Leticia looked up into the crystal desert night, counting angels, her grandmother nearby.
The tires of the pick-up truck gouged through the windswept gullies of the ranchero, throwing out rocks and debris. She fought against the wheel, trying to keep on the washboard road. The beams of her headlights vanished into the openness. She felt small, insignificant, powerless. Tears on her lashes blurred and twisted the falling starlight, obscuring the coyotes and mule deer that hid among the shadows. “Hurry, please hurry.”
She hoped to meet the paramedics at the highway.
“Why do you cry so much, Letti?” her grandmother had once asked. “You have a Comforter to bear your sorrows.”
Leticia turned toward the window. The barren land of their home tumbled forever in all directions. She waved her arm, then let it drop. “God doesn’t know where to find me, Nana.”
“Don’t fool yourself.” Her grandmother wiped floured hands on an apron made of old pinto bean sacks. “He’s always with us, even out here.” She gathered the teenager close. “Your Mama and Papa would want you to move on. Throw out the hurt. Make room for God.”
“It aches ... I feel alone.”
“May God send you angels when you need them, child. Real angels.”
She drove as much by memory as by sight. Another mile. She scanned the highway below for the flashing of emergency lights, an ambulance or fire truck en route, a squad car, waiting. Nothing. Only the black ribbon that stretched the fifty-plus miles to Phoenix. “Where are they? God, please.” Her foot pressed harder onto the accelerator.
“Letti!” Her grandmother’s voice had been sharp, tinged with uncertainty and pain. It had come from the darkened bedroom she’d shared for sixty-two years with her childhood sweetheart before he died the prior winter.
Leticia sat upright, eyes wide, throat tight. Something was wrong. The floor felt cold to her bare feet as she stumbled down the hallway. She pushed open the door. From the darkness the sound of wheezing crept along the baseboards, feeble and weak. “Nana?” A nightlight sputtered against the wall. “Did you call? Is everything ok?”
There was no reply.
Leticia flipped the light switch, shading her eyes from the sudden glare. A figure lay crumpled on the floor, draped under the flowers of a worn nightgown. “Nana!” She knelt, checking for a pulse, tears flooding her eyes. “No! Don‘t leave.”
The tires spun, losing traction in the wash. She straightened and accelerated. “A little farther. They‘ll be waiting.“
Her grandmother lay in the reclined passenger seat, each bump and curve tossed her limp frame like a rag doll. A finger twitched and her eyes creased opened. Her voice was haunting, distant, scarcely more than a whisper. “Angels. Do you see?”
Leticia jumped, her mouth dry. “Nana?” They liked to sit outside, staring into the night sky, pretending the airliners that crisscrossed the firmament were angels that provided heavenly aid when most needed. “No, they’re only airplanes, not angels. You don‘t see angels. You can‘t —.” Her voice faltered and she took her grandmother’s hand. “We’re meeting the ambulance. Don’t leave me.”
“I’m going home to be with your Mama.”
Emergency lights flickered in the distance. “Wait, Nana.” She pointed. “They’re almost here.”
“It’s my time to go, Letti.” She choked and coughed. “You have so much life ahead. Live it ... for your Mama and Papa. For me. For Jesus.” A weak smile pushed the corners of her mouth. “Give up your sorrow, let God move into that hollow space in your heart.” Her eyes closed, hand falling wilted.
“No!” The truck skidded to a stop, Leticia moved across the cab. She caressed the dying face with trembling fingers. “I love you.” She wept, burying her eyes in the faded flowers.
Leticia stared up into the crystal desert night, counting angels …
… at least she wanted them to be angels, prayed they were. They arced across the heavens high above her, seeming to scrape the boundary between sky and eternity. Airliners, carrying people away, always away. She wondered if Nana was on one. Maybe her parents as well.
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“You‘re all I’ve got left, God. Help me.”
Red and blue lights flashed about her. Beyond them she saw angels.
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