Bright Angels and Familiars
by Eugene England, Editor

Chapter 10
I Am Buzz Gaulter, Left-Hander
Darrell Spencer

[133] We live with acts of God. This is the good news I have for François, so I phone him, direct distance dialing to L.A. No answer, only a dull ringing in my ears. I keep the phone to my head. Seeds, black Shetland sheep dog at my feet, lifts her muzzle and shows me the whites of her eyes. I turn down the TV, but can still hear a squirrel-cheeked man outlining the end of the world. He tells us it will come while we sleep. He claims to be Leland Freeborn the Parowan prophet. His last words are: “Say your goodbyes.” The ringing in my ears is like a moaning. I hang up and turn the set off, then on again, waiting for the weather.

Less than a mile away, Utah Lake rises in the moonlight, fed daily, engorged nightly, bloated ceaselessly by lunatic rivers. Madcap water escapes its banks and throws fits. It uproots trees and undoes bridges. A reservoir up Sardine Canyon is threatening towns below.

My pacing has Seeds’s attention. She hurls herself at my foot, pins it, and takes in sock. I waltz, I reel, and she rides me out. Her instinct is to herd.

When I reach François, there will be a moment of silence while [134] he relights a cigar. He will toy with small change and say, “Relax. Get your feet up. We all know what the world needs more of: frivolity and squalor. All the good things.” He is a smart man—friend, writer, and fiddler on the violin.

But the lake encroaches, and the moon waxes, and I say out loud: “Los Angeles is not the end of the world, François. Orem is.” This is the bad news. Orem, Utah. Utah’s watch-us-grow city. Home of the Osmonds, Donny and Marie.

What François does not know, what I want him to know, is my waking at odd hours, popeyed, a fist of air in my throat, my left or right arm as dead as clotted clothes. He doesn’t know my nightly walk through hallways, past closet doors spooks have opened against their hinges. What I want him to see is the hand of God.

I have thrown my wife out. When I did, she spit scripture. She said, ”The moon will turn to blood.” Now I hear footsteps overhead. I want François to understand they are real.

 

East of Orem is the Wasatch Fault. It runs the length of the Wasatch Mountains. It waits. Its time will come. The local paper carried a photo of the mountains above and the cities below and a fracture severing them, ripping the God-made from the man-made. Next to it was a drawing of a house of cards and a caption: “Gambling with Seismic Safety.” The crack was the grin of a jack-o-lantern.

For now the big story is south of here. Thistle, Utah, is under water. Spring rains saturated the hills and Billy’s Mountain came down. Mud outran the highway department. It choked off the road, then dammed up the Spanish Fork River and tore up railroad lines. Behind the slide, the water is sixty feet high and rising. Twenty-two houses have gone under. NewsWatch 2 filmed looters in scuba gear. People are water-skiing. The Texaco at the corner is selling FISH LAKE THISTLE caps and T-shirts.

The paper has begun a series called “Floodwatch.” It tells us that the rivers have not yet crested and assures us that the Army Corps of Engineers is on its way. And the governor is coming. We’ve been told to boil our water.

[135] We made Time. I say we, but I am not we.

Orem is my wife’s town. Lois grew up here, with women named Alma, Leora, Alvina; among men named Orrin, Manti, Helaman, and Ephraim. She introduced me as her Bernard. She told me, “You can be Bernard now.” Then she looked me in the mouth. She took me up to people. “This is my Bernard,” she said.

I am not Bernard. I am Buzz, Buzz Gaulter. Buzz at the Bel Air in L.A., where with a wedge I can turn a Titleist into a feather and float it to within three feet of any flagstick, from fairway, rough, or sand. I was Buzz at SC, eighteen years ago, where I started three years at first base, a hot dog, running out walks, dinking singles to left and jerking them into right, laying down a bunt when even God didn’t expect one, dropping an occasional double one inch inside the left field foul line.

I am Buzz Gaulter, left-hander, though I swing my woods and irons right-handed. I adapt; I am no spectator. I putt left-handed and dead-eyed.

