Thirsty


If only I had been able to retrieve the third water bottle from the truck! Before that awful trek to the bottom of the canyon, Neil and I had filled our existing bottles and shouldered our backpacks. We had five Golden Eagle nests to locate, and three hours of daylight left in which to do it. I was dusty and sticky, my eyes tired from peering at birds through my binoculars. Neil was vigorous as ever, bounding from boulder to boulder, with his camera in one hand and a clipboard in the other. I can’t believe he does this every day. I wish I could do this every day … but first, I wish I could breathe in this scarce high-desert air.

Neil gives up on me keeping up with him and springs away. I wave him off, telling him that I’ll catch up slowly; I’m still not used to the altitude. I watch him go. His hair, brown at the root, has been scorched to the color and consistency of old wheat; tied back with a strip of leather, it bounces on his back as he runs off to search for the first nest. He is doing just what he loves to do, and he doesn’t need anybody. I envy him. I pity him. By the time this three-week field study is over, I will have to force myself to forget him.

As Neil disappears into the sagebrush I wonder just how I am going to get out of this canyon; we’ve walked several miles to get here, and slid halfway down loose rock on the way down. As I was half-falling, I didn’t think about climbing back up and out. With Neil around, I felt safe. He knows every contour of these lands, sees them in his mind the way they appear on the map. But I see only the two-dimensional squiggles, the big ink X’s where the nests have been marked. I wish I loved this job.

I can see the truck from where I stand, so I head off in that direction. Tor stays with me a little while, obediently keeping pace and sniffing at the occasional antelope jaw. He’s panting heavily, so I give him a little bit of water from my bottle. I’d better conserve, although I don’t have that far to go. Yet I can’t seem to walk any faster than this; I’m gaining about 30 feet with each minute that passes. It’s dreadfully hot, and the air down here just doesn’t move. My hat affords me the tiniest circle of shade, and I can feel the skin on my arms crackling. After a while, even Tor can’t bear my slow pace and trots off to look for rabbits or interesting smells. He’ll probably find Neil and the two of them will meet me back at the truck. I’m starting not to care about how they get back.

Isn’t it kind of selfish of him just to run off like that? Yeah, I know I told him to go. But shouldn’t he stay and make sure I’m doing all right out here? I can’t believe that anybody can be so free. He hardly even owns anything. He lives in a teepee most of the time, for crying out loud! Why I think he would ever let me tame him, I don’t know. Ohhhhh, I don’t even care anymore. My head hurts so much. It feels like I have a balloon in the middle of my skull that is being slowly inflated with hot air. It’s pressing my brain out to all edges and clouding my vision, closing my nasal passages. I soothe my throat with the last of the water and plod on.

Soon I begin to realize that I might be in danger. Neil is no longer anywhere to be seen; a little while ago, I saw him far away on a cliff, a tiny speck of grey moving among the rocks, the blackish shadow of Tor climbing to meet him. I hear a hawk cry once above, but there is no other sound. Not a whistle, bark, drip of water, nor any rustle of breeze … only the rushing flow of blood inside my eyeballs, and the hitching rasp of my own breath. This is how people die, I think. Those fools who set off to cross Death Valley unprepared, laughing at the warning signs. Their bodies now lie mummified in nature’s relentless thirst.

I hope I don’t mummify.

But god damn, I’m thirsty. To comfort myself I pretend I am Frodo, crossing Gorgoroth on that last terrible day in his quest. He did it, so can I. I would laugh at my own silliness, if I wasn’t so scared and so dry.

I’ve finally reached the bottom of the hill that we slid down so long ago, and I begin to climb up. I can’t believe how slowly I am moving. Through a haze before my eyes I see that man and dog are already back at the truck. They are drinking water. Oh, water. Oh, life. I try to lick my lips as I struggle for a foothold on the sliding pebbles, but there is no moisture in my tongue. I wonder if I will ever have saliva again. How will I eat? I don’t care if I ever eat again, as long as I can have just a little sip of water.

