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EP319: Driving X

By Gwendolyn Clare
Read by Mur Lafferty
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First appeared in Warrior Wisewoman 3
All stories by Gwendolyn Clare
All stories read by Mur Lafferty

Driving X
by Gwendolyn Clare

Carmela wouldn’t have stopped if she had known that the kid was still alive.

She spotted the body lying under a creosote bush, maybe ten yards from
the road, and she hit the brakes.  She grabbed the roll cage of the
old dune buggy and pulled herself up, standing on the driver’s seat to
scan in both directions along the unpaved road.  A dust devil twirled
a silent ballet off to the southeast, but hers was the only man-made
dust trail in evidence for miles.  She raised her hand to cover the
sun and squinted into the bleached, cloudless sky–no vultures yet,
which was good, since vultures attract attention.  Minimal risk, she
decided.

The dune buggy itself wasn’t that valuable, but the newer-model solar
panels powering it would be enough to tempt any sane person, and the
carboys of potable water were worth a small fortune out here.

Carmela swung out of the dune buggy and jogged over to check out the
body.  It was tall but skinny, with the not-yet-filled-out look of a
teenager.  Pale skin, a tint of sunburn, brown hair cropped at
chin-length.  The girl was lying face down in the dust, so Carmela
rolled the body over and checked her front pockets for anything of
interest.  A month ago, she would have felt ashamed, but scavenging
was the norm down here; after all, dead people don’t miss what you
take from them.

Carmela was rifling through the kid’s backpack–shaking her head about
the nearly empty water supply–when she heard the girl moan.

She froze, one hand still buried in the bag.  She should gather up the
loot and make a run for the dune buggy before the girl came around.
The kid was probably a goner, anyway, she told herself.  Instead, she
leaned in closer, looking at the face plastered with sand and sweaty
clumps of brown hair.

The girl’s eyelids peeled back and stared up at Carmela with the
glazed slowness of delirium.  Her cracked lips parted and she said,
hoarsely, “Mom?”

Nobody had ever called Carmela that before.  She slid her hands under
the girl’s shoulders to lift her.

#

Swinging her legs, nine-year-old Carmela knocked her heels lightly
against the side of the exam table.  Mama sat in a plastic chair,
flipping through a magazine the way she always did when she was
getting impatient.  Carmela’s test result had come in, and for some
reason that was beyond her, Mama was really nervous about it.  And the
doctor was running late.

Carmela didn’t know why Mama was all bent out of shape over the
non-Mendelian genetic test.  To be fair, she wasn’t entirely sure what
“non-Mendelian” meant, except that it was something bad that your
genes could be.  Driving X was a chromosome that was bad that way, and
pretty much everybody had it, and for some reason you had to get
tested for it anyway.  That’s what Carmela knew.

Dr. Tanaka entered the exam room, holding a manila folder to her
chest.  ”Afternoon Ms. Perez, Carmela.  Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Mama dropped the magazine on the floor next to her chair and stood,
fingers knotted together nervously.  ”Well?”

Dr. Tanaka opened the folder, took out a single sheet of paper, and
handed it to Mama.  Mama stared at it for a long minute, like she
couldn’t quite see it properly.  She made a choking noise.

In her tight, mustn’t-cry-in-public voice, she said, “I’ll be right
back.”  She left the paper on her chair and hurried for the door.

Carmela hopped off the exam table and picked up the sheet of paper.
It had a lot of gobbledygook on it, but right in the middle, in bold,
it read, “XDXD”.

She didn’t understand what the big deal was.  Pretty much everybody
had the Driving X allele on at least one of their X chromosomes.  What
did it matter if she had it on two?

With a gentle sympathy that Carmela found unsettling, Dr. Tanaka said,
“You’re a double Ex Dee, Carmela.”

She crossed her arms.  ”So what?”

