I came down through Splendor, passing the inviting breakfast shops and tourist traps, chasing the white stripes that would not let me stop, would not let me rest. Winding down through canyons of forgotten beauty I descended into saguaro country and further down onto the hard-baked bedpan of the desert floor. The sun directly overhead pounded the landscape into pure bleak flatness, robbing the land even of its shadows. The shimmering heat over the road reflected the bottomless cobalt sky, making it appear that the shoulders of the road were hanging in the air.
The white stripes paused; the road had been resurfaced here but not repainted. There was room to pull off to the side, with a rusted trash barrel standing with its plastic liner next to a picnic table sitting naked in the blasting sun. This is it. The gravel scrabbled beneath my tires as I pulled over to the side of the road. I sat for a moment, idling quietly, before I turned off the engine and felt the true silence of the desert crashing over me.
I opened the door and lifted myself up out of the low vehicle into the crackling air. I stood, listening for the whispered sigh that would announce the approach of another car, but there was nothing. There would be no one, I suspected. Not even the lizards would be coming out today.
I listened to the soft crunching sound beneath my feet as I walked around the convertible and hoisted out the nearly-exhausted jug of gatorade. I drained the last of the salty liquid and tossed the empty into the trash can. It wasn’t heavy enough to push its way down into the flimsy trash bag; it just sat at the top, peering out of the can as if rejected, hovering between the worlds of litter and trash, but unable to join either. Heaven or Hell. Just different kinds of dead. The bottle pointed North.
I adjusted my hat and turned, facing North, away from the road. The fence was down; the century-old wooden posts staggered drunkenly or lay in their final resting place as the wind slowly buried them under pale dust. Where barbed wire still clung to the posts tumbleweeds had collected, skeletons of Russian emmigrants who had done well in the new world, taming the west so thoroughly they had become icons. They watched me now with futile hostility. Their battle line broken by time and neglect, the sentries could do nothing to prevent me passing into their conquered land beyond the fence.
I turned back to the car and lifted the army-surplus duffel out of the passenger seat and hung its strap over my shoulder. It felt heavier than it should have, as if the Earth was impatient to recieve its contents. Careful not to dent the metal of the car, I pulled out the shovel. Using its long handle as a walking stick I set out into the desert. Moses beginning his exile must have felt this way.
I glanced back at the car, shimmering and ticking. Someone would be coming back for it, but I didn’t think it would be me.