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June 2008, vol 4 no 2

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Colette Jonopulos

 

Family Vacation (Between Barstow and Needles)

Highway 40, California, June 1964

Our father rolls the windows all the way down, tells us to listen to the desert's voice. His thin lips are parched into a jackal's grin. My brother sulks in the passenger seat, his pimpled-face turned away from our father, toward the spiked fingers of the Joshua trees.

Next to me, in the backseat, our mother holds her wiry hair close to her head with two delicate brown hands. I turn away to study layered ridges in the distance, cars pulled off the road with hoods lifted over steaming radiators. Driest air blows across my mother's rounded stomach, across my bunched knees, the fevered tongue of the desert finding us no matter how low we crouch into the car's wide cigarette-scented seat.

A sad carcass of a house stands abandoned, just yards from the roasting blacktop highway. Its owners long gone, having left hope somewhere near Ludlow; their rainbow-webbed lawn chairs shredded in the sun, curved metal stumps slanted upward. I study their windows covered with plywood blinders, a path cleared to a non-existent garage, a slab of melted wading pool. My brother turns full round to face me, his green eyes pale against summer skin; in unison, we roll our windows upward.

burly cactus
stands on one leg
until dusk

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