“To look at any thing, if you would know that thing, you must look at it long…you must be the thing you see” (John Moffitt)
“Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don’t stare, it’s too risky” Seinfeld
All stories…end in death. Hemingway
This is draft 1 of novel with 7 Chapters, 1 for each day of week. See Chapter 1 (parts 1 and 2) for beginning of this philosophical murder mystery…
Day 2: Dies Solis (Sunday) (WELSH: dydd Sul): Baptism
Sunday is named for a celestial body at the center of our solar system; the closest star to earth. It’s been worshipped as a god by Egyptians; Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Incas, & Aztec cults; today the sun receives lip service. In astrology, ones fortune & temperament is predicted by the sun’s location at instant of birth. The sun is ~70% hydrogen, 29% helium, plus 1% other elements, and may be ~4.7 billion years old (predicted life span 10 billion years). Its core energy is nuclear fusion, then it becomes a red giant, & finally a white dwarf. Its symbols include the scarab beetle, heart and thymus, Leo the Lion, and in alchemy—sol niger, gold, helium, sulfur—and perfection of matter.
“Tell Me on a Sunday” (musical-Andrew Lloyd Webber-lyrics Don Black)
An absence of warmth or perhaps a presence of light woke me. It was Sunday; Jake was missing in action again. I partially unzipped the tent flap and stuck my head outside; beautiful and curious! Dawn in this forest resembled twilight evenings one special summer long ago. Winfred (Nainie) Rhyderth stayed with us the entire summer that year. Most evenings after dinner, when Theo, Wyatt, and I felt fat as ticks from second helpings of nainie’s rib sticking food, we would sneak out back. We’d play tag and statues until our parents yelled at us to be quiet. Then we’d retreat to low hanging branches in the generations old willow tree, watch fireflies, and wait.
She would appear just as the sun was lowering itself into the hills behind our house. Nainie always brought a pitcher of lemonade, dripping icy sweat. Her apron pockets bulged with crisp, buttery spiced or jam filled cookies. She would daub our wrists, neck, knees, and behind our ears with a salve that kept the bugs away. My brothers would drag the old Adirondack chair under the tree and plump the faded cushions. I’d haul the small metal table next to the chair and reclaim my seat.
From our perch in the willow’s branches (mine was highest; I was the best climber), we’d dangle dusty feet and shout: “Tell the tales, nainie; tell us the tales.” She would pass us waxed paper cups full of tart, sweet liquid, and recount stories about the wee people of her native Wales and the Tuatha of her nainie’s Ireland. She filled our heads with fables about doomed, brave knights; determined, pale-faced maidens; and the wizards and supernatural creatures that haunted, hindered, or helped them.
Nainie adapted some of her stories from two Welsh manuscripts: The White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest. Several scholars posited both books originated via a Rhydderch ancestor predating the time of King Arthur. The book’s titles included the words white and red because of the color of the original binding. There may have been other reasons these books were bound in those particular colors. Figuratively, it represented discord between England (white dragon) and Wales (red dragon) according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Serpents and dragons have been depicted in myths originating in Sumer and Egypt. Early stories describe the ouroboros, Usumgal, and Tiamat, and a host of minor dragons and serpents. Dragons are depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, appear on the standards of many kings, and were used as a substitute for devils and demons in stories like Saint George and the Dragon. A golden dragon is associated with the county of Wessex, and folklore from the town of Burley, near Southampton, tells of the Bisterne dragon, slain by a brave old man, though the battle physically broke him and he died shortly thereafter. Esoterically, the dragon is revered in Eastern cultures; to the Chinese it’s the yang principle of cosmic order. In the west, it’s feared and vilified, and is the guardian of hidden knowledge and hoarded treasures.
Nainie also related stories from the Black Book of Carmarthen, and alluded to another family link to the ancient name in the White Book. She shared with me wisdom and formularies from a little known ancient work called simply The Electrum. Its thin metallic cover, like its name, was a strange combination of silver pinwheel swirls and butter colored hieroglyphic-esque symbols. There were over 300 folio pages that crackled with age but were surprisingly supple to the touch. The front was divided into sections with headings like Grim Keys, Planes of Being, and Overworld Daemonics. It was written using a multitude of colored inks and script styles that ranged from spidery, tightly written cursive text to easy to read block letters. Some of the illustrations reminded me of drawings I saw in the Voynich Manuscript at Harvard when I was there as a guest lecturer.
It wasn’t until I was completing my doctoral that I understood the significance of nainie’s words. The tales she related about impetuous, sometimes reckless, proud people, who loved beauty, magic, and justice were likely our ancestors. They were attuned to both the dark mysteries and enduringness of life. The stories only hinted at the enormous, mysterious powers my ancestors wielded and passed on. My favorite story, however, was the one she told us about her own life.
*****+++***** Winny *****+++*****
Winifred Rhyderch was a fiercely proud, self-reliant woman, who had fought hard to ensure two of women’s greatest achievements in the 20th century—the right to vote and to make independent life choices, particularly where one’s body or property was concerned. She rallied against ignorance, prejudice, and five major wars.
In her native Wales, she was respected as a healer, a midwife, and a snake charmer. Had she been born at the turn of the previous century, she would have been labeled, like her nainie before her, a witch or cunning folk, and punished for possessing these strange talents. As a young girl, she threw the glassy runic marked stones her nainie had passed on to her, and interpreted its messages. She warned local farmers about upcoming storms and droughts, and suggested where they could find lost sheep and cows. She accurately predicted a United Kingdom victory seven months before the end of WWI. She could find lost objects and underground streams using a dowsing stick made of mountain ash or a pendulum, fashioned of nothing more than a length of hemp with a cylindrical, hand carved quartz crystal wrapped in copper wire dangling from one end.
The only snake that threatened Welsh farmers was the adder, specifically Vipera berus. Winifred would approach a black viper making low, cooing sounds, and strange, undulating gestures with her arms, then draw a circle round the snake with her dowsing stick and pick up the snake—barehanded. Adders employ an effective venom delivery system, and had been quite active in her village, killing several dogs, a few lambs, and a farmer’s calf.
My nainie had never been bitten; many thought it was because she possessed a prized adder hag stone; the Welsh called it a Gwiber Neldr. It was an oval stone, the size of a common hen’s egg, with a perfectly round hole, about an inch in diameter, through its center. The stone egg was greyish and scarred with odd symbols marks, dents, and imperfections. At a farmer’s request, she would catch and place adders in a grain sack. Later, she released them many miles away near an old spring. A few adders eventually found their way back, and were recaught or killed. Most adopted the new home she’d found for them. It was seldom visited by locals because it was overgrown with prickly thorn bushes, and mysterious silvery orbs that hovered and disappeared at will late at night when passing by the former cart and buggy path.
Soon after nainie arrived at our house that summer, we witnessed her amazing ability. She bagged eleven snakes that liked to sun on the rocky outcrops near where we played. I never learned if the snakes were venomous, though I doubt she would have captured and removed the snakes unless they posed a threat. She carted the wriggling bag to the quarry. We watched the snakes slither and glide sideways towards the precipice. She warned us to never try this on our own, in a voice firm and clear in meaning and unspoken consequence.
A few years later, she taught me her snake charming technique and gave me a small, hard grey stone about the size of a silver dollar with a hole through it about the size of a pea. There were zigzag lines on one side and hash marks and vertical lines etched into the other side. A thin, finely braided cord wad threaded through the hole, allowing me to wear it as a necklace. It was comforting to wear the talisman she gave me, though I’d never had occasion to test the skills she’d taught me. The stone still hung round my neck. I’d replaced the original brown leather cord with an18 inch slender braided cord and added a few nautical knots and beads.
Only nainie could command our total obedience and loyalty. Mother had little patience. If we were noisy or mischievous, she’d banish us outside or to our rooms. As far as dads was concerned, discipline was best left to the people he hired to watch and teach us: Miss Bryan, the riding instructor; old Mrs. Aurdy, our arthritic piano teacher; and Mr. Smythe (with a ‘y’), who tutored us in Mathematics, and wrote beautiful, wistful poetry about celestial bodies, purple stars, and amber planets in faraway galaxies.
