by Linda Sillitoe
[p.107]The magazine office was quiet enough that morning for Caitlin to leave her door open as she sorted leisurely through the color negatives from her Navajo trip, setting aside those she thought might work well in the layout and watching for a cover for the law and order story.
She had returned feeling fairly relaxed. Free in the sky and wind among the redrock, the hassles of the last few months had seemed lost in another world. The day in Red Mesa had been cold, almost bleak, with few trees and only a scattering of government-designed houses half a mile to the north. In the photographs, however, Henry Benally’s trailer, his hogan, and his outbuildings looked inviting, huddled from the wind against the edge of a stony outcrop. His view of bluffs and sky in all other directions was endless.
Henry had greeted her cordially, touching her hand lightly. She had forgotten his quiet intensity that drew her like a magnet. They jumped into conversation. Adam had left them to their talking, while he scurried back and forth with his cameras. Henry had told her about the pow wow in Cortez. He had entered the traditional men’s category of dancers, he said. Tonight, a Friday, [p.108]the judging began in earnest and would go through Sunday afternoon.
Some time ago Caitlin had learned not to pop questions as Henry talked, rather to flow with his thoughts. She reminded herself to look past him as she listened intently, toning down the eye contact that worked so well with Anglos. An intent gaze, especially during conversation, represented a rude intrusion. Now she knew she need not even have a question ready when he stopped talking. After a moment’s pondering, he would continue the flow or turn its direction, often toward her.
Her initial comments about the problems of law enforcement on the reservation led quickly to a discussion of why such policing was necessary, the breakdown of the kinship traditions, the old ways of dealing with wrongdoing, the teaching of the Navajo Way.
Henry raised questions, too. He didn’t ask Caitlin why she was in Navajo country for the second time this fall, though he knew that on her first visit she’d missed seeing him. Surprisingly, he asked why she didn’t stay. “I can’t stay,” she said. “You know I have a family in the city, and a job, but I keep coming back. This is the most beautiful, fascinating place I’ve ever been.” She smiled at the rosy dust they sat on.
He had said nothing for a moment, pursing his lips, and looked out the open hogan door at an uprooted sage turning cartwheels in the wind. “Perhaps someday you will find a husband down here,” he said, looking back at her, “and learn our ways from the inside. That’s the way to really understand.” His eye contact, she noticed suddenly, was direct and frequent today.
Caitlin smiled but said nothing. As he fell silent, the wind captured her thoughts, whistling around the hogan, throwing fists of dust at the sage. Suddenly she longed to stay, never to leave. Her life in the city seemed small from this distance, repetitive, [p.109]inconsequential. What were they all doing there, anyway? So busy, so tired, so driven toward the next project, the next deadline, as committed and unperceptive as ants. Even the twins had to meet deadlines. Thinking of the drive back the next morning, she felt unexpectedly mournful. She swallowed hard and looked at Henry.
“Sometimes a bad element will come into our lives,” Henry said then. Startled, she nodded. “Sometimes that element will cling to us, like dust on our clothes. The harder we try to brush it away, the harder it clings.”
Caitlin stared at him, surprised. Minutes ago he had finished explaining how Navajos avoid weakness or evil but don’t have the white compulsion to interfere in other people’s lives. Were these comments a contradiction? Before she could ask, Adam was back, motioning to her through the doorway. She remembered that she had the keys to the Jeep.
She reached a hand into her bag, felt around the bottom, and pulled out not only the keys but the crystal Marly had loaned her a few weeks back. She tossed Adam the keys.
“What’s that?” Henry asked sharply. She opened her hand and let him see.
“My sister loaned me this. I forgot to give it back.” Henry was looking at her intently, his eyes probing, burning.
“Yes, Marly. She’s—you know—the mystical type.”
“Marly is your sister.” His eyes searched hers, then he took the crystal from her, examined it, blew against the blunt end, and handed it back. “Maybe she meant for you to keep it.”
“Maybe,” Caitlin said, shaken by her memory of the afternoon she had held the crystal. Instinctively her hand curled around it and she squeezed, breathing deeply for a minute. He let the silence settle around them and watched her.
[p.110]“It settles you down,” he observed.
“It does seem to. I don’t understand why, but it does seem to help,” Caitlin babbled.
He nodded, pursed his lips, nodded again. “A shadow follows you, Caitlin.”
She looked at him dumbly. Tears filled her eyes. Fine, she thought. I’m sitting here with someone that three people have told me is a powerful medicine man, even though he won’t call himself that. I might as well take advantage of it.
She took a long breath. “You know how I wrote about those murders for so many months? Well, lately, mostly since the sentencing, strange things have been happening.” She told him how she had dreamed of this conversation with him.
His eyes, so dark they seemed bottomless, held hers. He asked her to repeat the part about the dream, considered for a long minute, then asked, “Where is the person who did these things?”
He nodded, wincing at the word.
“He’s in prison. I spent a lot of time in court with him and even more time talking with those who know him. I got into his head, I guess.”
