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.