I won’t play golf in Orem. Men in tennis shoes and corduroys wander the fairways. They tow their clubs behind them. No one bets. There is nowhere to get a drink after a round. And cards. Poker is a wet dream here.

It was Lois’s brother, LaDell, who got us to Orem. He wrote her and told her the family home was ours if we wanted it. We could steal it for $60,000.

So we did.

The house is old, on the register of the Utah State Historical Society. We get a tax break if we refurbish. The hardwood floors creak and are a comfort. Our address is RFD, and we’re on a party line with LaDell.

He and his fat wife, Faye, live behind us, across an open field, half a mile away. This is farm country. There are fence posts and sagging barbed wire, but no real fences. I grew up with cinder block. People knew their place.

I’m sure Lois has gone to LaDell’s. Where she’ll sleep I don’t know. There is no room. Their place is only a basement. Walking in, you feel like you’re being sucked into a root cellar. LaDell tells [136] me he gave up. He set out to build a two-story with a basement, but the day he began laying bricks for the ground floor, he quit. He shut off the mixer, knocked down the framing, and tacked on shingling. He trimmed the edges with sheet metal and finished the chimney.

On good days LaDell and Faye sit in their yard. He flips back and forth in a La-Z-Boy while she sews, her work and herself spread out on a moss green vinyl couch. They act like they’re in Florida. Utah Lake is their Atlantic.

Lois must be there.

 

The day I kicked Lois out, she had hacked her way across the kitchen, her robe open, her cardboard-soled slippers like trash in the wind. She was as out of control as whooping cough. She smelled like a soybean baby.

I said, “Out.”

She scraped food into Seeds’s bowl and piled dishes in the sink.

“Out.”

Lois went to our bedroom, then on to the bathroom. I heard the door lock. Muttering “Out, out, out,” I piled her clothes on the bed. When she came in, I was tossing underwear. I said, “Pack.” I hauled out her luggage.

She stood like a floor lamp, robbed of its shade, the bulb off.

I said, “You’re out. Strike three.”

She pleaded. But her issues were dead. I ignored her questions. They were moot. I felt no urge to explain. I raised my right arm like Moses and with my left hand pointed toward the world. I said, “I pay the bills.”

We were on the porch when she said, ”The moon will turn to blood.” I kicked her overnight case, and it skidded across the cement. She said, “Where to?” I phoned LaDell, which is a tricky thing to do on a party line; you have to dial yourself. He came running. We watched him bob across the fields.

I said, “Seeds stays.” To prove this I undid the ribbon Lois had tied to her collar. I gave it to Lois as if I was awarding her something, and I shut the door so I wouldn’t have to see LaDell.

[137] I drove to Duff’s and bought a McCulloch 510 chain saw on sale. Two hundred forty-five dollars, and worth it. I ripped our king-size bed in two, from baseboard to headboard. Sawdust fell like powder, on me, on the carpet. I left it to be ground in. Cutting the mattress was not what I thought it would be. It was like slicing meat. I used cinder blocks to prop up my side. Hers I carried out to the patio and I dragged out the box springs. I gathered up any chair Lois had sat on, any plate she had eaten off, and her chest of drawers. She had left some clothes. I put a match to it all.

The smoke began white and thready. I settled into a lounge chair, and Seeds hopped to my lap. I thought about the farmers. Utah Lake is robbing them. It will leave a foot of mud. From where I sat, I saw cows huddled on humps of dry land; others stood dumbfounded, water rotting their hooves.

The fire grew. LaDell had told me about the floods of ’52. Graves had opened, uncorking bodies and spinning them down city streets. Headlines had asked: “The Second Coming?”

I dumped Seeds to the ground and circled the fire like a primitive. Smoke rose in cartoon clouds. No one would care. Just another farmer burning weeds and limbs. But LaDell and fat Faye and Lois would see and worry. Crazy Buzz is burning the family home. I listened for sirens.

