It is October in Arizona and the desert is dark and merciless when we drive into Black Canyon City. Perhaps it would be safer to keep driving, perhaps it would be safer to drive all night, but your face is shadowy with fatigue. It’s only for the night, you say.
We see the rows of neat trailers as we turn off the highway, surrounded by dust-soaked single-family homes and dirt roads thin like sidewinder tracks. At the end of the main road, the night erupts into screaming fluorescence, the dollar store that is a drugstore and party décor and office supply store all rolled into one, and we are the only car in the parking lot.
You go first, you say.
I walk inside feeling dazzled by the smooth whoosh of the automatic doors and the sterile certainty of buzzing white light bouncing off the white pearlized floor. The store is stripped clean of the desert outside but still smells like wasteland. You follow me, rush up behind me, and my shriek of laughter ricochets off the bright bags of party balloons and skeins of wrapping paper left chalky and untouched. You’re so cute, you whisper in my ear. I buy a box of tampons. You buy a Red Bull. The clerk eyes us suspiciously.
I go to the bathroom, and you promise to wait outside. The bathroom lights flicker and hum like crickets at dusk. Above the sink is blank whitewashed wall. There is no mirror. Maybe there never was one.
We brush our teeth in the parking lot, spitting toothpaste out of the driver’s side door so the clerk won’t see us, and then drive in circles searching in the dark for a safe place to park for the night. We finally rest in the shelter of a tall fence. Crying carries up from the mobile homes on the other side for hours, but we are tired. We sleep curled up in the back of your van.
In the middle of the night, you jerk awake and, still half-dreaming, reach for the handgun hidden in the D pillar. Shh, I whisper, holding you, it’s okay. There is no one outside but coyotes, and they do not speak our language. No one will see us here.
In the morning, you stand coiled in the shade of the open passenger door and pour a bottle of water over your hands and your eyes. There is only one coffee shop in town, and when we walk inside, your arm around my shoulder, the unwelcome hits me like the smell of rot. A man in a leather vest and steel-toed boots hangs over the counter, and a shade of a woman stands in the corner holding a baby carrier, her face is hungry but not for food. We are the only real things in this place.
We take our coffees and emerge blinking into the sun. The air shimmering off the hood of the van smells like bitter almonds. We are the only people breathing for miles.
Don’t worry, you say, you’ll get used to it. I have.