The Last of El Dorado
by T. L. Ransome
“La Reina! La Reeina!” they cried, stamping mud-worn heels on the dented boards.
But she was in pieces in the desert, miles of lace-melt, skin flinted red between saguaros. The tall green ancients covered her with crowns of flower-shred; her trail was marked in nectar.
“Danos la Reinaaa!” they chanted, pounding the stage with broken chair-legs, tickling the footlights with their whips.
The man who’d killed her was in the wings, pouring another girl into her best gold satin. He knew every gap and twist. He’d yank her stays and tumble her dazed onto the stage. Plump and golden, she’d drip into their hearts, their new reina but his creature, always, unlike the last.
Three hoarse cheers would make her a success.
Afterwards, he’d take her outside into coyote-dusk. They’d listen to the desert changing its feathers for fur, its fur for scales. He’d show her bats among the cacti, clawing the night-blooms as they nuzzled deep for nectar. He’d try her there on tiptoe, in the warm, dark flesh of the Sonoran.
When he was sure of her, they’d ride to Cañón Negro in the slow gray bleed of dawn. They’d tie the horses and walk by hidden brushways down the steps. He’d light a miner’s lamp and she’d feel cool, jagged walls. Blinking, she’d see five straw skeps on tables, barrels full of foam, scattered bottles, paddles and pails of water. Gasping, she’d turn to him as to a legend.
El Apicultor. He was a whisper in the Sonoran, a faceless speculation. He wrung honey from the impossible saguaro, bubbled it with ancho and gold dust. His precious brew was known as El Dorado. It was treasured, hunted, killed for from Yuma to El Paso.
He’d hold her hands around a drowsing skep and tell her how she’d keep his secret. She’d tour the desert with her kickline and her clowns, selling his creation under cover of lace and satin. Each spring, she’d lay the takings at his feet. His first woman had betrayed him; she’d kept more than her share.
He didn’t know she’d been saving for their child, for the stab and flutter she’d harbored in her skirts.
Only the saguaros had known. They’d heard all the rehearsals of her confession. Some were short and low; others were long and shining. She’d leaned full on their green trunks and sought their shadows in the heat. They’d showered her with ribbed, red fruit.
Now, they mourned. The whole Sonoran shuddered as their stamens hit the sand.
As greed welled in the canyon, he’d take a paddle to the mead. Neither he nor his woman would hear the lean days stalking hungrily across the flats.
This would be the end, the last of El Dorado.
T. L. Ransome is a writer from both coasts and the middle of the United States. Ransome’s flash has appeared or is forthcoming in Vestal Review, Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, The Phare, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Ransome has been longlisted for the Cambridge Prize and the WriteWords Competition and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.
Photo of saguaro cacti in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert by Rennett Stowe, via Wikimedia Commons.