Fiction · 06/12/2019

Rustler

She asks, What’s a rustler anyway?

The sun sets behind her question and colors return to the desert like water struck. Can’t hold the name of them in my head but earth like the hide of a Palomino horse and in the shadows a soft purple that will soon swallow us whole and lovely.

I answer, Someone who stole cattle from a herd. Back then they fought over their cows the way you’d fight over gold. Cows were the first gold. Cows were the first thing that made a man wealthy.

She says, I hate cows.

This is all my fault. We should have gone to down another trail, walked by another tumble of boulders, there is so much of this Joshua Tree and yet we’re here, howdy, the Hidden Valley Trail, reading a historical marker about rustlers. We can still see the parking lot. What’s the point of the desert if you can see the parking lot?

I say, I like cows.

She rolls her eyes. She rolls her eyes and her eye roll says, I allow you here and the moment I don’t you’ll be gone. That’s what those eyes roll. She rolls her eyes and snake eyes. When a snake has you in its eyes you stay, silent and still, while it coils around you. A snake swallows you whole and meditating. My phone buzzes in my pocket.

I say, Rustlers were pretty bad dudes.

My phone buzzes. It’s my wife. I know it’s my wife. She’ll be texting me questions about the weekend. She thinks it’s an old friend beside me. She thinks I’m rock climbing. I chose the old friend because I know he’ll cover for me. I think he’ll cover for me. I didn’t ask. She’ll never call him. Why would she call him? The phone isn’t buzzing. When I check it, there is nothing on the screen. There is no service.

The words No Service say, This is as free as you’ll ever be.

She asks me, What are you thinking about?

I’m thinking about color and cholla cactus and the soon transparent sky and the hope of shooting stars, but by then I’ll be snake eyes. I’m thinking about the people at the top of these giant boulders, specks on mountains. From the distance, of course, no telling where they’re looking. They’re all looking at me. My phone is not buzzing in my pocket. My phone is not buzzing.

She says, Let’s go find another trail. Come on. We need to challenge ourselves.

She is tall and strong and this trail is not enough. She needs to be challenged. We’ll ascend. We’ll see the colors finish arriving. We’ll stay until they leave. And the weekend will be over. She’ll be gone. She’ll be telling people what rustlers are. And I’ll still be waiting in the dark for a lasso to gather my neck.

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William Hawkins has work published or forthcoming in ZYZZYVA, The Molotov Cocktail, Pithead Chapel and Tin House Online, among others. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.