Thursday, July 31, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter One: A Vague Egyptian Myth

Frosted Glass



a novel










Michael J. Vaughn




John P. Rutledge, Editor

For my feminine side, Anne Gelhaus.

And for Robert S. Pesich, coyote laureate.




ISBN 1-929429-75-4




John P. Rutledge, CEO & General Counsel
HOQUIAM, WA  98550

DEAD END STREETâ is a registered service mark of Dead End Street, LLC.

Buy the book at

Your old life was a frantic running from silence.
The speechless full moon comes out now.


Chapter One

A Vague Egyptian Myth

I never should have gone to work that day.  If the onset of my period were not enough, I arrived at my desk and saw all those pictures of Maisey and Tanner looking cuter than children should be allowed, attacking me with their weed-like youth.  Especially the one of Maisey on her first soccer team, grinning loose-lipped at the photographer as she cradled one of those undersize pee-wee soccer balls.
Thus mesmerized by my own charming DNA, I was an easy setup for Derek, the sweet young intern from Santa Clara University, when he leaned into my cubicle, proffered a Van Dyck still-life of doughnut holes and asked, “Would you like one, Miz Lowiltry?”
That was when I lost it.
The signal making its progress through my forest of brain cells carried clear instructions: my mouth, vocal cords and related equipment were to produce the words, “Thank you very much, Derek,” after which I’d deliver one of my finest anchorwoman smiles, and my hand and arm muscles would gracefully extract two or three of the little fatballs for later consumption.  These were simple instructions.  But somewhere in the miniscule gap between the words “Thank” and “you,” my face began to rumble and quake like the Hayward Fault, a hundred little Richter tics that gathered into one humongous seismic wave.  Right there in the office – my office – I began to gush tears and emit strange animal noises, smack dab in the middle of the nine a.m. foot traffic.
I ignored young Derek’s quickly fading smile and stumbled to the nearest possible refuge – the women’s room.  Shielding my face from the four-basin-long mirror, I slipped into the handicapped stall, where I knew there would be hand railings should I need to drag myself up from the floor.
I settled onto the toilet lid, slid the door latch into its slot and reached into the black plastic dispenser for T.P. as flimsy as rice paper.  It was enough, however, just to have something to apply to my leaking face.  It was then that I began to reflect on the powers of visualization.
My company had sent me two months before to Akron, Ohio, where I took part in a seminar entitled “Visualization for Success.” The seminar leader was Hank Scallion, a tall, lanky Jimmy Stewart type with blinding horse teeth and long balletic fingers.  With perfect Iowa diction, Hank instructed us to close our eyes and form a picture of our dreamed-of success.  He then asked us to tuck that image away in our memories, so we could pull it back out whenever great anxieties or disappointments reared their malicious donkey-heads.
I do not imagine that my own inner hologram was the kind that Mr. Scallion had in mind.  Mine was a high wall constructed entirely of thick glass bricks.  The bricks were transparent but packed with deceptive little bumps and grooves, allowing my co-workers and colleagues only the vaguest image of my real self, an amorphous but polite, thoroughly professional woman.  If they wanted to try and chip it away with vodka gimlets and insinuating questions at some cheesy fish-market restaurant with nets hanging from the walls and black-and-white photographs of guys named Oscar and Leon hoisting two-hundred-pound swordfish in Baja California or Gloucester, Massachusetts, well tough shit, Pocahontas.  These bricks come down for no one.  If they ever caught half a second’s reflection of the real Sandy they’d tuck it into their snide little brass-button Harvard blazers for future use.  Forget it! My stuff on this side, your stuff over there, and just try to make me out.
There, on my porcelain throne, I stared into the moss-green neutrality of the stall door until it fuzzed out brick by brick into a solid column of crystal.  After a few minutes, the blood stood back from my face and my breathing leveled out at a standard Tuesday morning in-out in-out.
“Sandy? Are you all right?”
The glass bricks rattled as Shanili tapped her knuckles on the opposite side.  For a few seconds I considered the childish belief that if only I held my breath and slowly lifted my feet from the floor, perhaps she would give up and go away.  But she’d probably gotten the whole story from Derek, and wouldn’t leave me alone until she was sure I wasn’t sawing away at my wrist with a car key.
Okay, I thought.  This is where the real professionals hang tough.  Think about it, girlfriend – a little sobbing fit, that’s all.  It is still possible for you to save a little dignity here.  Just dream up some goofy little story, like maybe your favorite cousin from Athens, Georgia got killed in a train wreck last week and it just so happens that she was absolutely nuts about doughnut holes.  No, that’s not going to work. Let’s try an image. It’s you and Hank Scallion, and the two of you are sitting astride a pair of tall, lovely, snow-white camels in front of the Sphinx. While Hank tries to suck the spinach salad out of his big teeth you forge a connection with that graceful, serene stone face, pulling all those millennia of solidity and balance into your own expression.  I am calm.  I am enigmatic.  I am unfigureoutable.  Now smile for the camera, honey.  Wipe your weepin’ eyes and o-o-pen that stall door.
I should have known better.  A vague Egyptian myth had no business going up against Shanili’s chocolate-pudding eyes, possessed of more compassion than sixteen and a half Mother Theresas.  At the first glimpse of her concerned expression, her artfully furrowing brow, I collapsed onto my throne and let out a torrent of oh-so-personal, oh-so-embarrassing minutiae.  Expressed as a free-verse poem, it might have gone something like this:

