INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO
What does it mean to destroy your mind or your faith by walking too many paths? The teachers, the gurus warn you about this. Surely it can only mean it will destroy your mind or your faith for believing in the one the teacher wants you to believe in. But if seeking destroys your mind/faith, do you want that destroyable faith in the first place? And if it destroys all faith, perhaps the human mind/faith is meant for something else, something beyond mind and faith. Like driving north, I thought, up the highway from mountain to mountain in the last decade before 2001.
She was Chinese-Peruvian crossed with Yugoslavian-Jew and carried a Japanese-Anglo Saxon name, Keiko Sumisu Johnson, but called herself Juniper Johnson, or JJ for short. She was hitch-hiking along, high up in the Cascades. I picked her up in Packwood, one of those wide-spot-in-the-highway mountain towns and left her off in Paradise on the south side of Mt. Rainier. She made me think of the Chinese-Irish baby with a Polish name I had baby sat for once in a while along with Sugar's baby in Austin. Eurasians, I was inclined to think, were the hope of the world.
She had luminous, black, fried-egg eyes and a fine chiseled mouth, and she thought she might go sit in a cave, just for the day, to see if the mountain would "talk to her."
"Caves are the 'mouths of mountains,'" she said, "and 'crevasses their ears.'" She was quite convincing about her mythology, though I don't know if it was Native American, Incan, or self-inflicted by too much weed. She said that in her backpack were forty small packets of bio-diversity seed that had been her payoff from some organic farm she had just been kicked off of because, though she was a good worker, her 'sexuality' was a disturbing influence among a bunch of guys who were all trying celibacy.
"It didn't matter, of course that I was celibate, too," she opined. "Longer than any of those creeps."
When she got out of the car in Paradise, she immediately ran into the snow fields and lay down to "make an angel." It was fresh snow. Winter was coming.
"If you're ever in Brawley, Texas," I said, "look me up," and I drove off circling around the mountain to go further north.
Surely it is more comfortable to settle into some old mind/faith, than to travel endlessly on the road of doubt. But who knows where the highway of doubt might lead?
As a seeker, can you settle for less? Did Buddha? Did Christ? Did Gandhi? Vivekananda says: "I accept all the religions. . .I worship God with every one of them. . .Difference is the first sign of thought. I pray the sects may multiply until at last there will be as many sects as human beings."
Gandhi said: "Be the thing in the world you want to see."
When I got home to Everett, thirty miles north of Seattle, a letter from Havana was waiting for me at my father's. It told me the world had been raining down on her, thunder, lightning and hurricanes. First her mother had gone batty. Her mother had hardly spoken to her in five years, so you could maybe not have blamed her if she had not invited the batty mother into her home. But she did. The batty mother, of course, knew nothing about it anymore, knew nothing about anything anymore. Then, more of Havana's animals began dying, bing bing bing bing. A young friend chopped off his foot. The guy she was doing private duty nursing for was failing fast and would be in a nursing home within the month. Her truck died. Her trailer got blown by the wind, over a ridge down a canyon. The insurance company was skeptical. She was suspicious, too. "But I'm not going to think about it too much and let it debilitate me. As ever, H."
I read her letter and then returned to reading Al Gore's book on the environment. I was so impressed that I had finally met a thinker of global magnitude, truly global magnitude. It gave me some faith, just a little faith in the future of the human race. I had spent a decade or two searching for world history books, world art books, world civilization books, Buck and I had spent part of our time searching -- it's one of the things that drew us together -- for those who could see the world as one. So when Gore's book turned up at Father's, and he wanted to loan it to me, I rejoiced, even though, because of my traveling, I hadn't had a chance to vote, even absentee, for this new vice-president. I also rejoiced in our new president, and his strong, outspoken wife. I wished Buck were alive. He would have rejoiced, too. Hallelujah!
Was that hope?
Hope, like any other addiction, it seemed to me increased by what it fed on. If I had it I wanted more. If I had human company, I longed for it. If I had sex, I wanted more. If I had food, the taste of it incited new cravings. That's the nature of addiction. If I don't, on the other hand, have human company it doesn't -- the being alone -- bother me too much.
To be able to stop when you still want more may be the definition of happiness -- or non-addiction. But I didn't necessarily feel I needed to be happy as the winter approached. Just surviving was enough.
