The Desert

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by Kathleen

At eighteen I lived in New Mexico and waitressed at a creperie, although the menu included huevos rancheros and even bagels. I lived on tips, barely managing to pay my fourth of the rent.

Leroy, the cook, sometimes liked me and sometimes not. I needed him to like me. Because if he forgot my order or covered the crepes with thick, unheated cheese sauce, the customers blamed me.

My memory for who ordered what with which never faltered. In one hand I could balance eight beverages on a tray and in the other carry four full plates.

Leroy liked my “look at me” attitude. Customers admired my “hustle.” When my tips ran scant, Leroy nudged the sombreroed owner, deconstructing pie-a-la-mode in the corner, to pay me the difference. The owner and Leroy shared a venture in auto parts. Leroy bragged about being a local racketeer.

“You mean raconteur?”

“So now you’re French, CeCe?”

“Raconteur is a storyteller. Racketeer is an extortionist.” In hindsight, that’s probably when he didn’t like me: when I corrected his vocabulary.

“Forget storyteller,” he said. Leroy had stature--big man about town.

What he meant was that he and his buddies were rich builders, hot shots. Sometimes, when he liked me, he invited me to accompany him to their haciendas. Because, he said, they liked guys with pretty, young girlfriends.

At these places, several pretty girls always lolled around a swimming pool. Beautiful rooms, great music, usually a garden. If Leroy invited me, I accepted.

One hot afternoon he had business with Geoff. “Wanna come, CeCe? Has to be right after work.”

Ordinarily I stopped at home, changed into a sundress, and grabbed a bathing suit. That day Leroy didn’t have time to spare. So I hopped inside his four-wheel drive along with another “racketeer,” Chet.

Leroy drove really fast. Bald, fat Chet ranted so much his spit flew. Then he paused, sizing me up. “She ain’t a safe bet, Leroy. Geoff said just us--remember?”

Leroy glanced back at me, grimy from work and silly in the degrading prairie dress waitress’s uniform. “CeCe, we’re letting you out.”

He sped off the highway. The jeep bounced, flying across the desert. Grit in the air stung my skin. “Out?” I asked. “Out where?”

“Where you won’t get in trouble.” Leroy and Chet snickered. The jeep flew off road for half an hour, thereabouts. Then Leroy forced me out. I was too stunned to register them driving away.

Alone in the vast flatness like another planet, I didn’t dare panic. I didn’t dare anything. Red dirt surrounded me without interruption for as I far as I could see. No rocks or tumbleweed, no bleached wood or bones. Nothing but unchanging horizon, 360 degrees.

If I screamed, my voice would not register. If I moved, the air wouldn’t stir. I was lost in a void. Lost, I believed, forever.


Eli said...

Hello! I'm writing to let you know that you have been nominated for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award for Best Literary Fiction Blog. Please email me ASAP at for more information on your nomination. (FYI - the deadline is Friday, August 21.) Congratulations!

Paul said...

Lovely. I enjoyed the way you left this.

kathleenmaher said...

Eli, Thanks for the information. I'll pass it on to Mike French, who leads the crew here.

Paul, Thank you. I tried doing this one as all mood. That approach didn't work out, but it gave me this ending, which is still supposed to be the main thing here.

Michael J. Kannengieser said...

Makes me wonder where they were wheeling off to, dumping her off like that. Well done. -Mike.

kathleenmaher said...

Hey Mike, I'm sure they were up to no good. She was probably better off terrified by the endless desert than by "racketeers" in no mood to humor a little waitress.

Jane Turley said...

No, no, no Kathleen...You cannot leave the story there! I demand, yes demand, a second installment!!

(Ps It was very good, I was absolutely hooked.)

kathleenmaher said...

Jane, when I first started writing these, I suggested (since Mike was running contests like this) that anyone wanting more, use my flash fiction as a prompt. So far, nobody has, alas.
I can't do installments here because I am constantly producing them on my own blog. And this one, in particular, started with her standing in the desert. That was supposed to be the whole story; except it didn't work as a story.
So, she's experiencing existential terror along with real physical fear as to how she can get back to civilization.
There's nothing but her, horizon, and sky. You--and anyone else--should take it from there.