Nainie married three times. Though dads always winced when she said it, she freely admitted she married once for spite, once for love, and once for comfort. Her first husband, Jacob McDevit, was a man from her native village that her parent’s forbid her to marry because he lacked the Welsh equivalent of backbone “asqwrn cefn.” No one was going to dictate whom Winifred Rhyderth could love or bed, so the couple scandalously eloped to London when she was barely 15. Nainie said he had great charisma and athletic prowess. In the first blush of love, or lust, as she later admitted, she was filled with a determination and exuberance only the young possess. Whatever qualities he lacked, she would help him cultivate, through sheer force of will, if necessary.
Soon there was talk of war; many men were enlisting. Winifred secured a job for her husband at a posh young man’s school, and hired herself out as a nurse and midwife. She thought longingly of Wales as she rolled bandages, and diagnosed and treated simple illnesses in exchange for money or bartered goods. She encouraged local farmers to plant more crops and pickle, preserve, and dry as much food as possible. Those that heeded her words were grateful for her foresight.
It was several years before she realized her parents had been correct. Jacob’s charming, carefree attitude was as much a part of him as was his sentimental, impractical heart and piercingly green eyes. She could no more add backbone than a rib or gumption organ. She did her best to keep him from overindulging in the strong brew the area was famous for, using a combination of herbs, psychology, and her own considerable charm. She put aside a small amount from his monthly stipend. Children with this man, she realized, would have compounded her mistake, so Winny drank a concoction of pennyroyal, bitterroot, and other herbs to ensure no child imbedded in her womb.
When the pill became an accepted method of birth control in the 1960’s, Nainie commented it was neigh well time, adding medical science still had some kinks to work out of their little invention. She passed her formula on to me. I can attest it works, without any unpleasant side effects except for the taste.
Jacob’s poor eyesight eliminated him from being conscripted; however, it left him with a vague sense of guilt he tried to relieve by bragging about his athletic prowess, about the shining days of his youth when could run further and faster than all the other men in his village. His need to recapture the easy, insouciant life he once had drew him to the pubs more frequently.
Every Friday and Saturday he joined his mates, the other misfits her majesty’s service rejected because of their age or infirmities. They drank mugful after mugful of the potent local ale. They didn’t stop drinking until they’d spent their last coin. Every Sunday, Winifred began the process of sobering her husband up so he could go to work. Often he’d blame her for forcing this life upon him, and several times, took a swing at her. She’d sooth his anger, sedate him, and help him to bed. The handsome young man who had made her eyes sparkle with desire was becoming a beefy burden.
One night in early December, he left the pub extremely drunk, telling his mates he was going outside to see if he could catch a whiff of the festive, exotic spice scented air the gypsy traveller’s brought. They were setting up for the winter fair that would be held in a few days. They laughed, and joked they didn’t give a tinker’s damn, and ordered another round.
The yeasty, nutty aroma of the newly untapped brew he’d been drinking had stirred old memories—ones he’d taken for granted. There was the smell of newly turned earth; the ripe, salty aroma of lathered horses; and the sweet rot of apples. He told a man he met outside the pub he could hear the lads in his village cheering as he heaved an oak pole into the air and sent it flying past the edge of cleared land. Jacob stumbled into the nearby park, and stretched out on a bench. His stiff, blue lipped body was discovered early the next morning.
Nainie buried him, packed up her belongings, and returned home. She was welcomed with open arms. No mention was made of her impetuous, unfortunate first marriage or ensuing widowhood. When I was older, I asked why she didn’t throw the stones or go looking for Jacob when he didn’t come home that night. She told me she had thrown the stones—and decided not to interfere. I sensed there was more she hadn’t told me. She refused to discuss her first husband any further.
Back in the bosom of the cloistered hills of Shebarra, the war seemed a distant evil. She contentedly roamed the marshes and hills, finding and selling herbal remedies, and adding to the modest amount of money she’d earned and saved while in London. Nainie ventured monthly to a neighboring seacoast town to order and pick up books of interest. It was also a way to be reassured the world was recovering from the madness of WWI. In the late 1920’s, she returned to London, and entered Nursing School. Shortly before completing her training, she met my grandfather, Edward Pendray. She described him as an intense, poetic man from an old gentrified family in Cornwall. The family had made a significant amount of money from Cornish mining. It was rumored they had been involved in smuggling, slavery, and other shady dealings in previous centuries. Grandad wanted no part of the family fortunes, but accepted a modest stipend, which came entirely from land leasing and farming.
