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Past the Boardwalk.

Idaho was burning when Gordon and I met. Smoke blew into the city streets, blocked the sun, and crept through our bedroom windows. I would wake, lungs taut and tender, watch the smoke waft thick against the ceiling, and smear my nose against my palm, gray mucus a streak. For weeks after the smoke cleared, my chest would suddenly spasm and recede. A residual ember. I wondered if this was what it would be like for a ghost to wrap its translucent arms around you and squeeze.

I thought it might be an omen--meeting Gordon and the smoke and the pains. He was dangerous. I should run. Knowing him was bad. But when I buried my nose in his chest and breathed, I smelled nothing but cigarettes and soap.

When the smoke cleared, and he still remained--sturdy and serene like a river stone--an unfettered amour blossomed within me. It was then, nestled against his sternum, that I invited him, Come to the desert with me this summer--meet me there.

As I felt him inhale to say yes, the first ribbon of anxiety unfurled within me.

Idaho is dark months later when I leave for the Great Basin. In the night, I drive from Moscow to Lapwai, from Cottonwood to Grangeville, from White Bird to Slate Creek, a photograph of my mother at twenty-eight, the same age as me, fidgeting on the dashboard. In the photo, she stands in knee-high cheat grass at the base of a taupe-colored mountain in Hells Canyon, Idaho. I want to see where she stood nearly thirty years ago; before she was a mother; before she could imagine a body revolting against itself; before she was old enough, I imagine, to truly conceive of her demise.

I drive on the dirt road until I can go no farther, slip the photo in my back pocket, and as light spills into the valley, I walk the trails leading to the Snake River. Tumbling hills unfold while grasshoppers, fat and wild, shudder across the trail. I imagine my mother walking beside me, and my lungs contract.

Only days before I left, a young man died in Yellowstone National Park. He went to the thermal hot springs bubbling at nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. He ignored the pamphlets. He ignored the instructions from park rangers. He ignored the smell of sulfur. He walked past the warning signs, the rails, the boardwalk. He walked into the steam. He heard the ground beneath him crackle or felt it waver and give; he slipped and fell into an acidic mudpot. He capsized and screamed. Gasped. Clawed for his life until the earth swallowed him.

He boiled to death. No remains left to recover.

Twenty-two people have died in the waters since 1890.

A month earlier, another tourist thought a bison calf looked cold, put it in his car, and drove off with it until he was stopped by park rangers. The calf subsequently died. Meanwhile, a woman tried to pet a bison near the Old Faithful geyser, and another visitor inched closer to an elk, camera poised in her hand, until it charged. She scrambled backward, trees reeling above.

The parks are a study in juxtaposition: cheery foldable maps, souvenir plush animals, and the emblematic park ranger hats alongside the warnings to carry bear spray, to stay on the trail, to know that animals can and will charge, to know that you visit the park at your own risk. Standing in a visitors center or on a trail, the line between safety and danger can appear porous. Maybe you touch that boundary and walk away. Maybe you touch it and leave with a scar. Or maybe you touch it and never come back.

But how do you know when to proceed and when to retreat? When to walk into the steam and when to turn around? When do you snap that shot and when do you drop your camera and run?

The Great Basin is all wind when I arrive. Dry and unyielding. I've come for a job to curate the dead and chronicle them in a family history book. For two months, I will look through their photos, letters, and military draft cards. I will investigate their births and deaths: the babies born in Winnipeg barns, on dirt floors, or between torn bedsheets; the parents who died in tractor accidents, drowning in a river, or while giving birth. I will find little of the middle. I will construct a history of their lives through the haphazard moments, governmental highlights, and the snapshots out of focus. In exchange, I am paid an hourly wage and provided a furnished apartment attached to my boss's home to stay in near the Great Basin National Park.

In the mornings, I watch the ground squirrels perch on rocks; their paws raised in prayer, suspended and silent, unflinching for minutes; and I wonder what they pray about. But within days, I know--Dear Great Sky, please do not let this be the day that I die.

Some mornings I run in the park, dirt billowing beneath me, sweat crusting on my chin, and wonder who would find me if I were to collapse in a heat-induced delirium. I wonder how long I would lie crumpled on the trail. In the afternoons, I stand on boulders while my shoulders bake and burn, and I watch jackrabbits skitter from sage bush to sage bush, some unknown enemy lurking, angst fuming off them like a mirage.

