A Ruby Cactus in Sunset

Submitted into Contest #209 in response to: Write a story about someone going on a life-changing journey.... view prompt



Driving, driving along, listening to the somber tunes of the tires meeting the road. The fever of the sun beat onto the car in a cruel lashing, forcing the air to pelt out to keep us cool, adding fuel to an already burning situation. I tried to turn on the radio, to get some form of a break from torture, but he turned it off, cursing us into a prolonged silence. I knew that something was bothering him. In fact, I knew what was bothering him, but as a person who is in this relationship, I did not know how to face him, and how to respond. Listening to the dribble of the road as we cruised over the occasional pebble, I began to hum to break the awkward silence, trying to stifle the uncomfortable mood in the car. He used to love my humming, a hope grew in me of soothing the treacherous waves of sloshing sand that tore at the bits of my flesh. It got me a response. He quickly shot me a look, glaring daggers and cutting me into bits and pieces, seeing the shame within me, a decision that I had made that had changed the course of our relationship, and a decision that he wanted me to make to piece things back together.

We were on our way to a Mojave vacation, which is what we told everyone. It was our 10th anniversary. I can still smell the wedding cake, raspberry lemon to be precise. We had discovered it at a local bakery and fell in love with the softness of it, the richness of sugar and magic, and the inconceivable way that raspberries and lemon meld into a tart, confectionary dream. I had gotten that same baker to bake us a cake for our small wedding, just a few family members, nothing more. All we needed was our day together, the feeling of soft lace, holding hands and promising life to one another, eternal happiness in our union, which, was now a stagnant memory like folding out an old wallet and smelling dust, and old leather. Even now, tears well in my eyes as I try to push it back down, little streaks burning my cheeks as they escape. 

I suggested that we play a game, trying to lighten the mood, anything to not face what lies ahead, what our path ultimately leads to. I began to look around, trying to spy anything in sight for him to examine, but proving to be tedious as we were surrounded by dirt and cacti. Still, I had to try. I exclaimed that I noticed something green, the only speck of color that caught my attention, adding a small smile as I tried to distract him and myself. He sighed, letting out a small puff of air, exasperated, the salt of his anger coating the side window. He responded, I spy a green little weed, one that took our promise and snagged it with needles, that caused me to bleed, and to feel pain. It poisoned me with false promises and ripped my heart from my still-beating chest. This odious weed has taken the rain from our relationship, that has grown the lands of our commitment, and left it barren, a sea of sand, emptiness, and darkness. This green weed has a flower on its head as if they are trying to hide with something pretty and enticing, but I see the unsightly little shrub hiding beneath. He faced me, staring at me directly, his steel blue eyes as somber as the rain that he described, stormy in his depths as his tears reflected mine, a mirror of that inner turmoil, a reflection of what I saw, how he looked at me. I wanted to patch where my needles had lanced him, show him the beauty of what was still there, and place his heart back with care.

I focused on the road, and the vast unfaltering of it, reflecting on our relationship. Where had it all gone wrong? When did we become this desert, this dry area with no hopes of growth besides the cacti that inhabit it? We were happy once, the prospect of 10 years, the hopefulness of it, and how we were mad, lost in a frenzy for one another. It never seemed to be an issue, at least, that is what I thought for a while until I began to lose that ache, going through the stages of life, worrying about what we were going to do, how we would grow together, how we would both go to work, eat, sleep, and start again. It seemed that we were working, working constantly down that road, and not seeing the scenery around us, all the beautiful moments that are interwoven in the paths that we miss as we tire and break down. A passionate kiss turned into a peck on the cheek, embraces turned into turning over, fighting over the blankets, Smiles were few and far between. When had we lost it? Why didn’t we recover it? The apprehension in my chest grew, screaming louder and louder. He had wanted more with me he exclaimed, he had wanted memories with me, a home and a family, but losing that had caused me great anxiety. How can I plant roots when I know that there is a lack of passion and forlorn expressions that were lost in translation?

I wandered like a wild animal, primal and free, chasing the high of lost love. I began to look for other green patches, a rainforest of growth and happiness, chasing that feeling of ache again. I had wanted the vibrancy and freshness of the flowers, to see exotic things, and to feel that flutter that I had once felt in the depths of me. I wanted to be allured into a feeling. I had lost myself in the depths of the sandy terrace, parched for thirst, wanting to have the rain, the sun, and all the promises of a racing heart, earth beating into my veins, reinvigorating me anew. I had ventured into this rainforest once, feeling the leaves, seeing the vines entangle around me, wrapping in my skin as I trod carefully, afraid of the danger in the greenery. A pool of rainbow greeted me, enticing me to dip my toe in, eventually, an ankle, a calf, and then, my whole being. It felt like lapping the freshest water, a cool stream seeping into my skin, feeling that ache again, that fluttering feeling as if a trail of butterflies were flying around me, one that was forbidden like a fruit from a tree. It was a fleeting moment that bloomed before me before becoming lost again.

I had told him I was sorry, but he didn’t speak, just focused as silent tears rolled down his cheeks, turning slightly to look down at my now swollen mound of earth, growing an extension of my being from my delight in transgression. A flower sprouting from me, one that I could not cut off, or smash with my fingers. A field of growth and wonder, reawakening the heart that I didn't know I could have, willing me to keep it safe, keep it protected, and watch it grow. 

Where we were going, there was no sunlight kissing the soil, or the smell of rain permeating the air. We were going somewhere where the vines would be ripped from the ground, the soft Earth would be removed, leaving little to no comfort, leaving once again in its path, an infertile wasteland, as if nothing happened, as if that adventure to that bright, vibrant, rainforest hadn't occurred. I had a choice to make. Do I stay in the desert, a lone cactus, stifling under the extreme conditions and the lackluster passion trying to grow flowers on my own, or do I cherish the now-growing flower in my valley? Do I take it and venture to that forest? The choice was simple, but complex, as I felt love for what used to be, what we were, and what we could have been, but try as I might, I could not destroy the precious flower that began to grow on me. 

He watched me in silence as I pulled to the side of the road, unbuckling my seatbelt to break the crushing silence. I peeled my thighs from the leather seats, not reacting to the pain of my flesh sticking, lasting perspiration as I left, a last attempt at latching me to the broken pieces of path and destruction. He remained in his seat, watching me leave into the desert around us, moving towards a flowering cactus. I walked up, cradling the flower in my hands, admiring the beauty of it, and the life it showed where everything was greyscale, ruby greeting the edges of my fingers as I brushed along the needles to remind me of a mistake, but wonder grew as I looked at the bright yellow flower mixing with the ruby sacrifice, vibrant pinks, and yellows in its wake, beginning my land anew as the sunset of colors signaled the end of the drought.

July 28, 2023 21:33

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Herman W Clarke
09:14 Aug 06, 2023

This was great! I loved the main characters perspective, and the desert imagery against the themes was fantastic.


21:26 Aug 06, 2023

Omg thank you so much 💗 This was my first submission on this website, and I was super nervous!


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