Bryan Hurt’s Everyone Wants to be Ambassador to France

Book Review: Wonderfully absurd and weird stories fill this collection by Bryan Hurt.

His characters range from astronaut-artists, a British aristocrat with his adopted girls, a goat and seagull questioning the after life on the edge of a cliff, and a run-down American writer panicking about the demands of his agents.

The opening lines are often so succinct and direct that Hurt pulls you in immediately: “Thomas Day was rich but very ugly.” Oh really? I wanted to know more, would he be an interesting man to know? I kept reading.

The simplicity of language is compelling, it’s concise and precise as short stories need to be, there are no wasted words. There is a great rhythm and Hurt comes across as a narrator to trust. We know where we are immediately upon starting a new story, he grounds us as readers yet there are such great turns and unexpected digressions and drifts that demand you pay attention. I did.

Panic Attack is one of the more touching stories for me with a great moment of tenderness. That’s all I’m saying. Look for it.

Hurt plays with the form of these short stories, more so in the second half of the collection, as if he’s trusting us to come along with him however it now looks. The Contract follows a CEO’s own contract with life and relationships, and yes, form follows content. There are more pieces in the remainder of the book where form changes to suit each story, such as lists in some places, or when some paragraphs have their own titles and other paragraphs are seperated with numbers. Titles are evocative although mostly in hindsight, you read the chapter and then the title will pop out at you again, such as the last chapter, Good With Words. Here is our struggling writer overcome with the demands of an agent hungry for more words. He turns to his toddler once back home. There he is reminded of the power of language. He asks his child, “tell me something about love.”


Red Hen


168 pp $15.95

Tentative pub date: 6/28/2018


Living The Dream: 35

As part of the weekly excerpt from the novel LIVING THE DREAM:


I spent the afternoon fixing odds and ends around the homestead. I’d set up a campfire by pulling down various three to four-foot lengths of branches and partial tree trunks to be found near by. Blankets covered a few straw bales for seats and I’d even swept the deck clear of snow. Veggie soup bubbled away on the wood stove inside. Nelson played with the hens, following them around the trees and eating their poop. He flopped down in a sunny spot on the deck. When the hens wandered back into their run to escape his attentions, I closed the gate behind them. The sky was clear blue, and no storms nor wind threatened to come our way. I wore Mom’s scarf, a fleece sweatshirt, thermals, long socks, and my big winter boots. The sun might be shining but it was still below freezing.

I lay back across a straw bale and drifted off.


Nelson barked. I fell off the bale. The delivery guys had arrived. Three different trucks pulled up together, making a right mess of the snow by all backing up as close as they could to the bus, and with much laughter and carrying on, we began to unload the straw bales. Three truckloads of bales, I couldn’t quite believe it. Debbie set the kids to clearing out a space around the bottom of the school bus with the help of Nelson who’d taken to young Finn. They wore so many layers as to indistinguishable from one another, and they set to work removing rocks and cactus.

“Frank is on his way but had to swing by the Firehouse first. He said he’d be here in a short while. How do you want to do this?”
“I just figured we’d set one layer end to end all the way around and see how far we get. How many did you all pick up today?”
“I’m not sure. Hey Graham, was it fifty or sixty we got?”
Graham climbed down from his warm truck with an obvious shiver. “More like eighty between us, I think. It should do a fair amount, right? We probably have enough for at least two layers with more stacked on the north side. We can go back again tomorrow, or are they closed?”
I shrugged and grabbed the wheelbarrow, passing it to Graham, knowing his ability to disappear at the sight of hard work. “This is for you, my friend. If you could take a couple at a time over to the bus and spread them around? Debbie and I will unload her truck first and then we’ll start on yours. And no, before you ask, there’s no foundation built. It’s straight on the dirt. When they fall apart, I’ll use them in the gardens, okay?” I handed him Mark’s work gloves in case he tried that old excuse of forgetting his own. I grinned though as he tried them on and picked up a bale with a groan.

Danny came around behind me and covered my eyes with a laugh. “I have a present for you. Want to guess what it is? Go on, Jen, you’ll not get it right, not completely.”

He twirled me around until dizzy, chatting up a storm until I made a stab at it, “kittens?”

“More hens?”
“Close, but not quite.”
He took away his hands with a flourish. In front of me stood Mom holding a box with two kittens. She laughed at my amazed expression. “I knew you wouldn’t expect to see me here.” She hugged me with her free arm, laughing in delight at my wide grin.
“He said you wouldn’t remember. I’d told you I’d try to come back. Well, I’m sorry that I missed Christmas but here I am now, and here are your two new friends; one’s a boy and one a little girl. They’re almost two months old now and still pretty vulnerable, so let’s take them inside and get them warm. Danny, can you grab the supplies?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He saluted her and climbed up into the back of his truck and Graham struggled past with two bales in a wheelbarrow. They nodded at each other but said little though they grinned shyly. The two boxes handed down were full toys, litter, plastic trays, feeders, water bowls, towels, anti-septic wipes, kibble, and even cans of wet food. He set one container on the deck for me and then wandered over to help Debbie throwing bales down one by one. Mom and I climbed inside the bus and shut the door behind us. Silence suddenly.
I set down a box, “Welcome back, Mom. I missed you.”
She passed me the kittens and sat down in the armchair. “How about some coffee and a little chat, Jen? Tell me all.”


“And then?”
“Not much, we decided we’d talk later, in a few months or so.”
“And you’re okay with that?” She sipped her coffee with a contented sigh as a kitten nuzzled on her lap. The fire flickered in the stove and outside the others walked back and forth with straw bales, chatting, and even singing bluegrass tunes as they worked. I relaxed against my mom’s legs with another kitten in my arms.

“I am, I really am. This is a good place for me to be, with or without him. And then there’s the trust, I can’t trust him again, can I?” I shifted the kitten to the other arm as I turned and faced her. “I love this, can’t you see why? See why it’s special? Yes, you can, or you wouldn’t be here, would you?”
She laughed, “Busted as they say. No, you’re right, this is a good place for you. I haven’t seen you this relaxed for a long time, Jenny. I approve, for what it’s worth.”
“Thanks, Mom, thanks for just letting me be okay with him gone. I miss Mark, but I’d miss this more.” I poked her in the foot, “Well, what shall I name these two?”
“That’s for you to decide, not me, but I can tell you something, it’s time we helped finish the work, isn’t it?” She set her mug on the table and stretched out her legs.
“You mean now they’ve done two truck loads?” I laughed and held out my hands, pulling her upright. “Good timing, Mom, I approve, for what it’s worth. Well, come on then, let’s show them how it’s done, shall we?”


Supervising my friends, we quickly got the first layer down by mid-afternoon. I called a halt to the work and asked someone to light the campfire while I set up a late lunch of soup and bread, followed by hot chocolate and mulled wine, age depending. We’d settled around the fire pit with bowls and mugs, happily chatting away when another truck could be heard slowly and steadily approaching. Two engines, one deep and rumbling and the other more like a diesel pick-up. Frank perhaps? I stood and put my plate down for Nelson to pre-wash and grabbed a straw-hat, then went to find out. Debbie called to the kids to get ready, “Papa’s on his way so stay back kids, wait till he turns off the engine, remember?”

They bounced in place and stuffed their faces with the last of the bread as a huge red truck slowly turned into the driveway, a water tanker, it was the oldest one kept out back at the firehouse. I glanced back at Graham and he simply smiled but shook his head, motioning he’d say nothing. I walked up to Frank as another vehicle pulled up behind him. Louisa and Anne sat in a flatbed truck with a black metal tank strapped to the back.

“What the hell’s going on? Why are you here, Anne?” That sounded bad so I tried to smile as I approached, heading to Louisa’s window deliberately. I nodded at Anne but didn’t say much. Louisa laughed though as she climbed out and hugged me, surprising us both.

“I was so excited to hear from your neighbor about today’s projects. I couldn’t believe the timing – it’s perfect. Did you tell her to expect us?”
Danny actually reddened slightly as he admitted that “no, I was busy with kitten wrangling and -”

“- picking me up from the airport. It’s my fault. I’m Martha, Jen’s mom. And you must be Louisa, the local dog whisperer. Anne too? Hello, come on over, we have some soup left if you’re all hungry. Kids, is this your papa? Are you sure? I don’t know if I believe you, Finn.”

Mom’s inner-hostess kicked in and soon we’d all sat back down with bowls of soup and more hot drinks. Louisa explained that the water tank came from Andrew’s place, which had been sold and they needed to clear out all the stuff the new owners didn’t want. “Like these tanks for some reason. Frank’s taking one for their place and I thought you’d be able to set up a catchment system, more than the ten buckets you’ve got lined up, if you want it?”
“Are you sure though? Don’t you need them at yours?”
“No, that was one of the first things my ex-husband and I had done together. There’ll be lumber too, odds and ends of tools if you want to come over this week? The place has to be cleaned up by Friday the fifth.”
Frank stood up, “talking of water, we should fill you before it gets dark. That old tanker is full, so I can give you about 500 gallons, and that’ll keep you going for winter, Jen, don’t you think? A nice feeling that’ll be, water in a tank, just stack some – ”

“ – BALES.” we all yelled out together, laughing at the reminder to work. Our late lunch break ended with the kids giggling and running after Nelson and a paper plate.


I drank a glass of the spiced wine as the others worked. I took photos, Mom insisted. Then Anne waved me over to Louisa’s truck. I wandered across, uncertain that I was up for this, but it might as well be dealt with, right?

“You stayed with Mark in LA, didn’t you?”

She nodded sheepishly and held out her hands, empty and open. I stared into her eyes and away, back at the impromptu gathering behind us. She spoke.

“I did. I doubt I’ll go back though. It was primarily to see my sister but yes, I saw Mark when I was there. But I’m not a city girl any more, not that I ever was, but it was fun to see Helen and take her to a party with Mark’s friends.” She played with snow at her feet, clearing out a small patch of dirt. “I am sorry, sorry it turned out like that, messy.”
“Yes, well, Mark’s happy there, I guess. And I’m happy here. Simple as that, when it comes down to it, isn’t it? I’m not to fall apart.” I suddenly had an image of my lonely Thanksgiving in the bus and cringed. “Well, not again. So now where do we go from here, Anne?”

Anne zipped up her coat and shrugged as she stared at my homestead and my friends hanging out around a blazing fire. The silence lasted a moment but was surprisingly comfortable. Anne shuffled and turned back to me, her eyes bright. “I have something for you, something Mark asked me to bring back for you.”
“Really? What? Something I’d given him or what?”
She grinned suddenly and I remembered that smile so well. “Kind of, but Louisa might disagree.” She opened the door of the truck. A little face stared up from within a pile of blankets. The white and golden scruffy little face I knew so well.

“Frida. Oh my god, it’s Frida.”

