The sun always seems to shine brighter on Sundays. Go figure. I guess the day is named for it after all. I really wish it wouldn’t be so damn bright and joyful. The denim overalls I’m wearing are trapping in the heat like Mama’s old oven, and I can already feel sweat dampening my thighs so the material chafes my skin. Jean is the worst for chafing. If it gets real bad, you end up with little traces of blue fabric stuck in the open sores. Not easy to get out. I awkwardly hop around trying to tug at the overalls and shift them into a more comfortable position. It doesn’t help that they are about two sizes too small and I should’ve gotten a new pair over a year ago.
“Katy, quit screwing around and get your ass to work.” Mick’s words cut sharp across the arid desert air. He can always make me feel like a fool with such ease. Mick is my dad. Though I can’t remember the last time I called him dad, and he never seems to like it much when I do, so he’s just Mick to me now. My cheeks burn with embarrassment even more than they burn from the Arizona sun. I catch Milly staring at me from behind Mick. The disgust and disapproval on her face punches me in the gut. She’s the youngest of us five kids and still blissfully years away from puberty. That’s how Mick prefers his children, as children. Untainted and obedient, willing to blindly follow his orders, no matter how raving mad they might be.
I flip Milly off and do my best to keep an “I don’t care” expression on my face. As her jaw drops and she turns away, I feel a moment of satisfaction quickly followed by a wave of extreme loneliness. We were good pals for the first few years of her life. As the oldest, I often took care of her, even though I was only 9 years old myself. I remember how it felt, holding her tiny body in my arms. Her soft scalp brushing against my lips as I hummed lullabies to soothe her. It was like her little presence was filling up a giant hole inside of me that I never knew I had. I would pretend that she was my baby and I had a kind prince as a husband. We had everything we would ever need and he left us to ourselves up in a tower high above the rest of the kingdom. It was just the two of us. Me and my baby, not a care in the world.
“Shit.” I mumble to myself. Tears had gathered at the corner of my eyes and were mixing with my sunscreen, stinging my eyeballs and taunting me. The world itself seems to laugh at me. I swear I can hear some warped cackle on the wind. Someone must be getting immense joy out of my worthless existence. Taking a deep breath in, I sigh out my self-pity. It never does me much good. Better just get to it. Maybe if I find something of semi-worth, Mick will drive us home early.
I haul the banged-up metal detector out of the flatbed of our truck. Flipping the switch, I listen for the faint hum that will let me know the batteries are charged. It’s an old model and doesn’t even have an electronic interface, just an on switch and a beeping alarm to let you know if you’ve found metal. I don’t know why I even bother with it. I passed over a tin can once and it didn’t even make a peep. At least it makes me look like I’m doing something so Mick leaves me alone.
Making my way down the cliffside, I zig-zag to avoid the needles of some of the larger cacti. Small critters and lizards leap out of the way of my ratty hiking boots. The desert is much more alive than it seems at first glance. For a moment, I crouch down and watch a small mouse like creature drag twigs and stones towards an open hole in the ground, which must be the little fellow’s burrow. He looks to be creating some kind of fence around his home. There isn’t any movement coming from the black opening of the burrow and I wonder if he lives alone. It feels good to watch the mouse go back and forth, peaceful in his own business. I wonder what it feels like to be him.
“KATY.” My insides coil tight, reverberating like a spring. The tone in Mick’s voice is all too familiar, reminiscent of times I would much rather forget. I shoot up off the ground, skinning my knee on a nearby boulder.
“S-sorry, sorry Mick. There was uh... a mouse, I thought it might be digging something up.”
“Never mind the damn animals. Get to work or we’ll be out here 'til the wolves come for us.” Mick turns away and my heart rate begins to slow. Rage is rising up my esophagus and I feel like I could spew the hate from my lips like venom. My fingernails dig deep into my palms and I hike straight into the valley. Eyes darting from bush to rock, I scour the scene for something of value. Underneath some low brush I find a few wires and nails which I shove into my pocket. There’s an abandoned camp-out spot a few paces ahead. I make a beeline.
A makeshift fire pit sits at the centre of the site, long since lit. Crappy lawn chairs are torn up and knocked over. I pull a garbage bag out and start throwing in empty beer bottles lying about. A few bits of clothing are left here and there, but they are dirty and ripped, nothing looks particularly salvageable. I scrunch my nose in disappointment. It’s always a special day when I find something I actually want to wear and get to take it home. I’m shaking out a pair of dusty trousers when I hear a thump on the ground.
