Jolie abandoned the old pickup when it ran out of gas, leaving time behind without noticing.
She took up her backpack, wrapped the blanket from the front seat around her shoulders, and walked on through the desert night; without direction, destination, or goal, entombed in the numbness of grief.
Jolie walked as the sun came over the mountains and rose high into the sky, kissing her face with fire. Her steps wove and danced with the heat waves, blisters licking her feet.
She walked until she could not walk, slept, beset by dreams of loss, then woke and walked on. Walking required no decisions.
Her mind shunned the thoughts and concerns that could have grounded her to physical reality. Nothing, not her future, not her mother’s death, not her friend’s precarious hold on life, could entice her mind to stay with her body and remember. Without a shovel, she had buried it all.
As the sun set behind the western mountain range, she walked into the shade.
“What will become of me?” she asked the liquid blue sky, lying down beneath the trees of the pine forest. Diamond tears trickled from the edges of her eyes.
If there had still been magic in the world, a magic plant might have grown where her tears touched the ground, or a small but perfect hero might have leaped up, vowing to help her find her way. But there were no more heroes in the land. She was alone.
Jolie closed her eyes, listening to the tiny seeds lying dormant in the dirt, take in the moisture of her tears, and use it to bloom into flowers. Sturdy grasses grew up around her until she was completely hidden.
A pair of bare feet shushed through the grass, walking past her.
Jolie opened her eyes and rolled listlessly onto her side to see who had come.
Mem, sat on a nearby stump, dressed in a long white shift, her long white hair unbound.
“Well, don’t just lie there, Cherie. You’ve come all this way; come over here and talk to me,” Mem’s voice teased her senses, like the trickle of a hidden spring.
Jolie crawled through the grass, her limbs too heavy to stand, and she lay her head in her grandmother’s lap. Long fingers began to gently untangle the strands of Jolie’s hair, just as they had when she was a little girl princess, heir to the Boulette kingdom, back in the days before she was changed into the guise of a common girl.
“Mom’s dead, isn’t she, Mem?” Jolie said quietly after a while.
“Yes,” her grandmother replied.
“I tried to make her life better, but I wasn’t enough.” Her tears stained her grandmother’s gown where it stretched over the old woman’s knees.
“It wasn’t your fault. That wasn’t your job,” Mem assured her, gently. “Jessie just couldn’t make life work this time around. There was too much pain in her. She couldn’t let go of it or get past it.”
“She tried to run away from it.” Jolie sniffled.
“I’ve never seen that work. Eventually, you have to face what you’re running from, especially if it’s yourself,” Mem mused.
“I never understood what she was running from. Mom never talked about her past or her family,” Jolie thought back. “It was like her life started when she met Dad.”
Mem nodded. “We were as close to a family as she ever had.”
“But that wasn’t enough either,” Jolie surmised.
“Am I going to be like that, Mem?” Jolie sat up and searched her grandmother’s face.
“You?” The old woman chuckled. “No, not you. You’re a Boulette. Our ancestors have been set upon by outsiders generation after generation. They have tried to persecute us, take our land, our lives, our very souls, but we survived and held, and here we are, still going. You’ve got the best parts of sturdy old world stock in you, all mixed up together like a grand experiment in what human beings could become, and when things get hard, that gumption packs a wallop of get up and go.
“I am so proud of you, Jolie. You never let yourself get dragged down believing that someone else’s approval could make you whole. It takes a lot of courage to honor ourselves like that when all we want is for someone to love us.”
“Remy doesn’t love me,” Jolie confessed, feeling broken inside. “It was Bodhi he loved.”
“That’s not true,” Mem scolded her. “Why that boy loves you like crazy. There are all kinds of love worth having that has nothing to do with sex, Jolie, no matter what you see in the picture shows.”
Jolie giggled. “Nobody calls them picture shows anymore, Grandma. They call them movies now.”
“I can call them what I like. I’m dead,” Mem said, firmly.
