Sunday, December 7, 2014

Give a Field Guide

One of the great joys of adulthood is learning something new. This can often be enabled with a field guide: to birds, stars, vascular plants of the Southern Rockies--you name it. But some of the most important adult learning is actually about ourselves. And despite the unending supply of self-help books, sometimes one just needs a field guide. This year I found just the right one. I bought this off the table at the Marfa Book Company, a spot that uncannily often/always has waiting the exact book I'm supposed to be reading right now. This one surely qualifies.

The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery. 

The book is a few years old, so you can buy it used here...

Or, really, any book at all that speaks to your heart is a welcome gift to a friend on a quest.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Give Holly Hats

My friend Holly makes lots of cool stuff...I mean like fine arts and crafts, not the kindergarten-style products I try and pass off. (I have words; I can't have everything). Anyway, you should get a Holly hat. I think that's all she has available right now--no bags or stuffed sheep or notecards. They are well made, colorful, warm, fuzzy..what more could you want in a hat? Here are a few samples that I own:

Yes, they will take you amazing places. Buy your Holly hat here...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Give Neil

When I was in Marfa last week, my host friend invited me into her current mini-obsession with Cosmos, now streaming on Netflix. This old Carl Sagan series has been brought back to life with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson taking on the the role of our host in the universe. It's fun and compelling; and Tyson, as usual, is completely engaging and science-nerd-dreamy.

So today's recommendation is a Neil DeGrasse Tyson action figure! Yay science!

Oh, except they aren't actually real. They are a very cool art project done by some creative dude in his basement or something,

OK, so I kept looking and found this Neil that you can actually buy on Etsy.

To tell you the truth, though, the Etsy doll lacks some essential Neil-ness,

So then I found this, which in the end becomes today's recommendation. 

He's free. You print him and fold him yourself and he can sit on your desk and remind you how absolutely cool you can be if you dig physics too. Better yet, for the holidays, give Neil to a young person for inspiration; the universe is infinite and so should be our dreams. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Give a Pass to Understanding

It's hard to think about fun holiday gifts in the light of yesterday's news of a Grand Jury in New York's refusal to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner. So please bear with me if this seems self serving.

Someone you know needs a National Park Pass. Maybe you? I had originally planned to wax poetic about natural parks and sites of cultural significance and fun recreation areas. Please visit those too! But more relevant today are our sites of shame, sites of conscience, sites of civil and human rights. Fortunately for all of us, the National Park Service now preserves these sites too and tells the stories of a more diverse face of America. Working at Manzanar NHS made me aware of how important these stories are to all Americans. It's not a perfect system; we have a long way to go to full inclusivity. But we are getting there, and you can help by visiting these sites and paying witness. As Ranger Michael says, "Stories at National Parks are meaningful and remind us of who we are, where we came from, and potentially where we're going." (The video's a bit corny, but he's spot on about stories.)

Today I'm recommending an America the Beautiful pass which gains you entry at all national park units and other federal lands as well. The pass is $80, so a bit more pricey than my other recommendations. Two people can share a pass, and the entry fees it covers are often up to $25 for each park. Keep in mind that many of the memorials, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial shown above on the Mall in Washington D.C., are free to visit.

Other ways to get a pass:

Active Military? Free!
Americans with Disabilities? Free!
Americans 62 years or older? Ten bucks for life.
Volunteer 250 hours a year with the NPS? Free!

Learn more here...and obtain your pass at any federal recreation site that charges fees. If you can use a pass there, you can buy/obtain a pass there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Give Blooms

A gift that keeps giving for weeks after the holidays are past is the gift of an amaryllis bulb. Find them now at a local garden store or nursery or florist or even a home store. They require little work on the part of the giver or the lucky recipient. And what a payoff come the doldrums of January. Paperwhite narcissus work well too. Buy them...everywhere.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Give Poetry

On this second day of holiday gift suggestions, this one is broad and wide and of a philosophical nature. We all need more poetry in our lives, whether it is a handful of printed words arranged just so on a page or the sensibility of light and the touch of the earth upon our souls.

Mary Ruefle, in my stand-out book of 2013, writes:

Ramakrishna said: Given a choice between going to heaven and hearing a lecture on heaven, people would choose a lecture.

That is remarkably true, and remarkably sad, and the same remarkably true and sad thing can be said about poetry, here among us today.

That slim admonition led me directly to this poet whose 2014 volume is today's recommendation. I cherish this book. You might too. Or any other favorite poet. Read poetry, chew on poetry, share poetry, live poetry, write poetry.

Buy Saint Friend here...

Monday, December 1, 2014

If One Must Shop

Despite my Grinch attitude toward the lead-up to Christmas, it occurs to me that people do like to shop and give gifts, and that in moderation this can be a lovely pastime. In that spirit, perhaps I can make some recommendations of items that would be nice for your loved ones to receive and beneficial to real people who make them. So...

Marfa Brand soap is delicious. This is the new flavor for the holidays, but my absolute favorite is the Cedarwood Sage flavor made with goat milk from Malinda Beeman's happy Marfa goats. Yes, it's pricey, but made by hand and nice to have around.

Buy it

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The End of November

The end of this month represents a few things. First, the end of daily blogging. Thank you to the approximately six of you that read my novel. Second, the end of society as I would choose to be involved in; as I was in Target this morning picking up a feminine product, the clerk asked me if I had a good black friday. I apologize to my family ahead of time, there will be no Christmas shopping. I am planning cards. Third, the end of good weather...i.e. for now the end of Texas weather; the Colorado sky threatens snow today. Finally, the end of the mixed theme NaBloPoMo. I actually enjoy daily blogging if I have a theme. Let me cogitate. Meanwhile, grocery stores are justifiable, but otherwise what hell it is here in civilization.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The End of Vacation

I took some pictures of myself yesterday, all blue and tan and brown and happy. And I realized that after a week of vacation is a great time for pictures. And what a nice vacation: four days of volunteering; one grand adventure day of scenic drive, hike, and fun with my friend Mary Lou; a museum; visits to many favorite dining establishments; dinner parties with Dedie and Lonn; snuggly comfy beds; and wonderful people familiar and new. Today I drive home. Fortunately I have more vacation coming next month.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The End of the Trail

I visited the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University in Alpine this morning. My primary objective was to enjoy their temporary exhibit of aerial photographs by Paul Chaplo. And I did; I enjoyed it immensely. I had just had a conversation with first my father and then my Thanksgiving hosts about my joy of flying commercially over the Colorado Plateau because I knew the landscape which I viewed, some of it intimately by Jeep or foot. This exhibit of the Big Bend showed me a lifetime of exploration opportunities, beginning/continuing with my upcoming Christmas camping trip. A secondary objective was to see an artifact that my host is currently writing an article about for a monthly history journal.


