.

The countless nightmares I had of winning the Olympics. How could winning the ultimate contest become a nightmare? By not being permitted to join the other winners on the pedestal to receive my medal, until, that is, after the others have finished receiving theirs. When it was my turn to claim victory, the crowd had already packed up and left. They had already seen who they came to see, and no one had come for me. I grabbed my medal and turned to the naked bleachers, wondering why I even bothered. The nightmare was the same as when I was awake. I never felt more alone than when I won an award; I hated you for that.

I can’t count the times I cursed you for what I thought you did to me and my Mom. The empty cavern inside a little boy, that’s normally filled with love and acceptance when nurtured inside a loving family. I filled that hole with a mountain of hate and anger, and not just at you, but at anything that reminded me of you. Anything related to you. I was a Fort Knox of anger and resentment, bitterness and pain.

I feel myself slide into a deep, dark, depression. All those wasted years . . . I want to throw up.

She, this woman, this queen of the dead, the damned, and the dehydrated, looks at me and raises her chin. She’s in front of me now, taking my measure. Inspecting me for something. Her smile is a lie. Is she mocking my anger?

She reaches out a hand to me. My father’s eyes are wide with panic, but he can do nothing. With a wave of her hand, a happy white mask comes down over his face and I’m left to stare at a frozen, molded expression, with two piercing blue eyes staring out from behind it. I look around and everyone has on the same mask, but their eyes are black and dead. Everyone stands and waits.

The dark queen arches her neck as if showing off her jewels. Is there a promise implied?

I’d like to spend some time with my father now that I know him a little better.

She smiles—that’s the promise. She’ll take me where I can stay and talk and be with him as long as I want. Her grim black smile peeks through her thin, white veil. Her eyes are laughing.

Coyly she turns and walks away, her flock following dutifully behind. I follow, too, deeper into the desert night. Her tiara has a gravity that sucks some of the smaller, weaker stars right out of the sky. Now, in the sky, as on her head, there are great patches of blackness that hold the bright and shiny lights apart, separating them. There is light, or there is dark, and there is no in-between. I’ve never seen anyone like her. Who is she? Why have I not heard of her?

Mom! I stop. What am I doing?

The desert bride turns around: her smile persists, but her eyes no longer laugh. She extends her hand to me. She is obviously not used to any kind of refusal. She holds a promise and a secret. What is that secret? Why does she hide it from me?

What would be my wish? No more pain, no worries, no bills, no border problems. This would be wonderful. All my problems solved, but I have my mom to think about. She’ll be worried about me, and will have to take care of herself—alone. It’s too far; I won’t be able to visit. I’ll miss her. Yes, I’ll miss my father too.

I know what I must ask: let him come with me.

The earth quakes and I lose my balance. There is a deep yellow-orange glow leaking from her smile. Flames lick her black lips, and remove all moisture from them. The quake stops. Her lips close, and the flames retreat. Her cold hard beauty returns.

I run and grab Dad’s hand and pull towards the entrance to the cave, but his leg is chained to hers. She cackles another evil laugh, and all the stars in the sky shiver in fear. Her long, thick hair reaches out and strangles every slow moving star, and then swallows them whole. Everything is cloaked in the blackness of her hair. My father’s eyes make a desperate plea.

“Come with us, or let him go,” she says to me, fire dancing in her words—ice in the cold threat of her stare. Her joy is my pain, knowing I must make the choice, and then live with the results. Confidently, she waits.

“I can’t. I just can’t.” My words echo off the canyon walls and come screeching back to me like shouts from a stranger.

A hand grabs my shoulder and I am pulled away.

Mom, you found us.

Dad is yanked from my grip and he’s flung to the ground, where the sand drains his body of all it’s life and liquid, shape and form. He’s gone, leaving nothing but the shadow of a stain. The bride sinks into the sand, and her family dutifully follows, leaving everything like it was before.

I turn to my mother. She is smiling.  What is she doing here?

A white gloved hand bursts violently up from the sand below me and grabs my right arm, pulling me down. My arm sinks into the sand up to my shoulder, but my mother pulls on my left arm and I feel my heart ripping in half. My right arm, beneath the sand, is turning cold, and the chill is spreading throughout my body. This is it. Whatever happens now will decide my fate forever.

My father rises up from the ground and stands across from me. He looks over at us. Mom sees him for the first time in many years. In the blink of an eye, a lifetime’s worth of conversations pass over their faces. It’s a gentle exchange I will never hear, but they will always remember. Time means nothing right now, and this moment is for them.

The sand below me erupts, and the desert bride flies out and catches my dad looking at my mom. Jealousy consumes her and her dress turns black as hate. The ground quakes beneath us. Flames fly out of her mouth releasing sparks like angry fireflies. She lets go of my arm to push Dad back into the sand. They both disappear into the desert floor, acrid black smoke rising from where they vanished.

