“Tú allí!” she shouted, and I jumped. “You there!”
Mara stood at the edge of the parking lot, and she gestured. Sometimes her hair was plaited, and sometimes she wrapped it in a scarf. Now it was loose, and it flowed below her shoulders. She wore a blousy ivory caftan that almost matched the color of her hair, and a pair of holystoned sandals. If I were an artist, I would have drawn her with brown and beige pencils, and filled in her shadows with a turquoise crayon.
She was looking beyond me.
A fat gray cat swaggered out from a cluster of chasima behind me. It was sturdy, with dense fur that shivered silver in the hard morning sunshine. The cat seemed prosperous and tame, and there was a kitten draped between its jaws. The kitten was very small, and it was dead.
“Where you go now, Mrs. Kokopelli?” Mara said. She sounded a bit like a cat herself, growlish and teasing.“We must follow her,” she said. “You must see this.”
“Of course, you,” she said. “The cat already knows what she has seen.”
I said, “Cats do not interest me. I came here to avoid them, and all else, if possible.”
She crossed her arms slowly, and her expression did not change. “Am I to be curious about that? Do you need me as an audience to move your story along?” She stepped towards me. “It seems like you might have something important to say? Someday?”
“No. My story is uninteresting. That’s why I came here.”
“Here? To this particular motel? To this particular moment when we should meet?”
“We can follow the cat,” I said. “I’m sure she has more interesting things to tell you.”
Her smile was uncomplicated. “Do you have to fight at everything?” It seemed like a serious question.
“I don’t know. Probably.”
The cat padded across the hardpan beyond the parking lot. Already, the ground was hot.
Mara was standing beside me. I did not notice her approach until it was complete. She moved as easily as a shadow being pulled by the sun.
“You come from a great distance?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “This place was in all the brochures, and it had all five stars.”
“Ah. But you don’t even know where you are, do you?”
“Of course I do. I’m following a cat into the desert.”
“There is more here than you have considered,” she said. “You do consider things, don’t you?”
“I used to,” I said. “But now I drive and then I stop driving. Now I have stopped driving. I have no idea where I am.”
“We are at an ancient place, between the folds of the map. Unnoticed, and sometimes carelessly erased. It is a resting place. You are exhausted, we are exhausted, Mrs. Kokopelli the cat is exhausted. We come here to heal. These things take time. The cat is in no hurry, I am in no hurry. Why do you hurry?”
I thought about it, but hurried through my thoughts. “Because time is chasing me.”
“It chases everyone,” said Mara. “We are all captured at the end of our journeys.”
“No,” I said. “Not like this.”
“You are not so special,” she said.
“No. I’m not. But this is where we are. Destined to follow Mrs. Kokopelli the Cat to the end of our days.”
Mara laughed at me, but it was not a cruel sound. “I am a magic woman. Perhaps you have heard that about me?”
“Cándido said such a thing when I arrived. He said you were beautiful but innocent.”
“He did? That is kind. What do you think that means?”
“Maybe he loves you.”
“Maybe he does. I love him. I love all the ancient and weary ones.”
“Is that what I am?”
“I cannot say. I do not know you, I do not love you. Are you ancient? I know you are weary.”
“And how do you know that?” I asked.
“Because you are here.”
We followed Mrs. Kokopelli a little further, and I saw the sun fill the belly of the great sky. I felt sound.