When The Sun Touches Me

By Elaine Olsen Thompson

I live in the tropics now. Beyond my window, Indians work the coffee fields. In the afternoon, they'll reach the jacaranda trees and rest. The roosters forage with the hens in the dusty yard below my window.

I'm curled into the window ledge. Sunshine doesn't touch me, yet, but it will by three in the afternoon. Earlier, I took the knife and ran it across my finger. Blood formed brightly. Tiny rivulets ran into my palm. It streaked down my arm and formed blots on the sill. I pressed the hem of my skirt against the wound, but it took a long time to stop the flow. The workers had not moved from the top of the hill when I checked on them again.

Their home is far away, and Ralph, who owns this estate, allows them to live in the huts by the river. Mother calls Ralph a generous man.

Mother's name is Jewel. She teaches art at a girl's school in the city and won't be home until three-thirty. When I was younger, she worked at home. She used most of each day with brushes in hand, slashing bright colors on canvas: A green stem speared through red, purple foaming beyond yellow, orange wavering against blue. She used black to outline everything, painting flowers mostly, and vases, but not necessarily together. She painted naked bodies on colorful bedspreads, or sitting in a lounge chair. Often she included Mary Bell, our Persian cat. Sometimes she demanded that I sit for her, but she used herself and Mary Bell the most because I complained about remaining still for so long. She worked before a full-length mirror, naked and engrossed.

In my favorite painting, her red hair turns into snakes that writhe in all directions. A jagged arm of pale driftwood rises beside her shoulder, and a small limb curves over her belly, ending in twigs. She wears a necklace strung with tiger teeth that my father gave her-or so she said. Her naked torso stands out against dark figures that are difficult to identify. Men dancing. A pig. Dogs copulating. The ring she wears reflects a beam of light that rises toward her left nipple. She likes angles in her paintings. Angles are dynamic, she says.

In the painting, my mother's face is placid. She has green eyes, accentuated by the red in her hair, and they appear to gaze beyond the viewer. This last part is accurate-my mother always seems to look beyond me. But her eyes are brown instead of green, and she's a blonde. Nor does her hair have the voluptuous body that appears in her paintings. She said at the time, "I envy your hair, Mara," and I was thrilled that she envied something about me.

We lived in Arizona then-in the big house-and had a Mexican woman to cook and clean for us. Her name was Dolores and she was actually Mayan, not Mexican, but neither Jewel nor Ben knew that. Dolores taught me how to make soups and sauces, but also to honor the character of the vegetables and fruits we used, to appreciate the nuance of their flavor, and to thank them for their sacrifice.

Dolores came from a village near San Christobal where elders served as priests in the Catholic Church, and the Virgin Mary was ceremoniously undressed each year by selected men and dressed anew in ruffles and ribbons. The worshipers sat on the straw-filled floors. Candles burned all about and chickens were sacrificed to drain illness from the supplicants. Villagers killed the Spanish priests in this old church long ago. Now they practice Catholicism in their own way. I don't think Ben or Jewel knew any of this.

Whenever Dolores dusted or passed by the painted bodies hanging in the available spaces on the upper level of our house, she shook her head and made shisshing sounds. When she arrived at her kitchen retreat, she crossed herself because she was-at least in part-Catholic. Sin weighed heavily on her.

I hated serving as my mother's model, sitting or lying, and sometimes shivering for so long. My body is brown and my hair is an abundant kinky darkness, and in her paintings, she surrounded me in colors of yellow, orange and pink. Mary Bell was silver, but appeared a queenly purple, shocking lime, or royal blue in Jewel's renditions.

Jewel had no compunctions about being naked or going about in her underwear, nor did Ben, her husband. We all used to dash about our apartments with great freedom when we lived in France or Spain, but in deference to Dolores, Mother and Ben wore robes in the big house. I had become exceptionally modest before we left Spain, and in Arizona, I took to wearing jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes no matter where I was-reading in my bedroom with Mary Bell, at school, or when guests arrived.