The title today seems apt in continuing the theme that the end of one thing is often if not always the beginning of something extraordinary. But endings are hard, and I don't want to not honor that. So for now we will focus on endings, and meeting them with grace.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The End of the World

This is a bit of wisdom I came across in my new book, Architecture for Travelers, by Joshua Edwards. He walked from his old home in Galveston to his new home in Marfa and invited us all along by way of a book of poems and stories. He took photos too, but that's another book.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The End of the Day

Which around here, this week with the new moon, means it's time for the star show.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The End of an Era

Spent yesterday and part of today helping to pack up the offices of KRTS, Radio for a Wide Range. But not to worry; they are just moving into a new building. The golden age of Marfa Public Radio is still ahead.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The End of the Road

El Rio Grande.
Empanoramacize at

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The End

The End.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter Twenty

After the picnic, Veronica went home, changed into a clean pair of Toughskins, and went out into the back yard to pack up the flying suit. She lingered over the tail section: the bent tubing from the hard landing the night before, the embroidered cat on the pale pink silk. She pulled hard on the threads that held the bracelet to the tail until she made it unravel, and she transferred the bracelet to her wrist. Leonardo rolled in the dirt and shook hard, keeping a close eye on his friend.

 As she worked, Cork and Rackoo came to visit. They made her recount the whole evening’s events, sharing every detail. At first Veronica was wary about reliving it, but she realized that in telling the story she could get it out, all the fear that she had overcome but still weighed on her. Veronica poured the evening out into the air and let it go. Rackoo in particular asked her questions about the flying. Veronica told them about the extreme altitude she’d attained. She showed them the damage to the tail.

“Will you fix it?” asked Cork. “Will you keep flying?”

 “I don’t know,” said Veronica as she zipped up the case. “Gram doesn’t want me to. She worries about me. But I confess I love it. I feel like I was born to it, I guess.”

“We got you a present. I almost forgot!” cawed Rackoo. She disappeared up over the silo and was back a moment later. In her beak was a beautiful hairclip of silver and turquoise. She placed it at Veronica’s feet.

Veronica picked it up and laughed. “It’s beautiful, but I can’t keep this. Where did you get it?”

Cork squawked at Rackoo, “I told you she wouldn’t approve. We took it from the cabin.”

“You need to take it back where Billie can find it,” said Veronica. “But thank you for thinking of me. You don’t need to get me a gift.”

 “I couldn’t help myself,” said Rackoo. “It’s so shiny. But I’ll take it back,” she agreed.

“If you want my opinion,” said Cork, “you should keep flying. Rackoo hasn’t even taught you the fun stuff: barrel rolls, flying upside-down. Lots to learn still.” Rackoo nodded.

Veronica smiled, “and my name is Skypilot, the little blue flower that grows on top of a mountain. We’ll see.” She considered that she had a name now, at 127 points, that didn’t need to match anything. She hoisted the wing case onto her shoulder. “I think I need to go see my grandmother.”

They said their goodbyes and the ravens promised to visit regularly. Veronica carried the suit into the silo, piece by piece, and left it in the workshop. Then she gathered her six precious pieces of parchment and went inside where Gram was cleaning up dishes from the picnic. It was time to talk.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter Nineteen

Veronica woke to a cold breeze blowing her hair around her face and the sound of car wheels pulling on to the gravel next to the road. Light was cracking open the sky in the east. She’d seen enough sunrises this week to last her a year. As she awoke she remembered where she was and turned to see Billie George’s yellow pick-up truck pulled alongside the road where she had been sleeping, tucked in among some acacia bushes. His boots walked around the truck and he came to stand over her.

“I don’t even know what to say, Veronica.”

“I’ve got people coming.”

“I bet you do. Just tell me one thing: are they gone?”

“I thought you didn’t believe in them.” Veronica stood up and looked out in the direction of the ribbon of light, or where she thought it had been—hard to say in the end.

“My father knew them, was visited by them in the mountains,” said Billie. “He never told anybody but me because I was little and I believed him. I feel like I’ve spent my life haunted by those ghosts. I could never tell anybody neither, like it was our secret. So many secrets, so much to be ashamed of. Gets so I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

Veronica kicked at the ground, not sure why Billie was telling her all this. But he continued. “I guess I thought if I could make those ghosts disappear there wouldn’t be any more secrets, that maybe they’d take my ghosts with them.”

“Well, they’re gone.” Veronica looked at Billie’s sad face and realized hers probably looked the same. “I hope it works out for you.”

“Yeah,” said Billie. “You too.” They shared a raw moment. Then Billie turned to leave. “You really got people coming for you?”

“I do, yes.” He tossed her a bottle of Gatorade and she watched Billie drive away. Only later did she realize that she needed to tell him to go search that cabin for the stolen jewelry, but maybe he knew that too.

Sure enough, it wasn’t another half hour when down the road Veronica saw the white Jeep driving her way. Alkali pulled up, rolled down his window, and nonchalant as you please asked Veronica if she needed a ride somewhere. Before he could even open his door, tears were rolling down her cheeks. He hopped out and held her as she fell down on the pavement and bawled like a child.

When Alkali dropped Veronica at home, Gram had already gone to church but Leonardo was standing guard on the porch awaiting her safe return. Johanna’s horses and the ghost burros were out in the pasture with the goats, and Johanna was asleep in Veronica’s bed. Veronica crawled in beside her with Leonardo and was soon asleep herself. After church was out at Gram’s church and mass was done at the Catholic Church, Gram and Aileen George came and woke them up, then went and got Rita. Mrs. Salazar and Ramón were down in Carpathia at the hospital. Although exhausted, the girls managed to bathe and dress in the pretty clothes put in front of them to wear to the picnic. Veronica even let Gram comb out her hair.

Every Easter the three churches in town worked together to put on the community picnic in the village park. The picnic tables were set up at the opposite end from the engraved stone tablets of the Little Pine Veterans Memorial. The whole town arrived wearing their best clothes. Little girls in long pastel dresses and boys in suits they would soon outgrow ran around the park, hunting for eggs and chasing the dogs that came to enjoy the picnic too. Streamers decorated the gazebo where a mariachi band played. Tables laden with food represented the blend of cultures that made up the small town: baked hams and deviled eggs, roasted goat and tamales, and mesquite fry bread with honey.

