The mountain is a pincushion for cactus. It looks like some irritated desert deity just threw saguaros like spears at the hillside until s/he ran out of spears.
It's movie night, and that means that tires crunch through the gravel at the drive-in to see the latest stars-and-explosions movie. It's robots tonight, great city-wrecking things with Hollywood voices and gears spinning behind their ear plates. That means that we pile into the cars and go, plaid rugs flung over the backs of the seats, plaid shirts over tank tops, team bumper stickers. Go Team! It's cooled down to seventy-five degrees and the condensation on my soda cup drops down to gather between my skin and the plastic.
We talk and talk and pay our dollars and park. The blanket gets tossed out like a bigtop tent and flattened in the bed of the pickup. The bed door falls down on its chains with a clunk.
The screen looms in front of the cars, cream-colored and silent. The logo of the drive-in dances around it like a screensaver on a computer. It's a pretty full lot tonight: Cadillacs and Fords and Dodges and one little Miata with the top down. Then, beyond the split ceilings of the cars, are the mountains.
I have to look at them. There's coolness up there, and craggy edges. I slip away. Somebody will ask me where I am in a minute, but I'll be back before the previews end, just as my friends get settled in. I shake my hand and the water flies off. I've left my soda cup on the rim of the truck bed.
I reach the wash on the far side of the parking lot. There's a sagging mesh fence between it and the raised gravel lot, but I can see the wash down there waiting for the next rain. Monsoon season is almost over.
People joke that we have six seasons in Arizona: winter, spring, summer, fire, water, and autumn.
It was water not long ago, the wash and the rivers frothing with the element they're named for but so rarely possess. Summer was hanging on with its fingernails, but the rapids wanted to prove it was already gone. There's no water now, though.The dust and dirt have even blown away the cracks formed in the mud as the wash dried. Maybe we'll have more summer, and maybe not. Weather isn't as inevitable as the next movie sequel.
A moth dips low into the wash, skims the fence, and is lost among the scrub.
I go back to the truck. We watch the movie. Robots tromp across the screen to fine John Williams horns and there is space and explosions and the truck bed creaks as people move around. I wonder, if the truck transformed and rose up on squeaky, thin under-pieces, what its voice would sound like. The movie lurches and bashes and reels, and then it's done. We talk about it, mostly in sighing sounds. Evan says, "It was worth a dollar."
Krista says, "I liked the dragon-robot."
"Yeah, yeah, that was pretty cool."
We start unloading from the truck, slipping over the tailgate. I'm always dizzy
after I get up from movies. Maybe it's the sudden change in elevation, maybe it's that suddenly I'm not staring straight ahead any more. But it always happens, whether I'm in the dark of the theatre or the starry dark of the drive-in. I like to think that maybe that's what stepping half into another world feels like.
We talk about what we wanted from the movie. More plot, more dialogue, fewer explosions.
"I mean, I love explosions as much as the next girl, but this just...meh."
We try to articulate what we are missing.
We all want something.
I want the man on the screen with the gears inside his calf muscles.
As we start to pile back inside the truck (plaid blankets, plaid-covered shoulders), I pause a moment outside to feel the wind for the last time, and to look over the wash. I can almost see the giants in the distance: combines and mashers and pipework for transporting grain, making strange silhouettes. Electrical poles stretch across the valley like a horizontal, oddly symmetrical spider web.
There are one hundred arms and eyes and mechanical hearts beside the highway, grinding out the work of the country.
Then the next week we go to see a movie about a lion and some children who find a wardrobe with winter for a back. When I was young I wasn't sure what a wardrobe was. That was ideal. It meant I could think that all of them were magic.
There is a church group convoy in front of us, all these teenagers spread out in three pickups and a speedboat-shaped white convertible with pink upholstery. There are sunglasses and long brown hair and tawny skin like lions. The silver screen splashes commercial reflections over their eyes. They talked about names I didn't know and names I did.
I stopped going to church when I realized they weren't ever going to get around to holding the signups for the demon-hunter licenses.
I would wash my hair in holy water, so when the vampires dipped their ancient, proud heads toward my neck they would start to burn at the tough of just one lock. Skin and thin, waxy layers of fat would go dripping off their faces until it was only the long, animal teeth snapping once shut, grimacing before they dissolved. I'd sign my name in books filled with Latin. I don't know Latin but the church would teach me, all those annos and dominis pluming out their vowel noises in holy halls. Maybe if I felt the dark I would feel the light, because after all they tell us that one day the world was formed from atoms and fires and strings tied around God's finger saying remember, remember to make man.
