“The horizon was purple at the time. I looked up from my newly lit cigarette and scanned the desolate, illuminated ground. It had seen nothing more than a scorching sun pounding its heat against its skin. I thought to myself, ‘No one has ever traveled across this land—there was never any reason to.’ It was dry, cracked, and merciless to any hopeful vegetation. Perhaps it was comforted by my presence. After all, it never got the privilege of supporting the weight of another life, much less share in its pain. So I sat and took pride in my selfless act of giving this ground more importance. It simply endures the pain of the sun—waiting to be used.
“I looked back at my cigarette and found I had thought away its lifespan. As I was about to flick it to the ground, I hesitated and saw there was one good pull left. I took a long drag and tossed the remains of my companion to the ground. I like to savor my last drag, so I held it in for a few seconds and slowly exhaled as I watched the first sight of the sun peek above the plateau in the distance. I could see my surroundings again. As I surveyed the vastness of the humble ground, smoke passed through my vision slowly and out of focus.
“Occasionally I would try to remind myself why I was where I was. However, my defense mechanisms for loneliness were wearing thin. Memories of my fourteenth birthday relentlessly entered my thoughts, the one where my mom made me search around the house for my present. It was a scarf she made. I told her I wanted a jacket—a really cool one made out of leather, the kind cowboys wear. I knew she didn’t have the money for it, so I only asked for one thing in hopes she would have no other option but to buy it for me. When I found the blue scarf, I was really disappointed and didn’t hide it. In hindsight, she must’ve thought I wanted the jacket for warmth purposes. So in an attempt to give me what I asked for—warmth—she made me a scarf. Who wears scarves when they’re fourteen?
“I lit up another smoke. This time I was going to enjoy it, breathe in every last taste of freedom. I threw my knife, zippo, apple, and tobacco into my pack, slung it over my shoulder, and picked back up on my personal trail. The sun was my goal. Well, not the actual sun, of course. You can’t walk to the sun. But, the direction it was facing at the time. Hovering slightly above the plateau, shooting heat that stung my body.
“Sometimes I would look down at my feet as I walked and watch the cracked, dusty ground pass beneath them. With every step came a feeling of both satisfaction and fear. I even thought for a second if maybe those were the same. I took another drag of my cigarette and reestablished my self sufficiency. I knew who I was, what I was doing, and why I was doing it.
“My shadow disappeared. I was stepping directly on top of it.
“‘It must be noon.’ I said.
“Once I realized this, I immediately noticed the pool of sweat in my socks. Every step made a squishy sound as if I was walking through a puddle of mud. I’m sure my toes were pruned, too—like they get when you stay in the tub too long. I looked around for a good place to sit and chose a spot a little further up and to the right. It was just as good as any. I sat down, crossed my legs, and opened my pack to find my apple and water. Sometimes I like to eat the core of the apple, too. But I didn’t do that this time; I just threw the core over my right shoulder after I had eaten all the meat. I pulled my canteen to my lips and drank the last sip. I could’ve sworn there was more than that in there. I filled it to the brim the morning I found the creek and had been conserving the whole time.
“With no water in my canteen, little in my body, and walking in 106 degrees, I knew I wouldn’t last long. I had two options: one, head back and hope to get home before dehydration sets in, or two, keep walking toward the plateau in hopes of finding a town with more water. As you obviously know, I chose to keep my original goal—that plateau.
“So I got up, threw my pack over my shoulder, and picked up pace.”
“And then you found me and brought me here,” said Dan.
Dan picked up his fork and continued to eat the eggs that were cooked for him. He took a sip of orange juice and was confused for a second as to whether he should chew or swallow the pulp—he did a little of both.
“Well, I better be on my way, Ms. Richards. It gets dark real early these days.”
Mary looked at Dan’s weathered ring on his finger and softly responded, “Mrs. Richards.” But Dan didn’t hear a thing.
Dan looked at Mary with hollow eyes. She sighed and headed toward the phone.
“Hi, it’s Mary, can I speak with—yes, thank you.”
“I guess I was just hopeful,” she said. “Things seemed to have gotten better over—yes, I know.”
Mary began to tear up as she looked at Dan. He was distracted by the way the eggs felt between his fingers.
“OK, OK bye.”
“Dan, darling, we have to go. I’ll gather your stuff.”