I looked up at an old backboard and hoop bolted to the eaves. The patio had been some kid’s court. Lois has six brothers and two sisters. A government study says Orem has the highest birth rate in the nation. I eyed the basket. Pumping energy into my legs, I took one and a half steps, rose as Buzz Gaulter, and slam-dunked Lois. Seeds barked and nipped at my heels.

The furniture burned. The box springs stunk.

 

All this was three days ago, to be accurate, on the day of the night God came. I want to say he struck. Lois would say struck is more accurate. He came like a thief in the night.

I had gone to the west desert. I needed Vinnie and the Dodgers. Only Vin Scully and his voice clean-as-a-double-up-the-alley could save me. Seeds and I took the back roads, cut left into Lehi, and [132] parked in front of Stubby’s Beer and Billiards.

I do love Stubby’s.

My first night there, I asked him about the sign above the register. It says, “Gary Gilmore drank here.” I said, “Is that true?”

He said, “Often.”

He keeps a stack of The Executioner’s Song on the counter. A big thick book. One day I’ll buy one. I asked him if it was true. He said, “It happened.”

I gave him my hand. I said, “I am Buzz.”

“My name’s Pinkie Bender,” he said, “but they call me Stubby.”

I can’t go for a Dodger game without stopping at Stubby’s, even if it’s only for one beer and a few chips. To hear the Dodgers I have to drive beyond the west mountains. I end up on the Utah-Nevada border near the Goshute Indian Reservation. The road follows the old pony express route. Once I pass Dugway the radio picks up Vinnie and I might as well be in L.A. I know the sun is up in the city, and it is probably low enough to be tough on whoever is playing right field.

What surprised me the evening of the day I threw Lois out was Utah Lake. It got to me as I drove. The water had begun to take over. Trees staggered against its weight. There was no longer a shoreline. The water was beading like quicksilver on the land. The Jordan River picked at the road bed. I parked, to let Seeds out, to measure the damage. She yapped sharply and took bites out of the Hatu wind. A white moon held itself above the Wasatch Mountains. It was veined. It was perfect in its orbit.

I was spooked but put everything behind me. I thought about the Dodgers’ Lasorda. He’d have a joke for all this. I pictured a towering shot in the bottom of the ninth and Dodgers merrily circling the bases. What I got, as I sat on the hood of the car, drinking beer and feeding Seeds Twinkies, was a triple play against the Dodgers—a line drive to Schmidt, who stepped on third and fired to first. Bases-loaded wasted. I wept. Seeds sneaked into my lap. In the ninth Virgil singled home two Phillies. In the bottom half, Carlton fanned three Dodgers.

I drove like a madman. I tried to ignore the lake, but the moon had turned night into day. For the first time in my life, I felt its tug. [139] It bristled the hair on my neck. We got home at 2 AM.

God had come and gone.

The roof had caved in—dead center on the south side. Seeds and I circled the yard. Ashes smoldered on the patio. I said, “Seeds, God has brought his fist down, like Khrushchev and his shoe.” We climbed the stairs to the attic, where we walked among timber and shingles. Seeds sniffed for a trail. The moon looked in on us. I faced up to it. I said, “I am Buzz Gaulter, left-hander. What is it?” Seeds went for my foot and I shook her off.

I couldn’t sleep, so I drove to the 7-Eleven for a paper and a Big Gulp. Mud slides had wiped out a neighborhood, burying the old and the slow. Survivors were in a high school gym. There was a picture—cots, etc. A dike had broken, and a car had been carried from 1-15. “A whole family has gone under,” said a state trooper. Polygamists were shooting each other in the head. Obeying a revelation from God, two crazies slit the throats of a twenty-four-year-old mother and her one-year-old daughter.

At 8:00 I drove back and got a morning paper. Same news. Deer were being slaughtered. Driven into the valley by the winter’s heavy snows, they were starving and baffled. Men were shooting them with .22s. Blood flowed in orchards. A headline said, “Thistle Could Not Be Saved.” The Army Corps of Engineers was retreating.

I phoned a roofer. He parked his Volvo cockeyed to our retaining wall, left it running and shook my hand. “Karl Bowler,” he said. I pointed to the hole.

He said, “An attic?”

Seeds and I led him up. He kicked debris. I said, “Can you explain this?”

“Old house,” he said. “Rot. Gravity. An act of God.”

“Will it all come down?”

He didn’t think so. He went to his pocket and came up with a plastic clip. It had a magnet stuck to it. He said, “I invented this. They hold back shower curtains. Do you want to invest $20,000 or $30,000?”

I told him no, and he put it away. He looked like a hero gone to seed. Hair a shade too red. Features more round than chiseled. [140] Skinny. And short. His mustache a mistake, an idea he should have given up on. Back on the front lawn, he said, “Want to get in on a running store? Ground floor. Make you rich.”

I said, “No. The roof?”

He added figures and quoted me a price. I called around. No one beat his estimate. He said, “I’ll need three days and a free hand.” I gave him both.

Trucks came and went while a crew hurled trash out the hole. I left. Seeds and I went for a drive. We parked downtown, afraid to go up any canyons or near the lake. We avoided the freeway. There were dikes running the length of Third South. People stood on them while a photographer snapped a picture for fifty cents. We went home.

The second day Seeds barked at a crane as it lowered a skylight toward the roof. I asked no questions. I retreated. A free hand is a free hand. I clipped articles from old newspapers: “Deer Feeding Program Killing More Than It Saves”; “Crack Found in Skyline Dam”; “Two Drown in Thistle Lake.” I used a razor blade and cut out quotes from officials: “Jeffrey Dunn, City Engineer, says, ‘God only knows when the lake will stop.’ The governor says, ‘We’ll go to the White House if we have to.’” I put it all in envelopes and addressed them to LaDell’s.

I knew they were keeping an eye on the work. I saw Lois and fat Faye with their hands on their hips. LaDell was bucking up and down in his La-Z-Boy and studying things through binoculars. I flipped them a bird.

They’re wondering what crazy Buzz is up to. What has he done? I have done nothing.

More trucks came, and I stretched out on the sofa. Seeds picked up and put down her head. Things were being moved in. I bit my tongue. I spoke only Spanish to myself. Up the backstairs men carried heavy objects. I recognized the sound of an industrial sander. Seeds curled back her black lips and showed teeth. The sander whirred above us, and dust fell on the room where I lay. Seeds gathered herself in.

[141] The sander came down. Trucks pulled out. It was getting dark when Seeds and I headed for Stubby’s. I drank beer. Seeds sat at my feet and ate Twinkies. Stubby doesn’t mind her.

I said, “Pinkie, give me your number.”

“Here?”

“Anywhere. I may need help.”

“Wherever you call, ask for Stubby,” he said. He gave me three numbers. He could see I was serious.

I told him about the roofer. Am I a coward? I wondered. Stubby didn’t think so. I admitted I had driven off without looking back. I confessed to throwing my wife out. He gave me a beer and a package of Twinkies on the house.

I drove out to confront the lake. It was picking at the road. I saw asphalt fall away. I braked and another piece dropped into the water. There was no moon showing. I felt the way you feel when you let the tub overflow—as if you have gone on vacation and left a burner on. Back at Stubby’s, I had a beer and phoned the highway department. No answer. There should have been sawhorses and yellow blinkers out there. The road to the west was gone.

And there was this ringing in my ears. Like a moaning. Seeds and I drove home in a thunderstorm. Seventeen thousand lightning bolts hit the ground.

As we turned toward the house, the rain stopped. The clouds cleared like curtains. I saw the skylight lit up, dead center in the roof. The trucks were gone. Only Karl Bowler’s Volvo idled where he had parked it that first day. I was sure Lois was staring out of LaDell’s place, her eyes six inches above the ground.

On the front lawn, a woman and maybe a dozen children moved in the moonlight. Her hair was wet. She danced an African shag. As I got out of the car, she came at me. I held Seeds and twisted my keys into a weapon. She said, “He’s done this before.”

I let Seeds into the house.

She said, “Moves in. Practically.”