The girls saw that everyone from town had come out today. They waved hello to Miss Bernal and Mr. César serving food, and there was Miss Esperanza enjoying a laugh with the couple who ran the café who were sitting next to Mr. Lautenbacher and the rent-a-cops. Across the park, they saw Alkali sitting at an empty table. He waved them over. In the tree above him, Veronica saw Rackoo and Cork. She called up to them and they responded in their raven caws. Rackoo hopped down next to them on the ground, nibbling a friendly hello on Leonardo’s ear, where she wouldn’t be noticed by the crowd.

“You did well, I hear,” said Rackoo.


“We want to hear all about it later,” said Rackoo. She cocked her head and looked up at Veronica. “I’m proud of you.” Then she took off and Cork joined her, flying away above the town.

The girls sat with Alkali and didn’t talk much. They all had just one thing on their minds, and they didn’t want to discuss it in such a public setting.

Alkali broke the silence, “Have you heard from your mother, Rita? About Ramón?”

“She called a little while ago,” said Rita. “He’s gonna be OK. He’s dehydrated and he needed stitches for a cut on his leg. They should be back soon.”

“Too bad Miss Guy isn’t here. I think she would like a party,” said Veronica, looking around at the crowd.

Alkali smiled and said, “She throws her own Easter party and usually I attend, but today I wanted to be here with you. She sends her regards, by the way. And she’s ready to tell you what she saw in those tea leaves, but it’s nothing that you don’t already know.”

Gram and Aileen came and sat down with them, their plates full of good food. Gram added some things to Veronica’s plate. Then Johanna saw her father drive up the street and park by the fence along the side of the park. She waved him over to them. As he walked up, John looked serious. The girls made room for him to sit down.

“No, I can’t stay,” said John. “I just wanted you all to know what’s going on. Billie rode up to that cabin this morning and found all the stolen jewelry, some of it going back decades. I guess you girls know all about that.”

“I’m sorry Dad. We didn’t know what we were getting into,” interrupted Johanna.

John put his hand on her shoulder. “No, honey, I’m sorry. We can talk more about it later, but, but…my daughter took down Los Descarriados! I’m just so proud of you girls.”

Johanna looked at her friends. They didn’t feel proud; they felt exhausted.

Alkali, more than the other adults, recognized what the girls were feeling. “I think we need a ritual,” he suggested. “A ceremony.”

“You’re absolutely right, my friend. Hang on, I’ll be right back.” John walked over to talk to some of his tribemates who were setting up their drum circle in the gazebo to play next. He asked them to play a warrior song. Then he walked to his car and dug around in the trunk for a few minutes. He found what he was looking for and came back to the table. As the drum group started playing and singing, John presided over the makeshift ceremony.

He began by lighting the bundle of sweetgrass in his hand. As he spoke, he wafted the smoke around the girls. “To the warriors of our families who have risked much to provide heroic services to our community, we thank you. We give you honor for putting the needs of the community above your own needs. And we rejoice in your safe return.”

People at other tables were watching what was going on without understanding the reason. But they knew John to be a serious and good man and stopped talking and eating for a few minutes; many of them stood. When John was finished, Gram chimed in with “Amen.” Others at the table followed.

Then Alkali stood and took a turn. “You all were curious about how I got my name Alkali. Such a name may not be chosen, but only given. And today you have each earned a name. You may use it if you like, or keep it to yourself. For Rita, brave and true Rita, I would like to call you Cielita Valienta, our brave little heaven. Johanna, I call you Wind Horse, a symbol of strength and well-being. And Veronica, Skypilot. This is a small blue flower that grows on the tallest mountains, high above any other plant. You must venture very high to find its smiling face. Yes, you are our Skypilot.” To close, Alkali put his hands together as if to pray and made a bow to the girls. “Mazel tov,” he whispered.

As the crowd was thinning out, Rita was leaving with Johanna’s family, and Gram was making herself busy packing up casserole dishes, Alkali took Veronica aside. He took from his inner jacket pocket one more piece of parchment paper, unfolded it, and handed it to Veronica. “We are now at liberty to discuss this when you would like.”

Veronica took the paper which had a drawing of a bird flying over a river and a family with a baby sitting by the river.

Dear Polly,
The flower has bloomed and it seems impossible that the creator could not love her creation. What looks like un-love is another kind of love that wants to be love. I will love my beautiful blue-eyed flower who wants to be everything including a flower, a bird, a river, a mountain, and a star. And if a sound wants to be something not a sound, I will close my eyes and feel the vibration of the moment on my tear-stained cheek and fall to the ground in gratitude for joy of the sound not sounding. My flower will fly and I will blow the wind that carries her wings. We have named you Veronica and I will be the love that loves what she is and what she wants to be.

“You are Polly,” said Alkali. “Short for polliwog, who wants to be a frog.” Your mother wrote these for you when she was pregnant with you. And then you were born.”

“But they’re in my father’s handwriting.”

“He wanted to make you a book as you grew up so he made the drawings on the nice paper and added your mother’s words.”

“My flower will fly and I will blow the wind that carries her wings.” Veronica read. “Maybe that’s why it’s so much easier for me to fly than it was for him, because he didn’t have his mother blowing his wind.” And Alkali gave Veronica a long, firm hug so that she wouldn’t see the tears forming, this time, in his eyes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chapter Eighteen

Ramón ran up to Virgilio and Eloy as they returned to the campfire for the big surprise of guests. Rita listened as Ramón explained who the girls were, hoping that they could talk their way out of this. She translated for Johanna who was removing the flashlight and the colored plastic from her pocket to signal red to Veronica: emergency, don’t land. Then Ramón ran back to Rita and asked why Veronica was flying around. Rita was taken aback that he could know that. She told him that they had come to rescue him.

 “No offense,” said Rita to the ghosts, “but his mom is real worried about him.” She was relieved when the ghosts nodded in understanding.

Then Virgilio, whom Rita took to be the leader of the group, spoke. She had a bit of trouble understanding his accent and old fashioned language, but she did her best to translate: “We have enjoyed the boy too long, we know. I apologize. Don’t worry—we fed him and gave him water and a good place to sleep. I think he has enjoyed us too. He has been missing his father and brothers and does not know his grandfathers. Maybe we can be his grandfathers.”

Then Ramón spoke up: “Do I have to go home, Rita? I like it here. They only have to take a bath once a year!” Johanna laughed at this translation despite the stress of their situation. They smelled like they never took a bath. Must be coming up on the annual event.

