Already I'm behind. But I've gotten somewhere, though I'm still in Oklahoma.
We didn’t have a watch but we’d left our home in the liquor warehouse offices with plenty of time to spare. It seemed like forever under the awning of the Provine Service Station and every minute hotter than the one before. I was thirsty but my father never got thirsty or hungry. I went out on the highway and looked up and down, up and down, up and down. Nothing. Then I did it again. Nothing. I couldn’t remember the last time anything came up the highway. Then I did it again. There was a baby blur of silver to the south, getting bigger and bigger, but not making a noise. If it was any kind of normal vehicle I would have heard it because the world was near empty of sound, the sun having driven all the noise underground with the snakes and the desert rats. I stepped back onto the dirt next to the road and waited. Coming closer it looked like a bullet, silver gray with the light dancing off its rounded point. The Genotype International mobile unit traveled on four enormous bicycle tires that did not seem to touch the pavement. They floated over the cracks in the road. The tapered top of the vehicle reflected the blue of the sky, then lit up like a bulb. It slowed only a little and then was standing stock still in front of me. Behind me my father rose from the bench and shambled between two saguaro. The Genotype International mobile unit looked to me near as big as the Provine Service Station, standing right next to it. A door appeared in its silver skin and out of the door came a ladder, and down the ladder came two men, one the messenger in the same white jump suit and the same pink face he was wearing before and behind him a round-bellied black man wearing a doctor’s white coat and large white hat like fake cowboys once wore. This is Abaeze, the pink-faced man said to the black man, and the black man held out his hand to me. I didn’t know what to do but to take it, and he wriggled his fingers around until he could give my hand a squeeze that like to have broken all those little bones. I am Doctor Eye, he said. He looked and stepped past me toward my father, and held out his hand as he had to me, and said as he had to me, My name is Doctor Eye. My father knew how to shake a hand but he seemed to lose interest when flesh met flesh and his gaze wandered up to the giant bullet of the Genotype International mobile unit. I had a gun that shot bullets looked just like that truck thing of yours, he said. Don't know what happened to that gun.
It's hot outside, Dr. Eye said, why don't we go inside where it's cool. And we swept out his white-suited arm like a bullfighter.
I reckon stay out here and settle up with your man, my father said. You go ahead with the boy. Go ahead, Abaeze, go on up the ladder. Dr. Eye smiled and spread his arms wide.
I ought to have been scared but I had never met a doctor before that day. Nobody had ever done a thing to hurt me, unless you count my mother who died or my sisters who left or my father who often seemed to look right through me. Though in fairness to him, he had taken to looking right through everything, like there was something off in the distance that was just coming into sight, something he couldn't afford to miss seeing. He surprised me later, my father, with what he wasn't showing and what he saw out there where the blue dust met the blue sky. I climbed as I had been told, and Dr. Eye came after me, much faster than I would have expected. When I got to the top, before I went through the door, I look back and down at my father, who was talking to the man in the white jump suit. Business was being taken care of, so I went in. Just behind me Dr. Eye popped through the door, and then the door snapped shut.
It was cool in the Genotype International mobile unit, though I did not properly appreciate the raw wonderfulness of air con when I was little. We had the air-con in our warehouse office, thanks to the solar the liquor distributers had left behind, and we kept it on low to keep the worst of the heat outside. But mostly we lived outdoors, flitting from sun to shade, sleeping under the trillion stars, letting the breeze wash over us. I stared forgetting what was outside the second I entered the mobile unit, and it was only a couple minutes, in the cool bright light that seeped from the walls, before I couldn't remember where I had come from or where I was. Dr. Eye was smiling, all the time smiling. This is only going to take a few minutes, Abaeze, and the words seeped from this mouth like the light from the walls. Just sit down over here on this table. I hopped my butt up on the metal table he pointed at, and he handed me an open, old-timey bottle of Coca-Cola, cold enough to suck the skin off my hand. He probably thought this was some kind of treat for me but we had a mountain of old-timey Coca-Cola in our warehouse. Drink it down, son, you'll feel better.
I felt fine but I drank it anyway and that's the last thing I recall about the Genotype International mobile unit or Dr. Eye. Some time later I woke up on my cot in the warehouse office, feeling like it was morning and I might be going somewhere I’ve never been, later on.
It took nearly five years before all the Japanese plum wine was all gone, plus the few cases of Canadian Club I’d found in the stack of orange fizz, my personal favorite. I expected something dramatic. But my father just went on like he had before, only spending more time outside in the sun, looking off toward the whisper of blue mountains in the west. There was a bench downtown he preferred because, I guessed, it gave him a clear view down the cross street, into the desert, to where the sun set. Sometimes I sat there with him and watched the light leak out of the sky, from blue to orange to black. At first, I could barely make out a ripple in the flat horizon line, but then I began to see more, as if there was a wind out there kicking up the surface of the earth. Then I began to see the individual shapes of the mountains, the two tall peaks, sometimes with snow, sometimes bare golden stone. You see them now, don’t you, my father asked, and I nodded. And he nodded in return. There’s more and bigger on the other side, he said. I saw it on the map. I think I can almost see them. Any day now. But I saw them before he did, the Sangre de Cristo, white-capped, carving the blue and orange twilight, the air so clear I reached out and cut my finger on the sharpest peak.