Near my left foot sits a small and very weathered, black notebook. I squat down and flip it open. Fanning through the pages, a lovely old paper smell hits my nose. We don’t have many books at home, not even journals. I open to somewhere near the middle of the notebook and peer inside. Rough but beautiful sketches fill the pages. Sketches of people. Mostly female, many nude. My body tingles and my heart starts beating faster. There are words written beside some of the drawings.
Longing floods my body. Longing for a taste of a life like this. I crave more and my fingers reach to the book like they are thirsty for water. I’m about to turn the page when I feel a blow to the side of my head. I hit the ground and taste sand in my mouth. Shadows of purple and blue blur my vision, and my ears ring with a sound that reminds me of the metal detector. Squinting up I see Mick’s body blotting out the sun. Instinctively I begin to crawl away from him.
“I’ve about had it with your bullshit, girl. You think these vile words are gonna feed your Mama and your baby siblings?” I shake my head back and forth much faster than feels normal. Mick throws the black notebook in the fire-pit. He stands there with his hands on his hips staring at me with a curious look on his face. I feel like an equation on a chalkboard. He sighs and shakes his head, looking disappointed. “I’ll finish up here, make yourself useful somewhere else.”
Stumbling over some rocks I make my way in the opposite direction of Mick as fast as I can. I’m taking sharp gasps of air. I focus on forcing air out of my nose to slow my breath down. Sensing someone I throw a glance over my shoulder. Milly is skulking behind me, clasping her hands nervously.
“Get out of here, Mil.” I keep my eyes away averted so she can’t see my pain.
“Stop making him angry. He’ll tell Ma when we get home.”
“Just mind your own business.” Milly stops and sits down to hug her knees. Ignoring her, I keep looking for scraps. I really don’t want to make Mick angry again either. Something small catches my eye. There’s a raggedy old leather bracelet tied around a twig. I get closer to inspect it. The twig is sticking right out of a small mound of rocks. I pull on it and some of the rocks tumble to the ground revealing a burrow in the ground. Sitting right in the middle of the burrow is a wad of cash. A huge wad. My mind races, my heart is in my throat. Where did this come from? I reach towards it but stop cold when I hear a soft rattle. Under a bush just a couple hand lengths away I see the familiar diamond pattern and two glinting black eyes. I freeze.
“DADDY! Daddy, Katy found something!”
Thundering from behind me comes Mick. I’m shoved to the side. The world slows. I have time. I know I do. I don’t say anything.
A wide smile spreads on Mick’s face, a wild fire lights his eyes. He greedily thrusts his hand towards the cash. Like a deadly dancer the Diamondback uncoils and strikes with grace and accuracy, digging its fangs deep into Mick’s wrist. As quickly as it struck, the snake glides across the rocks away from the scene.
Mick has fallen backwards and smashed his head on a sharp rock. Blood mixes with the dirt beneath him. He is crying out in pain, clutching his wrist in the fetal position.
“Katy… Katy, help me. The truck, go get help.” Mick wheezes, and throws the keys at my feet. Time slows. I stare at Mick and suddenly I understand the expression on his face when he looked down upon me only moments ago. He is a problem. I can make it go away. I float towards Mick feeling strangely serene. I grab the keys and then I dash for bundle of money.
“What are you doing?” I can hear the sheer horror in Mick’s voice but I don’t look at him. I can’t complicate the equation. My attention is on Milly.
“Milly. Come on, Mil. Come with me, we’ll be safe I promise.” The words come out much shakier than I had hoped. Milly is crying and my voice doesn’t seem to soothe her like it used to. She backs away and crouches behind Mick. The lonely feeling blossoms in my stomach once again.
Milly may not be mine, but I have a chance to have something that is. I turn on my heel and start dashing up the cliff. Something inside of me tears, but I keep running. Mick is screaming behind me. His shouts echo throughout the valley.
Time feels like it is warping and I make it up the 15-minute climb in what seems like seconds. I throw myself at the truck, falling on my knees by the tire. My stomach heaves and the remains of my porridge breakfast splatter on the ground. Trembling I pull myself up and into the cab. The wad of cash is still clutched in my left hand. I pull the rubber band off and frantically count the soiled hundreds. $20,000.
Tears slide down my face. I’m weeping. I slide the key into the ignition and the truck roars with a power I’ve never felt before. I grasp the steering wheel. And drive.