A silence, then he said, “He got into yours?”
She scowled. “Maybe. In a way.”
Leaning forward, Henry took the crystal from her hand, blew against it again, and set it on the earthen altar in front of them. He began to sing in Navajo, pulling a small pouch from inside his clothing. She watched his hands working above the crystal and felt the words he sang settle into the dust.
Before he gave back the crystal, he looked into it, blew against it, then placed it in her hand. “You keep this crystal with you. There is really nothing wrong with you, but this will give you some protection.”
[p.111]He stood, rising stiffly. Caitlin stood too, slipping the crystal into her pocket. She felt she should give him something but was afraid of insulting him. “Thank you, Henry. May I send you some photographs?” she asked.
He smiled, considered. “You bring me some,” he said, leading the way out of the hogan. “You bring them down with you the next time you come.”
“I’ll do that,” she said, her heart lifting. So there would be a next time—soon—to return to these mesas and gulches. How could she hate so much to go home?
“Before that,” he insisted, his voice regaining its usual teasing tone, “if you need me, you just call me up and say, ‘Henry Benally, I need you.’ Like that.”
She returned his smile and offered her hand. He held it a long minute, palms strong and almost hot. She stifled an impulse to hug him, remembering that, traditionally, Navajos avoid casual touching.
Now Adam came over to shake hands, too. Henry barely brushed Adam’s palm. Only after they got in the Jeep and jounced slowly up the dirt driveway did Caitlin think to check for telephone wires near Henry Benally’s trailer. Nowhere in sight. She hadn’t thought so.
That night she had seen Henry at the pow wow, dressed in full regalia. His Navajo bun and brown skin shone under the floodlights that lit the earthen circle as Henry and several other dignitaries headed the grand entry. Henry carried the flag of the Navajo Nation beside the Colorado state flag, the American flag, and a large staff covered with eagle feathers. The announcer referred to it as the Indian flag. She had never seen Henry so stern or dignified, his back utterly straight, his step to the music sure and refined.
Caitlin and Adam stood at the perimeter, between the an-[p.112]nouncer’s stand and a singing group gathered around a drum. Within seconds of the flags passing by, Adam snapped into action as the dancers entered the ring—the traditional women, sedate in buckskin and beading, the grass dancers, shimmering like a multi-colored prairie, the jingle-dress young women, bouncing along on their toes, then the “tiny tots” category. One little girl with astonishingly long braids marched self-consciously past Caitlin to show off a yellow cartoon bird embroidered on the back of her shawl. Woodstock, Caitlin thought, placing the bird mentally with Snoopy, and wishing passionately for her own camera. She tried to signal Adam but saw him drop to his knees to catch a little boy swathed entirely in feathers and paint, and dancing as if born for this moment.
Caitlin stood alone. Despite being one of several dozen white people present among hundreds of Indians, she soon felt comfortable, lost in the almost constant beat of the drum, the strange, sharp voices of the singing groups, each singer pounding with a stick. Onlookers surrounded the favorite groups, teenagers clutching tape recorders in their uplifted hands. Caitlin spotted several camcorders poised on tripods at the edge of the pow wow circle. Now the flag song. A young man with glossy hair cut just below his ears swung his camcorder around as the lead singer lifted his chin and wailed an opening phrase to the night sky. Standing so close, Caitlin felt the drum through the bottoms of her feet and all along her skin.
The prayer, following the flag song, was delivered half in English, half in Lakota, while dancers and audience stood at attention. As the dancers left the ring to prepare for the first inter-tribal round dance, the audience began to settle, re-establishing chairs on the bumpy earth, downing soft drinks, retrieving wandering toddlers. Immediately next to Caitlin, an ancient looking Navajo man [p.113]sat down in a green webbed chair. His silver hair was bound loosely in a bun, and turquoise dangled from his ears and adorned his belt buckle. His sneakers were so worn his feet showed between the sole and the fabric. After the man began playing catch-my-fingers with the baby leaning over his mother’s shoulder in front of them, Caitlin could steal glances at the old man’s grooved face. She could tell he spoke no English’, for he didn’t laugh with the crowd at the announcer’s wisecracks. How odd that she could understand more of what was said at this pow wow than he—but then pow wows weren’t native to Navajos any more than to Europeans, Henry had told her this morning. They were becoming more and more generic.
“Still, they preserve the culture,” he had said slowly. “Yet you have to ask whether generic preservation doesn’t destroy the culture, after all—tribal culture. Why can’t we have both?”
They stayed late. Adam had gone from photographing the dancers to taking candid shots of people in the crowd, including the old man near Caitlin. He had even left once to drive into town for more film. Caitlin was willing to stay indefinitely, though she had gone numb squatting against a post of the arbor. No one felt it necessary to offer a young white woman a seat, and she didn’t blame them.
