(CONTINUED) I was making my way out of Santa Fe, passing by the plaza in the center of the city, when I saw the grey-eyed girl sitting on a bench. Sleep deprivation can make me overconfident and blustery and wholly irrational. A little bit insane, really. Besides that, I don’t believe in coincidence. So, I turned down a side street, jumped out of the car, and made my way back to the plaza. She was still on the bench when I approached and I tried to think of what I’d say but was too distracted by HER to pull my thoughts together. Dressed in jeans and the same black leather coat, her brown hair pulled back, and now wearing glasses, I was reminded of why I’d spied on her from the San Miguel Mission in the first place. With that episode in mind, I decided to gamble.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for the Pink Adobe Restaurant. Do you know where it is?”
She looked at me, but I could detect not a glimmer of recognition. Beside her on the bench was a paperback copy of Moby Dick.
“Yeah, just follow Water St. here down to Old Santa Fe Trail and take a right. It’s only a few blocks.”
I’d ignored every word she’d said trying to come up with my next line. “Ah, thanks,” I replied. A moment passed while I weighed my options. Then: “Moby Dick, eh? Wonderful book. One of my favorites.”
She picked the book off the bench and looked at it. “Some friends of mine started a book club. We’re only reading the classics. Nobody ever seems to read them unless they’re forced to.”
I laughed. “I’ve always thought school beats any love for literature out of most people. I mean, Moby Dick can represent whatever, but why not just let people make up their own minds. After all, it’s fine if it’s just a big, smart fish.” I was running out of time. I had to bait the hook, so to speak. “Anyway, I read Moby Dick whenever I’m looking for inspiration for my own work.” I held my breath and thought, “Ask, c’mon, ask.” A second passed.
“Are you a teacher?” Bingo.
“No, I’m a writer.”
She sat up a bit on the bench. “Really? What kind of stuff do you write?”
I wanted to say that right then I was writing nothing, that I’d sunk so far down that maybe calling myself a writer had become a lie. Instead, I said breezily, “Oh, fiction. Mostly I guess you’d say they’re morality tales of a sort. Not wildly popular in terms of sales, but the critics are kind to me, and I’ve found a loyal audience.” I didn’t mention that I suspected I’d probably lost that audience for good.
Then I got a break: “You know,” she said, “some of my friends in the book club are working on their own stuff. I think they’d love it if you stopped in to give some pointers. We’re meeting at noon.”
“Are you writing?” I asked.
“No,” she laughed. “I’ve never written a thing.”
Too bad, I thought. But I had to go to Albuquerque anyway. After all, I had a plane to catch.
“Unfortunately, I’m flying out in a few hours.”
She shrugged. “Oh well. It was a thought.”
But I wasn’t going to just walk away. “I’ll be back though.” I had no idea whether that was true or not. There was still no sign she remembered me from the Mission, even after my initial prompt. “Why don’t I give you my number and you can call me when you’re going to have another meeting and I’ll see if I can make it.”
She took a pen out of her pocket and wrote my name and number on the back page of Moby Dick.
“Tom Gould,” she repeated. “Would I find your books at stores around here?”
“Well, it’d be Thomas, and, yeah, you probably would. At least at the more run down ones.” I smiled, then looked at my watch. “Listen, I have to go, but please call me when you’re getting together again.” Then I lied again: “I love to talk about writing.”
“I’ll call,” she said. “We’ll probably meet the first Tuesday of next month. I’m Julie, by the way.”
“Very nice to meet you, Julie,” I replied, then waved goodbye and walked quickly back to my car, abandoning even the pretense of going to the Pink Adobe. Now I’d be late to Albuquerque, but I thought I’d still make my flight in time.
I pulled into long term parking at the Albuquerque airport, next to a Buick Skylark with a flat back tire and six months of grime covering it. I wondered if my car would eventually join it, a forsaken vehicle that’d lost its owner. I looked wistfully at the black 1974 Jaguar XKE that I’d bought with my first real book advance.
Top photo is Tucson, AZ, obviously, and the middle shot is Gray County Wind Farm, Montezuma, KS. The bottom pic is from near Mammoth, AZ. Photos taken on expired movie film stock.