Eureka Dunes

01 May


Buy from Liberties Press



This is what Magnus remembers. It will only make sense when he speaks it out in his head. Then, it is his story.
Magnus shades his eyes and looks into their faces. They stand as they are, inviting his inspection. They follow his eyes with a steady, inscrutable gaze. The hairs on Magnus’ arms stand up. He doesn’t know why. He isn’t afraid of them. He puts out his hand. They don’t appear to be impressed. He is about to retract it when the oldest one reaches, and they shake. It is 1976. Magnus is fourteen years old.
Magnus can’t determine whether the lightness of touch is in the shaking or in his own head. These men don’t appear to want to speak to him. Mojave Indians, though Magnus does not know them as this. Two tall men and a boy teenager. One of the men is old. He has the deepest vertical creases that Magnus has seen on a human face. To his eyes all three are strong and effeminate, but not like girls. There are just two feathers, both in the old man’s hair. They hang down, they don’t stick up. Eagle feathers fixed into a thin braid, with what Magnus thinks would be bone glue. These men stare without grinning. They are beautiful, like his mother.
They speak to each other. Their talk is even, deep-throated and sleepy. They aren’t shocked or angry. What are they saying?
At first, they appear to be not listening to each other. If they talk to him, Magnus will reply in a whisper.

The three take turns looking into the distance. They look in all directions in a lazy way, it seems to Magnus. If any one of them comes to some conclusion, it seems, they make a point of not sharing it. The old one recognises that the burning boy has come out here on a mission, sees he does not know how to put himself in the way of healing.
They give Magnus water from a big plastic jerry can. Carefully pour it into his mouth as though he were a kid goat. The heavy rain that has fallen is already in the ground, or has evaporated. They give him all he needs without him choking. His eyes take in what they can while he drinks. He observes that they take no real interest in the stranded car. He glances at their feet. Their mule skin boots, he thinks, are two sizes too small. The two younger men, he is sure, are wearing eye makeup.
‘You run out of gas?’ one says.
These words come as a shock. Magnus nods.
The other young man grunts disapprovingly. ‘You break the top?’ he asks, without looking again at the car or indicating with a gesture.
Magnus shakes his head. He does not feel responsible for the convertible roof being stuck a quarter of the way up, though it had failed with an electrical fizzle when he had thrown the switch.
The old man shakes his head and scowls. He touches his lips with the tips of the fingers of both his hands, shades his eyes, then taps the crown of his head.
Magnus indicates with a nod that he takes this to mean that a boy in his position will die of thirst after he had gone blind from the sun and mad from the heat. He is puzzled that they make no move to investigate the broken roof. Make no move to fix it. They just stand waiting for him to speak.
Finally, the old one moves forwards and speaks at the side of Magnus’ head. Magnus’ face is lightly whipped by the ends of his long grey hair. ‘You come with us. We’ll bring you to a gas station.’ He points imprecisely.
The use of the phrase ‘gas station’ prompts Magnus to turn and flinch, with a little spurt of panic and excitement. He nods.
They don’t ask his age. They make no move to lay a reassuring hand on his head or his shoulder. Nor do they seek an explanation. They aren’t saying whether or not they are taking him to the gas station to get gas or dump him. The teenage one slings the jerry can in the back of the truck. One of the men opens the passenger door for Magnus to get in. The bench seat is high off the ground. There is a sweet human musk and the smell of stale tobacco: this is inviting.
The old man drives, the teenager sits in the middle, and Magnus by the passenger door. The other one is sitting splay-legged on the flatbed. Except for the last part, when they come off a trail onto the highway, the journey across the hardpan to the gas station is bone-shaky. The bumpiness is good, Magnus thinks.
A short distance on, they cross the slot canyon. Magnus doesn’t see it coming. They bounce through shallow floodwater in an instant. The desert air still smells smoky damp, but that aroma will be gone even before they reach their destination, which is not far now. Already, there are dry sand particles coming out of the tyres and blowing down the road in their wake.
The three are mostly silent, but the old man does speak his name. Pete. Could he really be called Pete? The teenager doesn’t give his own name, but points to the back and identifies the other one by the name. Judd. Magnus wants their secret names, but keeps his mouth shut.
‘And you?’ the old man asks with a sustained look to Magnus. He appears to be threatening not to look back to the dirt road until he has a response.
‘Magnus,’ comes the reply, in a whisper.
The old man repeats the name – speaks it at the windscreen. He isn’t surprised by it, nor is he curious, though, Magnus supposes, he may have never met a Magnus in his whole long life. His name falls nicely out of this old mouth.
He wants to ask the name of their tribe but doesn’t dare, lest they take insult.
‘Where you from?’ the old man asks.
Magnus doesn’t answer. The old man doesn’t press him.
The teenager has been studying Magnus’ clothes and his shoes. He now adopts the same sustained look as his elder. ‘Did you dream you’d be out here?’ he asks.

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