It is lonely in the desert. And thirsty. More thirsty than anything, really, especially since Gus has Jake with him now. An ex-military guy. He knows his stuff.
Jake has warned Gus about mirages. The mind starts to hallucinate and conjures up whatever the person desires most. A woman, money, and of course, water. Gus has never been on a mission this long before and he has forgotten to plan ahead. His mouth parches. He curses himself.
Gus drives too fast until he spots it: a shimmering void inside a hot road.
Water. He looks towards Jake. No reaction. Gus rolls his eyes.
“A mirage, I know, Jake. But you just have to trust me, okay?”
The old jeep’s engine clanks and whirrs, hissing against asphalt. The edges of the water shift. Gus shakes his head. He will wish the water into being, if that’s what it takes. Mind over matter. Create the ocean out of the desert.
He drives closer over the horizon. The water is still there.
“Victory,” Gus says. “I bet it’s been a long time since you’ve heard that, eh, Jake?”
Jake does not reply.
Gus parks the car and grabs his backpack full of supplies. Just moving under the sun makes his forehead sweat and his skin crack.
Jake still sits in the car.
“Fine, Jake. Stay in the cabin and be a princess. I’ll bring it right to you.”
Gus walks to the small pond, rejoicing that all is real and true. He unzips the pack and removes six metal water bottles. He holds them at the base as he plunges them in the pond one by one. After, he drops in a pill that makes the water drinkable and seals each lid. The pills he found on Jake, so at least he’s helping in that way.
“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall! Ninety-nine bottles of beer,” Gus sings. The clanking noise of the bottles inside the fabric sounds like a song.
When he walks back, Jake has not moved. Gus sighs as he sticks his key in the ignition. The engine hums to life again.
“You take one down and pass it around.”
Gus holds up a water bottle to Jake. He does not take it. Water splashes over Jake’s side as they hit a rock.
“Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall.”
Gus swats the flies away from Jake’s eyes with his hand. The sun is not as bright as Gus drives closer to dunes of sand and the edge of night.
It always gets better at night, Gus reminds himself. Less heat. Less sweat. And therefore, less worry about water and drinking. But it’s still pretty lonely.
Gus turns to face Jake’s eyes again and swats more flies away. Soon, he will need to find someone else to keep him company.
“Besides,” Gus says. “None of you boys really know how to sing!”
When Gus reaches “One bottle of beer on the wall”, he starts the song again. He keeps his eyes focused out the window, on the lookout for more mirages.
published 20 November 2013