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Four Corners : Marie Holmes

Hester was on her third box of breasts when the cooler door opened with a sucking sound. A small, stout woman entered. Her hair was pulled back in an intricate braid that almost reached her waist; in front, it fell in straight, boxy bangs that covered her eyebrows.

"Hester? Leon sent me down. My name's Dee." She reached out and wrapped her warm, solid fingers around Hester's hand.

"I've got the breasts over here. Maybe you could start on the thighs? I think they're on that shelf." Hester pointed.

"All righty, then." Dee zipped the quilted coat up to her chin. It hung past her ankles, grazing the cement floor.

The two women worked in silence for a few minutes, opening, closing, and lifting boxes. Hester found a package that had been scratched open. Pinkish chicken juices had soaked the white paper towel behind the meat and had started to dribble from the tear in the plastic wrapping.

"You know what these look like?" Dee said suddenly, her low voice booming over the sound of the vents. She poked her finger into a mound of raw chicken. "Those slabs that you stick in your bra to make your tits bigger." She gave a throaty chuckle.

Hester placed the damaged package on the floor beside her foot. Surely, there was a protocol for uncontained meat products—a laminated sign posted somewhere. She scooted the package with the inside of her foot, like a soccer ball. There was a space underneath the lowest shelf, an opening perhaps three inches high, and with one firm toe-shove the package disappeared from sight. Hester then pushed up her sleeves, shoved the box cutter blade from its thin metal sheath, and made an unnecessarily noisy, grand performance of opening up the next carton.

Dee remained engrossed in the stack of boneless skinless breasts on her side of the cart. Hester caught her rubbing her thumb against the thin plastic wrapper, massaging the chicken flesh. For a moment she looked completely lost in wonderment, like a child.

"You're not a vegetarian, are you?" Dee asked, her voice contemplative.

"No," said Hester.

"Sometimes the vegetarians don't like to work down here." She moved a box with a loud thud. "You're new to the co-op, right?"

"I just joined last week." This was like being at the hairdresser's, Hester thought. Trying to make small talk as someone clipped at the nape of her neck. She always managed to run these conversations careening into dead ends. Yet in the closed space of the chicken cooler, she felt compelled to stumble on.

"I moved out here in June."

"Where from?"

"New York."

"Never been," Dee said, as though Hester had been talking about some mediocre tourist attraction. "So, what do you do?"

Hester turned and tried to take Dee in, through the dim light and that oversized down jacket. She was short, shorter than Hester, with a round face and bronzy skin. Hester assumed she had grown up in the Southwest. Chicana, maybe Navajo. She tried to guess what Dee did for a living, and couldn't.

"I'm a doctor," Hester said flatly.

Dee was unfazed. "At County?"

Hester nodded.

"I used to work there. I'm a social worker, out at the prison, now."

"Oh," said Hester, relieved. They seemed compatible professions. "You probably know some of our patients, then. I did a delivery just last week on a woman from the prison. They sent a guard with her. He had to stand in the delivery room the whole time."

"Sometimes they keep them handcuffed, right to the beds," Dee said. "Bastards."

Dee was a talker. She kept them entertained with stories about the food co-op as they sorted through ice-cold poultry encased in plastic. They had only started selling beer a year ago, Dee explained, and before that there weren't even any plastic bags—you were expected to bring your own, or use extra cardboard boxes. Then the neighborhood changed, Dee said, and the new members, people who had moved into renovated houses and just-built condominiums, let their kids eat in the aisles and drop cookie crumbs all over the floor.

Hester laughed agreeably, but was relieved that Dee knew so little about her. She lived in a duplex condominium not far from there. She always used plastic bags. In fact, she had been planning on carrying her groceries home in plastic bags that night. But somehow, the way Dee said these things didn't freeze Hester with embarrassment, as she would have expected. There was something generous about the way Dee talked to her. She kept saying "we": "We've got to do something about the zoning regulations around here," "We shouldn't be the only ones eating this food." It was like being invited into a world that Hester wanted desperately to visit but in which she knew she did not belong.

At one point Dee said something about an ex, then referred to her by pronoun, and Hester responded with the little lowering of her chin and the knowing eye that came naturally. Perhaps this was the only thing that bound the two women together over the free-range chicken. Oftentimes, in Hester's experience, it was enough.