All that out there and here a lion of silicon and light and Hollywood voices.
We all want something. Sometimes we're told not to. We're told that our voices are too loud, that they're going to disrupt something. They're going to be the fight at the family reunion that gets talked about for the next five years.
We're told not to want things.
This week, I want Abigail to live.
She's dying somewhere in the inner city looking at this same type of scrub, with her pre-radiation smoothie in a big, heavy plastic bottle.
The night when we learned that she was sick, I went on facebook. I wasn't going on to write something poignant. I wasn't going on to send her a condolence. That would be the last thing to do when we've only said the word for her disease once so far and every other time it's been her condition.
I went on to type up the joke I'd heard yesterday, because might as well be spontaneous when anybody could start sprouting death cells any second. It doesn't matter any more whether I'm not sure that my 257 friends, including Evan and Krista, will think the joke's funny.
The movie about the children and the lion prances and glows and quietly, friendlily, preaches.
There's lightning miles away, hitting the ground behind my friend's left shoulder. I look for moths, but the white thing floating phantasmagorically along at the edge of the screen is some kind of seed pod.
God in this summer blockbuster holds lightning behind lion eyes but doesn't use it.
I think I'm going to start a religion.
We're going to issue holy-water water guns.
We're going to cure conditions.
The last movie of the summer is superheroes. Two men had been created by the same science-y, magicky serum. One of the men developed red skin and a scooped-out nose like a skull. This, naturally, was the bad guy. The hero looked human.
This movie trumpets and trundles and scrapes along. My eyes drift. I imagine that it was the other way around: the villain had gotten the strength serum that didn't change his looks, and the hero had gotten the one that worked too but made him look like a devil. The female lead would catch herself bending over holographic screens, tidally pulled closer to public enemy number one by the gravity of his face. The hero would grimace into mirrors.
This movie lacks in small things too, and I find myself reaching for the woven blanket over the bed of the pickup as if I can grasp the small things in the fibers. I want quiet moments. I want to see someone having breakfast. I want someone to talk about the weather, in this superhero movie.
There was a monsoon yesterday. The wash is still forming into new shapes, undercut pathways threatening to crumble.
It's been a summer of highways. Every once in a while the music suctioned out of the cord umbilicled to my iPod slid in this organic way into the exact key of the grumble of the engine, and the two of them would harmonize for a second until the road bumped or the autotune switched on.
But I was talking about monsoons. One moment you're sitting inside and the next the rain is coming in, pushing against the windows. It seeps until you pack out towels and stuff the sills. The water makes tracks down the wall, but they can be wiped away. The roads disappear, and that's why I was reminded of highways. Because once I was driving and I thought of pulling over at the next strip mall for the second-hand book store, but then it started raining and I slowed down to thirty-five because I couldn't see.
Once, in another monsoon, it hailed. Little ticking balls of ice bounced off the street. They flowed down the wash like somebody had spilled marbles on purpose. It was very on purpose weather.
But anyway the rain was pouring and the radio was almost drowned out and I thought books aren't worth having to run through this. I eased my toes down on the gas.
And I thought, at least I don't have cancer.
The superhero on the screen gets his end-of-movie kiss.
There's a moth again, flitting along near Krista's knee. I poke her and she looks and smiles and cups her hands around it before shooing it off. Maybe we could gather moths up and count them. We could form a census, finding out how many live in each bush. Or we could start some kind of publicly funded rare moth reserve. Instead of a religion.
I get my last look at the plains in early, leaning as far as I can without bothering anyone to see around the end of the row of cars. It's not quite as late as it was last time; I can still see a lot of store lights and industrial places. The grain silos and conveyors are in the same places they were before.I think about whether we will spend after the movie going for ice cream or late dinner or Mexican.
The gods, the machines, and the small things all lumber around the earth.
Maybe once we'd gathered enough (made our moth-catching machine, covered it all in yellow and bone-pink plastic), I can scoop up a handful and their small, spiky legs will catch at my skin. They won't all flap at the same time; instead it'll be a chaos, a uncoordinated punk-rock-concert of little flapping dusty things. I'll hold on, and they'll flap with enough lift to bring me to the thermals.
Krista goes back to watching the movie.
We all want things.
Yesterday, Abigail said to me, "There's that small percentage who survives. Well it might as well be me."
The movie ends. Krista, Even, and I have to stay a bit. There might be something after the credits.