My mother said, "Too bad you're wasting all the fine dresses I bought you, but if you wish to look like a peasant, I guess that's your business. She didn't understand I was having trouble with my body and didn't want to be feminine, nor did I want to be different from the girls at school, although only the very peculiar (those with physical, social, or intellectual handicaps) associated with me.

Ben, a writer and photographer, still lived with us in the big house, as I called it because it was much larger than our apartments in Paris or Madrid. When Ben left, Jewel told me he had gone to Africa, but I considered that a ruse. I thought she didn't want anyone to know where he'd gone, so if someone asked me, a mere child in everyone's opinion, I'd say Africa and mislead them. My mother could be devious. She looked beyond me when I asked if it was true, and said, "Of course it's true."

"When will he be back?"

"We don't know. Things are complicated now."

Ben had a perfectly oval head just like the models in my figure and portrait workbook. I could sketch him with ease. He fit all the rules. A cap made him much more handsome, framing his features nicely and keeping his dome of baldness hidden. He and Mother were married, but I always called him Ben. He was not my true father.

Our house in Arizona hugged the side of a hill and most of the windows allowed a view of the Superstition Mountains. Ben's darkroom and workspace was on the lower level opposite my bedroom. The street entrance, where guests entered, was on the upper level along with the kitchen and my mother's studio.

Our guests only came occasionally, but they came in crowds. Some were from the states, even Arizona, but many were from North Africa and the Middle East. Neither Ben nor my mother cared if I hung around at these parties. When guests asked my age, my mother would say, "She's twelve going on forty-five." I was actually thirteen at the time and capable of answering for myself, but Jewel never gave me that kind of credit.

Even though my parents went about with few, if any, clothes at home, my mother was well decked when guests arrived. She entered the room in provocative elegance-but never a hint of vulgarity-as she always reminded me. People greeted her as if she were famous, with hugs and accolades (a word Ben used) and sometimes applause.

Ben always dressed in dull colors, his presence hardly notable until the talk turned to politics. Then his stature grew to the dimensions of a giant. Once in the mood, his speeches would hypnotize the guests. They would nod in agreement and sometimes yell with approval. Ben and Jewel loved their parties.

We sometimes flew to New York where we would visit art galleries. My mother's work was shown in several, and we would always attend any new shows at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, or the Met. If we had extra time, Ben would accompany me to other spots like Ellis Island.

After New York, we would fly to Copenhagen, and finally to Madrid where my mother had to see Goya again, especially his darker works, as if she were visiting a beloved teacher. She liked El Greco, too, and we would visit Toledo to see his famous painting there. I was allowed to visit a small museum housing Picasso's work, displayed so that the viewer could see his stages of development from youth to manhood. I tried to imitate Picasso's simplicity in my own work. Of course, he wasn't into cubism that early in life.

My grandmother lived in Copenhagen. She once performed on stage. Her first husband-a brief marriage-was to an American director. Jewel lived with one parent or the other, in New York with her father, or Copenhagen with her mother, and felt comfortable in either place. Her father died before I knew him, but I didn't like New York or Copenhagen. The people in these places seemed to be captured in a chill. I liked Madrid where people were expressive and loved children.

Grandmother sat silently, observing while her daughter and Ben hosted parties. She didn't appear to sit in judgment, but rather as a member of an audience, observing a play for which she might someday audition. Or, perhaps, that was the way I sat and watched, as a hopeful participant-after I had learned the skills of acting that is.

Many of the guests flew in from Syria, Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey. Ben would show his movies-or rather documentaries, as I understand it now-and everyone would rave about them. Ben did his filming along the Mexican border and other nearby places. His purpose was to expose the dark side of society-the meanness.

One of his films showed pictures of deformed babies, bald children with cancer, and grave markers for citizens of a country town in Utah who had recently died because they lived downwind from the chemical and bacterial weapons testing plant where the army said they had to test because of Iraq.

