In a place where nothing grows, Doctor Valentine and the kid find bones, in Joshua Nagle’s “SAGA,” this week’s New Voices entry! In prose as unforgiving as the landscape, Nagle uncovers the consequences of Doctor Valentine’s discovery. Dig in below.
The kid’s tongue began to swell after midday when the noon sun was at its highest and there was no breeze. It was like trying to swallow cotton wool. Soon he was having visions. Desert visions. The bones he dug for moved. Tendrils in the heat.
On the second day, they found the bones. Sun-bleached half-moons rising out of the dust. The canyon sat low against the horizon. Evening redness turned the land to shape and shadow.
“I told them. I told them it would be here. Didn’t I tell them?” Doctor Valentine brought a rough hand along his brow. Smearing the red earth and sweat together like war paint. His chambray shirt stuck to his skin.
The kid stabbed his shovel into the dirt, hitting rock, a sharp bell chime over the desert. Somewhere a coyote called. The oxen raised their heads and moved closer to the wagon. He leaned on his shovel, dust settling on his small face. Where the doctor kneeled, the great rib cage looped up and out of the earth in a pale arch all the way to where the massive skull and jaws remained. Whatever it was, it had died on its side. The kid looked at his blood-blistered hands. He thought of the scales of Japanese fish in a painting he had seen at the museum back West. He dug a dirty nail into the blister and watched as the wound drained down his wrist like watery wine.
“What we doin’ now?” the kid asked.
“We must cover it with a tarp. If it rains it’ll wash it back into the earth.” Doctor Valentine pulled himself to his feet.
“It ain’t gonna rain.”
“We must cover it.”
“I’ll get the tarp.”