“Well…”  The doctor sat down and leaned her elbows on her knees.
“When gametes — that’s eggs and sperm — are getting made inside a
person’s body, an Ex Dee beats out a regular Ex about three quarters
of the time, and it beats out a Wye ninety-seven percent of the time.”

Carmela rolled her eyes.  ”Yeah, and it’s some kind of big problem
that we’re running out of Wyes.  So what?”

“So, when you’re older, and you want to go to a repro center to get
pregnant… well.”  She sighed.  ”You’ve got a one-hundred-percent
chance of passing on the Driving Ex.  They’re not even going to let
you in building.”

“Oh,” said Carmela.

“I’m really sorry, sweetie,” the doctor said as she picked up the GID
gun from the counter, “but I’ve got to give you your genetic
identifier, now.”

Carmela folded the piece of paper, creasing it between her fingers.
“Is it going to hurt?”

“Not at all.  It might tingle a little.”

Carmela reluctantly climbed back onto the exam table.  The GID gun
looked larger and nastier than the immunization guns she remembered
from previous visits.  ”Okay…” she said.

“Give me your arm, sweetie.”

She held out her arm and squeezed her eyes shut.

#

Carmela watched the girl sleep.  She looked maybe fourteen or fifteen,
too old by several years to be Carmela’s child.  How stupidly
sentimental, wasting her water on somebody else’s kid.  She had a
little cash left, but she’d heard they didn’t take money in Old Tucson
anymore, and she had nothing of value to trade.  Nothing she could
part with, at least.  How was she going to replace the water she
wasted on some dying stranger?

The cave she’d found was a hollow worn out of the rock by a
combination of rain, wind, and sand, barely deep enough for the dune
buggy, the girl, and herself.  Outside, the glaring midday sun
bleached the color from the raw stone and the crusted, desiccated
earth.  Heat rose off the ground in palpable, almost viscous swirls.
Carmela took a deep breath and, even in the shadow of the rock, the
air seemed to burn in her nostrils.

The girl moaned and shifted, and Carmela wondered if she was going to
wake up.  It would be easier to get fluids into her once she was
conscious.  Carmela decided to pour some water into a pair of tin
cups, then added a little powdered soup stock for the salt.  When she
looked again, the girl’s eyes were open.

“What’s your name?”

“Shannon,” the girl said.  Even roughened from the dehydration, her
voice was low and mellow.

Carmela introduced herself and handed over one of the mugs.  ”Dumb
thing to do,” she commented.  ”Old Tucson’s another two days on foot.”

Shannon shrugged.  ”I almost made it.”

Carmela didn’t know what to make of that.  No sane person crossed the
desert without supplies, and preparation, and a damn good reason.  She
rubbed absently at the inside of her right forearm, where the
phosphorescent GID mark lay hidden in her skin.

Shannon eyed her.  ”I hear, in the city, you can buy a graft off someone.”

“What?” said Carmela, a little too sharply, pulling her hand away from her arm.

“In the city.  You can get somebody else’s GID grafted on, if you’ve
got the cash.  That’s what I heard.”  Shannon took a long draught of
soup.  ”So you’re a double Ex Dee, huh?”

Carmela just said, “I don’t have that kind of cash.”

“Double Ex Dee.”  Shannon nodded.  ”That’s what I thought.”

Her right hand tensed around the mug, and she felt a strong urge to
slap that smug, knowing look right off the kid’s face.  Instead, she
asked, “So what about you?  What you doing wandering around the
desert?  Besides lying face down in the dirt, I mean.”

“Going the same way you are.  Mexico.”

“Nobody makes it to the border on foot,” she scoffed.  ”Double Ex Dee, or what?”

Shannon laughed.  ”Yeah, something like that.”

“There isn’t anything like double Ex Dee but double Ex Dee.”

“Trust me, you’re better off not knowing.”

#

Carmela parked the car and looked at Rosita out of the corner of her
eye.  ”Ready, hermanita?”

