Traffic was stop-and-go out of Albuquerque but, unlike Ruben’s truck, the Jaguar could take care of itself. This left me with nothing to do but relive the horror of the last two days. Twenty miles outside of Santa Fe I had a panic attack and pulled into a restaurant parking lot. I couldn’t breathe and it felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest. I was suddenly sure I was going to die and I was afraid and yet surprised that it even mattered to me. I took several deep breaths but it didn’t seem like I was getting any oxygen. I felt lightheaded and rolled the window down. I began to cry a little. I got out of the car and walked around the parking lot, huffing like a man that’s just run a marathon. I imagined that people were looking at me from their cars, that they knew what I had done. I took their offhand glances as accusations.
Forty minutes later I was pulling up to a Motel 6 outside of downtown Santa Fe. I paid for only one night. I didn’t know much about how the police tracked people, but I figured I had to stop using my credit card. I hoped that Julie could help me but I wasn’t sure what I was going to tell her. I walked to the gas station across the street and at the ATM I tried to take all the money out of my account. A message appeared on the screen telling me that I had a $300 per day limit.
With $300 dollars in my pocket I went back to my room and lay down on the bed. “At least I killed him,” I said. “You have to give me that.” But it didn’t make me feel any better. I was responsible for Anne’s death and the death of our child. If I’d just stayed away she would’ve been alive. The baby would’ve been alive. Had she never met me she would’ve still been alive. I didn’t think she would’ve believed her life with me had been worth the price she’d paid. Had she foreseen her fate at any moment during our time together she would have chosen another course. But, to me, knowing her now seemed worth every misery in my life, whether real or imaginary, past or yet to come. Despite the pain, which, alone in a darkened motel room, I thought--wished--would kill me, I would have suffered immeasurably more to have been her husband for one day, let alone the few short years we were married. At that moment, I would’ve gladly given my life just to hold her once more, to have one more conversation, to say three more words. “I am sorry.” Foolishly, terribly, I’d taken it all for granted. I thought of the night we’d been introduced at a party for a mutual friend who’d just won the Pulitzer Prize. I’d tried to impress her with the writers I knew, the places I’d been, the things I’d seen. She’d led me out on to the balcony where we were alone. I thought I had her. Then she told me that she didn’t care who I’d had lunch with or what beach I’d stood on, all that mattered was that she’d seen herself in me. She had me. It had all seemed so right then and now, in this place, I couldn’t imagine how it could’ve gone more wrong. However it had happened, though, I had done it.
I was almost asleep, which seemed the only mercy available to me, when my phone rang. It was Ruben. I looked at the clock. It was almost time for him to go to work. I didn’t answer; I just turned off the ringer.
I woke up at 5 AM, got dressed, and walked over to the 24 hour gas station on the other side of the parking lot. I bought a bottle of water, a small, overpriced box of Tylenol, and a peppermint patty. I went back to my room, washed a couple pills down with the water then ate the peppermint patty. I slept from about 5:45 to 10 AM then cleaned myself up, got dressed, and checked out. I didn’t know how I’d face Julie and I had no idea how I’d carry on a normal conversation, all I knew was that I had to; she had become my only hope. I suppose that somewhere inside I’d considered whether I might just take her down with me, but I didn’t think of that now. Instead, I got in the Jag and headed toward downtown Santa Fe. I had about a half hour to kill before Julie arrived, which was just what I wanted. I walked slowly through the streets trying to feel like I was on a planet with other people, like I had blood in my veins, like I was alive. I bought some coffee and forced everything about the last couple days back to the furthest reaches of my mind. It wouldn’t stay there long, I knew, but I might be able to pretend for awhile.
I was sitting on a bench in the plaza when I saw Julie coming toward me. She was smiling, walking quickly, and wearing an old sweater. It occurred to me that she was perhaps older than I’d initially thought.
“Hello,” she said, sitting down next to me.
“Hi,” I replied. Then I waited for the inevitable.
“How was your trip?”
I’d been preparing for this. My voice may have said, “Oh, it was okay. I was there for business. My agent’s office is there,” but I did not. I quickly asked her how the book club meeting had gone and she laughed.
“Oh, it was fine. We started out talking about the dangerousness of Captain Ahab’s obsession with the white whale and how it threatened the lives of the whole crew. Then someone said that all obsessions were dangerous and someone else wondered if the whale even existed and then it got too philosophical for me. I just want to read the book, you know?”
I told her that a story about fishing was just as valid as one about the perils of monomania. I’d long since given up trying to weave grand philosophy and sweeping metaphor into my own work. Any perceived symbolism or hidden meaning in anything I’d written was wholly the invention of the reader. I didn’t mind when this occurred—I was happy about it, of course—but it’s not why I wrote. Now I doubted that I’d ever write again. My own tale had become too tough an act to follow. “So, you remember seeing me at the mission?” I said, changing the subject.
She seemed a little embarrassed. “Yeah. And you remember me, don’t you?”
“Yes, I guess I do.” I tried to smile. “I waved at you at the coffee shop.”
“I know. I saw you. I thought you’d come in but I wasn’t sure if I wanted you to or not.”
“So you didn’t wave back.”
“So I didn’t wave back.” She pushed the sleeves up on her sweater. I expected her to continue, but she was quiet.
“That’s okay,” I finally said. “I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to come in or not either.” She gave me a look. I could almost feel her growing more distant. “I mean,” I continued, “I didn’t know if you were with that other guy or not.” She bit her lip and looked away. “I got your message. I take it you found him.”
She looked at the ground for a moment and said, “Yes, I found him.” Then she looked at me: “He’s my brother. He’s six years younger than me. I was concerned about him.”
“Did something happen?” I asked.
“No, he’s fine.”
“Just looking out for him then?”
“Something like that.” Suddenly she stood up. “Listen, I don’t really want to talk about this right now. I’m going to get some lunch. I’m starving. You’re welcome to join me if you don’t have anything else to do.”
I didn’t have anything else to do. “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind a bite,” I said, although I wasn’t in the least bit hungry. “What do you have in mind?”
We ate at a place called the Cowgirl Pick-up and I mostly answered her questions about San Francisco. It was an effort to talk casually about places like Golden Gate Park and North Beach, places that had suddenly become freighted with such terrible meaning, but I did the best I could. I asked her where she worked and she told me she helped operate a gallery on Canyon Road. She asked me where I lived in town and I told her I didn’t know.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means that I’ve been staying in motels. I wanted the desert to permeate my writing so I’ve just been driving around out here.”
“Are you writing about the desert?”
“Not exactly.” I took a drink of my iced tea. “But Santa Fe seems like a good place to write--there’s so much art around--so I thought I’d stay awhile. You don’t know anybody with a room for rent, do you?”
She thought for a moment. “I might. Let me talk to someone.”
I paid the bill and told her it was a retainer for her finding me a place. She laughed and told me she had to go to work, but that if she found anything out she’d give me a call. Otherwise, she told me to stop by the gallery around 5 o’clock, when she would be closing up.
“It’s the Golden Horse Gallery, just before you get to Delgado.” (CONTINUED)
Alright, a couple things. First, I'm going to start posting two chapters at a time or this is just going to take forever. I like the idea of speeding things up and, of course, one of the lovely things about the internet is speed. However, with that comes a (further) reduction in editing. So, keep that in mind and if you notice problems with continuity, grammar, bad plot lines, etc. please let me know. I may or may not make revisions. So, that's that.
The photos from this post were all taken at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. Taos Pueblo is the oldest continually inhabited community in North America. People have lived there for something over a thousand years. Crazy.