Hermano Tortuga

Posted: April 22, 2014 in Hermano Tortuga, Short stories, starts & writing


Unyoked from the stretcher, Hermano took off his blue Goodyear cap. The cap had made a red indentation across his forehead. Insect sounds sizzled and buzzed around him, but apart from the sound of his movements – boots scraping in the dirt and the sound of fabric rubbing on fabric – and those of the insects, all was quiet and calm. But this wasn’t a place to rest. Not here. Not yet.                                          Cap in hand he wiped the back of a grimy shirt-sleeve across his equally grimy brow. Then, blinking sweat out of his eyes and grimacing up at the colourless sky, he placed the cap back on his head. His left arm remained limp, hanging by his side. Casting a weary eye over his surroundings he flicked a couple of quick, annoyed glances toward the makeshift stretcher beside him. He sighed, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbed his mouth and chin with his right hand, a sand-papery rasp, greying whiskers covering a lined, world-weary jaw.
His hand dropped to his side as his eyes opened and he looked at his old worn boots momentarily before once more looking out over the tumbling scrub. It rolled away, boulder-strewn, down to a distant road junction. Further out was a river and beyond that the unnaturally straight lines of an orchard that furrowed up the foot of more rocky brown hills. A pecan plantation. Hermano knew that past the pecans and away over those hills lay the sea.
He squatted down by the stretcher, which was made from a couple of gnarled lengths of dead mesquite lashed together with a few dirty t-shirts, other pieces of torn clothing, shoelaces, twisted bits of grass.
“I, Hermano Tortuga, stand here at the crossroads by the wind-beaten orchard,” he said in a low voice, rubbing his left shoulder. The arm still apparently lifeless, his fingers almost touching the stony ground, he squinted at the apparently lifeless figure strapped into the stretcher.
“Near the hoary grey coast,” he continued. “There I keep a resting place for weary men.”
Down on his haunches he scraped his boots around over the stones to better his balance. For a few moments he looked intently over the pale, unconscious face. Then he winced and, pushing on his knee with his right hand, stood again, and patted dust from the thigh of his faded denim jeans. Turning, he looked back out at the road, the river, the plantation and the far-off hills and said, “There the cool pure spring rushes out.”
The day was hot, cloudy and grey, but with no prospect of rain. High cloud, uniform in shade, lacking texture or contour and stretching from horizon to horizon, as if the firmament had been burned to ash in the stifling heat. Pinpointing the position of the sun up there beyond that sheet of monochrome was nothing but guesswork. No bright spot, no definite shadows to indicate the time of day. It was like looking at a half-finished hand-coloured black and white daguerreotype of a perfectly clear blue sky, where everything but the sky had been tinted. In contrast to that colourless sky, the dusty khaki, cream and ochre tones of the undulating landscape seemed to be greatly enhanced and enriched. As the day gradually deepened, so too did the colours in the rocks and vegetation, accompanied by a gentle diffusion of hard lines and further softening of the vague shadowy gloom beneath the occasional saguaro cactus standing sentinel over the scrub.

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