I took Buck's picture out of my wallet -- or let's be accurate -- I didn't carry a wallet, it was just a rubber-banded packet of a couple of cards. So I slipped Buck's picture out and propped it on my bedside table where I stayed -- in my best childhood-friend's house, visiting.
She, Kathleen, who was a social worker, thought when I told her all about it, about Buck, about No Palms that I had to go back to the desert and bring Buck's murderers to justice. I had to wade in like Perry Mason and solve the crime. "Not real," I thought, but didn't tell her that. I listened, nodded and adopted an expression of guilt, to say nothing of contrition, as if I myself had murdered him, my best pal, my God, my mentor. She suggested re the Scott, Scott and Jacob connection. . .
"Coincidence." I was quick to correct.
". . . whatever. What is more logical than to eliminate the heirs if Pop's brother wanted the ranch."
I gagged. I had thought of BB as "greed," I hadn't really considered him as a murderer. Not of his own brother. I couldn't believe that. I couldn't.
"And the other brother? Austin?"
"He died a long time ago, totally an accident."
"Check it out."
"Oh, I'm sure. Houston was there. Houston is the most. . ." I paused to find out if I was telling the truth. "He's the most honest of all the Brawleys. Honestly, Kat, he is."
"I'm just tossing out possibilities."
"In the Himalayas," I said without knowing why, "when a holy man takes his vows, he lies in a coffin for a few days, gives up his name, his past, all his memories -- dies. And is born again." Maybe it's time, I added silently to myself, for me to go to Tibet.
At "home" I discovered I didn't have a family. I mean they were all self-sufficient, not missing me. Willing to supply a few -- I'm sure sincere -- minutes of commiseration about Buck. And then my father had to go to the office where he volunteered as a S.C.O.R.E. consultant. My sister had to take her sixth grandchild to the doctor, because the child's mother, one of my nieces was a single working mother, who came in while I was having breakfast with her mother, said, "Hi," and went off to work with a new boyfriend, on the back of his motorcycle. My brother was a lawyer, and he had to keep more and more clients on retainer to pay for his big house. Et cet ta ra, as Havana would have said. Upwardly mobile like the rest of the nation, they were all successful, and suffering. Suffering like everyone today, realizing they couldn't have every whim they could think of, but had to save their money for the really important things, like a new TV for my sister's youngest afterthought, for his very own room when he came of age at twelve; a new motor for the speedboat at the lake; a horrendous dentist bill by the eldest daugther of my brother by his first wife. She, the daughter, had been to a regular dentist for a root canal. It cost $850, which she didn't have, and it still ached. So she went to one of the New Age practioners. He said it was mercury poisioning she was suffering from and redid all her teeth, both dentists ignoring, of course, the stress of trying to meet their bills, $9,000 all told, out of her annual income of $6,000.
Just the facts of life.
I had been longing for a little, maybe Emily-Dickinson-like-extended-family. Where I might be able to sit down, bask in a some parental love, or sisterly reminiscing. But there were no warm fires, or evenings round the dinner table. The doors swung open and shut like the two-way doors at an old west saloon. In. Out. "See you!" "Later." "Have a good time." "Later." "Love ya." Everyone had their own agenda. I had mine.
Which is to say, being lost I needed the sense that someone cared. Or could stop for just a little while and ask: "How are you?" and wait for an answer.
For some reason, not very rational, I thought I might find nurturence back among the people I had been born to. I had never found it there before, but hope doth spring eternal. Illusions do live on and on and on. And the winds were fierce that winter. The Puget Sound area had never known anything like it. All the lucky people stayed inside, cozy, warm, and listened to the rattling and the moaning of the turbulent air.
Then one day, when the sun did shine, right out of the clean swept air, I thought of going to visit Johnnie Beaudeauin. I guess it was watching his tape, thinking about it. I hadn't really been thinking about him, but perhaps my subconscious had. I really hadn't known him very well. But I had always been intrigued by his unusual generosity. He never really had much to say, but he was one of those people you can just feel the warmth coming from. Buck had liked him, liked him enormously. Buck had told me that even before we arrived in No Palms, Johnnie had already started to dig around in the political mess. He had lived there for quite a while. Maybe he knew something I didn't know. Maybe he knew some other way, as Kathleen urged, to bring the guilty -- even if the law was corrupt -- to justice.
"I mean we all believe in honor among thieves and murderers," Kathleen had said, "But the justice system does function, somehow, sometimes. People have won cases. You've got to keep trying."
