Sunrise trickles molten gold upon the rim of the rolling horizon.
Scott opens his eyes and stares upward at the roof of the SUV from under the sleeping bag which is spread over him and Carolyn on the reclining front seats. Only half-awake under the blanket of the previous night’s tequila he can hear Carolyn softly breathing in the passenger seat to his right. Scott turns his head to the left and he cries out, “Gah!”
Outside the SUV Mack is leaning down with his face at the driver’s side window and he laughs, “There was a coyote out here listening to you snore. You sound like a hen house.”
Scott sits upright and Carolyn writhes awake reluctantly. Scott exhales with relief and a patina of condensation glazes the inside of the windshield briefly and then dissipates.
Mack stands back erect and looks down the hillside and says, “Our transportation is coming.”
Scott struggles out the car door. Dawn is bleaching the sky. Glum with remaining sleep Scott silently follows Mack’s gaze down the hill. The rolling hills are still brooding with the remaining crepusculum but in the bleaching sky Scott notices a slowly circling buzzard. Scott smacks and licks the sleep membrane from his dry lips and juts his chin and mumbles, “Can he carry us all?”
Mack points below the buzzard to the crotch of the hills. The zipper of the dirt road is discernable now under the slow crescendo of dawn. Scott squints and he believes he can see a moving figure. Two figures. A horse? and…No… A donkey and a person. Now a dog can be discerned running ahead of the two. Scott asks, “Who the hell are they?”
Carolyn emerges from the SUV and walks over to Mack and Scott as she is hugging herself to wring out sleep. She asks quietly, “What are we looking at?”
Carolyn notices the slowly circling buzzard and asks, “Is something dying?”
Mack replies, “Everything alive.”
Scott puckers his face and says to Mack, “Come on now,” as he hugs Carolyn reassuringly and kisses the top of her head. Carolyn smiles.
Mack raises a cell phone to his ear.
Scott is surprised and asks, “You have a cell phone? How do you charge it?”
Mack replies, “I called you didn’t I?” and then Mack points to the roof of the house trailer and answers distractedly, “Solar panels.”
Then Mack speaks in Spanish into the cell phone and a brief one-sided conversation is heard by Scott and Carolyn. Mack puts the cell phone into his shirt pocket and says, “Everything is according to plan.”
Scott asks, “Who were you calling?”
Mack replies, “Our transportation down there below. The donkey says ‘Hi’.”
Carolyn asks, “Donkey?” and she finally notices the trio of tiny figures advancing up the dirt road.
Carolyn looks up at Scott and asks, “Are we going to ride a donkey?”
Mack answers saying, “We’re going to ride our feet. The donkey will carry the gear. You don’t drive down to The Sombra Arroyo.”
The three of them watch the approaching figures for awhile in silence. The Scott shakes his head and says, “I’m falling asleep again standing here. Mack, can we make some coffee?”
Mack shrugs and says, “Good as made, dahrlin’,” and then he turns back to the trailer and Scott and Carolyn follow arm-in-arm.
Inside the house trailer Mack scoops spoonfuls of powdered coffee into three disparate mugs and he says, “Don’t be afraid to tip your barista this morning. What will it be? OK, Megadlia D’oro instant espresso coffee it is. Megadlia D’oro is Italian for ‘Gold Medal’,” then Mack says quietly, “It’s also the name of a horse, a thoroughbred race horse.”
Scott and Carolyn both glance over to the skeleton head of Mack’s horse Lenore on the wall of the house trailer.
Carolyn asks, “Any relation to… Lenore?”
Mack places the cups into the microwave oven which he reveals up in the kitchen cabinet and he pushes the buttons and the oven hums. Mack grins and says, “Always sounds like a hive of electric bees,” then he answers Carolyn’s question saying, “Yeah, Lenore she was a foal of the horse Super Espresso and a granddaughter to Medaglia D’Oro.
Scott says, “Funny. I mean, not about Lenore. The coffee.”
Scott is saved by the bell as the microwave signals the passing of three minutes. Mack asks, “French Vanilla cream?”
Carolyn replies, “I love French Vanilla.”
Mack takes three plastic cuplets of French Vanilla individual servings from a small blue box and one by one peels the lids back and pours the dollop of cream into each cup. Mack then says, “Swirl it. I only got a couple plastic spoons left.”
The coffee is especially gratifying as it floods through the tequila arroyos left in their throats from the night before, and then it plunges into their shrunken stomachs, and then it expands outward to inflate their eyes.
Mack observes, “Consciousness in a cup.”
Scott sips murmuring, “I never drank coffee until I was studying for my first college finals. You know, the vending machine coffee in the food court?”
Mack sips muttering in reply, “Grounds for expulsion.”
Carolyn says, “Thank you, Mack. I like this coffee. It even has foam like real espresso.”
Scott raises his mug in a feeble toast saying, “Yes, thanks.”
After a unanimous second round of coffee the three of them stroll back outside to watch their ‘transportation’ approaching. As they watch the steady ascent of the donkey, the person, and the dog, their eyes rise time and again to the buzzard still circling and apparently following the ascending trio.
Mack begins to narrate, “I met this tough little Mexican runaway in town. Calls herself ‘Valia’. She works odd jobs at the surrounding homesteads. Folks in Zelma have goats, chickens, cows, pigs, horses. They think they’re still in Mexico. I guess they are in a way: half of them are here illegally. I made a deal with her. I have an account with the Zelma Groceries and Supplies. I call down a list and the kid sees that the stuff gets up to me.”
Scott asks, “She has a donkey?”
Mack nods, “A donkey.”
Carolyn starts to ask, “How…?”
Scott prompts impatiently, “How?”
Mack grins because he knew their curiosity would be piqued and he says, “Valia found the donkey. The poor donkey had been left to fend for himself on an abandoned homestead that was fenced-in. He was starving. Valia told the Zelma grocer and he had a bale of alfalfa dropped at the homestead. Had to cut the fence. The way the grocer tells it Valia stayed in the abandoned house and probably ate alfalfa with the donkey,” and Mack snorted. “She named the donkey ‘Polvo’ which is Spanish for ‘dust’. Kinda cute, eh?”
Carolyn sighed, “Oh, that is sweet. Valia doesn’t still stay in that abandoned house does she?”
Mack rubbed his neck, “Yup.”
Scott asked, “What about the dog?”
Mack replied, “Well one day the dog showed up at the abandoned house and ‘adopted’ Valia and Polvo. Valia would beg dog food from the grocer. But I finally set up an allowance for Valia at the Zelma Groceries and Supplies.
Carolyn cooed, “Oh, you are so sweet. That was so nice.”
Mack looked at Scott and asked, “Well?”
Scott said, “Yeah, yeah. You’re so sweet.”
Mack grinned and said, “Thanks, but I’m still waiting for you to ask.”
Scott narrowed his eyes, “Ask what?”
Mack shook his head in mock disappointment and said, “The buzzard.”
Carolyn gasped, “Don’t tell me…?”
Mack replied, “I will tell you. The homestead next to Valia’s abandoned place was chopping down Eucalyptus trees and a buzzard’s nest fell out. They put the baby buzzard into a bucket and they took it to Valia. Can you believe it? Valia was getting a reputation as a little bruja, that is, a little witch.”
Carolyn asked, “What happened?”
Mack replied, “Well, the buzzard lived. And I did some research: orphan buzzard babies almost never survive. Even with pros treating them. So go figure.”
Scott asked skeptically, “Don’t buzzard babies need their parents to learn how to be buzzards?”
Mack replied, “Yup. The buzzard needs other buzzards to learn how to be a buzzard. Just like you. Need your own kind, that is,” grinned Mack. Mack continued, “That buzzard you’re lookin’ at can’t or won’t hunt like a normal buzzard. He depends on Valia for food.”
Carolyn said in awe, “Whohhh, she is a witch, I mean a bruja. A good bruja.”
Mack concluded, “Yeah, Valia is something else. I call her ‘Donkey Jóte’ as a joke. Jote means ‘buzzard’. I’m not sure she gets the joke but she always giggles. And her dog is a young female pit-bull I call ‘Dulcinea’, get it?”
Scott smiles wryly, “Very clever, we get it.”
Mack continues, “Also because she is so dulce, sweet, Dulcinea.”
Scott rolls his eyes, “Got it.”
Carolyn asks, “Doe the buzzard have a name?”
Mack replies, “I wanted her to name him ‘Destino’, means ‘Fate’, but Valia had already named him Abrazo, ‘Hug’, because she always hugged him to her face when he was an infant.”
And so Mack, Scott, and Carolyn watch with renewed focus the symbiotic organism comprised of the orphan girl Valia, the donkey Polvo, the dog Dulcinea, and the buzzard Abrazo as it ascends up the trail to them upon Mount Zelma.
To be continued
Previously: THE BONES OF THE RIVER
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS