Dennis convinced Fiona they had to visit Joshua Tree on their way to Los Angeles.
“I want you to see the real desert. This is the best time to go. Early spring. Everything’s in bloom.”
They stopped for gas, kitty corner to the Oasis of Love Wedding Chapel. Dennis pointed to an uneasy and checkered queue of couples clad in black and white lining the block.
“Let’s get married!”
“Are you crazy?”
“You still need a green card, don’t you? Isn’t that the best way? Marry a citizen?”
“You mean you?”
“Because, green card marriage or not, you’ll take it seriously. Besides, I’m too young to get married. You’re too young to get married.”
“What am I to you?”
Fiona groaned. “You’re a friend, Dennis. One of my dearest friends. A friend with privileges. Take it or leave it.”
I’m such a bitch. A mile down the road, she slid her hand between his legs, stroking the denim taut over his balls. Moaning, Dennis pulled the van over. They did it in a plume of red road dust.
The lovers gradually eased into au naturale mode, more serene with each mile of desert highway kaleidoscoping past. They motored through gorges and coulees vaguely familiar, like a Roadrunner cartoon, SIDEWINDER CAFE, BORAX, LOST HORSE MINE road signs riddled with bullet holes. The Mohave was a shock of alien beauty, teeming with life. In bloom, indeed. They stopped, got out, waded through bellflowers, asters and fuchsia sand verbena, beavertail cactus sporting coral red blossoms like hats. Dune primroses reminded Fiona of the Alberta wild rose. Dennis laughed at her wide-eyed, gaping mouth astonishment.
Finally they reached Joshua Tree National Monument. She’d been expecting a phallic wonder rising off the desert floor but realized the Americans used ‘monument’ to mean ‘park.’ Dennis photographed her in relief against a horizon of softly sloping stone hills, sporting her new, fifties-circa straw flying saucer hat. She struck a Bono pose under a Joshua tree, which was not a tree at all. Lightheaded and languorous in the balmy air, Fiona stretched out movie star-style, hands on her hips, looking directly into the lens, studly paramour documenting their euphoria for all posterity.
They came upon a thick stand of Bigelow chollo cactus harbouring nests of Sage sparrows.
“The balls of their spines break off and stick to your skin like magnets,” warned Dennis. “Don’t get too close.”
The Yucca plant produced strange fruit, clusters of pale blossoms exuding a warm, waxy scent, but the most sublime desert plant must be the ocotillo, she thought, a tangle of towering, quivering green stalks like tentacles, gilded with scales and topped with scarlet arrow tips.
Dennis’s sharp eye spotted all manner of lizard; banded geckos, iguanas, chuckwallas. They saw silver spotted grasshoppers and a Walking Stick suspended from a Mormon Tea branch. Down the road, they were forced to stop the van, agog at the sight of kamikaze caterpillars crossing the asphalt in a shuddering river. Dennis bent down to examine the freaky, fetid stew of yellow, black and lime.
“Man! This was a wet winter. This only happens every seven years or so.”
They climbed Jumbo Rocks, huge boulders suggesting rising dough or the granite buttocks of sleeping elephants. At the crest, the rock face resembled skin, lined and pockmarked. In close, the surface was pebbled, filled with cracks and crevices. Elated, Fiona photographed Dennis beneath a large, round boulder miming Atlas supporting the earth. He snapped her standing inside the huge eye socket of a rock skull. They nearly fell into sinkholes, perfectly rounded basins carved into rock by water. Dennis invited her to sit.
“What about scorpions?”
“Nocturnal. We probably have more to fear from rattlesnakes. Just don’t put your hands on any ledges you can’t see.”
They sat, nestled, gazing down the valley of saltbush and smoke trees. Dennis pointed to a jet etching contrails upon a gradient blue sky. Cap Rock jutted out, a visor of stone.
“You can see all the way to Mexico from here.”
“It’s easy to see why this place became sacred.” A breeze cooled her skin, prickly from too much sun. Fiona turned. “And the air up here is making me randy.”
“It is?” Dennis was hard in an instant. Panting.
“Yeah.” She avoided his eyes, resting her chin on his shoulder as if studying the lengthening shadows. Fiona allowed a few seconds to pass, then Continue reading