Green Apple Licorice
Marina made the two-day trek from Sanchez to Dry Valley Penitentiary for the tenth time. She did this once every six months for five years. That’s how long Dodo had been imprisoned, and it was a fraction of his total sentence.
It was an unforgivably narrow, steep-sided pass through the Silver Mountains, named so because the settlers believed the rumor that an extensive silver mine was somewhere deep within. For years they dug and perished from exhaustion with nothing to show but dirt, stone, fossils, and chewed up laborers. All things were futile in this region.
Except for Marina’s journey. The end-goal for her was everything, but it was swiftly becoming less. Soon it would be reduced to futility.
She camped on a bed of dead moss that crunched under the weight of her body. A yellow-brown stream murmured through the pass. The stones of the last fire pit she made were scattered, probably by some other tramp with their own pressing mission, so she regathered them one by one. She sunk her red face into the dirty stream, sighed, and struck a flint over dry kindling.
“This is the last time,” she said aloud. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m still in love with Dodo, but this is just too damn much for me.”
The hot fire and the dark mountains offered no reply.
Her brown hand found a long, neon green pack in her tattered hiking sack; a sorry old bag that provided life to anyone exposed to the elements. The pack had thick plastic wrapping with a shiny finish. It read: GARZA’S GREEN APPLE LICORICE. Though the locals never ventured away from Sanchez, they named Garza the best confectioner in the Western Hemisphere. The candy gave her trek meaning. Dodo had to have it to satisfy his aching sweet tooth. It was important for Marina to serve her husband in whichever way she could, with whatever means possible. Though he had failed her miserably, she felt indebted to him.
The next morning Marina exited the pass and spied the prison on the horizon. The small collection of concrete buildings would look unassuming if not for the absurd chain link fence surrounding them. Everyone hated the fence because it was impassable. No one was tough enough to scale it. Unlike other prison fences the developers dug this one so deep that not even the craftiest convicts could tunnel beneath. It was a mystery, how they got the fence so deep; the soil in Dry Valley sat above a layer of impervious hardpan. The angel above the Christmas tree was a snaggletooth coil of barbed wire which spanned the length of the fence and doubtless secured the perimeter of Dodo’s resting place.
It separated sorrowful men from their loves and lives.
The arid wind shot specks of sand into Marina’s eyes. She trudged along the floor of Dry Valley and approached the chain link fence. Dodo stood behind it, his fingers clasping the links. A gray-uniformed guard watched from ten yards behind.
“He doesn’t blink?” Marina said, placing her lips on Dodo’s index finger.
“Guards are serpents, not humans. They don’t blink. But they like gifts,” said Dodo. “Especially sour ones.” He glanced at his wife’s hiking bag. “Well, you got it?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
Marina lifted the pack out of her bag and passed it through one of the links. It crinkled in Dodo’s hands. Just then she hated that fence and its insurmountable height. Her plan after her husband was cuffed and sentenced was to toss a home-cooked meal in a metal lunchbox over the fence every other week. Then she heard of the penitentiary’s ridiculous border wall.
“The chain link fence keeping us in, Marina,” Dodo said during his only phone call. “It’s so high I can barely see the top. Forget the meal and bring something small enough to fit through.”
His favorite candy from Garza would do. She got busy with the kids and decided to bring it only twice a year.
The fence, to Marina, was an unneeded precaution. Dodo was not a violent criminal; he hadn’t used his fists. He stole Mr. Shasta’s cash box under cover of night. But the elusive fact is that men who steal have murder in their hearts. She began to realize it.
“Dodo, you killed our dreams when you became a thief.”
“A thief?” He yelled.
“Quiet!” said the guard.
“A thief?” He repeated. “I did it to save you, the kids, to save us. We needed money, Mar. Shasta never earned that cash. He’s the thief, babe. That man deserves to rot behind this damn rusted fence in this God-forsaken desert. Not me, babe, not me.”
“I don’t care about Shasta. You know the law,” she said. “You put your own family at risk. We would have made it through, Dodo. Endless suffering because of our poverty? Sure, but we could have scrounged, labored, made it somehow.” She steadied herself. “Look at my body. What do you see?”
“I see the body I threw onto the motel bed that first night in Sanchez.”
“No. It’s changed. I’m skin and bones, brittle, limping around. We have no food. We’re starving, Dodo. I can’t take care of the kids or make this painful trek — .” The words broke into sobs.
Dodo looked down, opened the bright pack and pulled out a rigid straw of green licorice.
“Ah, color,” he said. There’s no color in this place. Just a sea of grays, whites, and browns.”
He placed the licorice into his mouth and sighed. The tart, biting sourness made him wince. Marina faced the hard ground, her tears perhaps watering a seed.
“All your suffering, Mar — for this.” He took the wet licorice out of his mouth, it glistened in the sun, and he loathed the sight of it. “Damn this candy. Marina.”
She found his glassy eyes.
“Never come back. Forget the candy. Raise the kids. Find my sister in San Miguel; she’ll want to be there for you.”
She gave a wan smile, affirming that what he said was what she wanted to hear. Words failed to travel from gut to tongue, so she croaked instead.
“Donascimento!” said the guard. “Time!”
“That’s it, I have to go,” said Dodo. “Give my love, please.”
“Sure, love,” she said.
Their fingers almost interlocked and they attempted a kiss through one of the small openings in the chain link fence. Their long noses wouldn’t fit, so they protruded their lips and made kissing faces like chimps.
Dodo dropped the open pack of licorice at the base of the fence and turned away. He avoided the spot, and the sourness remained on his tongue for days.
Marina limped slowly across the hot valley to the shaded mountain pass. One last glance at Dry Valley Penitentiary assured her that Dodo was absent forever and she could lay his memory to rest. The black fence rose so high it appeared bolted to the sky. Two souls locked in two separate worlds.
He can keep his all to himself, she thought with some bitterness. I have my own to cultivate.