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The cars parked beside the trailers are mostly bruisers, badly dented V-8 muscle cars from another era hunkered down on fatigued springs. The trailers themselves are rather small, as trailers go, and also dented. The skins of many are pitted, as though they had contracted some trailer form of smallpox. An old silver Airstream, its front tires gone flat, rests at an angle on the wheel rims, its rusty hitch digging into the earth like the tongue of an anteater. Though it's almost noon, curtains are drawn in nearly every window of the trailers, scattered along a dusty trail in such a way that the nursery rhyme about the crooked little man who lived in a crooked little house in a crooked little lane comes to mind.

The place seems deserted, except for a little girl building a church out of cardboard crates and a grizzled man enthroned in an aluminum lounge chair, his fingers wrapped around the beer can resting on the tubular arm. On the pocket of his jacket is a patch, the insignia of an armored division. The patch is coming off, loose, as are many of the threads in the frayed "Nam" stitched into the material above it. The same is true of the nifty dragons belching discolored flames embroidered on each sleeve. The jacket is unzipped, the wearer snoring.

The trailer park is the site of an uncanny optical illusion. The man is fast asleep in the sun, but he appears to be in the shade. It's as if a special prism of some kind, suspended above this precise spot on our globe, filtered out the brighter colors from the spectrum of white light the sun sends our way. Or as if the sun were a lady and lifted the hem of her gown of light so it wouldn't drag in the dirt of the trailer park, dirt ground into fine, clinging dust by the bald tires of beaters spinning in the winter mud.

I walk over to the little girl. About eight years old, she's busy cutting cardboard into a spire with a pocket knife.

"You looking for Gretchen?" she asks.

"How did you guess?"

"You look like a lot of the guys who come looking for Gretchen. You meet her at the bar?"

Her intense brown eyes study me as she waits for an answer, hips cocked in a tomboyish swagger, the freckles on her face drifting closer together as she frowns.

"That's a nice church you're building," I say. "It's not a church. It's a rocket ship. Besides, Gretchen isn't around. Her car and her mangy dog are gone. These fins here are to steer with when you're in outer space, and there's an automatic, intergalactic compassdoodle do-hickey in the nose."

She folds the blade of her knife into the handle, jams it into a bulging pocket she claims is her only one without holes, then steps through saloon-style swinging doors into the space vehicle. I can't fit inside myself, but she invites me to peek through a porthole at the spare parts she's assembled in case of any mechanical problems. From a pile of automobile detritus, she picks up a worn brake pad and a greasy ignition coil for me to inspect. You never know what might happen on the way to Esidarap.


The rocket carries lots of pinecones, too, for an emergency fuel reserve. The last time she journeyed to Esidarap, she almost didn't make it back. And then the manager tossed her space ship into the garbage dumpster one morning while she was asleep. This one was going to be even better, and faster, and she wouldn't make the silly mistakes she made on her first voyage to the mysterious planet.

"You can't use glass for fuel, you know, and it takes tons and tons just to blast off."

Everything on Esidarap, she explains, emerging from the spacecraft, is glass. You can look right through the dogs, the bushes, the mountains, the sunsets, the future, even the witch doctor fishing for trout in a glass pond. You can't see the fish, of course, but you can hear the shatter and tinkle of glass when they break the surface to snap at dragonflies that you can't see either.

Like the snails, the trees, the weather and everything else on the planet, the reason for the girl's visit was transparent. The witch doctor took one look at her and recited the magic spell that would force her parents to stop fighting with each other all the time and would stop them from whapping her brother till his butt burned every time he got into dutch.

The spell was rather long and involved. She was afraid she might forget some of the mumbo-jumbos and allakazams and hocus-pocus, so the witch doctor pulled a glass tablet out of his medicine bag and wrote it down. He told her that if she said the spell backwards three times, she could make it rain, no matter how blue and cloudless the sky might be. It would also come in handy for paralyzing spiders. Usually when you see a big, fat, black, hairy spider, you should just play dead. Everyone knows spiders don't bite dead people. But the most important thing about the spell is the magic effect it has on parents.


My question halts her chatter. She extracts a jawbreaker from the pocket of her dungarees and flips it into her mouth. She sucks on it for a moment, her eyelids squinched shut, as if the true flavor and delicate scrumptiousness can only come out with her eyes closed, then sticks the sticky ball back in the pocket for safe-keeping.

"You mean does it really work on them?"

She looks away. She doesn't know for sure. The first time they were yelling and screaming and throwing stuff, she whispered the witch doctor's spell over and over again, but the argument grew even noisier and more bitter. She thought maybe she'd forgotten some of the words, so she checked her glass tablet.

"See," she says, fishing a jagged piece of glass out of the crowded pocket. "That's why I have to go back. There's nothing there. All the letters on Esidarap are also made of glass."