Rosita took a long, nervous breath before she nodded and unbuckled her
seatbelt.  Climbing out of the car, Carmela caught a whiff of brine
carried on the cool, humid breeze.  As they walked from the parking
lot to the front entrance, she reached for Rosita’s hand and held it
in her own.

Carmela always felt stocky next to her waifish little sister, but she
didn’t mind.  She liked feeling solid — an anchor for fragile,
flighty Rosita.  She gave Rosita’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

The main entrance of the Bay Area repro center was a set of automatic
glass doors, tinted a shade of blue that evoked a feeling of medical
officiality.  Carmela was surprised to see only one guard posted
outside; she would have expected tighter security.  Maybe the
male-rights radicals were starting to give up hope, or at least give
up their ill-conceived attempts at taking over the repro centers.

Carmela and Rosita reached the entrance, and the guard stepped away
from her post to position herself in front of the doors.  She wielded
a GID reader as if she wished it were a police baton, instead.

“Your GIDs, please,” the guard said.  Her flat tone made it clear that
the “please” was company policy, not personal politeness.

Rosita held out her arm for the guard, and the “XD” mark phosphoresced
in response to the reader, two letters glowing like a moonlit tattoo.
The guard turned to look blandly at Carmela.

“Oh, I’m not here for anything,” Carmela explained.  ”I came with my sister.”

The guard kept blocking their way.  She was tall and big-boned, made
bigger by her riot gear.  Here, for once, was a person who didn’t look
at Carmela with pity; she looked at Carmela with boredom and
indifference.

“Your GID, miss,” she said again.  ”No exceptions.”

Rosita started to get worked up.  ”I want to talk to your supervisor–”

“It’s okay,” Carmela interrupted.  ”You just go ahead.”

“I don’t want to do this by myself, I want you to come with me!”

“Rosa, I am sure they’re used to helping first-time mothers, and
they’re going to take good care of you.”

“But–”

“It’s going to be fine,” she said, her tone firm and chill.  ”I’ll
wait in the car.”

#

Carmela agreed to take the kid as far as Old Tucson, and then Shannon
would be on her own.  They very nearly made it there without incident.

It was late afternoon, and an intermittent wind pelted them with sand,
stinging their faces.  A deep wash, dry at the bottom but choked with
mesquite, snaked along beside the dirt road.  To the north, Carmela
could make out the cracked, asphalt ruin that used to be I-10,
sprawled like an enormous black snake along the horizon.  So close.

Three sandcars roared up out of the wash, just a second after Carmela
passed them.  They kicked up billows of dust as their tires fought for
traction, and there could be no confusion about the drivers’
intentions.  When Carmela squinted over her shoulder, she wasn’t
checking to see if they were raiders, she just wanted to know
which raiders they were.

“Damn!”  One glance had been enough to recognize the orange war paint
down the sides of the sandcars, the long black hair whipping in the
wind.  ”Tohono O’odham.  You know how to shoot?”

“Sure thing,” Shannon shouted back.

Not that Carmela could really blame them; the Tohono O’odham had
plenty of reasons to be angry.  Now, of course, all the men are kept
in repro centers, but back when the government was still squeamish
about male rights, they took the non-citizens first.  The Native
Americans hadn’t forgotten.

As much as she might like to sympathize, Carmela wasn’t about to give
up her water supply as blood money for something that happened before
she was born.  She reached underneath the seat and pulled out a
long-muzzled pistol.

Shannon took it from her, found the magazine release, and checked to
make sure it was loaded.  Then she grabbed the roll cage and leaned
way out to the side, aiming around the pile of cargo and solar panels
that obstructed her view of the sandcars behind them.  She fired three
shots, taking a pause between each one to aim carefully; at least the
kid knew to conserve ammo.

Shannon sat back in her seat and said something, but Carmela’s ears
were ringing from the gunshots.  ”What?”

“Why aren’t they shooting back?” Shannon shouted again.

“They want the dune buggy intact,” she said, jerking the steering
wheel to dodge a large rock in the road.  ”They’ll try to pull up next
to us and shoot me from the side.”

