When we went west

1981 The Family in Cotero

1981 The Family in Cotero

In Cortes, Arizona, the sun sets into the burning ivory shadows. They are orange-cream, sunsets, bisque memories alongside the pinkish, tan pueblo house, a cotton field with Gila monsters, puffs of white cotton floating up and into my hair all day and into the blue air all around — rows and rows standing between me and the black-rimmed mountains on the horizon twenty-miles away if it was a mile. I learned to take aim at lizards with a bb gun and ride a bicycle in the yard with a century plant that snarled and yawned in one the corner, dusty clumps of life here and there, a forgotten, tumbling down waterfall, surrounded all around by a graying, side-ways leaning chain-link fence, no neighbors to speak of. The rumbling, empty drone of the highway in the distance, close enough to be dangerous, close enough for mom to keep the shotgun loaded while dad was at work at the Exxon gas station, pumping gas mostly, maybe an odd brake job.

We would kick dirt, my little sister and I, and throw a baseball back and forth, catch lizards by their tails, play with our dogs and our cats.

One night my mother went to the kitchen barefoot to fetch some milk and stepped on something. She didn’t investigate right away. In the morning she saw that it was a scorpion she had smooshed into the linoleum. We all had to be more careful after that, not that we were. Life in the desert, even for the children, is lived right by the skin of the teeth, bones always wanting to be picked clean by the vultures, showing through the thin skin on the knee or the ribs, the birds circled and lick their beaks. Some days our eyes grew yellow like the sun.

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