One day I realized that my father had stopped eating. Nothing else seemed to have changed, though soon I realized that he was radiating heat, like a stone that had set in the sun all day. I could see the surface of his skin with great clarity, the dry gullies and gulches, a glistening that had nothing to do with water. More like the hazy glow that hovered above the desert when the sun was highest. It was not long after that he stopped speaking. He left me notes written in bright red on the liquor warehouse stationary -- there were boxes and boxes of company stationary -- and left them on my cot. The money is in the safe, one note said. The next day he wrote down the combination. The next day he told what a safe was and where to find it. I had to move the desk where the boss had once sat, and lifted a hidden door, made of the same wood-like material as the floor, to find the steel safe and its smooth black dials. The spun with hardly a sound, and kept spinning. I tried to open the safe using the three numbers my father had written for me, but the handle would never turn and I gave up. It would be easier to ask my father to open the safe for me. Outside it was nearly dark, just a collar of blue sky resting on the horizon. My father was not on his bench or on any of his favorite sitting stone. I walked behind what had been the bank, across the parking lot -- there were three ancient cars still parked there, still looking fine, like someone would return any minute from their business at the bank and drive them home -- and then into the desert. The ground was hard with flinty bits of stone that drove their fingers into my bare feet. It was loud with the noise of bugs and night birds. There was a kind of path, mostly in my head, between the creosote bushes and the mesquite, that led to a ring of stones in an open place where my father sometimes came. I asked him about the ring of stones but he said he had no idea who put them there or what they were for. He did like that they were there, that was enough reason for him to come and sit, and sometimes even lie between them. And that’s how I found him, lying face up studying the constellations, all the breath in him breathed out, all the heartbeats used up, not smiling and not frowning.
I was grieved but not surprised and the grief did not reach to the place inside from where the things that need to be done get done. The thought it had in my mind the minute after thinking that he was truly dead, was the thought that I couldn’t leave him out laying the dirt all night or the animals would have him for dinner. It wouldn’t be much of a dinner, the way he hadn’t been eating at all, and it might take a while before everyone came for their taste, and it wouldn’t be something I would want to see. I wouldn’t want to see some coyote gnawing on a bone the next week and wonder it was the bone that connected my father’s hand to his elbow. I began to circle slowly from ring of stones, picking up the branches and bits of bush that had been set free, slowly outward until my arms were full. I found a full-sized tumbleweed about thirty yards from where my father lay and I brought that book too. I piled all the plant matter on my father, and went back to searching. I didn’t stop gathering until I had a pile of dried grass, branch and leaf, as tall as my head, and nothing of my father to be seen. Then I walked back to the liquor warehouse and filled up a gasoline can from the pump -- folks had left a lot behind in Hydro and most of it had yet to see any reason to stop working. There was lighter by the gas stove in Mrs. Lutigan’s kitchen -- she was near the last person to leave her home and it was as tidy now as it had been when she lived in it. I didn’t expect that she would be back to Hydro, but the refrigerator would be ready for her if she did, still purring away, thanks to the the solar fixed on her roof. I took the gasoline and matches, and a can of Vienna sausages from Mrs. Lutigan’s pantry, back to where my father was lying under the hill of branch and bush.
I sat down in the dirt next to the pile of brush and sticks and pried open the little can of Vienna sausages. One at a time I at them, three bits apiece. The last one I wanted to eat whole but I resisted the temptation. There was a warehouse full of canned food in Hydro too. Must be someone thought highly of Hydro's prospects at one time, with the tomatoes springing up and the well's flowing. They must have taken the prospects with them when they left, the ones that piled up and left behind all the cans of orange fizz, Japanese plum wine, and Vienna sausages. I couldn't think of anything else to do, or anything else that needed to be thought about, and the coyotes had crept a little closer, howling crazy. I could see their red eyes rolling out there, deep in the purple sage. With my hands on the bottom of the gas can, I danced around the pile of brush, arms outstretched gyrating and the gasoline shooting out. Twice around I got before the can was empty. I picked up a piece of tumbleweed and held the lighter to the branches, thinking I should have saved a little of the gas for this part, but finally it caught and then blossomed, looking ready to take my hand and arm. So I threw it on the top of the pile of brush and it was hardly a second before the whole thing was throwing fire into the black sky, and the coyotes howled even louder and whatever else was out in the desert joined in, clicking, moaning, rustling, keening, singing altogether. I wished I knew the right song to sing when you set your father on fire. But I stayed silent, walking around and around the blaze until it was just a small coffin of deep orange, and from there I heard my father sigh one last time, the sigh he'd been saving through all the days and weeks and years and long minutes since my mother died. And when the first went out there was not a sign of his having ever been underneath, not a bone, not the charred zipper of his blue jeans, not a thing left for the coyotes and the desert mice and buzzards. The it began to rain, the first time that year, and it kept raining for days and days, and when it finally stopped and the sun returned, the desert was aflame with flowers of every possible color. I could see right into the sweet heart of every one.