My pup shot out and into my arms, licking me all over as I shrieked and almost fell over. Nelson suddenly tackled us from behind and with Frida in my arms, I tumbled into a snowy wet pile with them both. “You brought back Frida.” and I collapsed into tears.


Embarrassed, I cracked open a beer and tried to make a joke. They all looked at me with such sympathy that it set me off again, dammit. Mom caught the kids, whispered to them, and made them stand in a line facing me from on top of some bales.

“On the count of three,” she commanded.

“One.” said Finn.

“Two.” said Franny.

“Three.” yelled Clark.

Out of the blue, hundreds of snowballs rained upon us, those little buggers had stockpiled them out of sight and now all was mayhem as Danny and Mom fought back, catching them in mid-air and tossing them onto the screaming kids. The dogs ran in circles, barking and chasing each other in excitement. Graham hid behind Anne as she desperately tried to make enough to throw back. Frank commandeered the high spot of the bus roof and yelled out directions for the kids. Debbie sat on a rock and ate more soup, unaffected. Louisa climbed the water tanker, staying out of danger. I stood there, in the middle of the battle, covered in melting snow, tears falling from laughing so hard that I dropped to my knees, unable to take any more. Undone. I was undone by my new friends.


“Thanks, Mom. You started it.”
“Did not. Did I, Danny? The kids did it, I blame the kids.”
Franny giggled from on Debbie’s lap as Finn dozed on his dad’s. Clark helped Graham and Anne clear up the plates and mugs. The stars slowly lit the night sky and a breeze reminded us of the winter storm watch for the weekend. I shivered and pulled down the woolen hat. Anne and Louisa were chatting away. Graham was shuffling around, trying to get into the conversation but failing in his awkward way. The fire lay hot and bright at our feet, glowing embers that sparkled and flickered briefly before settling down once again.

“Well, it’s time we headed back and settled the children down for the night. Are you okay out here tonight, Jen?”
I grinned up at my tall friend, “Frank, I think I am, I think I am. Thanks so much for the water and everything today.” I stood up and suddenly hugged him, making him redden uncomfortably. His kids clambered over the bales to say bye before they all disappeared, driving slowly with up the dark road. The others followed suit and soon I was saying good night to Louisa and Anne, and shortly after that to Mom and Danny.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay tonight, Jenny? I don’t want to worry about you, not tonight.”
“Oh, Mom, go and enjoy yourself and don’t worry about me. It’s a two-dog and two-kitten night for me. I’m fine, right? Danny, take her away, will you? I’ll meet you all for lunch tomorrow as planned. Go on with you both. I’ll see you next year.”

“Happy New Year to you too, my favorite daughter.”
“Your only daughter, you mean?”
“There is that but I’m not complaining Jen. Well, we’ll see you tomorrow then, bye.”

With a waxing half moon in a cloudless sky, they drove back down my driveway and pulled the chain across the gateposts.

I poured water on the fire and it sizzled into a cold soggy mass. My two happy dogs lay on the deck, tuckered out, but tails wagging whenever they caught me looking. Hiding behind a juniper shrub, I peed and stared at the stars above without falling over for once.
I stood up and with the last of my wine toasted land and sky, dogs and owls in the distance, not forgetting coyotes and cactus.

“This is the life, isn’t it? I’m living the dream, yep, living the dream. Oh, and Nelson? Frida?” They both yawned. “Happy New Year. Let’s go to bed, shall we? Are you hungry?”
In the dark, we clambered up the steps and into the warm bus. A squeak and tiny sharp claws climbed up my jeans, a black and white fur ball of a kitten had a mission to get up high. Her brother, a pale ginger kitten, stared out from his place on the armchair, watching the invading dogs, and completely unfazed by a huge hairy husky cleaning his ears. With boots removed, I shrugged off the coat and scarf, hanging them up at the door. I stepped over to the table to light a candle. My sock slipped in a wet and smelly present. Great. Frida licked at the mess with a wagging tail.

“Okay, first things first, you kittens need to learn how to use a litter box.”

Living The Dream: 34

As part of the weekly excerpt from the novel LIVING THE DREAM:


“Seriously? You did all of this in six months? I’m impressed, Jen. It’s incredible.”

Jaime and Gloria wandered around my home, admiring deck, outhouse, gardens, and even the wonky chicken coop. The hens cackled and followed us on the tour. Nelson sniffed, unsure of himself yet happy to be home. The snow had stopped during the drive, and a clear bright blue sky above made everything fresh and crisp. No wind for once, and so Jaime offered to light us a campfire.

“No, I’ll do it, but do you want to bring over the cooler so we can have your picnic now? I’m starving and these rocks make great back rests in summer. Hmm…maybe use the straw bales?”

Snow covered everything though so I left him to it. Jaime wandered off looking for three bales and blankets as Gloria poked around in the bus, opening and closing the three cupboards by the sound of it. She stuck her head out the door.

“This is a great little home, I can see why you want to stay here. But are you sure you’ll be warm enough?”

I nodded and blew on the kindling. The fire took first time round. “Yep, I’ll buy more bales to put around the bottom of the bus for insulation. The woodpile should keep me going for three months at least, that’s what my neighbor Danny said. The challenge will be the water, keeping water from freezing. I’m not sure what I’ll do about that yet. Keep containers inside, I guess?”
I crouched down at the fire-pit as the juniper burned hot and bright. Satisfied the fire wouldn’t go out, I walked over to the chicken coop. The girls followed me back. Inside their home, someone had scattered straw and made roosts. Two eggs lay frozen in the far corner, out of reach. I’ll have to get a rake or scoop to get those out, but another time, there was no rush. They all seemed happy and well fed. A bowl of water was full but had a thin layer of ice across the top, which I broke with a short stick lying next to it. Danny had been taking care of them apparently.

Gloria took photos as she wandered around, chatting to Jaime about how lazy he’d been the last six months, teasing him happily as he poured out hot chocolate. He passed me a cup and sat down.

“Yes, this is great. Your mom must be proud of you, not many girls know how to live like this,” he said quite seriously. My expression must have tipped him off because he backtracked, “not many men either, I mean. Me, I can’t imagine being this far away from other houses or cut off, but it’s beautiful. Hey, Gloria. Put the phone down and come on over, sit down a minute, will you? We’ve got another hour or so before it gets dark. You don’t mind if we leave by four, do you, Jen? I can’t picture driving that pass again, not in the dark.”
Gloria called out from behind the bus. “What are you going to do with this Subaru now? Do you need it? Do you want to sell it? To us?”
Jaime stood up, shaking his head and grinning at me. “She’s always begging me for a newer car, all wheel drive, she hates driving to work in the Accord.”
Nelson had already found an old bone of Frida’s and brought that along with him as we wandered over to check out the car. Gloria had scooted the front seat closer to the steering wheel and adjusted the mirrors already, making herself at home. I joined her in the passenger seat. Suddenly Nelson jumped on top of me, panting fast, scared I’d leave again. I scratched his ears and hugged him to me. Jaime stood in front of the car and knelt down, looking underneath for something, I didn’t know what.

“How many miles do you have on this thing? It’s in perfect condition, even after living out here. Did you say you wanted to sell it? Sorry, we’re jumping the gun on you.” He stood up and brushed snow off his knees.

I climbed out and stood next to him, looking at the car, the car that had brought Mark and I to New Mexico, our only vehicle for all those months. So many places we’d discovered here, driving together up unknown roads because of Google maps. I shook my head at myself and smiled at them both. Nelson sat across my boots and leaned against my jeans, smiling up at me, his bone still in his mouth.

“The 4Runner is all we need, right Nelson? It’s took us on a road trip and brought us home safely, with only a cracked windshield to show for it. Shall we sell the car?”
Nelson wiped the snow off the flagstones with his tail, a sign of approval.








I couldn’t start the damn fire. The kindling was still wet. I’d run out of newspaper and was fast running out of matches. I sat back and leaned against Nelson. The bus was cold. His water bowl was covered with a thin layer of ice. I poured out water from the kettle and thawed his drink first and then used the rest for my first cup of coffee. Outside a snowstorm raged. The Subaru sat in the middle of the driveway with a thick white hat of snow on the rooftop. My camera lay on the kitchen table but I had no desire to capture the blizzard or its destruction, its obliteration of my world. I’d run out of power on my phone and Mark had taken the laptop.

I made some coffee and shuffled back to bed, climbed under the covers, and stared out the window. It surprised me how little changed the bus was with Mark gone. More noticeable was Frida’s absence. Her small thick bed in front of the woodstove was gone. Her favorite blanket on the bed – gone. Her bowl – gone. Nelson kept pacing and whining from bed to door, bed to door. I finally climbed out of bed and let him outside. He ran back and forth around the bus and piles of firewood and recycling, he was a doggy snowplow, a happy loose-limbed husky in his element. I was not however in mine. This sucked.
I climbed back under the covers but this time brought my clothes with me and warmed them up a while. First mug done, I dressed warmly and headed out with the dog. Just because I was miserable, didn’t mean I had to ignore his routine early morning hike around the land, did it? The woolen hat and scarf from Mom kept the snow off my face and the leather coat kept me surprisingly warm as we hiked a barren yet beautiful landscape.

At a nearby peak, I looked down upon the bus, a pale green shape smothered in snow. I had to get a fire going, I really did. My home looked so empty and desolate without smoke in the chimney. I threw snowballs for Nelson and he rolled downhill chasing and losing them each time. I laughed at his antics and at myself for being in a crappy mood. The world was beautiful. The sun shone. My clothes kept me warm. I had a home I loved. It was time to buck up and take care of things again.


Nelson ate as I cleaned up in the bus. I stacked firewood and kindling inside with more of each hidden under the deck in the urge to have dry wood another day. I opened up a few boxes from under the bed and found letters and newspapers and notes of mine. I tore them up for firelighters. In an hour or two I could probably try again at making a fire with some of this slightly drier wood. Hopefully. In the meantime, I swept the floor and dusted off the counters and shelves, reorganizing slightly, and claiming the place for myself. Books lay propped on a new shelf above my bed, photos of Mom and her cats, others of Nelson and Frida chasing each other in the mountains, and yes, one of Mark and I at the Rio Grande Gorge. I checked my phone, forgetting that I’d run out of power. I’ll have to call Mom the next day, perhaps go to the café in Cedar Crest for once? Oliver, NM didn’t appeal so much and I didn’t want to bump into Anne.

In the cooler I found some old tortillas, cheese slices, and salsa. Quesadillas sounded perfect. I lit the little propane cooker and set the tortillas to brown. The propane ran out. I ate tepid food in a cold bus in the middle of nowhere.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Nelson came up and lay across my lap, offering me Frida’s bone.

“I miss them too.”

