Blue Mesa Review Issue 34

Page 15

day wishes, first star wishes, and 11:11 wishes on such a transformation. Ren and her daddy packed up the next day and drove west, Ren sitting high in the passenger seat of her daddy’s big rig. The world looked small from up there, and for once, Ren thought she understood why her daddy kept leaving. A few weeks later, when her daddy didn’t come back from his latest trip, she thought she understood that too. Some people are good at cupping their hands over your eyes without you even feeling their touch. “I had a daddy once too,” Celia said. It was evening, and the two were sitting on the pool deck, watching the sun’s watery wake. There was no question that Celia would keep Ren just as long as Ren wanted to stay. Now, little kids ran barefoot circles in the RV Park, kicking up whorls of dust that threatened to extinguish the whole place. Watching these kids run, watching their magic feet fail to erase what shouldn’t ever have been, Ren wanted to pull them into her camper and drive them somewhere else, somewhere real. Of course she couldn’t do that. She could hardly save herself. Ren closed her eyes against the desert sun, eye-level now, and ran her fingertips over the pale ridges that lined her wrists. She picked a scab and the quick exposure of blood to air gave her just enough room to breathe. Cutting was a bad habit, like her relationship with Larry, but unlike Larry, she wasn’t planning on kicking it any time soon. Larry strolled the avenue between RVs, offering polite nods and taking orders for coffee on an imaginary notepad. Behind his elk skull, his voice—Evening, ma’am. Would you like a cup of coffee, sir?—was muffled. She should tell them, the old folks, that they didn’t have any coffee, they didn’t even have any running water, but it didn’t matter. Every single one of them waved Larry on. Keep moving, buddy. Not interested. Larry wasn’t exactly what you would call trustworthy, neither was Ren. When Larry reached the end of the aisle, he spun on his heels and bowed. The elk skull fell facedown into the dirt, and Larry continued on into the open desert beyond to commune, presumably, with his ancestral brothers. The old folks, still in their chairs, turned from Larry to Ren, looking for an explanation, but she had none. Larry was who he was, his one redeeming feature, and this was not something Ren could explain. Instead, to the collective she asked, “Which way’s the camp host?” A little girl with raven black hair and bare feet pointed west, toward the sun. 15

The camp host had spread woven rugs over the desert floor and set out some upholstered reading chairs as though this little patch of desert were her living room. Ren figured most people would feel sorry for this woman, alone and sunburnt in the desert with nothing to lay claim to but a goddam RV, but Ren didn’t. People made choices and they lived with them and there were worse choices to make than this one. Ren should know. She paid the woman what she had and wrote an IOU for the rest, and as she was leaving the faux living room she cupped a plastic wine glass, half full in her palm, like the thief she was, like her daddy’s girl. The wine was dry and cheap, like everything else in this place. Back at the camper van, Larry had returned from his desert wanderings and was sharing a joint with a skinny old man in a patched jean jacket and leather boots that seemed too heavy for his bones. An FM radio played Willy Nelson, and the old man sang along, his voice hoarse and high, not unlike Willy’s. “Welcome to the good life,” Larry said, spreading his arms wide to encompass everything. Behind Larry, behind the old man’s RV, a plaster saguaro stood fifty feet tall, its paint-chipped arms raised to the purpling sky. Ren drained the wine and lifted her arms in imitation of the cactus, and the old man laughed so hard he started to choke. Ren dropped the plastic wine glass, which couldn’t break, and walked toward the fairgrounds to survey the job site. The Desert Gardens Gem & Mineral Show, the largest of the four rock shows in Quartzsite, occupied an RV Park on the edge of town, bordered by Hwy 10 on one side and what the map labelled as “Once a Military Appliance Runway” on the other. In between, 200 professional and amateur lapidaries spread their wares across aisles of pop-up tents and accompanying RVs, selling rocks, gems, and minerals to daily visitors and wholesalers alike. Currently, the map told her, she was standing a few aisles north of “You Are Here.” The sun was nearing its bed, and the salesmen and women had packed up for the night, trading their gemstones and cash boxes for camp chairs and cooking fires. Ren had been here once before, three years ago, with her stepmother Celia. That was the winter after her daddy left for good. They had driven Celia’s new-to-you RV from Imperial, California to redeem the money Ren’s daddy had borrowed with no intention of ever paying back by selling geodes to horny cowboys. Every morning, Celia strapped on her push-up bra, which show-

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