When I return to the apartment, upon opening the door, a wood relief stares back at me with Job 1:21 engraved, The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh. As I crawl into bed, scorpions and rattlesnakes writhing outside in the night, I stare at my mother's picture in Hells Canyon--her, young and smiling in high-waisted jeans; a woman I never knew and can no longer inquire anything of; a woman whose death still seems unfathomable--and think, giveth and taketh.

When you drive into Baker, Nevada, from the east, you'll pass the "Museum of the Future." Despite its name, it is not a museum about technology or science. Nor is it a cyborg retrospective or a museum about peace and harmony in 2087.

Imagine a Lincoln Logs cabin, the kind children create. Imagine rain, wind, and snow pelting the structure for decades. Imagine that the roof, somehow, caved in; a fist-sized hole punched from heaven. Imagine a structure that could collapse into dust and disintegrate like Pixy Stix sugar on a child's tongue.

Now, take that image and multiply it by sixty-two. Make it big and real and stick it in the desert. This is the unofficial Museum of the Future along the Nevada-Utah border. Someone painted its title on a wooden board and nailed it to the dilapidated building. Stare at the building for too long and you'll feel spooked for the rest of the day. Stare at it for even just a moment and it chills you. What is the future portrayed in this museum? This place is a ghost town. And all of us? Gone.

There are no billboards in Baker, Nevada, but there's no need. There's nothing to advertise. The town's message is clear. The buildings murmur it from the cracks in the roof. The sagebrush swears by it. The post office clerk may even whisper it to you from across the counter: our annihilation is inevitable.

One afternoon, I wandered away from my abode and farther into the Basin. In the distance, there was a small, gated enclosure. I thought it might be a cactus garden or a bird-watching sanctuary. When I approached and peered through the fence, I saw that it was actually a small graveyard with a single headstone and grave. Pushing the gate open, I crept to the headstone.

Edna L. Runnel. Mother, Wife, Nature Lover. November 13, 1941--December 30,1990. It was my boss Clifford's first wife. The headstone was rimmed in cement, as though it had been torn from its origin. I had already read her obituary from my research--I knew that she passed away in Capulin, New Mexico. But we were in Baker, Nevada. Is this her body? Or is it a symbolic grave? Does this grave contain her ashes? I don't know if she was cremated ... If this is her body, how did he transport it? ... Is that legal?

I stepped back and looked again at the space. There was Edna--and then there was space for two more bodies, a three-person plot.

I crept out of the graveyard, swung the gate shut, sprinted home, and called Gordon, my beau.

"I, I think Clifford's wife is buried in the backyard."

"... his current wife?"

"No, no--not Linda. I saw her just a few hours ago. She was upstairs eating cottage cheese. It's his first wife, Edna, who died in New Mexico. There's a grave. And a bunch of stones to mark a body. And it has cactuses growing on it. And it's, like, right in the backyard."

"It's a grave?"

"Yeah, there's a whole graveyard. It's in a little fenced-off area with a gate and some chairs to sit in. And there's one place for Edna and then two empty spots--"

"That's not that strange. There are little graveyards all over southern Idaho. I found them a lot when I was a kid."

"But, Gordon, there are two empty spots."

"Well. Yeah. They're probably for them. Clifford and Linda."

"No, but. Gordon, what if, what if they're for us?"

He giggles.

"Well then, I better get there."

'Yes, please, get here soon."

I hang up, take the Job 1:21 wood engraving down, and shove it in a drawer.

The Great Basin National Park is home to bristlecone pines, one of the oldest known living tree species. In 1964, geographer Donald R. Currey found a tree, known as "Prometheus" to local mountaineers, that he thought was more than four thousand years old. Though accounts of exactly how the tree was felled are controversial and contested, when the tree was chopped down and Currey examined the stump, there were 4,862 rings. Take into account that trees do not grow rings during very harsh years, Prometheus could've been nearly five thousand years old. It is one of the oldest known trees.

Fifty years later, a visual artist had an idea: set up speakers around the bristlecone pines, including the Prometheus stump, and have the trees "talk" to visitors as they hike through the park. But due to logistics, permits, and the artist's general lack of cooperation with the park staff, he was unable to carry out his vision.

Bristlecone pines are thick and twisted, their trunks and branches like wet clay spun upward as though they were reaching for the heavens, trying to uproot themselves and float away on the wind. When a former park ranger told me about the artist and his vision for the trees to talk, I wondered what they would say One afternoon, I went to the bristlecone pines and tried to imagine what their language would be, what they would communicate. Maybe they'll share advice or offer dream interpretations ...

