by Dan A Cardoza

WHAT DO A womb and a one-gallon pickle jug of formaldehyde have in common? What floats inside that dreamy, buoyant world means everything.

Jett and Sam met at Trader Joe’s in Austin, Texas. It was while stocking canned goods, crackers, and small pickle jars.

They looked their ages, both twenty four, their generation, neck tattoos, sleeves, and piercings. Like so many of their generation, Jet had been wrongly accused of being less resilient, and suspicious of the motives of older adults. They’d been looked down upon as being slackers. Occupy Wall Street had jaded the two.

They’d grown tired of all the negative cultural bullshit that had been assigned to their kind. Hell, they’d been living on their own since right out of foster care. They knew not to take any wooden nickels.

Sam had been physically abused as a child in more ways than a decent God would allow. Jett was tortured, but mostly psychologically in the worst ways. She retained little about growing up in Chicago except for the smelly lions at the Lincoln Zoo.

The year was 2016. Somehow in their vagabond travels, the two stray cats ended up in West Texas, in the city of El Paso.

They’d read how West Texas, like Roswell, New Mexico, was a corridor between worlds. Oh, how they craved something new and exciting beyond what earthly mortals experience. Living in the area gave them a natural high. It fed their spirits, this hunger to feel alive.

Sam considered the desert his own. Now that he’d experienced the region, he couldn’t see himself living anywhere else. He was determined to die here, one way or another. He felt at home in the dusty ocean of wildflowers, the neverending bloom of rattlesnakes, and the sprawling miles of emptiness.

The loving couple craved self-discovery and all the meditative solitude the region had to offer.

Odd jobs had been difficult to keep in El Paso. It was the economy. So the young couple agreed to sell their labour within a four hundred mile radius. But in truth where they’d live depended upon where the Greyhound bus line did its comings and goings.

One day, while hitch-hiking a ways from the K.O.A. in El Paso, the frustrated duo happened upon a broken down porch near the tiny town of Fabens. The porch appeared barely connected to a failed farmhouse. Behind the farmhouse lay some failed acreage. The failed spread stood alongside Interstate 10, on the east, up a paved road with potholes.

They’d ask this old farmer for water. Little did they know their lives would never be the same.

The older gentleman had watched the couple as they approached him rocking on the porch. He wore a tanned leather face, but comfortably. His rickety wooden rocking chair had been placed in front of a dusty green screen door.

A 33 Winchester rifle stood against the home’s weathered clapboard.

‘Hello, sir,’ said Sam.

‘Hi, kids. Don’t mind the rifle. I mainly use it as a crutch.’

‘Okay,’ said Jett, not knowing what else to say.

‘Jesus, it’s good to see new faces. It’s just us out here off the Interstate. Esmeralda back there is my part time caregiver.’ The old man nearly shoved his thumb through the dusty screen at the top of the screen door.

Jett and Sam squinted. Their eyeballs felt scratchy. They couldn’t see anything inside.

‘Esmeralda is shy,’ said the old man. ‘That’s her in there sweeping the wooden floor just behind the old sofa. ‘

The young couple couldn’t see a shadow or a broom.

‘This might sound random, Sam, any plans to impregnate your lovely?’

Jett shouted yes, and Sam shouted no, even though it was none of his business.

Bet you’d like some water?’ the old man inquired.

‘Well, yes, we do. I’m Sam Hendrix, sir, and my partner here is Jett Joplin. We’d love some water.’

‘Introductions, okay, well, I go by Dale. I know I look half dead. But, I have an active mind. I keep myself busy, shitty TV and all the hard work it takes to stay alive, you know?

The two looked at each other as they choked back laughter.

‘I have COPD. I can barely walk ten feet without a cane or a rifle, or Esmeralda’s shoulder. Death is chasing me like one of those damned skinny desert coyotes out there.’

Just then this dry wind howled across the porch.

Jett and Sam’s eyes fused. This Dale guy was a real character.

‘That oxygen tank over there.’ Dale used his crocked index finger this time to point at the hissing green and white humming apparatus. He belly laughed.

‘That God-damned breathing machine is more attached to me than my ex-wife’s alimony payments were.’ Dale coughed like his lungs were clogged oil filters. He laughed into his fist and elbow.

Jett and Sam chuckled along with Dale. It was fun getting to know him.

‘But, I’m a cheater,’ said Dale

‘You’re a cheater?’ Jett’s face was a question mark.

