by Alli Kirkham
The day is hot and I am hot and the sky is so bright that it has become colorless and flat at noon.
I can feel sweat trickling down my nose, landing on my chest, but I can't brush it or the irritating flies away from my face; my hands are occupied with red rocks and my eyes are occupied with staring very carefully straight ahead but never down. I feel the grit of sandstone bite into my bare spine, bare hands, bare feet.
I am the smoke, I think over and over. Smoke rises. Smoke Rises.
I find the ledge that lets me know I'm close. I breathe and rest, securing my hair behind my face and checking my palms for cuts that might bleed enough to slip my grip and kill me. Then onwards and upwards. The summit is red. The sky is blind. The wind is high and dries my sweat and cools me.
After the climb up it is easy hiking to the pool. I don't know if anyone else has ever found it. I haven't told anyone about it, not even my mother who worries as she presses a dry meal and a full skin on me before I go. I don't even know if it is here all the time or only comes, like the locusts do, on a schedule that is too broad for me to remember.
From my perch at the top the pool seems infinite and turquoise. The day is hot. The water looks heartbreakingly cool. I wonder if it will taste of salt as I do, and if it doesn't I wonder if my sweat will change the flavor once I am gone.
I spread my arms. The wind dries my sweat and cools me. There are birds overhead and all the rest of the desert is quiet under the frowning eye of the sun.
I run to the edge, screaming to give myself courage, and one of the birds cries out with me.
I think I am the smoke, and leap, hoping the pool is deep enough.