A truck pulled up the next day, it felt like early in the morning, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. I scrambled out of bed and threw on some old clothes and boots before opening the door. The bus was cold. I was hungry. I’d not had any coffee. This was not a good time for visitors.
Danny climbed out of his truck, petting Nelson and carrying a cooler. “Your mom’s been worried. She couldn’t get a hold of you yesterday so she sent me over. Did you have a good Thanksgiving? Go anywhere?” He stomped through the snow and up into the bus. “Damn, it’s cold, Jen. Didn’t you make a fire yet?”
I shook my head but didn’t say anything. Danny set down the cooler on the kitchen table, saying, “I brought you some left-overs from the community meal at the tavern. I’d thought I’d see you there. All your friends were asking about you but Graham told me Mark had gone to LA without you. It got me worried. So, well,” and suddenly he got all shy and tongue-tied, “I brought you food. Martha said you eat meat these days so it’s the whole works. Did you get stuck in the snow? Your car’s kinda parked awkwardly, a right pain for me to get around. I managed though, but we’ve got to go over to Louisa’s this afternoon to pick something up but it’s a surprise.” He laughed and filled the kettle. He pulled out a match to light the propane.

“It’s empty. I ran out.”
He looked up at me, surprised. “That’s not good. You gotta keep extras in winter, we can all get snowed in and then what would happen?”

I shook my head.

He sat down opposite me, quietly. “Are you okay, Jen?”
I shook my head and started to cry soundlessly. Danny reached for my hand and just held it in his as I cried. He waited me out. I shuddered and took a deep breath.

“I don’t know that I can do this alone. Fires, kindling, water, animals, and propane. I can’t seem to keep track of what I need to do next. It’s too much for one person. For me.”

Danny sat back and stretched out his long skinny legs and tapped the table once. I looked up. He grinned. “It’s not, you know. Not if you really want it. It’s fun. It’s freedom. But it takes time, which is what we have living like this, isn’t it? No nine to five jobs, no commitments after work, it’s just playing on your place, enjoying the weather, making fires, and eating good food with friends. You have to want it though.”
“I don’t know that I do.”








The embers glowed when I opened the vents and throwing on a few large juniper logs, the fire quickly woke back up. I sat back and sipped a coffee laced with Baileys. The sun crept over the mountains and fresh snow sparkled and tempted me outside. Nelson was already plowing paths for us with his tail wagging constantly. The coffee mug warmed my hands and my concoction tasted just perfect, decadent even.

Jaime and Gloria had taken the Subaru back with them and promised to return with cash for the title within a few days. Knowing I’d got money coming in, I’d spent an afternoon in town, Santa Fe that is, spending more than felt normal or even comfortable. Well, I was trying to catch up with my life out here and that meant supplies, didn’t it?

The 4Runner had been filled up to and including the roof rack with numerous straw bales, two propane tanks (large ones this time), three water containers, crates of canned foods of all kinds, twenty pounds of chicken scratch, a box of fire starters with a dozen lighters, some candles and two oil lamps, and not forgetting a forty pound bag of dog food and then treats for both Nelson and I. I’d mentally thanked Andrew and Louisa once again for the gift of the Toyota as we’d driven through yet another blizzard in low 4-wheel drive along our dirt road. No slips, no accidents, just a cold bus had awaited us. The wood under the deck had finally dried out enough and the fire took at first attempt. Nelson had claimed Mark’s side of the bed with a stick of rawhide. The food had been spread out across shelves, in sight as a reminder that I’m comfortable these days. Candles stood tall in the various wine and beer bottles we’d collected over the months. Oil lamps claimed pride of place on the kitchen table and counter.

As the sun came up, a westerly wind picked up outside but it was meant to fade out by afternoon. That morning, the bus was snug and cozy. Sprawling in an armchair with a coffee mug next to me, I closed my eyes in relief.


“Time for a walk, kiddo?”
Nelson woke up with a yawn and a wag and jumped down, bringing a leash in his mouth.

“Silly boy. No, we’re just going for a good hike around here today, okay? I want us to find the four corners of the property and build little towers at each one. I’ll bring treats, don’t worry.”

Grabbing a small backpack, I filled it with a thermos of hot chocolate, some sandwiches, and a milk bone or three. Closing off the stove-vents, I hoped the bus would stay warm enough for an hour to two without us. I cracked a window though as we left, scared of carbon monoxide building up. The sun shone down brightly and soon I tore off my woolen cap and scratched at my shaggy self-styled haircut from the night before. An even four inches all over was how it had turned out when I hacked away without even a mirror for guidance. I’ll dye it again in the New Year, a reddish tint this time, something new, perhaps? I strode along, following Nelson to start with but veering off when we hit the arroyo.

“This way, Nellie. We’re making a new route, okay? Come on, boy. Where are you now?”

He ran into me from behind, eyes blinking and tail wagging as I fell into a snow bank underneath him. He smiled his doggy smile and jumped off.

“Okay, round one to you, fella, but I’ll get you back.”
I brushed off the snow from my jeans, thankful they were flannel lined. I caught up with my dog as he crested another low hill to the west of us. I pulled up short. Nelson froze at my side and hunkered down.
“Stay, boy.”
He didn’t resist.
We watched as a five coyotes chased down a rabbit in the valley below. They yipped and chattered as they ran, circling the rabbit through the pinions and junipers. The rabbit shot under a large chamisa bush and the coyotes ran past full speed. The rabbit stuck his head out, listened intently, and backtracked.


“It should be around here somewhere. Not that you’ll help, but…” I set the pack down and checked the map. From my guess, there should be a marker set in the ground within twenty feet of this huge old surviving pinion tree. Twenty feet is larger than you’d think when faced with rocks, gulleys, trees, and a handful of shrubs. Fair enough, I decided to look for a while and then just make a symbolic corner, since it was for my benefit only and I doubted that Danny would really care that much if I was wrong. It’s good to get along with your neighbors, and I grinned at the thought of him and Mom dating. I scrambled up a six-foot boulder and looked around. I could barely make out the bus in the distance but a wisp of smoke lingered in the valley, mine or Danny’s. The trees here were thick and healthy in the wash, enough water seeped down here during monsoons to create quite a microclimate. I’ll have to come back here in the middle of summer for a dose of shaded sandy beaches. I slid back down, curious to see what Nelson was digging at.
“Hold on, fella, I’m coming.”
Nelson stuck his head back in the sand and sniffed and sneezed in surprise. I tugged gently on his tail and he backed out. He’d dug a small pit, twelve inches or so diameter. In the middle was a hole approximately four inches wide. To the left of then opening was a piece of rebar with a stamped metal tag. The corner mark, Nelson had found the northwest corner.
Nelson kept digging, deeper and wider as I piled rocks precariously into a tower. I found different shapes, sizes, and even colors, stacking them slowly and steadily, trying to build as high as possible, which was only two feet high unfortunately.

I squatted down on a rock with my face to the sun and sipped hot chocolate. Nelson ate his milk bone at my feet. I picked up my jacket and hat, stuffing them into the backpack, and checked out the map once again. We set off, looking for the next corner to the southwest of the bus.

An arroyo, full of dead cholla and prickly pear cactus blocked my path. The corner marker was right in the middle of the thorns. Great. I set down the backpack and reassessed the landscape. Yep, no doubt, it had to be in the middle of that damn arroyo. I scratched my head and sat down, not quite sure where to build a rock tower. In the meantime, I collected as many rocks to be found, although most were flagstones only an inch or two thick. I laid a path through the cactus patch and found myself in the middle of this gloriously unfriendly environment.

I carefully squatted down and looked for a marker. Then I stood and that slight change in lighting made something flash at my feet. A silver metal tag glinted from a rod of rebar. Perfect. I carried the last skinny piece of flagstone over to this hidden corner marker. Using a small hand sized rock, I dug out a hole as big as my footprint. I set the stone upright and tamped down the earth to hold it in place. On the top of this two-foot high pinnacle, I laid a fist of quartz.


Back at the gate, Nelson and I stood, warm and happy from all the hiking back and forth. Only two more corners to find and then I’d make us dinner. The sun was mid-way down the horizon. I knew I had a couple of hours at most. I glanced at the well-worn map and turned northeast. Nelson trotted along at my heels.

“Heel. Good boy, good heel,” I said, just in case he figured out what I meant.


A juniper sprouted out from under a three-foot high smooth boulder in the middle of the scrubland. I scrambled to the top and stood up tall. The valley was silent but for a sudden wind kicking up a dust devil across the way. The sunlight lit up the mountains behind Santa Fe. The air was chilly yet it wasn’t too cold after exploring for the last few hours. I hopped down, dropping the backpack on the ground, and searched for the elusive rebar. Nelson sniffed the area and peed in mid-air, which was all very undog-like of him. Curious, I wandered over to see why he’d lifted his leg without a tree or rock there. Of course, he’d marked the rebar, so to speak. Another treat for the boy as I created a tower of juniper branches tied together with my bandana.


We hiked back due south and searched for the southeast marker. I couldn’t find the damn rebar anywhere. I kept checking the ground, directions, map, and my memory. I’d been sure Mark and I had discovered it by accident after the monsoons but for the life of me, I had no image of where that might be. I sat under a tree and watched a few light clouds build over the Jemez to the west of us. No storm was forecast and I didn’t worry. Nelson ate the last milk bone and I finished the thermos of hot chocolate. My muscles ached gently, reminding me of how I’d been so lazy for the last month, only driving and setting up camp every so often, nothing like summer and fall which had been physically challenging, what with always hiking and building around the homestead. I sighed and promised myself to get fitter in the New Year.

Standing and stretching, I gave up the search without a blink. It’s not like the marker is going anywhere. And neither am I.


The phone blinked on the kitchen table but I focused on settling us in for the night. I lit a fire. I pulled out the lentil and tomato soup and set the pan to simmering on the woodstove. Two candles were lit on the counter and an oil lamp on the table. I fed Nelson who then promptly fell asleep with a full belly.


“I saw you’d rung.”
Voices in the background faded as Mark walked to a quieter spot. “Yes, I didn’t know what to say so I hung up, sorry.”

I sipped the cabernet and wondered why it didn’t matter to me either way. The wind had picked up again outside the bus and the tin roof flapped on the outhouse, loose and untethered. I wrote myself a note as I waited for Mark to say something.

“I got in with Keith’s band, do you remember then? A steam punk band? They’re pretty good these days and anyway they asked if I’d play mandolin and ukulele with them. We’ve got regular gigs in the area and even a small part in a documentary being filmed next week, crazy eh? I had to grow a moustache for them. I’ll send you photos if you like? It’s pretty funny looking but it works, or at least it’s getting me work…” He paused, suddenly conscious of babbling. “How are you doing? Is it too cold for you? It’s been in the seventies here this week. I’ve been getting even more of a tan. In winter, it’s bizarre if you ask me. Anyway, tell me about the trip, where did you end up? Did the Subaru do right by you?”
“I sold the Subaru.”
“You did? Why? When? Did you buy something else?”
Voices around Mark drowned out his voice for a moment and a laugh like Anne’s echoed in the background. I cringed at the image. “After you left, well, the day after Thanksgiving actually, Danny took me over to Louisa’s. We fixed up the last of the doghouses and even had dinner with her. She talked about her trip to see her mom in Colorado, the memorial for Andrew at their land with the other surviving brothers and a sister. It sounded pretty sweet to be honest, very idyllic. Anyway, as we were leaving her place later that night, Louisa handed me some keys. Danny had laughed and admitted he’d not told me but apparently he’d been asked to bring me over there to pick up Andrew’s 4Runner. She wanted it be a gift for me, to help with living out here, something more rugged for these roads. Isn’t that incredible?”
Mark inhaled and coughed and another laugh whispered in the background. “Yeah, that’s kinda unbelievable. But it won’t be good gas mileage, will it? You’ll want a smaller car for getting out here, it’d cost you a fortune to drive to LA.”
I sipped the wine and poured out another full mug’s worth. I nodded to myself and sat up.

“But I’m not coming out there. I’m staying here.”
“You what? You’d said you’d come out for the New Year. That we’d try to be together again after a break, this month apart, you know?”
“No, I said I’d think about it, that I’d think about coming out after the New Year. Well, I’ve been thinking, driving and thinking a lot the last month, and I’m not coming out there. I’m not moving there or even visiting you there. You can come back here some day, on vacation, but that’s all. You’d have to stay in Oliver though, as a friend, nothing more, like you’d wanted, remember?” My tone was flat, the words methodical, as I explained my decision, it sounded almost clinical. “You slept with Anne, remember? That was the final straw. I’m not interested in trying to work it out, not now. I just can’t, Mark. I can’t do it.”
“But it’s not like it’s a big deal, Jen. We were taking a break, weren’t we? You’d walked out on me, leaving me in the bus in the snow…”

I took a deep breath and asked. “Was that the first time? The first time you slept with her? Was it? You owe me that at least, the truth, what was going on this summer with you and her?”
Mark blew out a big sigh, “Don’t go there, Jenny, please. Let’s just try to work it out. You’re my best friend, I love being with you – we have fun. But I can’t stay out in the middle of nowhere like that. Remember how easy it was when we lived together in Olympia? I do.”
“Yes, I remember,” and my voice dropped low and soft as a wave of sadness swiped at my resolve, washing away the anger. “I remember.”

“I miss you, Jen. I do.”

I stood up and crouched down in front of the woodstove and poked in another log. The bus stayed warm these days and I curled up in the armchair in my jammies.

“Don’t you miss me?”
“I do, but Mark, I love this, living out here. It’s taken me a while but I do like it, you know? It suits me.”
“And that’s great, it is, Jenny, it is. We could still see each other though, you could come here, just for a week or so every now and again, and I don’t have a regular schedule, so I can take the train and come out too.”
“And in the months between? You want to sleep around?”
Mark sighed, “not exactly. But why not? Why not have an open relationship? Like -”

“- Anne and Graham? No, I don’t think so. I can’t do that Mark. It’s all about trust, isn’t it? Well, I don’t trust you any more, not like that. Not like that…” I reached for the bottle of wine and poured out the rest while closing my eyes. Nelson stirred in his sleep, his muddy paws all over Mark’s pillow. I smiled despite the conversation. “Look, Mark, it’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you’re getting gigs and work and you’re happy. Well, so am I. I’m happy. So let’s just talk another time, okay? I’ll put your stuff in storage under the bed or something and you can let me know what to do with it another time.”
Mark didn’t answer but waited in silence as I sipped my wine and talked about my day hiking the land, playing in the snow with Nelson, and now relaxing in front of a fire.

“You really are happy, aren’t you? I didn’t think you’d do it on your own.”

His footsteps crunched on sand and ocean waves drowned out the sounds of a party in the background. Music and laughter echoed down the phone.

“Yep, I am. Well, I’ll talk to you another time, Mark.” I finished my wine and stood up, taking off the slippers as I sat on the edge of my bed. “Oh, and Happy Christmas, my friend.”
He sighed softly. “Happy Christmas, Jenny.”


Living The Dream: 33

As part of the weekly excerpt from the novel LIVING THE DREAM:


The interstate was passable but busy with the evening commuters heading home. I followed Officer Jaime at a steady pace, passing when he did, changing lanes and slowing, whatever he did, so did we. Nelson finally left my lap and curled up on the passenger seat with my hand on his head. He snored. My eyes didn’t blink; too much caffeine in one day. The night drew closer and I craved a warm bath and bed. Instead, I’d have to make polite conversation with another stranger and eat her food at her table and listen to her questions and and and…

The state police truck slowed and pulled off just south of Albuquerque. I followed down side roads and through old neighborhoods that made me think of Mexico, not that I’d ever been. The traffic and the lights woke me. Nelson slept on however.
We pulled up in front of a low adobe home with farolitas and a Christmas tree in the front yard. I turned off the engine as Nelson sat up. The front door opened.


“Our daughter used to live with us, she converted the garage into a separate studio. I turned on the heat and the bed’s made. There’s a plate of food on the table and the bathroom is on the left. Go on, Jennifer, go on, and make yourself at home. Come on through the kitchen when you want company. And don’t worry about Nelson; we usually have the kids bring their dogs when they come visit. Go on, go eat and warm up. Oh, and my name’s Gloria. Go on, girl.”

She shuffled Nelson and I through a side door and closed it softly behind herself. I was alone.


I woke to sunlight and a snoring dog. The central heating blew warm air across the bedroom and I nestled back under the covers. So much for heading back to the bus last night, Gloria wouldn’t let us. She’d insisted it was too dangerous in the snow and if her husband had taken the time off work then they were going to have a nice night at home together. I didn’t force the issue. I was too tired and Nelson was exhausted by his own adventures. I’d shuffled back to the studio and half heard muffled conversations in the kitchen as I fell deeply asleep with Nelson stretched out against my back.

The smell of coffee woke me a second time, that and a knock at the door. Jaime popped his head around and grinned.

“Coffee’s ready and its time to get up. Ten o’clock, young lady. Hey, Nelson, are you hungry? Bacon, my boy?”
Nelson jumped off the bed, trotted over but stopped suddenly to look back at me. I smiled and told him to go play, that it’d be okay.
“I’ll leave the door open for him, don’t worry. Do you take cream? Okay, see you in a minute. We have a full day ahead of us,” and he laughed at Nelson’s eager snout pushing in his hand.
I dressed, washed quickly, and caught up with them all sitting at the kitchen table. Gloria had on her reading glasses and she pushed them up to look me over. “Well, I knew it. You look so much better after a good sleep. You didn’t look your best yesterday, that’s the truth. All pale and baggy eyes, but now, why. You’re quite a beauty. Maybe we should introduce her to Pete, our son that is?” She happily teased me, chatting away as she poured out a mug of nectar. In front of them both lay a detailed map of Santa Fe County and the back roads of Northern New Mexico. “We started looking up the roads around Oliver, trying to guess where exactly you might live from your stories, but I doubt we got it right. I thought you might be out here,” and she pointed to Gringo Gulch area. I nodded but showed the last little stretch that took her to my property.

“You must have amazing views of the mountains out there. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done. We made a picnic and Jaime has the day off so as soon as you’re ready, we’ll head out, all right?”
“You don’t have to do that; I can make it from here. You honestly don’t have to drive up there.”
“But we do. I promised your mom.”
I almost dropped my mug. “My mom? You spoke to my mom? When? How did that happen?”
Gloria blushed and explained how my phone had kept ringing during the night, so much so that when it woke them the third time, Jaime had picked it up and seen the screen flashing “Mom”. Gloria had taken it from him and ended up having a nice long chat with Martha at two in the morning. I cringed like a teenager and poured out more coffee and cream.
“Anyway, we have to drive you back and make sure you settle in okay. No more accidents or cold nights for you, Jenny. Your mom made us promise to keep an eye on you both. You’d better call her before we hit the road though. And don’t tell her that the pass through Cedar Crest is snowed in. Anyway, we’ll just take it slow and steady in Jaime’s SUV since my Honda is useless in weather like this. Well, hurry along. Go call your mom, take Nelson with you outside, the porch will be warm enough, go on girl.”
She’s a force to be reckoned with, is Gloria. We did as told and I stood outside, huddled against a wall out of the wind as I called Mom. She picked up immediately.








I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes late. Mark waved from a window in one of the busiest cafes on the south side of town. I grabbed backpack and phone, opened the car windows a crack for Nelson and pulled myself together. A good night’s sleep had helped.
I ordered breakfast and a large latte before joining my boyfriend in the booth at the back. He stood up awkwardly but didn’t reach for me. We were there to talk.


“So what is it you want, Mark?”

I lay my coat across the seat next to me and sat down with my back to the crowded café. Mom was right; this was a good place to meet him. I waited a moment but he didn’t say anything, just looked shy for once.

“What is it you want to do? Leave New Mexico? Or just take a vacation? You need to talk to me, Mark, because I feel like you’ve taken me by surprise and it feels like shit, you know? I…no, Mom said I should just listen to you. You. So you need to talk.”
I added honey to the latte and sat back to study him. He had shaved off the goatee and wore his all black uniform, as I used to tease him, the musician in mourning look from the city days.

“I’d like us to be friends.”

Pause. I sipped my coffee and didn’t throw it over him.
“You what? Want us to be friends? Like not be your girlfriend, is that it?”
He nodded as he fiddled with his smokes but then he looked up, sad and tired and something else I didn’t recognize, not immediately. “I need to go back to the city, for a while at least. I need to play music, you know that. That’s who you fell in love with, Jen, a working musician, not a hippy living off the land. Music is my life. I don’t have music here. I don’t have – ”

“A life?”

He nodded again, more sure of himself. He knew I didn’t like scenes of any kind. “Well, yeah. You want to live like this and I don’t so I reckon we need to separate, you know? Like be friends while I’m in LA and when you come then we can get together again. You seen, I’m heading to Venice Beach tomorrow, in the Ford, I’ll leave you the Subaru. It’ll be slow going but,” and he grinned at the thought of the drive before he noticed my expression. “It’ll be okay, I’m taking all back roads, head south, and all of that, get to the warmer routes. I’ll be safe, don’t worry.”
A waitress dropped off my plate of eggs and toast. I pushed it aside. Mark reached over and claimed a piece of toast. I slapped it out of his hand, surprising us both.
“Oh, sorry.” He leaned back in his chair and stared out the window. “Well, I need to go, to try again, see if I can get into a band that appreciates me, you know? Make music, make a CD, do that stuff that I can’t do here. I’ll come back to visit, you know? I will, if that’s what you want? I like it here; it’s a great place for vacations. We could live in LA or Seattle or something and come here in summer for a few weeks. It’s not like you have a mortgage or anything. Your grandpa set you up nicely, right? The inheritance set us up, didn’t it? I mean, we could sell up and come back to visit and just stay in the B and B? Then we’d really be good to go and I could fund my own CD, my own band, right? Yeah, there’s so much we could do together, Jen, if only we get out of this place.”
I picked at my food. Mom had told me to listen, really listen. But I didn’t like what he was saying. Could I leave yet? I’d talked to Mom for hours the night before. She’d persuaded me to stay in a motel in town and she’d even paid. But I’d had to promise to hear him out. Was this out? I shook my head and realized he was waiting for me to say something, to agree to sell out, to leave my dream behind, and follow his. I couldn’t do it, not completely, not yet, so I changed the conversation.

“Were you warm enough in the bus last night? At least it’s meant to stay sunny for a few more days, that’s what I saw on TV this morning.”
“At the motel?”
“Yep, the forecast is snow on Monday and to stay below freezing after that.”
“I’d better hit the road tomorrow then, huh?” He was thinking out loud, tapping the cigarette pack on the table in time with the music. “Well, if I go back to the bus now, I’ll have time to pack those last few clothes I’ll need for a few weeks, and then there’s Frida’s stuff. I’ll have to keep the guitars inside overnight, though.”
“Frida’s not going with you.”
Mark looked up in surprise. “Of course she is. She’s my girl. She’s coming to LA. It’s too cold here for her, you know that.”

I shook my head, deeply calm and cold myself. “I rescued her. She stays with me.”
He shook his head too. “Nope, she comes with me, you get the nervous Nellie you adore so much that you cuddle him and not your boyfriend.”

The waitress took my half-eaten plate away as we stared silently at each other. I thanked her but didn’t look up. In the parking lot, a dog barked. Nelson sat up in the driver’s seat and growled at a young man squeezing between the vehicles.
“I have to go.” I stood up and gathered my things.

“Back to the bus with me?” he asked and I shook my head. “You’re going back to the motel?”
“Yes, to the motel. I can’t watch you take Frida away from me.” I wiped at my face and pushed my hair out of the way. “But you’ll be back? After Thanksgiving? We can talk about it, then?”
He stood and nodded. “Yeah, but we’ll just have to play it by ear. I can’t live here any more, not full time. Would you think about moving out west for a while, please Jen? Split your time between the two places?” He struggled into his leather jacket. “It could be the best of both worlds, if you did?”
At the door, we both suddenly got shy, neither leaving nor wanting to stay. Finally, I looked up at him and nodded. “I’ll think about it, I’ll try Mark. In the New Year, maybe I can go with you, but not yet.”
Mark smiled briefly and walked off towards his truck.

I shouted after him as he started the engine and drove off. “Were you warm enough last night? You never said.”
The truck pulled up near me. Mark looked awkward for a second and then nodded. “I was. I stayed at Anne’s.”


MFA Writing and Publishing: week one

Reading lists. Essays. Critical responses. Creative responses. Research. More essays. More readings. Editing. Writing.

Well, yes, it’s began folks and I thought you might like an inside view as to our first week at VCFA, the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The campus dates back to the 1800s, huge imposing brick buildings with columns, ten foot windows, a lawn with a fountain, and steep roads leading into Montpelier, with trees, more trees and a ring of low lying soft hills and mountains. Tis idyllic.

The class is held in a basement though, overlooking the parking lot outback and I feel gypped! Why in here? When there are such great classrooms upstairs, unused with these inspiring beautiful views? We sit, all eighteen of us, around a collection of tables back to back, creating that family mealtime, all facing each other with our books and laptops spread out. First class.
Julianna Baggott is here. Our faculty director and teacher, an inspiration herself, a powerhouse of words and action. Tuesdays we have five hours with Julianna, a focused five hours with a dynamic writer of all genres, she is forward facing, industry facing, with a desire to bring us into the craft of writing wherever we each are as individuals as well as help us find our places and careers as writers. Just what I need. I’ve done as much as I can on my own, in the vacuum of a small mountain village in New Mexico, with a determined pushing and presenting my work as often as possible to the larger world, to the community out there, here. Yes, I’m here. In graduate school and it hits me this week. I’ve not felt this fully myself before. I’m a writer. I’m a grad student. I can do this. I will do this.

  • 3 x33: a short fiction collection that is 1200 pages long. And yes, I’ve read it.
  • The Subversive Copy Editor
  • Story by Neugeboren
  • Forgotten Places by Johnson
  •  Three poems to be reviewed.
  • Five essays to read over for a journal I work for.
  • Owls by Norden
  • Tra Bong by O’Brien
  • My Man Bovanne by Bambara
  • Masked/ Unmasked by Hunger Mountain
  • Upstreet #13

And for my own pleasure and research for a new book idea:

  • Columbus Was Right! by Barbara Toy
  • Descansos by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
  • Solo, a collection of travel essays
  • Susan Sontag
  • Grace Perry

Forms Class with Julianna gave us three short stories to read with critical essays to write, three creative responses as essays, one on our own muse and process, a free associative writing exercise, and another on six random words and how it provokes memory.

Professional Development class gave me a smaller assignment of writing a cover letter and to research small presses, their submission processes.

Publishing Class gave me the three poems and six essays to read and review, one to copy-edit, and a mere 36 pages of a copy-editing book to read. Was there something else? Oh, I hope not.

First week. That’s all. Just a few things to take care of. So what did we all do, us students, after class on Friday? Yep, pub. We went to the pub.
And bumped into Tom. Thomas Christopher Greene that is, the President of the college.

It was all in all a good week. Now I’ve got some reading to do, forgive me. I’ve got to go.


Living The Dream: 32

As part of the weekly excerpts of the novel LIVING THE DREAM: 


The wind bit into me as I hiked the land, one filled with cactus and junipers. I stood and yelled, sometimes whispered, and mostly cried. My Nelson, my nervous Nellie had run off and I didn’t know what to do. Should I stay by the truck? Should I get a posse together to look for him? Who would I call though? Not Graham nor Anne. Dieselhead Danny? Louisa? I didn’t know what to do but keep walking and calling his name, hoping he’d hear me, hoping he’d suddenly appear at my feet, his sweet sad eyes looking up at me. It didn’t happen like that though. I walked and called until my voice cracked until I’d cried as much as I could. Until my head hurt and my knees gave way and I sank to the ground. That’s how Officer Ramirez found me, in a field on my knees, staring empty eyed into the snowy distance.

“Jennifer? Jennifer? Are you all right?” He sank down next to me and reached for my face, checking me out for injuries or drugs, I don’t know. He pulled me up and asked me to stand with him, to explain what had happened. I told him everything, how I’d adopted Nelson, his story, the weeks on the road, and the crash.
“He ran off when I was out cold, I guess. I don’t know. Your friend, the other officer, said the door was open when he pulled up but the snow had hidden any tracks. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do…” I shook my head and glared at the clouds building up overhead. “I can’t leave him out here, he’s too vulnerable. It’s too cold. What do I do?”
He took me by the arm and directed me back towards the vehicles, small dots in the valley. “First, I get some hot coffee and soup into you. We’ll call your friends after that okay? The dog lady you mentioned. She’d be a good resource for you right now. Let’s go get warm though, okay? Come on, Jen, it’s okay. We’ll find him. We’ll find him.”
Officer Ramirez kept me upright, muttering reassurances to me as I stumbled and fell in exhaustion. The clouds grew dark and the afternoon sun disappeared. I shivered and pulled my coat closer. Where was my friend?


We sat in the cop car, parked a small distance behind the 4Runner. I’d left the tailgate dropped down and the engine running, in the hope Nellie would hear us, would find us in the snowstorm. I sipped my coffee grateful for Jaime’s company and his steady presence.

“Won’t you get in trouble? Shouldn’t you be out working or something?”
He shook his head and smiled at me self-consciously, “I called in sick. My wife knows where we are, and she’ll cover if anyone from the department calls looking for me. I can stay a while; don’t worry. Mary even offered to bring us dinner if we’re still here. Let’s just wait it out, I doubt the snow will keep on coming for much longer, and then we can go out again, but you’ll have to borrow more layers okay? It’s too cold for what you’re wearing.”
I nodded and warmed my hands on the mug. That’s what worried me most, the cold. He’s a husky, I know they have thick fur, but he’s a lap dog, a big soft lap dog that doesn’t know how to survive outdoors. He needs me. I need him. I finished the soup as the light faded and evening came upon us.

Officer Jaime nudged me, and pointed off to the side with his chin, saying nothing. Flashes of movement caught my attention. I put the mug down on the dashboard. I held my breath. Eyes glared in the darkness and slowly came closer. No sounds of footsteps reached us, only a sense that whatever it was, an animal was checking us out. Not a coyote I prayed, I’d dreaded a pack of coyotes attacking Nelson, a nightmare that flashed suddenly in my head and I flinched. The eyes stopped still. Then a tail wagged slowly and Nelson stood tall in the snow. His coffee coat lay flat and wet, but his ears perked up as I whispered his name.
I flew out the cop car and fell to my knees in the snow. He crept up towards me. It was not the happy return I’d hoped for: He stood at a distance and watched. Jaime didn’t move from within the vehicle. Nelson sniffed deeply as I sat still as a snowman. He sniffed and his tail slowly wagged but he didn’t come closer. I talked to him, to my boy, explained what had happened, the crash, my headache, looking and calling him, and how Jaime, Officer Jaime was helping me. Nelson’s eyes flickered over to the man, and back to me.
“Nelson, it’s okay now. It’s okay. We can go home.”
He crept closer, to within reach of my hands and I held them out for him to smell. He licked me once then jumped, knocking me down in the snow. He pinned me, sitting across my chest, panting and licking and wagging. Thump. Thump.
“We can go home, I promise, Nelson. We’re going home.”


“I’m coming back with you, but we have to stop by my place in Albuquerque, okay? My wife made us all dinner and she said she has some steak pieces for Nelson too. No arguments, Jen.” He cut me off as I opened my mouth to protest. “We’re both making sure you get home safely. Mary insists. You can argue with her when we get there but not with me. Come on. It’s time to get out of this weather and warm up.”


The cop car pulled out behind me as I gradually inched my way up the embankment and onto the interstate. Traffic drove around us slowly, staring at the sight of a 4Runner driven by a husky.








The Ford slid sideways on the dirt road and Mark swore under his breath. He silently pulled over and climbed out. I sat inside with the heat blasting me. Mark went to each front wheel and turned something with a grunt. He opened up the door and stepped up fast. The cold wind bit at his neck and he shivered like a wet dog.
“Damn it’s cold out there. You okay?”

He changed into four-wheel drive and set off up hill once again. No tracks, no vehicles, no lights, just snow lay all around. Silence of a whole new variety smothered us. I grinned at the thought of us singing as we tromped through drifts in the middle of the night like Anne and Graham had. But then Mark piped up as he lit a smoke.

“I can’t wait to get to the city to see Keith and the kids. Going out to a club and walking back in the early morning in just a thin leather jacket. Damn, it’s perfect timing, isn’t it? Hon? What with this weather? We can leave the dogs with Louisa or get Graham to come feed them every few days when we’re gone.”

I shook my head and watched the wipers smear snow across the screen, half frozen ice dripped off the mirrors. An owl sat tall on a pinion tree, undisturbed by the Ford’s slow progress. The snow kept coming down, hard and heavy.

We turned down the last mile in silence. I tucked my hands under my thighs and sighed.

“You tired, Jen?”
“I’ll make us a fire then. You can go straight to bed.”


I did just that; I went to bed without him. I lit an oil lamp next to the bed and called the dogs up to snuggle with me. Frida lay on Mark’s pillow and Nelson across my lap. The bed warmed up immediately and I faced the window, watching the snow come down slow and thick. It was so incredibly beautiful. I fell asleep.


The cold woke me. Mark was fast asleep in the armchair next to the woodstove, neglected and barely lit. I quickly pushed the dogs to one side and pulled on layers then made up a fire, quietly so as to not disturb Mark. I heated water for coffee and waited in the wintery silence. Outside the sun crept over the mountains and the air was still. Not a sound penetrated the snow banks. I shivered but not from cold. With thermals, jeans, a woolen sweater from my mom and a good coat, I headed outside with the dogs reluctantly following me. Nelson soon relaxed and became a snowplow, running full speed with nose to the ground as he sped around us. Frida shivered from the cold. I picked her up and passed her back inside the bus. Nelson and I hiked across the blank canvas, me with a mug of steaming black coffee in hand, him with a white nose of snow.


Juniper trees bent under the weight of a good few inches of wet snow, the kind that drips into your collar or soaks your ankles, at least that’s what I found. The sun shone in the distance and I drank the rest of the coffee when we reached a small peak above the land, looking down upon the bus with smoke trailing out the stovepipe. Idyllic. It looked so idyllic. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t pretend otherwise, not any more. I couldn’t pretend we shared this dream any more. I wiped at my eyes, willing myself to hold back and simply see what was going on. Nelson brought me a white stick to throw for him, his tail thumping happily against a rotten pinion. The tree suddenly toppled with a crash. Nelson sprang and skidded down hill in surprise and I laughed. I laughed in delight. At the snow, at my home, at the dogs, at life. This is my life, and I love it. I’m not leaving.


“I’m leaving.”
“What? What do you mean?”
I stood above the bed where Sleeping Beauty was curled up with Frida now on my pillow. Mark sat up and pulled the covers up with him, “you’re leaving? In this?”

The fire had warmed the bus but not that you’d really notice. I ignored Mark and stoked the fire with a couple of thick juniper chunks, and got it blazing. “Do you want some coffee before I head out?”
“Where are you going?”
I put on the water to boil, as regardless of what Mark said now, I’d need another cup. I squatted down in front of the woodstove and opened its door to watch flames. The snow glistened outside in the glare of the mid-morning sunshine. The water bubbled and out of habit I made two mugs of coffee, taking one back to Mark who had been watching me from the bed. Nelson asked to come back inside, his snow playing time over. He looked at me then Mark and decided to lie at my feet. I petted him absently, fiddling with his long silk like ears. I sipped my drink and warmed my hands at the same time.
“This is a good life, Mark, a life I love. I’m not going back West for Thanksgiving, not to visit nor to live.”
Mark reached for his sweatshirt. “Can we have this conversation another time? Like when it’s warmer?”
“It’s warm here, with a fire going and hot drink in my hands. I’m comfortable.”
“Well, I’m not.” He climbed out of the bed despite Frida’s grumbling, and he dressed in as many layers as he could, making quite a production out of it. I sat back in the armchair and Nelson lay down across my boots with a contented sigh.

“I’d like us to go back for Thanksgiving, just to see, Jenny, to remind us of what it’s like to live with central heating and movies and buses and people around. I miss it, that’s all I’m saying. I miss it. Don’t you?”
I glanced out the window next to me, and took a moment. “No, no I don’t. This is good for me. I even laughed this morning when I fell into a snow bank. I can do this, Mark. We can do this.”
“But do we want to? I don’t know. It’s been fun, good to make stuff, but it’s real now. This snow makes it real and we can’t do this, we’re not up for it. I’m not and I know you, you’re not either.” He crouched down in front of me and rested his arms on my legs. “It’s too much, let’s just take a trip down memory lane for the holidays okay? You know we have more than enough places to stay when we go back to Washington, and Keith, all my friends in LA, they’d put us up for sure. I’d get to play some gigs, bring in some cash for us, it’ll be easy, Jen, easy.”
I shook my head and moved in the chair. He took his hands back and stood up. He put the mug down on the counter and walked outside. The smell of his cigarette wafted through a cracked window. I stroked Nelson’s ears again, and lay back and closed my eyes.


“Did you ever want this? To live like this, Mark?”
He shook his head slowly, “not like you did, no.”
“So what the hell were you thinking? Patronizing me or something? Shit, I can’t believe this. Mom said -”
“Your mom said what exactly?”
I sat down and reached for one of his cigarettes but he pulled them away. “What Jen? What did Martha say about me?”
“That I was imagining things, that you loved me…” I paused, remembering the rest of the story, her story. Mark picked up on it and frowned. He opened two bottles of beer and passed me one as he sat back down on the bed. The dogs had been sent to the floor and we’d camped out here for hours, talking, trying to understand. The woodstove and the sunshine made it bearably warm enough to sit in tee shirts and jeans alone. I shook my head and started to cry without sound. Mark sighed in exasperation.
“Why do women always have to cry? Drink your beer, Jen. Just drink some beer.”
Nelson came over and stood watching me at a distance. He’d never fully trusted Mark after the first night here. I reached for him and the pup stood close enough to reassure himself I wasn’t hurt then he wandered back to his blanket by the woodstove. Frida dozed. I drank the beer and looked around my home, our home, at the shelves we’d built, the paint we’d chosen, the bed we’d made.
“We did this together, Mark. We found this place, dreamed of building a home, growing food, finding a community, all of it. We did this together.”
“I did most of it, not that you noticed. You were too busy helping everyone else. Didn’t you notice I’ve been lonely out here? I’m useless; I can’t find a decent band, no regular gigs, no teaching guitar, nothing that I like. It’s all just the stuff you like, Jen, with animals everywhere, and then making junky projects that will fall apart in a good wind. Is that something to be proud of? Working in a café for the rest of your life and living in a bus?”

“Mom didn’t seem too upset with me, did she?”
“I’m talking about you, Jen, not your mom.”
“I know, and you’re not being very nice about me are you? Saying this isn’t something to be proud of, saying you did all the work, not me. Is that what you really think? That this is all your doing? Well thanks a bunch, Mark.” I stood up and grabbed a jacket and car keys. “I’m going out a while. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Mark stood up and towered over me. “You’re running away again? Leaving?”
“No, it’s you who says you’re leaving. Not me, I’m staying. This is my home. But yes, I’m going out. To play in the snow and see friends -” I stepped down onto the deck, clutching the coat and backpack.
“ – and hope I’m here when you get back? With the fire going and food made like a good little househusband, eh? Well, fuck you too.” And he slammed the door behind me. I stood on the deck, too shocked to cry. Then it opened again and Nelson flew out and the door closed gently after him.


I drove carefully down the road in my Subaru with the heater cranked and radio silent. Nelson stayed in the back seat, stretched out in the warmth and sunshine. I drove carefully with the phone to my ear that is, praying Mom would pick up. She didn’t. I tried Anne, just her voicemail, and the same happened with Graham and Louisa. Damn, I was alone with this.

Over Santa Fe, the clouds built a wall of gray, encompassing the mountains and creeping my direction. More snow by the look of it and during the afternoon was my guess. I kept trying the phone but no one answered. Nelson slept. What the fuck?


“Another, Jenny?”
I nodded and stared at the television above his head.

“Is Mark coming down later? I had a band call up asking for a gig and I think he’d get on well with them, you know? Should I just call him?”
I took the pint and muttered that I didn’t know so just call him. My third pint went down easily but walking to the bathrooms was not. Maybe it was time to call it a day. I stood outside to sober up in the cold and snow. The phone rang.
“Mom? Oh, Mom…” and I burst into tears.

Living The Dream: 31

As part of the weekly excerpt of the novel LIVING THE DREAM:


“Miss, are you okay?”
A bright light shone in my eyes and I threw up an arm and yelped. A silhouette lowered his flashlight and opened the door gently. “Are you okay, Miss?” He reached for me and touched my shoulder. I nodded groggily.

“Where’s Nelson?”
“There was no one with you when we pulled up. Just a moment ago, that is. Who’s Nelson? Your husband? Son?”
“Where’s Nelson? Nelson.” I yelled and sat up, shaking my head clear. “Nelson? Where’s Nelson? Fuck, we’ve got to find him.” I clambered out of the truck and into a foot of snow. The sky had cleared somewhat and the snow no longer blinded me. It was cold, freezing actually, and I shivered.

“Miss, who is Nelson? What’s your name? Are you hurt?”
I shrugged him off and stumbled out of reach, screaming Nelson’s name over and over again.

“Nelson. Nelson, come. Come back. It’s okay, boy. Let’s go, Nelson. NELSON.”

I fell once, slipped as I stood and turned around, searching for my boy, my scared and sensitive boy. “NELSON. COME.”

The landscape lay empty and unfriendly. The State Police Officer watched as more police and EMTs arrived, sirens blaring and lights flashing. More and more people arrived, radios boomed, and the whole scene overwhelmed me.

“Turn the fucking siren off. You’ll scare him.”
“Your dog?”
“Yes. My dog. My family, he’s all I’ve got right now, my DOG.” I turned around again, yelling and yelling as the officers and EMTs watched me cautiously. I screamed, yelled, called out his name, struggling to understand. I sobbed. “Nelson, please, come back to me, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
An EMT came up, a slender woman around my age, and she squatted down close by.

“Can I make sure you’re okay? Physically? We’d like to take you to Albuquerque to one of the hospitals there and check you out for concussion, okay, Miss?”
“Jenny, my name’s Jenny. And no, I’m not leaving him alone. Not my boy. I’m not leaving.” I sobbed and wiped my eyes and cried even harder, shaking with shock and fear and cold. “He’s a husky, he’s mostly white and coffee colored, with odd eyes, have you seen him, please, have you seen him?”
She shook her head and watched me closely. I looked away. A State Policeman brought over a thermos and poured out some coffee. “My wife always makes me bring something hot with me,” he explained sheepishly. “Here, have some. Are you sure you don’t want to come with us to hospital?”
I shook my head, stubborn as hell, whispering Nelson’s name to myself.
“I’ll need you sign a refusal form, okay, Jenny?” The EMT nodded to the others and she asked if she could check me out anyway, make sure nothing was wrong. I nodded silently and stood for her to take blood pressure and the such. I guess I passed if not with flying colors as she walked off to confer. The other officers talked quietly as they checked out my vehicle. The State Policeman came back over and sat near on a tree stump.

“The bad news is that I can’t see any tracks from your dog so I’ve no idea which way he went. The good news, well, two pieces of good news I guess, one is that there have been no reports of crashes with animals near here. The other is that your vehicle is fine, you slid on the ice and landed here, but you can drive out if you put it into low four-wheel drive. The tires will hold. I could call a tow truck for you though, if you like? Or anyone else?” He sipped his own cup of coffee and waited.
All I could think of was Nelson, out there in the snow, scared and vulnerable. My boy. My pup. I shook my head but then remembered. “Do you know Officer Jaime Ramirez? He said to call him if ever I needed him. Could you? Could you call him? Tell him what happened? Please?”
He nodded and walked back to his vehicle and climbed in, with lights still flashing and engine running. Heat, he had heat. I walked back to the 4Runner and looked. The door was dented and hung open. The windshield had a three-foot crack. Nothing more. Just a missing dog and a headache. I was lucky. Not really.

I climbed inside and cranked the engine. It caught first time. I sat back and wiped at my eyes. I closed my eyes briefly but a picture of Nelson alone in the empty valley knocked me sideways and I climbed out, leaving the engine running so he’d hear it.

“Miss, if you could sign this form, saying you refuse medical attention? Thanks. I’d suggest you stay with a friend, someone who will keep an eye on you in case concussion gets you later, okay?”
I nodded, promising anything so that they would leave me alone, so that the ambulance and police cars would just leave me in peace. Quiet. So Nelson could hear me call him.
The State officer climbed out of his car and came over.

“Officer Ramirez is pretty close, you were lucky. He said he’ll be in Albuquerque in an hour and can meet you there. He’s coming up north any way so he’ll be passing through here and will look for the dog.”

He shook my hands and offered to wait for me to drive off. The ambulance had turned off their lights and pulled out onto the interstate slowly, followed by the other cop car. I shook his hand, thanking him for helping.

“I’d like to make some calls first, but then I’ll head to the city, I promise. Thanks again,” I smiled, kind of, enough to persuade him I’d do as I said. He nodded and shook my hand, wishing me a safe journey home to Oliver.

“At least it’s not too far and the snow’s stopped for now. Take care, Jenny.”
I watched as he drove off and left me alone with my empty truck. I waved him off. Then I bundled up, found a flashlight, and headed out into the snow.









We climbed hundreds of stone steps, with the both of us being completely out of breath half way. The path curved back and forth. Placards stood at each switchback next to various styles of wooden benches. We read the tourist information slowly, not talking, just looking up and out at the view, catching our breath.
Finally we rested at a bench on the crest of the hill. With a huge stone cross memorial behind us, Santa Fe opened up below. It was incredibly beautiful even with all the trees naked and the streets seemingly empty. The cathedral, homes, narrow roads, hotels, and the plaza lay below in a crazy pattern. Mom sighed and pulled out her smart phone.

“Well, at least I get a decent connection up here. I’ve been wanting to post some photos all week. This is beautiful, Jen. Thanks for getting us up here; I can’t quite believe how breathless I am though. Yoga’s meant to help me, damn it.”

I laughed and sat down next to her. “Altitude, I guess. I thought I’d do better by now. Well, Mark should be in town by the time we get back down. He’s not one to be late unless he’s getting the New Mexico timing down.”

I leaned back against the memorial and relaxed. The sky was clear and as bright blue as usual. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains had a light dusting of snow. The world was quiet and I heard footsteps from the road below.

“So then, you and Danny, eh? Want to tell me anything, Mom?”
She burst out laughing and slapped my knees. “Not really. Let’s just say he’s a good man. I’m glad you have him as a neighbor. I feel safe knowing he’s there for you.”
I laughed and stretched out my legs with a groan. “Right. That’s very selfless of you, Mom. But the question is; are you going to see him again or not? Do we need to get you back by a certain time?”
“Jennifer. Behave. And no, I’m going to see him tomorrow night before I leave. He said he’d drive me to the airport, if that’s okay with you?” She fiddled with her phone then picked it up and pointed it at the both of us. Flushed, breathless, and slightly embarrassed by the conversation, she clicked a photo of the both of us. My phone beeped. A text came in from Mark saying that he’d just pulled in to get gas and would meet us in twenty minutes or so. I held out my hands to Mom.

“Time to go, Mom.”
I hauled her to her feet with a groan.


We found the entrance to the restaurant Anne had recommended. A narrow doorway lead to a staircase lined with posters of New and Old Mexico. I followed Mom up, slowly. Her knees ached. My whole body ached.


Mark sat at a table close to the fireplace. He stood at the sight of us and gave me a kiss on the lips. Mom took off her layers and the waiter hung her coat over an empty chair with a wink and a smile. He asked what he could do for her. She blushed and asked for the drinks menu for all of us. He nodded once and reappeared within seconds, carrying glasses of water for three. He focused on my mom. What was going on? I grinned and Mark caught my look and raised his eyebrows with a smirk. I tried not to laugh. Mom glanced over at us.

“Well, what would you two like? I’ll have a margarita, salt no ice please.”

The short rotund and clean-cut waiter nodded once and reluctantly turned to us. “Yes?”
I nodded at Mark and he ordered our usual beers and asked for a plate of queso and chips to start with, oh, and an order of chicken wings. Behind the waiter a large television screen held my attention. Football, and someone in a helmet had just scored a run from one end to the other, leaping over two people, skidding around others, and diving for the line as he got tackled from two sides. Too late. I clapped in delight, now that’s a game of football.

Mom turned to see the re-run but missed that too. She wore new black jeans and sensible winter boots, a green woolen sweater, and her hair was as tidy as usual. Hardly any gray, did she dye it? Will I look as good in my fifties?

Around us, conversation buzzed and hid the sounds of the television. The room was pretty damn large and open plan, with windows the length of the southern facing wall. Outside, the balcony stood empty, the colorful tables and chairs set up hopefully but with temperatures in the forties, we all stayed inside. The restaurant focused on the tourist trade by the looks of us, all pink and fresh and obviously from somewhere with gray skies. Only Mark had a local’s tan and beat-up cowboy hat. He waited for his pint and sipped some water. Mark told us he’d called a few bands and even had a couple of leads with a music store in town, and it was beginning to look pretty good. His frown had taken a hike for the first time in ages and I leaned over to kiss him happily. Mom told him about our day, the places I’d taken her to, the presents stored in the Subaru, and her plans to return to Oliver for Christmas.

“I already spoke to the owners of the B and B and they have room for me surprisingly. I booked one. Will that be okay? I’m not planning on making you feed me or anything, Jenny. In fact, I’ll cook. ”
“Oh, Mom. I’d love that. We haven’t spent Christmas together since Mark and I came to Idaho, what was it – two years ago? Remember Mark? It’s been ages, right?”
Mom beamed. Mark toasted her with his beer and she clinked glasses with both of us.

“To the holidays.”
“What about your parents, Mark? Are they planning to come out here anytime soon? I’d love to meet them again. Your mom was hilarious. Such a wicked sense of humor.”
Mark picked at the queso and chips, “we haven’t set anything up yet. I thought I’d wait a while before inviting them, wait until we have something solid.”
“Don’t you think they’d like the outhouse? The bus?” I grinned with a mouthful.

He shook his head. “Not exactly. They’re a little more conservative. Dad’s idea of camping is to rent a forty-foot RV with dish TV, a generator, and full bathroom. I can’t imagine them in out on the land, can you? Mom maybe, but Dad? He’d talk politics at the tavern and that’d be that. We’ll see, Jen, we’ll see where we are next year, right?”

“Right here, I’ll be right here.”
The wings arrived and we all tucked in to our messy BBQ covered sticky-finger-making munchies.
The dogs flung themselves at the door, barking madly. I opened the door cautiously. No one. No trucks. No animals. Nothing. The dogs flew down the steps and barked. At the sky: An arrowhead of Canadian Geese soared above. Flying south in formation, they clacked and flapped, changing places looking for the best spot among the crowds. Hundreds of geese fled the coming winter storms. Mark had gone to town to do laundry thankfully. I’d decided to work outside again.

I added compost and handfuls of straw to the garden beds, and dug everything in deeper than the first time round. I wanted to prepare the soil for next year so that I could actually grow more than just tomatoes and potatoes. The sun shone and the wind had a bite to it.

I dug in the dirt. I sweated. It seemed the best thing for me to do right then. The fence had even held up to the pups trying to get to the manure I’d brought back from Anne’s place. I rehung the gate and added some random sticks and cans and bottles to the chicken wire that protected the non-existent plants from rabbits. I wandered off and followed the arroyo back to where we’d been supposedly busted for growing pot. The footprints lead the way. The dogs followed and played behind me. First Nelson and then Frida jumped off the boulders and over the tree stumps. I gathered sticks for kindling.


A big Dodge pick up drove up and honked its horn. I ran back through the arroyo with dogs panting and flinging themselves ahead of me. The horn honked again and the engine started back up. I ran even faster.

Around the last corner, I almost tripped but caught myself on a branch. I yelled out and heard an answering call. Frida had won the race. She stood on her hind legs, trying to reach the truck window but failing completely. Nelson hung back and watched from the porch.

Debbie, the homesteading neighbor, and her kids waved at me and then all climbed out. Three young ‘uns with backpacks and thick coats and hats grinned at me and then sat down with my dogs. Debbie, in a long woolen pea coat and a red beanie, walked up fast. Her hands stayed deep in pockets and her eyes were raw and red. She’d not been sleeping by the looks of it.

“Hey, Jenny. I hate to do this, but I’ve got to ask…can you take the kids for the afternoon? I have to get to the dentist. It’s just got to the point that I want to rip all my teeth out. The painkillers aren’t working for the life of me and I’m taking it out on them.” The boys hung out on the porch, one had befriended Nelson and he leaned against him as Frida darted between them all with a ball in her mouth. Tails wagged. Kids laughed. It looked easy enough.

“Sure. Did you get an appointment or something?”
“The emergency room will take me. Everyone else is booked for the week and I just can’t deal with it any longer. Are you sure you don’t mind? Frank’s at work in Santa Fe until four but then can come straight here. I fed them. You shouldn’t need to do much. They’re pretty wild so just keep them outside.” Debbie rambled on and on. She rubbed her chin again and again. “Are you sure?”
At that point, I playfully pushed her away and back to the Dodge, saying, “Go on with you. Just tell Frank to come on over later. It’s fine. Mark will be home in a bit anyway. Go on. We’ll be okay, right boys?”
All three faces turned up and nodded seriously. “Have fun, Mom.” and they all laughed at her expression as she climbed in. We watched her drive off and then looked at each other. Kids. I didn’t want any myself but oh well, I could play with these guys and hand them back in a few hours, right? Right. I had no clue.

