Circling Crows

Ansel Adams, Road - Nevada Desert

         Backing out of the carport, you lower the window to get a better look. Gray smoke billows from the rear of the trailer. A hint of orange reflects off the bedroom glass. As you jam the Pontiac into drive, Jesse pushes through his screen door across the street.

         “HEY, HEY, what the hell, Angela?”

         “GO SCREW YOURSELF,” you yell back, extending a slender middle finger, its nail bitten to the quick.

         Jesse grabs his crotch with one hand and returns the salute with his other. His jeans-clad body becomes a speck in your rearview. A rooster tail of dust chases you down the mesquite- lined tract, toward Highway 58 and Barstow. You one-hand the Grand Prix and twist around. Mourning Dove smiles from her car seat, eyes glowing in a face smeared with breakfast. A giggle burbles from her tiny mouth and you extend a bare arm toward her, dark bruises dappling its bronze underside.

         Reaching the desert highway, you turn east toward the interstate. Fire trucks and a patrol car scream past in the opposite direction. Dove’s giggles turn to choking sobs. You raise the window and she quiets. At the outskirts of town you nose the car into the BP station. Inside the stop-and-rob, you tug your blouse down to expose more of your breasts and approach the counter.

         “So Steve, how about spotting me some cold ones and a full tank?” You nibble on the end of a black braid and bat your eyelashes.

         “You already owe me a couple hundred, Angie.”

         “Hey, Merle gets our County check on Monday. He’ll be good for it.”

         “That drunken Indian?” Steve frowns, his eyes never leaving your cleavage. “What’s he doin’? Pimping you out for a lousy six-pack? Where’s your kid, anyway?”

         “Dove’s in the car. I’m taking her to visit my sister.”

         “She lives in Tonopah, right?”

         “Not any more.” You lean forward, feel your breasts swing free under the printed blouse spattered with blood.

         Steve’s eyes widen. “What’s that all over your – “

         “You gonna help me out or what?”

         “All right, all right” He yanks a six-pack of Millers from the cold case and sets it on the counter. “You see those CDF trucks go by?”

         “Yeah. They’re heading west…maybe to Hinkley.”

         “Naw, I saw the smoke. Looks like it was comin’ from out your way.”

         “I’d know it if that dump was burning.”

         “I bet you would. Does Merle know you’re leaving?”

         “I don’t… What do you think?”

         “Well, if you’re not in a hurry, you could hang out here.” Steve motions to the curtained doorway that leads to his apartment. “My wife drove to San Berdoo for the day and I could use some, ya know, company.”

         “Yeah, ah, sure. Just let me fill the car…check on Dove. Be right back.”

         You leave the beer on the counter and slip outside, forcing yourself not to run. Your daughter coos in the back seat. Her body wiggles as she kicks her tiny legs. Gassing the Pontiac, you stare at the cashier’s shack. Steve leans against its door jam, his rough hands stuffed into coveralls. You remember what those hands can do, know that your tab will never be fully paid, and wonder why you feel like a sleek deer, fleeing the crushing jaws of a desert-colored puma.

         Jumping into the car, you twist the key and floor it. Blue smoke pours from the tires. On the interchange bridge at I-15 you look west. A tall column of smoke hangs over the trailer park. Crows circle it, black specks in a yellow sky, dressed in their shiny black robes, waiting to pass judgment. You curse yourself for leaving the beer behind. The Mojave stretches on forever, shadeless, unforgiving in the noon heat. You feel the laws of nature and men reining you in.

         The Pontiac coughs but continues to roll, its temperature gauge creeping upward. At the Texaco station in Baker, you top off its radiator. Green fluid drips from the overflow hose. The cashier stares as you go about your business. He’s on the phone when you pull out. Rolling eastward toward Vegas, you think: maybe I can get my old job back? My body’s still in pretty good shape. Maybe Eleanor will let us stay with her? Maybe Jesse and Steve won’t talk? You already know the answers.

         Knees braced against the steering wheel, you rummage in your purse and retrieve the Smith and Wesson. It feels solid, comforting. You’re glad you didn’t pawn it like Merle had ordered, the last command he’d given.

         On the long downslope run toward the Nevada border, they catch you: three CHP cruisers, their ruby lights flashing. You mash the gas peddle to the floor but the car is sluggish and the black-and-whites grow huge in your mirrors. One of them pulls alongside and you yank the steering wheel hard right. The Pontiac tears through the freeway fence and out across the slanted plain dotted with coyote brush. In the dust storm behind you, only flashing lights are visible. You hit something hard and the Grand Prix’s left front kneels, spinning the car. Its engine dies. The Law surrounds you. You finger the pistol. The cops climb out of their cruisers, guns drawn. Dove cries, hot, with a stinking diaper, her tiny arms flailing. You coo to her, “It’ll be all right, Dove…be all right…Auntie Eleanor will take care…”

         Black crows circle over the borderlands. They ride the thermals upward from the desert floor, having cast their verdict.

         The lead cop shouts something to the others. They holster their weapons and advance slowly. The leader stops and raises a megaphone to his mouth. You raise the pistol and shove its barrel under your chin.

         “NO!” is the last word you hear.

Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife, Marguerite Costigan (his in-house editor) and two cats (his in-house critics). He writes full time, producing short stories, the occasional poem, and novels (that are hiding in his closet, awaiting editing). Since 2005, his short fiction has appeared in more than 50 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies (both print and online) including Foliate Oak, Storyteller, La Fenetre Magazine, and the Loch Raven Review. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist, who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.

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