for my father
It was well over ninety degrees and all of us were packed into the old Buick of which several parts were missing or broken, including the air conditioner. My father, his eyes hidden behind prescription sunglasses, drove while my mother vainly soothed the baby. The rest of us sweated in the back seat, squirming, shoving and bickering over whose turn it was to sit by the window. Our destination, a motel with a pool, was still two hours away, it was nearing noon, we were hungry, but had long since eaten our peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. We were on our way to Hesperia, a small town situated dangerously close to the San Andreas Fault in the Mojave Desert. Hesperia, a name that sounded exotic to me, like an ancient Egyptian princess.
I was afraid that my beloved tadpoles, caught earlier in the summer in what was left of a meager park stream, would turn into frogs without me if I left them home. The tiny creatures were already changing…their tails growing markedly shorter and the tiny bumps that would be legs beginning to protrude. I held them carefully in my lap in a Hills Brothers Coffee Can half filled with water. Every so often I cautiously lifted the plastic lid to check on them. I must have fallen asleep, because I suddenly became aware of something burning my thighs. It was the coffee can. When I opened the lid I was horrified. The water was warm as a bath and the tadpoles floated, grey, bloated and still, at the top of the water. I began to cry uncontrollably. They were dead. I had killed them. I had killed them by loving them too much. Now they would never grow into frogs.
My father pulled into the next gas station and we all poured out of the car in various states of dishevelment under the paltry shade of a giant Pegasus. My father took me into the adjacent dark and tiny store. The man behind the display of cactus candy and cigarettes motioned to the back where my father put coins into a machine that clattered out chunks of ice. Outside, I sat on the ground and carefully dropped the cubes one by one into the coffee can. After a minute or two a tadpole stirred. My heart flipped. It was a miracle! We squeezed back into the car and pulled onto the highway. I watched in awe as the tadpoles came swiftly back to life. The rest of my family grabbed ice by the handful to rub on their faces, pop in their mouths, and drop down each other’s backs. And, for just a little while, we were all happy. All of us at once, driving fast on the open road, past sagebrush, Joshua trees and a rusting water storage tank, into the promise that was Hesperia.
From: Santa Monica Chronicles …a work in progress