One Decadent Life: Part Two
ON FIRE MESA
Angelique’s Diary Entry
December 29th, 1985
Archuleta, New Mexico
It took us three entire days to get here, a Byzantine flight. We flew from Miami to Washington, and came down in an ice-storm. Then the airline expected us to get back on the same battered ‘plane, to bloody Chicago, and fly out. In a snowstorm. David was game, even as ice-scrapers shrieked against the roof, and workers slid off the wings. But as people began to get off the plane, refusing to believe the assurances, the airline was forced to cancel and gave us vouchers for hotel-rooms.
… in a hotel that surely must be razed by the Aesthetic Bulldozers. All cardboard prefab, boringly decorated in the most offensive colour-scheme known to modern man: beige, ochre and orange. Through the paper door you could hear the Muzak noodling away. Nothing to threaten the average stranger with strangeness. But to me it’s most unsettling. I find this American love of facelessness evidence of an endemic void of spiritual responsiveness.
When we finally did fly into Albuquerque it was to more snow, sleet, and freezing cold. The airport is surrounded by a massive mountain range, sheer rock faces, imposing, even intimidating. I rented a luxury sedan, though David said it would never get up the dirt roads we were headed for. I thought surely a heavy car could make it, having no idea of what I was in for. Besides they didn’t have anything like a Jeep for rent, not that I would be caught dead driving such an apparatus.
The drive to Santa Fe was very long, and I was already tired when we stopped at a supermarket for food and other supplies. It was sort of a downfall watching my Beloved with a shopping cart, but what else could we do? He said there were no restaurants where we were going. The fellow who owns the house, one “Soleil” could not meet us “up there,” as he put it, for a few more days… but I got directions over the phone. And so we drove on, as David sank into a sort of reverie, remarking on the scenery, how this or that had changed since he had last been here.
He seems enamoured of this arid, blasted landscape, which though beautiful, and dramatic, I think has a hostile edge.
As we made the last turn onto a narrow two lane highway towards the town of El Rito, it began to snow again… there were no street-lights, or even edge-markers but for a painted white line fading on either side of the road. Which itself began to disappear. It was only three o’clock but was going dark. David kept pointing to the left, telling me to “Look for the red mesa… the Fire Mesa.” I could barely see out of the windshield. After three miles of this, crawling along at twenty, I saw it: a magnificent, solitary piece of red rock, stark against the white, with a sliver of a house atop it.
A very commonplace metal gate was open, and David got out to chain it up behind us. I went into first gear… the dirt road uptilted at a good ninety-degree angle. We got about halfway up when the wheels began to spin and sink into the sodden clay, which offered no grip at all… and the prevailing snow was turning to ice. He told me “Stop spinning or we’ll never get out.
“We’ll have to walk.”
He was walking ahead of me… when it appeared that the ground before us had completely washed away… and the next step we took? would be to fall into a crevasse. I cried out a warning.
But David continued on, and to my mysticked eyes it appeared he walked upon the Abyss. “Master of the Abyss, Master of the Unknown!” And then I saw “the Abyss” was only a darker streak of red mud, washed across the snow. He turned and gave me his sarcastic look. But I felt unusually exhilarated, the thin mountain air piercing my lungs… paper bags of groceries melting, the wind starting up, my velvet boots ruined in five minutes, sinking to my ankles in the white clay scum.
Once we got to the house David dug me out a most unprepossessing pair of rubber boots. I had no heavy socks to wear with them. I was packed for St. Bart’s, I mean, winter clothes? David searched some closets and produced a woolen pair, I guess Soleil’s, I felt very embarrassed in the ugly footwear.
But we had to make THREE trips, which I think came out to six miles.
When we fell through the door for the final time we lay across the sofas, panting, I began to divest myself of my wet coat, the hideous boots, and David began to build a fire in the fireplace. The house is ice cold, and it seems an actual FIRE is the only way to heat the place! We have gone back in time… to the eighteenth, at least.
This house is indeed a trailer, but one of those ‘double wides’ which aren’t meant to be moved anywhere, once they are plunked down. The only bedroom, which he bequeathed to me, faces north and is utterly frigid. “You’ll want the privacy,” he said, and I agreed before I realized what I had done. Because of course, he’d sleep on the sofa — next to the fire. I’m an icicle, yeah — inside a refrigerator.
The kitchen is a long galley, overlooking the greenhouse which stretches the length of the structure. It’s a messy, tangled jungle, and a plethora of geranium scents the air with spicy freshness.
What strikes you is the absolute silence. The snow continues to fall. David plays with the fire, going outside to a shed to bring in logs. I should unpack the groceries.
The old trailer has sat on its private mesa for the last forty years; a mesa, that is, a long, narrow flat field elevated some thousand feet up above the surrounding grasslands. One end of it comes to a strange curve, like a comma, bending around and finishing in a point, where it rises again in a dramatic promontory overlooking all. Three hundred and sixty five encircled degrees of unspoiled wilderness, and not a human habitation to be seen.
The stone of the mesa is a deep, dried-blood red, black in the darkness. Anywhere on the mesa the sensation is of being suspended above the world, just barely clinging to its crust.
After warming themselves and enjoying a meal, which David remarked was quite tasty… shrimp and rice with peppers, whipped up by Angelique… a strange light filtering through the uncurtained windows showed the snow had stopped, the sky clear, a full moon illuminating the brilliant snow.
They decided to take a walk, “I want to show you the kiva!” he told her. He thought it unusual she didn’t know what that was. As he explained that it was an ancient, round depression in the earth, cut with steps, going down to a central circle… a sort of small coliseum where the Indians had long-ago conferences… he felt amused to be teaching her something.
She seemed curious, open to the experience, able to rough it (aside from the velvet boots) in the primitive setting.
Deep fine-blown snow muffled the sound of their steps, allayed the sense of moving. They were in a cold vacuum, dense and achingly silent.
It seemed then to David very strange, that he had not come back to this place for… what, ten years, or more? He had been so young then, and so excited to be in New York, green and ambitious, “making it” in the big town. Before he’d understood what New York really was. The Indian phrase he used to love came to him, as the two of them reached the end of the comma, and gazed out, from the promontory, upon a real Edge of the Universe: the beating heart of the world. He breathed deeply of the thin, icy air, and began to cough uncontrollably as his latent sickness attacked him again —
New York is the babbling mouth of the world, then… or maybe its dead eyes.
Why had he not come back, in all this time? To know again those things that could happen to a person, the natural, uninvoked magic — that became so vital to your life — and simply because you were on that land, if you could be open to it, as he was now, unbearably so.
His breathing relaxed, and he looked over at his friend. She was transfixed by the moon.
And as the two deepened their contemplation, the vision struck.
The sky exploded with a brilliant blue nebula, breaking out in cobalt fire, a cascading scarf of shimmering, swirling light, winding round itself in the night.
A scrap of aurora borealis? Refracted light from — what? There was nothing, no-one on the earth around them. David, so in need of a miracle, understood it as nothing less than a celestial intervention.
The indigo-violet, occult azure of the astral now broke up into tiny comets, rained down all around them, making the snow glimmer blue, deepest blue of mystic transparency.
Angelique felt a presence greater than any she had yet experienced.
The sapphire flames dimmed, and vanished.
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