‘I cheat on my oxygen tank, missy. I need some time away from that hissing bitch once in a blue moon. I got to have me a Camel cigarette now and again. Can you blame me?’

Jett and Sam laughed even louder as they warmed up to Dale’s gallows humour.

Sam unturned the faucet. The two took turns sucking out the hot, nasty water that escaped from the nearly melted plastic garden hose. Dale’s well pump was old, the water slow, synthetic tasting.

‘Hard times. Right, kids? I can see it in your faces. Looking for jobs, a place to do the bugaboo in private, correct?’

The two chuckled. Was Dale a mind reader?

‘Yup, Dale, we’ve fallen on hard times. In fact, these past few weeks we’ve tumbled around at least three counties looking for work and a place to sleep. It’s been difficult. I’m not going to lie to you,’

Sam wiped his soft palm across his parched forehead. He glanced over at Jett. Next, he looked at the screen door again. This Esmeralda woman is awfully quiet, he thought. ‘We do need work and a place to stay, Dale.’

‘Listen up, Sam. I won’t be doing either of you favour. But, I got an idea.’

‘An idea?’ asked Jett.

‘Yes, an idea. I’ve got this old circus trailer in the desert. It’s supposed to be possessed. Well, this Johnny character had gone missing right after I had my revolver stolen. I haven’t seen it since. Anyhow, after searching for about a week, he showed up in this shallow grave, just a few miles west of my spooky trailer.’

‘Holy crap, Dale, you had a murder out here?’ Sam got excited.

‘Can I finish, son? Well, our dead man was this poor, retired, circus stooge named Johnny Stark. Johnny and his anorexic wife, a woman named Lilu, well, they’d pulled up in front one day in this broken down pickup. Attached to the truck was this silver Streamline trailer. It was back in the late nineties, I’m thinkin’. He and his depressed wife needed a cheap place to park the trailer and retire.’

‘So, let me guess. So now you have this empty trailer and you need to rent it out?’

Jett was intuitive. She could almost see through the old codger’s skull.

‘I’ll be quick,’ said Dale, ‘When the Sherriff finally discovered Johnny... Well, he had this opening out the back of his head the size of a softball. The forensic folks explained how they’d found a smashed up .44 slug deep in the sand. He’d been executed.’

‘OMG,’ said Sam in a raspy voice.

‘Yeah, OMG is right. The cops still cruise by here now and again. They think I had something to do with the killing.’

‘No offense, Dale, but it looks like you can’t walk across the porch without sitting down a few times.’ Jett gave Sam this shut the fuck up look.

‘I won’t take that as an insult, Jett. Damned straight, Sam, and my COPD was just as bad back then, Agent Orange, Viet Nam.’

‘Sorry to hear that, Dale.’ Jett’s face flushed with the peachy blush of honest empathy.

‘Don’t be. I dropped a lot of those bitches over there. Enough to keep me company when I get to hell.’ Dale choked on his laughter.

Sam and Jett narrowed their eyes, half expecting Dale to keel over.

‘Behind this house is what’s left of a homestead vegetable garden. I used to grow me some dammed good corn, soybean, and a little pot too.’

Jetted peered into the darkness of Dale’s house. All she could see were torn curtains moving in the open window behind the couch.

‘Esmeralda works so hard. She’s probably in my bedroom, making the bed.

‘Okay, kids, just past the outer edge of my failed acreage, and just beyond the three sand hills, on the first flat spot, you’ll find the Airstream. It’s a 1950s keepsake.’

‘Coolio,’ said Jett.

Dale looked at Jett as if she were speaking Hungarian. He liked her a lot.

He continued. ‘Once you walk out there, in the desert, you’ll discover where the circus couple lived. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention. They never found Lilu. It was like she’d disappeared.’

‘Dale, is the trailer liveable?’ asked Jett.

‘Hell yes. All it needs is a little work. It’s one of those high fangled Airstreams. Until recently, that’s where all those damned high school kids used to throw their paranormal parties. They swore they’d seen ghosts. They referred to the space under the trailer as some sort of cosmic vortex. I had to call the sheriff on the little bastards, too noisy. Now they don’t come around anymore.’

Sam sheepishly asked, ‘Are there really ghosts out there?’