When their two hours were up, Dee and Hester stacked the waxy boxes out by the rear entry, their animal microbes neatly sequestered from the other containers. Hester left her secret, damaged package wedged into its spot inside the cooler. She wondered whether it would still be sitting there when she came to work her next shift in four weeks.

Dee offered to shop with Hester upstairs, to show her around. "Where they keep the good stuff," she whispered, gently pinching Hester's arm. Hester could feel her fingers there for minutes afterwards, and regretted that she couldn't think of a casual way to return her touch.

Dee thumbed through pungent bunches of cilantro and basil, examined tomatoes, sniffed the rear ends of cantaloupes, pounded coffee grounds into the bottom of a brown sack, neatly folding the top and sealing it with a yellow sticker. Hester picked up, and replaced, avocadoes, apples, loaves of bread. Her lack of culinary knowledge—she didn't recognize half of these strange plants—seemed vast next to Dee's confident, discriminating tastes. She must have some kind of a gift for these things, Hester thought, while filling her own basket with peanut butter, bread, milk, cereal. And carrots, for good measure. She had, after all, joined the co-op in a vow of improved nutrition.

In the vitamins and herbal supplements aisle—it was an entire aisle—Dee picked up a huge bottle of Echinacea. "They're always bringing in something," she said knowingly, in reference—as far as Hester could tell—to the contagions of the incarcerated. Hester did not say that eating the twenty dollars she was about to spend would do her just as much good as ingesting the whole bottle of rabbit pellets, but the look on her face must have given her away.

"You don't take this stuff?" Dee clucked in disbelief.

"No, not really," Hester said, fiddling her tongue in her mouth.

"Well, you can't knock it unless you've tried it, right?"

Hester reached for a small container of iron caplets as if to check the price.

"Oh, don't waste your money on that! That stuff doesn't even get absorbed!"

Other shoppers were looking at them, and Hester stared helplessly at Dee—they were almost exactly the same height, she realized; Dee wasn't shorter than her at all.

"Here's what you do," Dee continued, animatedly. "When you make soup, drop a couple of nails in the pot, the rustier the better. Or just boil a couple of nails and then drink the water, just put it in a pitcher in the fridge. All the iron you need."

"Sounds delicious," Hester smiled, uncertainly.

"Oh, you won't notice anything, not in soup." Dee swatted away Hester's silly concern in the air between them. Hester imagined her in the prison, advising sick and pregnant inmates to request care packages of herbal supplements and iron nails.

At the busy checkout counter, Hester packed her groceries into a cardboard box. It hardly weighed anything. Dee organized her purchases into a colorful array of cloth bags.

"So, what's for dinner?" she said.

Hester jumped and the box in her arms slid.

Dee laughed her deep, bold laugh, as though she didn't care that everybody could hear her, that they would know that she was teasing Hester. Flirting with her.

Hester grimaced, repositioning the box in her arms. She would have to remember to buy some cloth bags for next time.

"Peanut butter sandwiches?" Dee said, gesturing at Hester's box with her chin.

Hester tried to smile. She could feel her face growing warm. "Yeah, I'm not really—creative—with food."

Dee asked where Hester was parked.

"I'm walking, actually, I just live a few blocks away."

"With your box?" Dee said, incredulous.

Hester shrugged.

"Come on, I'll give you a ride."

Dee drove a pick-up. It was older, though not old enough to pass as fashionable again, and dwarfed in comparison to the newer models Hester had seen around town. Dee hoisted her bags into the back, and reached for Hester's box of groceries.

Hester hadn't ridden in a pick-up since she was little, when she had visited family friends who had a farm out on Long Island. They had let all the kids ride in the back with the dogs on trips into town and back. She remembered the thick feeling of the wind on her neck and face, the excitement of thinking that any of them could fly up and out and onto the road at any moment.

Dee had a bunch of gray feathers hanging from her rearview mirror, and one of those skinny rainbow stickers running along the top of the back window. Hester drew the seatbelt across her chest and told Dee where she would need to turn first.

Dee said she knew the place. Hester's condominium pertained to a large cluster of developments.

"They're hideous," Hester said, apologetically.

"Well, you've got to live somewhere. At least they're housing a bunch of people, not tearing up a big piece of land for some mansion."