I veered off the trail, sat beneath the trees, closed my eyes, and waited.

I imagined a voice booming from the earth, cracking the dirt, a foghorn warning, a boat pulling away from port, a sound extending all the way to Utah's red rocks.

I opened my eyes.

I imagined an untranslatable cry-a warning? or a euphoric wail?

I stood up and ran back toward the trail.

I didn't know.

I drive three hours east for groceries and think about Satan. Southern Utah looks a lot like what I as a young girl envisioned Hell to be like: impossibly steep crimson mountains sticking high into the sky like a knife in a butcher block, cow skeletons collapsed and withering on the side of the road, wayward tumbleweeds skittering across the flats as though they were being chased.

I stop at Deseret Industries, a thrift store, and peel my way through the rows of books, reading the backs of memoirs in which men justify polygamy and the backs of memoirs about women escaping it--until I spot a rack of wedding dresses across the store.

I put the memoirs back on the shelf.

I go to the rack and outstretch my hands as though I were hugging it, grab two armfuls, and gaze down at the bounty. Sparkles and beads, shoulder pads and straps, armpit stains and perfume. I waddle to a dressing room and shut myself in. Releasing my grip, the wedding dresses fall into a heap on the bench.

I pick up a yellowed, cream-puff-shouldered dress with lace around the arms and down the sides, zip myself into it, and stare into the mirror. It looks ridiculous, a cupcake with frosting running down the sides. I pull the skirt around my hips to see if it looks better without so much volume. But it still looks strange, now like an overflowing glass of champagne, bubbles popping and fizzing, dribbling onto the table-a mess.

Gordon and I had joked that when he came to stay with me in Nevada this summer, we could drive four hours south and get married in Las Vegas. We looked up Elvis impersonators who can many you. We researched the drive-through chapels. We calculated how much it would cost for various options. Drive Thru at The Little White Chapel-$75 ... Viva Las Vegas at the Graeeland Wedding Chapel$199 ... Elvis "Burning Love" Package at the Elvis Chapel-$355.... We played out the reactions of our families if we were to get married so quickly and spontaneously. His mother would drive straight to Nevada for the sole purpose of slapping him. There would be tears, lots of tears, and a conversation about a parent's hurt and concerns for the future. His father would scowl and ask if I was pregnant and if Gordon had been listening in high school when he gave him the spiel about condoms. My father, bemused and snarky, would ask when he gets to meet him and then gossip about it to the rest of our family. That girl has gone off the deep end ... My stepfather would ask if I need help, if there was anything he could do--you can always undo these things ... My mother wasn't around to comment, though I'm sure she would think it's delightful and whimsical and completely foolish.

I unzip the cream-puff dress and slither into another one with a scalloped neckline, intricate beading, and a brown stain on the train. Zipping up the side, I pause and stare at myself.

Still ridiculous, fodder for a Golden Girls Halloween costume.

What scares me most is that I'm trying on wedding dresses without sweating or wanting to convulse all over this linoleum floor. That I already know the route to Las Vegas-93 South, follow the signs, stop for gas outside of Coyote Springs. That I already have wedding rings to choose from-my mother's rings, the jewelry bequeathed to me three years ago on her death bed. That when I think of Gordon I hear the bristlecone pines' euphoric wail.

I am astonished with myself for such boldness, such trust.

I unzip the Golden Girls dress, let it fall off me and onto the floor, and stare at myself underwear-clad in the mirror. Am I missing something? When will my naivete slap me? When will I look back at all of this and shake my head at my former self? What am I doing?

I turn back to the heap and try on all the wedding dresses.

When Gordon shows up two weeks later, he's a sponge. All saturated and sweaty and half sunburned. He drove the six hours from Moscow to Boise in a day and then the second six hours from Boise to Baker the next. I hug him, my face planted in his chest, and feel my cheeks grow damp from sweat. He tells me he didn't realize the truck had air until he hit Ely, about an hour away. I pull away and stare at him.

"You're a mirage." I say.

He stares back. Gordon is twenty-four; his eyes are deep-set and drooping, ever dour.

"I feel like a mirage."

That night, we lie flat on our backs on the picnic table outside and stare up at the sky. Gordon is talking about assemblage theory and hamburgers. I connect the dots. Star to star, blurry orb to flickering light. I draw figures that grow larger and larger. A sea creature with five legs. A galactic spider. A cat with fangs. My eyes travel from star to star and they grow more grotesque with each link-the cat sprouts a zigzaggy tail, the sea creature now has seven legs, the spider is drooling pools. The monsters take over the sky. I've created them. I've created the danger. Gordon threads his pinky around mine.