“That’s comforting,” Shannon replied sarcastically.  She leaned out to
take aim again.

They reached the outskirts of what once had been the suburbs of
Tucson, where the houses were reduced to black marks in the dirt.
Whether from arson or wildfire, Carmela didn’t know, but either way
there was not enough water to waste on firefighting.  The sight made
Carmela’s chest tighten, her breaths hitching with an edge of panic.
There should be people living here — she and Shannon should be safe
here.  Instead, the suburbs were just another desolate landmark in a
bleak, indifferent world.

Shannon fired off another shot and whooped with excitement.  Glancing
over her shoulder, Carmela saw one of the sandcars careen off the road
into a patch of bursage shrubs.  She couldn’t tell whether Shannon had
hit a tire or the driver.

Squinting forward again, Carmela could make out the city wall, a
patchwork barrier composed of salvaged parts from outlying buildings.
As dune buggy wove back and forth along the rough, unmaintained road,
a few odd panels in the wall seemed to blink at them with reflected
sunlight.  Carmela tightened her grip on the steering wheel, the
plastic beneath her fingers sticky with her own sweat.

Shannon threw herself back into the seat, ducking low, and she
flinched at the metallic clang of a bullet ricocheting off the roll
cage.  ”I thought you said they wouldn’t fire back!”

Carmela slouched lower in her own seat and locked her eyes on the road
ahead.  ”If Old Tucson’s got guards posted on the wall, we’re almost
in range.  A damaged haul’s better than nothing.”

Shannon muttered something under her breath that Carmela couldn’t
quite hear but suspected was a string of colorful expletives.

With the Tohono O’odham’s gunshots rattling her eardrums, Carmela
floored the accelerator.  The suspension slammed them against their
seats like they were riding a jackhammer, metal screeching against
metal as it bottomed out on the uneven terrain.  Every curve in the
road, every obstacle avoided, was an attack on the tires’ traction,
and the dune buggy threatened to spin out with the slightest twitch of
the steering wheel.  Carmela blinked hard against the dust, knowing
that the next mistake would be her last.

The city wall loomed up in front of them, and she glimpsed a few
desert-camo-clad figures atop it, illuminated by the late, golden
sunlight.  Suddenly, as if there were an invisible line they could not
cross, the Tohono O’odham skidded to a halt in a violent cloud of
dust.

“Jesus,” Carmela said, easing off the accelerator a little.  ”That was close.”

At the gates, the city guards were hard-looking women, rifle toting
and desert worn.  Carmela worried that there might be trouble, but the
guards seemed welcoming enough and took news from the west as her
entry fee.  Still, Carmela had a healthy wariness of authority
figures, so she and Shannon passed through as quickly and politely as
possible.

Pulling away from the gates onto a street lined with more-or-less
intact buildings, Carmela allowed herself to feel a modicum of relief.
She steered with her left hand so she could roll her right shoulder,
trying to work the tension out of taut muscles.

“You got one,” she said.  ”That was some okay shooting back there.”

Shannon slouched in her seat, letting the pistol hang from loose
fingers.  ”Yeah, well, I could’ve gotten more if your driving didn’t
suck so much.  I think you hit every pothole in a five-kilometer
radius of town.”

Carmela was a better-than-decent driver, and she’d been pushing hard.
“You can be a real bitch, you know that?” she snapped.

Shannon looked surprised, and then she laughed.  ”I try.”

#

Pressing the cashmere sweater to her face, Carmela inhaled the
lingering scent of perfume.  How long would Jeanette’s smell cling to
the soft fabric, before this last reminder faded into obscurity?  Sage
and lilac perfume — it smelled like kisses on Fisherman’s Wharf as
the evening fog rolled in, like explosive tempers in Jeanette’s tiny
kitchen in the heat of summer, like slow sex.  Like love.

