The morning sun skipped and angled across the desert’s low hills, warming everything evenly, warming Sorin’s not-yet-combed hair and his toes waking up in their sandals. Last night’s sudden rain clouds were gone. Sorin stood just outside his blue house and saw a form in the distance; it looked like a solitary rock or a new barrel cactus on the horizon. He thought, but he wasn’t sure, that it was Rachel. He rolled his shoulders and wandered toward the form. His shadow was long and lean. As he approached her, Sorin’s shadow fell on Rachel and on a little pile of plucked cactus needles. She was crouched down in the damp dirt. Her fingertips were bleeding into a puddle of water and he saw that she let them bleed as she moved papers around in the puddle.
“Oh, God, you scared me,” she said. She pulled a paper from the puddle.
“Sun prints!” he said, “I haven’t made one of those since science class in second grade.” Then he noticed the streaks on the deep blue paper and the darkish water in the puddle below her. “What happened?”
Rachel held out the sun print, now developed, for him to see more closely. He took the damp paper in hand.
“Cactus needles? You’re using cactus needles?”
She nodded and wiped the hair out of her face with the back of her wet hand. “I should have used a pliers or tweezers or something. Ugh!”
“Does it hurt?”
“Stings, mostly. That’s what I get.”
“For pursuing a passion?”
“Whatever. Yes. No choice, really. Art is my religion.” She dumped the needles off of a dry white paper onto the ground, and plunged the new paper into the water. As the paper got wet it began to turn blue, leaving white marks where the cactus needles had been. Once it was midnight blue, Rachel took it out of the puddle and held it up.
“You can keep that one,” Rachel said, without turning. “It didn’t come out good enough.”
Sorin put both prints on the dirt next to two others and between a water bottle and a folded black plastic bag. He shifted a little, put his hands in his pockets, his shoulders hunching up to his ears. He watched her, rather than watching the print, as the sun lit up gold strands in her brown hair.
“Lucky we got a rainstorm yesterday; they’re rare. Good thing you weren’t here last week. It was really dry.” He paused. “How long are you staying?” She picked up her water bottle and squirted clear water on another paper, letting the rivers wash back into the puddle.
She looked up at him, mildly annoyed that he was still towering over her. “Why?” she said.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe you can help me with the store or something.”
“I gotta finish this project,” she said, distracted. “It’s for a class. I only have a semester to go.” She looked back up at him and saw she’d hurt his feelings. “I’m sorry.”
“Art college?” He frowned. “Is that how you heard about Snake Run? Emerald must have posted something.”
“Yeah,” she said. She carefully pulled a new sheet of photosensitive paper from the black plastic bag and laid it in the dirt.
“So you’re just here from the city on vacation,” said Sorin.
“Well, it’s work, too, but that’s about right. What about you?” Rachel gingerly arranged some needles on the paper and put a sheet of glass on top to anchor them down. She thought that Sorin didn’t look much older than she was. She had come to get away from the meat market at school, the hookups, the fuckups, the boundary-less society kids. But he was just talking. He was polite, maybe OK.
“Well, I live here now. It was Emerald that got me here.”
“She your girlfriend?” While she was waiting for the sun to create the print under the glass, she took another paper out of the dark bag and laid it next to the first.
Sorin snorted. “Oh, she would love that. For one thing, she’s my aunt. The other, she’s 11 years older.”
“Ouch! Dammit.” Rachel had been arranging the needles in a crosshatch pattern to make another print and poked herself again. She squirted some of the water over her fingers, then put them into her mouth and shook her head. As he watched her, he thought about the picture he could keep because it wasn’t good enough, and his heart sank.
Sorin had a premonition then, like the one that came to him while he was driving, the voice that suddenly said, “You will not have children,” and this time the voice said, “The people who stay in Snake will be the ones willing to weave a community.” Rachel was a loner, so she would go. Sorin saw himself then as if in a photograph, standing in front of the little blue house, pointing to a service station and convenience store he owned, while the other people came and stayed and came and left around him.
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