It was late afternoon when we sat there, on the hill, watching the birds above the field — how they flew in their patterns, dancing, swooshing and swaying this way and that as they do. She wanted to ride horses out to watch the sun set, but I wanted to walk. It was too far, she said, so we compromised and stole the keys to her uncle’s tractor, which neither of us knew how to drive. Somehow, though, we figured it out, and at the edge of the field, where the corn stopped and the hill began, we parked.
I watched her swoop and twirl as she danced along with the birds. I had forgotten the years she’d spent as a dancer; it had been at least twice as many since I had last seen her. As she cycled through a series of poses and pirouettes, it seemed as if the birds were following her. When her arms went up, they leaned; when she jumped, they burst. The sun burned the edges of her frame, turning her hair into fire.
“Come on,” she said, and grabbed my hand. Monstrous clouds of an early monsoon hovered in hues of gray and gold in the vastness beyond her face.
“I’m okay,” I said, and she pulled on my arm.
“Dance with me.”
“Fine,” she said, and kicked the dirt.
She walked away a few steps and wiped the sweat off her forehead. With the storm coming, the air was unusually humid that day. My hair was a mess. She tied hers back into a ponytail as she looked out past the field and on to the city.
“I don’t get it,” she said, after a while. “Who came here, to the desert, in a-hundred-and-ten-degree heat, with cactuses and scorpions and snakes and dirt and dust devils and monsoons, and thought, precisely?”
I laughed as she bent down and picked a small yellow flower.
“Cacti,” I said.
“You said cactuses; it’s cacti. And that’s a weed.”
“So what?” she said, and tucked it behind her ear.
A light breeze suggested that, though still far off, the storm was approaching. I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. She hummed the first few bars of a song, fiddling with a piece of straw, and then fell quiet, as the birds, in unison, flew away. In silence, we watched them become a speck of black on an otherwise blue and amber sky.
“Though it is beautiful,” she eventually offered, turning around and tossing me the flower.
“Yes, it is,” I replied, my eyes never leaving her. “Yes, it is.”