Blink once and look again. The stars are nothing, salt spilled on onyx.

The past three nights Gordon has gone out to smoke before bed, some creature with the capacity to send him to the emergency room has greeted him in the darkness. I think of it as a subtle sign from the universe that he should stop smoking.

First, it was a tiny yellow scorpion, no bigger than my thumb, that came charging out from behind a cooler, his little pinchers waving, dancing back and forth, challenging Gordon, who immediately laid his cigarette down on the ground and came running into the apartment.

Next, it was a rattlesnake that had tried to climb the apartment's stucco walls to eat eggs from the sparrow nests on the rooftop. This was a common goal of the rattlesnakes: to overcome gravity and slither up the wall into the baby sparrow buffet. Gordon stepped right next to a rattler, its tail shaking. He proceeded, once again, to lay his cigarette down and gallop back into the house.

Finally, it was another tiny yellow scorpion, this time perched on the side of the door, ready to strike, pinchers open and waiting. Gordon didn't even go outside. We spent the evening watching the creature from inside the apartment, waiting for it to strike a moth or beetle. We gawked at its compact, galactic body.

Linda didn't mention the rattlesnakes or scorpions, but she did tell us about the mountain lions. Once, a neighbor had called Linda to tell her that her horses were walking to town, miles away. The two horses had broken through their barbed wire fence and were on their way to Baker's main drag. A mountain lion had come into their stable and the mares bolted, outrunning the big cat. "But don't worry about the cats," Linda told us. 'There's enough deer for them to eat up in the mountains that they probably won't come down here to bother us."

It was then that Gordon started counting down the days until we left the desert.

Day by day, I've been tracing Clifford's patrilineal line from the early 1800s through the late 1980s. Clifford asked me to make a chart showing the family name passing from father to son, father to son, and so on. So, I do it. I chronicle Adolf Seitz to his sons, Otto, Danr, and Adolf, to his daughters Leoda and Lilli, women who will go on to become something else, Mollers or Grafs. I list Adolfs brother and his sisters. I go down the line and chronicle the men and their names and dates of birth and death until the computer screen is a shadowbox tree, all branches and lines, and I cannot stare at it any longer.

I spin around in my office chair and look at Clifford's office where I work. Clifford, nearly ninety, has been an obsessive family history collector for the past five decades. Phonebooks from Arizona counties in the '90s gather dust on a shelf. File cabinets with Christmas cards and birth announcements and yellowed newspaper clippings about second cousins and deceased aunts and ex-husbands sit behind me. Boxes upon boxes of photographs sit waiting for the moment they might be of service to inform or inspire a memory. The items go on ...

It's fanatical. It's excessive. It's a personal museum of the past from the smallest, most seemingly forgettable moments to the most memorable: births, deaths, historical highlights. But I understand it. I can even understand why Clifford's wife might be buried in the backyard, why she is exalted, why he wanted her close.

To have lost makes what is left behind more urgent.

I stand up from my office chair and go into the bedroom where Gordon is dozing, a book about honey badgers he found among Clifford's books resting on his chest. I go to the dresser and grab a box of my mother's photographs and lay the pictures down one by one.

My mother in 1979 wearing an ostrich feather dress at a wedding.

Her, four years old, in 1962 in a plaid jumper.

Her holding me as a baby in the late '80s.

Her, sunburned and grinning, in Hawaii at seventeen ...

And so on, until I am stricken and sweating, my throat tightening to a straw, each photo a portal into a world of unanswerable questions. My chest throbs. Maybe these pangs never were the smoke but her memory ricocheting through me. Maybe it had nothing to do with Gordon but everything to do with her. Maybe it was just being in this desert-where few things can grow, where skeletons and corpses seem to live on in their decay, the cow skeletons growing pristine as porcelain in the heat.

I hold up the picture of her in the plaid jumper, grinning like a goofy cherub with a perm and dirt-caked knees.

I place the picture back on the bed and inhale.

She is my cactus flower mother--a memory both exquisite and painful.

Gordon grew up in Boise's foothills, where he spent his youth rolling joints, snorting crushed pills, reading nihilist theory, and wondering what it would be like if he were to drive his car off a bridge and capsize in the Boise River.

He tried once and decided to live.

There's a game he plays sometimes. He collapses on the bed or onto the couch, sticks his tongue out limp, and rolls his eyes back. He's playing dead, like a possum. So, I shake him, ask him to come back to life, ask him if he's really dead, tell him how sad I'd be if he died.