Veronica continued circling overhead, ignoring the red light and fearing for her friends. Trusting, hoping, that the ghosts meant them no harm, Johanna told Rita to ask them if they would allow their friend to land. Of course, they said. She flashed the white light until Veronica landed near the fire. Ramón ran over and grabbed Veronica around the waist, and she maneuvered to not let him hurt the suit. Rita explained to the ghosts about the suit and about their planned rescue attempt. In all, Los Descarriados were being perfect gentleman. Santiago even asked Johanna if she would like a can of beans. Through gestures and her broken Spanish, she declined.

With help from her friends, Veronica removed her suit and the seven of them sat down around the campfire in an uneasy truce. Ramón took responsibility for adding more wood when needed. Under the light of the moon, the ghosts told many stories of their long years of wandering, translated by Rita and embellished by Ramón who had been listening to their stories for many days.

They told stories of the people they had watched, talking to the occasional person who noticed them: stories of heartbroken hard times, hobos on trains without enough food or clothes against the bitter winds, farmers escaping ruin by drought brought down by battering floods, evil swindlers who preyed on the beaten down, women dying in childbirth, the babies unable to break their way out in time, the fearful, the lonely, the desperately bored. Virgilio tried to intersperse these with happy moments they had glimpsed: a laughing family panning for gold for fun along a cold, fast-flowing creek in the high Rockies of Colorado just a few years ago, the strains of an accordion deep into a starry night with the earth-shaking pulse of one hundred dancing feet, their very own Little Pine Easter picnics from years past, the medicinal smell of the high desert after a cooling rain. Yes, Virgilio smiled, they could still smell. And he apologized for their present odor.

Then Virgilio told a story of a vagabond philosopher they had met many decades ago, a young man who also traveled by burro in the red-tinged canyon country of southern Utah. The young gringo man befuddled the men with his philosophic ramblings in broken Spanish during their time camped out together along a small stream that flowed into the San Juan River. But they enjoyed each other’s company. They taught him a trick to catching rabbits with a stick and a string. In exchange, this young man, Len, taught them to see stories in the stars: the animals, the warriors, the saints. Virgilio confessed that in thirty-two years of living and forty-eight years of death up until that time, he had never allowed himself to ponder the meaning of the stars that filled the heavens.

“What happened to Len?” asked Veronica.

“We heard he disappeared. They wrote a song for him,” said Virgilio.

“Which shows, as you know, that it is short, life,” added Eloy. “Unlike death, which is long.”

Then Santiago, the quiet one, spoke up. “But it won’t be for you because you can fly, so don’t worry about it.”

“True, true,” said Eloy. “Alas, we are ghosts who cannot fly. That is why we are stuck here, forever to wander.”

“What does flying have to do with it?” asked Rita.

“Have you ever heard of a ghost who can’t fly?” asked Eloy. “That’s how you move on to the next world. Your soul leaves your body and it floats up into the air. It finds a path to the portal and then is gone. Easy. But something happened when we died and we don’t float, don’t fly, can’t get to the portal.” The three ghosts sat in the firelight: dejected, lost, wayward.

“And you keep coming back to this spot because it’s where you died so you think you might find something you missed before?” asked Veronica.

“Oh no, it’s depressing to come back here,” said Virgilio. “We come back here because there is a portal nearby.”

“And that nice woman leaves the whiskey for us,” admitted Santiago.

At Johanna’s request, Virgilio told about the portal. Los Descarriados had heard many times from recently deceased ghosts who floated by about the portal just south of here at a place called Warnock Flat. If a spirit could follow a path to the portal, it would be transported on to the next world on a ribbon of light.

Veronica and Johanna looked at each other as their eyes grew wide: the Bee Springs Lights. For decades, myths and suspicions existed about this strange twinkling of lights in the night sky down south of Bee Springs. They had learned in school how scientists attributed the lights to a unique localized atmospheric condition, explaining away all paranormal theories. But now they were being told it was, in fact, related to ghosts.

Virgilio continued complaining about their inability to access the portal, being those rare earthbound ghosts. And then Veronica got thinking. “Do you suppose,” she asked, “a live human being could find that portal?”

Virgilio eyed the strange flying contraption. “You mean with that?” The three ghosts and the three girls looked over at the flying suit on the ground. If it was a bad idea, none of them would say. Virgilio stood up and inspected the suit. As he talked to Eloy and Santiago, Rita translated that they were trying to figure out how to hang on or attach themselves.

“Can we do this?” asked Virgilio. “We would very much like to do this.”

Veronica answered. “We can try to do this. I can’t guarantee that we can find the portal. I also don’t know if I can carry enough fuel to get us there. I don’t even know if I can fly with you hanging on.”

“OK, so we try,” smiled Virgilio. He marched into the cabin as Eloy gestured the girls to follow.

“Come, we can pay you,” explained Eloy. The girls followed. Ramón came after them with a burning stick to light up the rooms. Virgilio got down on his hands and knees and removed an old straw mat from the floor. Underneath, he lifted up some floor boards and exposed a wooden crate stamped with the name Arbuckle Coffee full of a small portion of a hundred years of burglaries. Jewelry, paper money, and coins filled the old wooden box. The girls were speechless.

Rita found her voice and thanked them and said there was no way they could accept this. Johanna and Veronica nodded. No one spoke for a moment.

“But we have collected this all these years so that someone would help us,” said Virgilio.

Veronica understood and gave him the answer they sought. “We will take this. This is fair trade.” Virgilio smiled and ushered them all outside.

Johanna was concerned for her friend and took her aside, but Veronica was beyond her fear. In the conversation of the evening, she had come to feel great sympathy for the ghosts and their plight. Maybe for this I have been learning courage, she thought. She assured Johanna that she wanted to do this. “I’m sure I won’t have fuel to get back, though, so send Alkali to find me when it gets light. Tell him to look for me on a road with stripes.”

And so Veronica suited up with Rita’s help. The ghosts grabbed on to the suit where Veronica told them to hold. Johanna returned from the clearing with kerosene and topped off her tanks. In the flurry of activity, only Ramón stayed by the fire, quiet. As Veronica prepared to take off with his friends, he began wailing inconsolably. Santiago stepped away from Veronica and held the boy in his stinking, vaporous arms. He whispered in Ramón’s ear all that he had learned: “Be true, my son, and follow your dreams.”

Veronica met no resistance on take-off with her unusual cargo. She climbed as high as she had ever been and headed south toward this place called Warnock Flat. She could hear the ghosts talking to each other, yelling over the sound of the jet pack. But she didn’t think they were talking to her, so she paid attention to finding winds to conserve her fuel.