Jeanette wanted the sweater back.  She had left three phone messages;
Carmela had returned only one, swearing that she couldn’t find it.
The sweater was a departure tax.  After all, Jeanette could buy a new
sweater, but Carmela couldn’t buy a new Jeanette.

The worst part was that she didn’t disagree.  She wanted to hate
Jeanette–for being wrong, for being selfish, for being able to forget
and move on when Carmela herself could do neither–but the truth was
that they were both XDXD, and Carmela had always known they wouldn’t
last forever because of it.  Jeanette deserved to be with somebody who
could give her kids; Carmela knew that, but she ached with the old,
familiar unfairness of it all.  Jeanette left her nothing, not even a
justification for righteous anger.  Nothing but the hollow ache in her
chest.

And a sweater.

#

They found an abandoned building with a slope of rubble leading down
into a basement, and after testing the way on foot, they drove the
dune buggy down into relative safety.  The basement was chambered like
a heart, rooms connecting to one another directly, without hallways.
They passed through the gaping, dark apertures of a couple wide
doorways, and Carmela wondered what the building had been designed
for.

The floors were bare concrete, dusty and sandy.  The room where they
holed up had narrow, high windows, smudged with dirt to near-opacity
and much too small for a person to fit through.  The air was stifling,
hot and stagnant, but the concrete would be cool when they lay down on
it.  Carmela nodded to herself, satisfied.

Without her having to ask, Shannon filled a pot with water from one of
the carboys and took out some food rations to start them rehydrating.
Carmela leaned against the side of the dune buggy and stretched her
stiff knee, watching Shannon.  It had been a while since she’d argued
with anyone; it had also been a while since anyone had made her
dinner.

“Look,” she said, “maybe if we can get some more water… maybe you
should just stick with me ’til we cross the border.”

Very quietly, Shannon said, “I can’t do that.”

Carmela threw up her hands, exasperated.  ”Well Jesus, kid, why not?”

Shannon caught Carmela’s gaze with an intensely serious look.  Then
she reached under her tank top and unhooked her bra, slipped the
straps off her arms, and pulled it off.  Her breasts came off with it.
The significance of the gesture took a long time to sink into
Carmela’s brain.

Shannon wasn’t a girl.

“You’re passing?”  Carmela said incredulously.  She had heard
stories about rogue men who passed as women, living free outside the
repro centers, but she’d thought they were just stories.  Shannon
watched her, waiting for a reaction.  Eventually, she added, “I never
saw a boy in person before.”

He smirked.  ”That you know of.”

“I see the problem,” said Carmela.

“Yeah,” he agreed awkwardly.

Carmela looked away and cleared her throat.  ”You can’t cross straight
south of here; the border patrol will pick you up, for sure.  Sierra
Pinacate would be your best bet, but that’s a long hike west through
Tohono O’odham land.”  What she was really thinking was, He’ll never
make it.  He’s as good as dead
.

Shannon went back to the task of preparing dinner.  ”Thanks for the
advice, I guess.”

Carmela shrugged uncomfortably.  The border patrol carried portable
blood analyzers to test for hormone levels; the point was to stop
pregnant women from leaving the country, but it would work just as
well to stop men.  Shannon would never pass the hormone test, and
Carmela didn’t have enough cargo to hide him, so all she had to give
was advice.  They ate their meal in silence, then Shannon offered to
take the first watch while Carmela slept.

She woke in the middle of the night, and Shannon was gone.  So was her
medkit.  She did a frantic inventory of her possessions, but all of
the more valuable items were still there.  Carmela knew she should be
angry.  Instead, she thought–in a detached sort of way–that a medkit
was a weird thing to steal.

She reloaded the magazine from her diminishing supply of bullets and
went back to sleep with the pistol resting in her lap.

Sometime before dawn, Carmela jerked awake with the sense that a noise
had disturbed her.  There, again, a shuffling of feet on sand-covered
cement.  She stood quickly and cocked the hammer on the pistol, aiming
toward the entrance of her hideout.  The shuffling sound — louder,
approaching — and Carmela took silent sidesteps, edging toward the
dune buggy for cover.  Then, around the corner came Shannon.