I wandered closer. “So, I don’t even know your names. I’m Jenny. That’s Frida and the leaner is Nelson. Both came from –“

“- Louisa’s.” came the chorus. “Us too. We’ve got a few from her. A mama and a puppy pittie. They’re old now though. Almost as old as Finnegan.”
One little hidden face peaked up at me from under his layers. “I’m six. That’s Clark and this is Franny-bo-banny.”
“I thought you were all boys?”
Franny piped up that she’s a tomboy and don’t ever call her a girl or make her wear pink or else. I nodded seriously back. “Understood. Okay, boys. I’m hungry. Your mom said you ate though. You can watch me eat if you want.”
All three stood up fast. “What have you got? I’m hungry.”
“Quesadillas and fresh salsa and some chips.”
“Yeah. I want some. I want some. I’m hungry.”
We trooped inside the bus. Clark helped me in the kitchen and the other two fiddled and explored the small space. Franny thoroughly checked out my home, opening and closing little cupboards, peaking under the bed and finally she gave her verdict.

“This is cool. We could do this at our place, couldn’t we? Mom and Dad have a bus but he uses it for his tools and the dogs. I want to paint it and make it a playhouse. Hey, can we make a fire? It’s kinda cold, you know.”
“I’ll do it in a minute. Flames and all of that.” I replied nervously.

“But we’ve been making fires since we were three. Even Finn can do a pretty good job by now. Not as good as me, but you know, not bad.”

Franny scrunched up some newspaper. Finnegan took the metal can and cleaned out the cold ashes carefully. Clark cooked. I pulled out the plates and a six-pack of ginger ale. The dogs curled up on their beds.


“Where to?” We strode through the trees.

“We want to show you a cave. I can’t believe you haven’t found it yet. That’s crazy.” Clark the ten year old, lead the way up the hill, following some path I couldn’t spot. The others followed me with the dogs at their heels.

“Whose land is this?”
“Dunno. Doesn’t matter really. We grew up here, so me and Franny, we always ran around and explored places. Mom and Dad used to send us off with backpacks of water and snacks and tell us to come back later. Much later. Then Finn was born and now Mom doesn’t tell us to go away like before. Dad works more too. But we used to come up this gulch and find pottery and stuff from Indians and tools from the miners. Dad made us a shelf and everything so we got a whole pile now. Finn’s really good at finding the arrowheads.”

Clark chatted up a storm and I listened and panted quietly. Franny and Finn ran rings around us, chasing the pups and hollering back and forth. Finally Clark pulled up short next to this huge beet red boulder that appeared out of nowhere. The dirt under foot was pitch black and like dust. In front of us the mesa spread its wings. The Jemez Mountains glowed pink in the setting sun. I grinned widely.

“This is amazing. What a view.”
“You can see our place, way out there, to the south. See?”
Clark brushed his long black hair off his face and reached out to aim me in the right direction. He was tall for his age, in that he was almost five foot two. His dark brown eyes twinkled happily as he looked around. The youngsters ran up and screeched to a halt. Franny opened her pack and gave us all some chocolate and shared her bottle of water.

“From our well.”
The water tasted crisp and clear. She packed everything back up and looked to her big brother. “Ready?”
The kids shook hands and yelped. I got nervous.

“This way.”

I followed them around the boulder, squeezing through a small gap, and suddenly looking down into a mineshaft.
“Are you sure this is safe?”
“No, it’s not. Don’t tell Mom, okay, Jenny? She told us not to come here again, not after we lost Finn that one time.”
I backed off. “I don’t know, kids. I don’t think we should.”
They all stopped and stared at me silently. “But we like you. I trusted you.” Franny whined. “And I gave you my last piece of chocolate.”
I stood a moment and looked down in to the dark cave. Tracks lead down but I couldn’t see past five or ten feet. Too dark. “I don’t have a flashlight.” I countered.

“It’s okay, you can hold my hand if you get scared,” offered little Finnegan.

“Okay, okay. I’m coming. But don’t tell your mom.”

We stumbled down in a single file. I held onto Finnegan’s hand. The dogs followed closely at my heels. I couldn’t see a thing.

“Seriously? You didn’t? That’s hilarious.”

I laughed. “Yep, they got me fair and square, the little bastards. Can you believe I fell for it? They laughed so damn hard all the way home. By the time we got there Mark and Frank were inside drinking beers and chatting away like old friends. Frank cracked up when they told him.” I blushed at the thought of how scared I’d been. And how I’d squealed like a girl when Franny sounded like a coyote in attack mode. I’d found out that the trench was simply an entrance to a blocked off old failed mine some ten feet deep at the most. The steep sides and rotten wood posts told a story of hard labor and tired old men. The kids however thought of it as a test. I passed. Just. Now they loved me and begged to come over again the following day.

I blushed again and drank some more beer. Anne and Graham grinned at Mark who couldn’t stop himself from describing the kids’ delight. Graham took out his phone and flicked through his photos.

“Was it this one?” He passed it over to me. I looked, nodded, and handed it to Mark and then Anne. She shook her head.
“It’s lucky it is closed off. There’s been some bad shit there over the years. Just this year, some meth dealer hid out there for months once after he’d killed one of ours. A local teenager had got into it and overdosed with some stuff he’d bought from that guy. We never did see him again. I heard a rumor though that Dieselhead and friends found him and took care of it.”
Mark and I did a double take, thinking of the hitchhiker we’d found that rainy day in summer.

“A few months ago. Why?”
“We met him. The dealer. He stole my wallet.” I shook my head at the thought. I told them the story, short as it was. “What do you think happened to him?”
“Maybe he got picked up by the cops?” Mark leaned forward as the pizzas arrived.

Graham shook his head. “If that was the case, they’d have given him a ride to Albuquerque General Hospital and wished him well. He has connections, family, or something. He gets away with murder, so to speak.”
We drank in silence. The tavern was empty as usual now winter had hit hard. The fire roared and a handful of locals sat around and warmed up. Dogs lay at people’s feet and the television played unwatched in the far corner.

The food arrived and I tucked in as they all chatted. I was getting addicted to green chile enchiladas. Mark stuck with his usual cheeseburger and fries and the others had pizza. A storm warning flashed across the television screen. I ignored it. We had firewood, so who cared when it actually hit? I ate. Anne talked about Taos and how she’d dreamed of going there for Thanksgiving one year. Mark described our visit in October, talking about breakfast at the hot springs, afternoons at the pubs, and our drive home along side the Rio Grande.
“What are you two doing for the holidays?” Graham asked just as I put another mouthful to sleep. I swallowed, ready to say ‘nothing’ but Mark spoke up.

“Los Angeles. We’re going to see my brother, Keith, and his family for a week or more.”
I spluttered out my last bite and it hit Graham’s shirt. He didn’t notice. I stared at Mark, about to jump on him, verbally that is.

Mark continued, ignoring me and telling them about us driving back up the coast to see friends in Washington too if we had the time. I couldn’t say a word. Anne dived into the awkwardness.

“You are? That’s great. My sister lives out in LA too, I keep meaning to go see her, but I’m not a big traveler these days. I like being home with the animals, you know how it is.” Anne grinned at me. “I can’t imagine leaving them.”
“Me neither.” I took a gulp of water and waited. “When are we going, Mark?”
He glanced at me then focused back on Graham and Anne. “On Wednesday morning. I was going to ask if either of you could take care of the dogs, make sure their water’s not frozen, stuff like that. Come by once a day is all they need.”
“It is not. They’ll be lonely. And cold.” I blurted out in anger.
Graham poured me some more water and then noticed the chile on his white shirt. He wiped it off with a frown. Then he looked up at me and smiled again. “I can stay there if you like, or they can come to stay at mine in town? I don’t mind. Frida’s pretty good with me nowadays. Nelson’s just easy as pie.”
As I opened my mouth to speak, Mark decided it was time he stepped outside to smoke. Anne kept eating but asked, “he hadn’t told you, eh?”
I shook my head and finished Mark’s pint in one. “Nope. I don’t know how we’ll pay for it even if I wanted to leave here. Mom had sent me some money for a small solar system but we don’t have anything else saved. Not for some random road trip like that.”
“Did Diane set you up with electricity after all?”
“Nope, I worked it out myself. She didn’t want to work with what I needed, we needed.” All proud of myself, I told them how I’d planned on setting up the solar the first weekend in December, ready to hunker down for the winter. I’d made a box for the batteries, set up a platform with pallets to keep the panels off the ground, and even made a frame to hold them at the correct angle. “I just need to install the wiring, get it all put together but I’m close to being ready.”

“Not bad, not bad. You never knew you had it in you, did you now? I remember when you first got here you’d left everything to Mark.” Anne teased me as the man himself came striding back, shaking off a few snowflakes.

“Left what to me? It’s started snowing for real. Huge flakes. Damn, it’ll be cold at home.” He sat down and reached for his pint. “Hey. What happened to my beer?”
“You finished it, don’t you remember?” Graham stood. “Same again? Or something warmer like -”
“Hot toddies.” came the reply from us all in unison. We burst out laughing. Hot toddies it was then. Mark put another couple of logs on the fire like a pro and sat back. We all leaned on the table, nursing our drinks and chatting about the snowfall that had already whitened out the highway. Graham crowed that he only had to walk home from the tavern these days. Anne slapped him playfully.

“Remember all the times we had to walk up the mountain in the snow?”
“The drifts deeper than our boots?”
“With the moon shining on us as -”

“- we sang Pink Floyd and the Stones at the top of our voices?”
Anne snorted and Graham smiled, happily teasing his friend. She tipped her drink at him and they toasted each other. I watched and sipped my own. I ignored Mark and checked out the window. The snowflakes danced under the porch light. A big Dodge truck headed up hill, slowly but surely cutting its way through the drifts. A couple walked with hats pulled down and long coats closed tightly. The fire backed up without warning and filled the tavern with juniper and pinion smoke. I grinned and coughed.

All of a sudden, the door opened and a gang of locals poured inside, laughing loudly, and on the count of three, threw snowballs at us all. Mayhem broke out. Mark jumped to his feet, and returned the snowballs with a yelp. Graham hunkered down. I grabbed my drink and stood up just as someone tried to get Mark back. Straight in the face. My face. I spluttered. Graham took my glass. Anne and I scrambled around on the floor, grabbing the melting snow, and attacked back. Mark stood behind me, using me as a shield, and scored two big direct hits. But then a holler made him turn around, and –


Splat. Mark yelped and fell over.

Graham grinned from a table next to us. “Oops. Is he on your side?”