"But there's no body."
"They've got his jaw-bone."
"You don't understand." Nor had I told her about the box of bones in my drawer at the ranch. I didn't want my best friend to think me strange.
"You don't understand, Gloria Maria. You have to keep trying."
And that's where I had cast my eyes down, like a fallen woman and acted contrite. Damned right, I didn't understand. But maybe I could ask Johnnie. The one who helped the homeless, the hungry, the hospice -- maybe he could help me.
So I announce to my family: "I have to go see someone in California." Tight hugs, happy hugs. They're all so relieved I have something to do, some place to go. "So sorry you can't stay for Christmas." "I really can't." "You sure." "Just can't. It's still weeks and weeks away, I've got to go." They didn't know how much I hated Christmas. The exchange of things nobody needed or wanted. So back into the trusty Ford, and I'm off for another 2,000 miles. I go down the coast.
I stop the first night where the river meets the tide at the mouth of the Columbia. Overhead the gulls wheel and cry. I watch the sun go down into the perpetual mist. Next day, I stop again to stare at the great rocks sitting in the swirl of the ocean just off the edge of Oregon. In California I wind in and out of the redwoods, down the Russian River, through the wine country, down through Petaluma where I see an antique shop painted black, whose white lettered sign advertises: "Dead Peoples' Stuff." Now there's an honest merchant, I grin to myself. I stay a few nights with friends in the Bay Area. We have a good time. We laugh and giggle. I'm more than two years a widow. Recovering nicely. I could no more tell them the truth than. . .
Then on down 101 and down 5, hurrying away from the Bay Area to Pasadena. On 210 I head toward the desert, out 10 to 62 to No Palms. I throw my gear in at Havana's at two in the afternoon.
Not a peep, not a sound. Havana is working, a note says, but there's no mention of Mom the bat. It was so quiet I could hear the buzzing lazy-afternoon bees in the November desert.
I drove on out to Twentynine Palms to Johnnie's place. "Closed for the Day." He kept the oddest hours. I had never been to his home. I looked in the phone book. No listing. Maybe he lived out of town. I went back to his shop. Still closed. The one next door, to the east, was also closed. On the west, in a dry cleaners, I found a woman. Hot and tired in the November heat she was a young Chicana woman. She didn't know where Johnnie lived. But she thought his wife volunteered at the library sometimes.
"Marilou, she's at the library, I think, in Yucca Valley."
I called over there. I asked for, "Marilou Beaudeauin."
There was a long pause, then a voice that was very soft and very abrupt said: "Yes?"
"I don't know if you'll remember me, but I'm Gloria Brawley."
A pause, then even a softer and shorter, "Yes?"
Her mono-syllabic urgency stopped my impulse to be friendly, to chat with her. I had never met her, or maybe I had. I used to go to the library frequently. But all I said, softly and quickly, too, was, "I wanted to talk to Johnnie."
"He's not at his shop."
"I'll call him."
"And. . .?"
"He'll come to the shop."
"I'm sorry to trouble you."
"He'll come to the shop."
But she had already hung up.
As I replaced the receiver on the dusty phone on the outside phone-stand on the highway, I was wringing wet with tension. Marilou's voice was as tight and uncommunicative as I'd ever heard a human voice, as if the supervisor of the Lord was breathing down her neck right there, counting overtime minutes. Was it fear? Was it anxiety? Surely no one in that cool, quiet, well run library could mind a personal phone call that much.
I had a cup of coffee, and when I got back to the computer shop, Johnnie was already there. He was calm and grinning and very pleased to see me. I'd been thinking for twenty minutes about the strange behavior of his wife, but I didn't know if I could ask him about it, so I said, after a warm hug, after I had pushed him away again to arm's length: "I have your tape."
He frowned a little trying to remember what I might be talking about. "Want a beer?" He led me to the back patio, and opened the cooler, took out two beers and pulled their tabs.
"Buck never showed it to me, it was in a safety deposit box."
"I'll be damned. Why do you suppose he saved that?"
"Johnnie?" The beer was cool and bitter, it felt so good in my mouth that I wondered why I didn't usually drink it.
Johnnie seemed to enjoy it, too. He was looking out over the desert, peacefully, his face as serene as I remembered it. "Hmmm?"