Her watch showed eleven by the time the announcer called the traditional men’s group. Dust hung over the arena like a mist, made translucent by the overhead lights. No dancers came forward, just the judges, spreading out along the perimeter. Everyone looked around. The announcer called for men’s traditional again. Another pause as a drum group across the ring checked its microphone.
Then in the ring’s entrance opposite her, Caitlin saw the men’s traditional dancers emerge—materialize almost—in the dusty air. Silent, covered with eagle feathers and buckskin, they moved into [p.114]the ring as warriors. Watching them, her skin prickled. What must this country have been when none of this was generic, as Henry had said. When none of this world was for show.
Deep in the city again, feeling vaguely dislocated, Caitlin set aside the color negatives and turned to a heap of black and white prints. She wondered when she possibly could get away again—already she longed to go back. Maybe in the spring.
She heard Kim, the part-time secretary, answer the telephone, then call, “Caitlin!” She lifted her receiver.
“Hello, Caitlin? This is Nick Fazzio returning your call.”
“Hi, Nick, I called this morning about the names you’re getting from the medical examiner.”
“Yeah? I should have them by tomorrow. Maybe this afternoon.”
“There’s one other name that I wondered if you’d watch for. I wanted to tell you before the list came, not after.”
“Lindsey. Joseph Lindsey. Initial maybe P or K.”
“Okay.” A pause while he waited and she resisted. Finally he asked, “So where did this one come from?”
“Oh—it just popped into my head.”
“I see,” Nick said, sounding carefully neutral.
“That’s not quite all,” Caitlin said, wishing her voice less nervous. “I remembered that I’d started to say Lindsey under hypnosis. Then I’d forgotten about it. But last night it came back to me. I know Isabel told me not to try to take myself back to that room I saw under hypnosis, but I just concentrated a little and then tried out all these names—Jack Borg, Joseph Borg, Jack
Lindsey, Joseph Lindsey. Joseph Lindsey really rocked me. It practically called him up.”
[p.115]“No kidding,” Nick said. “Well, we’ll see what’s on the list. You think it fits the man you saw then?”
“Well, one more thing,” Caitlin said, rushing now to finish. “After I went to bed I tried it again, just checking back to be sure. When I thought about the name Joseph Lindsey, I could feel him present in my bedroom—the same man I ‘saw,’ I mean. He seemed urgent. I didn’t see a ghost or anything but I felt this demanding presence.”
She stopped herself by placing her shaking fingers over her lips. Find me! the entity had seemed to shout. Now you’ve finally caught on—find me! The only reason she was telling Nick this was that she had to. She had been able to fall asleep only by promising that she would call Nick first thing in the morning whether she sounded hysterical or not. After waking up, she’d dismissed the idea as a middle-of-the-night aberration, and instantly the sense of that person returned and the deal she had made was in force.
Nick was saying goodbye. She did, too.
All right! she thought loudly, staring at the room’s close corners. Now, goddammit, leave me alone! Go bug Nick, not me. I can’t do anything.
One thing she couldn’t do was look any longer at the photographs of Red Mesa—they caused too much longing. She would go for a walk, breathe some smog, maybe browse through a bookstore. Maybe just walk too fast and far to be able to think about anything.
She did walk briskly around four city blocks, then had to work late. At 5:30 Nick called.
“I’ve gone down this list from the medical examiner’s office a couple of times,” he said, and the patience in his voice told her that nothing was going to work. “This starts three weeks before the date you saw and goes three weeks after, but there’s no [p.116]Lindsey, no Borg, and no one dying from a fall. Especially not in Nebo County. Now down in Washington County, there’s one man who fell off a cliff, but he was only forty-seven. Isn’t that too young?”
“Doesn’t sound right,” Caitlin said. “What about dying of a heart attack?
“It’s hard to tell. Some say natural causes opposite the name, but the chart indicates if tests were performed. I just don’t see anything that comes close to what we’re looking for.”
Caitlin sighed. Being wrong probably meant being crazy. “Would you mind if I took a look at the list?”
“No, not at all. If you’re going to be there for a minute, I’ll drop it off on my way home.”
“Thanks, Nick.” She told him how to find her cubicle that had been tacked to the rear of the building.
As soon as she hung up, the telephone rang again with a frantic Julie needing a ride to her piano lessons. It was snowing hard, she said, and Dad couldn’t get away from work yet.
“I’m on my way, honey. Watch for me.”
Thus Caitlin found the list slipped underneath the office door the next morning. She hung up her coat, pushed the pile of manuscripts to one side, and scanned the list, recognizing the deaths he had described. Nick was right. Nothing looked familiar.
She read through again, slowly. This time she noticed certain elements that seemed right—but no obvious victim. Pulling graph paper from under a heap of clippings, she began making her own list: the name of the deceased, age, county, cause of death, tests administered. She took every male over fifty just to be safe. Then she went back and underlined the elements that [p.117]fit—any county in central Utah, a heart attack, a fall, the given names John or Jack, and Joseph.
