by James Kidd
You will soon learn that dying in the desert is not as romantic as you once thought. If you do not remember thinking this, remember the young boy who wanted to run away, far away to the edge of the world, which is always a desert. You dreamt of barchan dunes then, of an ever-shifting landscape of sand and heat in the day, with the cold moon as your night companion. And one day, perhaps, you would reach an oasis, lie down on the reeds beside it, and know that this was your grave. You would be happy to make it: the last mark of one who had seen everything.
But here there are no dunes, and there is no pool. There is salt, and cracked earth, and mountains in the distance which remind you of how much is left to see in the world. A cactus sits nearby, stunted and prickly. No fruit or flowers grow on it. The mountains look close, but you are starting to realize—
You remember your mother making borscht, but even dreams cannot chill your skin or moisten your tongue. The soup was always topped with a spoonful of sour cream, and even in your dreams your mother says, “One only,” when you ask for more.
And you do not think about the error that brought you here, you do not look at the desiccated skeleton off in the distance (a dog, perhaps?). You think of the mountains, and the cactus, and the borscht.
You will soon learn that dying is—
You are stepping forward, slower every time. You hear your mother call you “Ivan” which is not your name, just a folk tale about a lucky fool. The stories would always end well, but you had never known a happy ending. You were sure that was what was waiting for you in the mountains, or in that second spoonful of sour cream.
Your mother used to skin the beets after roasting them for just over half an hour, and when she did, the juice that flowed out looked like liquid rubies. They looked delicate, light, cold, and sweet, but always tasted like dirt.