Fifty Miles Out of Bajada
The highway stretches out for what seems like eternity. To the east, the desert is all smooth dunes, like slow waves over a yellow ocean. To the west, the vast El-Katha Oasis accompanies the highway, not daring to get too near and provide the cool of shade.
The day seems like it is going to last forever. Ivan squirts more sunscreen on his skin and rubs it. Eris lets her eyes drift as he does this. He cannot seem control himself as he sensuously rubs the lotion in a repetitive pattern into his muscles, or perhaps she is projecting her own insatiability onto him. His hair is sun-bleached, far too white, especially given how the tanning and burning has made his skin dark. Eris has been careful. She has managed to avoid getting burned.
She has a hard time keeping her eyes off of his arms as he rubs the lotion deep into his skin. Her attention lapses, and in that moment, she does not see the dog wander into the road.
There is a horrible sound, a yelp accelerated. She slams on the brakes. Ivan drops the sunscreen bottle, and it launches itself at the windshield, splattering its contents all over the dashboard.
“What was that?” asks Ivan.
“Dog… I think it was a dog.” She is trembling. She has never hit an animal before. She loves animals. She had a dog once when she was a child, and immediately she imagines the pain that the dog’s owner will be feeling when she finds out what has happened. And then a selfish thought occurs to her. She imagines the horrifying gore that could be left on her car. She was traveling at a high speed. There could be blood and intestines. In her mind, the insides are all intestines, those horrific, unwinding worms that seem to come out of a body, or so she imagines.
Ivan is frozen, a stupid, open-jawed look on his face. He had distracted her. It was his fault, though even in her panic and anger she also realizes that this is idiotic, and that it is her fault.
It takes her an eternity to open her door. She steps out of the car and, eyes clenched nearly shut, so that her vision is nearly dark, but for a few bright sources of light, she walks forward.
“Do you want me to look?” asks Ivan.
“No!” she shouts back.
Now panic sets in. What if it wasn’t even a dog? What if it was person? Or a child? She considers how this one moment might have ruined her life. If she had killed a child, she would go to her grave knowing that she had done that.
And it occurs to her that even if it is a dog, she will still never forget this moment. The memorable moments are so horrific. She thinks about how it is always best to live in those unmemorable moments, when one can perhaps reflect on the memorable ones from the safe distance of time.
She opens her eyes.
The car is undamaged. There is no blood.
She looks back behind the car. There is no dog. No smeared trail of gore and viscera, nor any sad lump of fur and skin. There is no dog there at all. No child. No garbage left to fly off the back of a truck.
“Ivan?” She is not relieved.
He gets out. He looks back down the highway. He clearly sees nothing either. “Maybe it got thrown from the road?” The highway is raised, and there is a slope a few feet tall that leads down to the desert floor. Eris walks to the side of the road and looks down. Still, there is nothing. She goes back to the front of her car and inspects it once again. There is no damage. None of the blood or intestines that she had imagined flying out from the dog.
There is a horrible sound, a yelp accelerated. Every muscle in her body tenses up. She looks up to Ivan, who has turned his head. He is looking back behind the car. He is nearly motionless. His eyes appear to be tearing up.
“What did you see?”
Ivan shivers tremendously. He steadies himself on the car. He cannot seem to speak. His mouth opens, and he inhales, as if about to speak, but no words come out. He closes his mouth.
Eris walks around the front of the car, standing just out of reach of him.
His mouth opens, and he inhales, as if about to speak, but no words come out. He closes his mouth.
There is a horrible sound, a yelp accelerated.
She watches as the dog, bursting like a bloody balloon, vanishes forty feet behind where the car had stopped.
She steps closer to Ivan. Her mouth opens, and she inhales, as if about to speak, but no words come out. She closes her mouth.
A brown dog with light fur on its face slowly climbs up the slope toward the highway. It is a fairly large dog, but not unusually so. The dog sniffs the black pavement and then begins to walk out onto the highway.
There is a horrible sound, a yelp accelerated.
Eris watches as the dog, bursting like a bloody balloon, vanishes.
A dark cloud is forming in the sky above. It is not a rain cloud, because rain doesn’t come in this part of the desert at this time of year. The sky is growing darker, and the air is growing colder.
A brown dog with light fur on its face slowly climbs up the slope toward the highway.
Eris gets back in the car. “Get in, Ivan,” she says. He does, and as he closes the door, there is a horrible sound, a yelp accelerated.
The car begins to move, and they travel farther down the highway. Behind them, the sound of the dog grows fainter, but it does not become inaudible.
Ivan’s mouth opens, and he inhales, as if about to speak, but no words come out. He closes his mouth.
The cloud grows larger and lower. It is no longer a cloud, but fog. The fog is thick and wet and grey. The highway is dark now.
And an emaciated man with dead eyes appears in front of the car. The car stops.
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)