The Triple T truckstop in Tucson is Our Place, where I meet Mother Mary when I'm in the area. Mary has been a friend for twenty-five years, and though she is fully occupied with mothering now, I still see her, at eighteen, playing Joan of Arc with fire and virtue. For me, there is Jean Seberg, there is Mary, and no-one else.
The people in the Triple T belong out here. Waitress stretched thin by desert wind, wrinkles cut in deep by the sun. Most of them just as happy to be alone as with other people, odd in a private way, peculiar to the desert. A woman not much older than me with flamboyantly rumpled hair and missing teeth. A bony man curved over the counter, moustache dropping down either side of his mouth, running under his chin like chocolate milk, eyes bulging out of his head, following every little movement in the place.
It’s a truck stop that sells massages for truckers, tarantula paperweights, porcelain horses. Girl behind the counter with dyed black hair and fierce black eyeliner might provide other services, as might another girl walking through the restaurant, fried blond hair jacked up tight into a ponytail on top of her head.
A mother with a special, cultivated roll of fat right around her middle, like a careful tire bulked beneath her tight black dress, holding the hand of a girl – more than chubby, her skin filled tight as a sausage all over – cheeks pink with the effort of walking from one end of the restaurant to the other.
Later, Mr. Billy's parents take us into the hills, where Our Lady of the Sierras and a thirty-foot cross overlooks the wide, white desert, Arizona to the left, Mexico to the right.
We follow the stations of the cross up the hill to a shrine at the top. Christ hanging on a cross constructed of those white rocks popular for edging suburban driveways in the seventies.
The waterfall is half-frozen, icicles hanging from the rocks. A cactus beside the fall starts green at the base, shading up to a vibrating violet, “livid” I say, “Yosemite Sam purple,” says Mr. Billy.
There's a small nod to the locals, Our Lady of Guadalupe mural hiding a propane tank. But it is a monstrous, white, blue-eyed Virgin Mary who simpers beside the cross, obscene pink toes the size of golf balls poking out from under her dress.
I can't help thinking my own Mary, of the Triple T, would have made a better model.