She stared at the results and looked impatiently at the door for Marly who was coming by to pick her up for lunch. Marly appeared thirty seconds after Caitlin hit paydirt. “Let me show you something on this list that Nick got from the medical examiner,” Caitlin said excitedly. “I just realized a minute ago, as I was copying this over for the third time, that there’s a name in code. Jack Borg decodes exactly to John Cush—see? You just go to the next consonant or vowel in the alphabet.” Caitlin paused, then said, “Marly, Jack Borg—the name that James leaked at the prison is John Cush on this list of people who died near the time of the date I dreamed.”
“You dreamed this?”
“Yeah, and I saw more under hypnosis.”
“How did Cush die?” Marly asked, sitting down slowly in the only available chair.
“Of a heart attack. But he wasn’t in Nebo County, he was in Davis County. Wrong mountains, they’re foothills really. Isabel told me psychic stuff is never exact—so I don’t know. I felt strongly about the mountains in Nebo County.”
“I saw that,” Marly said dryly. She looked at the list again. “Aren’t you worried about this guy down here?”
She pointed to Joseph Gruenebaum in Nebo County. “He also died of a heart attack.”
“I know, and that line on the page feels terrible to me. But how could you expect me during hypnosis to come up with a name like Gruenebaum?”
Marly laughed, pleased to see her sister in such high spirits. “That’s a German name,” she commented. “What would it mean?—green something. Green tree, I think.”
“Come on,” Caitlin said. “Let’s eat!” Caitlin practically floated [p.118]out of her office, she was so elated at finding something—anything— that validated her strangest experience. She called Nick that afternoon, left a message, but didn’t hear from him before she left work.
Late that afternoon, she was driving only a mile or so from home when she thought again of the man who had died in early July in Nebo County—only a few days from the date she’d “seen” on the letter. Joseph Gruenebaum. Or, as Marly had translated it, Joseph Green-tree. Green tree. A green street sign flashed in front of her eyes—the memory of a sign that had said Oak and then changed to Spruce. Both trees. “Green,” she whispered. “Greentree. Gruenebaum. Greentree.” Shit.
But was that really the name? Slow down and consider the Possibilities—like Lindsey. It had been Lindsey under hypnosis. Lindsey—a bell rang fur back in her brain, something about word meanings in Old English or Irish or Gaelic. Lindsey is going to mean linseed, she thought suddenly, or something green. It’s going to mean green tree.
No wonder Joseph Lindsey had checked out during the night in such a frightening way. Somehow her brain had translated Gruenebaum to Lindsey under hypnosis—she was familiar with the name Lindsey but not with Gruenebaum. She’d never heard it. Gratefully she pulled into the driveway, waved at the girls playing next door, and raced for Heidi’s room to find the book of names she kept handy for christening dolls and stuffed animals. Her hands shook as she turned the pages.
Lindsey: Old English for lime tree or lemon tree. Lime tree. Green tree. Okay, Caitlin, she told herself: you got that name under hypnosis, last night with the ghost, and now on the medical examiner’s list. In three places the inimitable Mr. Greentree appeared.
Dear God, she whispered. Gruenebaum had died of a heart [p.119]attack. Find me! she heard echo in the silent room. Now you know. Find me! What about that plunge down the stairs? She didn’t know.
She reached for the bedroom extension, her hands still weak, and dialed Nick’s number. He had gone for the day. She looked up his home number and called that. He hadn’t arrived, his wife said. She left a message.
Pacing the hall, Caitlin was truly scared for the first time and grateful the twins were playing outside—their voices, shrill and happy, penetrated the windows. Two apparent victims’ names had died around the time she had sensed under hypnosis. Their names had been coded. And using code was what Nick was investigating James for when that dream had wakened her.
Of course! One code, Jack Borg—which James leaked, for why would he reveal the real name?—had wakened her in a dream. The other code—Lindsey—had come under hypnosis and later popped into her head. This was real. Borg and Lindsey were codes but Cush and Gruenebaum were real—had been real. She couldn’t believe it, but this “weird stuff” was real. Those men were dead. This was real. She had known all the time.
By the time the telephone rang, Caitlin’s tension was almost anger. “Nick, both names are on the list!” she said without preamble.
“Both names are on the list. They’re coded. Jack Borg,” she spelled it, “and Joseph Lindsey. They’re on the list as John Cush and Joseph Gruenebaum. They’re dead, Nick, they died of heart attacks right about that time, and they’re both on the list!”
“Hang on, Cait,” he said. “How did you get this?”
“The names are coded, Nick. That’s what James does, he codes things. Right? He’s been doing it since he was a kid, and he still does it—you know that from your investigation at the prison. [p.120]See, Borg becomes Cush if you go forward a consonant or vowel in the alphabet and Lindsey and Gruenebaum both mean green tree. I saw that green street sign under hypnosis, remember? It said Oak and then Spruce—trees. Green trees. See what I mean? The street signs down there had to have been white, Nick. They didn’t start using green signs until later.”
