It was cooler inside of the van, even with the side double doors open to the Arizona heat. At least, she thought it was Arizona. Did it matter?
Her mom had found a shady spot under the trees at the latest campground. It must have been near a creek or something since the air here felt almost bearable on her skin, so used to the humid air of the SouthEast. At home, your skin never got thirsty like it did in all these desert states that they had been spending so much of the summer in. Her arms and shins, though even more bronzed from their travels, were becoming flaky, like snake-skin, making the color look dull. She knelt on her cot in the van, the sheets were clean and slick and cool on her bare legs.
How is it that even in serious heat, cotton sheets are always cool to the touch? They are a type of heaven that way…. Dependable, soothing, pure.
Her mom was outside with the others. Most of the group were younger folk, college age, dressed in their old denim and sandals, many sporting peasant blouses with intricate crochet work or with tiny mirrors attached- proof that they had traveled down past the Mexican border, that they were cool and adventurous like that. That they had seen things of the world. Listening to their laughter as they talked, flirted and shared some weed, she felt alone. Sitting by herself in the van wearing her own peasant blouse, bright pink with black embroidery to hold in the tiny mirrors, her hair long and straight and rarely brushed, she looked the part of the peace child, hippy girl, the dawning of the age of Aquarius… Whatever label it was that those nearby needed to pin on her at the moment. And yet, she was different. She had secrets that they would scoff at.
Gently lifting the curtain on the rear window, she peered out. She was an Apache tracker, quiet, unseen…. She noticed the camper parked in the spot across from them. It’s back window was opened, the flowered curtains blew gently in what little breeze there was. Beyond was a card table. One of the types that fold down from the wall, making room for the four older ladies with their silver beauty salon hair to sit holding their cards. Grandmoms. She wondered what they were playing. Oh man! They had cold coke on the table and she imagined she could see ice cubes. It brought her own grandparents to her mind. She missed them, their frozen, air-conditioned front room with it’s monstrous color tv which she was allowed to watch all day while eating an endless supply of ice cream and boiled peanuts. Where she was the ‘princess’, the pet and learned about the lineage her grandmother clung to like a life-preserver in the silent waters of her dysfunctional marriage. “Never forget who your people are,” she would instruct as she went over the charts and lists that extended back a thousand years.
She envisioned leaving her hiding place in the old Ford and going to them, imagining they would make much of her, offer her a cold coke and let her cuddle onto a lap, maybe even teach her the card game they were playing. Their camper was clean and decorated and had a real bathroom she bet! But it was these cravings that she kept secret at the risk of be called out as bourgeoisie or materialistic or selfish. And she knew the look that she might get if she did venture over there, something akin to pity, or worst case, disgust. They were, after all, ‘dirty hippies’ .
A silver-haired face looked out of the camper window while refreshing her drink between card plays. Deep in her thoughts, the girl had forgotten to hide herself, had let herself sit up taller, had opened the curtain farther than intended. She was seen. From across the dirt road, horn rimmed eyes peered into young blue ones. A smile. The woman waved, winked and motioned to her friends, who in turn gave a perfunctory wave before heading back to their game.
She fell out of view onto her cot and into the cool, safe shade of the van. Hugging herself, she smiled.