Seeds batted the door behind me. I banged it, and she stopped. The woman backed away, looking up at the skylight. The Volvo spun on. I realized it had been running all this time. It had been [142] there in the back of my mind.

I said, “Mrs. Bowler?”

“My husband. Yes,” she said. She seemed to be an immigrant. A bun at the back of her head tucked lines in her face. Her dress hung like a quilt from her clothes-hanger shoulders.

I said, “I’ve gone days without sleep.”

“Tell him to go.”

“He’s welcome. There must be a reason.”

“He’ll call himself Gillette.”

I turned for the door.

She said, “What do you want?”

“What do I want?” I said.

“I’ll stay. I won’t leave till he comes around. He’ll turn your place into a foundry. Make brass bookends or install a kiln and throw pots and think he’s an artist.”

I looked at the fresh moon and shut the door in her face.

She yelled, “See.” I went to a window. She held up a gas can. She called a boy to her and handed it to him. She gave him money. He ran off, slinging the can. Five minutes later he was back. They met at the Volvo, and the woman poured gas in. She screamed, “Till hell freezes over,” and shook the empty can at me.

 

The moon is out and full. Water drips from the roof. Like unshakable foliage, the woman watches the skylight. Her children sleep around her. The police have not come.

François does not answer. I dial again, thinking I got it wrong. No answer, only the ringing.

Footsteps pass back and forth above me. The hardwood floors creak. Bowler works late.

I turn on the news. Thistle Lake won’t hold. It’s been declared a disaster area. There is a shot of the governor, on a cliff, beaming through his new beard. Along the freeway, dikes are failing. I-15 is closed north and south. A film crew in a helicopter flies over flooded fields and collapsing barns. Cows look like Stonehenge. A weatherman shakes his head and says, “The ground cannot contain any more water.”

[143] Outside, the Volvo engine idles. LaDell and Lois want their home back. It’s on their mind, but it’s in my name. They sit in their dark hole. As Buzz, I could step outside, tee up six Titleists, address them cleanly, and cut wedge shots onto LaDell’s roof: plink, plink, plink. I could send one or two down the chimney, let them rattle around.

But the woman is in the yard, troubling it, troubling me.

The footsteps have stopped. Tomorrow I will ask to see his work. Tomorrow will be the third of the three days Bowler asked for. Now I stare at TV: “Nightmare Theater.” Steve McQueen, who is dead, and the Blob.

Still François does not answer. When he does he will say something educated.

My phone rings. A boy says, “Do you have a John there?”

“No John,” I say. “Only a Buzz.”

“No John?”

“No John,” I say.

He says, “What do you do then, pee out the window?”

Seeds turns in a mindboggling circle as she chases her tail, and I dial Wyoming.

“Cheyenne Poison Control,” a voice says.

I say, “Dr. Frentheway.”

“One minute.”

This is childish I know. I set the phone near my stereo and hold the arm over Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” When Frentheway says, “Hello,” I lower the needle. My forearms weaken, but what are old college friends for? I say into the phone, “Psycho.” I hang up. We called him Psycho. Everyone had names then.

 

In the predawn light I dial François and let it ring. I have a twenty-five-foot cord and can take the phone into hell if I have to. I picture him on the beach. He has his violin, and he is sending pure notes to beings on other planets. More likely, he is on a pier, studying the pelicans, figuring out how to describe them as they drop into the Pacific.

I carry the phone to the kitchen. It rings on. Utah Lake swells. Seeds, stuck to my foot, drives me from the back door. Suddenly [144] she stops. Things are stock still. I remember Lois saying, “God’s ways are not our ways.” Dead quiet. Calm. The ringing, the moaning, in my ears has stopped. I look at LaDell’s. His chimney shudders. Out back is the shell of the moon, what is left of it. It could be God’s fingertip. Neighborhood dogs bark. Seeds gives me her pork eye, and I say out loud, “Orem is the end of the world, François. ”

Overhead, barefooted Bowler stirs, and behind me the Wasatch Fault grins.