Ben used to say that enlightenment has been stabbed in America. Universities shun liberalism and opt for the new Darwinism, "The contest for who has the biggest penis, a crude way of putting it," he said, "but an apt description of the U.S. today."

I told my friends about our new Darwinism. We couldn't understand the meaning exactly, but we knew it was dirty.

Ben's guests surrounded him, patted his shoulders, and shook his hand. They bought his documentaries to show to their friends and followers in their own countries.
It was Ben, not my mother, who told me that my father had died in Ethiopia. "Killed," my mother quickly corrected with an unusual fire in her eyes.

As a birthday treat for me, we flew into Ethiopia to visit my father's grave. An argument developed in the hotel room, and I was sent to the lobby. Ben finally appeared and said Jewel had a headache.

We bought flowers on the street, and Ben told the taxi driver to wait while we tromped through a desolate empty lot. Ill-clad children held out tiny hands as they raced beside us. A soldier opened the cemetery gate, and, beyond the high-wire fence, crews of prisoners turned huge rocks into gravel with sledgehammers. Nothing soft or appealing appeared anywhere, only choking dust and rows of metal stakes with tin tags at the top. A number marked my father's grave, and I wondered how Ben could be certain we were in the right place. He removed his hat, bowed his head and handed the flowers to me. I placed them against the stake, making a circle of brightness, and then stood beside him.

"He was a writer and a great humanitarian," Ben said, a catch in his voice and dampness collecting in the corners of his eyes. The caring in his voice gave me chills. He had never spoken of my father before. He took my hand and held it, and I was amazed at how warm and comforting this could be.

"How did he die?" I asked.

"He died in prison. Let's hurry now. Your mother will be worried."

"But wait." I pulled back, not finished with meeting my father. "I want to know his name."

Ben smiled at me. "I thought you already knew."


"His name was Mohammed Salih. God help him rest in peace."

When I asked Jewel why my father had been in prison, she said, "It's complicated and best not talked about."

That September, on my radio, I heard that an airplane had jammed into the World Trade Center. I hurried across the hall to tell Ben, and he turned on the television. Jewel joined us and we watched one plane and then another attack a couple of towers over and over again like a mantra honoring horror. Ben said, "The media is crying fire in the theater, and calmer heads should be heard." He turned the television off, and Jewel ran upstairs to call her friends in New York, but she couldn't get through.

At the time, Ben kept saying that this was a time for moral renewal, for a reassessment of our values. I had a feeling that the strange, surreal tragedy that we had witnessed would help us in some way, but later Ben appeared to become disgusted and agitated. "Everything is black and white to this American Government," he said and raised his arms in resignation. "God help us, our enemies increase by the day."

In his new aggravated mood, Ben grabbed Jewel one day and shouted, "You're either with me or against me, and since you're against me, I think I'll screw you." This was unlike Ben, but Jewel only laughed as he tickled and maneuvered her toward the bedroom beside her studio.

Another time, when Dolores was dusting the upper level, Ben waved his arms at all the naked bodies hanging on the walls and, in a commanding voice, said, "You're in an axis of evil here. I think you'd better report my wife to the President."

Dolores wrapped her arms around herself and bowed her head until Ben walked into Mother's studio. I followed Dolores into the kitchen and told her that Ben meant no harm, but she cried. I couldn't console her because I felt uneasy myself. When I told Ben that he scared her, he said he had no idea she was so sensitive. He came to the kitchen and apologized, but Dolores only cowered. The next day, a stranger called and said Dolores could no longer work for us. Ben hung up and said, "Damn. What has the world come to?"

Jewel found a cookbook and ordered me to learn to cook while Ben searched for a new employee. Neither my mother nor Ben acted normal. They were fidgety and half-angry all the time. The newscasters were manic, Ben said, and I thought the kids at school acted a little crazy as well. Nothing was settled or productive. Teachers were cross and jumpy. The whole world seemed to shake with anxiety.

