Rapp nipped at his flask, felt the burn, and then exhaled, let the night wind suck the sotol fumes out the passenger window of his flare-side Chevy and into the desert. He hit the flask again, wondered if it was still the desert outside his window or just Phoenix.
Saguaros stuffed into pots in the middle of palm-treed boulevards like oversized versions of Home Depot cactuses, ocotillos growing only where the landscapers put them, palo verdes planted at the Circle Ks, lawns terraforming the desert…Rapp took another nip, capped the flask, and decided it was still the desert, even if Uncle Sam had shat Phoenix and all its suburbs onto it.
Rapp checked his watch. Daria would be on the ground any minute now.
She’d text him as soon as the wheels hit, probably before the smoke from the jet’s tires fully dissipated. Most of the time, Rapp would bitch about the smell of rubber and exhaust, but tonight he’d burn half an inch off his Goodyears on his way out of the cell phone lot to the terminal. He’d park outside baggage claim and tell himself that he wouldn’t cry when Daria ran out the sliding doors and folded herself into his arms like she had when she was nine years old, the smallest kid in her class with the longest ponytails, the most perfect thing he’d ever seen.
Daria had long since tired of the stories Rapp told of the salvage excavations he’d worked digging up the remains of the barrooms and bordellos that at one time had rested peacefully in the dirt where Sky Harbor’s newest terminal stood. They’d been mere weeks ahead of the heavy equipment, working way too fast, but what passed for progress couldn’t wait and Rapp needed the overtime. The privies had been archeological gold mines, even though a hundred years isn’t enough time for desert soil to turn human waste all the way into regular old dirt. They’d found revolvers, diamond pins, gold coins, and the second of the two artifacts Rapp had ever stolen off an archaeological site in thirty years of working contract archeology.
The first had been an Elko projectile point knapped from the base of a cobalt-blue liquor bottle at a big contact-period site outside Carson City, Nevada. The point was the size of Rapp’s palm, still razor sharp after a hundred years in the ground, and as soon as Rapp saw it he knew he couldn’t let it sit in a numbered plastic bag on a shelf in a museum until the cardboard boxes rotted and the point slipped off the shelf and shattered on a dirty tile floor under fluorescent lights. No sir and no ma’am. He’d wrapped it in his handkerchief and put it in his pocket and never felt a twinge of guilt about it. Kept it in a metal box on his back porch. Sitting out there watching the sun go down with a drink and a smoke, he’d take out that gorgeous point, turn it over in his hand, wonder about the master who had crafted it, what must have happened for him to leave it behind. To spend all that time creating something so beautiful and then lose it must have been heartbreaking.
Rapp unscrewed the flask, wondered why he ever bothered screwing it closed in the first place. Then again, he had friends who smoked three packs a day, one at a time, and wouldn’t buy a carton, economics be damned. When it came to smoking, Rapp was strictly a hand-rolled guy. Wouldn’t touch a box cigarette…Rapp swallowed, coughed, and concluded that the important part of poisoning yourself was doing it your way. He congratulated himself on the insight until he realized it sounded like a Burger King commercial.
The second artifact Rapp pocketed was a Chinese Blue and White teacup — pure white porcelain with a cobalt-blue dragon painted on it, smoke from the dragon’s nostrils winding around the teacup to the tip of its tail. Rapp wondered how the cup had survived the voyage from China, the oxcarts and mule trains that had brought it across the mountains and through the desert to Phoenix where it withstood the drunken shenanigans of a boomtown red-light district. What liquid did it hold last? Whiskey? Laudanum? Tea? Whose fingers did it slip out of before plunging into the waste pit? A lady of the night? A lonesome cowboy in town to spend his wages on whiskey and women? How in the world did it end up in the outhouse?
Questions with no answers.
Rapp had snuck the cup home in his lunch box, sealed inside a Ziplock bag and cushioned with a banana peel. He’d washed it, bleached it, given it to Daria on her twelfth birthday. She drank chamomile tea from it before bed and, later, coffee before school. By unspoken agreement, nobody else in the family ever used it.
His phone dinged. Dad! No bags. Door #2.
Rapp drained the flask, glad it was the last of the sotol, a liquor store impulse buy gone wrong, and sprayed gravel. He broke every applicable traffic law at least once getting to arrivals and cut off a Beemer to get a spot directly in front of Door #2.
Walking around the front of the Chevy, he felt tears building. Blinking them away, he leaned against the hood, affecting a casual air that had never once fooled him or Daria.
Standing with warm metal against his back, Rapp watched them come: all the people that weren’t Daria, all their different shapes and sizes and shades. And then he saw her, hurrying toward him in black leather pants and a jean jacket, tears shining in her cobalt blue eyes, still the most perfect thing he’d ever seen.
Jim’s Taco Fund (Trying not to be a starving artist)
Prompted by @alishas_lifeandpublications_.
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.