Desert Lands

by: Rebeka Singer

We ate our Fourth of July dinner around a glass table on the outdoor patio. Dad and I sat on the back steps while Mom washed the dishes. We sat outside the sliding glass door facing the evergreens that lined the brick driveway. The bricks Dad had laid himself when they had bought the house sixteen years ago were faded now—zinfandel once gleamed startling hues of raw salmon.

The blue sky softened to gray.

“So you don’t want to not live here then?” I asked.

He looked away. “There’s a place, Death Valley. Bad Water. Furnace Creek.”

I clutched my knobby 13 year-old knees.

“No one can take the heat.” He sighed.  “There’s dehydrated remains. One place in the valley there’s a wagon with a skeleton underneath it with a plaque that reads: ‘He got to this point, he couldn’t go no further.’”

His eyes drifted off and returned in another vein. “Well even if I go for a little while and then come back here to die— that’s okay.” His face was damp.  “But honestly, I prefer Central America, the Caribbean Islands—” Dad trailed off as his mind wandered to foreign lands. “I’ll join the Somali pirates and sail the Gulf of Aden!”

I was dazed, struck by anger and wild admiration: he was a dreamer.

“One day I’m going to take you to the desert, Lily.” His voice was soft. “Death Valley, 135 degrees. No one can take that heat. No one will be there.” He stretched his hand out to the horizon and moved it in an arc to paint the invisible picture of the heat before my eyes. “It’s the closest you’ll come to God.” He looked mournful. It looked natural, I thought.

“Want to go set off those fireworks now?”

*

We stood in the driveway. The New England summer heat possessed us. Dad hunched atop unsteady legs, a homemade cigar sat loosely between his teeth. He unloaded the bundle of fireworks onto the bricks and retrieved a sparkler bearing a bubblegum-hued fuse. He handed it to me and held up a lighter.

“Now don’t burn me,” he said. “Not too close.” The fuse lit and he pulled his hand back as from an ignited stove. He smiled, folding his fingers over the opposite palm.

Smoke began to fill the driveway and I coughed. Dad tacked up a spinning firework to the telephone pole on the street. He summoned me to light it with the sparkler.

It spun rapidly, emitting different colored spears. A pink and white diamond, green sunbeams, and little blue stars twinkled then faded into empty space. Nothing was left but smoke and silence.

I felt alone amid the remains and urged Dad to light another. We went through three spinners and six sparklers. Smoke swirled down the street, filling the driveway and rising up through the branches of a weathered beech. The leaves of the tall oaks along the sidewalk whispered in the uncanny stillness.

“Very few people have been to the Moon,” he said as he looked off into the dim skies. “When we come back from the desert, Lily, you can say you’ve been to the Moon.”

I tried to follow his gaze, tried to find the faint ivory Moon buried in the twilight sky. It seemed to flicker in and out of sight.

 

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