Nainie described how much he loved the water and wide-open spaces. He planned to open a local archeological and maritime museum he would fill with seafaring artifacts from around the world, as well as local finds of curiosity. Winny thought that was a grand idea. Three weeks later, they were married, but with a provisio, that she keep her family name. He agreed. Together, they traveled to her home in Wales. Her parents graciously welcomed the tall, serious man. However, once the newlyweds left, they commented to each other that in some ways, he was as much a dreamer as her first husband had been.
Cornwall, whose shape is thought to resemble the head of a lizard-like prehistoric beast, sits at the southwest end of England. It offers amazing vantage points to other parts of the kingdom. From several high promontories, on a clear, sunny day you can look towards Ireland, Wales, and with a bit of imagination—the United States. Shebarra is located in the southwest part of Wales. Nainie said it was no coincidence that as children both she and her future husband would gaze with longing across the waters towards the place where each other lived.
They spent two idyllic months honeymooning in Scotland, Orkney, Isle of Man, and Ireland. Only after their return did he take her to his family’s sprawling mansion in Cornwall. She was coolly received, perhaps because of her humble background and non-humble demeanor. She and Edward didn’t want to live in the great house with the rest of the family, and there were no laborers available to build them a grand new house. My grandparents moved to a modest cottage the family owned in a nearby village. Over the years, they turned it into a charming home—with a formal gated garden in front, and a cobblestone, terraced garden behind the property. Edward built her a lofty solarium that allowed them a modest view of the sea, and at night, a magnificent view of the stars.
Behind the cottage, a well-worn path led to an open, rocky cliff top, where an occasional adder was spotted basking on the sun warmed promontory. Except for occasional, unexpected summons to the great house, they lived happily in their cottage. Edward opened his seafaring museum and nainie and he took trips to abroad to furnish its cases. Though nainie had stopped taking the pennyroyal potion, she didn’t become pregnant, and this saddened Edward. Once again, there was talk of war, heated parliamentary debates, and an increase in the number of refugees arriving via boat in the southwest corner of England.
On May Day the following year, my grandparents participated in the pagan festivals in Padston, and because nainie was bumped by the festival’s hobbyhorse, Grandfather told her she would give birth in nine months. She was aware of the custom, smiled at him knowingly (she was nearly three months pregnant), and agreed to let him hire a housekeeper to help manage the house while she created tisanes and potions from local plants and exotics grown in the solarium.
Edward continued to collect artifacts for the Museum. They stole every moment they could to be together. They understood Grandfather might soon be called away to serve his country. Six months later, Nainie gave birth to dads. Less than a month later, Grandfather left to defend his country and entered a pilot training program. He saw his son only twice during the next two years.
Winny insisted on continuing her nursing duties, and worked several days a week at a nearby convalescent hospital. She spent any spare time with her son, and wrote hundreds of letters to Granddad. Daily she consulted her stones and a worn deck of Tarot cards to try to decipher her husband’s future. The last time he was home on leave, she begged him to stay, to claim illness or mental collapse—she saw danger and death in the stones. Life, she reminded him, was not composed of granite; it was malleable, if he would only listen to her.
The following morning, he slipped away without saying goodbye. He left a note for Winny and his son. It said although he loved them more than he loved his country, he knew he must do his part. He professed his undying love and reminded her he was fighting to keep them safe—to keep the war’s fury far from those he loved.
He eluded his fate for several more months. On the day he was killed, nainie didn’t need to throw the stones. She felt and then saw a pearl gray, misty form, the same one that had appeared over the centuries to different members of the Rhyderth family. A bone-numbing, tearless grief enveloped her. Quietly, calmly, she visited his family to prepare them for the news they would soon receive. They didn’t believe her.
Several days later, when official word reached them, they accused her of wishing him dead, and demanded she leave Cornwall. They wanted nothing to do with her or her “questionable” offspring, and offered what seemed to be a large sum of money. It was, in fact, only a small part of the family legacy she and her son were entitled to receive. Winny refused the money, but did sell the cottage, which had been deeded to her by Edward, and the museum and all its contents. Once more, she returned to Wales, this time with my father, whom she’d named Edwynn. He was a handsome baby, with curly, soft reddish-brown hair, long, dark eyelashes, and pronounced dimples in his cheeks.