She flew out over the southern edge of the Matilda Mountains, over the lights of Little Pine far below, and over the long, sloping plain toward Bee Springs. The rocky outcroppings were just tiny moonlit scabs on the surface of the land from that far up in the sky.

After a little while, she saw the lights of Bee Springs approach and pass underneath and she continued on. Not long after, Virgilio called her name and said something that Veronica understood to mean that he saw something. He said, “left,” and “a little, a little,” and she followed his directions. His words then became more animated and she couldn’t understand. She also felt a growing updraft and reduced her fuel. Then the three of them started shouting like crazy. Virgilio again called her name and offered a clear simple direction to turn right and then go straight ahead. The ghosts were quiet.

Then as if a light had been switched on, they entered a silver ribbon of light. The sensation for Veronica was of pure, blinding daylight as if she had flown into the very heart of a white sun. She felt a powerful updraft sweep under her, and she cut the engine and fought to hold the wings steady. Instead of being silent, though, without the engine, the light was full of sounds that she would never be able to describe—a combination of electronic buzz, voices, and hum. She could only describe later the overwhelming and inexplicable sense of chaotic peace or peaceful chaos that she felt being in the light.

When she had stabilized her suit, she looked around to consult with her crew, but could not see them. She called out their names but got no answer. They were gone, and she hadn’t had a chance to give them a message to her parents.

Veronica realized, with momentary panic, that she needed to get out of the portal. She fired up the jet pack, pulled full power in the direction she was facing, and roared out of the light. Just like that she was back into the night. She reduced power and circled around to look where she had been. As her eyes readjusted to the darkness, she could just make out the twinkling edges of the ribbon, enough to avoid flying back into it. And then she looked down.

The updraft had brought her so high that she could see a hundred miles in each direction. Below her, the lights of Bee Springs were but a speck. She caught her breath as the panic came back, and she felt disoriented. She concentrated on getting out of the updraft and losing altitude. Her training kicked in, and she began a slow spiral downward. Veronica didn’t even think about getting home; she just wanted to be on the ground.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chapter Seventeen

Veronica bicycled out to the meeting spot. Johanna was already there with two saddled horses: her palomino Penny and her aunt’s bay mare. Rita arrived not long after on her bike. In the dying light, they looked at the map one more time. Johanna pulled out a flashlight to give them an advantage. She traced the route that she and Rita would follow to the cabin. Part of it was on the main road and part was on an old road that split off the main road, paralleled it, and cut down to the clearing Veronica had landed in earlier. It was one of the old dirt roads that hadn’t been on the modern map but appeared on the older map. From what Veronica had seen, vehicles didn’t use this road any more, but who knew about ghosts?

Johanna and Rita took off on the horses toward the mountains loaded with gear. Johanna estimated the ride would take three hours, so Veronica sat in the ditch on the side of the road and waited for the just-past-full moon to rise.

Veronica checked her watch and decided the time had come to suit up. She strapped on her helmet, tucking her hair beneath. Then she double checked her fuel tanks: full. She tipped the cumbersome suit up on the tail and fit herself in the harness. A quick check of the controls and she was ready to fly.

With the light of the moon, Veronica could see the landscape and flew straight toward the area of the mountains that held the cabin. She hoped the ghosts would be burning a fire again tonight, or she didn’t know how she would be able to find them. She soon learned that she didn’t need to worry. As she flew high over the cabin, she could see plenty of light from a fire against the deep black hillside. She reduced power to the jet pack and circled over the cabin. She could see the three hazy men sitting around the campfire with Ramón.

A little way up the hill, she saw Johanna’s flashlight blinking white light to her, letting her know that they were in place and ready. They had arranged the light signals ahead of time: white meant Veronica should land, green meant all was good and Veronica didn’t need to land, and red meant there was an emergency and Veronica shouldn’t land. She knew they could hear and see her jet pack because they were looking for it. She hoped the men wouldn’t think to look up beyond the crackling of the fire.

Veronica flew up over the clearing and came in for a landing. The girls helped attach a duffel bag to her chest. Johanna added kerosene to her fuel tanks from the cans they’d carried. Soon Veronica was in the air again and circling around the cabin, a bit unsteady with the extra weight on her chest. She flew up to the mine entrance now in the dark and came down for a landing on the small platform at the top of the high scaffolding outside the mouth of the mine. She balanced herself and the suit as she unzipped the duffel bag on her chest. Johanna and Rita had prepared five Molotov cocktails: cheap, amateur bombs. Each one was an empty glass bottle that Johanna had scrounged from the tribe recycling bins, now filled with gasoline. Also in the bag were five additional lids for the bottles that the girls had punched holes in and run pieces of cloth through. The cloths were soaked in kerosene. Veronica took the first bottle of gasoline and unscrewed the lid and put that back in the bag. She then attached a lid with the soaked cloth on the bottle. She set this on an arm of the scaffolding and prepared the remaining bottles.

After Veronica took off from the clearing, Johanna and Rita moved to get into place. They tied the horses to tree branches and snuck through the trees to safe hiding places in view of the cabin. Johanna carried the flashlight in her pocket. They waited, hidden, watching the ghosts and Ramón around the fire. They dared not move, though, until the ghosts were distracted—which should be happening any minute now.

After Veronica finished constructing the devices, she unhooked the kerosene-smelling bag from her chest and let it drop away to the ground, unneeded. Then she felt in her jeans pocket for the lighter. She had one in each pocket, right and left, in case the first one failed or got lost. As she pulled it out, she practiced getting her arms into flight position a couple of times just to make sure she was ready to move fast. Then she lit the first bomb and threw it as far as she could toward the cabin. She heard and saw it land on some rocks: a perfect hit and far enough from her that she could remain in place, unseen.

Johanna and Rita heard the hit and watched the fire burst up in the shrubbery behind the cabin. But it was too far behind the cabin, and the men didn’t notice. Veronica waited, holding her breath, for a reaction. Nothing. So she lit another one, and threw it a little farther to the left. Again, a good solid hit on the rocks. This time the little bomb set a whole bush on fire. From the trees, Johanna and Rita watched the reaction of the ghosts. Veronica could see them too. They looked around trying to find out where the fire had come from. Veronica calculated what would cause the most confusion, lit the third cocktail, and let it sail in a different direction. When the flame burst out, she could see the chaos setting in among the men. Then she watched as something happened that she had feared. With their rapid movements, Veronica could not distinguish them anymore. They turned back into turbulent heat waves. Some of it was moving her way, but she couldn’t be sure where all three were.