‘Well, there’s no poltergeist if that is what you are asking, Sam. But, gossip has it that maybe Lilu still haunts the place, as well as the desert that won’t quit behind it. Maybe she has reason enough to stick around, who the hell knows? But my bet is that Lilu bugged out of here after taking out her old man. I’m thinking she left on a Greyhound bus. But to be honest, I’m not sure. Esmeralda says she sees her now and again near sundown. But, the lovely Esmeralda has been known to cook without spoons.’ Dale chuckled.

‘So Johnny’s murder has gone unsolved?’ asked Sam.

‘Sam, I thought I made that clear.’ Dale coughed and barked again into his elbow.

‘Why would any ghost want to leave this peaceful place?’ Jett asked.

Sam looked clueless.

‘Guys, maybe she’s hanging around here until she figures out the right time to leave.’ Jett smiled widely. Jett was a dreamer.

‘How in the hell would I know, girl? Do I look like some kind of mystic?’ Dale smiled.

Dale cocked his ear in the direction of the screen, ‘Right, Esmeralda?’ Nothing alive spoke. Nothing shifted or twitched inside the old farmhouse unless you count the stained curtains over the kitchen sink. And beyond those curtains, the sky had turned another shade of blue.

Dale spoke up. ‘Well, here’s the deal, kids. You two help me keep up the place, mow the piss coloured lawn and attempt to build me a new garden, and I will let you stay in the trailer rent free. Sound good?’

Jett glanced over at Sam, her eyes pleading, Jett needed to nest. Jett would kill for a baby.

‘Esmeralda cleans and cooks for me just fine and does things in the house, but she gets lost outdoors. So, Sam, you take care of the outside, and let Esmeralda take care of the inside, understand?’

‘Deal,’ shouted Jett.

‘I got nothin’ worth stealing, except maybe Esmeralda’s heart. I like my privacy too. We can coexist without getting too cozy. Right, kids?’

‘Sure, when can we move in?’ Jett held her breath.

‘Anytime!’ said Dale.

Jett jumped up. She had insatiable needs. She was dying to get pregnant and settle down.

But, Sam hadn’t followed through on his promise. This would be his last chance. After all, a promise is a promise, and if broken, a few require the most severe form of punishment.


It was their first night in the old Airstream. The inside of the old circus trailer had needed an entire day’s cleaning. Jett had discovered the well-hidden journal. The diary’s tawny leather jacket was cracked and covered with spider webs. A hoard of West Texas rodents had gnawed on the jacket.

Nevertheless, Jett Joplin seemed thrilled.

None of the yellowed pages of exquisite writing had failed. Thankfully, what looked like cephalopod ink was legible.

The elegant prose Lilu had penned was melodic and insightful. She’d signed every entry using her circus name, Lilu, The Prairie Falcon. Her native name was Liluye or singing hawk in Apache. But, everyone called her Lelu. She loved her name.

Jett committed to reading the intimate journal in private over the next few weeks. As usual, their first night in the trailer found Sam Hendrix passed out and drunk on the trailer’s loveseat. Jett couldn’t help but think of Sam as emotionally constipated, and yet she hated the notion of living alone, without a man. Jett imagined the discovery of Lilu’s journal as some kind of omen.

And so she indulged herself that late Saturday by reading Lilu’s first entry.


Page 1
My life in the circus is all about hanging on. There’s so much that can be said about my act, the twentieth century’s Iron Jaw. It is what defines me.

I shouldn’t boast, but I am a star at Maxwell’s. My entire circus family considers me a supernova. To them, I’m this flying angel that spins her life away on a monofilament fishing line up near the top of the tent. It is way up there that I can defy gravity, as I create an invisible cocoon.

I love performing in the main tent. Here’s how we roll. The engineers are assigned to wait until the Joeys and Troupers have canned the crowd like a shoal of excited sardines. Only then does the hoisting begin.

At my zenith, I can twirl at the speed of light as I dangle from the Bale Ring.

It’s late December as I journal, 1967. It’s the time of year most of us humans pass, in particular, the elderly. Death just might be a New Year’s resolution if I don’t get pregnant. I’m pushing 35. I’d kill for a baby.

I’m so skinny. Maxwell’s Family Circus loves it that way. The only time I feel pretty is during my show. Otherwise, I feel like a skinned leather overcoat over bones. The thought of having a baby is what keeps me alive.

This early morning, in our assigned trailer, I can barely move under the patchwork quilt. I feel weak and malnourished. I’m not sure how long I will last.

I’ll start with meeting Johnny Stark. He’d just joined our circus. It was in the spring of ’64, back when lions, tigers, and bears didn’t have feelings.