Five years we were together
five years
and we had so much
and we were going to get married
at least that’s what it seemed like
I mean, you don’t take a girl from thirty-four to thirty-nine
you don’t take her to the edge like that, Shanili
you don’t spend a hundred and three Sunday mornings eating French toast with a woman
and then

He knew, right?
He had to know
(gasp, gasp)
the way I doted on my nieces
pictures all over the fridge
and the way I looked at big-eyed slop-footed puppies in pet-store windows
and smiled that special smile
at women pushing baby strollers
down Lincoln Avenue

And I said,
I hope our child has your eyes and my nose
and certainly your hair
because mine is uncontrollable sometimes
and I’ve tried that new henna conditioner but it just doesn’t

I mean, I know he’s a guy
but what does he want?
Cue cards?


(gasp, sob)
El Dumpo!
The Big Dumparissimo
and I am so alone, Shanili
I’m so alone
and I want to be a mother
I just want to be a Mom.

You get the idea.  And I suppose I could have limited my space-shuttle launch to a single victim, but as word got out that a destroyed marketing director was conducting a full-gonzo emotional meltdown in the handicapped stall, an outbreak of urinational need swept through the female office population.  Before I knew it, I found myself reciting my confessions to a dozen multi-ethnic faces gathered outside the stall, painted in expressions of sisterly sympathy.
I suppose I should have been grateful for all this Goddess-worship around my toilette du tears, but even as my feminine exterior filled up and smoothed out, my Wharton-educated, business-suited hardass self was back in Akron, conjuring one last bit of visualization with Hank Scallion.  Hank was flossing now, the Sphinx had turned into Mount Rushmore, and there at the feet of my lovely snow-white camel lay the remains of my glass-brick wall, shredded into powder-light piles as a squadron of Mexican gardeners marched our way, leaf blowers in the ready position.
Hank chucked his floss at them, yelled “Gudyam!” (which I suppose was Egyptian for “Giddyap!”) and disappeared in a flurry of camel-hoofs.  It seemed like a good idea, so I followed.

Photo by MJV

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Light on His Feet by Calder Lowe

A Prose Collection
Calder Lowe
(Dragonfly Press, 2014)

The rise of flash fiction has opened up a whole new borderland in writing, combining the clarity of prose with the hypereconomic compression of poetry. There is no more accomplished practitioner of the form than Calder Lowe, who has spent decades working either side of the fence, preparing for an ambush on the new genre.

What’s particularly striking about Lowe’s work is the music of her sentences and the precision of her word choices. The closest image I can conjure is that of a sculptor chipping down to the exact form hidden inside the marble. An excellent example is the final paragraph of “Deliverance,” the story of a toad who appears on the author’s porch the night of a despised uncle’s death:

“My lungs sought out the honeysuckle blooms tendrilling around the chain link fence and exhaled the perfumed night. The toad lurched toward the sprinklers’ mist and the mud – the mud took back its own.”

(Note the artful gerund-ing of “tendrilling.”)

The remarkable thing about this collection is that these little artworks are only the appetizers. The works range to clear-eyed memoir, prose poems and stories containing wild flights of imagination. My favorite, “The Bk’lyn Grrrl,” is a merry ramble through 1960s teenhood that manages to vibe Allen Ginsberg and Tom Robbins, rollercoastering around to an ending that smacks you in the face like cold water on a hot day.

The collection also has a fascinating light-to-dark ratio, careening from sweet remembrances like the title story (an elderly woman hires a male escort so she can remember the way the light fell on her late husband’s feet) to the dark confessional of “Crmson Lair,” in which a professor seeks revenge on a surly student. The final paragraph is as tasty as crème brulee:

“Kelly returned the phone to its cradle, kicked off her four-inch-high Manolos, propped her feet up on the top of her desk and began filing her long fingernails until they were sharp enough to pluck the eyes of a peregrine falcon in mid-flight.”

(Observe the crazy specificity of that last phrase.)

In a publishing world in which authors find their row and hoe it till they’re dead, it’s amazing to find such a buffet of styles in an 82-page collection. You’ll want to read it a few times over.

--Michael J. Vaughn

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nature Boy, Chapter Thirty-Two, Part Two: Solar Plexus

Buy the book on Amazon Kindle.

He continues along the south fork of Silver Creek, then climbs a low rise into the woods. He begins to hear the rush of water again, and finds a series of large stone steps heading downhill, equipped with a handrail made of pipes. A middle-aged Hispanic woman stops to rest, wiping her brow and smiling.

“I knew I would pay for all those downhills.”

“You’re almost there,” he says.


The steps take a rightward switchback and head toward a waterfall with a stately air, a massive block of black stone. This is Lower South Falls. A curtain of water slips from the straight-line top, 30 feet across, falls 93 feet and strikes a zig-zag rockface below, creating a web of white ribbons. Skye snaps a shot of this landing spot and walks behind the water, enjoying the feel of the mist on his face. He continues up the far side.

Skye passes a family with two young boys, happy to run rings around a Douglas fir. The adults give Skye weary smiles. He rises into the forest, away from the water, then enters a straight-shot tunnel through the undergrowth. He stops to take a close-up of the lush clover at the side of the trail.

As near as the map can tell him, he has just gone from walking down the south fork to walking up the north fork. The rise is subtle, but he begins to feel all the weeks of work at Joe’s in his legs and feet.

Drake Falls is a thirty-foot waterslide over a smooth bank of rock, Middle North Falls a slim, 106-foot sister to South Falls. Its trail cuts behind and far past the water, offering 180 degrees of photo angles, and also comes breathlessly close to the landing spot, giving a sense of the water’s power as it gathers speed and pounds onto its basalt anvil.

Twin Falls is roped off with thick metal cables, and Skye can’t even get within sight of it. The trail begins to steepen, and he decides it’s time to break into his water bottle. He mentally whips his legs forward, ever uphill, with nary a glimpse of a sexy ranger. He does, however, come upon a step in the stream that affords a trio of charming three-foot funnels. Even at the risk of forestalling his reunion, he ventures out on a ring of stones to get just the right angle.

He takes a deep breath and keeps pushing upward (reminding himself of the now-historic trek at Lake Tahoe), evergreens rising steeply to either side. A mile on, he’s about to give up on further waterfalls when he turns a corner and sees a large stripe of water dropping right out of the forest like a fairy spigot.

The vision becomes even more unlikely as he draws near. The spout pours over the lip of an overhang and drops 136 feet, landing in a small pool. What makes the falls (the North Falls) even more astonishing is the cave behind it, perhaps fifty feet deep. Skye follows a trail along the back wall – marked, again, with CCC notches – and settles on a bench directly behind the falls. It seems like the work of an illusionist, a thick column of water floating there between the actions of dropping and landing.

This would be the magic place, the place to catch up with Lindsy, a mystical cave echoing with water-rush, the air sparkling with vapor. But there isn’t a human in sight. He gets up, ignores the fatigue in his legs and continues to the far side. The ceiling of the cave carries the shape of a boomerang, the falls carving a notch at the elbow.

After an upward switchback, Skye spots the stream leading to the falls, and the spot where it disappears. He wonders how many foolish people have ventured out to take a look. A few minutes later, he hears the swoosh of a passing car and sees the North Falls parking lot, the one he drove past earlier. The rest of the loop trail is an overland return, devoid of waterfalls.

He’s disappointed, but he’s also tremendously thirsty, and delighted when he climbs the steps to the lot and spots a water fountain. After taking a long draught and filling his bottle, he returns to the trail. He’s about to head back toward the lodge when he spots a sign: Upper North Falls .6 mi. This brings two thoughts: one, that early Oregonians were not very imaginative when it came to naming waterfalls, and two, that if there was one more fall, a half-mile was a small price to see it. He follows the sign and crosses under the roadway to a level, well-tended path that follows the creek.

A few minutes on, he catches a glimpse of the falls in the far distance, and is intrigued by what he sees. He seems to have developed a waterfall aesthetic, just today, and this one matches up nicely. One long bend later, he gets the picture. The Upper North is a modest 65 feet in height. The stream is twenty feet wide, and freefalls over a table-like lip before splashing onto a jumble of basalt Buddha bellies. The water continues in a quartet of white stripes and drops into a surprisingly broad and dark pool. It reminds Skye of those waterfalls in commercials about Hawaii, and the connection is far from random – the darkness of the pool undoubtedly comes from the black volcanic rocks below. Adding to the charm is a higher ring of those same rocks, rising just above the water to create a sort of poolside patio. The ring begins at the center of the exiting stream and continues to a wall of rock at the right, next to the naked woman.

Spooked, Skye ducks behind a moss-covered log. When he peeks through an adjoining bush and discovers that he was not hallucinating, he reaches for his camera and ramps up the zoom lens. (He can’t recall if the shutter makes a noise, but at least he’ll get one shot before he’s found out.) The woman wades knee-deep into the pool (quite a feat, considering it’s basically snowmelt), scoops a double handful of water and splashes it over her blonde hair. Rivulets run the white skin of her back and over her generous buttocks. She webs her fingers together and stretches her hands over her head in a yoga-like maneuver. Skye clicks away as quickly as the camera allows, elated that he has gone undetected.

The woman turns to reveal a generous pair of breasts, bobbing with her movements. Skye zooms closer. When he finally moves up to her face, he finds a pair of eyes the color of the water at Hapuna Beach.

“Are you going to join me or what?”

He laughs and stands up. “I’m not done!” He keeps clicking, two feet closer with each shot, until she meets him at the edge of the basalt patio. He takes her wet body in his arms and does his best to warm her up. He kisses her for a full minute, then he breaks into laughter.

“You set me up.”

“Damn right I did. Kathy texted me that you were coming. I’ve been looking over my shoulder all afternoon, so if there’s trash on the trail it’s your fault.”

“You definitely know how to make an impression.”

“More of this,” she says, and kisses him. “More.”

After a few more minutes of reunion, Lindsy dons her olive drab uniform, slings a canvas garbage sack over her shoulder and leads him to the rim trail. For the first half hour, Skye is too overwhelmed by sensations to talk: Lindsy’s hand in his, the sharp smell of cedar, the lowering sun silhouetting a criss-cross of mossy branches. After a while, he recalls an important piece of information.

“Your ex-husband says hello.”

Lindsy’s cartoon eyes grow even rounder. “You met Thad?”

“And his lover.”

She shoves his shoulder, nearly knocking him over. “No!”

“I was speaking at an art opening in Boulder.”

“Whatever for?”

Skye considers the significance of this question. She doesn’t know. These two words comprise a thing of such beauty that he decides to preserve it a little bit longer.

“I was on a panel of art critics.”

“Oh. I didn’t know you wrote about art. I mean, visual.”

“Just enough to not really know what I’m doing. Anyway, Thad’s boyfriend, Charlie, is a remarkably understanding man, and very caring.”

“Good. That’s very good.”

He hears a note of sadness and gets her to stop, on a wide spread of trail.

“What’s the matter?”

She wipes at a tear and drops her bag. “I didn’t… do as well as Thad. Typical mistake, walking fucking cliché, actually. I overcompensated for the effeminate Thad by finding a macho douchebag named Eli. Jealous type. Actually punched out a guy at a restaurant for looking at me. Forbade me from leaving the house without him. It was getting a little scary. I was telling Kathy about it one night, and she invited me to live with her. Eli went to work the next day, and I left. I would have loved to see the look on his face when he got home.”

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“Don’t be. Look where it led me.”

“You make a good point.” He picks up her sack, and they continue their walk. The path comes to a paved walkway near the road. A pair of bicyclists churn past, looking winded.

“So I guess you’ve had some adventures,” she says.

Skye laughs. “I could write a book. In fact, I am.”

“That’s great! I will be your first reader.”


She reads the hesitation in his answer. “Were some of those adventures… romantic?”

“Oh, well, I…”

“It’s okay, Skye. How could I hold it against you? What with all my nonsense.”

“Yes, romance. One, especially.”

“What happened?”

“She left me.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, then laughs. “But not too sorry.”

He squeezes her hand. They walk another hundred feet.

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, what brought you… here?”

He stops, takes her hand and places it at the bottom of his ribcage.

“Your stomach? You were hungry?”

“No,” he laughs. “Solar plexus. The very center. It’s actually a network of nerves that shoot out like rays. That’s why they call it solar. The way that people usually pursue lovers is to list all of their qualities, like an inventory sheet, to see if they add up to a winning lottery ticket. I could do that with you. Quirky sense of humor, amazing knockers, killer smile, sharp as a tack, eyes the color of the water at Hapuna Beach.”

She winces, as if this last one has pierced her.

“But that’s not what happened. I came here because my solar plexus led me here, because I’m the moon and you’re the Earth. Not ‘Lindsy’s cute’ or ‘Lindsy cries at movies’ or ‘Lindsy’s a demon in the sack,’ but for no particular reason at all or because, behind all the mathematics lies the base axiom that I seem to love Lindsy Charrish.”

This last phrase surprises them both. He stops, she stops, and they stare at each other.

“I’m sorry, I…”

“I love you, too,” she says, and smiles.

That shuts them up for a long time. They walk slowly. A trio of cars swoops past in a tight convoy. The sun disappears over the western hills. Skye hums a few bars of “Nature Boy.” They reach the long parking lots and work their way to the gift shop. Everything’s dark and closed up, but Lindsy discovers a key taped to the door.

“How sweet!”

“What is it?”

She holds it to her lips and smiles. “Francis left me the key to the honeymoon cabin. Running water and everything! Come on.”

They cross a wide lawn lorded over by a Douglas fir. The topmost branches form a spiked silhouette against the sky, a blanket of clouds painted white by a hidden moon.

“I’m flattered that your friends seem to know so much about me.”

She stops, looks into his face and starts to cry. Skye draws her in, looking past her to see a cloaked figure on a low branch. The figure sprouts wings and sails away toward the lodge. A great horned owl.

“Lindsy? What’s the matter?”

She pulls back, her eyes brimming. “I thought you would never get here.”

She buries her face against his chest and goes on weeping. Her song climbs his ribcage and brings a smile to his lips.eyHey

Photo by MJV (Upper North Falls)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nature Boy, Chapter Thirty-Two, Part One: Silver Falls

Buy the book on Amazon Kindle.

Solar Plexus

Skye removes the plastic shield from his face and gives it a wipe. Geronimo hands him a pink rectangle.

“You take a picture? I want my wife to see.”

“Oh! Yeah, sure.”

Geronimo stands with the paint sprayer and smiles.

“Okay – action shot!”

Geronimo attacks the wall. Skye snaps off a couple more and finds a safe place to stash the camera. He returns to the shield, which is largely a lost cause. He has spent the morning covering Joe’s apartment in primer, and the ceilings are killing him, raining a mist of white onto his head. He’s annoyed at everything: the uneven spray, the sweat building up in his bunny suit, having to stay overnight and wake at eight to beat the building’s nine-to-five noise window.

The only positive is Geronimo. Joe picked him out of a crowd of dayworkers, basing his choice mostly on personality. Geronimo is a short, square dynamo, delighted at each new task, crafty in problem-solving, and eager to please.

None of which, for Skye, is helping. He was so enjoying the solitude of paint-stripping, and the obligation of managing an assistant is chewing at his innards. What started out as a time-filler has turned into a chore, and the only reason he’s still here is a desire to see Joe finish his new home. They day before, he found himself lugging heavy boxes of tiling, back aching, arms failing, thinking, What the hell am I doing?

When they reach the end of the final wall, Skye discovers that the too-small bunny suit has developed a lengthy rip over his crotch. He takes great relish in ripping it from his body like a tearaway suit. Joe returns from the front room, looking concerned.

“It’s not really covering. Why don’t you take a lunch, and then we’ll put on a second coat.”

Skye feels the marrow draining from his bones. “Joe, I have to leave. I am utterly burnt out.”

Joe looks disappointed, but seems to realize that it’s a reasonable request.

“Okay. I’ll take the afternoon shift. Why don’t you go downstairs and shower up?”


Skye places his sweaty work clothes in a bag and steps gratefully into the spray of the shower. He comes back out a new man, towels off and heads for the guest room. Given the changeable nature of San Francisco weather and Joe’s work schedule, Skye packed quite a bit of clothing, and he realizes that he could, ostensibly, take off on a road trip. Right now.

He takes the new Bay Bridge to Oakland, its single tower spooling out white cables like some kind of carnival ride. Feeling the onset of rush hour at his heels, he cuts across the East Bay to Martinez, where he crosses the yawning mouth of the Sacramento River on the Benicia Bridge. For Skye, whose escapes tend to the north, the Benicia’s long, low arch is the gateway to freedom. Just beyond the turnoff to Napa, he pulls into a fast food place and proceeds to fall asleep in the parking lot. He wakes up an indeterminate amount of time later and gets back on the freeway, dining on cold fries and a watery Coke. Next are the long, lonely stretches of 505, a farmland connector between Vacaville and I-5. The sun approaches the westward mountains, casting the endless fields in tangerine, and loosing a million bugs to flicker their last on his windshield.

An hour later, he passes the Sutter Buttes, the weirdly misplaced volcanic mountains plopped into the middle of the Sacramento Valley (called by some the smallest mountain range in the world). What’s more notable is what’s going on behind it, a sliver of pumpkin peeking over the far Sierras. Skye recalls his latest purchase, a tiny but powerful rectangle of Nikon camera in his writing case. He pulls off on a farm road and braces his arms on the top of his truck, pushing the zoom as far as he can. The results are excellent, the Buttes cutting a jagged silhouette in the foreground.

Another hour and he stops in Corning, pulling into the sprawling parking lot of the Rolling Hills Casino. He strolls the fields of slots, looking for something amusing, but the machines have all grown new complexities, so he settles for one that features African jewelry. The combinations are as enigmatic as sudoku, but it seems that a certain combination triggers an extra cycle of rearrangements. He’s playing at a satisfactory break-even pace when this extra level kicks in and keeps going, till he’s staring at a full screen of tribal chieftains and a flashing message that reads BIG JACKPOT! In short, a hundred dollars on a nickel play. As opposed to most gamblers he knows, he takes this as a good time to cash out.

Skye takes his winnings to a straggling little bar in the back, offering a full menu with its cocktails. He sits at a table beneath a television and orders a crème brulee, which arrives with Jackson Pollock syrup squiggles all across the plate.

He takes a spiral notebook and a pen from his writing case and sits there a while, savoring the custard, considering the beginnings of things.

Skye pushes uphill, planting his steps, kicking at rocks, his temple covered in sweat. He passes a gaggle of vacationers at their houseboat barbecue, laughing their heads off.

He works his way up to the meeting with Sarge, but stops before he gets to the hazardous ride with Bubba. To write that will take some energy, and it’s time to hit the road.

Skye’s modus operandi is to drive until the drowsiness kicks in. At times, the energy lasts all night. Others, he gets eyeblink hazy before ten miles. But he does have a destination in mind: the first rest area at Shasta Lake, which offers the waking traveler a bracing view of the reservoir and a smattering of tree-shaded picnic tables. He glides through the sleepy lights of Redding, makes the long climb up Mountain Gate, and is soon at his destination, teeth brushed, grocery bags screening his windows, ready to sleep.

But he can’t. Some devilish mixture of fucked-up circadians, road fever and his truck’s narrow bench seat has him conducting an endless progression of poses: feet on the floor, feet under the steering wheel, reclined in the passenger seat, head tucked against the door. And he cannot sleep. After an hour, he gives up, takes down the screens, cranks the engine and drives north, crossing the long bridge over the lake, a moontrail striping the water like a crosswalk.

This time, the goal is Mt. Shasta. As he spots the white flanks, as the sharp triangle of the Black Butte cinder cone looms ahead, something remarkable happens. An enormous stormcloud leads a front in from the north, and the impending dawn paints the underside in streaks of purple and ochre. He loses sight of it as he rounds the Butte into Weed and the high desert beyond. When he pulls into a rest area next to the Weed Airport, the sky is on fire.

Now, his body wants to sleep, but sleep is out of the question. The cloud is an airship tethered above the ridges north of Shasta, aflame with maroons, mandarins, bronze, lemon, copper. Skye digs for his camera, stands on a rock and shoots over the airfield fence, hardly believing that what he’s recording is real. He turns around, if only to rest his eyes, and finds burly gray clouds fringed in cabernet, merlot, burgundy, zinfandel, the kind of scene backing angelic choirs in baroque paintings. Across the highway, hovering over a semi, is something he’s never seen, a pre-dawn rainbow. A Mexican woman passes him. He says, “Have you ever seen anything like this?” She smiles as if to say Yes, she has.

He returns to the airstrip and takes a shot with a plane in the foreground, its nose aimed at the spectacle. The mother cloud shifts in the high winds, tucking smaller clouds against its belly like a spaceship retracting its landing gear. The sun slips its yellow eye over the mountains. Skye takes one last photo and heads to his truck for a much-needed nap.

At noon, Skye attains some semblance of wakefulness and climbs the Siskiyous. He descends to a Black Bear diner in Medford, Oregon, walks past a dozen post-church families in the lobby and seats himself at the counter. Ah, the privileges of the single class. He orders the New York steak and eggs and walks into the rain a very full man.

Skye stops at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville and shuns the gambling entirely, taking a latte to the lobby to work on the next section of his memoir. It’s the ride with Bubba, and he keeps laughing at his own descriptions, which he takes as a good sign.

As his pen arrives at the Springs, his cell rings in with a voicemail. It’s Claudia.

“Skye! I just got the weirdest thing. It’s your check for two hundred grand to the East Village Women’s Shelter. There’s a note, female writing. And I quote: ‘Thank you for your generous donation. As the scroll will be used to raise funds for the shelter, however, we felt that your gift would be somewhat redundant. Thank you again for your interest in our cause.’ No signature. But I’m betting you can guess who our anonymous buyer is. Call me if you want, ya rich bastard.”

Chelsea. The news stays with all through Southwest Oregon, which he’s always thought of as Ireland with mountains: green, bucolic, one grass valley after another, framed by evergreen ridges. During his years in Seattle, he joked that he lived in Washington as an excuse to drive through Oregon. He’s a little relieved when he departs the climbs and curves for the broad farmlands north of Eugene. The views to the east are perfect portrait landscapes, receding foothills covered in lush grass, volcanic outcroppings, lines of evergreens suddenly cut off, the signature of logging. A light rain speckles his windshield. He digs into the glove box for a cigar and lights up. A red-tailed hawk perches on a fencepost, giving him the eye. A broad, flat field opens up on the left, sheep grazing in scattered cliques. A front of clouds rises up over the coastal range.

His meditation comes to a stop at the onset of urban territories – the active, populous northwest corner of the state. The thickening traffic combines with his wounded sleep-cycle to call for a halt to the day’s driving.

A brown sign piques his interest, but he passes it too quickly to figure out why. A few miles later, he sees a sign more germane to his situation – Motel 6 – and pulls over into Salem.

He takes a long soak in the odd triangular bathtub, dries off, and sits on the edge of the bed to consider his temptations: 25 cable channels, a coaster ad for pizza delivery, fluffy-looking pillows. But he knows it’s a trap. He needs to go out and work himself back to a normal bedtime. He powers up his Kindle and searches for a coffeehouse: Broadway Coffee, a mere three miles away.

Just north of the downtown strip, the Broadway occupies the lobby of a former office building. The room is huge, furnished with a fireplace, leather armchairs, couches, a dozen tables and an espresso counter of blondewood cabinets and stainless steel machinery. When the clean-cut barista hands him a latte with a classic rosetta poured into the foam, he nearly breaks into tears.

“You don’t know! I lived in Seattle for five years and then moved back to California, and down there, a latte like this is like spotting a bald eagle in a shopping mall.”

“I’m glad you like it,” he says. “Still, I think you’re going to have to drink it.”

“Oh I will.” Skye shakes little curtains of cocoa around the rosetta, then looks skyward and realizes that the coffeehouse has an open-air second level. And a third. It’s a freakin’ tabernacle of coffee. He takes out his notebook and pen, ventures a sip – the rough-bark edge of the infused foam – and watches the tip of his pen as it lowers to the white.

Two hours later, he stops. He has heard of this time-tunnel effect from fiction writers, but has always ascribed it to overactive imaginations. With journalism, one is forever tethered to structure, word count and the regular interruptions of quote- and fact-checking. He credits most of this particular two-hour wormhole to the Springs, which conjures such vivid images that they fly from his pen in rapids of blue ink. And then the departure, the stealth truck, that moment at Walker Lake. He stops, finally, as his alter-ego walks into the casino at Winnemucca. He suspects that Lindsy would lead him into another time-tunnel, so it’s best to take a rest and enjoy the comforts of his motel room.

Lindsy. Lindsy. Her name knocks at his door until he receives a vision. The brown sign on I-5. The sign that said Silverton.

He fires up his Kindle and looks for Thad’s email address.

Skye sets out the next morning and enters road construction hell. He follows the detour signs for five miles and finds himself back at the Motel 6. Finally, he heads south on I-5, U-turns on an overpass and looks for the brown sign, which leads him onto eastward 213. Still, he feels nervous that the housing tracts are going on for so long, until he tops a rise and finds a spread of rolling farmlands. After a seeming eternity, he enters Silverton, which offers a classic downtown of early-century buildings with ambitious ornaments and old-school storefronts. The fire hydrants are painted in red, white and blue; or baby blue with white clouds, or the black and white spots of a Holstein cow. A sign sits atop a grassy knoll, offering a greeting to Friendly Silverton. The lampposts carry small banners for the Oregon Garden and Silver Falls State Park.

Just past the final store, Skye spots Oak Street and turns right. He finds an address to the left and pulls in at a petite yellow square of house. The gutters and drainpipes are painted white, giving the place a crisp look, and the flowerbeds under the windows offer stalks of lavender and bushes of rosemary. The smell is terrific. He’s halfway up the walk when a plump, friendly-looking redhead pops from the front door.

“Oh! I’m so glad you’re here. The washer is in the garage. It’s the spin cycle again. It’s rocking like crazy, and… Damn. You’re not the repairman, are you?”

Skye tries not to laugh. “No. I’m a friend of Lindsy’s.”

The smile sinks a little. “What sort of friend?”

Skye hesitates, trying to think of some kind of definer for himself. “Did she mention a trip to Hawaii?”

The smile returns. “Skye! Oh Lord did she tell me about you. Sorry, we’re old college friends, so I probably have a lot of information that I shouldn’t have. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you! But she’s at work right now. She gets back about eight.”

“Where does she work?”

“Oh, um, she works at Silver Falls.”

“All right. How does one get to Silver Falls?”

“Well, head back through town, and just before you reach the end of the main drag, you’ll see a sign telling you to turn left. Fifteen miles later, you will be among the descending waters.”

“Must be a nice park.”

“You have no idea. But I don’t want to spoil the surprise. You’ll see.”

“Thanks. Hopefully, I will see you later.”

“Yes. I hope so.”

Skye returns to his truck, feeling Kathy’s eyes on several parts of his anatomy. He’s happy to be getting such good reviews.

He gets the directions right and ends up on a winding road that passes several farms and climbs a wooded hill. None of it looks like state park material but soon he downhills into a grove of clean-looking evergreens and spots the familiar yellow-on-brown signs of parkdom. The first announces a parking lot for the North Falls, but he senses he’s looking for something a little more central.

The evergreens grow thicker, and he follows the road through a series of long curves. He sees a sign for Silver Falls Lodge and pulls in to a series of long, empty lots. He parks at the very end, among a dozen other cars, and walks to a kiosk hosting a large map and a description of the park. The most arresting line is the one promising “ten waterfalls in eight miles,” which seems preposterous. But Skye has a blonde to locate, so he rounds a corner past the lodge – workers setting up tables for the lunch crowd – and heads for a gift shop housed in a woodsy cabin. Off to his left, he sees what looks like a canyon rim and hears the sound of rushing water.

The shop smells amazing, and he quickly discovers why: a display of handmade soaps in bay rum, eucalyptus, green tea and linden. The rest of the store offers photo-cards, refrigerator magnets, walking sticks, collectible shot glasses and anything else you could slap a waterfall on. Skye heads for the front counter, where a tall, vaguely effeminate man rings up an order for an elderly woman.

“Thanks,” he says, and hands over the change. “Whew! Two customers in a row. This must be my rush.”

“Hi. Is Lindsy around?”

“Oh! You know… Oh. Wait a minute.” He reaches for a slip of paper under the register, checks it, then smiles. “Okay. You pass. I feel very guilty, actually, because I sent Lindsy out on trail-trash patrol. Ha! Sounds like ‘trailer trash,’ doesn’t it? Anyway, she left about an hour ago.”

“Why guilty?”

“Oh, I cranked my ankle yesterday, so she had to cover for me. Plus, it’s Monday and the weekend tourists have probably left a veritable ticker-tape parade out there.”

“Do you know when she’ll be back?”

“Oh, um… maybe four hours.”

“Shit! Do you think I could catch her?”

“Sure. She’s picking up trash, you’re not. Here’s a trail map. Just start at the South Falls out yonder and continue along this loop. And I know you’re eager to find Lindsy – who wouldn’t be? – but do be sure and actually look at the waterfalls. They’re quite… Wait a minute. Are you Skye?”

“Well, yes.”

“Oh my God! The sighs that girl has released on your behalf. Well go! Go get her. Here, have some trail mix, and a bottle of water.”

“Oh, you don’t…”

“Oh yes I do! All that sighing is driving me nuts. Now go! Out of my shop.”

Skye leaves laughing and heads for the South Falls, a downhill right, a downhill left into the semicircular end of a canyon. Above him, a slender stream of water drops 177 feet from the rim into a pool below. As he paces forward, he realizes that the trail cuts behind the falls, and remembers a bit of info from the kiosk. The land hereabouts is composed of volcanic flows of basalt over sedimentary rock. The rivers have eroded the softer sedimentary but caused little damage to the basalt, creating overhanging falls. During the Depression, workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps cut the indentations deeper to make for safer hiking. Skye can see the cuts in the wall next to the trail, the telltale work of humans with picks and grinders. He pauses behind the falls to marvel at the white veil and snaps a photo for future reference.

Photo by MJV