Mom yanks hard at my arm and pulls me though the small opening of the bush and back into the desert. The fresh night sky is cooler, and has no scent. I wake as if falling in a dream.

Where am I? The desert. I seem to be in some kind of shallow hole under a bush. There is a thin blanket on the sand below me and there is little room between the bush and the nice cool ground. Someone made a little shelter here. My hand hits something and I find a plastic jug with lots of condensation clinging to its inner walls. I’m ravenous with thirst.

I shake the jug to get all the water to pool inside it and unscrew the top to drink the few mouthfuls of water it contains. My mouth soaks up most of the water before I can even swallow, but I’m able to feel some of the cool liquid run down my throat and into my stomach.

I am so tired. Maybe if I rest here a little while, this headache will go away and I’ll get the energy to get moving again. I lay back down and look out the opening of this little shelter. I see thousands of blurry stars looking down on the desert. Without the sun to guide me, I will have no idea which way is north. Maybe I should just spend the night here and get a fresh start in the morning.

I feel just like I did when I woke up in jail before uncle Carlos found me. Thinking back on that experience I must say I do prefer the smell of sand and sage to that drunken scarecrow scent in the jail.

I don’t know if this is a dream or not, but there seems to be a big black scorpion walking across my shirt. Holy shit! It feels real. Don’t move. Don’t even breathe.

Slowly it wanders up my shirt toward my face, getting closer and closer. What should I do? Maybe it’s looking for food. Please don’t crawl on my face and sting my eyes.

Slowly the scorpion turns and walks toward my arm. How is this thing going to get off my body? It stops at the gap between my body and my arm. I want to raise my arm a bit and make it easier for it to leave, but I can’t move. It slowly continues and heads into the little canyon between my body and my arm. The stinger is getting close to my arm. Will I get stung if the tip just bumps into my arm?

I watch helplessly as the scorpion uses his pinchers to push off of my arm and then drag himself over it. The scorpion climbs off my arm and onto the sand using the same method. I want to jump up, but I can’t. There isn’t enough room. I am frozen in place and forced to watch this deadly insect wander up toward my face. It stops at my cheek. All I can do is wait. Every inch of me wants to jump up and hurl the scorpion off of me, but my body isn’t listening. I can hear it’s clickity-crunchety footsteps as it walks on the dirt past my ear. Oh God! Don’t go into my ear.

I listen very carefully for the sound of it walking past my ear and entering the bush above my head. Ever so slowly, I slide my way out of the dugout, while keeping an eye on the little stinger until I can’t see it any longer. Dragging my body out from under the bush, trailing my stiff legs behind me, I get as far from the bush as I can until the thought that where there’s one scorpion, there’s probably a few more, makes me shiver and shake like a dog in order to remove any stray bugs that might be wandering around my clothes.

I reach down and grab my sombrero and inspect it carefully. That was close. My arms and legs feel jello-like. I seriously need to get myself together.

As my eyes become accustomed to the night, I see the dugout I had been sleeping in is actually part of an old water station.

Water.

There are a couple of plastic water jugs scattered around, and a a broken table that’s wedged under the bush. Sheets of cut up burlap are scattered about. I must have found it before I passed out.

To hell with scorpions and rattlesnakes. I search for more clear plastic jugs. I can’t believe my luck . . . but as I pick a jug up I see a knife has carved a slit all the way through an entire side. The Minutemen have been here.

There are remnants of water at the bottom of some of the jugs and I greedily soak up all there is. When I’ve finished, there is not a drop of water left in any of them. I feel a little better, but I’ll need much more water before I get out of this desert.

If there had been more people with me, how would that have played out? Would we all drink a little and everyone still dies? Or would one or two drink and and maybe live while the others died? Would one drink like me, and still want more, while everyone else died? Who would make those decisions? This is so disturbing. I need to get my mind back on track and get home.

I take in all the sights and sounds and smells around me and try to get a sense of where I am. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars in all my life. There is no moon and the sky looks white with black dots. It reminds me of chocolate chip ice cream. I see my shadow on the ground, and the shadow of everything else too. It’s like daytime, only weaker. This is amazing.

I take a big whiff of air and take in the smells of stretching and yawning plants.  The desert seems to be waking and re-absorbing the moisture it lost during the day when it slept. Where before I was in a giant oven, now I am standing on top of an enormous sponge, draining the air of every last ounce of moisture it gave up during the day. It’s actually more like the desert breathes in at night, and then exhales during the day, over and over again. It’s like the desert is breathing.

Now, which way is north?  I can’t even tell one constellation from another there are so many stars out. Which way should I go, and how will I keep from walking in circles?

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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