I retreated to my room and wrote. I wrote stories about how Jewel, Ben, and I once hiked into the Superstition Mountains with tranquility, past great armies of Saguaro cactus, surprising creeks, and hairy, out-of-the world craggy pinnacles that rose above us like giant icons with shaggy exteriors and the faces of old men. In an awkward, child's way, I worshiped these fantastic formations. I wanted to linger among their shadows and listen to their stories, but I was never allowed to stay behind.

Ben and Jewel didn't know I wanted to be a writer like my father. The only things I knew about him was that he had been a writer and a humanitarian. I didn't bother about the humanitarian part because the idea seemed too big. I wrote about Dolores. I knew she was homesick for her village and sent money home to keep her mother from starving. I knew she feared the immigration officials and most other Anglo people, including Jewel and Ben. Now she was gone. I sometimes cried and told Mary Bell about my sorrow. I had learned to hold a stiff upper lip, however-important to my Danish mother. Inside, I wilted in worry and loss, but neither Jewel nor Ben noticed.

Ben found a new housekeeper, a white woman named Bertha, who turned out to be a terrible cook. At age fifteen, I became tied to the kitchen and my cookbook. I wanted to write stories about Bertha, but when I tried to be friendly, she said, "What are ya doin'? Writin' a book or somethin'?" For Christmas, I received an elaborate apron and a chef's hat.

In an August night, I was awakened by voices outside my bedroom door. Ben and Jewel whispered, and I heard other voices as well. They hurried up and down the stairs, but sleep captured me once more, and I didn't learn until morning that Ben had left. My mother continued packing. She said, "We must leave as well."

"Where to?"

"I don't know yet. Start thinking about what you want to take. You may have the trunk I left by your door and your carryon. That's all."

Mother soon sold many of her paintings and the remainder she packed in an old Toyota. Ben had taken the Buick, but it showed up later at a friend's house that I only knew as Joe. Joe gave Jewel the Toyota and sold the Buick. "Safer that way," he said. He also took away some of our furniture in his pickup so that we might use it in our new home when we found one.

We made trips to a storage unit and packed away Ben's photo equipment and the last of Jewel's paintings. To rid us of everything left, we conducted a yard sale and donated the unsold items to a charity. "A big loss," Jewel said, "but it had to be done."

After a month in a two-room apartment with only mats to sleep on, we moved to a four-room bungalow that we were able to furnish with what was saved in Joe's pickup. I slept on the living room sofa because Mother used the second bedroom as her studio. We never again had parties; only a few friends came by and stayed briefly.

Our house was in a development with dozens of houses that looked like ours and had two or three cars in various levels of deterioration parked in front. We had only our Toyota, and Mother isolated herself in the house. She wanted nothing to do with our new neighbors.

We drove fifteen miles or so to the Superstition Mountains to take care of our morning exercise, climbing up past all the weird pinnacles to a pool, nestled in shadows, where rainwater didn't evaporate sufficiently to dry it out. Mother, with her long legs, walked ahead. If I said anything, she said, "Sh, we're in nature."

We would sit by the mountain pool and rest. I could see our big house from this high perch and wished I were there again with Dolores, Ben, and Mary Bell. By then, Mary Bell had run away and was never seen again. I heard stories at school of how boys caught stray cats and tortured them, but that was so disturbing I refused to think about it. Rather, I imagined Mary Bell in the care of an elderly woman.

Mother kept watching in the rearview mirror when we drove to the post office. She said she worried that someone might tail her, but she never explained why. She had used the address of our first apartment to obtain a postal box and register me in school. The only mail that came to the bungalow was addressed to 'resident.' Mail from Ben, our friends, relatives, or the school came to the post office box and was addressed to Miss Jane Fowler.

The teachers at my new school thought I was accelerated, and they moved me up-after I passed a few tests-to the status of a junior in high school. Girls at the junior level talked about boys and boys talked about fucking.

When we lived in the big house, I never dared invite anyone home because of all the naked bodies on the walls-some of them my own. In the cottage, I felt that Mother wouldn't appreciate having talkative girls intrude. Since Ben had gone, she hardly ever spoke. Her paintings changed to somber darkness. They looked like the depictions of an approaching storm or the damage that might follow.

I wasn't certain what my friends might think of my mother's paintings, or even if I wanted to call them friends. I never had an interest in boys other than to consider them dumb and rude. But, at this new school, if I claimed to have a friend, it would be Walter.

He worked at the ice-cream store, and we attended the same history class during the last period of the day. He often walked me home on his way to work. His wavy hair sprouted heavily so that he looked to have a large head. His eyes were soulful, and one had a scar across the top of the lid as if it had once been partially severed. The lid drooped badly and made him appear enigmatic.

Unlike other boys, Walter actually read books and didn't mind talking about them. I sometimes read my stories to him. He said I was exotic and like a chocolate ice-cream cone that he would like to lick. I let him kiss me.

Walter's one leg was shorter than the other, and he had to wear a platform shoe. He limped and couldn't participate in any of the varsity sports, but he was both editor and sports writer for the school newspaper. The guys howled and hugged him when he wrote favorably about them and called him names when he didn't. He only smiled. His eyelid and mass of hair made him appear older than he was and exquisitely savvy.

I wrote articles for the paper as well, and Walter always accepted them for publication. I wrote about alienation in the school and suggested that clubs should be formed in order for students to make more friends. Surprisingly, the faculty decided to sponsor clubs during our homeroom hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Walter and I joined the photographer's club, hosted by the shop teacher. We had fun photographing our community for articles in the newspaper, and it started us visiting trails in the Superstition Mountains.

Walter's father allowed him the use of the family pickup on Saturday afternoons, and we went riding together. I showed him places in the Superstitions that Ben, Jewel, and I had found. We took our time hiking and talked along the way. Sometimes he stopped in order to simply smile down at me and give me a kiss.

I showed him places where there were secret pools, especially after the winter rain. One of these had nicely worn rock mounds around it where we could lie and discuss the world and the latest books we had read, such as, The Natural History of the Rich, or Stupid White Men. I told him about Ben's ideas as well, and he was flabbergasted that I knew anyone like Ben. His hand would always slip under my shirt and cup one of my small breasts as we talked, and I would feel so complete, so damp between my legs and so terribly alive.

One day Walter said he wanted to see me naked. His eyes were plaintive and his drooping eyelid made him seem so mature. We hiked to our secret pool and I undressed, slowly, while he watched. Finished with my shoes and socks, I stood barefoot on a granite height, gyrating my hips, smiling at him. Then I undid my jeans, unzipping them slowly while I watched his expression. I pushed them down my legs, and stepped out, unbuttoned my blouse and discarded it over a rock. I did some stretches while grinning at him. Finally, I took my underpants off and was completely naked. Walter stood, looking entranced and very serious. I twisted my shoulders to make my breasts stand out, feeling so wonderfully liberated and sexy as I walked into his arms.

He kissed me, almost with violence, and pushed his pant-guarded penis against me until he came. When it was over, I suddenly felt shy, dressed quickly, and practically ran back to his pickup. I felt embarrassed the next day to even see him in class, but he put his arm around me as we left, and said, "Come on, beautiful. I'll walk you home."

My homeroom teacher thought Ben was my father, because that's what my record from my old school said. When he asked where Ben was, I told him he had gone to Africa. The next day, during history class, the principal requested, over the loud speaker, that I come to the office. I looked to Walter for guidance. He nodded and gave an encouraging smile.

At the office, a stranger sat in the captain's chair beside the principal's desk. She said, "This man wants to talk to you, Mara. Please sit down." She walked out, as if leaving was urgent, but left the door a few inches ajar.

The man said, "Sit down, Mara."

