April 22, 2013: Finally, the rain.



The man had promised them an easy walk.  “Only three days through the desert, and we will walk at night, when it’s cool.”  It seemed easy enough: the seven men were, after all, young and strong from years of farm labor.  And they were used to the heat of Southern Mexico. “Just bring plenty of water and wear hats and shirts with long sleeves”, he told them.

They were eager to cross the border, no matter how difficult the journey. They had dreams: jobs, money to send back home, reunions with friends and loved ones who already lived in America.  A few days of their lives were worth it.

Of course it was more difficult than any of them dreamed possible, and the three days he promised them stretched into five.  The men left the town of Altar, Sonoma, after a quick stop to offer a prayer to St. Jude, and for $50 a truck took them to the crossing place. They carried backpacks stuffed with water bottles and food which the eager merchants of the border town had been eager to sell at outrageous prices.

The ‘Coyote’, their travel guide, met them at the crossing. Each man paid him two thousand dollars cash, and they set off through the Sonoran Mountains. “I am glad we are all men,” the Coyote told them.  “One thing to worry about is the bandits in these hills. They like groups with women and children because such groups move more slowly, and the women are good for sex. Women are given free contraceptives in Altar because everybody knows they will be raped.”  He continued, “But even without women, you must still watch for the bandits.  They will come after your money if they think you have any.”

The daytime heat was brutal, but the men were used to that.  It was the freezing temperatures at night that was the difficult part: because of the thieves they didn’t want to light any fires and  their fingers and toes grew numb and icy. By morning they were eager for the sun to rise and the temperatures to climb back up to one hundred degrees. Hunger, too, was always with them, and constant thirst. At one point they found a nopal cactus plant. Their guide showed them how to scrape away the spines and feast on the deep red fruit.  It was filled with seeds, but it refreshed them and gave them nourishment.

They slowly trudged north.  Sometimes the Coyote would walk behind them and brush away their footprints with a branch, and at other times the helicopters would swirl overhead, and the men would crouch under whatever cover they could find.  At night, distant headlights on the two-track surveillance trails would send them to the ground, flattened and shivering, pressed hard against whatever depression or slope was near.

The obstacles continued: nosebleeds from the extremely hot and arid daytime temperatures, scorpions and snakes, and ‘jumping cactus’ with spikes that seemed to travel through space and attach themselves painfully to bare flesh. 

The foothills of  Baboquivari Mountain had been their first land mark; now, five days later, they spotted the lights of the radio tower which marked the presence of Arizona State Route 86 and the pickup point located several hours beyond the two-lane highway. The Coyote warned that Route 86 was the last and most dangerous obstacle, under constant watch by the authorities. Silently, the men slipped to the other side of the road by wiggling through the corrugated metal storm water sewer pipe underneath it.

The rusty white pickup came for them shortly after sunrise of the sixth night, and they climbed into in the blazing hot truck bed to lie covered with dusty tarps which smelled of chicken droppings. Two hours later they were at last in Phoenix in a secluded parking lot, and their lives had changed.

As if in welcome, the Arizona sun disappeared behind a swollen gray cloud and they were dancing in the cleansing, life-giving rain.

(This writing prompt was furnished by Patricia Ann McNair)


April 21, 2013: On her toes.


“I haven’t been down here all that long, just a couple of months. The problem was with my Mom’s new boyfriend. He didn’t much like me to begin with, said I was always getting in the way. Problem was, he got pissed off when I called the cops because he was beating on her. I can’t sleep when he’s hollering and she’s screeching and they’re breakin’ stuff in the house. And then every now and again he wants to beat on me too, or get me in bed with him.

“I mean, I gotta get sleep so’s I can go to my job, don’t I? It’s a good job, working at the hotel. Pays good, and I get some leftover food from the kitchen when they got a big convention or something.

“Anyways, one night Mom and him was carrying on like forever, so I just got mad and left. Took my stuff and went to the park down by the river behind the hotel. Nobody bothered me that night, though later I found out that the bushes I was in was a regular spot that some old guy usually takes over, but he wasn’t there that first time.

“I tried to find me an apartment or a room, but I didn’t have enough cash except for a couple of really bad places and I decided I’d rather be on my own. Some guy told me about a way down into the storm water tunnels under the street and I came down here and found this place and I’m really liking it. I got this corner back in here, see, and it’s raised up off the floor so nothing gets wet when it rains real hard, which it don’t all that much out here in Vegas.

“I lucked out, finding this place. There’s a couple hundred people down here and some of them is real private and get mad when you get in their space. But the old whore that had this before me died, and everybody picked the place clean within an hour after they dragged her out of here, I came by and got it, and it’s just fine. It’s out of the weather, don’t get too hot down here, not like outside anyway. I mean when it’s over a hundred degrees on the street, it’s only about eighty underneath it. I got this old sleeping bag, and some blankets and a pillow from the hotel, and a flashlight. I go to MacDonald’s before work to put myself to rights and get some coffee. I don’t need much else.

“Biggest problem is getting in and out of here: I wear heavy boots because there’s snakes and spiders and broken glass and lots of needles. Then the big storms come and this water can rise about a foot an hour and that’s scary too, plus it brings all the crap off the streets, butts and bottles and whatever else the rains bring down here.

“I got friends in this neighborhood. Some of them are druggies, crystal meth mostly, and almost everybody gambles, or used to. Now they’re just silver miners, checking the slots for cash that got left behind, dumb tourists. Most of them are like me: just want to be left alone, do their thing.

“I like being one of what they call the mole people, and I got no plans to leave right away. It’s peaceful down here, not much to worry about. I clean up for a work day, go to a tunnel entrance, walk a few steps, and I got food and a little money. No debts. No nasty boyfriend beatin’ on my ass.

“What’s not to like? As long as I stay on my toes and watch out for Number One, I don’t have any complaints.”

April 16, 2013: She felt…

She had waited for hours for him, followed his directions exactly. He had been so precise about what he wanted, so very specific. Bring the old boat, he said, and pull it in behind that spit of land on the south end of the beach. Get as far back into the inlet as you can so that you’re hidden from anyone passing by.
He wanted to meet early, just before dawn, and so she had slept lightly, awakened in the dark, silently slipped into shorts and a sweater, and left the house carrying the blanket and a bottle of water. The boat was a problem: she pushed away from the dock and paddled it out into the dark, waiting until she was far past the neighbor’s beach before starting the engine.
Dawn came in a soft light, and gradually the dark shape of shore rose out of the water. She maneuvered the boat into the cove and by full daylight it was tucked safely back into the shelter of the cove, silent but for the tiny licks of waves against the port side. She waited, huddled under the heavy wool blanket, motionless as stone.
By noon he had not come. The sun was warmer now, almost hot, and her heart was pounding. Did I mistake the time? The place? Could he have meant somewhere else, or some other day?. Did he change his mind? Is he injured or ill? If I wait any longer, how will I explain where I’ve been? She climbed out of the boat, stretched cramped legs and waded into the water for a better look, fear catching her breath and binding it tight in her chest.
It’s going to storm, she thought. He’s not coming. She splashed her cheeks with the cold water and climbed back into the boat.
I will not cry, she promised herself, more in anger than in sadness. I won’t.
She pointed the boat north toward home.