Carmela let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“Jesus, kid, I almost blew your head off.”

“Guess it’s my lucky day, then,” he said, grinning, as if nothing were wrong.

Carmela frowned and uncocked the hammer on the pistol.  ”Didn’t expect
to see your face again.”

“I was just picking up a little something for my trip.”  He held up a
newer-model water filter.  ”Plus some water tokens, redeemable at the
Fifth Street station.  Seems like that’s what they’ve got for currency
’round here — water tokens.”

He put the medkit back where it belonged without offering an explanation.

“How’d you pay for that?”  She pointed to the filter, her voice hard.

He didn’t meet her eyes.  ”Stole it.”

“Sure,” she spat, not believing it for a moment.  ”So what’d you need
the medkit for, then?”

“Fine,” he said.  ”I needed it ’cause the medkit box is refrigerated.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Shannon rolled his eyes.  ”Think about it.  What do I got in abundance
that everybody wants?  The New Tucson repro center’s got to be more’n
a hundred kilometers away.”

“What!  You– you can’t–”  Carmela was abruptly afraid, but it came
out sounding like anger.  ”That’s too dangerous!  If anyone finds out
about you–”

“Relax, I didn’t tell them who it came from.”

“And I didn’t save your ass out in the desert just so some Tucsonite
can rat you out to the border patrol for the price of a pint of
water.”

“It’s going to be fine,” Shannon said, turning quiet and serious.  ”I
can pay you back, now.”

#

Carmela knew she shouldn’t stare.

The little girl’s short, black hair stuck up from her head in all
directions, each braid ending with a brightly-colored plastic clip.

With the seemingly preternatural protectiveness common to all parents,
the girl’s mother swiveled in her seat to catch Carmela’s gaze.  The
woman looked wary, hawkish, but as she took in the lines of gray
beginning to streak Carmela’s hair, the crow’s feet at the corners of
her eyes, her expression shifted to one of pity.

Carmela clenched her teeth together, suddenly furious, though she
wasn’t sure whether she was mad at the woman for pitying her or at
herself for staring at the girl in the first place.

She would dye her hair black and get the wrinkles taken care of, she
decided, and she would stop staring at other people’s little girls.

#

“It was better when I was younger.  I mean, it’s not like they stamp
it on your forehead or anything.  But at my age… with no kids?
Everybody knows.”  Carmela sighed.  ”I’m just sick of people looking
at me like I’m a walking corpse.”

They were at the water station, refilling an empty carboy.  Carmela
leaned against the side of the pump, her right hand hovering near the
pistol nestled in its leather thigh-holster.  The station had a
handful of guards, but she had learned not to be too trustful.

“Do you still want a kid?” Shannon asked as he hooked up the water
filter.  ”I mean, you did save my life; it’s the least I could do…”

“No,” Carmela shook her head.  ”I’m over it.  I just want to live
someplace where people don’t look at me like that.  South of the
border, there’s whole communes of people who’ve never even gotten a
GID.  You know that?”

“That’s what the word is.  You speak Spanish?”

Claro que sí,” she said.  ”Y tú?”

Más o menos.”  He smirked.  ”Anyway, I guess I’ll learn pretty
quick.  Don’t really have another option.”

They lapsed into silence.  Carmela worried about how a white boy with
a handful of Spanish would get along by himself south of the border.
How long could he possibly last?  Even if he made it to Sierra
Pinacate, which didn’t seem terribly likely.  It was before noon, and
his face already shone with a persistent slick of sweat.  The desert
did not treat travelers gently.

After a few minutes, he quietly said, “It used to be a boy’s name,
too.  Shannon.”  He kept his hands busy with the water filter.
“Least, that’s what my mom told me.”

“Must’ve been something, trying to keep you hid.”  She couldn’t begin
to imagine how it would be done.