To whoever finds this journal, know that I mattered.

When Johnny first joined the circus, he was assigned to sell miscellaneous confections. Johnny is my partner. One day we will marry. He was such a convincer. He’d promised me my red cheeked baby.

After a few months, Johnny got promoted. The big boss assigned him to the Pickle Punk booth. In truth, it wasn’t so much a promotion. Johnny was given the job because the previous booth barker had died.

Someone told me once, um, how can I say this kindly, that Johnny is more air than balloon, an affectionate bundle of white noise. But, did I listen to that? no!

I was very young. I’d been blinded by his charm and his loin.

Since he hated college and the physical demands of blue-collar work, Johnny had always worked in sales. A lot of sociopaths sell you unwanted stuff. That’s what you do if you want to eat, laze around, and drink cheap bourbon.

The Pickle Punk booth that Johnny took over had been run down by this older gentleman who had severe diabetes. Circus folks knew him by his act, ‘The Amazing Sheep Face Man’, Sheep Face for short. He had one hell of a bulbous nose and droopy mutton ears.

He’d kept most of the act’s deformed babies in piss-yellow Mason jars. Most of the jars had been given to him by city restaurants he enjoyed. He’d been given mayonnaise, dill pickle, and pickled pig’s feet gallon jugs.

Sheep Face hadn’t upgraded his booth for the longest time, and mostly what he’d displayed in folksy jars had turned into eyeballs and slime.

Pickled Punks have graced the best stocked cabinets of curiosities over the centuries. Johnny’s booth was no different. Only instead of drawers in a cabinet, he kept the gallon jugs filled with isopropyl alcohol on the shelves.

Johnny had convinced Dr. Baden, the circus owner, to give him a chance to run the abandoned booth.

‘I’ll prove my worth, sir,’ he’d said. It wouldn’t take long for the upgraded oddity booth to become a hit with the Maxwell’s Family Circus.

He’d set the booth along the esplanade, this long corridor of booths that funnel the suckers into the main tent. The main tent is where the money is made.

Typically, what you’ll find in a Pickled Punk Booth are well preserved dead foetuses. The mostly disfigured foetuses had been purchased post mortem, of course.

Over the years, circus attendees, especially the younger crowd, had gotten more sophisticated. Maybe it was because of all the scepticism of the ’60s, or the late nineties when Silicon Valley had begun to make technology their bitch. The times were changing and the concept of what could be a circus was changing. The caged oddity of wokeness had reared its ugly head.

Over time, Johnny’s crowd began to voice discontent. The kids began to make fun of the two headed goat, and Johnny’s monkey with multiple tongues, his cat with two tails.

Then one special day, what had been impossible happened. I began to grow fat, lovely. Initially, Johnny had become miserable about my good news. However, after carrying the baby for a few months, surprisingly, Johnny began to treat me better. No, he’d begun to treat me like a queen. He expressed love and affection, something that had been missing for so long.

While I was pregnant, Johnny insisted on cooking.

He was lovely and fed me oceans of swordfish, king mackerel, and pickled tilefish. He made himself a slave to the sea and my cravings. It was something.

He’d waited in long lines at the market to fetch me Camel cigarettes. He’d gone out of his way to craft me late night snacks including beef tartar. Johnny even put together hors d’oeuvres made of mercury laced tuna, questionable shit that had been banned. But, I remained clueless.

We’d sip his homemade wine, well, I would. It was as thick as anti-freeze. I got dizzy as fuck. Johnny drank his stash of liquor that he’d kept separate. He’d sit and watch as I gorged myself. We considered baby names.

Looking back, what Johnny had done worked. He’d controlled and fed me with all things toxic, meant to cause a miscarriage.

‘Mama needs her Tiramisu and uncooked meringues,’ Johnny would preach. I’d laugh like crazy. He’d given me Quaaludes to help with sleep and injections.

I’d learn much too late after Elizabeth was born, that someone’s love, like lead poisoning, can make you as dumb as a rock!

Against all odds, we got ourselves a spanking new baby girl. I couldn’t breathe. Johnny let me name her too. I named her Elizabeth. Her nickname would be Lizzy. She was premature, of course. They had to cut me open to get to set her free. I was so thankful though, I guess?

After all, she’d only suffered for a few hours. I thanked God when she died, all the convulsions and contractions. But my loving Johnny had said, ‘Honey, at least she wasn’t stillborn.’

I became hysterical. It took two days for my circus family to convince me that Lizzy was dead. Giving birth to something nearly undead doesn’t make you less attached. I still love Lizzy more than life itself.

Not long after Lizzy’s death, I crashed into this concrete wall known as post-partum depression. In a cloud of narcotics that Johnny injected, I’d agreed to let him pickle my lovely Elizabeth in formaldehyde to preserve her for the Pickle Booth. There would be no burial.

‘You are so attached to it, honey, this way we can keep it forever.’ My Johnny had been so convincing during my hours of madness.

I’d trusted his judgment as sure as trusted that Lizzy would thrive in her poisonous womb.

Oh, how I waited for Lizzy to move in the jar, all those dimly lit nights in the trailer at the kitchen table.

In less than two weeks, Johnny had moved Lizzy to his Pickled Punk booth. He’d displayed her along with all his other oddities. In short order, our delicate Lizzy would become Maxwell’s biggest attraction.

Johnny had placed Lizzy and her gallon jar front and centre in his booth on what they call a Lazy Susan. A Lazy Susan is a fancy name for a turnstile. Her unfortunate deformities had contributed to her following of fan girls and boys.

Someone had made Johnny this electric display for his turnstile. Liz had been lit well under the spotlights as she turned in circles. He’d created surround seating for his booth. It was so everyone who’d paid good money could get a good look at all the freaks.

In short order, Johnny had become a rising star in the circus community, especially among the younger generation of kids. After all, they’d found themselves an honest to God live horror show.


Jett had read Lilu’s journal clear into the early morning. She took her time to hide the journal.

As Sam slept, she added the finishing touches to the small trailer including a small vase of cactus flowers. She couldn’t wait to read more of Lilu’s journal to see what she could glean.

It took most of the next day, Sunday, to get the dust off the outside of the trailer. Sam had attempted to mow Dale’s lawn too, but the lawn mower wouldn’t start. He took that as a sign to share most of a case of beer with Dale. They sat and drank until nearly sundown.

The 50s Airstream was maybe eighteen feet in length, according to the manual that Jett discovered in one of the trailer’s drawers.

The trailer’s exterior was this riveted stainless steel sheeting rounded where there were corners. It looked a lot like Fat Man.

Fat Man was created by a physicist named J. Robert Oppenheimer. It was one of the first atomic bombs. Fat Man had destroyed the City of Nagasaki, Japan. The pudgy Airstream trailer had a similar mystique absent an explosion. Fat Man, the bomb, and the trailer shared the same darkness.

Reading Lilu’s journal made Jett feel more complete as a woman. While reading it, she dreamed how exciting Lilu’s life must have been.

After the young couple had finished eating their dinner of Campbell’s vegetable soup Sunday night, they lay in bed, exhausted. Sam began to snore after he’d finished his six-pack.

That’s when Jett snuck out Lilu’s journal again and started reading it.


Page 123

I met Johnny just outside the costume caboose.

‘Do you have an extra cigarette, handsome?’ I’d asked. He’d been leaning against an awning post.

Long after dawn, we were everywhere and nowhere familiar, unless you count the haze of magic and endless sex. From then on, every night with Johnny and me was backseat bingo. We couldn’t get enough of each other. He was the one. But he’d lied. He swore we’d have a big family.

‘I’ll give you a wheelbarrow full of babies,’ he’d said.

But the mother-fucker lied. He’s an evil son of a bitch.

But for NoDoz and speed, I wouldn’t be able to stay high at the top of the tent.

These days, I’ve been assigned a Stage Stooge. The Stooge typically hoists me up to the mouth grab. He holds me around my thighs until I’m able to grip what’s called the Sears’s Bench Vice using my teeth. That’s how you hold onto what’s called the Iron Jaw. The expensive oral apparatus allows you to spin at the end of the braided rope.

Once I feel secure, I signal the Stooge let go. That’s when our circus engineer uses the custom block and tackle to pulley me up into the stratosphere.

After I’m lifted into the heavens, I can taste and smell the prairie as it sieves in through the vents in the roof’s opening at the apex. Only then do I feel safe and complete, and in the moment. The cheers of the crowd become that of angels, Gabriel’s angels, angels welcoming me into heaven. That’s when I begin to spin into my imaginary, delicate cocoon.

I soon emerge as a Prairie Falcon.

I have to tell you, future fame meant that I could never risk getting pregnant.

When you are in a state of exhaustion, everything seems to float up there. Up there was the only place I could temporarily suspend all my desires.