Miraculously, I reach the top of the hill and walk to the truck. I take the water bottle from Neil and tilt it to my mouth. It is cool liquid silver pouring into my mouth, down my throat, into my veins. I would weep if I had tears. Oh, Heavenly Sweetness, I will never take you for granted again, I whisper inside my head. I drink and drink and drink and drink until the bottle is dry.

Neil tells me that he saw me taking small steps; that was really smart, he says. He asks me how I am.

I think about how alone I felt down there; how abandoned, thirsty, thin-blooded, out of shape, ordinary; how ill-equipped to survive in this harsh environment. How afraid to ask him for help and to show him my weakness. I think about how knowing this man is changing me in a way I’m only beginning to understand.

I tell him I am fine.








The assignment in this Flash Fiction Friday was to begin a story with "If only I had been able to retrieve the ___ before that awful ..." I took some liberties with punctuation, and this story grew like a wildfire. It is one of my favorites.

23 comments:

Von said...

Just happened to like what you do. Wish I could.

Chrissy said...

Made me thirsty and anxious it did. The pics add another dimension.

Sleep Goblin said...

Awesome!! I think I'm going to get a glass of water..

Nick said...

I'm parched now. I hate the feeling of being alone, I don't mean being lonely. It can be terrifying. Well done.

Monkey's Human said...

How afraid to ask him for help and to show him my weakness.

Always a big emotional wallop that one. I'm parched and hot too. Your stories always make want to babble, but I'll resist gumming up your comments this time. Thanks.

Justin said...

Excellent story! Your writting style is very refined. You had this very well planned, I love the visuals I got.

I've visited the blog that started this, and decided to attempt one of my own. This is a very cool concept!

Warren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Warren said...

Nice work spinny-chick. Really a good story. I think that even I might have a crush on Neil and I'm like the straightest guy on the planet. Really a good tale.

Harry Yak said...

another great story. let me know if you are getting tired of me telling you of your greatness. you are very gifted and not just as a writer.

thank you so much for the gift! i'm working on something myself....it might be awhile but i'll show you when i'm done.

Melody said...

SG, this is really good. I've been in the desert practically dying of thirst and you've captured the physical/emotional aspects perfectly.

From those experiences, I've learned to accept my limitations and will only walk as far as a gallon of water (which weighs eight pounds) will take me.

Jenny said...

That was so GREAT---I was literally leaning forward in my chair, thinking "Is she going to die? Will he find her? HOW will he find her?" I was completely sucked in---I always look forward to your stories!

Monkey said...

I have a crush on Neil too. Back off Mr. Yak, he's mine.

sweet trini said...

damn! what else can neil teach us before summer ends...
walk good.
ps: since you mentioned it, i feel like blogger's word verification's trying to use less recognisable words. big brother must be reading.

Ɯbermilf said...

See, this is why I avoid nature.

Seriously, it was so well written my anxiety level went up a couple of notches just reading it.

Cap'n Marrrrk said...

Your writing shows your artistry. As an artist and an obvious goddess, it behooves you to join the Goddess collective at Every Woman is a Goddess

I think they are right up your alley

Johnny Virgil said...

stumbled on your blog from a comment left somewhere. Good stuff! Stop by if you get a chance.

The Wisdom of Wislon said...

Had film qualities about this blog and made me thirsty too.

Keep blogging on ;-)

goldie xx

Freiya said...

You write a good tale, i wanted to keep on reading and find out more!

Mike said...

Wow, I love this place!

The Village Idiot said...

Ahh the memories of many a deathmarch ride in the mtns of the california high desert. You captured the parched feeling beautifyly

shirlsd said...

SG - checked-in to re-start my "daily fix" o'spinning girl! soooo love your writing. quite inspiring! - s.

R2K said...

: )

Koos F said...

Wow that was compelling reading. After I finished I rushed to the tap for a glass of water, realising halfway that it was your dry throat I felt, not mine.