Hester had actually found the buildings kind of charming, back when she moved in. She had never been to the Southwest before, and anything with stucco and red tile had struck her as authentic.

Dee pulled into the entryway, and Hester pointed towards her duplex. Dee shifted into park. Hester waited for her to speak.

"Listen," Dee said, drumming her fingers against the steering wheel. "Do you want to go grab a beer?"

Of course. Dee couldn't have known. What had she been expecting, a dinner invitation? It was all the reminder Hester needed to know that she couldn't do this.

"I'd really love to." The words flattened into a drab strand of seeming insincerity. Dee shifted her gaze downward.

Dee's thighs, in her jeans, spread thickly across the vinyl seat. Hester fingers fluttered in time with her thumping pulse, trembling to reach over, to smooth across the taut fabric and the muscle beneath.

"I can't," Hester exhaled audibly. "I'm sorry." She released her seatbelt and gripped the door handle.

"Hey, don't worry about it. No harm done."

Dee fumbled through a cup holder and pulled out a nubby pencil that looked like it had been sharpened with a pocketknife. She took a bit of paper from her shoulder bag and wrote against the dashboard.

"If you change your mind, give me a call."


It was true. She couldn't get a beer. Hester had not had a beer, or wine, liquor, Vicodin, Percocet, Demerol, morphine or heroin for three years, two and a half months. She had not had methadone, either, not since she left New York to re-enter an Ob-Gyn residency after an epic, thirteen-year break. And she had not been asked out—that was what Dee had been doing, wasn't it?—since she had moved to New Mexico.

In the midst of the stunning, infinite desert, Hester's life was circumscribed within the loop of roads between the hospital, home and clinic. Some days she went hours without speaking English—talking to woman after woman in her limited Spanish: la última regla, el dolor, el bebé. Yet it did not feel like entrapment, this life. After years spent fighting to free herself from her own brand of pain, this focus on the trauma of strangers was not an encroaching shadow, but rather a backlight, casting the contours of other people's suffering into focus. There were certain things, Hester believed, reaches of hopelessness, that she was uniquely positioned to recognize—and this was her contribution, this sympathetic resonance that she alone could offer certain of her patients.

But then something regular would happen. She would sleep ten hours and take a walk around her neighborhood in the morning, watching people going shopping, walking their dogs, mowing their lawns, and a heavy, frightening nostalgia for things she had not lived would slide around inside her the way tufts of cottonwood danced in the air.

Joining the food co-op was an act of bravery. Hester had been so pleased with herself for going over there to sign up and pay her dues. And she had showed up for her first shift. She had stayed within the steel box of the chicken cooler for two hours, and had made pleasant conversation with Dee. She had even enjoyed herself. But she couldn't go on a date, tend a friendship, whatever it was. Really, there was only so much that could be expected from her. There were limits. And every day, when she rose in the dark to shower, take her antidepressants, drive to the hospital, it was a mundane battle against the thing squirming inside of her always. Hester lived the miracle of her sobriety, her return to medicine, as a mild, pulsing ache.



By the end of the week, Hester had finished up the organic milk and the cereal. She had eaten peanut butter sandwiches for three days. She had even opened the sack of tiny carrots.

Saturdays were busiest at the clinic. There were only two days a week you could get an abortion, and on Saturday mornings, when Hester was escorted through the back door by a volunteer, the waiting room was teeming. Since September, she had been going to the clinic alone, no longer under Dr. Jacobson's direct supervision. As he leaned slowly into retirement, she was taking over his shifts. By the time she finished her residency, she would be doing the bulk of the work at the clinic, and was set to take the "big cases" they scheduled at the hospital on Thursdays. All obstetrical residents were required to perform these, but Hester appeared to be the only one willing to take it on as a vocation. Her career was already truncated by her age, and limiting herself to a few unpopular procedures was not such a loss.

As usual, she lost count. By noon, she'd performed some dozen canula suctions. She drank bitter coffee to stay alert, but every pink cervix, every blank face, blurred into a long, workday chain. In the tedium, Hester chose numbness over distraction. She could not risk thinking of the opened bottles of tranquilizers at the counter in the corridor, between exam rooms, and vials of Demerol in the cabinet next to the sink, which, on a hectic Saturday, a nurse was likely to have left with the key in its hole. Then there were the women: younger women, girls, older women who had thought they'd hit menopause. And the ones Hester recognized, somehow, their wan faces shadowed by her ghosts. They were always the ones who were terrified of needles, melodramatic types who moaned and squealed when she injected the anesthetic and talked all the way through the procedure, clinging pathetically to anyone's attention.