The village of her girlhood no longer existed. Her parents had sold their country home and moved into town. My nainie could find no comfort in Shebarra. Planes buzzed overhead, where once only gulls and snowy winged birds flew; fields and forests were pock marked with rusted machinery and mortar holes—the blackened scars of war. Her few trips into the forests of her youth were sullen, joyless journeys. She sat stiffly on rocky ledges, ate her simple meals silently—no longer conversing with the flora and fauna, and neglected to leave crumbs for the wee folk and fairy hordes.
Nan’s father died the following year. Though he was only in his early 70’s and seemingly fit, his death shocked her. There’d been no warning; she hadn’t been tossing the stones, reading cards, or allowing herself to be open to the natural elements. Her father had walked around the corner that morning to purchase a paper and a loaf of bread. Upon returning, he put the paper aside and dozed off in his rocking chair. Her mother tried to wake him for lunch, first by calling his name, then by gently prodding him. The paper fell to the floor; his body slumped sideways. He had died while napping.
Her mother died a few months later. Nainie suspected she had availed herself of a large dose of a potion nainie used very cautiously and in minute amounts to induce sleep when treating people in great pain. She quietly buried her mother and settled their estate. She had her fill of death and of her native land. With Edwynn, she traveled to America, arriving in New York in October of 1945 on a troop transport ship. Many were mystified how she was able to book passage on a war ship. Mother and son explored the New England coast of this new country for several months. She finally purchased a small house outside rustic, Brunswick, Maine. Its jagged coast reminded her of Cornwall and Shebarra, though that’s where the similarities ended.
Winny spent the next year getting to know the quiet, stubborn Yankee people. She volunteered at the local hospital and at various community and school functions. She donated money to the library and Historic Society. Her accessible manner and quiet beauty attracted the attention of Brunswick’s most eligible bachelor, who pursued her with a purposeful earnestness that consumed him. When he proposed, she told him she would never love him the way she loved the father of her son. She could, however, be a devoted companion and resourceful lover. If he accepted her on those terms, she would marry him. And as had with Edward Pendrey, she demanded she and Wynn must be able to keep the name Rhyderth. Though confused and a bit disappointed, he agreed to her terms. The following month, Winifred Rhyderth (McDevin Pendrey) married Henry Templeton. They remained man and wife for nearly 25 years, until Henry’s death in the mid 1970’s.
Henry was a good husband and stepfather; he and Winny did not have any children. Henry put dads through college and brought him into his business when dads turned 21. Nan would never let her son forget who his real father was, and what an exceptional man he had been. I think my father was confused as to where his loyalties lay. He adopted a formal, impersonal attitude to deal with his confusion. Or perhaps he simply took to the conservative New England way of life. In any case, never were mother and son more unalike in their character and personality. When my father selected a wife, he chose someone who was a mirror image of him, with a feminine edge.
If it wasn’t for Winifred Rhyderth, I might never have known people had the capacity to be genuinely spontaneous, frivolous, smart, and creative. My nan was one in a zillion. I never understood why she didn’t write down the glorious tales she embellished with her unique style and wild imagination, or the many adventures she related to us about the war, or the pace setting trips she and Henry took round the world.
During that special summer, beyond the fringes of the willow tree, I know I glimpsed the very beings nainie so aptly described. After all, she had frequently reminded us the world of fable and legend was never far away. It was just a matter of paying attention, of looking the right way at the right instant and trusting what you glimpsed was real. She emphasized we should never lose sight of what lay just beyond perception’s reach, as she had during the dark months following granddad Edward’s death.
Always too soon, the back porch lights would snap on. This was our signal to come inside, wipe off the day’s grime, and settle into our beds. We’d drag the furniture back in its regular place and make nainie promise to tell the tales again. Her eyes would crinkle and she’d say, with a slight Welsh singsong lilt, “go so you may grow, and in your dreams come to know—the Tuatha protects its own.”
***** +++ ***** +++ *****
The air drifting in was as chill as nainie’s lemonade. I was torn between a desire to burrow deeper into the down bag or venture out to relieve myself and greet the day. The stronger call of nature won. I pulled damp jeans over my long johns and checked for ‘whatevers’ in my boots and jacket, then grabbed the roll of toilet paper and ran to a stand of trees.
