Wendy Gist has had her poetry, flash fiction and essays featured in Amsterdam Quarterly, Empty Mirror Arts and Literary Magazine, Fourth River, Gravel, Grey Sparrow Journal, Illya’s Honey, Juked, Pif, Red River Review, Soundings Review, The Galway Review (Ireland), The Lake (UK), and many other fine journals. A native Arizonan, she now lives in New Mexico where she serves as Co-founding editor of Red Savina Review.
Life After Sierra
By Wendy Gist
“Fry me a pork chop,” yelled Nicholas from his position on the sofa in the living room.
Saguaro watched a javelina gobble a prickly pear on Animal Planet as she prepared dinner. She tied an apron around her flabby waist and scanned the iPad on the granite countertop as she sliced and diced. She looked at posed pictures and moons in various phases—all posted by Facebook friends.
“No, Nic.” She swept a henna-red ringlet from her ice-blue eye. “I don’t touch or eat pig, nor do I fry.”
She rinsed a yellow crookneck squash in the sink. After drying her hands with a cotton dishcloth, she tapped the iPad screen to open the Chef Creation application. She double-checked measurements for the recipe ‘Seven Veggie Couscous’ and tossed vegetables into a Dutch oven.
Sandy blonde hair feathered over his balding crown, Nicholas sported a horseshoe mustache, red face, and big blueberry eyes. He wore a sleeveless denim vest. “Chill, Sag. At least grab me a beer.”
“When did we stop spending time outdoors?” said Saguaro from the kitchen.
“Bring me a freakin’ brew!”
“You’re on number ten, Nic. Remember what happened to your brother?”
“He stroked because he ate like shit and worked three jobs.”
“My point,” Saguaro said. “We are victims of habit.”
“Come on. It’s Saturday. Football and beer.”
“Get your own damn beer,” snapped Saguaro, her mood swinging.
“What about your social media addiction?” Nicholas asked. “The photos you share with the world. Pictures are for grandmas.”
Nicholas pushed himself up from the sofa, stumbled into the kitchen, and bear-hugged Saguaro from behind. He kissed her cheek, lifted her, and twirled.
“You stink of alcohol,” she said.
The fragrance of sandalwood perfume reminded Nicholas of a wooded walk. He sat Saguaro lightly on the hardwood floor beside their old blue tick hound, Rugsy. The dog had been just a puppy when their four-year-old daughter, Sierra, went forever missing from the candy aisle at Trader Joe’s.
Saguaro scrubbed her hands at the sink. “I upload pictures of Sierra to the missing child sites. We’ll find her, Nic. And sometimes I look at cousin Jasmine’s posts. She captures the most beautiful pictures of her daughter.”
“That old slut is a pro at fashioning a Cookie magazine lifestyle façade on Facebook.” Nicholas stuck out his tongue as he opened the fridge.
“True,” Saguaro returned. She poked her tongue back at him. “Jasmine is holier than now, cleansed in holy water. Rebirthed.”
“Nobody buys that shit anymore. This isn’t the ‘80’s,” said Nicholas.
“I won’t give up on Sierra, Nic.”
Nicholas returned to the sofa.
“We’ve got to let go,” Nicholas said focusing in on the football game. “The cops tried. The FBI. Our blue-eyed girl is gone. We’ll never know what happened to her, Sag. It’s been years. There’s no way to know.”
“I’m still her mother,” said Saguaro. “I won’t quit.”
The vegetables simmered in chicken stock. Saguaro poured one cup of couscous into a pot of freshly boiled water and gave it a stir. “Couch potato,” she whispered. “I can’t remember the last time we went on a country drive.”
They toured the remote mountain road in a canary-yellow Corvette. Digital camera in hand, Saguaro snapped pictures of golden vistas to the right as the convertible whooshed past. Her hair sizzled red in autumn sunlight as her curls danced on the Sunday wind. She turned around and took a shot of Rugsy; his floppy ears shone bluish in the morning light.
“I feel strange,” Saguaro shouted. “In a good way. I think I’ve been suffering some kind of nature-deprived disorder.”
“I don’t know why we don’t do this more often,” yelled Nicholas.
Sunshine speared through openings in the branches of pines.
“I don’t either,” returned Saguaro. “It’s like we’ve been colonized by machines.”
To the side of the road a sign read: Ruins Vista. Nicholas pulled off. The doors of the car flung open like giant bee wings. Rugsy jumped out.
“I love the low sky,” said Saguaro. “Not a cloud.”
They wore flip-flops that crunched brittle pine cones on the trail. Saguaro wore a white peasant blouse and denim cargo capris. Nicholas, navy blue sweatshirt stretched over his protruding belly, held his pointer finger to chapped lips.
“Shhh. Stop. Stay quiet,” he said. “Can you hear it?”
“Hey,” whispered Saguaro. “Look over there. Javelina.”
The raised ground near the javelina served as a tell-tale sign of what once was: a pit house more than one thousand years old now blanketed by weeds.
“Children’s voices. Do you hear?” whispered Nicholas. “Like they’re playing.”
“Sierra?!” Saguaro called, her voice echoing among the trees.
A javelina clacked its long canines.
“Look at their snouts. Are those pigs?” Nicholas asked, the hangover heavy in his head.
“They’re desert peccary,” said Saguaro.
Another javelina growled.
“Climb a tree!” Nicholas yelled. “They’re pissed.”
Saguaro stepped on a cactus that punctured the rubber sole of her flip-flop.
“Shit!” yelled Nicholas. “Get to the trees!”
Saguaro, one shoe on and one shoe off, made it to a tree and climbed.
The two of them tossed sappy twigs snapped from the safety of the pine at the snorting.
Saguaro shut her eyes. She prayed.
Rugsy bawled and the peccaries charged.
Sliding from Saguaro’s side pocket, the digital camera fell to the forest floor.
It seemed like years passed, and, when Saguaro opened her icy blues, she saw it: the camera half-covering Rugsy’s ear that had been ripped from his head and stomped in the dirt. Rugsy massacred—bone, tail, flesh, muscle, guts, fur—tangled in blood and sloshed beneath the hooves of javelina.
The day Sierra disappeared from Trader Joe’s, Saguaro lost more than her daughter.
Now, from the safety of the tree, she closed her eyes.
She sent up a prayer for the dead.
Originally published in Toad Suck Review #5 (The “Hot-Found Issue”)