She stood on the white painted line. The cars zipped by, whipping up dust-filled air, throwing it in her face. The dust climbed up her nostrils, slid down her mouth, and settled in her throat. It coated the worn duffel bag beside her feet and colored her black hair coarse.
Bitter patience kept her thumb out, holding steady.
A coyote sat across the highway from her. He was barely visible, outlined in wisps of dandelion, shimmering in the midday heat. He watched her with eyes that were more than coyote eyes, more than human eyes.
Kunúla, the trickster, the transformer.
She ignored him. The sun—parched and searing as only the midsummer California sun can be—baked her brown Pomo skin browner, reminding her that she belonged to the dry California air and the asphalt choked ground. Reminding her that the dusty earth on her skin also ran through her veins.
Her grandmother had spoken of Kunúla often. Their jester-protector she called him. Told her granddaughter how the coyote had created their people from willow bark, but then also created fleas and gave the humans paws for hands—the trickster. How the coyote had lost all of his children to Tsiméwa, the cougar, playing a game, but saved two of his sons by making them the sun and moon—the transformer. Her grandmother’s black eyes sparkled whenever the coyotes howled outside their window at night.
The girl had inherited those black Habematolel eyes, just as she inherited the pain, the pain of her people, those who came from the sweathouse of red earth and the waters of Clearlake. The pain that had caused her father to drink himself into a ditch and her mother to swing by her neck from the great pink madrone tree near their home.
She didn’t want the pain. Grams had gone now too, leaving too much ache. Now, when the coyotes howled, she cried. All Kunúla had given her was loss.
So she disregarded the coyote across the road. Her eyes fixed on the highway with the white painted line and the steaming asphalt that cut open the land and burned through the soles of her worn sandals. The road away from what she was. Steadily she watched for her escape, her thumb never wavering. So intent she was that she did not see the wisps of dandelion float up to mingle with the dust or the empty space left in the dried wheat grass across the highway.
An acorn dropped to the ground with a thud. Grams loved to bake with acorns, called their nutty meat the soul of Pomo food. She kicked it away, onto the pavement, to be crushed to powder.
She sensed it coming before her eyes found it; a car, a real car, not one of those plastic computers on machine-made frames, but an engine made from welded metal and sweat and oil-stained skin and stolid steel, with a body lovingly painted with blood and tears.
A real car was coming.
Something more was coming with the car. Like a bison stampede rushing over the hills that can be felt for miles, before it is seen. The souls of the arid oak and spindly willow and prickly grass and cracked earth expanded with the coming. Forgotten Pomo spirits swirled around their corporeal descendant that waited by the side of the road, even as she ignored them.
With a murmur of brakes and a faint scent of blistered rubber, the car stopped just beyond her—an existence away.
In the moments without time, truth is established, as when she picked up her duffel bag and crossed over the white line. Her breasts leaned over the tip of her cotton tank top, as she leaned over the open window of the passenger door.
He filled the interior of the car, pumping life into the worn leather and aged steel. The main artery, the head of the gear stick, rested underneath his hand, a loved smooth knob of dark glass. Warily she observed him observing her breasts.
Where are you going?
She didn’t know the answer. Her journey was not about the where. Where was a destination that began with a from. A from meant the reservation and anger and loneliness and drugs and poverty and pain. Casinos were Kunúla’s answer to the rape of her people—tricking money out of the white man. Grams was gone. The coyote was just a jester, not a protector, not a creator. Hatunutal, the lizard, had had to convince the trickster to give her people proper hands not paws.
She looked down at her hands.
She didn’t have a from.
He was observing her face now, which made her brave. She slid her fingers under the door handle and yanked up. The door swung over the white line. A dust-colored and tail-less lizard scurried out from under the car, its missing body part flattened under the tires.
He looked as if he hoped she would not get in.
Always defiant, she did.
As far as you will take me.
The parched California earth entered the car with her. Sweet bleached fields and piquant sunshine.
Did his nose quiver?
She expelled a breath, as she settled into the seat. A pulse quickened and synchronized between them, throbbing in the air. His foot pressed into the clutch, and he shoved the gear stick into place. The indignant car squealed under the careless thrust, and it bucked forward, carrying a piece of the land away from home.
She watched the road, so determined to see where she was going, so determined to get away from who she was, that she did not see the wisps of steam forming pointed triangular ears above the man’s sleek oiled hair or the blackness of his nose that would not quite rub away.
Mary C. Moore grew up off the grid, deep in the Mendocino National Forest near Upper Lake, California. Her passion for reading drew her to writing. She graduated from Mills College, Oakland with a MFA in Creative Writing and English and puts her second degreeto use as Managing Editor of Reputation Books and Literary Agent at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Visit her at marycmoore.com. The Habematolel Pomo are the ancestral people of Upper Lake, California. Visit them at upperlakepomo.com
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