Desert Stories

The Bible was her shade against the glare.
She carried it under her left arm, with her right hand resting protectively over the top. She had crazy eyes; the kind of look that comes when reality is defined by the urges of a make-believe world.
She had once been a member of the flock, with a family to care for and a husband who always needed another new start to make everything right again–or at least as right as it once was, too many years ago. Not that it mattered: The days dragged on, and people found him where he could always be found: at the local restaurant, swapping lies and spinning tales for the entertainment of old men with no better escape from the sun. With each start came another dead end, and another built-in excuse for failure.

He had once cared, but that was too many years ago, too many lost opportunities to start caring again. Life was about survival, not new chances, and he was a specialist at the art of survival.

For her the Bible was her shade against the glare.
Every day she would gather the kids for school, and every Sunday they could be found inside the roadside church, murmuring hymns and worshiping in their own quiet family way. They were, indeed, a quiet family. Through the years, they never made much of a fuss, keeping family business to the family and sticking to the routine of lives under an unforgiving sun. The daughter knew enough to know she did not want to stay in this dirty little desert town. She was a sullen girl, filled with grand dreams of her own, dreams that had nothing to do with the rag-tag family she had somehow ended up with. She desperately wanted everyone to know she was the normal one. She owed none of them loyalty or compassion, not to mother or father, and certainly not to her odd little brother. Soon enough, she left in a wedding dress, turned her back and forgot about her tiny little desert family.

Joey was never going anywhere, because he was everywhere he ever wanted to be. The odd brother, the problem child, Joey always had a place to go; always had a sanctuary where his own carefully-crafted world could not be disturbed. Dancing for change, chasing down cigarette butts, he was simple entertainment, a short, fat diversion for the kids in the school yard.

And they took advantage.
Here Joey, dance for some pennies. Faster Joey, faster, come on now, give me a show.
Hey Joey, want a cigarette?
I just put one out down the street.
Joey would go loping down the street, searching for a treasure he knew nothing about–only that it was something he wanted to have very, very badly.

Eventually, it was too much, and something snapped. Neighbors said the mother went off the deep end, and ended up wandering the dusty streets. She left him to take care of Joey, and for awhile she actually did. But like everything else, that also came to an end. As he was walked into town one night, a carload of the wild kids who roamed the desert searching for easy victims found him on a deserted stretch of highway.
The skid marks went from right to left and did not stop.

And nothing changed. The sun continued its daily assault on the valley, and town gossip of the horrible family tragedy slowly faded away. Except for her. Her comfort had been taken away; and somewhere beneath the layers of this make believe world, she understood–the glare of the desert sun can beat through any defense put up by a beaten down old woman.

Now she follows Joey down the streets of this dusty desert town, under the shade of her threadbare and tattered Bible.

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