I don’t even know how I got here. Stuck in some dusty wasteland, surrounded by huge boulders ranging from red to orange to some ugly shade of yellow. The Grand Canyon tourist stuff is only a couple miles away. The sun is setting, and I vaguely recall the fight. Something about money, but who cares about money when you’re carrying an empty plastic bottle and dying of thirst? I light another cigarette, intensifying my thirst while dumping my stress at the same time.
I’d been trying for months to hit bottom, to rid myself of bills and worries. I thought she was on board. First hiccup, and she goes ballistic. It doesn’t matter. She’s probably long gone, and here I am, rock bottom, about to die in this endless sandbox.
Kicking rocks is my only source of entertainment. A flurry of projectiles erupts from each punt: the stone I targeted, and all of its friends. Another strike at the dust, and a metallic chime springs from the dust cloud.
A glittering spark tumbles through the air. It pings against another rock, before dropping into a cloud of dust with a clink. I approach slowly, taking another drag from the fiery tube between my fingers. I push the dust about with my foot, roughly where the piece of shiny landed. Something glints from behind the dust and dirt. I take another drag, and kneel beside it. I drop the empty plastic bottle, and feel around under the darkening sky. My fingers catch something sharp, and I pick it up. It’s a tiny key with a Chevy logo etched on the side.
I examine the curiosity for a moment, until my fixation is interrupted by the growling of large dogs, their glowing eyes stalking me under the dimming red sky. I stand quickly and deliberately, hoping to scare off the silver dogs, but they stand their ground. They outnumber me ten to one. As they rush in for the kill, I try to run, but my feet are pinned to the ground by some unseen force. One of them jumps. As the burning stick drops from my fingers, I feel the pressure of paws against my chest, and the sharp pinch of teeth in my neck.
I wake up in bed, sweating. She’s laying next to me. It was just a dream. Her eyes are wide open.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I say. I roll onto my side and go back to sleep.
Later that day, overlooking the Grand Canyon, she’s raising six kinds of hell.
“Why are you buying water bottles when there’s fountains everywhere?”
She’s recounted the funds for our trip, and discovered that we don’t have enough to make it to California. We don’t even have enough to make it back home. She shouts something about how she’s better off without me, that I spend too much money, that for all my talk of living free, I don’t grasp the concept, and my frivolous spending has stranded us in this burning tinderbox, and I’m the match. The bottled waters, the beef jerky, and the cigarettes; it’s all too much.
“Fine,” I shout.
I turn and walk, toward the setting sun. If she’s better off without, then I’ll walk to Cali, and we’ll see who gets there first. I’m sure I can find a ride. My dream from the night before storms into my conscious thoughts. The image of coyotes racing toward me, the sensation of sharp teeth in my neck. I look at the canyon walls. Red. Orange. Ugly yellow. If I go forward, I’ll relive the dream. If I turn back, I’ll have to face the fact that I put us in this mess. She wouldn’t have counted our remaining cash if I hadn’t bought that bottle of water.
I turn back, and walk away from the desert sunset. She’s standing there, hands over her face, shaking. My hitchhiking won’t help her. Dogs eating me alive won’t help anyone. I wrap my hands around her, slowly and carefully.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “We’ll find a way. I’ll find a way. You’re right. I’ll fix it.”
“How?” she whimpers.
“I don’t know how, but I’ll figure something out.”
I walk her back to the beat up Chevy Malibu, and we hop in. The smears of mascara radiate from her eyes. I start the car, and check the fuel gauge. Half a tank, and we are literally down to our last dime. Eight cents to be precise.
“Maybe we can beg for change,” she says. “Someone will help us. It’s an emergency.”
The word emergency runs through my head as my eyes catch a sparkle from the key chain. A small silver key glistens in the sunlight, one that I haven’t paid any attention in months. A Chevy logo is etched on the side of it. The key to the glove box. The last time I remember going in there was. . .
I shut off the engine and rip the jingling steel free from the ignition, fumbling the keys between my fingers.
“What are you doing?” She asks.
“A long time ago I had a flat tire,” I say.
My arm races across her lap toward the glove-box lock. “I swore I’d never call for a tow again without cash on hand.”
The door swings open, spilling papers on her lap. I dig toward the back of the box, dropping the rest of the contents everywhere. There, at the back of the cubby, is a neatly folded wad of cash, bound with a tiny rubber-band: my emergency towing money. I had forgotten all about it. Three hundred dollars. Just enough to finish the trip, as long as I stop buying bottled waters and beef jerky.