Volume 31, Number 1

The Rosary

Marco Etheridge

The mesquite tree offers only the thinnest shade from the Sonoran sun. A small woman lies on the rocky ground beneath the tree. One leg of her worn jeans has been cut open to the knee. The exposed flesh is blue-black and grotesquely swollen.

There is a makeshift shrine in a crook of the gnarled tree trunk. A dayglo Madonna hovers above the young woman’s body. Fingers of desert sun probe through the mesquite leaves, tickling silver tinsel and foil stars.

Pearls of reflected light swim over the rocky ground, over a litter of plastic water jugs. The woman is very thirsty, but she does not reach for the jugs. They were bone-dry yesterday morning when the men laid her under the mesquite. There has been no miracle since then. The water jugs are still empty.

Sharp rocks dig into her back, but she no longer feels them. Her head and shoulders are propped on a small rucksack. The hot sun burns her leg, but the limb is immobile. It is only her right hand that moves, her thumb sliding rosary beads past her forefinger. Red coral clicks against the silver chain.

The rosary was her grandmother’s, who was her namesake. Maria Torres hopes that someone will find the rosary, someone who has the faith. It is very beautiful and very old. Maria will not need the rosary much longer. She knows that the Coyote lied. No one is coming to save her.


It should not have happened as it did. Maria was a strong village girl from Chiapas, accustomed to treacherous paths and rocky places. She was traveling alone, but she was not afraid. With her grandmother buried in the crowded village cemetery, she was going north.

The band of migrantes crossed into Los Estados Unidos west of Nogales. The Coyote guided them through the darkness of the Sonoran Desert. The heat of the morning sun found them miles north on the hard route to Tucson.

It was only a small mistake. One false step on a loose plate of stone. Maria’s ankle slipped into a crevice in the rocks. Everyone heard the sound of her bone snapping. Pain shot through her leg as she fell.

Two of the men carried her to the small mesquite tree. They slit her jeans with a sharp knife, shaking their heads at what they saw. The Coyote hissed at them, telling them to hurry. They would be caught by the patrols. One of the women tucked Maria’s rucksack beneath her head.

The Coyote walked away from the migrantes, a cellphone to his ear. When he returned, he told the others that everything was arranged. A compadre would come for the girl. But now they must hurry or the patrols would find them. There was a lie in the Coyote’s voice. Maria heard it. Perhaps the others heard it as well, but they did as the Coyote said.

A woman knelt beside Maria. She pulled Maria’s water bottle from the rucksack, placing it on the rocks close at hand. The woman laid a gnarled palm on Maria’s forehead. Her eyes were sad.

The Coyote’s voice was a low growl.

¡Ándale! Nos vamos.

Maria felt the hand lift. She heard the woman’s words.

Vaya con Dios, chica.

Maria watched the backs of the migrantes as they walked away. The line of their bent backs bobbed through the harsh glare of the sun. The little band disappeared amongst the rocks, only to reappear further on. Finally, she saw them no more.

When Maria reached for one of the plastic jugs, pain seared through her leg. The reaching was not worth the pain. The jugs were dry; each one methodically emptied of life-saving water.

Maria tried calling for help, crying out until her throat was raw. The only answer was the dry wind in the mesquite leaves.

Nightfall brought a bone chilling cold. Maria slipped into a delirium of dreams. Her arm fell to her side, knocking over her open bottle. The water poured onto the ground, sinking to the thirsty roots of the mesquite.


Maria Torres feels the heat of the sun baking her right hand. Her thumb falters, missing one of the coral beads. The heavy silver cross slips from her lap, the weight of the rosary stronger than her feeble grip. Maria’s thumb moves spasmodically, counting beads that are no longer there.

Her eyes look down at her empty hand. Her thumb moves once, twice, then stops. The brilliant sunlight begins to dim. The gleam of a silver chain strung with red coral beads fades against grey stone. It is the last thing Maria sees as darkness swirls over her.