Madison Mullen

Tumbleweeds run over the frigid desert ground. Stars twinkle in constellations, burgeoning against the black. Their limitless luminescence—so many little points of light—is something of the like I’ve never seen. It is noiseless, and everything seems at peace. In this moment, the world is more beautiful than it ever has been. It allows me to forget where I am. It’s so nice to forget. But I’m drawn back into my reality, behind a boulder near a cliff side, by a gruff voice.

“You keep watch,” he instructs.

I don’t quite hear him. His face is exhausted, covered with remnants of dirt and sand from our evening of hiding behind rocks and bushes. He has a gash on his chin and his arms are covered in a light red sand. I see his eyes, but I know they are somewhere else. He sees me, but he is staring straight through me. I raise a hand to his cheek. I want to remind him that I am here. He is so cold. He swats my hand away, paranoid. We’ve yet to sleep, or rest at all. I miss his touch and the warmth that it once carried. I see his lips part and can’t bear the thought of hearing him scream again if he realizes I hadn’t listened. I consider whose fault it would be if we were to fight again, remaining hushed. We shouldn’t be out here. I know it and he knows it, but this was the only option, the only way to be home with our children. I think before speaking again.

“What?” I whisper.

His head snaps to my direction with angry eyes. I wish I could crawl into my own skin and hide. The sight of his rising arms instills fearful anticipation within me. My arms rise too, shielding myself as I shut my eyes into darkness. It feels as if my throat is closing as I hear him speak, tears brimming behind my eyelids.

I open my eyes and his raised arm waves me closer.

I say nothing. He always wants to be in control of me.

“Get over here,” he whispers harshly. “And take these.”

He tosses me a pair of binoculars. I nod.

“Get down,” he says.

We’re slumped behind a boulder at the cliff’s edge. I shiver with anxiety. It feels like my heart has stopped beating in my chest and instead has fallen into my stomach. Faint memories of being a child come flooding over my brain as I squeeze my hands tightly around the binoculars. My parents had once owned a similar pair. I remember playing with these as a child, spying on my father from the next room as he would drink Centerba Toro. He only got it on his trips to and from Italy. They never wanted me to play with the binoculars, but I am an adult now and I can make my own decisions.

There are several ways we could have gone about this, but sneaking over the border was what we agreed on. One of us could’ve gone over and applied for the other’s way in. Who knew how long that would have taken? I did not want to part from him. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. This was the final and only option for us together, to be with our children. They were safe, staying with my parents. Elena was old enough to get herself up and ready for school, but Mateo barely knew how to hold his bottle. We were trapped over here. It was the worst mistake possible.

“Keep watch,” he says again, noticing me drifting into thought.

“What am I looking for?”

“The guards, you idiot.”

He grits his teeth.

My throat clenches once again, along with my fists. We were happy, so in love, but I hated who he had become. We were only here to visit his dying father. Now, my entire world is dying, our love is dying. In order to do this together, we need to pretend that there is still something there, that we are still something worthwhile.

I remember the moment I met him in high-school. What I would give to start over again.

A flashlight faintly illuminates the hills in the near distance. Looking that way with my binoculars. Rocks are scattered along the path. Sand blows our direction. The desert night’s wind chills my spine.

“Don’t move,” he says.

He returns to a crouch after peering over the boulder.

“What is it?” I ask.

I hear no reply. I shake my head and look over the boulder as he did.

I shouldn’t have. I really shouldn’t have. I want to take it back. I want to gouge my eyes from their sockets and turn back and lean my head against the bolder like he had said. I should listen more often.

There are two men patrolling with three dogs. They sniff the ripe orange sand and I feel my heart fall thudding in my stomach. We are going to get caught. They wear dark black uniforms with badges that I can see reflecting their flashlights. The bright beams crisscross the desert ground. They must do this every night. People will never stop running, no matter what obstacle the government tries to throw their way. I understand this struggle now, I understand what the sadness feels like. The hardship of separation, the feeling of being lost. I feel it in my veins, that hardship solidifying in my heart.

“You see them, don’t you?” I whisper.

He is unresponsive and I wonder if he is even listening. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t hear me, I could barely hear me. I open my mouth to speak, but he waves for me to get down and hide from the light that seems to be getting closer.

“I do,” he finally says. “Cover your face.”

My hands shake, pulling my soft scarf to my face. The wind can no longer get to me. The fabric protects me, as if a shield. I feel guilty for having the scarf, I feel guilty for standing up. I feel guilty for being here and not being with my children. I am guilty of the things that I don’t know how I got myself into. I watch him slip on his wool hat which shades every trace of his face. His every move is so articulate, so careful, so quiet. I wonder if he has ever done anything like this before. I feel like I barely know him anymore.

He reaches and takes my binoculars from me, cold fingers brushing mine. How did we end up here? How could I let him talk me into doing something so foolish? Talk me into thinking this was a good idea?

“Maybe we could go back.” I say.

“And what? Our passports will magically appear? My green card will suddenly be in my pocket? There is no way out for me!” his voice becomes louder every second that he speaks.

He is not worried about me, he is worried about himself.

“This is about us!”

I muster up the words. They ascend from deep inside. I know that my voice is loud. I hold up my hands and take a deep breath.

I have a way in, but he does not. You can tell that I was not born here. I have pale skin and light brunette hair. I have blue eyes.

I consider dropping everything, giving us up, leaving him here in the dark desert.

“You are American,” he says. “There is no option for me alone. I want to go home to my children—”

“Our children,” I snarl. “Our children.”

The guards are drawing closer. He stops listening as I get ready to abandon him and build my case. As I’m about to jump out he tackles me. Dirt worms its way beneath my scarf. It tastes foul.

“Shut up,” he growls as I heave breathlessly.

He remains on top of me, crushing my ribs. In this moment I do not know if I am more afraid of the guards or of my own husband. His eyes are not there, they are still fixated on those guards, they cannot even see us anymore.

Finally, I scream. My eyes burn with tears. We were to be each other’s light to encourage and guide each other. Now all that he feels is anger, and I feel nothing for him. I feel as though I am a tipped over glass of water, poured out until I have become nothing but pure emptiness. His eyes go wide as the beams shine upon us.

“Stay where you are!” I hear the guards shout. I do.

He does not. He turns and runs. He’s a silhouette in the field of flashlights. He leaves me behind without a thought. My heart wilts; this was the last thing I had planned on.

I will be arrested if I do not run as well. In this moment I see him taking off into a valley of nothingness that becomes a dark void. It settles with me now; that I will never see him again. Maybe he will let go and begin a new life. What will I tell my children?

I am a mother, I am stronger without him. I will remember him as weak, or perhaps not at all. I need to run. I was once a wife, and we were once strong. I’m done with him, now.