In the White Desert where our inventive Egyptian guide spoke about a deadly snake that could leap thirty feet in the air, where the novice leader from California told us to sleep anywhere we wanted, where I, the only one in the group without a partner, was left to fend for myself but, like the others, who were soon out of sight, was also without a tent, I was unexpectedly blessed. At dusk, a rarely-seen jackal, a nocturnal creature as delicate and transparent as a glass figurine, suddenly appeared like a vision and, before it vanished, suckled the string of my sleeping bag cover. While I was handling the still moist string, the fat British magistrate, who had been on my case since the beginning of the trip, came running to inform me that the jackal was probably rabid, which meant that I, too, would probably get the disease. Her prediction, however, failed to spoil my night alone with the stars, which either lowered themselves or lifted me up. While the stars and I stared at one another, I was safe from the imaginary leaping snake and the real horned viper, from scorpions, beetles, and larger creatures that left tracks in the sand next morning around my head, and neither heard the screeching sounds nor saw the flashing lights of 4-wheel-drive emergency vehicles and whirring helicopters that arrived in the night to transport the violently retching members of the group, who had eaten the same stew I had eaten, prepared by the Bedouins, even before I knew I was protected by the stars.
(From Riverine: An Anthology of Hudson Valley Writers, Edited by Laurence Carr, Codhill Press. Robert Allen’s novel The Dreaming Girl has recently by reissued with an introduction by Luisa Valenzeula.)