It seemed like I had never left and there was nothing to say, Buck would be back in ten minutes to pick me up. It was as if not a minute had passed since I last sat in this patio, and nothing had happened, nothing more than a minor glitch in our #1 Mac -- any payment for the repair of which Johnnie waved away. I didn't want to bring up murder, I didn't want to spoil the mood.
"I have this 13,000 acre ranch now. Buck's ranch." I paused. "What'll I do with it?"
A long pause.
"I don't know."
"It'd be kind of hard to put it on somebody's lawn," he smiled.
"Someone wants it."
"Do you want to give it to them?"
"They already have maybe three or four billion, and a few square blocks of Manhattan."
"You can be sure they really need it then -- maybe more."
We both chuckled. Another long pause.
"Unless of course you want to stress yourself out thinking of some good to do with it yourself."
"I've thought and thought, I'm not so sure I'm very good at doing good."
"Keep thinking. It may come."
When I arrived at Havana's that night she laughed at my haircut, said I looked just like Sindy when Old Man Neuman broke. . . She stopped herself mid-sentence. She gave me a couple more bones and told me a few of the more recent antics of the local law.
I finally interrupted her: "I have to do something about Buck."
"Honey, you can't believe what they're going to put you through. It's grisly. They'd rather keep an unsolved mystery on the books, even the good guys, than snoop in their neighbor's woodpile."
"This is supposed to be the twentieth century, Havana."
"Tell me about it. I couldn't even get the San Bernardino Star to come down here and write an article about a whole newspaper dropping dead, let alone its proprietor."
"Havana, we know who killed him. You do, I do. At least some of the people involved."
"Maybe a little of that, too."
"And we're waiting for. . .?" She paused. "Good question? Huh? Do you have any idea how much stuff is buried out there in the desert? They can break a toe over stuff they won't stop to investigate. I don't particularly want to be the cause of breaking someone's toe." Then she added, "We got a recall going now on Dingbat and her devoted spouse. And Giorno. If that works maybe. . ."
"I can give you a list of names."
"You don't have to give me a list of names."
We both sipped our coffee. "Your Mom?" I asked.
"My sister took her on. I guess that'll last for a while."
"Come visit me in Texas, I got a ranch now."
When I went back to see Johnnie about Buck he said there wasn't much I could do. That he was doing what he could. That he did work closely with Havana.
I was really surprised. "She never mentions you."
"Glory, things are very complicated here. Nobody says too much."
"When I talked to Marilou. . ."
"She was frightened out of her wits."
"But, before she even knew it was me. . ."
"Take my son to your ranch." It was abrupt. It was almost a command. His face was as strained as a man's might be who had just heard his death sentence. "He needs a new environment."
It was the most unexpected thing I'd ever heard. I opened my mouth to decline. I didn't know a thing about his son -- kids. Hadn't wanted any; didn't know how to talk to them. What the hell. . .?
"Is Marilou. . .? Are you afraid. . .?" I didn't know what to ask.
Johnnie pulled his hand down his face slowly, erasing the tension, readjusting his equilibrium. He was a master at it. It was a gesture Buck had sometimes used. But he'd never been as good as Johnnie at easing his tension. "He's fourteen. It might save his life."
"Take him now, you mean?"
"When you head back to Texas."
"But. . .
"You won't like him," said Johnnie.
"Well. . ."
I stopped myself from saying any more. Johnnie's kid? I thought. Him asking? Well. . . I wanted to ask why, but I could see if I pressed, he'd say: "Forget it. Never mind."
"Well. . ."
He knew my hesitation meant yes. "Don't tell anyone."
" Even Havana?"
"I'll tell her later."
"Okay." But the request put a real dead-end to our conversation. He didn't want me to ask the obvious questions. And he had never been known for his small talk. Pretty soon I said I had to get back to Havana's. I said I'd call him to let him know which day I was leaving. I hadn't thought about it, even. I had planned to stay in No Palms with Havana for awhile, maybe for Christmas. But I could see, with the cards I'd been dealt, I'd be moving on again. Soon.
As I was leaving, Johnnie said, "Buck's death will be resolved. You can be sure of it."
"What should I do?"
"I'll let you know when I know."
"What about your daughter?"
"She's at the head of her class. She'll be okay."
"She'll miss Adam," He took my hand, held it for a moment, "She's the one who suggested it."