I sat, closed my eyes and my mind as well. My heart pumped madly.

He didn't speak for a time, and I opened my eyes to see the reddish, irritated skin on his closely shaven face. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and studied me with squinty, bead eyes. I looked down at the floor that had twelve-inch asphalt tile. I counted four tiles between us.

He cleared his throat and started asking questions. All kinds of questions: How old are you? How long have you gone to this school? What friends do you have?

His voice sounded gruffly pleasant, but I didn't trust him. As I sometimes had seen Dolores do, I hugged myself for safety.

"Your father, Benjamin Zobell, has gone away?"


"When did you last see him?"

"I don't know."

"Was it summer?"

"I don't remember."

"Do you hear from him?"


"Does your mother hear from him?"

"I don't know."

"Where is your mother now?"

"At home."

"Your mother's in trouble. Did you know that?"

I gasped. Looked at his framed glasses, his dark eyes. I decided that he lied. How could my mother be in trouble?

"You can help her by answering my questions about your father."

He waited, studying me.

"Where's your father?" His voice was stern.

"In Africa."

"Africa." He seemed disgusted with my answer.


"Who told you?"

"My mother."

He squinted at me.

"What's your address?"

"I don't know."

"A smart girl like you? You're lying."

"I don't know." I was insistent, almost crying now.

"You never write or hear from him?"


The school bell rang, and he sat forward. "Come. I'll take you home."

"No. I don't know you."

He took a small folder from his pocket, opened it and showed me a card. It said, FBI.

I looked at his red face and said, "I don't care who you are." I then swished from my chair, opened the door enough to get out, pulled it closed, and ran. I heard him open it again and saw the principal standing in the hall with her arms folded, studying the bulletin board.

Doors began to open, allowing the last classes of the day to spill into the halls. I fell in with the flow of kids who were going out the back door to catch the busses. They crowded around me, yelling, teasing, and generally feeling joyful to be set free. I headed directly toward a long line catching Bus 12, but then ducked around the back. I turned for a moment, searching for the man in heavy glasses, but didn't see him. I ran down the sidewalk away from the school. Before I took the corner, I checked for the man again. I ran, changing directions constantly, making a huge detour until I approached our bungalow. I hid on the porch of a vacant house across the street and watched ours. I felt both scared and weary, and asked Walter to help me. He would wonder where I was, but I had no way of telling him.

I couched against the cement behind a disintegrating wicker love seat. My hands were fists. I had a headache, but I waited. Finally, near twilight, I slipped across the street and entered my house.

Jewel slept. She did that often. I had difficulty arousing her. She looked at me in puzzlement, and I had to tell her twice what had happened. Finally, she got out of bed and made coffee. She paced the kitchen and drank. She didn't say anything about how I had handled myself, escaping from the FBI man. How I had saved her, missed seeing Walter in order to do it.

After a time, she said, "We must pack." A half hour later, we were in the Toyota with only our clothes, some personal stuff, and Jewel's most favored paintbrushes. We stopped at the post office to pick up Miss Jane Fowler's mail and then joined the freeway, headed south. I imagined Walter digging into the hard ice cream to make cones, observing people from beneath his drooping eyelid, while smiling. I listened to the drone of tires, the engine, and pictured Walter with his arms around me.

Late in the night, Jewel awoke me, and we registered at a motel near the Mexican border. I had never stayed in such a lousy motel, and I complained. But it wasn't the motel that bothered me, it was Jewel taking me away to God only knew where, and she didn't give a damn about how that felt to me. She didn't care that I had been brave and not let the FBI man find her. I told her that the FBI man said she was in trouble, and laughing, she said, "What's new?" She didn't care that I was scared half to death and wanted to be with Walter. She took a pill and went to sleep.

I didn't. I tossed about and had terrible dreams. When morning came, I felt grumpy and refused to eat at the nearby café. "As you wish," Jewel said.