"Gooooordon. Wake up, Gordon. Wake up ..."

I usually end up thrusting my hands under his armpits and undulating my fingers until he rolls over.

He tells me it's unfair to tickle him when he's dead.

There is always a moment as I tickle him when I wonder if there will be a time when I watch him flop over and stick out his tongue and it won't be a game, when I will shake him and he won't wake up, when I will dig my fingers into his torso and he won't squirm, when I will scratch him and scream, when the possum really will be dead.

And it is in this moment that I also wonder how I could so trustingly love someone when I understand what it means to lose what you love so dearly, to be left with nothing but a box of photos and a slew of questions, to feel the strain of grief literally wrap its arms around you and squeeze! How do you charge into love when the caveat of loving anything is that it can disappear?

Six weeks into living in the desert, Gordon is now seriously concerned that there are mountain lions lurking outside while he smokes in the evening. He asks me to sit inside the apartment and watch-just in case something is stalking prey from behind a bush and just in case that prey is him. Each night, as the moths flock toward the porch light and I watch Gordon as he smokes outside, some nervousness tossing around within him, I wonder if I could really do it-if we could drive the four hours to Vegas, if I could buy one of those awful dresses from the thrift store, if we could find someone to be a witness, if my hands would shake when I held Gordon's at the altar.

When I was twenty-two, I lived in Riga, Latvia, for a year. That winter, the local zoo was holding a special-admission for only one Latvian dollar if you visited the park after 6 PM. AS a bonus, the zoo would be lit up with Christmas tree lights. A friend and I decided to go. We arrived at 7 PM and the sky was already ebony. The zoo's "Christmas tree lights" consisted of one row of lights strung above a vacant tiger cage. Not being designed for evening showings, my friend and I had to follow our way along the fence to know where we were going. I worried we might walk into an exhibit and intrude on a peacock or warthog or wander into a pile of manure. After an hour of wandering around in the dark, realizing that there weren't any lights to walk beneath or animals we could see, we found our way to the indoor exhibits.

We walked through an amphibian and reptile exhibit that had a wooden path from which you could see animals on moss beds and underwater in fake streams. There wasn't a railing along the path; someone could dip their toe into the waters or stroke the moss if they wanted to. The last animal along the path was an alligator no more than four feet from where we stood. I whispered to my friend, "Is that real?"

She stuck her head out and looked closer. She nodded her head yes.

"It's breathing."

We stared at one another in horror. What if one of us just fell in? What if the alligator leaped at us? What if someone tried to capture it? What if we were just sheltered, naive Westerners and that alligator was as innocuous as a snow cone?

We grabbed one another's hands and crept away to go look at the giraffes.

When I told my father about the alligator, he repeated the same fable he'd told me since I was a little girl, though most likely altered from the original, about a snake and a fox. In the story, the snake asks the fox to help him get across the river, only for the snake to bite the fox after the fox transports him. The snake leaves by telling him, "You knew what I was when you picked me up." Essentially, when I show you what I am, believe me.

My father had an odd fondness for this fable and recited it often, even when it was only tangentially related to the conversation.

"So, you're saying it's good I didn't touch the alligator?"

'Yes, it's very good you didn't touch that alligator," my father replied.

What had always confused me about this story is that if fear is something biological, something that protects you from danger, then why isn't the fox scared of the snake? Why is the fox charmed by the snake's story? Why do snakes always have to be evil and conniving? And why does the fox get punished for giving the snake the benefit of the doubt? Likewise, why did the men and women I chronicled each day die in fires, rivers, and tractor accidents when they were just doing their job and trying to survive? Did they recognize their fears, the danger, the possibility of death and injury but charge ahead anyway? Is this why people still settled in the desert? Is this why some walk past the boardwalk and the warning signs and into the steam? Is this why we can love?

I watch Gordon blow smoke into the air as a moth careens into his forehead. It spooks him-he jumps and bats it away, nearly frying his eyebrow with his own cigarette.

I crack up.

He turns to glare at me through the screen.

Gordon and I take a drive to the Archeological Site outside of Baker. In the early 1990s, Brigham Young University's Office of Public Archaeology excavated the remains of the Fremont Indian Village; the Fremont Indians lived in the Great Basin area from approximately 1220 to 1295. After the excavation, the site was backfilled with the dirt they had dug up, and the village's formations are no longer visible today. Linda introduced me to it by saying that she took a visitor there once who pronounced it to be "the most boring place she'd ever seen."