“Yeah, she was pretty much a force of nature.  A real ‘if there’s a
will, there’s a way’ kind of person.”

Carmela noted the “was,” but didn’t commented on it.  She cleared her
throat.  ”Well, I think we should hole up until the worst of the
heat’s passed.  You can get some sleep and head out by twilight.
Safer at night if you’re going on foot, you know.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said, and Carmela wondered who he thought he was
fooling.  ”Really.”

She bit her cheek against a sharp retort.  Better for them to part
quietly, with the fatal truths left unmentioned.  Abandoning people
was, after all, a talent Carmela had cultivated.

#

“I don’t know, Rosa.  Maybe I’ll just keep driving.  I’ve heard nice
things about Monterrey… or maybe Veracruz,” Carmela joked, smiling.
She took another drawer from her dresser, dumped the contents on her
bed, and began sorting through them.

“This is serious!” snapped Rosita.  ”You’ve seen the reports coming
out of Los Angeles.  There’s no government in So Cal anymore, it’s all
water barons and highway robbers down there.”

“No need to get all dramatic about it.”  She threw a pair of nice
khakis onto the Salvation Army pile.  ”I’ll trade the car for an
off-road vehicle before I hit L.A., then head east.  I can steer clear
of So Cal altogether and cross the border near Old Tucson.”

“Hey, Mama gave you that!” Rosita cried, snatching a green cardigan
with frilly cuffs off the pile of clothes to be donated.  She hugged
it to her chest indignantly.

Carmela sighed.  ”I can’t take everything.  It doesn’t fit me, anyway.”

Softly, Rosita said, “But I liked being able to borrow it.”

“Well, you can just have it, and then you won’t have to borrow it anymore.”

“It won’t be the same.”

Carmela put her hands on her hips, not knowing whether to feel
exasperated or touched.  ”You’ve got your own family now.  You don’t
need me for anything.”

Still clutching the cardigan but with an air of defeat, Rosita turned
to go.  In the doorway, she said, “I’ll always need you, mi
hermana
.”

“You’ll be fine,” Carmela said.  You’ll be fine if I go, but I won’t
if I stay
.

When she inverted the last drawer over her bed, the sweater that had
been stuffed in the bottom landed on top.  Jeanette’s sweater.  What
should she do with it?  She would have no use for cashmere where she
was headed.

#

The afternoon sun blazed with a scorching, blistering heat that
penetrated into the deepest shadows, turning their hideout into a
hotbox.  The desiccated air kept Carmela’s skin dry, but her
evaporated sweat left salt behind, stinging her wind-chapped face.

Crouching beside the dune buggy, she flipped the latch and lifted the
lid of her sand-worn steamer trunk.  Slowly, she began unpacking:  dry
rations and cooking supplies, an electric lantern, rolled-up clothes
that were stuffed around the bulkier items.  Searching, digging.  And
there it was, hidden at the bottom — her one frivolous possession,
using up precious space that should be assigned to something more
practical.

She took out the cashmere sweater.  The scent of Jeanette’s perfume
was long gone, but she lifted the fabric close to her nose and
imagined that she could still smell it.  There were some things she
couldn’t let go.  If she tried, she’d leave a piece of herself behind
with them.  She folded the sweater carefully and tucked it away again.

Carmela meticulously repacked the trunk, stood, and dusted off her
knees.  She walked over to where Shannon lay sleeping and looked down
at him, his sunburned cheeks and scraggly brown hair and cracked lips,
parted slightly to breathe.  Reaching into her pocket, she fished for
the dune buggy’s starter key.  She had wasted enough time in Old
Tucson.

Loudly, Carmela said, “Rise and shine, kid.”

He groaned and cracked an eyelid, looking up at her with confusion.  ”What?”

She dropped the starter key on his chest.  ”Vámonos. It’s a long
drive to Sierra Pinacate, and you’ve got first shift at the wheel.”

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