It had been a particularly long day. She'd done a thirteen year-old, sixteen weeks pregnant, who didn't make a sound the entire time Hester was in the room. Her mother stood silently next to her while the girl clenched at the sheet, her face still, eyes open. There was a bruise on the girl's ankle, another on the inside of her knee.

Hester got home and took out a tray of ice cubes. They were covered with freezer fuzz. She turned the tray face-down and thwapped it against the countertop. The ice cubes came tapping across the Formica. The cat leapt from his perch atop the fridge and clamored out of the room.

She had stuck Dee's number to the freezer door, wedged between a coupon for ice-cream and a magnet with the serenity prayer inscribed in droopy cursive—a gift from her first sponsor, in New York. The woman had encouraged her to pray every morning and night, though Hester told her, each time, that she did not believe in God—any god. She wasn't entirely sure that she believed in serenity, either, but there was a hope for something more, some forthcoming benevolence, that propelled her through dark nights alone, and it needed a name.

She dialed Dee's number. It was almost seven. Dee was probably preparing dinner, or getting ready to go out. Hester had no idea what to say. She knew exactly why she was calling, but it was nothing that she could articulate without drowning in shame. Because what she wanted—what she truly wanted—was the validation of someone else's hands on her body.

Dee answered on the third ring. There was no tinge of awkwardness in her voice.

"I'm glad you called," she said. "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Nothing, really," Hester muttered, feeling terribly adolescent. The last time she had done anything with a woman, they had been in the gray shadow of methadone, their personalities as well as inhibitions blurred.

"Good," said Dee. "I was planning on driving out to Four Corners. I have a friend who sells jewelry out there on the weekends, and she keeps asking me to come visit her. It'd be nice to have company on the drive, if you're interested."


Early the next morning, Dee honked her horn from the parking lot—a lengthy series of honks, like some song that Hester did not recognize. Hester hurried down the steps. She was wearing, after some deliberation the night before, jeans, a new black shirt, and a long, thin gray sweater with little flecks of colored yarn. She felt frumpy, and reminded herself not to talk too much, not to act like a lonely, pitiful woman.

"You're up!" Dee exclaimed happily. "Let's grab some coffee."

They stopped in a donut shop. Hester held her large Styrofoam cup of coffee between her knees as she buckled her seatbelt. Dee tore from the parking lot out onto the freeway, and Hester realized that the drive was not going to be as long as she had anticipated. But she soon became acclimated to the speed, the blur of dust on the shoulder of the road.

"You've lived out here all your life?" she asked Dee.

"Pretty much. Grew up in Albuquerque. My parents are still there. My Dad's folks are out where we're headed, not on the rez anymore, but near."

"Navajo?" Hester said.

"On my dad's side. My mom's family's been here forever, since back before this was Mexico." Hester sipped at her hot coffee, carefully, but a splash hit her lip and then fell down the side of the cup and onto her sweater. She blotted at it with a napkin, trying to be inconspicuous. "So," Dee continued, "what about you?"

"I'm sorry?" Hester moved her feet around on the corrugated floor in front of her seat, unable to balance them comfortably.

"How'd you end up out here?"

Hester took another sip of coffee, letting its unbearable heat seep into her tongue. "It's kind of a long story."

"It's kind of a long drive," Dee said, softly.

Hester looked out the window at the vast flatness that surrounded them.

"It's okay. You don't have to."

Then Dee said some jokey thing about the co-op, and Hester continued watching the scenery—or rather, the long, drawn, dusty scene—pass them by.

"I can't believe that it ever snows out here."

"Yeah, it's pretty surreal," said Dee. "Doesn't happen too often. Just enough to keep it interesting."