Boy did I not like the kid. Adam. Not from the moment he stepped in the trusty Ford. I picked him and his pack up at Johnnie's shop about 5:00 a.m. the morning I headed back to Texas. The kid was sleepy-eyed, looked like he might have been crying. But from my first glance at him, I thought, he's not the type to cry, so maybe it was liquor, maybe it was grass. In any case, a hand clutched my heart. He was a husky lad with a mop of curly red hair, on his way to being tall, maybe as big as Buck, and, if possible, he was even better looking than Johnnie. His expression was of stone. He got in the car without so much as a word. Sat there while I said "Goodbye," to Johnnie.
We stood on the shop step rather awkwardly. Picking up a kid is not exactly like picking up a package. If he'd been a cat or a dog, I could have said, "What do you feed him?" But a sullen kid, whose daddy said almost nothing, who, inspite of saying almost nothing you could tell, loved the kid with his whole heart, wanted to mend something, wanted to make something right by sending his flesh, his boy off with a comparative stranger.
"Does he hate me already?"
"He's got some real bad friends here, Glory. I think there's a good kid in there still, down deep. Let him run around the 13,000 acres for as long as you can stand him."
"What if he gets in trouble?"
"You'll handle it."
"You got a lot of faith in humanity."
The phone was jangling away in the shop. Johnnie stepped in to answer it. He came back out in a moment. "It's for you." It was one of those cordless phones. He handed it to me.
I couldn't think who it could possibly be. "Hello?"
"God bless you," a soft, trembling voice said, and hung up.
I listened to the silence a moment. I handed the phone back to Johnnie. "Marilou?"
He nodded. There were tears in his eyes.
"Come visit," I said and left.
We drove for about 300 miles in silence. Now I don't mind the silence. And, since he was sleeping part of the way, I didn't even mind the silence with Adam. How did Johnnie Beaudeauin, about the nicest man I ever met, get a son he wanted to palm off on me, a recent would-be Texas widder -- not quite a stranger, but certainly far from his best friend? And her only experience with kids being a nine month stint as a auntie-nanny. I pondered that across California and into Arizona. How had the "Hi-jinks" Marilou I had heard described on Johnnie's tape turned into a ghost that could hardly speak?
About mile 301 the kid said he was hungry. I handed him a hunk of cheese. He threw it out the window.
"What do you eat?" I asked.
He didn't answer.
About mile 420, he said: "A hamburger."
I pulled into the nearest fast food joint. Not the drive-in window, mind you. I gave him $5 and let him go inside. I took a deep breath, and selected a green apple from an open box that lay on the seat beside me. Waited. He came with a hamburger, french fries, and what looked like a chocolate shake. We drove on in silence.
Nightfall came. Was I going to sleep with this kid in my car? You bet your ass I was not. But he sassed me for an expensive hotel when I pulled into the cheapest motel and asked for a room and a cot.
"Don't you sass me!" I said, grim. I mean we had set up a relationship already in the first 800 miles. Where'd Johnnie Beaudeauin get such a kid? Surely not as a reward for his good works. "You act like the worse kind of redneck, right out of the desert." I said, trying some of Havana's straight between the eyes.
"You a paid patsy for Dad?"
"How'd you get so nasty?"
"I'll grow on you."
"I bet." I mean he brought out everything bad in me. Uncivil, unconcerned, mute. I was thrilled I had not had kids. And I was horrified I had never grown up enough to handle a perversely antagonistic, pain-in-the-ass, fourteen-year-old boy.
Glory, I said to myself. Glory, what has gotten hold of you? How can you be so childish? How can this kid be pressing all those buttons you didn't even know you had?
But then I reminded myself that if even Johnnie Beaudeauin couldn't handle him, his own kid, then maybe I wasn't failing too badly. Perhaps God sends you someone every-once-in-awhile just to get your goat. Well, maybe Sagalen could handle him.
She had certainly been able to handle me.
The only thing he volunteered during the whole trip was, after studying my head for a long time, he asked: "You got cancer?"
Startled, I looked at him, but realized he was thinking about my hair. "No," I shook my head, "I just shaved it."
I had to turn back to look at the road shimmering across New Mexico at that moment so I couldn't tell if my reason or lack of a reason elicited from him any reaction at all.
Just about five o'clock the second day we turned in under the Brawley arch. I was thinking last time I turned in here, I was all alone and things couldn't be worse. And now, I had a young red-headed devil and things were definitely worse. I felt like maybe I should stop, open the car door and let him out like you do a restless dog once you hit your own home territory.
