Uncanny Vale

Home to the Literary Creations
of Erin Wilcox

No Cover in Tucson

Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim (2013)

There is no cover in Tucson, no canopy. We travel an expanse of shrubs punctuated by saguaro cactus, anywhere from six to twelve feet tall. The sun is relentless, and quickly I realize I am not dressed for the desert. My short skirt, flip-flops, and tank top leave more pores exposed for the thirsty air to suck.

Mike and I stop in a slice of shade. We have been hiking for about ten minutes in the midday October heat.

“I wish I had a cotton blouse,” I say. “Something that would cover me but still breathe.”

“I feel ok,” Mike says, and loans me his baseball hat. He is my fiance, my lover of almost nine years and I am here visiting from Anchorage for a few short days.

I am drinking all our water and my body feels confused at the sudden climate shift. No amount of liquid seems to quench my thirst.

“Let’s turn around,” I say, “go get some Mexican food.”

We walk back to the car and I duck into a wash to pee. My foot sinks into the dirt, which is finer than I expected, almost sand. Where I loose my water the earth is hard and parched. The urine soaks in quickly, once it finds a crack in the baked soil.

La Herradura is a down-home rincón just past I-10. When I try to ask the barrista if we should order in front to eat in the back, she doesn’t understand. I switch to Spanish, and she smiles. “Sí,” she says. “Pedir aquí.”

The back patio is shaded. An old man says something in Spanish I don’t quite catch, but it sounds beckoning and I have the feeling he wants us to sit with him. We take an empty table in the back. With our time winding down, we are beginning to cling selfishly to each other’s company.

The food comes out and it is gorgeous—beans with real lard and palm-sized soft tacos for Mike. My burro is a little dry, but the verde sauce and fresh tomato salsa moisten it. Then the barrista brings out the horchata, a full glass brimming with ice cubes.

I take a sip and exclaim, “Oh my God.”

“Is it good?” Mike says.

I ignore him and take another gulp. The white milky liquid is sweetened just enough. The grainy texture makes it taste somehow moister than water.

“Ahh.” My eyes roll toward the canopy above.

Mike looks impatient.

“This is the best horchata I have ever had. Hands down.”

“Maybe you were just really thirsty,” he says.

When I ask a nearby patron if we could have a napkin from their napkin holder, the old skinny man in the corner orders the barrista: “Servilletas!”

She brings us a napkin-holder full. When I’ve eaten my fill of burro, Mike goes inside to get a doggy bag. “How do you say box?” he asks.

“Caja…Usted tiene una caja?”

As soon as Mike is out of sight I hear the old man. “Bonita.”

I turn.

“Habla espanol?”


“What’s he need? What’s he going for?”

“A box.”

“Una cajita!” he says to the dark-haired server.

The old man is hard to understand. He mumbles, using Spanish slang. I am out of practice and used to a Castilian accent. But I tell the old man, Moises, how I am from California and living in Alaska. How I am here to visit my man.

“It is good when two people love each other,” he says, moving closer. “Understand?” The two teeth left in the side of his mouth are long and yellow. “Every human being should be treated with respect. All people.”

“You have children?” I ask.

“Seven,” he says. “Siete hijos.”

“Well done,” I say. He grins and pulls his elbows toward his pelvis in a mock thrust.

Moises shows me his papers that allow him to travel freely from the United States to Mexico. His address book folds out accordion-style and has a picture of Jesus on the front. The names and numbers of his children and nephews fill the inside. He explains—or at least, I think he does, if I am understanding correctly—how he would go to help any one of them if they called. I don’t smell alcohol, but he seems drunk to me.

Mike comes back with a box, and so does the barrista.

“Two is better than one,” I say, still in Spanish.

Moises laughs. “You are Mexican.” He points to his heart. “Right here.

“Peleadora,” he calls after the waitress. Fighter. She laughs at him.

I raise my fists. “Peleadora? Yo tambien.”

When we leave I ask the peleadora to grab Moises from inside so I can say goodbye to him. He comes out all grins. When I open my arms for a hug he does not hesitate. Before I know it Moises has landed two sloppy kisses on my cheek, whispered “Chula” in my ear, and copped a feel.

“Hey!” I say, pushing him off. He staggers back, but doesn’t seem to get it. “Con mucho respeto,” I growl, and storm off to the car, where Mike is waiting.

I tell him what happened.

“Please don’t do anything, Mikey. Don’t make a scene.”

“Oh…I won’t,” he says. “I’d like to, though…But it would just make things worse.”

I grab his hand and kiss it. “You’re a good man.”

He smiles at me in that way that takes all the years off his face and makes him look like a delighted boy. I think how, soon, I will be missing those calm blue eyes, the warm touch of his skin. One more cold winter remains before we can be together.

As we drive away from La Herradura with the windows down, I purse my lips and smack my tongue against the dry roof of my mouth. The memory of that horchata, cool and quenching, is so close I can almost taste it.