For Hester, there were reminders everywhere, the chance, always, that a ghost would materialize and give her away, splay open her past for everyone to see and then leave her dangling, stripped of the disguise of her competence. She saw the faces still, out in New Mexico, and the shock of recognition was just as piercing. Back in New York, she would wander the streets of the East Village in the soft fog of methadone and see a woman crouched, hunched, worn to the point of crumbling, turning around a corner. And Hester would be sure that she knew her, that it had to be one of them. She would stop to gather air in her chest, prepare to call out a name—Chris, Red, Leah—and then look more closely and see, with a crushing hopelessness, that the woman before her, the woman moving off into the distance, was not one of the ones with whom she had shared a bathroom stall, a bag, a night on some apartment floor. The memories simply embodied themselves in the faces of strangers and pounced upon her, invading.

She had lost all of them—dead, disappeared, forgotten. She wondered who else might have moved up into hiding, whether they would recognize one another were they to pass on the street. She saw their faces in some of the women who came into the clinic on Saturday mornings, their arms and eyes the roadmaps of a life lived on desperation. And more than once she had caught herself staring rudely, in terrified compulsion, as their aged, withered ghosts left the infectious disease clinic at the hospital with jowls and arms eaten by antiretrovirals, nukes.



The sunlight came directly into her eyes, and Hester squinted at the windshield, fighting to stay awake.

At a desolate turn-off, Dee announced, "That's where my ex lives."

Hester wondered if she should respond with some confirmation that she, too was officially unattached.

"She moved out there last year, after we broke up," Dee continued.

"You lived with her?"

"Five years." Dee whispered, as though still in awe of the figure.

"That's hard." 

"Naw." Dee shook her head, batting off Hester's sympathy. "It was the right time. The way she wanted things to be was just something that I couldn't do."

Hester nodded, as though she could see right into the heart of Dee's vagueness.

"Lisa said she needed to be free of negative energy. I just couldn't get into that kind of thing."

Hester laughed, a little too genuinely. "I'm sorry," she said.

"She wasn't like that—I made it sound bad." Dee fumbled on. "Lisa was really generous, she just wanted to be fulfilled, all the time."

Hester laughed, again. Why was she so terrible at being polite? "I think ideally we'd all like that. You want what's best for you, you know?"

"I guess I try not to think about it that way."

"Maybe that's because you are fulfilled," said Hester.

Now Dee laughed, heartily. But it was true, Hester thought. Dee was totally at ease, her fingers draped over the steering wheel, her generous middle spread wide across the seatbelt. Hester wanted to lay down on her, to feel what it was like inside what she imagined to be the deep, calm waters of her consciousness.

The road they were on passed through what could officially be called a town. Hester spotted a couple of blue freeway signs with restaurant and motel decals, as Dee swerved the pick-up to get around slower, local traffic. Then the signs of life started to taper off just as quickly as they had appeared. There were a couple of trailer parks, and a gas station or a drive-thru dotted here and there, like afterthoughts.

"I hate this strip of road," Dee said, with something like solemnity. Hester noticed that the car had slowed. They were still unequivocally above the speed limit, but no longer creating the subsonic whoosh that jolted Hester in from her seat whenever Dee pulled ahead of somebody.

In the distance Hester could see a gray cinderblock box set amid a web of parking spaces drawn off with white lines on the asphalt. The windows were set high into the building and barred.

A young woman with blond streaks in her hair, holding a large, brown bag across her chest, stood outside smoking a cigarette. Hester imagined that she was a cocktail waitress awaiting a ride home after working though the night.

As they approached, the doors opened and out stepped a small man wearing a brown, button-down shirt and a belt fastened with an ornate buckle so large that Hester admired its sparkle all the way from the road.

The scene enlarged as they came closer. Hester watched the man squint up into the bright sky and rub his eyes. He exchanged some words with the waitress. She turned away from him and he laughed. Then the man headed across the parking lot towards the road and stood at the gravelly curb, just right up ahead of them, now, so close that Hester felt she could reach out and hold him back with her arm.

"Jesus." Dee worked her thumbs against the steering wheel. Hester watched the vision of the road behind them the sideview mirror. Theirs was not the only car.

The man turned his head toward them, then twisted his neck up the road.

"He's looking both ways!" said Hester.

"I don't trust him," Dee shook her head, with pursed lips. She honked and he looked over—not at them but past the pick-up, towards the horizon—and then planted one foot into the road.

The waitress back at the entryway screamed and waved her cigarette.

Dee braked, and Hester felt the blood rush to her forehead as the car lurched.

