We squeeze in the rear-facing seat of the maroon station wagon. The town disappears and the desert takes over. For half an hour, we sing along to Spanish songs, fill in words we don’t know with ideas of our own until we cross the border into Algodones. We wait with windows down while Tias buy meds, get glasses, see the dentist. We chant clap, “Down by the banks, there’s some hanky panky” five ways until hands sting from too fast, too hard. We get sweet treats from street carts. Mango for Elisa. Tamarindo for Delia. Joanna and me both get piña. Maribel decides to be daring and tries coco for the first time. We pass them around and try all the flavors.
In Yuma, our bedroom is an add-on by the garage, far away from sleeping grown-ups. We make five mounds with blankets and stuffed animals to look like bodies. Outside the window, we’d stacked black milk crates like steps. After dark, we climb out and our steps crunch on dead grass. Down the street at Kofa High, we balance beam along a narrow bench, stomp our size seven shoes on the mosaic mascot. We race up and down outdoor corridors, our slapping steps echo in the darkness. At the football field, we climb into metal bleachers and pretend we are part of a cheering crowd. “Do the wave!” We stand and sit one at a time until our arms and legs are too tired. When a plane lands at the airport nearby, swear we see someone wave back.
Elisa fakes a haughty accent. “Time to play a round of golf.”
We follow her south on Avenue A, the opposite direction of home, pick up rocks along the way. Delia changes hers three times. Her second reject is Joanna’s now. At the first hole, we fan out, ten paces back, and set our rocks down. We kneel to gauge the texture of the turf, study its lumps and grooves.
“Youngest first this time.” They all look at me, know that I’ll choke.
“Wait? What? Why?” I sputter and shake my short mess of curls. “I always go last.”
“And you always miss, Larissa.”
“Might as well get it over with.”
They all sit and wait.
“Fine!” I usually kick too hard or too soft or miss my rock completely. I get in position, line up the side of my shoe. One, two, three! My first hole-in-one.
We all cheer.
I run around the circle, high-five upstretched arms.
We walk home the long way, down Eighth Avenue. We take off our shoes and jump in cool, damp dirt piles at the still under construction Saguaro Estates. We challenge each other to climb higher and jump farther.
Elisa runs across the top of a long mound of dirt and her feet sink slightly with each step. She leaps across to the next mound and yowls a string of foul words so loud a dog responds. She rolls down the opposite side, her cries muffled by mud.
We run around to meet her.
Delia gets to Elisa first.
Maribel holds up Elisa’s foot, pulls a piece of glass out. Blood gushes.
I mutter, “Holy shit,” and wrap a sock to stop the bleeding.
Joanna barfs all over her own shirt.
Elisa turns gray in the moonlight.
“Keep it elevated,” Delia orders Maribel. “Get on her other side,” she says to me. “You, get our shoes.” Joanna wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and scrambles to gather five pairs in her arms.
We creep through the alleys, hide in dark corners, sneak back in later than we’d planned. Two of us thud land on the hardwood floor, listen in case Tio heard. Two of us pass Elisa through the window before diving through behind her. Two of us scout the hallway and check the bathroom. Two of us carry Elisa into the tub. She groans.
We cram our bodies in the tiny bathroom. One of us pees so the flush covers the sound of the tub water we use to wash the dirt off Elisa’s number two toe.
Delia finds peroxide next to bandages. She pours slowly. We watch the bubbles until they disappear. And Delia pours on more.
Maribel lets Elisa squeeze her hand and yowl more foul words into her chest.
Delia looks under the partially severed toe. “We have popsicle sticks?”
“I’ll get them.” I crawl low out the door, return without a sound.
Maribel holds the toe in place while Delia wraps the bandage tight. Blood still seeps through. “We need plastic wrap.”
“I’m on it!” I crawl out, stealth as before.
Maribel whispers, “Breathe in, breathe out,” like Tias tell us when cramps hurt like hell.
More bandage, some plastic. Delia breaks two sticks in half, makes a four-sided splint. More plastic. More bandage.
“How’s she gonna wear a shoe?” Joanna asks too loud.
We all glare at her.
She flushes the toilet again. “I’ll say I ate too much pie.”
Two of us carry Elisa back. Two of us pick up her blankets and prop her injured foot on all the extra pillows. We surround Elisa, our feet pointed away from hers. We protect her. We keep her safe.
Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera (she/her) writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles and is an Annenberg Fellow at the University of Southern California. She was an editor at Border Senses, VIDA Review, and Ricochet Editions. She works for literary equity through Women Who Submit.