Still hidden in the shadows, Veronica got ready for the grand finale. Johanna and Rita looked uphill toward the mine in anticipation. Veronica lit both remaining cocktails and held them in one hand while she started the jet pack with the other. Then she switched hands, pulled power on the jet pack and as she rose up from the scaffolding, she threw the cocktails down on the mouth of the mine. The fire exploded up the scaffolding and drew the attention of the men up the hill. Veronica gained altitude but continued to fly over the mine to make sure the men didn’t return to the cabin in the next few minutes.

This was the girls’ chance. They snuck around the cabin and found Ramón by himself by the fire. Rita grabbed his hand and tried to pull him away, explaining their plan. He was happy to see her but reluctant to leave the fire. Johanna tried enticing him by telling him that he could ride her horse. Rita kept an eye out for the ghosts, but she too had trouble seeing them when they moved so fast. She asked Ramón if the men were around, if he could see any of them. He answered that Eloy and Virgilio had run up the hill to see what Veronica was doing, but that Santiago was sitting right here by the door if they wanted to talk to him.

Rita turned to face the cabin and saw, sitting not six feet away, the Descarriado known as Santiago. He smiled at her and nodded hello. Busted.

“Johanna, there’s one of them right here,” Rita whispered. She stood up straight and let go of Ramón. “Right here smiling at us.”

Johanna turned and saw him too. “Can we run?”

“Not with Ramón. He doesn’t seem to want to go.” Rita smiled and nodded back at Santiago.

Overhead, Veronica watched her friends not leaving the scene and was concerned. She saw the mirage moving back down toward the fire. Leave! She wanted to scream. GET AWAY! But it was too late.

Alkali faced himself in his bathroom mirror as he brushed his teeth. The clock read just past ten o’clock. He studied the wrinkles around his mouth. There always seemed to be a new one. He didn’t pay attention anymore to the wrinkles around his eyes; they were so entrenched. He did look, though, into his watery blue eyes and tried not to be too hard on himself.

For all his grand theories on fear and courage and useless things, he felt like a sham. The girls were out there right now risking their lives to save that little boy. And he wasn’t with them—he hadn’t offered to help or even to call the State Police. He just said to call him when they got back. Sure he had stories of grand adventures: travels to foreign lands and the women he had loved. But who was he today? He was a mailman in a Podunk town too scared to do the very things he told others to do. These girls were the real thing, though, like he thought he once had been. Maybe he could get it back; maybe he could learn something from them. From the outside, his life looked pretty well put together. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get his courage back.

A knock on the door broke him away from his thoughts. Sarah Lawson stood outside his back door. Alkali didn’t need to ask why she was there. He just invited her in and brewed a pot of coffee. They sat together in the kitchen waiting for the phone to ring, hoping to everything they held dear that the girls were OK out there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chapter Sixteen

Saturday morning the girls met early on the silo roof and shared their experiences from the night before. Johanna was worried, Rita was sad, but Veronica was determined like her friends had never seen her. First, they spent some time looking at the map. Veronica traced with her finger where she believed she had flown. The tiny circles that represented mountain tops were helpful. There on the 1982 map, she showed her friends where she thought she had seen the campfire. Sure enough, there was a mine site there and according to this map, a cabin.

“The name of that mine is Pearl Jumbo?” Veronica asked her friends for confirmation.

“Yeah,” said Johanna, looking closely.

Veronica looked off in the distance a moment, calculating. “One-thirteen. And what was the name of Los Descarriados’ mine?”

“Copo de Nieve,” said Rita. “It means snowflake.”

Veronica nodded. “One-thirteen. The names of both mines add up the same. That’s where they are—Pearl Jumbo.”

“You think the ghosts add letters up like you do,” asked Rita.

“No. Probably just a coincidence. But a good one, huh?” Veronica smiled. She wanted to fly out there this morning and scout it out in the daylight.

“Is it safe to fly around during the daytime?” asked Johanna.

“Out there, yes,” said Veronica. “As long as I stay low I should be fine. But I can’t fly from here; somebody would see me. Well, I guess the whole town would see me. Ugh, I should have left the suit out there last night. We’ll have to carry it out past town.” She pointed to other spots on the map as she talked. “Here’s where I landed last night, after I ran out of fuel. I was able to glide all the way from here…to here.”

“OK, and here’s where we took you to practice yesterday,” Johanna pointed out. “We could ride our bikes out there with your gear and you could fly up there and check it out.”

“Right. And Alkali has more fuel in his garage. You could make a couple of trips out with more fuel,” said Veronica. She knew Alkali had morning hours at the post office and couldn’t help them this time.

“Where’s Billie at today?” asked Rita. “We don’t want him to see us: either doing this or being together. Especially after last night.”

“He told my dad he had business to take care of up in Midland, be gone the whole weekend. My dad says what for? It’s Easter. But Billie said it was none of his business. So I guess he’s gone,” said Johanna.

“I think we need to be careful with that,” said Veronica. “Maybe he’s in Midland, but keep an eye out just the same.”

The girls rode their bikes out of town with their awkward load, taking a ranch road through fields to get to their destination without being noticed. They found a good staging spot with a deep ditch alongside a row of oak trees that would hide the leather cases, Veronica’s bike, and the kerosene canisters to come.

“I wish Rackoo was here,” said Veronica as she put the suit together. “I didn’t tell them I’d be out this morning.”

“You can do it without her, can’t you,” asked Rita. “You did it last night.”

“Yeah,” said Veronica. “It would just be nice…”

Johanna sensed the hesitation in her friend’s voice. “Veronica, I know you wish you didn’t have to do this alone. And as much as Rita and I want to support you, we can’t be up there with you. But I know you can do this.” Veronica nodded because Johanna had said out loud what was in her own head.

Rita joined in, “I know you can do it too, Veronica. And you know what? We’re gonna wait right here until you get back. We can go get fuel later, or have Alkali help us.”

“That’s a good idea,” admitted Veronica. “I think it’s called mitigating the risk.”

The girls helped Veronica get the suit on her back and get strapped in. She took one last look at the map and shooed her friends away. She fired up the jet pack with a pull of her thumb and up she went. Johanna and Rita watched her fly away toward the mountains. Then they sat down to wait.

Veronica felt good in the air. Despite the stress of the situation and the pressure to rescue Ramón, she had to admit that the freedom she felt flying in the suit made up for everything. Up here she was free from her everyday life, even free from the mystery of the letters to Polly.