We crossed into Mexico with all the tourists going to Rocky Point. Jewel told the officials that we were going there as well, which didn't require a tourist card, but we didn't. We drove to Hermosillo, and I waited in the car while she made phone calls and went to a bank. Later, we drove to a private dwelling on a slummy road. Jewel told me to wait in the car. When she returned, she said, "We have the proper documents now."

We headed south and drove all day to Navojoa, where we stopped for the night. I slept. The next night, we stayed in Guadalajara. Walter seemed so far away I could hardly remember his face, his walk, or his smile. I became a zombie, but Jewel didn't notice. After a few days in Mexico City, she sold our Toyota. The next day we flew to Costa Rica. Mother said that I must not write to anyone. "We don't want anyone to know where we are."


"For a long time."

"I have friends."

"Forget them. We're starting over."

"I don't want to."

"Listen to me. The US government wants us. We're in a foreign country and they'll feel free to kidnap us. Even torture us."


"Because they want Ben. You already know that."

"Will they torture Ben?"

She shrugged. "They could simply assassinate him. They do that now, you know-like in the wild west."

Jewel left our hotel every day after searching the want ads. Finally she came home with a bottle of wine. "We must celebrate," she said.


"I have met a nice man, and he has offered me a job. I'm using an assumed name. You must call me Julie Sorensen now. You may remain Mara, but your last name is Sorensen."

She had regained her old vitality and did a little dance.

"Who is this man?"


Shortly after my mother went to work at the girl's school, she bought a badly abused Volkswagen bug, and we moved to this house in the country. It's adobe and stucco with large cool rooms and gray walls. A few pieces of furniture stand lost in its vastness. The kitchen was designed for many servants. A long table and a wood-burning stove occupy its dull spaciousness. It has no refrigerator.

In the room where I sit, the afternoon sun shows briefly before it hides behind the amarilla trees in back. There's no furniture here at all. No paintings. No softness anywhere. But the sun brings a yellow glow, and I wait for that.

The coffee-bean pickers have arrived at the jacaranda trees and are loading the trucks with their pickings. The Indians always wear bright colors.

One day, last month, I waited for them in the shade and talked with the Costa Rican truck drivers. I hoped to talk to the Indians, but when they came near, I saw their grim faces and bodies soaked in sweat. I grew shy and walked away, spent time, instead, talking with the chickens. They are nestled in the dust now, their wings hanging outward to catch the faint breeze.

At three-thirty each day, Julie arrives and brings me food. Ralph will pick her up at four and they will go out for the evening. She will dress flamboyantly and talk with high spirits. She is such a lively person now.

"Are you going to marry him?"

"Of course not. I'm married to Ben."

"You're with him all the time."

"We live in his house, darling. How could we get along without his help?"

"I hate this house."

"Read more. Plant a garden. I've provided everything I can for you. We don't have money, you know. So face up to our dilemma. It's not forever."

"It's been six months."

"So?" She shrugged as she shimmied into her new silk dress, and I heard Ralph's horn blow. "I must go, sweetie. See you in the morning."

Sun shines on the tile floor now. It's past three. It will soon hide behind the amarilla trees. Go deep into your soul, I say. Walter will be with you.

The knife is light. Sunshine warms my cheek. I try to visualize Walter. His essence. His self-confidence. Be decisive, I tell myself and press hard on the knife. I see-saw it across my wrist.

There's no blood at all for a moment, but then the flow becomes shocking. I drop the knife and draw my wrist to my breast, pressing it inward. My blouse soaks it in. My belly becomes wet. I feel queasy and scared.

Pressing hard on my wrist with my skirt, I wrap a portion around my arm. Still the blood comes. It flows between my legs. "Walter," I whisper. "Hug me."

I think I hear a car; maybe it's the Volkswagen. I feel faint, and my head is hazy. "Pease hug me. Someone. Please!"

The sun descends behind the amarilla trees. Shadows cloak everything and dim my window. "Please. Mother?"