El Hueso: Part III of III / by Daphne Malfitano

Elena and the sun opened their eyes in unison as if it was her day from the start. Fausto’s head leaned back against the headrest, his eyes were shut and his arms which fore held her tightly as a bud in winter now collapsed to the sides, leaving an exposed bloom. She questioned whether to wake him, but didn’t. Instead she cracked open the truck door and slipped out without disturbing her love.

The cool of night was still upon them, but the unbearable heat crept with the sun ever nearer. Elena passed between two houses, walking noiselessly. The streets still had the nighttime quiet of a ghost town. The morning grew until the sky was a cool gray, this combination of darkness and light a terrible purgatory of Elena’s existence. In the road she awaited the others who slunk out of their nests and greeted her with surprise and embarrassment as though they would prefer she was already gone. Soon the people of El Hueso had congregated, keeping a distance from Elena who stood mid-street, as though she were infected. There were murmurings, but mostly the vigil was held in silence, and Elena turned her back to her people, and faced the road into town. 

The warm desert buzz could already be heard, but soon it was overtaken by a mechanical growl growing in the direction they all looked. The huge cargo truck outsized all landmarks it passed as it charged into the town. It pulled up to their communal silence, and then slowly cleaved it, and came to a stop just beyond the crowd. One final roar, and there was silence. Elena, the furthest now from the truck, felt the pounding of her heart, but nothing else. 

After a treacherous pause the cab doors swung open as one, and from each emerged a man dressed in billowing linen saronged over faded denim. The driver carried a Bowie knife and wore aviator sunglasses, his bald head reflecting the early morning light. The other man was mustachioed and stern, shotgun bent over his left arm. They walked to the rear of the truck, where the driver faced the crowd with a grin.

“Good morning, people of El Hueso! So quickly this month has passed.” He lifted one arm to the crowd, palm upturned. Every man, woman, and child dropped to their knees and bowed their head. Elena, at the rear of the mass, knelt too. 

“What have you got for us this time?” asked the driver. All raised their heads, and Eduardo, who was in the foremost stretch of the crowd, stood.

“It will please you, Sir, a girl. She is eighteen today.”

“Eighteen,” the driver and his companion looked at one another and shifted in place excitedly. “Your generosity will be well rewarded.”

The man with the bald head monkey leapt and grasped the back doors of the truck’s trailer and swung them open one at a time, revealing the cargo. Tank after tank of water, packed from end to end, ceiling to floor. A sight at which the people exhaled and smiled and wept. Elena stood.

“Where is our gift?” asked the driver.

“She is here, Sir!” a man at the back of the group grabbed Elena’s arm and pulled her to the front. She did not fight, but looked at her townspeople’s faces as she passed them. Abuelita was among those in the front, and as Elena passed she struggled to join eyes with her, but her Abuela’s gaze was fixed at the trailer’s surplus. The man who had grabbed her now released her violently, and she fell to the ground at the driver’s boots. Her knee met a jagged rock and turned white.

“You’ve done well…” the driver looked at his prize sprawled before him. “People of El Hueso, you have done well!”

Elena watched her whitened knee bloom red, and droplets of her blood meet the gravel road. The dust blushed, but the thirsty earth sucked the fluid up and in seconds it was gone entirely. The driver laughed, and spun to the truck, and leapt in one great movement into the trailer. He wrapped his fingers around the handle of the nearest tank and tossed it through the mouth of the truck and onto the gravel beside Elena. She started, and the men laughed, and the driver jumped down, crouching between the tank and girl.

“You must be thirsty,” he addressed her, “Yes? Where we are going there is no shortage of water. Or food. Or men. Here,” he drove his Bowie knife into the tank before him, and water spouted up through the gash. A few drops struck Elena’s leg, and the earth drank up the rest.

Behind the houses, in the passenger seat of the red truck up on blocks, Fausto awoke to a scratching at his door. The brown dog moaned and scratched, and Fausto jumped to life, realized he was alone and it was light. He kicked the door open, and ran with the dog at his heels. 

“Here,” said the driver, “drink!”

He set his knife aside and lifted the tank with both his arms, aligning the gash with Elena’s mouth and aggressively tipping it. In the seconds that the water splashed against her face and down her chin, Elena reached for the knife, and before the driver could wrestle it from her, and before the other man could raise the shotgun, and before Fausto could cross the town and reach her, Elena lifted the knife to her throat and pushed and dragged, and the water and the blood billowed as one and the ground drank them up indiscriminately.