She stayed low as she approached the mountains, balancing safe altitude with being seen, and avoided following the roads in case anyone was driving on them today. She had a pretty good idea of how to find the cabin without following the roads. As the ground began to rise below her and the piñon, juniper, and gray oak trees grew thicker, she remembered the lines on the map that she had studied. She circled around a bit to the west and found the drainage that she wanted to follow. It didn’t take too long before she saw the glint of sunlight off glass and metal among the trees: a cabin. She flew a wide circle around the area, scouting a place to land. Not far up the hill from the cabin, she saw a small clearing. She approached it from the uphill side, away from the cabin, and executed a good vertical landing; the only problem was brushing up against a cholla, a jumping cactus, putting a cluster of spines through her purple jeans.

She walked with her suit on into the trees and found a couple of sticks to dislodge the cactus from her leg. After unsuiting and taking off her goggles, she leaned the suit into a tree to make it hard to see if anyone came along. Then she picked a route down toward the cabin through the thickest section of trees, careful to walk on soft ground and avoid sticks. She stopped short when she heard a sound. An unmistakable hiss from a snake filled her ears but she couldn’t see a snake. She started to walk again, but the hiss continued. The more she listened, the more confused she became. Was it coming from above her? She looked up, afraid to find a snake hanging in the tree.

She about collapsed with relief when above her in the piñon tree she saw the raven who wanted to be a snake—Cork imitating a snake and laughing. He flew down and landed at her feet. Then Rackoo came down from another branch and joined them.

“Shh, what are you doing?” whispered Veronica.

“Your friends said you might need some help,” Cork whispered back. They all talked for a minute and devised a surveillance plan. Although the ravens hadn’t figured out how to see the ghosts, they could see Ramón if he was captive at the cabin. Veronica didn’t dare get too close to the cabin because she, too, hadn’t learned yet how to see the ghosts, although Rita had done a good job explaining the trick.

In the dirt out in front of the cabin, the warm remnants of a campfire gave off a trickle of smoke. Cork landed by the campfire and stood where he could see the entire cabin. Rackoo landed by the open door and took a cautious step inside. The smell was overpowering but, as a raven, to her liking. She hopped around the three spartan rooms. A bed was made up on the floor in one of the rooms just the size for a child. She saw no one and didn’t feel the presence of anyone. She looked in each corner, looking for the heat waves that Veronica had described. Nothing. She did stick her beak into some of the empty bean and stew cans lying on the floor. A tasty snack, but she had work to do.

She walked back out the door into the sunlight. She squarked at Cork and together they took off and flew around the immediate area trying to find the boy and his keepers. A little farther down the hill, on a rocky outcropping, they saw Ramón sitting and looking off in the distance, appearing to be absorbed in conversation with himself.

Rackoo reported this sighting to Veronica who waited back in the trees. Rackoo then led her down the slope until she was in sight of, but behind, Ramón and his phantom friend. At first Veronica could only see the customary waves of a mirage, but as she did as Rita instructed and relaxed her eyes, almost going cross-eyed, the image flickered into view. One Descarriado sat on the rock talking and gesturing with Ramón, who looked in good shape, if a bit dirty and ragged.

Veronica turned and made her way back toward the cabin. She didn’t dare step out into open ground in case the other ghosts were there and she couldn’t see them. But she was able to get the lay of the area. The left side of the cabin, looking uphill, bordered the edge of small ravine that came from the spring just up the hill. A small trickle of water ran down the ravine. On the other side of the cabin, and up a hill were the remains of the old Pearl Jumbo Mine. During the years following the time Los Descarriados had mined silver in these hills, prospectors had dug out tungsten, copper, and silver from this mine—but never enough to make it profitable. Veronica studied the remains of the mine: the piles of gravel at the mouth of the mine cave, a rusted out red bulldozer, and the aging wooden scaffolding structure that stood twenty feet in the air and at one time helped bring ore to the surface.

Then she heard voices of men and she ducked down in the duff beneath the trees. She looked down the old road leading away from the cabin down the slope. Sure enough, she saw the mirage and then with a little effort saw two men on burros riding up to the cabin. The third burro trailed behind. She waited until the cabin blocked the line of sight between them and herself, then she ran as quietly as possible through the trees. She heard the ravens making a ruckus on the other side of the cabin.

Back up the hill in the clearing, Veronica suited up and prepared for take-off. Rackoo and Cork arrived and landed at her feet.

“Going so soon?” asked Rackoo.

“Yeah, that was close. Thanks for covering for me,” said Veronica.

“But you didn’t get Ramón,” said Cork.

Veronica looked at him funny. “I can’t get him by myself. But now we know he’s here and he’s OK.”

“So how are you gonna get him?” asked Rackoo.

Veronica smiled. “With a little help from my friends. Come on, let’s go.” She lifted off and flew down off the mountain.

Back in the field, Johanna and Rita were relieved when Veronica returned. Cork and Rackoo arrived a few minutes later. Together the girls and the ravens gathered around the map and shared what they had learned. Veronica turned the map over and drew a detailed diagram of the cabin area including the mine, the ravine, and the clearing. Then they studied the roads on the map, exploring their options. Together they agreed on a plan to rescue Ramón.

“Well, good luck girls. I guess we’ll find out how it turns out in the morning,” said Cork.

“What!?” exclaimed Rita. “You’re not going to be there tonight?”

“Ravens don’t fly at night,” said Veronica matter-of-factly. “It’s OK, we’ll be fine.” In fact, Veronica didn’t know if they would be fine, but it was true that the ravens roosted at night and nothing would persuade them otherwise. This was their nature.

Johanna stood up and looked toward the mountains. Then she looked at Cork and Rackoo. “Do you have any final words of advice?”

“Yes,” said Rackoo. “Along the road up on top of the mountain, there are three dead rabbits. Do not eat them. They are full of poison intended to kill coyotes. Do not eat them. Understand?”

“That’s it?” asked Rita. “Don’t eat the dead rabbits?”

Veronica laughed, “Welcome to my world.” And with that, the girls packed up the flying suit, hid it in the ditch, and biked back to town to haul kerosene.

Between the bumpy dirt road and the weight of the kerosene cans, the girls walked their bikes out to the dirt road ditch. Johanna was telling a story about her cousin Cody, one of the teenagers who lived on the reservation and went to high school in Fort Woodrow. His handsome smile and baseball skills made him popular at school. Like the other older kids in her family, Cody picked on Johanna as the youngest. She had learned from her brothers, who were out of school and worked on oil rigs in the Gulf, not to react to their taunting; but she never missed a chance to get them back.

