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Wendy Gist

Turtleback Oasis

"It's a difficult time to be a Christian," said Sid Snider, a thin desert rat of a man with a pointed white beard. He pushed a cart. The cart hauled a sign that read: REPENT.

Sid paused in front of the Turtleback Oasis Spa, a free flowing hot springs tourist attraction named after the turtle-shaped mountain at the rim of the town. The cart was chock-full of 3x5 oil paintings of prayer hands and baked goods.

Sid witnessed a tanning-lamp bronzed woman standing tall and muscular outside of the spa. She was reading bulletins tacked to a corkboard.

"Ma'am, would you like homemade carrot cake or peanut butter cookies?" Sid asked, his voice raspy as a dry hinge.

"No thanks," said Vivian Magallan. She twisted the apricot sarong draped over her black halter-top bathing suit. Her thick copper hair shone in the sun. She had come for a weekend of soaking in the healing artesian mineral waters of the run-down southwestern town of Truth or Consequences.

"Would you like a pamphlet," asked Sid. "They're free."

"No thanks," repeated Vivian, aching for a dose of serenity to carry her through the tedious interview scheduled the following Monday at a state university. She'd been instructed to do a teaching presentation on Homeostatic compensation to regulate/correct respiratory and metabolic acidosis and alkalosis.

Sid held out a copy of the booklet despite the declination. In bold lettering, it read: CHRIST RULES.

Vivian took a sip of coconut vitality drink, blended fresh at the juice bar inside the spa, intentionally rejecting the advice of a tarot reading she had subjected herself to a half hour earlier. Surprised by the raw pulp, she spit it out on the concrete sidewalk.

"God doesn't want us to be wasteful," said Sid. "He wants us to be focused. Look at all these empty storefronts. What will we do when the jobs have all gone to robots? What will we focus on then?"

Vivian's amber eyes averted Sid from focusing in on the deep, wing-like wrinkles spreading over her sun-damaged cheeks.

"Well, I don't know what we'll do," said Vivian. She grabbed the pamphlet. "Maybe we'll have time to pamper ourselves."

A hot Rio Grande river breeze blew an odor of cat piss past Sid. The realization that the unpleasant smell originated at Vivian's armpits smacked him across the face like a challenge.

Vivian placed a hand on her bony hip.

Gray eyes watering, Sid shook his head and said, "No, not that." He stared into the distance, zeroing in on creosote-covered slopes of Turtleback Mountain.

"But for faith in humans," Sid mumbled, as if to himself. He pushed the cart past Vivian into the purr of downtown traffic.

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