Jake had unburied the pan of trout and made a pot of coffee. He was flipping pancakes when I returned. He’d enlarged the ring of fire rocks, banked it with dirt, and built a new fire. Its warmth was welcome. With what must have been wry amusement, he watched me stumble back to the tent to fetch a cup and some toiletries.
He said, “Listen to the warble of the red-eyed vireos. They should be flying south instead of singing. Whistle to them Willy.”
“Warble; that sounds more like a screech. Just where were you Jake? I had to set up the entire camp, build the fire, secure the perimeter, and feed myself!”
He had the nerve to grin and say “Yea, I noticed the fire was sputtering when I got back, the perimeter was abandoned, and you were sawing logs. I trust you slept soundly?”
Then, from his squatting position, he peered up at me and barked. “Grab your plate, and try some of yesterday’s catch. Then we’ll talk about today.”
After quickly performing basic toiletries, I fetched my plate and held it out. The conversation went something like “What in hades did you do with the food I packed? I can’t survive here for a week on freeze-dried kennel rations and . . . um, this is good. Is this mountain trout? Pass those fritters this way.” He watched while I grazed. Then he wiped and seasoned the skillet and got his fishing and hunting gear ready.
“Let’s go—sun’s up. Time to hunt.”
“Whoa. Go where?” I stood and placed an arm on my hip. “I wouldn’t mind doing some exploring, after driving to the nearest little country store to pick up some hee haw basics, and I’d like to bath properly.” He was silent, so I continued. “Perhaps we can visit the stream where you got those fish. My hair smells smoky. Besides, I didn’t come here to kill little critters. I told you that.” I stuffed the last morsel of fish in my mouth, and yes, I licked my lips.
He said the jeep was parked for the duration, and we had ample basics. He also said I couldn’t bath anywhere near where he was fishing. He was heading out to bag dinner and enjoy all this wonderful wilderness and gestured towards the hill with his arm. “Are you coming?” he asked.
“To paraphrase Kirkergard, ‘Who are you? I want to see the director!’ I want the real Jake. This Nordic Neanderthal is not amusing.” I tried to strike an indignant pose. Jake continued to check his gear while I gulped down the remainder of the coffee.
I wondered if perhaps a subtle approach was needed to change Jake’s attitude and remind him of the real reason we’re here. I gave him a good morning kiss, followed by a long embrace and a full frontal frisk. He allowed me to remove his heavy vest and didn’t protest when I unzipped his jeans, peeled off my jacket, and pressed my slightly goose bumped skin against his. His heat soon removed my chill. My hands did clever things I won’t repeat, and soon we moved in a rhythm as old as the trees that looked on without comment.
We led each other into the tent like a push me pull me toy and did what come naturally to all living creatures. After, we lay side by side, hands intertwined. If only I hadn’t gazed at a book peeking out of my bag, and asked Jake “Why do you suppose the names and theories of the early women philosophers aren’t recorded? I’m sure as far back as Neolithic times, women developed complex philosophies to deal with their difficult lives. I bet there’s a woman, unpublished, but amazingly smart, who developed a philosophy of camping—and one for dealing with pioneer life.” I turned on my side and ran my hand along Jake’s muscled arm.
He extracted his arm. “This is where I say—oh no you don’t. You have five minutes to get your buns in gear woman—then I’m leaving.” Jake pulled up his pants, which I hadn’t been able to remove entirely because of his boots, and grabbed his shirt as he exited the tent.
I called out, ‘but this is supposed to be sultry Sunday, a day of rest…’ but I don’t think he heard me. I lingered for a moment longer in the fading warmth created by our body heat, and then reached for my woodsy smelling paraphernalia. When I emerged from the tent, the sun gleamed brightly. The trees sparkled with dew.
I was willing to compromise and said “Jake, how about you go fish-hunting and I’ll complete all the reading and note taking I need to do here at camp; I’ll even start the communing with nature thing. I’ll set up shrines to the animal, mineral, and vegetable kingdoms. Did you know it was Aristotle that named us Homo Sapiens? Then tomorrow, and for the rest of this adventure, I’m yours—to mold, bend, fondle, spindle. I promise to only talk about Hegel and Democrites after dark, and I won’t even sing the Phython’s Philosopher’s Song once. I smiled at him contritely and clasped my hands together.”
