Roads on Her Face # 42: The Death of the Sun

You could count the passing of the days in the trickle of sweat down spines, the tss tss of the spray bottles we used as air conditioning constant as the slow torpid buzzing of flies. The ebb and flow of time in the middle of nowhere follows the seasons; slower in the misery of summer and too-quick in the cool of winter.

Days were spent lying in the small shade of palo verdes and mesquite waiting for the eye of the sun to finally drop away. The mercury registered 120 in Phoenix one summer we spent out in the desert without electricity or running water. Sometimes it was too hot to read, too hot to breathe. We crawled under the silver mirage of the trailer like dogs, panting with tongues lolling in the blessed sand. The water we wet ourselves with evaporated in minutes, leaving behind the memory of being cool. We dreamed of popsicles and the cold clear waters of the Northwest; imagined green cool light filtering through leaves of plants that did not have spines and were soft to the touch; imagined the lives of people not brutalized by the elements. When I could read, I chose books about the Arctic, vampire novels set in northern countries, stories of polar bears.

Dad soaked his t-shirt constantly in a bucket of water that he never threw out or changed; I didn’t know water could rot and smell quite that bad but it didn’t seem to bother him though he often bragged about his sense of smell. He smelled like death, and being near him made me gag. He laughed at us when we turned up our noses. Was it a point of pride to stink like that?

Mom did not complain, never complained. We carried flyswatters to combat the few flies brave enough to fly through the heat to look for water, we made paper fans to keep the air circulating. In the evening when the rays of the sun grew long we, along with the animals, cautiously began to move limbs and talk, smiling with the relief of the night. The dichotomy of the desert is the amazing night, that no matter how hot it is during the day the heat would rush toward the heavens when the sun-god disappeared. Like the moon, the day and night temperatures would be so far apart that it was almost worth the suffering. The night is still my favorite time, the stars the best part of the sky.

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Roads On Her Face #41: Melba

Melba had a little sewing and quilting shop on the main drag of
Glenwood, across from the Crab Apple Cabins and next to the creek that
bubbled under the highway. We’d walk through town as kids and stop at
the creek in the shade, to pretend there was a troll under the bridge
or to watch the kids in the summer in town with their parents for
vacation. The strangers in town were always tourists or hunters. The
teenage girls knew when the Forest Service would bring in the Hot
Shots to fight fires in the mountains. As the season got drier and the
heat began, so would the hormones heat up in town. Tan muscled guys
who’d been spending weeks in the mountains would come rolling into
town and the smell of sweat and desire was rank.

Melba gave me another job in exchange for sewing lessons. I helped her
in the shop, and gave her massages after work. Pressing her doughy
flesh as she sighed in her room, I decided I didn’t want to be a
massage therapist.

Our first Christmas I was the charity case for the women’s quilting
group. I imagine the meeting they had as they picked their deserving
recipient.

“That little homeless girl in the trailer, Mary’s daughter? You know
she’d just love a quilt, ladies. Let’s stitch her a new life made of
goodwill and tiny stitched dolls wearing flowered dresses.”

It was a sweet gesture. I wished I hadn’t had to give her massages,
though. I made sure I was as busy as I could be so I could tell her I
didn’t have time anymore for sewing. I never made clothing that fit me
quite right, anyway.

I participated in everything. I went to the ladies’ oil painting group
and painted colorful quick paintings, two to a month, while the older
ladies had been working on the same thing for a year. I livened up
their day and made them laugh.

Lynn took me under her artist’s wing, because I loved to paint so
much. She’d come in with her brush and refine my splashes and swirls,
add color and depth when I didn’t take the time. She could tell I
needed a little refinement.

People started asking me to babysit their kids, and I still didn’t
know how to say no yet so I did. After one last overnight with a
couple of little boys who wanted to sleep in the bed with me and tried
to run roughshod, I realized I didn’t have to do this anymore. I was
making enough money at my other jobs…

Windstalker hired me to tie the hundreds of pottery chile ristras they
hung at the door, their best sellers to folks looking for a New
Mexican souvenir. My fingers were raw and bled as I knotted the cords
together and burned the ends with a lighter to prevent them
unraveling.

We spent days at the Catwalk in the cold water of the canyons,
exploring under the rocks and back away from the trail. We swam in the
deep dark swimming holes beneath giant boulders, climbed barefoot up
the cliffsides and swung from trees like monkeys. One of my best friends Adele and I parked with boys in the parking lot of the picnic grounds late at night, watching the stars, and I sighed and was bored as she made out in the backseat. I still looked
like a little girl with zits  who didn’t know how to dress, and her
curves and breasts had been womanly for years already. When would I be
desirable? I was in such a hurry and the time was so close. I felt
like I had so many years to catch up on, not realizing the length of
the years before me. I always knew I would want to slow down time,
though, and it’s been a recurring theme in my journals since I started them at 8 years old.

I have always known I’ll be looking back in 10 years, then  20 (if luck favors the bold), wondering where did the time go?