“Everyone is, it seems, except me.” A silent river of sadness rolled over the top of the dam that Jolie had built to hold back her despair. “What am I going to do now, Mem? I’m all alone.” She wept.
“You’re going to figure it out like you always do.” Mem stroked Jolie’s hair. “You’ll think on it awhile, and then pretty soon, you’ll come up with a plan. You’re smart that way. You’ll get back up on your feet, Cherie, and you’ll move on.”
With their hearts wrapped around each other, the two Boulette women coiled themselves into the forest’s silence, breathing with the trees, their eyelids fluttering in rhythm with the butterflies’ wings, their heartbeats matching the thump in the chest of the black-tailed deer and the wild mountain mustangs.
When Jolie woke, her arms were wrapped around a tree stump, her face resting on the scar of its cut, her cheek imprinted with the texture of its life’s circles. Night was coming again, and the wind was calling her name.
“Jolie.... Jolie....” The voices floated from across the valley, coming to her from where she had been.
Jolie pushed herself to her feet and climbed to the next ridge.
At the peak of the ridge, she looked back at the forested mountainside. Lights flashed among the trees, moving methodically down the hill toward the little field where she had rested on the stump.
Uwipi, she thought, smiling as she turned and continued to climb.
At the top of the mountain, Jolie once again scanned the landscape ahead. The night was advanced now, the sliver of a new moon preparing to set behind the mountains that defined the western horizon. The wind slowed, hushing the forest for the overture that would begin with a new day.
Jolie pulled the blanket more tightly around her shoulders.
“Where are you going?” a passing breeze asked.
“Nowhere,” her heart answered.
In the distance, to the northeast, a burro brayed, “Come home, come home, come home."
"Red Rock.” Jolie’s chin trembled and tears rolled down her face. Not everything was gone. Some things remained, eternal. She had a direction. She turned her feet to the northeast and began to walk.
Jolie’s mind blended memories of the past with visions of the future, weaving dream into life and life into dream, without a seam between. She saw people she knew and some she had yet to know. Understandings she could never fit into words poured into her; prophecies of the future, terrible and marvelous. But these were the realities of spirit, visions that became clearer the closer the balance tipped toward that world. Physically, everything hurt.
One foot in front of the other; one step, then another.
When she came to the red dirt road that ran east to west across her path, a grateful smile cracked her blistered lips. Stumbling unsteadily, she turned downhill.
She had a destination now. She had a purpose: she would go to Red Rock and sit once more beneath the pink mountain.
Jolie opened her eyes. She could not remember lying down or closing them. The blue had been drained from the sky, replaced by a drape of darkness, sprinkled over with the light of a million suns.
Her swollen tongue felt strange and alien, filling your mouth like a big hot dog in a small bun, and sharp stabs jabbed at her lower back; her kidneys were beginning to shut down.
She closed her hand, taking up a fistful of the red dirt beneath her, and smeared it over her cheeks, across her forehead, and down the front of her shirt.
I am done, she announced. Rolling over onto her side, Jolie rested her head on her arm, gazing down the deserted dirt road. It no longer mattered if her eyes were open or closed; she saw the spirit world either way. Her eyelids closed.
When they flickered opened again the old black jack was ambling up the red dirt road toward her.
“Hello, old man," her heart greeted him. “What are you doing here?” The burro’s shaggy body stepped from shadow into starlight, the tips of his velvety ears glowing.
“The Mountain sent me. Get up. She is waiting for you.”
“I am done with all that now,” Jolie told him.
“She says you are not done,” he told her, firmly. “She says that you are just beginning.” His dark liquid eyes were bright with life but heavy with the understanding of it. “Stand up, Girl Who Knows Nothing. That is the first step.”
Holding onto the old jack, Jolie dragged herself to her feet, wound her arms around the burro’s thick neck, and pulled herself up onto his back. With her fingers woven through his mane, she lay her head against his dusty shoulder. The old burro turned around and started down the road, back the way he had come.