Maya leaves the motel in bedroom slippers, her puffy coat tight around her. Across the empty highway, the rising sun is a cold half-circle above the mountain lake where limestone “tufa” formations stand castle-like, their towers shadowed in the sulphurous water. Crisp air stings her face. She rubs her hands together, puts them to her lips, blows.
She and Jim stayed here on their honeymoon, but never saw the dawn unfold above the distant peaks. They never left the room, ordering pizza at midnight and asking the clerk if there was someone who’d bring them breakfast from the diner down the road. All she remembers from that time is the motel’s blasting furnace, the heavy quilts, their heavy breathing.
She talked him into coming back, a quick weekend with the kids. She found the eerie landscape beautiful. He called it bleak, wrinkling his nose at the stench coming off the lake. He had work to do, phone calls to make, so Maya and the kids hiked the South Tufa trail without him, collecting shards of obsidian and feather-light pumice. They counted birds overhead. They waded in the lake’s warm salty water, chasing away black clouds of alkali flies. They felt as if they’d landed on long lost planet and he’d missed it.
She tightens her coat and walks through the empty motel parking lot to the road, crosses. The lake reflects a purpled sky. Rose-gold clouds float among the tufa citadels. She breathes in the water’s sharp enticing smell, ponders the desert’s lonely beauty. She’d been angry when he left them. Not so angry now. Jim could only find beauty in the obvious.
Maya ambles along the lake’s spongey shore, feels herself unloose inside. The sun climbs, warming away the cold while sea gulls arch the sky.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors including Pushcart and Best Small Fictions consideration. She’s published a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.