“Mmmhmm,” he said, still sounding baffled. A sigh. “Okay, Caitlin. I’ll meet you at your office first thing and you can show me. Okay?”
“Right.” She felt the panic—and its adrenaline—drain out of her. “See you then.” She hung up. But like a blow to the stomach, the shock returned. She had known. These were real heart attacks, real deaths, and she had known. Were they Hubbard’s victims?
Jake would be home any minute and could fix dinner. She was heading for the shower to wash off clammy perspiration and then to bed—with sleeping pills. No dreams tonight.
“This isn’t psychic,” she insisted to Nick the next morning, as he sat in the tiny, closed office staring at her list with the underlinings. “It’s a rational process.” She explained again the relationship between Borg/Cush and then for Mr. Greentree.
He shook his head. “It may not be psychic to you, but I’d never have seen it.”
“Well, I’m a writer. You know, words.”
He smiled. “Now what?” he asked.
She was surprised. “Well, couldn’t we find the obits and learn a little more about these guys? I’m sure the libraries must keep the old newspapers on microfilm. Certainly the obituaries.”
“Sure, I guess we could. I can call back my source at the [p.121]medical examiner’s office and see if they know any more about these particular deaths, too.”
“It doesn’t look promising,” Nick told her, calling her back the next morning. “Cush died in his yard after mowing the lawn, and Gruenebaum was visiting from Phoenix, had a heart attack, and died in the Nebo County Hospital, his wife at his side, several days later.”
“Well, how about the obits? We can find them in special collections at the university library.”
“Okay. Want to run up this afternoon? Say about 3:30?”
It took a while, but they found obituaries: a sad-faced Cush staring from a standard write-up in the Tribune and two small articles on Gruenebaum in the small Honeydew newspaper, one with a photo. “Either of these do anything for you?” Nick asked, handing the still-warm photocopies to Caitlin.
She looked at him, sighed, then looked hard at the articles. The library seemed stuffy. Even Nick seemed unfamiliar. She leaned lightly against a row of bound maps and breathed deeply.
“I don’t know. Not him, really. Just—sad.” She put Cush on the bottom. She looked at Gruenebaum for a long minute, trying to take in the photo and read the print at the same time.
Everything seemed slightly out of focus. She felt stupid and finally said, “He looks balder than the man I saw.”
They walked out to the elevator and waited. By the time they got on, Caitlin realized that she seemed to be the only person having difficulty with the stuffy air. “This one feels terrible,” she told Nick, nodding to Gruenebaum and trying to pull oxygen in and out of her lungs. Her mouth was so dry she could barely talk.
She was grateful when the elevator stopped and she could hurry outside the building and lean against the low wall that overlooked the parking lot. When she caught her breath, she [p.122]showed him the obituary again. “You know, this write-up is really weird. They told you in the medical examiner’s office that he was from Phoenix, and this says his wife and family lived there, right? He holds a position in his ward—that means he’s connected to hundreds of people.” Nick nodded. “So he died while on vacation and his loving family from Phoenix buried him in the parched little Honeydew Cemetery?”
“That is odd,” Nick admitted. “But his wife was with him in the hospital when he died.”
“And she’s the one who provided the story about being on vacation—then she gets his body, has a graveside service in July—July in central Utah, Nick!—and goes home. There’s more to it, Nick. I can feel it.”
“That’s all the medical examiner knew.”
She was silent for a minute. “I’m going to find that house I saw under hypnosis. He looks something like the man I saw—and he sure makes me feel the way I did when I saw him.”
“No address,” he said succinctly.
“I know.” She took another long breath. “But we know the general area, the exit, and I got a pretty good look at the house under hypnosis.” Nick was standing close, as if ready to grab her if she toppled over the railing.
He gave her a long look. “I’m taking tomorrow off,” he said. “A long weekend for comp time. Want to go then?”
“Yes. Let’s do it. Will you keep these until then?”
“You bet.” He took the photocopies, and Caitlin dusted her hands on her raincoat, shook them, then walked carefully down the steps.
The next morning Caitlin took the photocopies back and put them in the thin accordion file she had brought with her.
“What have you got in there?” Nick asked casually, as he [p.123]turned his radio car toward the freeway. “Do I have copies of all that?”
“Most of it, I think,” Caitlin said. “Let’s make a copy of the obits for me.”
He agreed. “Now how are we going to do this? We’re looking for a white house with a dark roof in a little town full of white houses with dark roofs. I know, because I checked them out when I was down there a month ago.”
“You did? We’ve got a couple of things to go by. One is that exit sign, which actually leads to a couple of small towns but maybe is the way James used to go. Also, I saw some signs along the main street. If we can find the main street, maybe I can recognize them. And I always start getting that dark feeling when we pass the penitentiary. This time instead of avoiding it, I’m going to try to home in on it. So if I’m breathing funny, don’t worry. I’ll be okay.”
“Got it,” Nick said. She wondered what he really thought. They chatted about other things until they reached the prison, and then Caitlin reached inside her bag for Marly’s crystal.
She showed him. “It’s from Marly. I’ll take all the help I can get these days.”
“Marly’s quite a kid, isn’t she?” Nick said.
“She likes you too.”
“What do you do with the crystal?”
“Just hang on. It gets hot. I don’t know why, but it seems to give me energy.”
She stopped talking as they curved around the mountain, and her breathing changed. She felt something hit her solar plexus like doom. Shit. Thank goodness she wasn’t driving. She closed her eyes and concentrated, her right hand squeezing the crystal. Nick drove on. Gradually the feeling of dread worsened. Then [p.124]the mountains came into view. However, such thick, white clouds hung low over their tops that she almost missed the turn-off. She felt bad; this was a bad idea.
“That’s it, Nick. I’m sorry.” Her voice sounded thick. He swung off as if he’d already noticed the exit sign but waited for her cue. The road divided, and they turned east. “This is it,” she heard herself say, “this is the way into town.” She sucked in air.
The awful feeling was strong—dread, grief, doom. I’ve got to get out of here, Caitlin thought. She rolled down her window and a few snowdrops blew on to her face. The car seemed completely airless. White houses sat on every block. Nick was correct about that.
“Turn right, I think,” she said. The mountains leaned toward them, and she closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, she saw another white house on the opposite side of the street.
“That looks interesting,” she said, then found herself turned backward in the seat, neck craning as Nick drove past.
He noticed and slowed the car. “You want to go back?”
“Yes,” she said, but, frustratingly, her mind wouldn’t work. She couldn’t think. Her hands fumbled for the folder as Nick made a U-turn and stopped. A huge tree overlooked the yard. A large window with blinds faced the street. A walk led up to a side porch with wooden posts. She had the folder open now and was reaching for her sketch. Her vision seemed blurred.
“I can’t read the address, Nick. What’s the house number?”
The sketch was in front of her now with the elongated numbers she had drawn. “One thirty-five,” Nick said.
She looked at the sketch, at the numbers—1, 3, 5. She looked at Nick. His head was swiveling back and forth between the sketch and the house, as if watching a tennis match. Caitlin leaned back in the seat feeling magnetized. She wanted nothing more [p.125]than to sit and look at this house. After a moment of silence, however, Nick wasn’t content.
“Shall we see who’s home?”
Her stomach clutched. “Think you can talk us in?” she asked, keeping her voice calm. Her thinking still felt fuzzy. In answer, Nick got out and walked around the car to open her door. She set down the folder, kept the crystal locked in her right palm, and got out.
As her boots touched the wintry sidewalk, she had the eerie sense of the summer sun on her arms, sunlight dazzling her eyes. She reached the porch, turned around, and faced the street as Isabel had instructed her. She saw distance. No house faced this one directly, only a vacant lot and behind that an orchard.
“No wonder,” she exulted to Nick, who was banging on the door again. “From this porch you look right across the valley. I never could see houses or anything on the other side of the street.”
Nick kept knocking as Caitlin took in the porch, the front door, the kitchen windows. She didn’t see any rolled glass. She had never been sure which way the door faced, and now she could see that there were two doors. The one Nick pounded on was at a forty-five degree angle to the street. The other was blocked off.
“Nobody home,” Nick said. “No car in the carport either, I noticed.”
Caitlin followed him down the sidewalk. Snow was falling now and she turned her face up toward it, relishing the cold stings of reality. She had to get out of this town.
“Want to drive around a bit and see if they come home?” Nick asked, once they had pulled away from the curb. He had jotted the full address on her drawing. [p.126]“Sure,” she said, wondering how much longer she could last.
“I’ll take you to lunch,” he offered. “You work fast. We practically drove right to it. Let’s mosey around a little just to be sure.”
“Lunch would be great,” she said, “but not here. Let’s just drive around and see if they come back, and then go to Provo or somewhere for lunch.”
“Fine with me.”
“Wait,” she said, when he circled by the house again fifteen minutes later. No car in the driveway yet, and now snow fell thick and fast. Nevertheless, she got out of the car, stood at the end of the walk, and looked past the house toward the mountains. They soared above the house—landmarks indeed. She breathed snowy wind then shook snow off her hair and coat as she got back in the car. “Just checking,” she said.
“Once more around town,” Nick said, “and then we’ll give up.”
Driving down Main Street, Caitlin spotted the octagonal sign she had seen under hypnosis and pointed it out to Nick. But she was feeling strange, vague, as if her usual sense of no oxygen in the air was literally true. Wonder if they have paramedics here? she thought, but didn’t waste her breath. She turned her face toward the window but had to keep it rolled up because snow blew in furiously. She didn’t want Nick to see how groggy she was becoming.
She knew when they pulled up beside the house again. She was doubled over, gasping. Nick hurried up the walk to bang on the door. Silence. He returned quickly to the car.
“You okay?” he asked, slamming his door shut again. Snow from his coat dropped over the console onto Caitlin’s pantlegs. She touched it with a fingertip, then straightened. [p.127]“I think I’m hyperventilating,” she said hoarsely. “I feel awful.”
“We’re out of here,” he said. But the car only crept through the worsening storm, the windshield wipers groaning softly as if they conspired in Caitlin’s increasing nausea.
Finally everything was white; white spun before her eyes, blotting her thoughts; white spun like her car when the white truck hit it, spun like Mr. Greentree when his family tipped him into his hot, hasty grave, spun like a million ghosts sucking all the oxygen out of the air here in Nebo County where the mountains loomed and one white house sucked life down its own dry throat like a ghostly parasite.
Caitlin couldn’t resist the paralyzing whiteness any longer. The back of her head touched the head rest, her hand rested on the door, the other hand clutched the side of her seatbelt, but she was spinning, too, and the air she breathed deeply in and then forced out did her no good at all. She was breathing cotton; she was as good as dead.
Hold on, some comer of her brain instructed, hold on, soon we’ll be out of here, we’ll be home. In her mind she invented her red brick house, the orange of a fire in the fireplace, the neon pink and purple outfits the twins favored. But within seconds, those colors, too, dissolved into the whiteness that drenched her brain. Henry Benally, her mind shouted: I need you!
She opened her eyes. Nick had stopped the car for more than the duration of a red light. How could he see a red light, anyway? If she could see it, maybe she could fasten her eyes on that red and find breath. She realized he was bending toward her. “Will you be all right here for a minute?” he was asking.
She nodded, thinking he was going to put gas in the car or go into a store for directions. She closed her eyes and kept breathing, picturing the deep blue sky above Monument Valley in Novem-[p.128]ber, the chilly gusts that had assailed Henry’s hogan at Red Mesa. Her solar plexus ached from so much breathing. She stopped breathing, and it ached more. She gave a great gasp when Nick threw open the car door and brought an icy gust in with him. After the stuffy warmth of the car heater, the cold in her nostrils felt good.
“All set,” he said, and drove a few feet, leaning close to the scrape of the wipers against the windshield. He stopped again, reached in the back seat for something.
“Okay, let’s get you in your room,” he said. “You’ll feel better.”
Caitlin squinted at him blankly. “Where are we?”
He frowned at her. “At a motel, Caitlin. We can’t get home through this. Even if we fought our way up the interstate, they’ve closed the Point of the Mountain.”
“But I have to go home.”
“I know. As soon as the road opens.” He slammed his door shut and was gone. Before she could absorb this information, her door opened. “Come on,” he yelled, wind and snow whipping between them.
Obediently Caitlin picked up her purse, wrapped her coat around her, and got out. “I can’t stay here,” she tried to say, but the wind grabbed her voice and smacked snow against her teeth. Hair and snow almost blinded her as she struggled behind Nick toward a blue metal door, which he opened. She went in. He came in behind her and forced the door shut.
They both stood panting, dropping snow on an orange textured carpet. The whole room, Caitlin noticed, was gold or orange or brown. Ugly, but she took a grateful breath. “Not too bad,” Nick said encouragingly. “Standard motel decoration, I guess. I’m right next door.”
“How long do you think we’ll be stuck here?”
[p.129]“It’s hard to tell. The way this storm’s going, it could be a while. There’s been a wreck at the Point of the Mountain, and in this kind of weather it’s going to be a mess to clear up.”
Caitlin remembered Nick talking on the radio when she’d been too whited-out to pay attention. “Lucky we didn’t drive into it,” she said. “I know the advantages of hanging out with a cop.”
He laughed. “Let me take that wet coat. You’re starting to sound like yourself.”
She shrugged off her coat and pushed back her hair, shaking out melting snow. ‘‘I’m not, though. I really need to get out of Nebo County, Nick.” She tried to say it lightly, but her voice trembled.
“Yeah, I know. It’s not exactly a garden spot in my book either. But we can’t go anywhere right now, north or south. If we’d headed back a little sooner, we’d be out on 1-15 trying to get turned around, or heading straight into that snarl.”
“True.” She sat down on one of two chairs by a small, round table. “Actually you did a great job of getting us out of the storm. It’s just that … ”
“You probably want to call home,” Nick broke in, “and I need to get in touch with the office and call my wife. I’m in 108 if you need anything. Don’t go out—just dial me.”
“We could tie a bootlace between our doors,” Caitlin joked, loosening her wet boots, “and follow it like a clothesline.”
“It’s almost that bad,” Nick agreed.
She didn’t realize until after he left that he had taken the key to her room, as well as his own. No wonder he’d said don’t go out. Or was it accidental?
Caitlin went to the bathroom. One thing she’d noticed—the spooky experiences seemed to wash every ounce of liquid out of her. While soaping her hands in lots of warm water, she peered [p.130]into the mirror and frowned. Her hair was damp and tousled; she expected that. The smudges under her eyes were almost black and now crept up over her eyelids, as well. Despite the wind and cold on her cheeks and chin a few minutes earlier, her face was pale. I look like a ghost, she told herself.
