It was just about dusk as Esmerelda sat behind the counter filing her nails at the only gas station in Goldfield, Nevada.
She had sat behind that counter every day, or near about every day, since her daddy got taken ill with a raging fever that ended up taking his breath away. Momma prayed hard that day and asked Esmerelda, "Sing with your angel voice, child, sing so the angels can hear and come straight to your daddy to 'take him home'."
She was just a girl of about seven...but her voice could make grown men weep - and when the town, once a boom town for gold, started to get deserted, grown men wept for other reasons. Esmerelda didn't really understand where "home" was. She just knew when people got bit real bad by snakes or had the consumption, they always went "home" and then no one ever saw them again. They parceled you up real good, too. Put you in a big wooden box to send you there. She figured a special postman with a big wagon and two horses came to take you back "home" and your family would walk as far as they could and then came back again...crying.
But no one came back once they went home. And for a very long time Esmerelda was afraid to ever go home, but as she never lived anywhere else, she figured she was already there. Then, as all things go, time passed and she understood about "home" and then was worried her momma would go there one day. Sometimes she'd find herself doing chores 'round the house and her sweet voice would pour out like liquid sunshine and kiss the ears of everyone within earshot. Then she'd clam up and run outside as far and as fast as she could. She didn't want those angels to find her momma.
But now she was filing her nails and Curtis was in the garage of the gas station shouting obscenities each time he'd smash a finger. Curtis worked at the little grocery store and service station that was smack on the edge of town. Smack on the edge of town to nowhere really. Wasn't anything much before or after the town and certainly wasn't much there. The only thing within miles was Las Vegas and the only time people came through Goldfield anymore was because they heard it once had gold...but that was a considerable time ago, but that never stopped the passers-by who lost everything but gas money out of Vegas. Goldfield was a tank of gas away...and if they got lucky and found the stray nugget, it was a tank of gas back. And the only place to get that gas was at Esmerelda's daddy's store, "Old Bob Perkins' Place" it was called by the locals and that's what it will always be called if Esmerelda and her momma had anything to do with it.
It didn't cost much to run and Curtis got paid only when he fixed something, which wasn't very often, but then again, Curtis was never going to amount to much anyway...but that never stopped him from trying to hit on Esmerelda.
He had it all worked out in his simple head. He'd marry Esmerelda when the time was right and that time would be any day now seeing as she was starting to fill out her dresses too much and started wearing her momma's. Then he and Esmerelda would move in with his momma as she had the biggest house for miles around. Curtis never knew why she did, he only knew they didn't want for anything...but he never much wanted for anything anyway...anything but Esmerelda, that is. And that "wanting" wasn't exactly like wanting a new tire or wanting a new pair of shoes -- it was more like wanting some dinner...only sometimes this hunger seemed a lot deeper. Curtis, again, never really knew why.
But Esmerelda's hunger and desire didn't lie with Curtis...she wanted to go to Hollywood...or at least Vegas. She liked the distinct smell of ozone once when daddy took the family on a trip up there shortly before he died. Once in a while, on a warm still night, Esmerelda swore she could still catch a whiff of it if the breeze was blowing just right and if she turned her head just so.
Esmerelda knew she didn't have much time, either. The desert sun can blanch the bones of a dead thing white in a couple days...and the supple, taut skin of a young girl of 15 turns into something hard and leathery like the cowboys and Mexicans wore in those "shoot 'em up" movies she wanted to star in. Star in them right up there on the silver screen with Gary Cooper or John Wayne. Even though Esmerelda only went to a movie once, she knew that's what she wanted to do...she also knew, aside from "going home", that was her only ticket out of Goldfield.
And the best way to get there was on a tank of gas after someone found a big enough nugget.
So, each day she came to work dressed in her momma's best clothes, her hair styled as closely as she could get it to resemble the latest "starlet of the month" on the magazine cover and smelling of something called "L'amore de Parisienne". It cost a whole fifty cents...the finest her daddy's store carried. And there she would wait, filing her nails, anticipating that one day, and one day soon, a big Hollywood director would need a fill-up on his way scouting around for a new place to shoot a film...discover her in all her momma's Sunday finest...and sweep her away to the place where dreams can be made real...or at least as close to the reality she always dreamt about.
Each day, she'd walk home more disappointed than the last...and the days she spent waiting turned into weeks, then months, and finally years. Curtis had filled out enough to become interesting to her...and as he was the only boy close her age for miles, his dream was beginning to look like it would be her dream as well.
(End of Part 1)
(End of Part 1)