"Hey, Adam," I said, before we came in view of the house. "I really would like to be your friend." I owed it to myself to be at least that grown up. "This is a beautiful place and I want you to like it. You can be sort of a godson to the man who should have owned this ranch -- who never had kids, and to me who never did either." It was as stiff a little speech as I had ever given and kind of tight-lipped. But I got it out.
He didn't say anything, as usual. I didn't know what was going on beneath that stony silence in that scowling head. He did look around though, and I think he registered the beauty of the Hill Country, for the sun was out dancing on the land, and the high grass was tossing its wheaty head in the intermittent breezes. The greens had almost all become golds. The sky was graced with a few scudding clouds.
Sagalen had an agarita berry chiffon pie waiting for us. I mean that in itself was a statement. Agarita berries, in my estimation, are about the hardest berries in the world to pick. The traditional way to pick them, Sagalen had told me, was to take a baseball bat and a white sheet. First you spread the sheet around under the bush and then you hit the bush with the bat. The one time I tried picking them, I found it easier to pick the grain-of-rice sized berries one by one. That way you didn't get so many bird's-eye sized twigs, that you then had to pick out of your bucket one by one. Then the berries had to be juiced because the seeds were big and then. . .and here she had made a whole pie, just for the three of us. Even Adam expanded enough to ask for another piece. "Please."
We polished it off.
I gave Adam Pop Brawley's room. Sagalen had dealt with all the papers and all the personal stuff. In my absence she had appointed herself official administrator of the ranch. For all intents and purposes the land belongs to her, I thought. But still, when she wasn't in her office next to Pop Brawley's room doing what had to be done on paper and on the phone, she was in the kitchen, baking bread, making supper.
Adam went right to bed. He looked like he had aged under the two days of tension. I supposee I had, too. But before I got to bed, Houston came over to say "Welcome home." He wanted to talk about BB and what, it seemed to me, had happened a long time ago.
"He's got himself a scheme," said Sagalen to bring me up to date. "He's going to sue on the grounds that Old Man Brawley instructed Pop to divide the land."
"Which he did in 1920 -- he gave BB $100,000 for his first buy," Houston said to me.
"BB thinks the land is worth a lot more now," Sagalen offered.
"So's Manhattan," said Houston.
"He's also got something against Glory," Sagalen said to Houston. "Probably me. He wasn't at all pleased to see me." She smiled.
Houston came to stand beside me where I stood by the window, looking out at the empty porch and the one armed rocker. "He's never been known for his hospitality."
I faced him, and said: "I'm not going to worry, Houston."
"You're," he grinned, "a very bright, good-looking woman, even if your hair's a little short." And he laughed and Sagalen laughed, and even I cracked a smile.
But nonetheless he asked: "Where were you and Buck married?"
"Right here under this roof," I said, looking him right in the eye.
I unpacked my bags.
What else was I going to do?
Well, first of all, Adam had to go to school. I knew that. And since it was almost the end of November, it had to be quick, as Sagalen said, so he'd have some kids to share the holidays with. So, when Adam told me he had been driving since he was twelve, I decided just to go ahead and trust him. I said he could use the Ford and drive over New Braunfels' way by himself each day. I'd go with him to help him register, but after that he was on his own. So Sagalen and I took him over that first morning. And before we left him with John Charles, she told him to invite the Thomas boys back home after school if he wanted to. I guess she had phoned them, or their dad. "They'll drive you home in their pickup."
There was a second agarita berry pie waiting for them at four thirty. I didn't get a piece of that one. Adam liked it that much.
After a week of resting and walking, I went into Austin to the safety deposit box. I got the tapes. I brought them all home. It was my birthday, December 7. I was one year older than Pearl Harbor. Perhaps now was the time to do what I hadn't been able to do before: Look again at all that had gone on. I had seen or helped make quite a few of the tapes. I didn't expect any surprises, even though I had been surprised when I found Johnnie's tape among them. It still puzzled me -- and apparently puzzled Johnnie -- why Buck felt he had to fly that particular interview to Texas, keep it under lock and key.