They hadn't come to a full stop before the man was past the median and into the opposite lane, running clumsily, one hand on his belt buckle. Hester watched in the rearview mirror as he skipped across the highway and stopped to lean against a lamppost on the opposite side, shrinking again into a miniature, dancing image.

Dee exhaled with an enormous, jagged sigh. "Now you see what I was talking about."

Hester felt her breath collecting within her, imagined yellow carbon monoxide making its way to her pulsing scalp. She leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes and willed her heart to slow.



For Hester, it had started in her fourth year of medical school. She had been sitting at her usual carrel in the library, bent over her books, and when she stood, she couldn't—it was as if her spine had locked, and never before had she known such pain. She had called a friend, and he came to the library and carried her the emergency room, just down the street. They gave her Percocet, then Oxycontin, and she made it through exams. When the prescriptions ran out, it wasn't hard to find contacts on campus who could supply pain meds skimmed from the hospital supply. At the time, she had thought it very dignified to use these illicit channels to feed what had become a steady habit, rather than feigning increased pain. By graduation, though, she had been found out, and the hospital revoked its offer of a residency in Ob-Gyn. While her classmates began seeing their first patients as real doctors, Hester was sitting in a rehab center in New Jersey.

She would stay clean a while and then slip, wrack up a few days and then slip again. It was increasingly difficult to buy pills, and the street stuff soon became an entire existence. Among these hardscrabble survivors, the women with whom she spent her nights, she felt at first like an obvious fake, a fallen rich girl, a failed doctor. As the months went by, though, she came to see herself within a chain of beings that had been stripped of some essential protection, each singularly ruled by weakness and in want of that same, sure reprieve.

They say doctors have some of the highest rates of drug addiction, a statistic that Hester had never quite believed until she went into detox. Because of the stress, everyone says, the untenable burden of a body at your mercy. And there was something to this wretched intensity, she agreed. But it was a live edge that arose in the very worst moments that reminded her of the pointed needle angled fast into her lumping vein, and the unspeakable relief of the breath following.



Hester and Dee didn't speak for what seemed like a long time, much longer than the meditative silence appropriate to the near-death of a stranger. Finally, Dee spoke. "I seriously have to piss," she said, matter-of-factly. "I think the coffee finally hit me."

They took the next exit and made their way towards a dilapidated gas station. Dee retrieved the key, strung to an old hubcap, and opened a side door marked "customers only."

"My God." She let the door fly shut. "Forget that." Dee walked around back. Hester knew what she was doing before she heard the spray heavily hitting the ground. Dee emerged visibly relieved, tugging at her fly. "Much better."

Hester stood hesitantly outside the restroom, trying to balance in her crotch the pointed weight of her bladder.

"You want this?" Dee offered her the key. Hester let it hang between her fingers. "Your decision," said Dee. "I recommend the dirt."

Dee had left a wet circle in the earth. Hester squatted behind a big garbage can and held her pants up between her knees with one hand, trying not to splash herself. She was surprised that her thighs did not shake.

In the car, Dee offered Hester a piece of the chocolate she'd bought in the store. "We should be there in a little over an hour," she said.

The sunlight was ubiquitous, and the clear, blue sky spread out infinitely above them. Hester's seat was getting warm. She took off her sweater and folded it on her lap, creating little canyons for her fingers to secretly worry.

"So," she began.

"Yes." Dee drew out the syllable delicately, like she was uncoiling a strand of yarn.

"I do abortions—I mean, not just in theory, two days a week that's pretty much all I do." Hester listened to herself speak as though into a microphone, some appreciable time-delay between her speech and its echo in her ears.

"Well, good for you," Dee nodded, folding her lips in a ridiculous grin.

"You don't have a problem with that, do you?" Hester asked, far too seriously.

"Shit, no," Dee averred, a little offended, perhaps, that she had asked.

Hester didn't know what to say. She thought that perhaps she didn't want to speak anymore. "What about you?" she asked Dee. "How long have you been at the prison?"

Dee made a humph sound. "I can't get away from that place," she said. "I was a CO, for a while. Couldn't stand it—who can stand that kind of resentment? So I got the social work degree, and I was at a bunch of places, the hospital for one. But I've been back at the prison for a while now."

"What exactly do you do out there?"

