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Running from Life This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Slab City, 2005
She was running, running, faster than she had ever thought she could run before. Her feet, bare and exposed to the sweltering hot asphalt, burned and swam in her vision, though she wasn’t sure if this was because they were moving so fast or if it were simply a product of the tears clouding her eyes and coursing down her grimy cheeks. Her breath came to her in ragged gasps and her slight chest heaved and contracted in rhythm with her pounding steps. It felt like she had been running for hours, though she knew that she had just passed Salvation Mountain about five minutes ago. In the small part of her mind that wasn’t bursting with a deadly cocktail of confusion, anger and agonizing sadness, she was aware that she was still about eight miles away from the broken-down town of Niland, California, on the southernmost tip of the Mojave Desert.
“Hey, girl!” a voice, coarse but holding the plaintive elegance of wisdom, called from her right side. She glanced across the cracking blacktop and saw an old but well-kept Volkswagen Bug drifting slowly down the road, keeping pace with her panicked dash. Gluing her eyes to the tarmac in front of her, she sped up, delving into her juvenile reserve of boundless energy. “Hey! Won’t you stop for minute? You look somethin’ awful.”
She kept running.
Ten minutes later, her breath hurt in her chest and her mouth was dry, but she continued, wanting to get as far away from everything that had happened as possible.
“I can do this all day, you know. I got me a full tank ‘a gas. You look like you’re just about to run dry.” The woman still followed slowly behind.
Ten minutes after that, her head had begun to ache, she was assuming from thirst. Her feet felt raw, and sweat poured from her forehead in the noonday sun. She stumbled, and her jog slowed to a wobbly, rubber-legged walk. She could feel sunburn blisters forming on the part of her neck that her hair, pulled up into a tight bun, had left exposed.
“I got some cold water in my car. I’ll give it to you if you’ll just stop for a minute.” This caused her pause. She was awfully thirsty.
She stopped, and ambled over to the woman’s car’s open window. The woman was plain, with thin grey hair tied in a knot at the base of her neck, watery blue eyes deep-set in a face wrought with lines, so many lines her face could have been a road map. The woman reached over and popped the door, gesturing for her to get in. She looked at the woman suspiciously for a moment, but that was soon put aside when she pulled out a bottle of water, cold and sweating, from under the driver’s seat.
Throwing herself into the passenger side, she took it, ripped the cap off, and gulped down nearly three quarters of its contents in mere seconds. The woman had started driving, at a normal pace now, with her in the passenger seat.
“How far you run?” the lady asked, and was answered with a shrug.
“You got any people round here? Any family?” she shook her head no.
“Why didn’t you want to stop?” She was met with another shrug. The woman turned and squinted at her, faded blue eyes lighting up with curiosity.
“What’s your name?” She thought for a moment before responding.
“Red.” The woman cocked her head.
“And your last?” Red fiddled with her shorts hem.
“Rose.” The woman chuckled.
“Red Rose, huh? What kinda people in their right mind would name their child Red Rose?” Red bristled, but said nothing. The woman chuckled again, giving the Bug a little more gas as they entered the highway. “How old are you, child?”
Red held up all the fingers on her right hand and two on her left. The woman glanced over, and Red could see her counting in her head. “Seven. That’s mighty young to be runnin’ away from home. What you runnin’ from, girl?”
Red thought back to this morning, walking into the RV’s tiny bathroom to find Mama splayed out on the floor, blood pouring from her wrists and neck, eyes wide open and glassy, and swallowed down a fresh bout of tears.
The woman glanced over at Red, and saw in her eyes a wisdom that should not have been possessed by one so young, so innocent. She repeated her question. “What you runnin’ from, girl?”
Red rested her cheek against the warm window as she responded. “Life.”

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