"Surrey down to a stoned soul picnic."
I've given myself to this one lyric. One phrase from some song on the radio. My brain is heat and dust and my ears ring like bells.
"Surrey rhymes with furry but it doesn't mean a thing."
Joan carries on. She looks around the space between her and I. Glances at me. Glances away. Carries on.
We are off somewhere. Joan is looking for something. I recognize a tree, but maybe it's a cactus. I think we've been here before. We've been everywhere. Endlessly.
Hot swells move across the sand and fill the empty space between backpack straps, toes, thumb and pointer finger. The sun has burned color from the sky and all that remains is a stark brightness. Small rodents lay dead on the track. Their eyes splayed open like they've just seen a man land on the moon.
I am distant. Unfriendly. Turned-off — which is to say that Joan is the opposite. Friendly, open, alert and the leader by default. I am nostalgic for air-conditioning. For a pool in the middle of summer. For lemonade or popsicles. For the striking burn of alcohol on my lungs. For the lifeguard named Paul . . . Simon?
I drag the toe of my sandal across the railroad tracks and through the sand. I pick at dead skin around my brown fingernails. I finish the last of the water inside my canteen even though Joan says don't and I dream of home. Of winter.
Joan tries the map, again.
Hot," she says. "Real hot," and she wipes beads of sweat from the space between her lip and nose. She points forward. I see nothing but white light and rusty ground.
We take off the way we came and then double-back towards the main road. I say main road because that's what Joan said. Roads don't exist here. Just even and un-even bits of land. Everything leads to nowhere. But, Joan leads us somewhere. Or so she says.
Nothing is a vast space called New Mexico. I have come to learn that. Nobody has written that in any of the books we read before we took a bus out here with a gang of people we lost long ago. Nobody told us that New Mexico was where all the specks of sand and dust are born and live and die.
I move my feet one over the other, then back again. The hot air turns hotter — filled with familiar scents of meat, smoke, and decay. The scent of food. We've been here before. Shops line the streets with make-shift roofs and half built windows. Everything is dead and orangey brown. The heat is a torturous relationship and it's one we can't escape. Dust falls from my eyes like dirty snow.
At an un-named store, we fill our canteens with water, drink them, and then fill them again. We do this two times. I once heard you shouldn't drink too much water at once. I wonder if that person has ever been to the desert. A gnat lands on my tongue. It is washed away by hot water.
Joan trades her turquoise bracelet for bananas and tortillas. She opens the brown sack of tortillas and lays two of them on the store counter. She peels a banana and hands me the skin. I lick the inside of it, sucking vitamins and minerals my body has long forgotten. Joan wraps the banana with a flour tortilla.
While I wait, a tan boy in the shop sits on the floor and ties my shoe laces together. I'm impressed but I try not to stare at his ribs poking out of his tank top. I stare at the copper ceiling instead. We go to leave and I forget the boy tied my laces together and fall on my way out. I hear the high-pitched "Ha! Ha!" of the boy from behind the counter.
Outside, we sit on a bleached wood slab and eat the banana on the tortilla. I pretend it is homemade banana bread. The water tastes like rust and feels like chalk on my tongue. Joan takes longer to eat than I and saves a tortilla for later. She talks to the man inside in broken Spanish. He says the motel is five miles southeast in perfect English.
Heat forms waves off the single-track road. I feel myself walking over my own steps again and again like some endless daydream I can't forget.
"Always in circles," Joan says. "Endless circles."
Flayed open on the tracks ahead of us is a black-tailed Jackrabbit. A predator has gorged his stomach and his eye is missing. Most likely rotted out. The heat carries its stench towards us on a translucent wave.
"Where'd he go?" I ask Joan.
"What'd you mean?"
"When he died."
"Somewhere." Joan spits in the dirt. She takes a sip of water from her canteen.
"Where'd he go?" I ask Joan.
The heat is endless. Waves of it pull the scent of the dead rabbit over us. It fills the holes and lost spaces. It fills the rotted eye and the empty canteen. Everything is dust but Joan says again, we are headed somewhere.
is a digital marketer living in Grand Rapids Michigan. Her short fiction has been featured in The 3288 Review, Talking Soup, Brazenhead Review