Erica Olsen

Daphne: Alternative Metamorphoses, While Fleeing Apollo

Erica Olsen

She takes the form of a beer can, crumpled in the ash of a cold fire ring, while a disconsolate Apollo pops the top on another.

Her hair, strands of barbwire. Her limbs, posts of shaggy juniper. She sure does make a guy feel lonesome as he watches the sun, that red orb, set beyond the fenceline.

FR 611B, a secondary, unmaintained road. This rocky manifestation branching off from FR 611 will be closed when the forest implements its revised travel management plan.

A sign, e.g., POSTED NO TRESPASSING. PRIVATE PROPERTY. In orange paint on plywood, a hand-lettered STAY AWAY.

An RV parked in a glade. It moves from place to place, never exceeding the fourteen-day limit. Until the day a tire goes flat. She checks the side mirrors, eases herself out.

Not the RV, the cooler.

Not the cooler, the camo chair.

Where’s my lighter at? He checks his pockets. He checks the truck. She squirms deeper into the duff—all the better to ignite the indifferent forest.

He meets someone else.

The Iron Ranger

They were closing the state parks of Arizona, one by one. Some became malls. Some were guarded by vigilantes—loose coalitions of archaeologists, American Indians, and furloughed government workers.

This land was my land. I wanted to camp. I took the wife and kids, drove out of the city past strip malls, gated communities, the notorious locations of shallow graves, and giant saguaros like dinosaurs up to their knees in quicksand.

We came to a closed park. A fee tube, a fucking iron ranger, stood rusting by the gate.

“Should we pay?” Jane asked herself.

“We’re not fucking paying,” I replied.

“Wyatt,” she said. “Language. The kids.” She shot me a look.

I was Wyatt like Earp, she was Jane like Calamity. I walked with a swagger. My belt buckle seemed larger, or perhaps I was growing slimmer, meaner, more Western.

Jane approached an outcrop. She felt the stone with curious fingers. “Is this natural?” she asked herself. She compared the field guide to our world and vice versa. She identified granite. She identified examples of Sonoran Desert vegetation, such as mesquite. Such as paloverde. Such as ocotillo. “Fouquieria splendens,” she read from the guide.

She walked up and down the trails, educating our children.

I didn’t like the way she’d looked at that iron ranger.

With Jane off hunting and gathering with the kids, I experienced solitude, an abundance of solitude, and tranquility, a lesser portion. After dark, the spangle of illuminated signs along the interstate—Target, Home Depot, Chili’s, Lowe’s, another Target—could be seen with the naked eye. Stars glimmered like the lights of an alien craft.

I thought about how, if necessary, if push came to shove and so forth, I would defend my family.

The boy came back with a snare in one hand and a bunny in the other. “Is this edible?” he asked.
The girl made a fire without matches.

Later, around the campfire, Jane and I had words.

Jane cried. The kids cried.

“Shut up,” I said. “Shut up, shut up.”

I rolled out my sleeping bag, splendidly, in the back of the truck.

From down in the wash came a rustling and a snorting.

“Javelina. Pecari tajacu. They are edible,” Jane whispered.

I heard all the sounds. Asleep between the metal of the longbed and the hard white stars, I had dreams in which the iron ranger was walking up and down on the earth, stern, thin-lipped, watching everything I’d done, and some things I hadn’t.

ERICA OLSEN lives in southwest Colorado. She is the author of Recapture & Other Stories (Torrey House Press, 2012), a collection of short fiction about the once and future West.

 

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