another one

death valley, august 2003

it happened in the desert. the desert is a good place. you can’t get away from yourself and you certainly can’t belong. life is wet and the desert is dry. a hot wind rose and swirled around me, the folds of my ears shaping the silence into a whistle. the sand, the isolated clumps of scraggly grass, and the mountains were trying on a shade of purple. it was the time between night and day when strange ideas slip into the heads of anyone that stares ahead too long, looking without seeing. this is the one that came to me: to slip off my clothes and lie down. i crouched, as if there were a bush to cover me, and unbuttoned my pants. when i stretched out on the ground i felt hundreds of stones press into my skin, their sharp points unweathered by the lick of running water. the stones bit into my back and arms and legs, began to tear little holes. i felt the intense heat as a comfort, even when it found its way into the holes in my skin and began to pull. i didn’t bleed. my flesh split into strips, sighing off my bones. the wind came again, i could hear it but had no way to feel. i couldn’t close my eyes, so i gazed up at the darkening sky, all the colors shifting to black. another gust of wind, and this time it tickled my toes. skin was growing back. i felt each stone in the ground, one by one, as the new skin spread inch by inch from my heels up the back of my legs, stretching towards my shoulders. when the last pale efforts of the sun faded away, my skin was complete. i sat up, held my hands out in front of me, inspecting their new surface. it was so white it seemed to have a light of its own. i dressed and headed back to the hotel. some people come back from the desert with a piece of it still in their eyes, or their hushed voices. i keep my stretch of desert all around me, the thinnest of boundaries between me and everyone i know.

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