I love the ending of my act. It’s when the circus master is ordered by the owner to signal the Calliope artist. Only then will he play my favourite Brahms concerto, The haunting melody is the only thing that serves to rescue me from my descending despair. Just for the record, Calliope is pronounced as Kal-E-Ope with a long E and O. Certainly not Ka-Ly-a-Pee, that wouldn’t be circus-speak.

After I fall from the sky, and after I get back my legs, that’s when the real magic begins, sadly. I choose to disaster to our silver travel trailer and disappear for the night. There is where I curl up and write about what’s missing inside me.

I can hear them as they leave the circus, all the mothers and daughters. I can hear them passing by my open window. I can hear their mothers’ silence as the girls talk about how they too will fly someday.


Over the next few months, Jett grew exhausted from her long work hours and walking. Her daily routine included trekking into town by hitch-hiking and speed walking. She’d worked hard six days per week.

Sam on the other hand had been lucky and lazy. He’d chosen to stay with Dale on the porch all day. Sam hadn’t mowed the dying lawn or tended to Dale’s garden as he’d promised. Dale had witnessed everything.

Still, Jett couldn’t wait to get home at night. She had to read Lilu’s Journaling. They had so much in common, after all.

Jett waited most nights until Sam fell asleep. He’d often pass out on the trailer’s small loveseat, empty whiskey bottle in hand.

Many moonlit nights, Jett sat outdoors on this broken down excuse for a lawn chair, facing the vastness of her purple desert as it leaned into the blackness of midnight.

She’d watch as the stars, all starfish, twinkled in the windy currents above. She was falling in love again, only this time with the idea of having a baby.

Sam’s constant belittlement and his penchant for emotional warfare had gotten on her nerves. He’d become more controlling, and demanding. Yet Jett swore to herself that his demeanour wouldn’t force her to give up hope. Hope is all she had, after all.

And yet, Sam had promised her a baby, and maybe he needed to be punished.

After the desert coyotes had finished their early morning crescendo, Jett would ease back into the trailer. She understood how and why Lilu would have loved retiring out here.

Once inside, Jett lay down beside her hibernating, snoring bear. After Sam was fast asleep, Jett pulled out Lilu’s journal. Reading the journal had become the best part of her life.


Jett’s new job search had become a pain in the ass. She’d been in town looking for work all day, having been laid off again.

She’d walked and hitchhiked home. Sam could care less if a horny cowboy serial killer had picked her up. Just maybe he’d counted on it.

Once Sam finished drinking beer with Dale, Jett, and Sam traipsed the long mile back to their atomic bomb of a West Texas trailer. It wasn’t uncommon for them to arrive in the dim light of a failing flashlight.

After a few months of desert isolation and unemployment, Sam had given Jett a few black eyes in frustration. He had his reasons, he’d said, their lack of income and direction.

She had made the mistake of asking Sam when he was going to man up and get a real job.

Sam wasn’t in the mood for any adult talk. He’d neutered his skimpy libido, all the lazing around and beer drinking. Sex had become another, ‘fucking chore,’ he’d said.

Jett had an alarm clock in her uterus. It had been ringing like a fire bell. This ticking baby bomb needed to be lit. Sam had been clueless, without a box of matches.

He swore that he’d grown to hate Jett more ever since the trailer.

He’d said, ‘Maybe the trailer has something to do with my downward spiral?

‘Anyway, Jett, it doesn’t matter. I’d rather lose my middle finger than have a baby with you,’ he shouted angrily that night. But, Sam had promised.

Later, in the early morning, Jett cried herself a boatload of tears.

She’d been so hungry for sex. She lusted for a swollen belly.

All evening she’d cleaned and cleaned the trailer’s cupboards into the early morning as Sam lay passed out and impotent.

While snooping around for something to clean, she’d discovered this large apothecary jar in another hidden vestibule. It had been hidden under the trailer’s seating, behind a shadow.

It was a foetus in an apothecary jar. The foetus was perfectly formed and included the umbilical cord. Her eyes were wide open, eyes that seemed to follow Jett in what little moonlight filtered through the patched up curtains, no matter where she’d been placed.

Once outside, she began to swish Lilu’s baby. Her baby circled the jar like a flushed toilet. She clinched the jar tight, almost falling asleep. Before dawn, she placed her newfound miracle back inside the cupboard.

Returning outdoors, under the remaining light of a fishhook moon, Jett pored over Lilu’s journal for the last time.


