The summer desert sun still smoldered in the flesh of her face. The cheeks rubbed to a waxed patina by the searing desert winds. Lava like depths rolled and bubbled in the cauldrons of her eyes. The gold of her earring echoed the late evening sun, setting to end the torment of the sand turned broiler pan. And the photographer’s flashbulb once again flared about the unflinching woman. Her sight was miles and months away.
The day had been strewn with several stretches of sand without vegetation beating the mind with sameness upon endless sameness. The feet followed feet that were the same, foot in front of foot in front of foot. Crossing the stretch of desert had become a Sisyphistic challenge that was beyond the regimen finding the other side. If the mind could even think any more, it would think of anything other than what was happening.
Starting before sunrise, the small group gathered for the crossing. Very little talk was offered as each mentally prepared for the ordeal ahead. Seven miles of desert had sounded so minor in the safety of a cool adobe building just days before. The map had been so flat in its unassuming way. Nothing had alluded to the ordeal’s true nature as they had all agreed to the destination and the path of ascension.
She had stumbled and slid on the gravely side of the large barranca late in the morning, her smallest brother was on her mind. Early that week the policeman had shown up at their house asking about the boy. There had been some fighting at the school, that hadn’t stopped there. Later there had been a fight in an ally. Three boys had attacked a single boy. The three had various injuries ranging from a broken nose to a couple of broken ribs and a concussion. Her brother said he didn’t know anything about a fight, and he had no marks or injuries. The policeman said the others looked like someone well trained in boxing and street fighting had worked them over; and then he ask her brother if he still visited the boxing gym on 8th Street.
Their mother had been furious that a policeman had come to the house. To bring this kind of attention, this kind of shame was unmentionable. She had slammed doors, and rattled dishes; but it was the quiet voice she used, almost a whisper, and the calm that was the serene look of a deadly thunder cloud standing white and soft against the summer sky, and it’s potential to rain down deadly hail or wash away the sins of man in the sweep of a flash flood. That; was their mother at the height of her fuming and fulmination. Later at dinner she served the young boy’s favorite desert saying, ‘do not bring home scars that bring shame to the family, send them home on others’. Then she kissed the tops of the heads of the children and went to bed; the new job was killing her with the hardness of long days and heavy labor at the factory.
Shortly before high noon, the group had stopped to eat sparingly and drink water. The cliffs were less than a hundred yards away but the heat radiated from the morning baked walls and stirred the air in waves of ribbonfish movement. They would not be climbing these walls; nearly a mile more on the north face the crevices hide cool pathways to the top.
Two of the others were looking at the map of the north cliffs to find the route that would be the most expeditious for the group, yet be ascendable by all. The weakest link being the old man among them, but he reassured them that he could and had crawled up all the chimney piped crevices that were on the cliffs. So they had repacked and move off to the cooler north side.
The afternoon had been spent in a cool crevasse of the north side when the sun never shown nor warmed the rocks or blood of the Diamond backed vipers of this place. So the group had rested safely and without worry as the heat slipped by overhead. They had laid about among the strewn boulders and rocks, dozing in the stupor from the long mindless travel through the burnt wasteland as well as into a time of an older tradition that predated even the old man’s memory of stories that were passes in whispers from old lips to young ears generation after generation.
As a woman now of 18 years, she had been assuming more and more of the duties of running the household as their mother worked more and longer days. She dreamed of attending gay parties with frilly dresses and swell guys. In her mind she could hear dance music played by one of the big bands that were popular and the smooth glassiness of a large hardwood dance floor filled with whirling couples. But the whirling movements were of her hands with a sponge on the floor. And her dancing was with a beater and the rugs on a clothesline in the sun.
The ritual in the knife slice of the new moon had been long feared by the trio of girls. The pain was not something that would ever be talked about by any woman ever to walk the journey into womanhood of the clan. The five young men standing guard but only one that was guided by the only man would see or ever know what the ritual would take or what it would give from the heart of the old man’s small worn leather sack. Only the young girls and the lone young boy would share forever that night, that pain, that secret and continue the course of the clan for more generations to come. Only that thinnest of slices of a moon, would ever see all, and yet never reveal that nights bonding.
The photographer’s lens reflected the glasses of her pupils bearing the fruit of a hard summer. Her eyes slide to the door hiding behind the white light umbrella. The young man stood in the doorway, there to take her home. Her time of gracious reprieve from the stalled life force chained to the yoke of caring for her mother and siblings was drawing to a close; and like a good book, she wished it not to end. The bitter-sweet of that time blossomed in her mouth and settled like a bite of bitter pepper, full and laced with eye watering heat. The young man leaned too into the door-jam with a melted resolve of the time now lapsed and his duty to incarcerate the free bird once more.
The photographer muttering to himself and looking through the view finder for the two hundredth time, absently lit another cigarette and drew in a deep slow draw of smoke. Irritated that the time was at near to end, he let his breath out as a deep sigh and smoke swirling out as snakes from mouth and nostrils. “Something. . . something…. “ He mussed “something missing, missing, missing. A focal point…..” He stepped right then left, squatted and raised into the air on his toes….
“Here.” He said. “Hold this”, and handed her his cigarette.