“If I’d gone through your luggage like I went through all the food garbage you packed, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Those books and notepads would be gone. Do what you have to. I’m heading out. See ya.”
“Well thanks for reminding me about the travesty you committed with my food—my food. I’m sure that was illegal. Because of you, I’m forced to subsist on probably polluted trout and hard tack.” My voice bounced off the trees as Jake moved across the camp. “Take your time Jake—take the next five friggin days. No problem. See ya next week! I’m heading back to civilization” Under my breath, I added, “I hope a grizzly mauls you. I hope one totally incapacitates your ass.”
I kicked some leaves and grabbed a towel and toiletry items and threw all the dirty dishes and utensils into a nylon tote. I vaguely recalled seeing a stream east of camp when I was standing on the ridge yesterday. I heard the water before I saw it cascading over a few rounded rocks, pooling into an area four feet in circumference before running on. The beauty of the fast flowing water was mesmerizing. I knelt and washed quickly in the pool, then plunged my smoky scented hair into the chill mountain water. The shock made my head pound. I quickly applied eco-friendly shampoo and lathered and rinsed my hair, cursing silently, hands numb. I dipped the dishes into the water and under the flowing water, and pulled out my hand warmer. I saw the on switch. After a few minutes, I felt better; my hair was wrapped in a towel and feeling was returning to my hands. Back at camp, I poked the fire. The temperature was dropping. The cheery sun, just like Jake, had performed another disappearing act.
I kept busy—moisturizer, mascara, a wee drop of dago red from the bottle. I fed kindling to the fire and made notes for the strategic plan I was developing for a Fortune 100 company. My hair was drying nicely thanks to the fire, but was absorbing smoke again. I munched on trail mix while I finished my notes.
What I wouldn’t give to be sitting inside a warm, dimly lit bar, with an arthritic Casablanca fan lazily stirring cigarette and greasy fried food laden air. I’d sip a dirty martini and watch staff rush by with platters dripping with bloody meat juice, loaded baked potatoes, and crisp asparagus spears swimming in melting butter. I’d hold up my glass and the barkeep would refill it.
I must have dozed off, slumped partly across the log next to the toasty campfire; lack of warmth woke me an hour later. The sun was slipping in and out of clouds. Jake hadn’t returned and I was hungry, so hungry, I chuckled, I’d been dreaming about food. I’d had enough; there was nothing to prove to him. I decided to take the jeep and head into town to enjoy a real vacation; I’d pick Jake up in a few days. I packed up papers and combed and braided my hair. Then I checked my zippered vest pocket to ensure my wallet was there, gulped down remaining morsels from breakfast, and scribbled Jake a brief note: Repaired to civilization to enjoy its decadent pleasures. I’ll return before week’s end, doubt you’ll notice my absence. Love and daggers, Willy.
The fire was nearly out. I threw a couple of dry branches on, poked the coals, and banked the fire. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience you Jaksey. I repacked my backpack, which was bulging more than before, and tightly rolled and attached my sleeping bag and ground cover. I rested the note atop Jake’s sleeping bag and zippered the tent front. It took fifteen or twenty minutes to reach the jeep. It was unlocked but the keys weren’t in the ignition. The extra set, which Jake kept in a small metal, magnetized box on the underside of the front fender, was missing.
I screamed some choice expletives and kicked a tire. I wasn’t spending another night in these miserable mountains listening to Jake bark orders. I would walk or hitch into town. I dug in my top vest pocket and pulled out my compass, which was smashed, no doubt from the spill I took yesterday. I reasoned if I headed towards the setting sun, I’d reach the main logging road in a few hours at most. From there, it was another few miles to the main road—less if I found a shortcut. I decided to scale the hill to the left of the trail to save time. The Australian Bush hat was lying on the floor of the jeep; I stuck it on my head, and smiled, confident that in a few hours, I’d be luxuriating in a warm bath, sipping pedestrian bubbly, and munching on toast points topped with Chattanooga caviar.
…to be continued, part 2 of Chapter 2