Down goes cactus stalk. Green, bristly, it lands with silent impact in sand. Machete into belt, pocket knife out of pocket. I scrape thorns from a small section and pop bald flesh into my mouth. I suck and suck to pull water out. Parched lips, sandpaper tongue, dusty throat. Drink and drink earthy, green-tasting water.
Moon’s out, no need for lamp. Saves on supplies. Supplies = rare. Supplies = valuable. Supplies = survival.
Knife into pocket, machete in hand.
Down goes cactus stalk. I told Mom once that sounds of machete into cactus are like curses. Cactus would be a plant to curse, if plants spoke.
Mom said not to curse. Curse = bad. Words = bad? I tell Mom we’re cursed anyhow. What can words do to us?
Maybe if plants spoke we wouldn’t cut them down. Maybe not. People speak. We still cut them down.
Down goes cactus stalk. Last Rain came and took Dad and hasn’t come back. Last Rain came and took lots of Mom's and Dads and left us behind. No water. No food. No protection. No answers.
It’s why I’m out here cutting down cactus in ass-end of nowhere. I’m oldest. I keep Mom and Sal alive. I = protector. I = provider. I = good daughter?
Sal doesn’t remember rain. Doesn’t remember Dad neither. Sal = baby back then. Sal = precious.
Must rain somewhere, but ain’t anywhere we can find. Maybe Dad found rain. He'll bring it back to us. Maybe.
Down goes cactus stalk. My racket has brought a coyote. A cage of ribs and fur. Eyes flash devillike in moon. Black lips peel back from yellow teeth. Drool drips to sand.
I bare my teeth at coyote. (Yellow, like hers.) Machete in right hand. Knife in left hand. I snarl. I growl. Go away. Go away.
She watches me with dark eyes. Could end here. Leave behind thirst. Hunger. Pain.
Muscles relax. Grip loosens. Swallow.
Small voice in my head asks: Leave Mom? Leave Sal?
Coyote hunches. Hunger = stronger than sense. Coyote leaps.
Tumbling. Snapping. Scrabbling.
Arms swing. Legs kick. Sand splashes.
Coyote in sand. Panting. Gasping. Bleeding.
Wipe my face. My blood and coyote blood smear together. I’m sweating. Losing water I can’t afford to lose.
Coyote no longer panting. Still.
I stare at coyote. Hungry.
Coyote = meat.
Look away. She was just looking to live. Like me.
Down goes cactus stalk. Last one. Must save some for later. Good spot. Unknown to rest. Rest give up too soon. I walk farther. I live longer and so will Mom and Sal.
I lash cactus stalks together with shaky hands. Pause. Breathe. Air smells like blood and flowers. Death and hope.
Haul coyote over shoulder. Mom, Sal, and me will feast. Dragging cactus covers my footprints across cracked lake bed.
Must apologize to Mom for curse words.
Look at sky. Sky = clear. Stars and moon shiver. Cold. Watching.
One day rain will come back. One day.
It will bring Dad with it.