“So his mom bought him a new pair of jeans for the sports banquet at school, but she bought ‘em at the second hand store and wasn’t paying attention. So he puts them on and thinks they’re a little baggy, but he just puts on a belt. And he goes to the banquet. And his friends are all asking him if he messed in his pants cause they’re all baggy there and stuff. And it turns out they’re girl jeans for a girl with hips. They even have these fancy decorations on the back pockets.”

Veronica and Rita laugh, knowing the embarrassment this would cause Cody, and well deserved at that. Johanna continued the story, imitating Cody and her other cousins making a big deal about the girl pants. The three of them laughed hard walking down the road with their load of fuel.

Johanna continued: “We haven’t had that much fun since Chuck broke the sink. Do you remember that?”

“You have to tell Rita,” said Veronica.

“So Chuck, a couple years ago maybe, was in the bathroom. He sat on the toilet so long his feet fell asleep. Then when he tries to stand up, his feet didn’t work so well and his pants were still down around his knees…” Johanna stopped talking and walking, doubled over with laughter at the memory. Veronica and Rita experienced sympathetic laughter and they were unable to proceed. “Chuck is almost falling over, so he reaches out to catch himself on the sink…which wasn’t attached. My Uncle Archie never attached it.”

Johanna, trying to catch her breath, choked out the rest of the story which involved the crash of the sink, Chuck’s mother running into the bathroom, and Chuck on the floor with his pants around his ankles and the broken sink on the floor. Within minutes everybody on the reservation had heard the story. Johanna suggested that Cody and his girl pants might finally make people forget about Chuck and his sleepy feet.

After a few minutes they had composed themselves enough to continue walking down the road, but Rita couldn’t help picturing Chuck, whom she’d met at Johanna’s—cool high school Chuck—in such a position. She laughed so hard she snorted, which got Veronica and Johanna laughing all over again. And for a few minutes Veronica forgot about counting things or about Polly, Rita forgot to sing her song or be sad about Ramón, and Johanna didn’t worry about Veronica or anything else. For a few minutes, they were just girls.

After they were done hauling, weary and hot, Veronica treated them to a root beer at The Pit, thinking to ask Miss Esperanza some questions. The place was quiet in the lull between the lunch and dinner crowds. The girls sat down at stools at the long, wooden bar as Miss Esperanza poured them root beer from the tap into glass mugs fresh from the freezer. Rita drank hers too fast and put her hand to her forehead as the pain hit.

Veronica wasted no time getting to the point. “Miss E., we need to know everything about that bottle of whiskey you put in the cabinet out back. We know who it’s for and we know where they live.”

Miss Esperanza let out a long whistle and looked each girl in the eyes. They each returned a steady gaze: no messing around, no joking. “What did they do this time?” she asked.

“That doesn’t matter,” said Veronica.

Johanna interrupted Veronica before she could say more. She spoke like she was talking to a spooked horse, reassuring. “They’re just up to their old tricks, aren’t they? Some robberies, nothing serious, but making themselves known. Right? Coming around here more?”

“Yeah…” said Miss Esperanza.

“So what’s your story? Why the whiskey?”

Miss Esperanza let out a hard sigh and told her story. Her grandfather had started the restaurant decades ago, first as a diner, then as a bar, then with the barbecue. Her aunt took over and ran it for years until she took off with a rodeo cowboy, a roper. The last thing her aunt told her before leaving her the keys to the place was to be sure to keep a bottle of whiskey in the cabinet out back in case Los Descarriados ever came back. The old ghost story. But now, sure enough, they were back. And she didn’t mind because they were happy with the cheap stuff and never drank too much anyway. She could see the ghosts just fine, didn’t understand how other people couldn’t. They never gave her any trouble, but then Miss Esperanza wasn’t the kind of person you’d want to give any trouble to. They were always polite and tried to pay with stolen jewelry. Miss Esperanza said she told the men to take those nice things back where they got them, but she didn’t know if they ever did.

“Do you get a sense of what they want?” asked Johanna.

“Whew, I don’t know. They seem so tired, so unhappy. Hard to say. They’ve been traveling around on those burros now well over a hundred years. They said they’ve gone back to their homeland in Mexico and all the way up to the Dakotas where they got stuck in a snowstorm. Imagine that, being a ghost stuck in a snowstorm.” Miss Esperanza laughed a cold laugh.

Without revealing the predicament with Ramón, Johanna didn’t know what else to say. She looked at Veronica who was deep in thought: of all the useless gossip she’d heard in Little Pine, how had she never heard this? Then Rita spoke up. “Do you know what would make them happy?”

Miss Esperanza thought about it. “You know, I think back then when they were alive they came here hoping to make some money, go back home and marry a pretty girl, raise a family. Just normal stuff. They never got to do that, but they watch people over and over live a normal life. They don’t fit in here. I don’t think they’d mind being dead if they were around other dead people. Well, that sounds funny I guess, but you know what I mean—where they can just be themselves in all their authentic deadness.”

The girls nodded. They did know what Miss Esperanza meant.

Gram walked in from church as the afternoon faded into evening and found Veronica washing her hands in the kitchen sink. Gram sat down at the table and waited for Veronica to join her.

“I had a talk with Howard today,” said Gram. Veronica looked at her with a confused expression. “Howard, Alkali.” Veronica nodded. Gram continued, “He explained some things to me.”

“I should have told you,” said Veronica. “But I kind of knew how you’d react.” She tried smiling at her grandmother who just gave a slight nod in return. “We never talk about my parents. You sometimes talk about mom when she was little, but never anything after he came here."

“It’s just so painful, honey,” Gram said. “First losing Grandpa and then my Jenny. I’m afraid if I talk about it, I’ll be swallowed up into this bottomless pit of pain.” She whispered the last of that. Veronica squeezed her hand.

“You know, they stayed on after Grandpa died when they didn’t have to. I never gave Paul credit for that. She would have gone away with him so fast; she never fit in here. I just was so afraid of losing her. I’m afraid to lose you too.” Veronica thought about how maybe that kind of fear was the useless kind, like never hiking in the hills for fear of rattlesnakes. People went away regardless. Gram’s worst fear had come true and all the fear in the world couldn’t stop it.

Then Gram took a deep breath and told Veronica what she had been practicing to say all afternoon. “Howard told me all about your father’s flying project today; he knew all along. He says that you’ve taken to it like a natural. I know I can’t stop you, but I’m still afraid.”

Fear is like an iron thing, thought Veronica, and she stared it in the eye. “I know,” she told Gram and gave her a quick, awkward hug. “Don’t wait up for me. I’ll see you for church.” And she hurried out the front door, loving the grandmother who wanted to be the one not left behind.