Cactus Country by Miranda Luby

I met her during her Texas phase. That’s why we were standing by a patch of purple prickly pear when she told me.

I’d just cut her off a huge hunk, the part with the most flowers and least spikes, and dropped it in the plastic bag, which was getting holes in it from all the other hunks of cactus in there. She put one of her small hands on my shoulder and I looked up.  “I’m pregnant,” she said. Just like that.

It’s not something you expect to come from someone wearing a sombrero. Hers had an extra wide brim and was about 10 different colours. They gave them to us at the entrance. It’s the sort of thing that looks stupid on anyone else, but it actually suited her.

The first time I saw her she was sitting on a bench outside the supermarket near the train station eating pickled jalapenos straight out of the jar. This was a few months before. Her fingers were covered with juice and they’d left a dark patch where she’d wiped them on her shirt, which was denim and embroidered with little flowers. She was wearing a necklace with a pendant on it in the shape of the state of Texas.It’s not often you see a cute girl just sitting around my neighborhood like that so I went up to her. Mum says I’m cocky but I’m actually just confident. I have a nice smile.   

“Hey,” I said. “Do they have opals in Texas?” I knew it was Texas because we’d learned the US states at school for whatever useless reason and I knew it was opal because of the one my grandmother left my mum when she carked it. Nothing else glows like that.

She shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe. Never been.” 

To tell you the truth, I was a kinda bummed she was Australian. Nothing exotic. But I sat down anyway.   

She looked sideways at me, trying to decide if I was worth talking to I guess, so I gave her my biggest smile.

“Actually, my dad lives there,” she said. “I’m probably going to go visit him soon.”

“Cool,” said. “Did he give you the necklace?”  

She fingered it. “No. I’ve never met him.” I could see the top of her cream-coloured tits where her top was gaping between the buttons. “I found it in an op shop.”

We talked and she offered me a jalapeno. I hate spicy food but I wanted to have sex with her so I ate one.   

Actually, I didn’t think she’d be that easy but it turned out she’d moved in around the corner from me a few weeks before and she didn’t know anyone so we started hanging out. Always at my house. Mostly just sex then her talking. Besides her being cute and having great tits, I don’t know why I liked her exactly. She wasn’t as interesting as she looked. She whined a lot about her mum. But she was one of those girls you felt protective of for some reason. She made you feel like she needed you.

She had these two voices: a grown up one for when she wanted to be taken seriously and this sweet little girl voice she’d picked up somewhere that always made me want to do something nice for her.

Anyway, one day she started going on about how she loves cacti. She’d started looking things up about Texas when she found out her dad lives there. But she didn’actually know much about the place because she stopped at the cacti.

Her favourite thing about them was that they’re really hard to kill. That they are super resilient. 

“They’re pretty much there for you no matter what,” she’d said. “Even if you’re bad at taking care of them.”

Like I said, she was one of those girls that had a knack for making you want to do nice things for her, so I found this place called Cactus Country on the Internet and borrowed mum’s car which I’m surprised even made it out there.  

It’s a pretty cool set up. This old couple have brought these different cacti in from allover the world and planted them on this huge farm. You can cut pieces off them and take them home with you. You just stick them in some dirt and they start growing into a whole new cactus.

Anyway, at Cactus Country there’s an entire Texan section. And that’s where we were, right in front of the purple prickly pears, when she told me.

“Hey.” She was using her grown up voice. “I’m pregnant.” 

“Okay,” I saidIt wasn’t okay but I didn’t say that.  

We were both silent for a bit but it was too hot to stand still so we kept walking along the track. She’d taken her shoes off and I was staring down at her dusty feet. Even though the sun was blazing, I’d tipped my sombrero off cause, like it said, they look stupid on most people, and the string was cutting into my neck.   

I could feel her keep glancing over at me but I didn’t say anything so she started talking about how cute it would be to teach the baby to say y’all and asked what I thought about that.

I thought it was the stupidest idea ever but I didn’t say that. I said: Sure.” I was pretty much in shock.

We were in the Cactus Café and she’d just finished her nachos and lemonade when she told me her dad’s not actually from Texas. I just looked at her. The wall behind her was painted like a Mexican festival and her necklace was standing out all iridescent against her pale skin.  

Well, he might be from Texas, she said. She didn’t know. She was trying it out. She’tried out a few countries before, to see if they fit. Like once she thought he might be from Holland and she wore clogs for a month but it didn’t feel right. She’d know when it did. And Texas felt wrong now.

But she still loved cacti and she was glad we were there together.

I didn’t say anything. She was fiddling with a frayed edge of her sombrero, which was on the table next to her.

Thenjust like that, she said: “I’m not pregnant.” Yeah.

She put her hand on my hand and squeezed. “I’m really sorry for lying to you, Tom.”

She was using her sweet voice with an added little wobble. “I just needed to know you were going to hang around no matter what.” Then she smiled.

And that’s when I stopped wanting to do anything nice for her. Because I’m not a fucking cactus.

After that and we had sex at my house and then I stopped calling her or answering the door when she came around. That was six months ago. I think she’s moved now. At least, I don’t see her around anymore.

I’ve still got the purple prickly pear. It’s planted in an old ice cream container. I’ve hardly touched it but it’s hanging around. I guess they’re pretty resilient, like she said.




Miranda Luby is an Australian travel, lifestyle and fiction writer. She was recently shortlisted for the Sean O’Faolain Prize at the Cork International Short Story Festival and the New Millennium Writings fiction competition and placed second in the Daily Telegraph’s Summer Short Story Competition. Her work has also appeared in Southword Journal, ¶ilcrow & Dagger Literary Journal, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine.