It was a three-day drive to the middle of nowhere.
The trailer dipped and lurched across the sand like a fat beetle, wheels just barely keeping above the sifting grains. Nolie fiddled with the radio, catching only the ghostliest of scraps of Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, voices mottled with static.
This was part of the routine, of course. She shuffled maps that no one ever read and spun the dial past stations that never came in. Her father never said a word on these trips except to say Magnolita, pásame la masa, por favor.
It was July 17, which meant they were halfway between home and someplace that was not home. A place that wasn’t really anything, if you asked Nolie. It was only sand and emptiness and the kind of silence that hurt your ears if you listened to it.
Nolie never listened to it.
“I don’t understand why we’re going out here, Papá,” she said for probably the thirtieth time since yesterday. “You know there’s nothing out here. No one’s crazy enough to come out here but you.” She looked up from her map.
“¿Me escuchas, Papá?”
If he was listening Nolie couldn’t tell. He just kept driving with that funny half-smile he always wore on this journey. Nolie went on with her speech, a monologue she’d recited every July for the past five years.
It was unclear why she came with him at all. She moved away to San Jose when she was eighteen and spent the next nine years in very little contact with her family. When her mother died six years ago, Nolie visited Tepoztlán for the first time since she left for San Jose State University. She felt sickened by the dirt and the burros, by the shoeless children with mango-sticky hands, by the old men with wrinkled cheeks and faded eyes.
She returned to San Jose the morning after the funeral with no plans to visit Tepoztlán again. But a year later, she received an unexpected letter in the mail. It was from Paloma, a close friend of her mother’s. The letter said that rumors had begun to spread that Nolie’s father had lost his mind. It said that he was going on some strange sort of quest into the desert in a few weeks and maybe Nolie had better talk him out of it.
Five years later, she was still coming every July to talk him out of it.
It was a three-day drive to the middle of nowhere, to this place that wasn’t really anywhere at all. It was a three-day drive of slipping, sliding tires and never-ending sameness. The shuffling maps, the spinning dial, the monologue. Nolie never quite understood how her father knew they were There but there was always a moment on July 18 when the wheels suddenly gave over to their perilous battle with the sinking sand and somehow they were no longer Not There.
He always makes tlacoyos for Them. Masa, manteca, sal; he kneads the dough while Nolie crushes the dried epazote. She is briefly silenced as she holds her breath to avoid inhaling the herb’s pungent odor. She stirs the epazote into a simmering pot of black beans. When the beans are ready, he folds them inside the masa tortillas with fresh tomatilla salsa.
He expects Them to travel through this part at nightfall. She knows that much. As the sun begins to sink into the sand, he lines up the tlacoyos in tight rows on the counter. Nolie’s chatter seems to reach a nervous crescendo as twilight descends on this place that is nowhere. There’s no one coming. There’s no one coming.
He lines up the little cakes, one after another. Three rows. Four. She thinks of the ugly, swaybacked burros, the mango-sticky children, the old men with empty eyes and empty pockets. Five rows. Six. There’s no one coming. She thinks of her mother, soft-eyed and gentle-voiced; so unlike her daughter who is all sticks and stones and awkward passion. Nolie thinks of that mid-July evening when she lost the only part of her that was ever soft or gentle, when cancer and poor country doctors stole her away. There’s no one coming.
Nolie looked up sharply. A man in a sandy blue suit was standing at the counter window.
“How much?” he asked, gesturing to the tlacoyos. For once in her life, Nolie wasn’t sure what to say. But her father was already putting some into a paper bag. He handed the bag to the man and said simply, “For you.”
The man smiled and tipped his hat to her father. “It was some luck running into you way out here,” he said as he began to walk away. Her father simply smiled.
“Es la hora de ir,” he said to Nolie.
They climbed back into the truck and began the three-day journey back into town.
Categories: creative writing