Page 324

I find it difficult to focus nowadays. Performing my routine on the Iron Jaw takes all the strength and concentration I can muster.

On the days I don’t perform, or before my act, I walk the esplanade. My loving Johnny is usually too distracted to notice me as he shuffles his viewers in and out of his popular Pickle Punk Booth.

I often stand just outside the booth’s exit, eavesdropping, and crying.

A paying customer had said, ‘Jesus, did you see that freak in the jar? That Sam guy said he’d named the thing Lizzy.’

‘Christ, we got our money’s worth, a baby in a jar?’ Another female circus attendee had said. ‘The lighting made that baby look so creepy,’ said another.

As I followed a few of the other paying customers down the esplanade, I overheard heard one of them say, ‘It was worth every penny. Bet the mother feels worthless not giving the freaky thing an appropriate burial.’

Each night, after my show, all Johnny wanted to do was count the money he’d made. He’d stack his coins and cash on the trailer’s scratched Formica tabletop.

And so one late night, while he was distracted with his money, I entered his booth and stole back my daughter, Elizabeth. I hid her in our circus trailer, deep in the back of a cupboard. It was easy. After all, Johnny was lazy and an expert at taking shortcuts. I knew he’d never find my little one. Little did he know, living a disparaging life would be the least of his worries. Johnny’s business went downhill after that. I’d gained weight and felt well.

And so now, many years later, we’ve retired behind Dale’s, poor. We’d agreed to leave the circus sometime after Abilene, Texas. Thank God Dale lets us use this desert patch of land to park our trailer on.

Over time, my caring for Elizabeth became more important to me than my love for Johnny. Over the years, Johnny drank too much and abused me too often to count. He swore the trailer or the patch of desert had let him down.

And so, over time, I’d made a final decision. I’d borrowed one of Dale’s side arms and a garden shovel.

I’d trick Johnny to follow me deep into the desert.


True madness isn’t easily defined. Seasoned psychologists struggle with the term. It’s almost like some higher power needs to sort out what creates a true mind-fuck. But one thing was certain, Jett had snapped.

The next day after finishing Lilu’s journal, Jett searched the desert beyond the horizon. She searched from early morning until late in the evening and still, there was no Lilu out there. In all her want and grief, she’d conclude that perhaps Lilu had died and had been swallowed by the prairie.

But she wasn’t certain of that. She wasn’t certain of anything. Everything had become possible, everything had become impossible.

Maybe Lilu did take a Greyhound clean out of West Texas. Maybe she fled from her beautiful desert, just about anywhere away from the skeleton that’d made promises.

Jett felt like dying too, even after she’d adopted her new formaldehyde daughter, Lizzy. Somehow, Jett needed to choose between Liz and Sam.


It was late October. Jett had returned to the trailer late and exhausted. It had been another hard day of seeking employment. She’d worn Goth eye shadow all day to camouflage her blackened eye sockets, a symptom of Sam’s abuse. Her bad-ass sleeve tattoos had almost disappeared under the bruises. He’d ripped out a nose piercing.

A force had been taking control over her. The force was dark.

Sam had gotten himself drunk again. He’d fallen asleep on top of the bed, puked it up, and rolled off. He was dead to the world. Somehow Jett sensed that if she woke him, he would destroy what was left of her. She just knew it. Maybe there was something evil that existed here in the desert.

The locals say the area consumes lost souls.

After Jett returned from her long walk in the desert, someone or something instructed her to check the cupboards. Behind some toilet paper, Jett found the missing .44 calibre pistol. After it felt like years had passed, Jett stood over Sam, shaking, her entire body cold and sweaty. Her hand trembled uncontrollably as she lowered the smoking barrel.

Somehow, Sam’s head had exploded. What looked like pomegranate pulp had splattered the floor. The nasty smelling rot had run down the walls and over the wooden cabinet doors.

‘Fuck you, Sam,’ Jett howled to the ceiling, over and over again. The desert listened at first. After a while, it chose to ignore her.

With each new reading of Lilu’s journal, rage had swelled the banks of her mind, until she’d been forced to choose Sam over her newly adopted baby.

Dale and Esmeralda stood in the backyard. They gazed at the castle of flames that swelled above the desert floor where the travel trailer had stood for years.

It had taken the crime scene investigators the entire next day to complete their work. Forensic technicians had worked diligently in the sweltering heat ever since the blaze in the early morning. Three truckloads of evidence had been carted off to El Paso.

