House of Dust

by Arielle McManus

The sky never ends here. Its blue carries on infinitely, in any direction you look, unbroken. There is so much up there – things that you could never even begin to imagine. If only you knew. Down here, comparatively, there is so little. Stone mesas and baked clay like the fiery red skies of California, charred and scorched Earth, the surface of Mars. None of the wildflowers of Las Cruces to be found here. Only devil cholla and barbary fig and saguaro. Only those that have adapted to survive on air, to need nothing. You, too, could learn to be like this. It’s just that these things take time.

One small adobe house carved into the red rock. Knock once, twice, thrice. No answer. Enter at your own risk. Inside, the viga stretching across the ceiling looks to be cut from a tree not from anywhere near here, like something cut from a forest in the Pacific Northwest: a place you’ve never been. The cracked terracotta floors slope downwards so severely that no furniture can be kept in the room lest it fall into the gaping hole in the center. Something like a black hole crossed with a sand pit. Like the sky, it’s impossible to know what it holds, so watch your step.

Walking through the home, which seemed so small on the outside, it strikes you that it’s impossibly large on the inside. Never ending, even. It seems to be expanding, growing exponentially. With every turn that should take you back to where you started, you end up in a new room. Finally, a window, and, the sound of waves.

Climb out the window, and there it is, in the middle of the desert: an ocean. Suddenly you are parched. Your throat feels like it may be on fire. You know what it feels like to burn from the inside out. Walk into the ocean and remind yourself of where you come from. Hold onto that knowledge. Take a cautious sip of the water and feel surprised when it tastes like tap, saltless. Take comfort in knowing that it’s possible to quench any flame, no matter how large it seems.

A shell – spiraling and iridescent – sits on the shore. Pick it up, learn some patience. If you can be quiet and still enough, you may just hear the sound of the sky falling.


Arielle McManus is a writer, learning as she goes and crafting one liners from a tiny, sunlit room in Brooklyn. She is an assistant editor at Atlas & Alice, and her writing has been published by a variety of literary publications including Passages North and Entropy Magazine.


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