You are in Arizona. There is something odd about Arizona. A huge, open valley ringed with mountains you never reach. Burning heat. It feels like the ends of your hair are crisping up, like every tiny part of your skin sits under a magnifying glass held by a curious, ant-killing giant.
The intense flatness of the vivid blue sky: no clouds, no sense of perspective. Beautiful, and pitiless.
The Aztec-style decorations on bridges and highways: spirals and lizards etched out in chalk.
The cacti loitering by the freeway and in people’s gardens, playing it cool, like it’s not the weirdest thing ever. You text home. ‘THERE ARE CACTI ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, ALL CASUAL. Like we’re in the Wild West or something?’ ‘Um, you ARE in the Wild West’, they text back. Good point. Where else would it be but here?
The knowledge that every plant has been put there on purpose, because almost nothing grows spontaneously except those enormous lordly cacti. Then seeing how the city planners got carried away with the plant thing and started disguising non-plant items as plants, like mobile phone masts dressed up as palm trees. It feels like a sixties Bond film. Are there Russians dressed up as palm trees too? It’s brilliant.
Citrus fruit trees, with their trunks painted white to stop them shrivelling. The flash of acid yellow lemons between the leaves looking as foreign as anything you’ve ever seen.
The dust in the back of your throat. The point at which your winter-ready English feet get tired of sandals, so you take them off, and last about half a second before you have to leap for some shade, soles singeing.
Hunting for scorpions at night on the wall. Watching them glow blue under torchlight. Spending some time afterwards imagining scorpions leaving the wall for a jaunt into your bed. Sleeping with the duvet tucked in.
The m.e.x.i.c.a.n f.o.o.o.o.o.d. (Pause for sobbing.)
The family whose conversation you slide back into like you’ve seen them every day for the seven years they’ve been gone. A wedding full of lovely details. A ceremony you cry through, a reception where you eat burritos until your dress is straining, and then dance hard and hilariously, sweating into your hair, through the orangey evening and into the night.
Walking out into a city anchored onto desert, and never being able to forget the desert just a few feet underneath, hustling around the edges, whipping into your hair and mouth on the back of a hot wind.
The wind always hot. Even at night. When there’s any wind at all.
There is something odd about Arizona. You belong back with the tangled weedy hedgerows and narrow roads, the drizzle and the dry humour. As soon as you land you feel the rightness of it. But you miss the desert.
You are in Arizona, and then you are not, and you don’t think you will ever get it out of your head.