Vizcaino Valley Road
by Molly Sturdevant
I sat down on the trunk of a palm tree, the one that used to stand in the middle of our rounded entryway, near the fountain. The fountain was filled with debris.
The bark of the ancient palm felt as if it were made of wooden knives and shingles of hard corkboard. I looked down and grazed my hand across the pattern. The repetition of triangles was precise, perfect. I cut my thumb.
I had a single square of toilet paper in the pocket of my jeans which I had been saving. Both bathrooms had just folded into the ground and filled with water a few hours ago, and believe it or not, there were only two. Originally there was a separate bath house with toilets, but that had been taken out in the 50s. I had never not had a toilet. Or toilet paper. I wrapped it around my thumb.
As the square of paper soaked through, a tiny car drove up. I stood and marched towards it. Things would start happening now. I was angry, organizing commands in my head, preparing to exchange strong words with LuAnne, who should have been here the whole time.
A man jumped out and said that the lady down the road from us (the baroness she used to call herself), and her dogs, were all missing. She was ninety–one but had exceptional in-home care. The dogs, too. I said I hadn’t heard them, hadn’t seen them. I asked who he was, but he just said he was sorry that he didn’t have anything for me, and that he had almost no gas, and he needed to try to find her. It was safer here, he added. He didn’t think he could really get out, there was water down low, everywhere. He told me the same thing twice in a row. Then he massaged the bridge of his nose, and said he would send someone. He pulled out of my sopping private drive and went away.
The sky beyond me over the coast was still green. A single grin of lightening crossed its face. I sat back down on the perfect repetition of palm bark and tried again to fire up my phone. Where was LuAnne? James? Fisk? What was the point of anything? They would have to come and start looking for things, looking for me, fixing things.
But instead, it got dark.
The fronds on the palms that were still standing were shredded and jagged now, but they still bent and waved as their shapes drowned in the deepening sky. I peed on the grass, and just patted myself dry with the leg of my pants, then put them back on. I could hardly see anything now. The street lamps were out. I had no idea where any candles were, or any of that stuff. That would have been Fisk’s job, to tell me, to have it ready. He was here when it all started. That was about 17 hours ago.
I had never sat here before. I had never done nothing.
In the silence, at first, I didn’t hear much. Then, just textures in my ear, sometimes a creak, a beleaguered lick of wind, a distant helicopter. Then I was shattered by a bark not far off, behind me. I might have said: it came from down behind the Vizcaino Cliffs. It got quiet again, and I thought of it – there had been a cliff yesterday where now there was none.
It was freezing cold. My mouth was dry. I peed again, and I was hungry. I had been hungry for almost a day now and it was starting to hurt. My legs hurt.
This was stupid, this grass, it wasn’t even grass, I knew. Some kind of xeriscaping nonsense that James and Fisk had installed. I stood up. Should I walk? On my last phone call they said stay put, absolutely stay there, someone would come. Then this darkness.
I held my hand up in front of my face when I heard a bang – it snagged my heart – it banged again and ran off with my breath. I slunk down with my back up against the dying, uprooted palm and cried, embarrassed somehow. About what – it didn’t matter. I had never been made to feel so ridiculous. I tried to relax. I licked the roof of my mouth which stank now. God, if someone comes, I’m disgusting.
I sat, for what seemed like hours, dying or being rescued, my estate tipped sideways on a sinkhole behind me.
I arced my head and looked up. I watched the sky until it cracked and showed a purple line of softness dotted with stars spreading from one end of my property to the other. I laid my entire body down, right onto the ground.
Then came the dog, the bark. Closer. It sounded like her giant poodle, the gray one, the smart one. I had seen it with his keeper before, at the courts and the pool.
I heard it running, but I couldn’t see it. Then, as if it held my own heart in its gnarled mouth and intended to put it back in, it leapt at me, scared and mean but glad to see me. To smell me, even. I buried my face in the animal’s neck, in its fur.
It laid down on my lap, smelling like a toilet. I smiled, and then I cried again, idiotic with happiness. His, or her, its fur was warm. I covered myself with the dog who nudged its face deep into my belly, content. I had something now, I had this one thing.
The animal’s nose was resting on the dark pee-stains on my pants. I leaned my head back on the wood of the palm, hard as stone. My head was throbbing now.
It had all been self-imposed, I thought, hungry. I didn’t want to rebuild.
There was no hint of sunlight when I heard a car coming, but the sky became more dark-blue than black. The purple stripe of space disappeared. The dog’s soft ears were at attention.