Linda suggested that we use our imagination to think about what the village might've looked like once. As we drive there, I prep myself: fantasize ...

At the site, a trail leads to the location where the village buildings once stood, the walls indicated by a line in the sand.

"Well. This is it," I say.

We both look around.

If there weren't any signs or pamphlets, it would look as unremarkable as another patch of empty desert. Gordon spots a little green snake about four feet away and watches it move across the land.

We had been talking about Las Vegas earlier, not about getting married there, but about the mob and corpses buried in the Nevada sands. Suddenly, as I look across the basin it is not the Fremont Village that I imagine but bodies. Bodies looming beneath the earth-corpses of mobsters and their victims; hands and legs sprawled as though in mid-leap; fingers relaxed and limp, torsos supine and still; bodies searched for, mourned, or forgotten. I see men driving from Las Vegas to the flats, shovels in tow, digging a hole, filling it, and driving back to the Strip. The lights of Circus Circus gliding past. The Bellagio. The Golden Nugget. I imagine Las Vegas in its extravagance, its fabrication, its contradictions-a city built in a land where nothing grows. A city made of tourists who visit with the hope of finding fortune in a system that seeks to make its own fortunes. It seems like a joke, like a sign that reads "The Museum of the Future" on a dilapidated shack.

Gordon turns around to grin at me. The snake is yards away, slithering into the flats, a shimmying green crescent.

I walk straight up to him and run my fingers along his mustache as though it were a comb, as though I were dragging my digits across the teeth, watching each tooth hit its neighbor. Las Vegas ... the desert bodies in the desert ... all those left behind--

"I don't want to get married in Las Vegas."

Gordon gapes at me behind my fingers. He whispers.

"Then well get married somewhere else, Court."

Later that week, I finish the project. Clifford tells me I can stick around for another week or I can leave whenever I like. I tell him I'm going to ask Gordon what he'd like to do.

When I walk back into the apartment, Gordon is making an onion sandwich in the kitchen. I go up to him and whisper to his shoulder blades, "I'm done; we can leave whenever."

"Whenever?" he replies, wheeling around to look at me.

"Whenever."

I can't tell if the tears are from the onion or that we get to leave a week early.

"Tomorrow--let's leave tomorrow," he whispers.

So, we do.

Idaho in late summer means fire. It's burning in Idaho Falls this year, cloaking Boise and Pocatello in a grimy fog when Gordon and I arrive in his hometown. It hangs low the whole week we're there. I breathe through my T-shirts and inhale deeply into my pillow at night, sucking up dust and dander, waiting for a spasm in my lungs that never comes.

As Gordon drives us around his hometown, pointing out adolescent hangouts and where he bought weed when he was fourteen, the foothills sit burned and balding behind us. They were engulfed in fire weeks earlier, sparked by careless high schoolers with firecrackers, maybe boys like Gordon once was, rambunctious and oblivious. Maybe they will drive with their lover in the passenger seat years from now and point to the foothills. Maybe they will tell them about the fire they started when they were young.

I open the car window and stick my face out, luxuriating in the humidity, and realize that I haven't thought of Baker since we left a week earlier. I felt no longing to stay as we drove away from the Great Basin. I felt relieved to bury the memory, to let sand waft over it, to reopen it only later via conversation and souvenirs, to have it be an image on a postcard. It felt odd that I had no sadness to leave: Shouldn't I long for the cactus flowers? Shouldn't I miss the melodramatic skies? Shouldn't I miss mashing sage between my fingers and holding the scent to my face? Poking my head back inside the window, I look at my hands and flex them. I watch the rivers of my heart line, love line, and life line expand and wrinkle deeper, and I wonder if it was worth driving three hours for groceries, if it was worth wondering if Clifford's wife was buried in the backyard, if it was worth the scorpions and sunburns and mountain lion anxieties to have spent months in desert splendor.

I look at Gordon as he keeps talking and pointing out friend's old houses. What would my mother say if I could ask? Would she tell me that the dangers, the uncertainties are worth it? My hands sweat; the humidity feels strange. I wipe them on my jeans and look back out the window. Strip malls and gas stations blur. Billy Idol sings on the radio. Red, white, and blue Idaho plates dot the cityscape.

I look at Gordon. He flicks cigarette ash out the window, hits the right turn signal, and spins the wheel as we churn farther into Boise, the answer rushing through me like a hot breeze.
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Author:Kersten, Courtney
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2018
Words:6322
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