Dale had explained to the local detectives again that he had no idea how or why his .44 magnum was somehow involved in a new murder.

Dale smiled throughout the recorded interrogation.

It had taken seven long hours of verbal torment to clear Dale as the prime suspect. There was no way in hell the old man could have walked out into the thorny desert and placed a bullet in the heads of Sam and Jett.

After only a few days, this high powered medical examiner had concluded that what had occurred was a murder-suicide.

The funny thing is, Dale died a week after the double killing. It was shortly after he’d said goodbye to Esmeralda.

And as far as the authorities were concerned, the entity known as Esmeralda never existed.


After several years, the entity returned to contemplate the carnage of the West Texas landscape. A decision had to be made.

Hi, my name is Elan, it means friendly in Apache. I drive for Uber. I’d picked up Lilu at the airport.

When we got there, she said it was curious how Dale’s house had also burned to the ground. She wasn’t shocked, just surprised at how the horizon appeared without it. What she saw had appeared differently in her dreams.

The native woman named Lilu stood quietly alongside the ashes, maybe fifty feet from the pavement. Could this native woman named Lilu also be Esmeralda?

I watched as Lilu listened to the lonely sound of the wind as it struggled to push the setting sun over the thin line of horizon to the west.

I lowered the passenger window and yelled at Lilu. ‘Ma’am, we’d best be going if I’m going to get you back to the airport in El Paso.’

Lilu didn’t respond.

What I learned while growing up on the Apache reservation is that the notion of living a life through someone else is commonplace. In the West Texas desert, the Apache consider this to be a fact and a blessing, and honestly, rather commonplace. Within our culture, it’s referred to as a soul exchange. Of course, the meaning is lost absent the music of the Apache tongue.

I observed Dynai walk into the desert and then suddenly reappear. When she returned she walked with a purpose.

By then, I’d been leaning up against the back quarter panel on the side of the road. I was in no hurry because she intended to reward me.

My jaw dropped when I saw what she was carrying. It looked like a newborn. She was mumbling something about having to take Lizzy out of her jar. She held this rubbery thing against her breasts.

I have a soft spot, and so I showed Lilu mad respect. I held back my feelings of disdain.

I’d opened the passenger door and asked her to step into the back seat of my Honda Accord.

Lilu thanked me for my kindness, but mainly for not asking any more questions than I needed to. She said she’d tip me well for my troubles, but that she would not be returning to El Paso.

Before I left, she gave me five hundred dollars in cash.

After, I drove down the road in the direction of the city. Inquisitive to a fault, I pulled over. I spied in the rearview.

I watched as Lilu paused at the beginning of the desert and scanned the western horizon. She appeared golden in the backwash of the setting sun.

She looked comfortable in her cotton dress and shawl. From a distance, the shawl looked more like a ceremonial native cape. It glowed in the late sun in hues of sage, spring willow, and tawny doeskin.

On our way out to the desert, I’d assumed wrongly that she was off to attend a costume party. She wore some kind of tiara. The tiara was made of saguaro needles that had been woven and thatched in a ring.

Her elegant belt appeared to be made from the winged feathers of Red-tailed, Cooper’s, and Swainson’s hawks.

It’s difficult to explain now, but in the rearview mirror, the entity known as Lilu seemed to lift off the ground.

Startled, I got out of my car for a better look. I watched as she slowly took flight. I gazed in amazement as she began to glide over the ashes where Dale’s house had stood, and then as she slowly lifted herself over the three sandy hills. Lastly, I gasped as she sailed over where the haunted trailer once stood.

Had Jett left Lilu a message of sorts? I am almost certain of that. It had to be the directions of where she could find the jar with Lizzy in it, maybe in a small, cool, cave behind the hills. There are many.

How natural it must have felt to hold her daughter Lizzy while in the wind. The only thing I could think about was how Lilu the Falcon had finally been freed.

I assumed since Jett had decided to join Sam in hell for eternity, that Lilu’s grand calculation of her baby’s adoption had failed, and that there was no one better to raise a daughter than the real mother.

As I scanned the heavens, I could almost feel the Trans-Pecos Copperhead and Striped Bark Scorpions as they shuffled to the safety of their dens. Like Lilu, they’d had enough of the scorching sun.

Just before the light escaped completely, I could see a faint figure up there, beyond the purple clouds, beyond the concept of weather, beyond worlds.

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