Bad description, she added, grabbing a towel to wipe the gathering steam from the mirror. Scratch ghost. She walked into the main room and found her handbag, searched its contents. In the days when she’d done more reporting than editing, she’d learned to regard her purse as a potential overnight bag and hadn’t quite lost the habit. Her folding toothbrush was there, but no toothpaste. She had her miniature styling comb, her makeup, and a little tin of Rolaids. No sleeping pills. No change of clothes. Well, she could sleep nude, wash out her underwear, and hang her sweater and pants outside the shower to steam away the wrinkles. Not even roughing it.
She went to the telephone and dialed Jake’s office collect. She was safe but stranded, she reported, admiring the composure in her voice. Would he leave work early and make sure the girls got home? She gave him the motel telephone number.
“We found the house I saw under hypnosis,” she said.
“Yes. The mountains practically lean on it. When I finally fished out my sketch, the house number matched exactly. The numbers were even elongated, the way I’d drawn them.”
She heard Jake’s long whistle. “What did Nick say?”
She laughed. “He said, ‘The numbers aren’t spaced exactly the same way you had them.’“
“Good thing you were with him, not me,” Jake said. “I’d probably have fallen over backwards.”
“It was pretty spooky walking up that walk, standing on the porch,” Caitlin said, and looked down to see gooseflesh rising on [p.131]her arms. She rubbed it away. “And when I looked out toward the street, I couldn’t see anything opposite me. The house is across from a field, Jake. You can look straight over the whole valley. That’s why I could never see an address or a house or anything.”
“Wild,” he said. “Did you go inside?”
“No one was home. I kind of regret that because I wanted to see what Nick would come up with to get us in the door. On the other hand, I think I might have lost it if we’d gone in.”
“I know I would have. Well, I guess you don’t have much idea when you’ll be home.”
“No, there’s a bad accident at Point of the Mountain. The freeway’s closed.”
“Yeah, it’s a mess in the city, too. I’m going to leave before rush hour. Tell Nick I appreciate him keeping you out of the cold. Stay warm and keep me posted.”
“Right. Believe me, I can’t wait to get home.” A pause. “Something wrong?” he asked. “With you and Nick, I mean?”
“No, no. This just isn’t my favorite place in the world. I’m practically next to those mountains.” She heard panic gathering in her voice and wished fervently for home. “I can’t see them with all this snow, but I can feel them there.”
“Oh, right. Okay, honey, I’ll talk to you later.”
As he hung up, Caitlin realized deep in her gut that she had just reached the crux of the matter—she could feel the mountains nearby. Nausea stung her throat. No one understood this emergency.
Men. What if she had said, “Jake, Nick says the road is closed, but it might not be. Nick took the key to my room. He’s keeping me here against my will. He has a gun.” Each statement was, in [p.132]itself, accurate. But, while this description would give Jake pause, Caitlin knew he’d soon have it sorted out.
“Why would Nick lie about the road being closed?” he’d say. “Of course he has a gun. Maybe he forgot to leave the key. You’re tired, you’re upset.” Too extreme, too paranoid to be believed.
Now, if she’d said that she and Nick had had a tiff, or Nick was behaving like a prick, or that she and Nick were falling in love, Jake would have wanted to discuss the implications of her staying there with him in the motel. But ultimately the conclusion would be the same: Nick was keeping his wife safe and warm. All was well. Besides, Nick’s behavior was, as always, easygoing, courteous, impeccable. The fact that she was going to die from nearness-to-mountains was not a real problem.
She ran her tongue around her dry mouth. In a minute she would find and unwrap a plastic cup and get a drink of water out of the dressing room sink. Right now she just wanted to rest. She fell back against the bouncy motel pillows wishing she were male, wishing she could turn off everything she felt, keeping only the metallic computations men heard on the surface of their brains. Actually, she wouldn’t mind having a gun, either, hard and manipulable in her hand. Thinking this, she slept.
She slept hard without motion, hands clasped behind her neck, ankles crossed, facing the ceiling light, not hearing Nick enter. She woke more than hour later with a loud gasp that seemed to suck her dream from her mind. What remained, though, more urgent than Nick swinging to his feet and walking toward her, was an unarticulated demand from someone whose demand she had felt very clearly once before.
Caitlin jerked off the bed and rushed past Nick into the bathroom. For a minute she thought she would vomit but then pulled aside her clothes and dropped to the toilet seat instead. She bent double as she urinated, trying to force blood into her brain. [p.133]When she stood, her brain told her that her urine was dark and smelly as if her body were trying to wash some poison from her system. Fever? No. Aches and pains? No. Chills? No. Sore throat? No.
She wasn’t sick. It was—this—again. When she looked in the mirror, she found a blister beginning at the c