Feature photo by Cesar Larrosa, lead image by Lisa Leodarnelli.

In the basin-range of Nevada, Mary Sojourner finds discarded clothes, a rusted-out car, threads of stories that lead her to reflect on gambling, loss, and meaning.

IT’S SEVEN A.M., LATE OCTOBER. Nevada basin-range stretches pale olive in all directions. Last night I lost everything I played, slept in the back of the truck, woke long before dawn to see Orion moving across the black sky, silent, reliable, his prey crouched in eternal safety at his feet. I’m drinking coffee from a mug the same fierce blue as the Nevada horizon.

I climb a rise over jagged limestone which I do not touch. It can rip the skin from your flesh. Yellow flowers bloom in shadows, their stalks tall and slender, blossoms like daisies, but yellow on yellow. The wind is sharp. The ground under my feet is a mosaic of chert and quartz and colors for which their are no names.

“I lost,” I say to myself and the words under this huge sky, in this perfect silence, have no meaning.

I crest the slope, hear the compressor station whining a few hundred yards away. There is creosote here, and dwarf sage and two ravaged truck skeletons. They have been shot to lace.

I walk to the pick-up that was once red. Somebody’s night-on-the-town clothes lie scattered across the rusted springs of the back seat, a small bra with large cups, rayon panties, Levis that might be child-size, a long-sleeve, pleated jersey blouse with lace around the low cut bodice. Everything is ivory, perhaps essentially, perhaps after months under a hard desert sun, fabric once rose, pale blue, yellow. There is no way to know.

I stand over the clothes and I wonder if there is evil here. The compressor drones. Shotgun shells litter the sand, fluorescing pink and yellow. To the north, casinos rise straight from the desert floor, their thirsty lights sucking the great red river dry. To the south lies a casino in which a little girl was raped and strangled in the Ladies Room at 2 a.m., not fifty feet from where her father fed quarters into his Double Diamond slot machine.

I do not touch the clothes. I study them closely. The hook on the bra is intact, the Levis’ zipper unbroken. The panties, the blouse are torn. Desert mice have chewed waistband and sleeves.

I stand over the clothes and I wonder if there is evil here. The compressor drones. Shotgun shells litter the sand, fluorescing pink and yellow. To the north, casinos rise straight from the desert floor, their thirsty lights sucking the great red river dry. To the south lies a casino in which a little girl was raped and strangled in the Ladies Room at 2 a.m., not fifty feet from where her father fed quarters into his Double Diamond slot machine.

Last night, I gambled next to a tiny Colombian woman, her gray hair in a braid that reached to the small of her back. She played a nickle at a time and she didn’t know when she’d won.

“You are winning almost every time,” I said. “You are lucky.”

She smiled a clear bright smile and shrugged her shoulders.

Her husband was perhaps 4’10” tall. He patted her shoulder and my back. We watched the shimmering screens. We were comrades in a small, brief anonymity. Our blood rivered in our veins, eddied, surged and ebbed to the machine’s cool tease. We tilted our heads back and offered our necks to the kiss.

And, now this disappearance, the small woman with big breasts who buys her jeans in the kids’ department, who joyously shrugged her bra off her shoulders, or didn’t.

Community Connection

What have you encountered in your travels that leads you to think about others’ lives and stories.