"I run groups—everybody hates them, you know, but what else are these guys going to do in there? And it looks good at a parole hearing."

"You run men's groups?"

"Anger management," Dee intoned, mockingly. "I try to get them not to beat their girlfriends, when they're back out."

"You do that by yourself?"

"It's supposed to be a team, me and another counselor, a male counselor, but we're short of staff right now, so it's just me—there's CO's all over the place though. It's not any more dangerous than anything else, there."

"Jesus," Hester breathed, before she could stop herself. "I'm sorry, I mean—it sounds—"

"I know how it sounds." Dee said, firmly but not unkindly. "And I know how it is, too."

Hester looked out the window and was surprised to see that the road was now lined with thick slices of deep orange rock that rose nakedly from the dusty earth. She wadded her sweater into a ball and propped it between her neck and the window, sliding her legs closer to the door.

"I guess we have something in common," Dee said, her voice gentle, cajoling.

Something tugged in Hester's chest. "What's that?" she said.

"We do some ugly work. They owe us, don't you think? All those people out there?" She flicked her brow to one side, her thick bangs brushing across her forehead.

There were no people out there, Hester thought, they were tucked away in towns miles from the road. She thought a moment. "No," she said.

"Yeah, me neither." Dee turned her head, looked right into Hester's eyes, and pulled her lips into a strange kind of smile that made Hester feel that she had been forgiven something.

In the warm minutes that followed, Hester gave in to the sharp light and the gentle rolling of the pavement beneath them. She slept soundly, and when Dee placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "We're there," it did not feel like a violation.



There were lots of little stands at Four Corners, selling ice cream and earrings and various trinkets. On the raised platform where two painted lines intersected, a man was making a sand painting—he had finished a female figure and a moon.

Dee found her friend Abby, sitting behind a card table covered with pendants, crosses, watchbands, bracelets and earrings made with big turquoise and coral beads and shimmering silver. They bought frybread tacos and sat in the folding chairs behind the jewelry table, talking about people Hester didn't know. A couple of children, a boy and a girl, were running around in the dirt, wielding small stones. Abby occasionally interrupted their game to instruct them to stay within her sight.

After they had finished eating, Dee and Hester looked around at the blankets and mounted sand paintings for sale. Then Dee led Hester into the middle of the platform.

"Come on," she said. "You're standing in four states at the same time—thrilling, right?"

Hester laughed. "So some guy comes out here with his measuring tape and decides this is the spot, right here? Here's New Mexico, and here Colorado begins?"

"Yup," Dee said. "I think someone tried to check it out once, and decided the real intersection was over that way." She flicked at the air with her wrist.

"Where that port-a-potty is?"

"Yeah. Maybe that's the new landmark."

Hester laughed. "I'm sorry. This is just so stupid."

Dee moved in front of Hester, planting one foot in Utah and the other in Nevada. She reached out for her hands, like they were preparing for some schoolyard game. "Yeah," she giggled. "It's pretty dumb. Aren't you glad we made the drive?"

"The drive was beautiful," Hester said. "It's gorgeous out here." Dee held onto her hands. Her fingers were warm.

"Let's go," Dee said. "We'll drive over to Shiprock."

They said goodbye to Abby and climbed back into the truck, giddy from the sun and the food.

It wasn't far. Dee drove off the road and right on top of the dirt for a while. The sky was just starting to turn orange behind the dark, craggy shape ahead of them.

"Why's it called Shiprock?" asked Hester.

"I don't know," Dee said, as though she'd never given the matter any thought. "I guess some guy saw it and decided it looked like a ship."

"Well, he got the rock part right." Hester smiled, closing her eyes, and when she opened them again Dee's face was so close that she could feel her breath on her skin, and then their lips were touching, sending a tingle from Hester's mouth back to her ear and down her neck.

"Is this okay?" Dee whispered.

Hester reached out for her face, and kissed her back. She felt no shame when Dee pulled her shirt up over her head. There was a security in being alone with the landscape. Dee ran her hands over the soft folds of Hester's stomach and lifted her breasts in her cupped palms, and out there, on the front seat of Dee's truck, Hester's body returned for a while to a younger and more limber time. Slowly and with certainty, she made her way up the urgent edge of sensation, and then allowed herself to fall, in a moment so singular that she knew, as it was happening, her memory would never do justice.