My palms began to sweat and my heart felt squeezed just at the thought of having to relive those No Palms days. So I dawdled. Instead of watching them I cataloged them. I dated the ones I could:
1. HEZIKIA APPLETONCROFT September '89
2. JOHNNIE BEAUDEAUIN August '89
3. MRS. MATTHEW MARSHALL HALL
4. HAVANA JONES May '89
5. KATY NEUMAN May '89
6. BUD NORQUIST
7. ECKHARDT RICHARDSON
8. AFTER INJUNCTION April '90
9. JULY 31ST MEETINGJuly '89
11. VICTORY DINNER January '90
1. PROS AND CONS OF THE PIPE LINE -- LOCAL RADIO BROADCAST December '88
2. GRAD EXERCISES -- 29 PALMS HIGH (Shelia Beaudeauin - Valedictorian) June '89
3. TAPE SENT TO ME BY GIORNO July '92
I toyed with the idea of having Sagalen watch them with me. Did I need to see them by myself?
I was beginning to realize I had almost no resources, no internal fortitude left when forced to settle down by myself. What I had taken as adventure, always adventure, had been a perpetual moving on. Maybe Buck had tried to teach me that you can settle down, dig in, develop a few tap roots. How? Was I ever going to stop trying to handle the world alone?
To distract myself, to try to give out even an illusion of homey warmth, I began to watch television in the evenings with Adam. I watched what he wanted to watch. I did my stitching so I didn't have to pay too much attention to the trash that was pouring into his head, into my head. He liked the violent rock videos, all jerking movement and excruciating sound. Thank God I was almost blind without my glasses. We had a subdued Christmas. Neither Sagalen or I were interested in the holidays, but we put up a tree for Adam.
He, however, spent more time with the Thomas kids then he spent at the ranch, and he soon was included almost like a native in their peer group of about seven kids. They did come over to ride the horses. They came over to swim down in the blocked up stream. They swam all winter, even in the ice cold water because many of the days were sunny, even 80 degrees. Adam taught them to swim with their shoes on so they didn't have to feel the ooze and the goo. They came to hang around Peter Good and learn some of his old crafts and ways. They were nice Texas kids. Kids in Texas tend to be wholesome, especially small town, New Braunfels kids. I think they don't have much choice. And because they were courteous and respectful to me, soon Adam began speaking to me, too. It was as if the hostility of that drive from California to Texas had never happened. We had never spoken about it, we had never resolved it. It had simply vanished.
I had the videos in the house almost a month before I looked at them. The holidays and the new energy that came in the house with the young people diverted my thoughts from them. Finally one night, when Adam was out with some of the kids, I decided to look at one, the one I had put first on my alphabetical list. It was labeled: INTERVIEW WITH HEZIKIA APPLETONCROFT. He had been the Water Commissioner of No Palms before the bond issue was rammed through. He had been forced to retire, I knew, but I didn't know why. Then he had disappeared. Havana said he had moved to San Diego: "Who wouldn't if they could, just to get out of this badger's nest?"
I forgot about the idea of having Sagalen watch the stuff with me. After all she knew none of these people.
INTERVIEW/HEZIKIA APPLETONCROFT. Appletoncroft was sitting up on the dais Buck had had built for The Desert Eye studio. He was sitting back in the old red chair, in a kind of fagged-out way. His eyes were so dark, bruised looking, that I wondered if he had two black eyes. He sat there for a very long time. The lights changed a little now and then. I guess Buck must have been adjusting the lights.
"Hey, Miz Brawley!" It was Tommy Thomas in the hallway. I immediately flicked off the video with my remote.
"Yeah, I'm in here."
"The moon's full and we're going for a swim."
"I'm fifty-two and it's January."
"Okay, don't say we didn't ask," Adam shouted from further away.
"Have a good time."
In a minute I could hear the voices disappearing out the door, rising and falling across the field. It seems that the healing power of the Texas hills was profound.
And I had learned, perhaps, a little patience.
The phone rang.
It was Juniper Johnson.
"I'm arriving in New Braunfels on the first bus. It comes in around 9:30 tomorrow morning. Can you pick me up?"
"Yeah, you know, JJ. Paradise? Mt. Rainier?"
I was so surprised I couldn't speak.
"Is 9:30 okay?"
"Happy New Year."
"Well, I'll be damned," is all I could mutter, as I went down the hall, down the stairs, "I'll be damned." I went into the kitchen to tell Sagalen that we were going to have another house guest tomorrow. She smiled, she was pleased. And then I said.
"Do you want to come watch a tape with me?"
"One that Buck made."
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: email@example.com
Former Website address was: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~jhaag
Complete novel, approximately 80,000 words
Jan Haag is a novelist, poet, painter, textile artist, and former Director of National Production Programs for the American Film Institute.
INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO