ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
A gentle snow fell on a quiet landscape.
A flock of crows stood under a stand of cedars, snowflakes touched their black, shining bodies; but the crows did not move.
Smoke, coming out of a stone chimney from an adobe house, floated straight up in the windless, serene afternoon.
The snowflakes were large, almost clumsy the way they hit the ground and stayed covering the land. The unpredictable crows flew away and they were seen no more that day by the young boy who had been looking out of the window of the adobe house ever since the snow began to fall.
Phillip, the boy, turned to his mother who was at the stove stirring a pot of green chile stew which was almost ready to eat.
"Mother, how long will it snow?" he asked.
She turned, similed, and replied facetiously, "Until it stops."
He giggled and ran to her and hugged her around the waist. "Will we still go on a walk after lunch, even if the snow doesn't stop?"
Aurora, his mother, touched the top of his head and rubbed his curly hair. "Yes, I suppose we will--but not a long walk. It's very cold today."
He let go of her and ran back to the window, and, propping his elbows on the sill and resting his chin on his joined hands, he stared again, as he'd done (before) at the land being covered with snow which kept him, thusly, transfixed in utter fascination of the snow until Aurora called him to lunch some minutes later.
By the time their meal was over and the dishes washed, there were two or more inches of snow on the ground.
Their boots made deep imprints in the fresh snow. Mother and son walked together hand in hand. They walked past the cedars, down a slight slope following it to the small stream which flowed at the bottom. The air had a bite in it. The temperature was dropping; and beneath a thin sheet of ice the low stream moved sluggishly, nonetheless.
Phillip made snowballs in his gloved hands and tossed them into the stream and watched them shatter the thin ice coating and roll and then dissolve. He smiled. He loved the snow and the stream, where in the summer he'd waded in it, sat in it, splashed in it with glee while his mother sat nearby under an umbrella to keep the hot New Mexican sun off her head and face.
"Let's build a snowman when we get back to the house," said Aurora to her son.
He was pleased she'd suggested the snowman; and he answered enthusiastically, "And can we put your old hat on him?" Phillip asked with an impish smile. What he called her old hat was a winter cap she wore once in a while; it wasn't a particularly favorite cap, but had only some sentimental value. Her late husband, Alfredo, had bought it for her after a strong wind had blown her cap off and sent it rolling into a heavy stream of traffic on Central Avenue one winter day in Albuquerque. That hat had only been a stopgap to keep her head and ears warm that day, many years ago, before Phillip had been born.
A chilling sudden wind sprang up sending a shiver down Aurora's back. The temperature was dropping lower and she wanted to get back to the house, build a snowman, then retreat into her cozy adobe and drink hot tea while lieing on the couch in front of the fireplace reading.
She took Phillip's hand. "Let's go, honey."
"Can't we walk just a little more, mother?"
How could she refuse such an innocent request?
"Yes, darling; let's go down to the old ruin, then go home."
The old ruin was the former foundation of some structure--house or barn--they never knew. Someone had torn the original structure down many years before, leaving only the foundation, a large square of old, hand-mixed and poured concrete. She'd hoped (when Alfredo was alive) one day they would use the old foundation to build a guest house or a place where she could go and muse, play her recorder and to house all of her books.
She liked solitude and semi-reclusiveness; that's why she and Alfredo had chosen this property near Ojo Caliente, where they had lived in harmony, he painting and she reading for (and writing) her doctoral dissertation in linguistics.
After Phillip was born and filled their lives with the joy of him, Alfredo painted and drew the baby boy and Aurora fussed over him when she wasn't caught up in her linguistics dissertation and its copious footnotes which took up a lot of her time.
For a while she commuted to teach at the university; but her natural solitudinous nature and her deep attachment to her husband and young child clashed with her busy academic life. She needed to be closer to those whom she loved more than the bombardment of too many students and little time for her true academic bent: Private research and writing. So she gave up teaching and wrote and edited textbooks at home and from time to time contracted to be a university correspondence course reader and persue her private interests and be with Alfredo and baby Phillip.
They had been happy in their house, their rustic adobe, to which they had added a large, spacious, well-lit studio for Alfredo, who spent many hours at his easel painting. His fame as a painter grew; he was able to make money from his paintings which sustained them beyond either of their wildest dreams.
The snow was neatly piled on the square foundation. Phillip, with the enthusiasm common to eight year old boys, eagerly mounted the narrow ledge, and, putting one foot after the other, heel to toe, walked the length of the foundation with a connecting trail of bootprints; but at the first corner he abandoned his disciplined pace and deliberately kicked the snow as he finished circumambulating the square foundation.
Phillip was a happy, even-tempered child, very attached to his mother, for Alfredo, his father, had died of leukemia when Phillip was only two. He had no recollection of his father.
Alfredo's death had been a blow to Aurora. She and Alfredo had been together as sweethearts and as man and wife for fifteen years. She'd met him when she was nineteen and he an "older man" all of twenty-five himself. They had always been close; each's world was the other's. Few in life were as close or as deeply in love as Aurora and Alfredo. Their friends saw this and admired this rare couple for the depth and duration of their feelings and their harmonious relationship.
Phillip jumped down from the foundation right in front of his mother. "Caw, caw, caw!" he cried when he jumped. "Here comes a crow to tweek your nose!" said Phillip in his playful voice.
"Ha ha, crow. Watch out! I'm a hawk and I'll whisk you away," she responded, playfully hunching her shoulders and flapping her arms.
They hugged and laughed and went on their way, she with her arm on his shoulders and he holding on to her coat belt. They were happy together. He filled up (for her) the vacuum left by Alfredo's passing and she filled up his life as mother and the surrogate father he never knew.
They built their snowman five feet high and topped him with her old hat, gave him a dried red chile pod for a nose and stones for eyes and a smiling line of peebbles for a mouth from Phillip's collection of stones he kept piled nearby which were now covered with snow, making an artificla mound where they stood. In his eagerness, however, to give the snowman a proper mouth, he pushed away the mound to get at his horde of stones and pebbles, his treasures,which he'd collected throughout the summer.
Now she was settled back on her sofa in front of the fireplace; on an end table stood a pot of tea and her glass cup filled and steaming. While she waited for the tea to cool, she opened her book on ancient scripts and took up from shere she had left off the night before.
Phillip was on his stomach with his feet to the fire drawing spaceships in a large sketchbook which had formerly belonged to his father, the man he never knew, but whose presence he often felt preternaturally.
Aurora kept several photographs of Alfredo around the house, and these photographs were a constant reminder to him of his father. He especially liked the picture in his bedroom: Alfredo on a horse wearing a large straw hat, in his hands a palette and a brush and he pretending to be painting the air with a serio-comical look on his face. Phillip loved to play in his father's studio; it was so spacious he could run and crawl around it if he wanted; it even had an echo if he called out loudly enough. During the winter, however, Aurora closed it off for heat conservation. Phillip, nonetheless, was allowed inside if he wanted to so long as he put his coat on and shut the door. It had been from the studio where he had taken his sketchbook. He always kept it there instead of in his own room because he felt it belonged there among the other sketchbooks, the many blank ones and ones filled with his father's drawing's which he'd often looked through; mother did not mind.
One sketchbook was filled with drawings of Phillip in his varying stages of growth which Alfredo had drawn periodically to chronicle his son's days. That was the sketchbook Phillip liked best, the one he went to when he wanted to "visit" ((as he called it) with his father.
Outside the snow continued to fall and pile up. Hard winds blew, pushing the snow this way and that way, making it twist and spiral.
Phillip looked up from his drawing and saw that his mother had dozed off. The book she'd been reading rose and fell with her breathing. He gazed at her a long time. There was something about her face which made him close his eyes and shake his head. Suddenly her very familiar face made him feel he'd never seen her before. "How stange," he said in a low voice, for just as suddenly as the strangeness had appeared, he saw her again as the familiar woman he knew.
He turned the page filled with warring spacecraft and stared at a new page; but he was puzzled, for when he looked at the blank page, he saw the unfamiliar sleeping countenance of his mother he'd observed.
With one of his pencils he outlined the face he kept seeing, then began drawing eyebrows, eyes, nose, lips, hair, ears. He worked steadily, not looking up, for the image was always, so it seemed, clearly in front of him.
So engrossed was he that he did not hear his mother stir, nor see her open her eyes. Aurora saw him drawing intently; she'd never seen a look of such intentness on his face. The page was visible to her, albeit upside down; nevertheless, the face of a woman was discernable. Having been married to an artist for so many years, she knew not to interrupt, so she closed her eyes and, listening to the wind, soon dozed off again.
Phillip worked for more than an hour on the woman's face; then, just as quickly and eagerly as he had started, he stopped, turned the page, and in his boyish enthusiasm, went back to creating spaceships in combat around distant planets. But gradually the strong wind outside beckoned his young, adventurous spirit. He was feeling called by the wind, and he also wanted to be in the wind, to feel its coldness and its strength on his face.
Quietly he put on his heavy jacket and hat, his gloves and silently slipped out the front door. The wind was strong, but he didn't mind. It was what he'd expected. Seeing that the wind had blown off the snowman's cap and that snow was covering it, he picked it up, shook off the snow and put it in his pocket for safe keeping. With his back to the wind, he spread his arms and, pretending to be an airplane, and, making simulated engine sounds, re ran around the house dipping his wing-arms thoroughly enjoying himself.
Aurora awoke from her nap; the book on her chest felt heavy; lifting herself up and putting the book on the end table, she saw that Phillip was gone. She called out and looked about and saw that his jacket was gone from the rack. Walking to the window she pered out and saw him, arms spread out, racing around, tramping down the snow. She smiled, knocked on the window pane. Hearing the sound, Phillip stopped, turned, saw his mother wave. He waved back, then lifted up his wing-arms and ran to the window and pushed his nose and lips flat against the pane. She jumped back in pretended fright. Phillip smiled and laughed, then backed away and went about playing his delightfully consuming snow plane game.
Aurora put her tea things away. While she did, she remembered the face she'd seen Phillip drawing; her curiosity made her reach down, pick up the sketchbook and examine it. Turning to the page, she saw the face Phillip had drawn with such intensity. The portrait took her breath away; she could not believe her eyes, for on the page was a likeness of herself--but an Aurora twenty years younger! She sat down and under the light of the lamp examined the drawing closer. True, the lines were a bit crude, nonetheless, she could see that it had been drawn with a talent she had never known Phillip to have exhibited. But the astonishing thing was the likeness of herself in her youth. "How did he do it?" she asked outloud. She had a budding artist genius in her house and never realized it. She began to look at the other drawings in the book: The spaceships were sleek vessels drawn with the precision of a trained draughtsman. She found pictures of soaring birds and galloping horses. She sat on the couch with the sketchbook on her lap shaking her head at the marvelous ability of her son, an ability she had not noticed, and she felt not a little ashamed.
She went to the window and searched out her son whom she saw spinning cartwheels in the snow, his lithe body forming a blurred circle of legs and snow. She saw him deliberately collapse onto the snow and roll himself over and over, then get up and jump up and down with a supreme look of boyish glee. With her mother's heart she saw him as her little boy; with her sensitive, aesthetic perspective, she saw a boy wonder, a true scion of his artist father.
She still had the sketchbook in her hand and looked again at the portrait of herself. A warm feeling came over her; she blinked her eyes as if surprised. There was something new in the house. She looked about as if in search of it, her eyes darting here and there, until they fell on the studio door. She knew, then, what was her feeling: As if Alfredo were back. For an agonizingly delightful moment, she held the belief that were she to open the studio door, she would find him, brush and palette in hand, smoking his pipe and wearing his battered Stetson, which he loved and wore most of the time.
But her more prudent side understood her feeling was only a fantasy and she shook her head for such a foolish daydream. Yet there lingered still the impression of his re-animation, somehow rekindled, alive in the house--and that Phillip was the cause of the arising of this newly felt presence; that through the drawing he had turned back the pall which had lain on her heart. In a sense he had freed her from the long attachment to her mourning; and for the first time in many years, she truly felt that her mourning was over. And this new awareness made her want to open all the windows and doors, lettting air and sunshine circulate within, routing the long, stale years of widowhood.
Aurora wanted to have fresh, sweet smelling flowers in every vase all over the house and wear a pretty dress and her strands of turquoise hishi and her favorite pumps. Oh, her heart fluttered as it had when she first realized she loved Alfredo and that he loved her. This old forgotten joy spread through her, making her cast prudency away. She threw open the window in front of her, then proceeded to open other windows then opened the door.
"Phillip!" she called. All in snow and cheerfulness he came to her. "Here's the snowman. Want to buy some snow?" he said.
She chuckled at his simple humor. Extending her arms, she grasped her son to her and kissed the snow flakes from his forehead.
"I saw the picture you drew of me while I was asleep. It's beautiful, Phillip. Your father would have been proud of you. Thank you, thank you..." She started to cry and her tears were tears of happiness.
"Why are you crying, mama? Don't cry," he said solicitously.
"But I want to. I'm very happy right now, darling."
He hugged her around the waist. Her love and compassion permeated his spirit because he knew he was loved and he loved her deeply. They disengaged; and that's when he saw the open windows. "Mother, why did you open all the windows?" he asked quizzically.
And she burst out in reply: "To clear the winter out of my heart!
"I don't understand," he replied, a bit confused.
"Oh, Phillip, I wanted it to be spring, so I opened all the windows and the door, pretending to let spring in to chase away winter."
"You're funny, mama," said Phillip with an elfin voice. "Do you want me to draw your picture again? It's easy."
"Yes, yes--draw all you want. I'll even light the fire in the studio if you want."
He made a cartwell away from her. "Ok," he said.
And, re-entering the house (which was now very cold) all smiles, Aurora took her time closing the windows humming a spontaneous tune as she did. Her body felt light, freed from the lethargy of winter.
The house being cold, she donned a heavy sweater and put more wood on the fire; and while the new logs crackled, she put the kettle on to make tea.
When the freshly brewed tea was hot in her hands, she went to the studio.
Aurora hesitated at the closed door. A flood of memories came to her, calling up the countless times she had come to this door with a hot cup of tea or coffee for Alfredo who would receive it gladly, stop his work for a while to sit, sip and chat with her. She missed those small, sometimes tender moments with Alfredo in his studio. As she entered, cup in hand, it was as if she were re-enacting an old ritual of propitiation.
At the wood burning stove in the center of the studio, she realized there was no wood. How silly of me, she thought. The empty wood box made her acutely aware of how empty her own life had been, but she now wanted fullness again in her life, perhaps through Phillip's talent which she would nurture.
Aurora sat in an old rocking chair sipping her tea, gazing about to see if there was something she could do to make the studio more comfortable for Phillip. Alfredo always kept his studio austere: He never had anything superflous in his almost monastic setting. Yet in this space of uncluttered simplicity, he had created rich, moving works, reflecting the intricacies of the human condition and the cosmos in an almost classical style overlaid with a subtle surrealism and (sometimes) sense of humor which had brought him much personal satisfaction and, ultimately, artistic recognition in his lifetime.
Finishing her tea and her reminisceses, she left Alfredo's studio bringing back with her some old newspapers, kindling and an armload of pinon and cedar logs. She prepared the paper in balls and laid kindling on top then the logs and, striking a match the old paper burst into flame which ignited the kindling which ignited, first the cedar, then the pinon. She watched the progression of the fire grow and find its draft, and that gave her some small satisfaction. When the fire was burning well, she added a couple more logs, closed the door of the cast iron stove, adjusted the damper, then went for a pan of water to put on top the stove for moisture.
She lingered at the drawing table, and while lingering she decided to move it closer to the stove. While moving the table Phillip walked in. "I'll help you, mama," he said.
The snow dropping from his boots and clothes melted as it touched the floor making a trail. She wanted to ask him why he had not stamped his boots and brushed off his clothes before he came into the house--wanted to ask as the mother--but she stayed her disapproval because she was so happy he would now occupy and use this special place and space, and, perhaps, continue in Alfredo's footsteps.
'I think you'd be warmer lwith the drawing table nearer to the stove. I don't want you to be cold while you work."
Together they moved and positioned the table.
At that moment Phillip understood the seriousness of his mother's intentions: She genuinely wanted him to draw pictures for her in his papa's studio, at his table! He felt pleased she lwanted him to draw for her; but, at the same time, he feltl he could draw ljust las well while lieing on his belly in front of th4 fireplace. But he would please his mother because she was always so kind to him and he loved her dearly for her kindness toward him. But he lstill preferred the fireplace where he could watch the flames ldancing on his pages of spaceships fighting laser battles.
Bees nuzzled apple blossoms. The fields were green with spring; the sun shone mildly and the crows were gone.
Now that spring was back Phillip wanted to go tramping in the fields after school and on weekends, look under rocks and run after rabbits knowing they could not be caught--but he felt the overpowering obligation to his mother to continue working in the studio--he felt he should continue doing that, yet his nature prodded him to answer its wild calls, and he felt caught in these two worlds which pulled him first one way then another; he had no developed intellect, no wisdom to deal with this contradiction in his life. He only had feelings, the deep feelings of a child pulled one way by its own rough independent spirit, and by the calls to parental pleasing at the expense of the child's true nature; his innocent integrity, bade him acquiesce to please his mother--at the exclusion of the calling of his untamed nature, as wild as the winds coming down the river canyon, bending the trees as would a boy a twig. That was the truth of his spirit: Unbound wind, roaring across the land in a glorious chorus of rejuvenation, exploration and curiosity, ever seeking understanding on the nature of things.
Aurora did not know her son's deeper thoughts, for she took his willingness to draw in the studio as evidence of it pleasing him, and admittedly, herself; that the reason he went to the studio (after a snack and a recapitulation of his schoolday) and drew was because he wanted to. But she was a good mother, an astute mother who saw that he (also) spent too much time in the studio and often worried that he was not afild in this glorious spring season, out with the boys from the neighboring farms or playing with Ray Jaramillo, his bosom classmate, who always welcomed Phillip to ride the great white mule lwhich belonged to Ray's uncle, Adelicio.
Aurora, giving her observation much thought, gradually became aware of the exact attitude Phillip had adopted, but could not articulate. When made aware of this through her own analysis, she gasped at the magnitude of the error she had made! She was angry at herself for having been so unconsciously selfish; she felt just awful that she was using her son's talents and presence in the studio as a surrogate Alfredo. Aurora was positively wretched. It was two p.m. and the sky was the most beautiful azure sky in the world and the wind was a gentle zephyr bringing coolness and scents of the season, but Aurora was too miserable to notice.
Aurora sat on her couch and stared at nothing in particular; gradually, however, she was overcome with remorse and wept until she was empty of the pain she was feeling. To have intimidated her son, choking off his free spirit, was a pain she felt deeply. Wiping her eyes, she walked to the sink, and with the icy waters from the deep wells of the land, she washed her face and hands; and with each handful of pure, refreshing water felt better. She shook her face with a proud mein, feeling releaved that she had seen the selfish motives behind her actions and would now do what she could to make amends for almost having destroyed her son.
"This afternoon when he comes home," she resolved, "we'll go on a long walk--and I'll bring a snack and we can be together, then we'll go visit the Jaramillos." And she would visit with Maricarmen, Adelicio's wife, whom she'd not seen for a long time.
Aurora busied herself with preparing sandwiches. She put water to boil and went to fetch her day pack from the closet and her steel thermos, for she would bring hot jasmine tea, one of Phillip's favorites.
The school bus stopped at the mailbox. Phillip jumped off, turned and waved to Ray, Danny and the Rios brothers, who all got off at the last stop; he watched the bus as it rounded the curve in the road and was out of sight. He put his arms through the straps of his school pack. The house was only fifty yards up the drive and he walked leisurely liking the feel of the afternoon sun on his face.
As he walked his sharp eyes picked out all the wild mushrooms which had sprung up after yesterday's rain. He was always curious about wild mushrooms, not to eat them, though. No; his interest was in their form and color. He kneeled down in front of one particularly fat, short mushroom, a doppled white one which took lhis fancy. He studied it for a moment, made up his mind, and, taking out his pocket knife, cut the mushroom from the earth to use it as a model.
He skipped and then ran in a carefree way all the ay up to the front door.
Aurora had been waiting for him, waiting to announce thier walk, snack and visit to expiate her sense of guilt. She saw him running with something white in his hand. She opened the door; he saw her. "Mother," he called out, "look at this mushroom--it looks like a fat, bald man, ha, ha!"
Indeed; it didn't take much imagination to see that; and she laughed at the anthropomorphic mushroom image which flashed through her mind. "May I hold it?"
"Sure. I'm going to draw it after I have my snack."
She held the mushroom while he put his pack away and hung up his coat. While he was washing, she said:--
"Phillip, I've noticed you're spending too much time in the studio; you used to be more active--but I think I made you feel you had to spend a lot of time drawing and you did it to please me. Is that true, honey?"
He opened wide lhis eyes at his mother's words, for they were his exact feelings; and he was not a bit mystified how it was that she had (so it appeared) read his thoughts. He hung his head just a little.
"Will you be unhappy if I don't spend lots of time in the studio?" he asked ever so innocently.
"No, I won't be unhappy, Phillip," she responded and reaching out her hand she rubbed the top of his head affectionately. "You go there to draw because you want to be there. I don 't want you ever to feel if you don't draw it will make me unhappy. I want only good things for you, son. I'm sorry I made you feel that way."
He raised his head. There was a smile on his face. "That's ok, mama," was all he said, then, embraced her and nuzzled his head against her. "I'm hungry. What's for snack?"
She stepped back for a moment and took a long, loving look at him. Her mother's heart swelled with pride to have such an understanding sone, one who never held grudges and rolled with life's circumstances.
I was thinking we could go for a walk and have a snack out in the field, then head over to Adelicio's for a visit and also see the white mule. I've already made the sandwiches and we'll take along tea in the thermos."
"Really?" he said in surprise. "Oh, boy! Let's go. I haven't seen Jezebel in along time and maybe Adelicio will let us ride her. But can I have one of the sandwiches now? I'm hungry."
Aurora laughed. "You'll eat me out of house and home, someday," she said, jocosely, and taking the sandwiches out of the refrigerator, she put them on a dish and invited her son to eat. She poured him a glass of milk and sat with him watching him eat. It was as if she were seeing him for the first time after a long absence. She could imagine him (some day) a man, but now, before her was just a little boy who brought home a wild mushroom to draw and who could still get excited about Jezebel, the white mule.
In the field their walking flushed out birds who flew away in panic at the giants afoot in their meadow home. Aurora could feel the energy of the season in herself; the sluggishness and sometimes lethargy of winter were gone. She could lsee the energy of spring in her son as he romped along full of spirit and inquisitiveness about his surroundings. Oh, she felt so good about today and how she had corrected her error. Now, she thought, she would be more mindful and watchful about her son's budding artistic talent. Henceforth, she would only enbcourage him in the best way possible to develop his talent and let the destiny of that talent take him to where h needed to go with it in his life--be it the artist's studio, or...she didn't care. She would lwait for life to show him his true path and she would observe the process and hope that his life would be ghood and productive in the way his father's had been good and productive.
On a knoll which had a few freshly dug gopher holes, they stopped to rest and to eat. From where they sat they could see the Jaramillo family plot not far from the property line. She and Alfredo had attended the funeral of Adelicio's father there. Alfredo had painted a picture of the family cemetary. She often felt she'd like to be buried there, too, among the Jaramillo's who had lived and died for over a hundred years on the land they loved, the land Aurora had (also) come to love as if it had been where she had been born and raised. She late pensively and sipped the hot tea while Phillip crumbled a piece of bread and dropped the crumbs by an ant hill and watched the ants investigate, then carry the crumbs into their cthonic home. He wanted, for a moment, to be an ant and to be able to walk inside the hill to see how ants lived. Oh, he was such a little boy.
At the samll cemetary she lingered for a moment while Phillip walked ahead and she wondered if she had the nerve to ask Adelicio if she could inter Alfredo's ashes and "lease," a spot for herself. She brushed the thought away and caught up with Phillip.
Ray was in a large storage shed helping Adelicio and Maricarmen pull out a picnic table and benches from storage after a long winter of idleness, when Aurora and Phillip came into view.
"Ola!" called out Maricarmen, when she saw them.
"Ola!" replied Aurora.
"It's been a long time since we've seen you," said Maricarmen in her lilting, New Mexican accent, as she walked toward her neighbor and her son, whom she'd come to love as family. The two women embraced, disengaged and began asking about this and that. Adelicio came. "How are you, Aurora?" and he embraced her, too. "Where've you been keeping yourself, amiga? We were just talking about you last lnight."
"I apologize for being too much the recluse--but you know me a long time; you know I always show up," she said with a good-natured grin.
"Good; now that you're here, we won't let you go. Both of you will stay for dinner--and no excuses," said Maricarmen with feigned authority to Aurora, who accepted, gladly.
"Thank you, Maricarmen," answered Aurora.
"We were just moving the table and benches out. The good weather's coming and I'm ready for it," said the entusiastic Adelicio. "Do you want to help?"
"Let's go," answered Aurora.
"And afterwards, we can have some coffee. How does that sound?" added Maricarmen.
In no time the very long table and benches were out in the air and sunshine. Aurora and Maricarmen got brooms and, stooping, swept off the accumulation of spider webs under the table, while Adelicio and the boys wiped down the benches with rags. The two women worked intently and fast.
"Finished," called out Maricarmen. ""When we have our first outside dinner, you and Phillip are invited."
We'll be here. I'm ready fro that coffee," said Aurora.
The boys put away the brooms and rags. Then they ran up to Adelicio. "Uncle, can we saddle Jezebel and go for a ride?" asked Ray.
"Sure, sure. I'll get the saddle. But don't go too far; we'll be eating soon. Be back in about an hour," he said with a grin.
Adelicio was a gentle man in spirit. On the outside he was a bit rough in his manner; plus the fact that he was almost six feet tall and was muscular and hard work had toughened him, and his hands were the rough hands of a worker. But, like his spirit, his hands were also gentle; and when he wasn't farming or hiring out his services and backhoe, he carved santos. Locally, he had a reputation as a santero; but he placed no value on what people called him. He carved because it was in his soul to carve saints. He never sold them, but gave them away to friends and to strangers alike. Alfred, when he was alive, had encouraged Adelicio to devote more time to his carving; Alfred even volunteered to take his neighbor's works to galleries in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and use his prestige to further Adelicio's genuine talent. But Adelicio would have none of it. "The wood is free; and my time carving has value only to the saints. What would I charge for something which is free and for the saints?" is what he'd told Alfredo, who could find no argument to the very wise statement, and he never mentioned the subject again.
The boys ran to the corral and led Jezebel to the storage shed from which Adelicio was carrying the big saddle, saddle blanket and bridle. The boys steadied the big mule while Aurora and Maricarmen watched. Jezebel was a beautiful beast and, like her owner, had a gentle nature, in spite of the general conception aobut mules to the contrary.
Up in the saddle they went with Ray in front holding the rins and Phillip in the back with his arms around Ray's waist. "Vamanos, Jezebel, vamanos!" commanded Ray proudly, and Jezebel moved her feet and the boys were off to adventure.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the kitchen. Maricarmen set out mugs, sugar and milk. Maricarmen was a modest woman who didn't ask a lot from the world, but gave much, and, thereby, received much in return. She was deeply in love with Adelicio and was dedicated to her home and Ray, her nephew by marriage. She took care of Adelicio's backhoe service's books and took all the phone calls and service orders. And in its proper season, she would be in the cultivated fields next to him planting or weeding or harvesting. She begrudged no one anything and she was happy both in good times and the not so good times. She was rooted to the land,to her family and to her friends. Aurora was her special friend, and although they did not see each other often, their visits were always enriching.
Maricarmen loved the graceful, natural ways of Aurora and respected her learning and her knowledge of the traveled world which Maricarmen knew little about. She'd been once to California and had been to El Paso and Juarez and that was the extent of her travels outside of New Mexico. Aurora, on the other hand, seemed to have been every where; and it was her tales of travel to exotic places that she liked to hear about. Maricarmen would have been too shy to go beyond the coastal borders of her country; but when Aurora would relate of eating raw fish while sitting on tatami mat floors in a small inn overlooking the Inland Sea of Japan, Maricarmen was there, too, even eating the raw fish--which Aurora praised so highly and made it sound so tasty. The two women had opened their hearts to each other many times through the years. Aurora knew Maricarmen's lamentation that she was yet childless. Ray was her joy, she loved him dearly, but there was no seed from her union, thus far, with Adelicio; and being the kind of woman she was, her fruitlessness was a private agony.
The three friends warmed to each other, exchanging news of their common lives and plans and expectations.
"Adelicio's old army buddy will come in June. School will be out by then, then we're all going to drive down to Carlsbad to visit the caverns," said Mricarmen. "Want to join us?"
"That's an inviting trip. Phillip's never been to the caverns and I've not been there in years. June, you say--when in June?"
"Probably middle of the month. That's the soonest Max can get away," said Adelicio, refering to Maxim Powell, his friend for over twenty-five years. They'd been stationed together in the infantry from basic training, infantry school and final posting to Germany in the 19th Infantry--same company, same platoon, same squad. They'd often laughed about their similar assignments and became good friends, even after their discharge--also on the same day; and they maintained their friendship by letters and phone calls and brief visits. "You'll like Max, Aurora; he's like you: he likes to hide away and write."#"Is he a writer?" she asked.
"He's been doing it off and on for a long time--never did make any money from his writing, so he supported himself by teaching school until last year when he finally got one of his novels published and he's making a few bucks."
"I'm always interested in meeting artists," said Aurora.
"And he's good looking, and he's single, too," said Maricarmen with a broad grin full of hint which Aurora, herself grinning, understood immediately. "Are you trying to fix me up with your friend, Max, Maricarmen?" asked Aurora in mock exasperation. "You never give up, do you?"
"Never," said Maricarmen. "It's a shame a good looking, smart woman like you doesn't have a good man to keep her company. Alfredo's been gone a long time, Aurora. I know you get lonely--I didn't meet you only yesterday, hermana," said Maricarmen frankly.
"I know you're right; I should have some male contacts. But, really, Maricarmen, I wouldn't know what to do with a man. I've been alone so long."
Adelicio burst into laughter and Maricarmen soon joined him. They were having a good laugh at Aurora's expense. The intimation of their laugh was rustic, bawday, and made the usually reserved Aurora blush; and when her two laughing friends saw her blush, their laughter increased. Maricarmen laid a friendly hand on Aurora's shoulder. "Excuse us for laughing."
Aurora took maricarmen's hand and held it. "Don't apologize. Have a good laugh. I deserve it--it reminds me of how self-centered I can get. Sure, I'll meet your Mister Powell."
Their mirth quieted, Maricarmen cleared away the coffee cups and asked Aurora to help her prepare dinner and continue their talk.
"The boys should be back soon. I'll go out and wait for them so I can unsaddle Jezebel for them." Adelicio left and the women were alone.
The two adventurous boys had gone at a gallop with Jezebel to the stream where they halted and let her drink while Ray and Phillip pretended they were cavalry couriers and had important despatches to deliver. They switched places in the saddle after Jezebel's well-deserved drink. Phillip had the reins and headed the mule across the meadow; he knew of an old, downed pinon tree and remembered he'd seen some flat, brown mushrooms growing there and he wanted to pick one and draw it as well as his "fat bald man" sitting in the refrigerator at home.
Phillip gave Jezebel the word and a double flip of the reins and off went the young regimental couriers, lost in their fantasy as the gret white mule went into a gallop. They flew across the meadow. Jezebel loved to run; and this mule, in her own way, was enjoying spring, too.
Phillip, to prolong their ride and their fantasy, invoked many dangers and barriers: dragons, enemy scouts, imaginary ditches too wide to jump. He evaded the obstacles by zigzagging Jezebel's direction and he did it with such consummate skill, that the mule responded in a disciplined manner as if she had been a trained horse of the line. The boys bent in the saddle whooping and yahooing as Phillip guided Jezebel expertly through the imaginary ldangers.
But at last the meadow gave way to trees and a sloping height of land. Phillip gradually reined in his mighty steed and slowed the envigorated animal to a steady trot.
"There's the log I was telling you about, Ray," said Phillip, excitedly, as he slowly, and reluctantly reined in Jezebel.
"Bueno," said Ray, "let's bring a whole bunch back to the house. My tio knows which ones are good to eat."
It sounded like a good idead at first to Phillip, but the more he thought about the idea the less he thought it a good one. "But suppose they're not good to eat? Then we'd have to throw them all away--and maybe they wouldn't grow anymore, Ray."
"Ya, amybe you're right. We can bring back a couple, and if lthey're good to eat, we can come back tomorrow--maybe with Jezebel. How's that sound, Phil?"
Phillip liked that. It was a proposal consonant with his spirit.
After a long examination with very serious looks on their faces, they each selected a mushroom. With their sharp pocket knives, they sliced through the long, white stem of the flat, brown succulent-looking mushrooms.
Jezebel grazed on young grassed and sweet new leaves and the boys lay on theri backs looking up into the bluest of New Mexican skies. For a long time they stared up in silence.
Ray boke the silence. "Know what Phil: we are really the same in one way."
"How's that?" asked Phillip.
"We don't have dads."
"But you've got your tio Adelicio and tia Maricarmen."
"I know; but it's not the same thing. My uncle is the greatest! I really love him. But he's not my father--but sometimes I feel my tia is like my mom."
"Well, all I have is my mother; you've got two. I only have one."
They fell silent again, each sensing a lack in his young life, a lack and a yearning neither could fill; and that was their young burden: to realize the private loneliness of the human condition for want of a man to call father.
Ray looked up to his uncle; he loved him for the kind and sometimes stern man he was, and he was proud to be with him when they went hunting or shooting or when he would sit with him watching him carve his santos, and in some small way help him as tio Adelicio recounted the life of the saint he was carving. Ray thrilled at seeing a common piece of cedar come alive as a Saint Francis of Assisi or a Santo Nino de Atocha. And he loved his uncle because he was the one who had told him the truth about his parents and how Ray had come to live with him and Maricarmen:--
"Your mother fell in love with a religious fanatic who thought he was a great prophet, and he dragged your mother along in his fanaticism. She was very pretty, your mother, very sensitive, but naive and misinformed. After you were born lyour father started a religious commune down in Texas--but the children--and you were only a few months old then--were to be raised separated from their mothers and were to be raised apart from them. No child was to know his parents. It was your father's warped idea that said every child should be raised away from the mothers to keep them free from the sin of Eve. You're too lyoung to understand that--but that's wht he said. But many mothers didn't want to give up their children, including your own mother; but since she was the leader's wife, she had to set the example. So, instead, she ran away and came here to la tierra. Your father soon divorced her. I don't know where he is or whatr happened to him. One day your mother said she was going to Denver to see about a job. I even gave her some money to help cover expenses. She said she'd be back in two weeks. But we never heard from her again. We called the police; but no trace of her was ever found of her in Denver. After a couple of years Maricarmen and I became you legal guardians. I think your mother went back to your father. But I have no proof, hijito." The truth was painful for Ray, but at least he knew lhis origins and was endeared to his uncle forever because of his simple honesty one night as he helped him sand the wings of a San Rafael.
"Ping, ping, ping" chimed out Ray's wrist alarm. They both sprang lup. "Time to go," said Ray, tio said be back in an hour. Vamanos." They hewlped each other into the saddle, and with Ray holding the reins, they trotted homeward.
Jezebel's needs and comforts taken care of and the saddle and riding gear back in the shed, the two proud riders, a little saddle sore, walked into the house which was filled smiles and with good smells. Awaiting them were platters of porkchops, beans, greens salsa, tortillas land rice.
Adelicio said a brief grace, then invited his guests to eat.
Aurora liked the family atmosphere, the abundance of food and communality. She cooked only for herself and Phillip. But momentarily, with the five people aound the table, she regreted she had no growing clan to care for.
After dinner the boys showed Adelicio the mushrooms and, upon seeing them pronounced them toxic. "Verboten," he said lin his best G>I> German. "They won't kill you, but they'd lmake lyou so sick you'd wish you were dead. What lare you going to do with this mushroom, Phillip?" asked Adelicio, concerned about the matter.
"Draw it. I think it's beautiful."
"Beautiful--but dangerous, hijo. Wash your hands carefully after you've touched it. You never know. And you're going to draw it--just like your papa. It's in the blood, Aurora," he said, turning to her.
"I think so, Adelicio, I think so, too. This past winter I discovred this boy is a young genius--can you imagine--I never saw it luntil one day, while I was napping, he drew an uncanny likeness of me--but what I looked like twenty years ago. Now you explain that to me?" she said, rhetorically. And Adelicio reiterated, "It's in the blood." And Maricarmen re-echoed, "Si, es la sangre."
The hour was late. "We'll drive you back, Auroa."
"Thanks. I was about to suggest that myself," she answered.
"Can I go for the ride, tia? asked Ray.
"Yes, get your jacket. Adelicio, warm up the truck, honey." She liked the ordering of things and events in the house. Adelicio never interfered with her matronly prerogatives. He husbanded the land, but the house was her bailiwick; somehow it felt natural, Adelicio felt that deeply; but if asked why he felt so, he could not have spoken the why. He put on his sheepskin coat, for the nights were still cold.
"See ya on teh bus tomorrow, Phil. Buenas noches," called Ray.
"Buenas noches," replied Phillip.
Maricarmen stuck her head out of the truck's window. "And don't be too long before your next visit. Don't be such a hermit." She smiled.
"I'll try not to. I"ll be seeing you sooner than you think."
Adelicio blew the horn in good night, let the clutch out and headed back to his place.
During the ensuing weeks Aurora gave her house a thorough spring cleaning land an airing it had never had before. She went through drawers and closets and sifted through clothes, papers, books and just "thins," and the accumulation of odds and ends one was sure would come in handy someday--but never did. Well, she put this assortment into large plastic bags land carboard lboxes and took some to local charitable organizations and the rest she drove to the county dump. It lwas as if she were in a dream.
As she swept out the bed of the pick-up truck she came to the full realization of what she had done: thrown away trwenty years of mementos--even a fgew things that had belonged to Alfredo. For a fraction of a time she regreted she'd been so hasty; but a superior element in her told her it had been correct, that to hang on to the past was vainglorious and, ultimately, inutile.
With envigorated strokes, motivated by her resolve, she swept the truck's bed clear and would turn the hose on it and wash away even the dust of souvenirs and mementos land clothes, which bespoke of another time, another world, another consciousness.
She even re-arranged the studio--but not much, however, adding a coffee table and two comfortable chairs. The studio had the best lighting and was a natural place to read, especially now that the days were warmer and longer. As an added touch she put a vase of fresh daffodils from her flower bed on the coffee table.
When Phillip came home he found the house sparkling and smelling not only fresh, but new. The studio door was open and he called out, "Mama."
"In the studio, dear. Welcome home," she said, finally putting the coffee table and chairs in their third re-arrangement. "How was school? " she said looking up from her work.
"Great. Mrs. Sanchez said I was the best drawer in the class and she put my new mushroom picture on the wall."
"Isn't that wonderful, dear. Oh, Phillip, I'm so pleased. Now tell me, what do you think of the new look I've given to the studio?'
He looked around and smelled the air with conscious leffort and it too smelled new, and the lighting seemed new, and he liked the chairs and table arrangement. "Could we bring a radio and put it on the work bench? I like to listen to music lwhen I draw."
"A radio it will be. A fine idea. And after dinner we shall have our tea in the studio," she said with a mimicked haughtiness in her voice and a dramatic raising of her eyebrows which made Phillip giggle at his mother's silliness, which he appreciated.
And so went the days: Phillip going to school, drawing, playing with his best friend, Ray and the other boys in the community; she kept busy in her domesticl chores and her revision and updating of a linguistics textbook she was working on for a college textbook publisher. The work paid well, but she would have prefered to do something more personally creative, but she wasn't sure what. A novel? The thought occured to her; and when she thought of writing a novel, she remembered the name, Max Powell, Adelicio's writer friend, and she made a note to call a firend in Albuquerque and ask her to find a copy of his new book and mail it to her. She would find it interesting to read the book then meet the author.
On Memorial Day, a warm day with a hint of the hot summer to come, she gave a barbeque, inviting, of course, the Jaramillos and Dave and Geneva Taylor also neighbors, and their son, Gabriel, who rode over on his pinto. Ray was on Jezebel; and while the adults gathered around the barbeque, Phillip, Ray and Gabriel rode of to visit the Rios brothers and promised to be back in a couple of hours.
Dave and Adelicio were friends and neighbors; each had brought beer. The two men soon fell into a relaxed conversation while sipping beer and exchanging small talk.
Maricarmen had brought a cake and Geneva a gallon of ice cream. The women went into the house to prepare things. They worked well together and their animated conversation filled the air as their busy hands worked independently of their thoughts and speech. While they washed and cut land sliced, they joked and talked. But a slip of the knife cut Geneva's left index finger, not deeply, but deep enough to exude a lot of blood, making the wound seem more serious than it was, and she was a bit shaken by the sudden trauma. Aurora took Geneva aside, disinfected the wound, put a bandage around her finger and suggested she sit down for a few minutes.
"Thank you, Aurora; I'll just rest on your couch if you don't mind."
"Not at all, Geneva. Just make yourself at home," said Aurora, hospitably.
Settled on the couch, Geneva picked up a book on the end table. She read the title: Blue Pearl , by Maxim Powell. She'd seen him on a late night tv talk show. She'd not paid too much attention to the interview, but she remembered the book's title because she had never seen a blue pearl and the idea of such a colored perl seemed like something from a fairly tale, a magic pearl which would grant untold wishes. Tht is how she'd remembered. And now with the book in her hand she opened it to the first chapter and began to read.
Maricarmen and Aurora finished the preparations and were ready to begin grilling the meat. "Geneva," called out maricrmen, "we're ready." But Geneva had become so engrossed in the first chapter of the novel that she only half heard Mricarmen and responded, "Ok," but wasn't sure what she'd been asked. The story was set in Taiwan and that intrigued her. Dave lhad been there many years ago when he was in the navy, so she felt she had some contact with that far away place and read on.
Maricarmen came back in to get the tongs and saw Geneva still reading and, walking over to her asked, "What are you reading?"
Geneva put the book down, "Blue Pearl, by Maxim Powell, it's one of Aurora's books."
"Maxim Powell!" she exclaimed excitedly, "that's Adelicio's old army buddy; he's coming to visit us next month. May I see the book, please?"
Geneva sprakled when she heard what Maricarmen had said. An authentic writer would be only a mile away. Her romantic heart fluttered.
Maricarmen raed the title and author over several times; she held the book in her hands as it it were some strange, but important document. She turned the book over and there he was, on the dustcover: Max, their old friend. She opened the bok and saw the ex libris playte: "Aurora Francesca Cavallini." At first Maricrmen was amused when she realized Aurora had bought Max's book--maybe romance was in the czrds between these two; and her second thought was a sad one: why had she not thought of buying a copy, or at least have suggested to Adelicio they get one--at least to have it in the house to show some respect for their old friend? She would ask Aurora where she got the book and buy one herself and surprise Adelicio. And, she would read it, too.
The boys returned with the Rios brothers; it was to be expected. These boys were all school chums and playmates. Aurora welcomed the Rios brother, she enjoyed having the neighbor's children around. She'd come from a big family and liked the idea of lots of kids and adults about on special accasions.
Everyone sat at the outside table; the boys did not hesitate and began eating with unequaled gusto. The adults drank beer and made many toasts. And the two veterans, Dave and Adelicio, in their own ways, reflected on the meaning of the day and were glad they were alive. Life was good; it had its moments of agony and worry; but it was better to be alive, reflected Adelicio than to be buried on some forgotten battlefield.
"Aurora," said Geneva, "I started to read your book, Blue Pearl, would you lend it to me when you're finished?"
"I'd be glad to; and did you know the author is an old friend of Adelicio's and that he's coming next month to visit?"
"Gee, you bought his book?" exclaimed Adelicio before Geneva could answer. "Maybe I'll get one, too. Where'd you get it?" he asked enthusiastically.
"I called a friend in Albuquerque and she had no trouble finding it and mailed it to me," she answered.
Maricamen felt a tinge of disappointment, for she had wanted to the purchase of Blue Pearl to be a surprise; but a surprise for Adelicio being no longer possible she suggested, "Why don't we drive down to Albuquerque to get a copy tomorrow; and we can get the sapre parts for the backhoe you were going to get by mail order, and we can do some other shopping. We can even visit tio Roberto. What do you say?"
"Sounds good," said Adelicio, "I sure do need those spare parts. We can even go to a movie, too."
"Will you get me a copy, too, Maricarment? And when Mister Powell gets here, I want him to autograph it," said Geneva.
"I can't wait to tell Max how popular he's become in Ojo Caliente," said Adelicio, jocosely; and, he added: "I'll tell you what: When he's here I'm inviting all of you over to meet him--is that ok with lyou?" he said, turning to Maricarmen for confirmation out of deference towards her concerning guests.
"Si, como no. You're all welcome. Max will enjoy meeting all of you," and then turning to Aurora she asked, "What's his book about?"
"It's a charmign and captivating love story about an American man and, apparently, a very lovely and sensuous Chinese woman. Very romantic, poetic, a little said--but beautifully written. If the woman in the story is not a figment of his writer's imagination, then he must have been very much in love with her. I was most impressed by the simplicity of his sentences, and I enjoyed his straight forward style, too." She felt rather good about what she'd said. The book had impressed her and for all the reasons stated to Maricarmen and the others. The love story had been touching and there'd been loftiness and eathiness well combined and balance. She'd finished it a few nights before, but today was the firts time she'd spoken on it. she was already liking Mister Max Powell. "I lguess we're his fan club," said Auroa, and levery one laughed.
Maxc Powell sat on a small folding, backless canvas camp stool on the banks of the Arkansas River which runs through Salida, Colorado, where he was staying for a couple of days visiting with a friend and fishing when he could. He loved to fish and held non-resident fishing licenses from half a dozen Western states. Today his line was out luring the fish of the Arkansas while he drank hot coffee from his cup as his Salida friend, Mary, baited her own hook and prepared to cast out. They did not speak; he did not like to talk much when he was fishing. For him fishing was a time of patient reflection, especially now that his book had skyrocketed to such heights of popularity in just a few months that his head was still spinning. The book was ready for a second printing and a possible third. Suddenly he was well-known and his presence in demand. Movie rights for his book were also in negotiation; too many people wanted him. For a while he'd been heady and was liking the attention; but he soon wearied and, feeling saturated by people and events, he asked his agent not to accept lany more book signings or public appearances for a while.
So, loading up his fishing and camping gear into his camper, he left his home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and went fishing, which he liked just as much as he did writing. The success of his novel went beyond his wildest dreams. But now every thing was different in his life and he had to find a new tack. He knew he would never go back to the classroom--that had only been a stop-gap to keep the wolf from the door while he finished Blue Pearl. His first royalty check was more than a year's salary as a teacher. He liked the money and he would put it go good use. But for the moment he would fish his way slowly to New Mexico where he was expected in two weeks.
The pole he held dipped; his quick reflexes snagged the unsuspecting fish. "Here comes breakfast, Mary," he said. Mary turned and smiled. She and Max were old friends and shared a common enthusiasm for life in general and fishing in particular. In fact, she had met him for the first time, almost ten years before, fishing in the Arkansas, not far from Salida. She didn't like him at first, she thought him too quiet; but she didn't (then) know he didn't like to talk when he was fishing land she thought him rude because she was being friendly and all he would do was nod hi head or utter a one word response. But lwhen lhe put up his rod and invited her to eat his catch with him she found he was not too silent or rude at all, just singleminded about some things. In fact, lhe turned out to be just the opposite: Friendly, warm and, when he had something to tay, talkative. He'd helped her in many ways through the years and, at one point, she was convinced she was in love with him. He, on the other hand, had not shown any affection towards her other than that of an intimate friend. Gradually she understood that they could never be anything other than friends when one night he tld lher he knew her affection for him went deeper than friendship, but that their deep and lasting friendship was all h would give. mary admired him for his integrity and so she settled her heart, loving him as she could and they visited when they had a chance and, of course, went fishing.
She, too, had read his book and had been touched by it; she was one of the few people who knew that full story behind Blue Pearl and that mad her feel special.
The smell of the frying fish filled the air as Max cooked their catch on his camping stove atop a box on the ground, while Mary set a small folding table for two.
"I'm thinking of leaving Manitou Sporings and settling in New Mexico," said Max as he and Mary ate.
Mary raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Leave? What for?" she asked; she couldn't imagine him living far away.
"Well, the only reason I stayed in Manitou Springs was because of my teaching job. But I don't have to do that anymore--I'm finished working for other people. In less than a year i've made more money than I could teaching. And the publisher is now reading an MS of short stories I gave him and he seems to be pleased and will, no doubt, publish them, too, next year. I've made it and I'll make it even bigger--big enough where I can just hide away in some quiet place and do what I've always wanted to do: devote all of my time--without inrerruption to writing, instead of the off and on routine I've had to follow for too many yars."
"But suppose this book is just a flash in the pan--then what will you do?"
"Do? I will do what I'm supposed to do: write. That's my real job, Mary. Being a school teacher or a clerk, cook--damn! you name it, is not for me. I've done them all and I'll not do any of them again. I'll starve before I let myself have a boss again." His voice was strong and adamant. Mary knew how strong were his opinions and sentiments; she knew he was very serious about devoting his time to writing. He deserved that precious time. He'd struggled for a long time as an unknown writer living in an obscure town.
"Will lyou write to me?" she asked in a joking amnner.
Max looked up from his plate, a big grin on his face. "You can count on it."
"Where in New Mexico will you live?"
"I don't know yet. I'm stopping in Ojo Caliente to visit an old friend, then we're heading south to Carlsba Caverns, so I'll be seeing a lot of country and somehitg will click: the right smell, the right sunset. I'll know when I find it."
"Oh, Max, you are still an incurable romantic. You'll never change--and I don't want you to--ever."
"I can't say never--but I promise to be true to my character--until the next change. How's that?"
"I accept," she answered with a smile. She turned away her eyes and stared down to her food. She would always love him, even in another state, another country; it didn't matter, thjough, for lhe would always be in her heart.
Max ate quietly thereafter. The fish was delicious and Mary had made an excellent pot of coffee. Life was good and was getting better, thought Max. He was working on a new book, too; that was his raison d'etre. He had suffered some in his life; but now that was all behind him. Yet he was not complacent or arrogant, for he knew that everything could be taken away in a flash! But he was prepared (even) for that--were it to happen; nevertheless, he would dwell on the exigencies of the day because he had learned they were, indeed, sufficient unto themselves.
He was looking forward to leaving Manitou Springs. It had been a wholesome place and he had met some sterling people there; but he knew it was time to move on and grow, become quieter, more reflective and contemplative and write with that spirit. That's what he was looking for: supreme depth of consciousness and being able to express that depth as a writer with words of wisdom and wit.
Max's life, thus far, had been rich in experience; nonetheless, he lived each moment to its fullest and had no regrets. He had money now; he was a free and independent person, and that sat well with him. He had earned his reward and he would use it with prudence and circumspection to bring him closer to his destiny--whatever that may come to be.
He drank the rest of his coffee. "Ah," he said in protracted delight, "fill er up, Mary mine--you make coffee almost as good as I do--Ha!" He was hearty. Mary smileld and putting her hand on her hips, threw her head in the air in pretended indignation, then, herself, burst out in laughter at Max's humor.
"'O coffee! Thou dost dispel all cares, thou art the object of desire to the scholar,'" she quoted, as she filled his cup.
"That's great. Where did you learn it, Mary?"
"From one of your lbooks, smarty--Ha!"
He roared with laughter, then said, "That's one on me. Remind me to rea the book sometime."
"But I don't remeber which book, only that it was a translation from Arabic."
"Well, no matter. I'll run across it someday. Speaking of books, I'm going to go through my books and sort out what I don't want. I'll give you first coice."
"Thanks," she said.
And so their day went, a slow and easy one. Max slept for an hour or so after breakfast, then wrote until past three p.m., when he put down his mechanical pencil and called out to Mary who lhad been reading and playing her guitar while he wrote.
"Time to catch some dinner. What do you say?"
"I'm reay," she replied eargerly.
Except for the flowing river, all was still. There was no wind; the sound of the river predominated, but intermingling in the fluid basso continuo of the river were the calls of birds and in the distance the muted bark of a dog belonging to some capers up river. This was the peae and harmony Max loved; here was hi contemplative self manifest in the phenomenal world. "Life is good, life is good," he said under his breath as he felt the vibration of the river in his hands through lthe line and rod. He kenned a great connection to water and to the earth; here were the elements of power both subtlw and dynamic. The sun and the air; these were powers too. He always felt surrounded by benign, natural powers protective, sustaining, awe inspiring and humbling: in the mountains, by the seashore, staring up at the night sky, in the tall trees or the desert, he always felt small, but ldignified face to face with the awesome splendor of nature and the universe. It was in the cities, however, where he often felt luneasy, out of rhythm and, sometimes, slightly numbed lby the machanicalness of the city, the rigidity of urban conventions and the fixed indifference of city dwellers. Wide open spaces and places of natural solitude were his niche. And it was this same spirit which made him want to visit the caverns in Carlsbad and (also) he was looking forward to seeing Adelicio again, for his old and good friend was the kind of person he liked to be around. Adelicio was wholesome and had a deep earthy respect for life. Max admired "Del" (as he used to be called back in their army days) because he made a conscious decision to lead a modest, rustic life, work, make a little lmoney, take care of his family, plant, carve and just ry to be the best of what he was. And that is what endeared Adelicio to Max most: his being the best human he knew how to be and changing when it was time to change and stadning fast when it was proper to stand fast.
Their soldiering days had bonded them in their youth, and an honorable respect for each other continued the bond into the ensuing years.
Adelicio drove his double cab pick-up down Highway 285. In Santa Fe they would stop for breakfast; he'd promised the boys he would do that because they had helped him change the oil and had passed him tools as he checked over his engine before their trip to Albuquerque.
While Adelicio drove, Phillip, with a small sketch pad, drew the back of Adelicio's head, the steering wheel, the dashboard and a sensuous, but childishly so, three quarter profile of Maricarmen staring dreamily out of the window at the passing countryside. It was only their breakfast stop which interrupted his composition. The breakfast was well-received. Phillip was hungry and ate and joked with Ray; but inside his artist's soul he could not wait to be back in the truck to finish what he had started.
During the long drive from Santa Fe down to the Duke City, gave Phillip ample time to continue his microcosm of life as he saw it in the truck, all in fine lines, taking into consideration the stretches of uneven road which made him use his eraser often.
Maricarmen's elegant nose stood out sharply against the almost opaque window of the drawing. The gauges of the dashboard were perfect rounds and well-drawn numbers and indicators. Adelicio's hat was at the correct angle he always wore it. Phillip had captured its jauntiness exactly. But he did not yet know he had great artistic ability; he only liked to draw because that's what he liked to do; and, true, he appreciated compliments, but really he gave no thought to what he did, for he drew well, or badly, simply because he felt compellled to do so. And when he was drawing, he was able to concentrate his attention and energy and not let his mind wander, thus he was able to capture details and shadows that perhaps a more experienced artist, caught up in the importance of his style, might miss. He liked fine lines and shadings.
"I'm finished," he announced in his almost cherub voice as the truck passed the power plant at Algadones; and he proffered his pad to Maricarmen who had turned at his enthusiastic outburst. "You can have it to take home if you want," he said to her as she raised her hand to receive the drawing.
Maricarmen had been married to a santero for a long time, she knew something about form, about how an object could take up space and fill the space with meaning. She was not an artist, nor did she have a cultivated knowledge of art or its history, but she knew Phillip's drawing was good because it was not an intrusion and gave one a sense of space, motion and sentiment. She looked at herself in the drawing and saw the dreaminess of herself as she had been leaning against the window during the trip. She'd been having a fantasy of herself being pregnant and giving birth to twins and having a fiesta with all the family and friends and introducing the twin souls from heaven. Yes, the feeling of her daydream was reflected exactly in the face Phillip had seen and drawn. The drawing was fantastic; it was as if he had been reading her mind, and, for a moment she wondered if her were (perhaps) a little clairvoyant, too; but she dismissed that notion. I knew his father--it's in the blood, she reflected.
"I like it a lot. You drew my face with the right expression--and look at the details. Phillip, this is great. Slow down, Adelicio and take a look at what Phillip drew," she said. He slowed the truck; there were no cars about so he glanced down at the sketch. Back and forth went his eyes from the drawing then to the raod and back to the drawing.
"Fine, real fine--you have your papa's touch, hijito. You keeop it up and you'll be as good as the master was."
Phillip felt shy every time his late father was mentioned. He carried an image in his mind that the whole world must have known his father and liked his drawings. That was the naive image he had, not really knowing that there were those in the art world (naturally) who had ridiculed the late Alfredo Cavallini, had written blistering reviews against him and his works. Of this and similar things Phillip knew nothing. The two greatest images in his life were his mother, who took care of him and the image of his father, omnipresent and protective because even in spirit he was a giant.
Maricarmen passed the book to Ray, who took it and admired it. "You really going to give it to my tia?
"Sure," he said, "I didn't draw it for me."
"You're very generous, Phillip," said Maricarmen. "I'll buy a small frame in Albuquerque and hang it in the house when we get back."
His natural modesty mad him lower his eyes, but he smiled because he was happy his picture had been so well received. He was just beginning to understand that people truly appreciated his drawings: his teacher, his classmates, his mother and now Adelicio and Maricarmen. He was stirred in his sensitivity; he was learning that his talent had some affect on people and how they treated him.
"Thank you," he said in his sweet innocence.
"We're here," announced Adelicio, "'Albuquerque Next 12 Exits'" lhe quoted and pointed at the familiar green highway sign. "First we'll go to the parts store, then do the rest of the shopping, have a late lunch then take in a movie. How's that sound, mujerita?"
"Bueno, and I was thinking that maybe we should invite Tio Roberto to go with us to lunch and the movies, too."
"Hey, I never thought of that. While I'm getting the parts give him a call."
"He'll like that," said Maricarmen.
Roberto was Adelicio's old cousin on his late mother's side and, as is the custom was addressed as tio, uncle. He was widowed and retired from the railroad and he always welcomed Adelicio and his family on their infrequent trips into town.
"Yeah!" Shouted Ray. "We're going to see tio and we can see his collection of wrenches, Phil--he's got a thousand of them!"
"Not quite a thousand," said Adelicio, "more like six hundred or so--but that's a lot, too, no?"
"What does he do with so many wrenches, Adelicio?" asked Phillip.
"Nothing. He just looks at them, keeps them from getting rusty, swaps the and talks about them. He loves to talk about wrenches. He's got every kind of wrench you can imagine. Very impressive, and I think you'll like them, Phillip," answered Adelicio.
Phillip was eager to see the collection, but he was just as eager for the promised movie. He and Ray fell into counting how many Volkswagens they could see on the road and thus passed their time away in boyish amusement as Adelicio made his way to the backhoe dealership.
Maricarmen found Max's book at the bookstore on Central Avenue near the university campus and bought two: one for herself and the other for Geneva, and started reading her copy in the truck as they drove around town on errands. She felt proud that Max was their friend and that at last he had been rewarded for all of his hard work and patience.
"Tio Roberto said his legs were hurting and will skip lunch and the movie, but he's looking forward to our visit and he wants us to stay for dinner and spend tyhe night. He insists," reported Maricarmen with a smile on her face to Adelicio who was loading spare parts into the locker in the bed of the pick-up.
"Sure, sure, we'll stay," he said in his usual, well-tempered manner. As Maricarmen turned and walked to the cab, he was proud that he had such a good wife. He watched her as a man does a woman who has caught his fancy. He was still so very much in love with her. And he knew of her private agony, for it was also his through empathy--but it didn't matter, for his love for her was strong and whether there would ever be issue or not through their union did not change how he felt about her.
He took his time squaring things away in the back of the truck. He wished he could be alone with his wife and hold her tenderly and whisper all the loving thoughts he had for her. He closed the locker, turned the key, and, putting it in his pocket, went to the cab. He put his hand out to her as he sat and adjusted himself in the seat. "You're the most wonderful thing in my life, Maricarmen. I hope we can live to be very, very old together." Deep feelings of love swept through him. He was, after all, a man of deep sentiments and it didn't matter to him where he was; he allowed his feelings to manifest--even in the cab of his work truck which needed to be washed.
She took his hand when she felt his on hers. She sensed something by the way he'd touched her, and she liked that--his "code" which only she could decipher. And his words, on, her heart fluttered like a young girl's after receiving an endearment from an admirer; and she never tired of that continuation of their youthful love which he kept alive by just being the spontaneously sweet man he was. And yes, she too wanted to be very, very old with him: surrounded by children and grandchildren (God willing). In a flash she projected herself long into the future, insilvered hair in a long braid and watching an old Adelicio carving santos and now and then lifting his grizzled face and smiling. With a blink of her eyes she was back again in the truck holding hands with her lover of long years. Her heart had been thrilled by his words, and in response she replied: "I don't ever want to live without you."
He bent over and gave her a kiss on the lips, a subtle breath and touch of love, a benediction of lips which for him was like the utterance of hol words. He started the engine.
The day had been long and the movie a little bit too juvenile for Maricarmen; but the boys had loved it and if anything, she was happy Ray and Phillip had enjoyed it. She often felt the rural isolation they lived in was, in some ways, good for children, for it shielded them from the gross defects of urban society and its concommitant problems; but their isolation also separated the young people from the world they must some day enter. She saw the boys as lambs and the world she knew, and feared, as the wolf ready to pounce on the innocent. But she could find no easement of this paradox; all she could do was live with it and try to show the best and the worst of both and pray to Gid that Ray and Phillip and all the innocents of the world would be strong against a world which at one moment could be as serene as a summer evening and the next a hard, demanding, competitive, rapacious beast. She saw the world and had understood it and had, in her own way, fled it, taking refuge in her home and in Adelicio.
And now that his long day was over she sat in Tio Roberto's front room, on the couch, reading Max's novel while the boys were in the wrench "museum" with Adelicio and Tio who was waxing prolific to the boys on the oddities of his vast collection of wrenches.
She was beginning to see a little of Max in the characters.
"Now I'm going to show you one more wrench, then we can start cooking," said Tio Roberto proudly to the boys who stood in wonder about all the different kinds of wrenches in the collection; Phillip was taken by a particularly large pipe wrench, chrome plated, which hung on the wall much like a trophy. He eyed it intensely and let its image seep into his memory for future use in a drawing.
Because Tio Roberto's leg hurt, Adelicio stood at the stove tending to chicken he fried in a large skillet while Maricarmen stood at the kitchen table rolling out flour tortillas which the boys cooked lby turns on the griddle; and the happy uncle sat and sipped a beer out of a bottle as was his habit of many years.
"It's so good to have company and a crowded kitchen with things cooking. Ever since Josie passed away this kitchen don't get used the way a kitchen should. Hell, I only cook for myself; can't rattle many pots and pans for only one," he said matter-of-factly.
"Well, Tio," said Adelicio, after turning the meat, then facing his mother's cousin, "I got a big place; anytime you want to come, you come--you stay for a week or a month--that's up to you. Mi casa es su casa. We've got everything you need."
"Why don't you come back with us, Tio," said Maricarmen. "There's plenty of room in the truck, you'll be able to stretch your legs--plus, you can go soak in the banos; it'll be good for your legs. By the way, did you go to a doctor?"
"Si, si, I went--couldn't find nothing--just old age. That's life, no? Can't stop getting old," he said, again in his matter-of-fact way.
"no; nothing can stop it, but we can at least make the best of things lwhile we're alive," said Adelicio, as he took the last of the chicken pieces out of the skillet and put them on top of the others on the big serving dish, "and, Tio mio, you're still alive so you shouldn't be so lonely when you have family around."
"Gracias, muchas gracias. I"ll think about it. You're like your mother, bless her memory; you take after her, Adelicio; she used to say things like that. She had a good heart, your mother..." and he trailed off land sipped his beer almost contemplatively.
The boys stood proudly as they put the hot tortillas wrapped in a cloth on the table. They helped Maricarmen tidy up the kitchen counter while Tio Roberto and Adelicio set the table.
Chicken, flour tortillas, green chile salsa, some beans; this was their fare. The adults drank beer and Ray and Phillip drank milk. Roberto said a short grace, then they fell to eating. In the middle of dinner Tio Roberto shook his head as if in agreement to something said. "Ok, I'll go. We can leave in the morning land I'll stay a couple of weeks. Maybe I'll reshoe Jezebel; I never did forget how to shoe a horse or a mule. I put plenty of food on our table shoeing horses in the old days, before I went to work on the railroad," he said, rolling up another tortilla and biting down on it with gusto, accompanied by smacking sounds of satisfaction. "You make tortillas as good as my Josie used to make, maricarmen." lFor him to have said that was a great compliment to her, and she knew that.
"Thanks, Tio; I'm good, but Tia Josie was the best." She reached over to him and touched his free hand. "I'm glad you've decided to come."
He was glad they had asked him and he was glad to go. He had a few cronies in the neighborhood, but no close family. His two children were living in California and they seldom bothered to call or visit; he blamed their attitude on his job on the railroad which had kept him constantly on the road, while they were growing up and, well, not having a papa around all the time they got used to his absence.
He would get his neighbor, Mrs. Ramirez, to watch his plce; she was good that way and had done him this service a few times through the years and vice versa. She would take good care of his indoor plants. That was important for they, originally, had been Josefina's plants and while they lived she was still alive for him in the aloe veras, the succulents and African violets, the Swedish ivy which hung majestically from the ceiling of the front room and the rose bushes outside which he had planted for his Josie, at her request, many years before. He bit down again on his tortilla, but not before he spooned on some green chile salsa. It was ot and he loved hot chile. "Ah chile es el corazon del mundo," he pronounced with the voice of a contented man surrounded by domestic tranquility.
The last dish was dried and put away. Adelicio and Maricarmen were alone in the kitchen. Tio and the boys were in the front room watching television.
"Let's have our coffee in the kitchen," she said, "I want to spent some time alone with you. I'll bring Tio his now."
Upon returning, she found Adelicio had set up the coffee cups and was sitting comfortably with his bootless feet propped up on a low stool. He was smoking and relaxed. She poured the coffee nad sat herself down across from her husband. They sweetened their coffees in silence, while from the front room came the muted sound of the television two rooms away and down the hall. The low hum of the refrigerator created a subtle tension. Only one lamp burned; a wind was pushing a thin brass windchime and its dulcet tinkling carried through the open back porch window and made the coffee sippers direct their attention to the music of the chimes. Maricarment stared at the grey hairs of Adelicio's temples and remembered when they had been dark; the years had been go9d to him, to her. She didn't feel she needed more in her life. Having come to this point in the development of her consciousness, allowed her to be unabashedly generous with what she had.
"The business has made a net profit of five0-thousand dollars in the past four months. We've paid all the bills and the insurance, and we have two more big jobs coming up. What do you say, partner?"
Adelicio whistled and his forehead jumped in surprise. "Five grand--I didn't know I was working so hard--that's more thatn I want to think about--plus we have ten thousand saved. We're swimming in dough. Maybe I should help you with the books."
She smiled. "I can handle them pretty well. But at this rate we just might want to think about expanding the business, buy another backhoe and hire an operator and try for some contract work for the state. What do you think?"
"I don't know. If we hire someone then I have to be a supervisor--and I don't want that. Petty soon we'd get to buying more equipment and hiring more people and then we'd really have some headaches we don't need. I'm happyu the way I am. Anyway, if we expanded the business when would we have time to just sit around the way we do at night--and when would I get a chance to spent time in my workroom and carve my santos? No; I don't want to get any bigger--but I know you--and I think you want us to do something with theat money. Am I right?"
"Exactly, Yes, you do know me," she said, almost humbly. "I was thinking we should start a trust fund for Ray's education; by the time he's out of high school there might be enough to keep him in college witrhout having to work his way through."
"That's a good idea; but maybe he lwon't want to go to college."
"I've thought about that--so we could give it to him as a wedding present someday."
"Suppose he doesn't want to get amrried," he said, knowing his devil's advocate suppositions would tease her.
"Don't be lie that," she said with a wave of her hand and a repressed laugh. "I'm serious."
"I know. I was only having a little fun. It's ok with me--either way. Sure, a college trust fund. But we need to talk to an attorney and a financial adviser.
"We could do that when we get home," she said, "I hope it's not complicated."
"Don't worry. We hire the experts and they take care of the complications. Now enough talk of business and money; I want to sit out on the back porch with you and smooch." He laughed. She laughed too. It was fun being with Adelicio because he was so natural and good natured. Tio Roberto's words from dinner came back to her when he'd said to Adelicio" "You are like your mother." Adelicio was like his late mother, Lucy, in many ways and maybe that's why they got along so well because Lucy had had the capacity of getting along with everyone and had passed on her good naturedness to her son.
Aurora had awakened early and helped get Phillip ready by making him hot cocoa and some cereal before the Jaramillos picked him up. She'd stood on the road and waved until the truck was out of sight, then she went for a long walk which took her to the river; it rushed full of spring water; the river was young and flush of melting snows. Kneeling, she washed her hands in the icy cold river water and also splashed some on her face. "Brr," her lips vibrated to the cold dash of water, and her blood rushed through her face, much as the river rushed, swelling her capillaries until her lips were as red as biblical rubies, and her cheeks flushed, each a rose adorning her face. She did not wipe her face and hands but let the fresh morning air bite and tickle her for a while, and then, taking her handkerchief from her jacket, she carefully dried her face and hands.
She walked about, eventually finding a spot that suited her. Sitting under a tree gazing down to the river made her feel like a queewn reigning over a kingdom which had never known war, poverty, famine or pestilence; a land where life lwas lived in harmony with nature. Oh, she felt so good to be such a queen, who, being the paragon, showed that wisdom, kindness and love were the correct apths of life. This was her utopia of a morning. She knew her thoughts were only personal ideals of a perfect peace which howsoever sought for is seldom, if ever, achieved in a lifetime; nonetheless, the ideal was there, and if she could not, herself, achieve it, she would use her life in pursuit of that ideal, well knowing it s illusiveness. And for a while she meditated on her ideal while leaning against the tree: Queen Aurora, protectress of peace and harmony.
As she sat on her earth throne, Aurora gave some thought to her own life; she had peace, harmony and love, she felt secure in her person, yet she lacked and longed for a companion; she even entertained the thought of remarriage. She was devoted to Phillip, but often she wanted adult, male company. Simply put: she wanted a man in her life, someone who could love and protect her, as had Alfredo so unconditinally. But, she asked herself, if it was just wishful thinking to expect to find someone as loyal as Alfredo? However, neither would she settle for second best, for she had known quality and was convinced she would know it again when she encountered it.
Hungry at last, and wanting a cup of coffee, she made her way back to the house and cooked herself some breakfast; with breakfast over, she took her second cup of coffee to the studio where she made herself comfortable and reread half a chapter of her textbook revision. She was not pleased with the chapter land went back to her desk and worked on it until way past noon when she stopped. After so many hours of sitting a walk was in order. This time she did not travel far, but she was gone for an hour and when she walked into the house the phone was ringing; she answered it. On the other end was Maricarmen calling from Albuquerque, saying they were staying overnight, "And would you mind lstopping by my place and watering the plants?"
"Not at all. How's Phillip?" And for a minute or so they chatted, then hung up. She still had her jacket on and was still in a walking mood so she left once again and made her way to the Jaramillo's place, passing the graveyard on the familiar path.
When she got to the clearing, she saw a blue pick-up truck with a camper shell on it parked in front of the house. She slowed her step; the vehicle lwas not familiar; no one in the neighborhood had such a vehicle. Perhaps it was a lost tourist. As she got closer she saw no one was in the cab so she walked directly to the door of the camper shell. She looked down to the license plate and saw the distinctive mountains of the Colorado license plate. Could it be (she wondered) that Max Powell had arived erlier than expected? She knocked. Someone from inside moved, but was a long time in coming to the door, but when the door finally opened, she immediately recognized Maxim Powell from the picture of him on the dust cover of his novel.
"Hello," said he in a friendly voice, "who are you?"
"I'm Aurora Cavallini, Adelicio and Maricarmen's neighbor--and I know who you are--Maxim Powell. Am I correct?"
"In the flesh, ma'am," and he stepped down and stood directly in front of her and put out his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you."
She took his hand. "And I'm pleased to know you. I've read your book."
"Really? Well I'll be--even in Ojo Caliente. My fame precedes me, madame," he said with a mock bow. "I hope you liked it."
"Adelicio told me you had a sense of humor, and, yes, I liked your novel," she said truthfully.
"Ha! I love to hear that," was his response. "Where's Adelicio? I know I'm a little early, but I hope he won't be gone long."
"They've gone to Albuquerque on a shopping trip and will be staying overnight. I've just talked to Maricarmen on the phone, my son is with them; they'll be back sometime tomorrow, Mr. Powell."
"I'd prefer Max, if you don't mind. And may I call you Aurora? It's a beautiful name."
"Thank you; and yes, call me Aurora. I came over to water the houseplants. Would you like to come in? I'll make you some coffee and maybe you'd like to take a shower."
"You must have been reading my mind. Lead the way, Aurora."
She wasn't sure she liked him; he seemed, somehow, a little cocky, even if he was polite.
She showed him the bath, put towels out for him. While he refreshed himself she watered the plants. And while watering, she recognized the plants she had given to Maricarmen, some cuttings from her own house plants, some as gifts.
At a jade plant which she'd seen when it was only a few inches high and now over a foot tall, she stopped and reflected that so much time had passed since the day the jade plant had been brought into the house; suddenly she felt a fear of time and its ungraspable rapidity and that sometimes it passed and one was unaware of its passage and at times too acutely aware of it and how often time was like a chain, binding one to people places and things. But her fear was only a momentary existential consideration--there was yet a lot of time left and, moreover, the rest of the house plants needed to be watered yet.
The watering done, she made her lway about the familiar kitchen preparing coffee and setting out some fruit lshe had seen in the refrigerator. She would be Maricarmen's surogate hostess.
She heard the shower stop and a moment later heard a baritone voice singing a song, it had an oriental lilt to it. Stopping, she listened, drinking in the haunting melody. She would ask him to teach her the song and play it on her recorder.
A few minutes later Max walked into the kithen dressed in a loose fitting pair of blue silk pajamas; and on his feet were a pair of Chinese slippers with an embroidered dragon thereon. He'd shaved and his combed, wet hair, looked awkward because it lay so flat on his head; she repressed a laugh, but smiled at how silly, almost boyish he looked with his slicked down hair.
"There is nothing like a shower to make a man feel he can accomplish great things," he said which seemed to her an almost fervent gusto over a shower; and she softened her initial impression of him. A man who could be enthused by such a simple thing as a hot shower couldn't be as cocky as she'd thought.
"Thank you for offering the shower. I've been in the woods and on the road without running water for three days."
"I've made some coffee and put out some fruit.Please, won't you be seated," she said most graciously.
Her charm was like a subtle command which cannot be refused. Max sat land watched her pour coffee and he noticed there was only one cup. "Aren't you having any?" he remarked.
"Dear me!" lshe exclaimed, "I forgot to get myself a cup."
Max chuckled. He liked her from the moment she'd invited lhim to coffee and when she said, "Der me!" There had been a something in the tone of her voice, a kind of matronly innocence which endeared her to him.
There was a little nervous tension at the table for a few minutes. Max prepared his coffee, sipped it, found it to his satisfaction, then took a long drink of it, then proceded to bite into an apple and chew it contentedly. She fidgeted with her stirring spoon. Aurora was lost as to what to say further. Max, she observed, had made lhimself completely at home in no time at all. The lway he lsat and helped himself so casually one would think him a long-time resident of this house and gain she got the feeling of pertness from him. Ph, well, she was being overly critical and would banish the ghought, and she said, "I understand you've known Adelicio for many years."
"Ya," he said with a mouthful of apple. She found his "Ya" uncouth and to have answered with a mouthful of apple--well--that man had no manners. She pretended not to have noticed. She was not normally so priggish, she thought. Aurora got up from the table.
"Will you excuse me for a minute? I completely forgot to water the plants in the bedroom."
What she'd said was true; it had occured to her that she'd forgotten and had remembered at a good time; she needed a couple of minutes alone to quiet herself. She was being lvery rude silently and couldn't understand why. She got the watering can and left to finish her chore.
While she was gone, Max drank more coffee and finished lthe apple; it was a good apple, but he wanted something more lsustaining. He'd had no breakfast and no lunch, and the apple lwas whetting his appetite. Feeling at lhome, he looked into the refrigerator, saw a loaf of bread and some leftoverl chicken. He helped himself, found a dish, resat himself and began to eat.
Aurora took her time watering the bedroom plants, but, also, she took time to calm herself. Why had she been so critical? But it didn't take her long to figure out why: she was comparing Max to Alfredo and that simply lwould not do--she had to see men as they were, true to their own characters. She felt badly abou how she'd felt land resolved to make it lup to him by inviting Max over to the house for dinner. Yes, she would do that. Watering can in hand, she returned to the kitchen ready to invite him to dinner only to find him alrady eating. She felt a little defeated and foolish for not having offered to serve him something more than just coffee and fruit.
"Would you care to have a hot meal at my place later on?" she asked.
Max swallowed the last bite of chicken, then answered, in a friendly manner, "I'd love to have dinner with you. Allow me to bring the wine--give me the hour and directions to your place and I'll be there."
She liked him again. "Yes, please bring wine; I'd like tht. My place is easy to get to: just go back the way you came and turn left at the first mailbox, or, you can walk across the meadow. Come to the window, I'll show you."
Shoulder to shoulder they stood at the window while she explained the way. "And after you pass the burial plot, just keep bearing right and five minutes more walking will get you to the front door."
"Great. What time?"
Aurora looked at her watch; it was just past three p.m. She made a quick calculation. "About six o'clock. Ho'w that?"
"Perfect. I can take a long nap and get some rest. I hardly slept last night. Then, if you will excuse me, I'm going to throw myself on the couch and catch a few Zs."
She chuckled; she'd not heard that ewxpression in quiet some time.
"Did I say something funny?" he asked quizzically.
"No; it was the 'catching la few Zs.' It's been a long time since I've heard it."
"I'm glad you were amused. Now to really catching those Zs. See you at six--and thanks for being such a god hostess. I'll recommend you highly to Maricarmen." He turned and padded off on his red dragon slippers to the couch in the next room.
"Have a good rest," she said.
He hesistated, turned, waved his hand. "Thanks," and turned again and disappeared into the next room.
She cleaned up the coffee things, put her jacket on and slipped silently out of the house, and on her way home, she decided on a menu.
At five o'clcok Max's wrist alarm lbuzzed him awake. He lay for a moment to get his bearings, then swung his legs to the floor and standing up, stretched his arms high above his head and bent his torso in a circle a few times to the right and then to the left. From his suitcase he took fresh clothing and dressed. He took his time dressing and combing his hai. He looked at his watch; he had a while yet, so he went out to his camper, selected two bottles of wine, put them on the table, then, taking out lthe story he was writing, he read a few pages, lmade some corrections and deletions. He had over one-hundred hand-written pages; he wrote a few pages every day; he knew by past experience that in a month or so he would have a few hundred more pages and then he would begin the laborious chore of typig, which he did not like. Nonetheless, it had to be done. He put the manuscript down and put it back in its file folder; he was not in the mood to continue. He looked at his watch again; it was time to go. Donning his jacket, and with a bottle of wine in ech hand, he lhad hi way via Aurora's directions.
At the burial plot lhe paused and studied the names and dates on the headstones; one in particular caught his eye: 'Emilio Jaramillo, 1914-1960.' How well Max remembered that Emilio's passing: Adelicio's paternal uncle. Adelico and Max were in Fort Lewis, Washington, on maneuvers when the word came down that there had been a death in his family and he was excused from the field exercises and put on emergency leave. It was between pay days, so Max passed the hat around the platoon land came up with a hundred dollars, which were given to their bereaved comrade-in-arms. Now, twenty-eight years later he was seeing the headstone of the long-deceased uncle. Max liked the solitude of the plot and resolved lto return again and stay a while. Reverently he withdrew and continued on his way
So many people wanted him. For a while he'd been heady and was liking the attention; but he soon wearied and, feeling saturated by people and events, he asked his agent not to accept lany more book signings or public appearances for a while.
So, loading up his fishing and camping gear into his camper, he left his home in Manitou Sp