by Jack Fisher
The Indian woman sits, cross-legged, in the burning tan sand, a wooden barrel confined within the space between her legs. She does not move, does not appear to be breathing. She stares at him, skin burnt and dry. Simply stares. The plumes of flame that spire from the barrel separate her face from his, making her facial expressions indecipherable and barely visible. Her thin lips do not move, but he hears her. She asks if he wants water. Tongue swollen and mouth parched, he tries to reply, but it is futile. She understands, though he has not spoken. She raises her hand in warning. For what reason? He does not know. Ah! The thirst! It is driving him mad.
"Water," he manages to speak. Spittle forms at the corners of his mouth. His broken-down jeep is far; he has come a long way and if he doesn't drink now, he will surely die of dehydration, very painfully.
Her face remains passive, but there is a hint of decisiveness in her expression. She nods.
"Before you drink, boy, be warned: for each gulp of water you take, you lose one year off your life." She reaches into the burlap bag beside her and takes out a faded, brown canteen. He snatches it from her frail hands greedily and begins to wrestle with the cap. Finally! It gives. Water spills over his hands and onto his pants. He brings the canteen to his burnt lips and proceeds to drink without counting the gulps. How wonderful it feels running down his dry throat!
He swallows the water...swallows...swallows...swallows. She observes him without action or notice; his skin turns to dust—to sand— until he is no more than a puddle against a sea of sand. A smile passes briefly over her face, then fades. She had warned him...
She leans over and kisses the sand where he once sat, then gets up, brushing sand grains from her lap, then faces the Sun. Steps once toward it, now twice.
Her figure, garbed in brown with ceremonial sashes, trailed by long, salt-and-pepper-colored hair, begins to fade. Now she is translucent...and now she is gone, as though she had never existed.
Copyright © 2000 Jack Fisher