Gargoyle 35cover photo (Youth and Age on Holiday) by Leslie A. Bellpublication date 10/1988
The sun hung above the rocky point in front of them as Jiggs andKen drove past a roughly lettered sign that said, “Pack YourTrash.” They pulled into a glass-littered camp- site at the edge ofthe sandstone bluff. The water below them had changed to gunmetal gray and a hundred feet out a lone surfer was sitting astridehis board near a dark kelp bed and a cluster of black rocks thatrose out of the surf. To their left Jiggs noticed a white pickup,with a steel pipe frame above the bed, parked parallel to the bluff,a tent trailer hitched behind it. A plastic magnetic sign on thetruck’s door said, “Buel Snyder, San Jose, CA, ‘CelestialPlumbing.'”
Jiggs brought the Bronco to a stop. As he yanked on the handbrake, Ken jumped out leaving the door hanging open.
“That’s Buel out there,” Ken said nodding toward the water.Still watching the surfer, he released the bungee cords on the roofrack and pulled down his surfboard.
As Ken watched, the surfer paddled ahead of a slow wave,leaped to a stand as the wave began to lift the board, and kneesbent, angled across the face of the wave with the grace of a citykid on a skateboard.
“Whoo-eee!” Ken whistled. “Look at him, would you?” Kenleaned his yellow long board against the Bronco and rummagedunder the seat for the board wax.
Jiggs climbed out of the driver’s side, slammed the door, quickly
glanced out at the surfer, then did a few squats on his stiff knees.
“Voila!” Ken held the wax can above his head. He watched as the surfer paddled back to the outside of the shore break. “Buel’s got stamina for an old guy, I’ll say that.”
Jiggs yanked at his cutoffs and did another knee bend. Heglanced around at the littered ground of a half dozen campsitesalong the ridge and noted the rusty fifty-gallon oil drums thatwere placed at intervals along the bluff. “He’s not so old by thelooks of him.”
“Well, everybody’s got a different schedule then,” Ken said. Heglanced at his watch. “They made some improvements on thehouse.” He nodded across the road.
style house, flanked by what looked like outhouses–a couplepainted hot pink, a couple pastel blue. The screened-in porch onthe side of the big house was obviously new. “Who lives thereanyway?” Jiggs asked.
“Some Mexican guy named Guillermo. You’ll see him laterwhen he wants the two bucks.
“Two bucks?” Jiggs said. “For these crummy campsites?”
“Why not?” Ken said. “For all us aging California surferhippies two bucks is nothing.”
“Come on,” Jiggs said, “a laborer here makes eight bucks aday.”
Ken shrugged. “So that’s four campsites. Doubt you’ll see fourin use.”
“So, if the surf’s so great here, why no more people?”
“This place isn’t here for everybody.”
“Hard to find.”
“Near impossible. You got the guided tour.”
“Are they the cuatro casas?” He cocked his head to the left at theweather-beaten sheds down the bluff which seemed to be collapsing into each other for support. “They the four houses?”
“Nah,” Ken chuckled, “that’s the fishing camp.”
Ken stood the surfboard upright beside the Bronco and ran hispalm along its fiberglass surface.
The launch ramp’s behind the shacks,” Ken said. “They keepthe boats in them.” Ken applied more board wax with an athleticsock he had found under the seat. He swirled the surfboard on itsskeg and began waxing the back.
Jiggs turned to look back at the buildings across the road.“Ken,” he said slowly, “you mean to tell me this place is namedafter four outhouses?”
“Yep, kind of poetic, ain’t it?” Ken pulled his wet suit from theback of the Bronco and threw it over the open door.
“Look Ken,” Jiggs turned to watch the slow curl of a listlesswave halfway out to the point. “Is this place really worth the trouble? The surf looks dead.”
“Would Buel be out there if this place weren’t magic?”
“Who knows? I never met Buel.”
“Jiggles, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen this place atmidtide,” Ken said. “You wait and wait and suddenly it’s there.All those southern swells, those water pussys just bursting at yourback. You know how it is.”
“Don’t remind me.” Jiggs stepped on a rusted can and thenflung the flattened tin and some shards of glass into the blackenedstone circle in the middle of the campsite. “Big fire tonight,” hesaid.
Ken yanked his wet suit off the open Bronco door. “Sure,” hesaid. “Sure. Knock yourself out.”
Ken turned to the water and watched the blond surfer leap tohis feet, executing quick roller coaster turns on his short board toincrease his speed as he rode the wave.
“Oh hoo, Jiggs my boy,” Ken whooped. He yanked on hisblack wet suit. “I’m off.” He grabbed the yellow board and swungit over his head.
Jiggs followed and watched Ken run down the littered ravineto the beach, his yellow board balanced over his head. “Noleash?” Jiggs yelled down after him as he watched Ken head forthe water.
Ken grinned up from the white rock ledge below. “Somepeople don’t need one,” he shouted. “Come on.”
“Where’s this Cal you told me about?”
“Don’t know,” Ken yelled back. “He always meets us here.”Ken waded out into the water pushing the surfboard in front ofhim. When he was knee deep, he hopped onto the board andstarted paddling out–his legs bent up out of the water–dependingonly on the power of his thinly muscular upper body.
Jiggs walked back to the campsite. He leaned against theBronco and folded his arms above his belly. The surf was comingin, wide rolling swells in sets of five with a four to five minutewait between sets. Jiggs noted again that Buel was a goodconventional surfer who grabbed a right and just hung in there.Ken was a goofeyfooter who took the lefts facing shore, his backto the wave, his arm in the tube. Ken had told him that he, Bueland Cal had surfed together every June since they first met atCuatro Casas five years before, glad for each other’s companyaway from the brash young surfers at Trestles and Malibu whocompeted mercilessly for every wave, snaking out other surfers,dropping in without warning, every wave a battle of wills and egos. Jiggs could understand this. It was part of his recentdispleasure with the sport. Jiggs supposed they had all beenmerciless once, but as Ken said yesterday as they drove down101, they’d done it all eighteen years ago at Topanga.
Jiggs went to the back of the Bronco to unload. Even thoughthere was still a fair amount of light he suspected it would getdark suddenly, as soon as the sun plunged behind the Punta. Hepulled the cooler out from behind the seat and placed it near thefire circle, then returned to the Bronco to get Ken’s tent, a foldingcamp chair, the Coleman lantern, the sleeping bags and waterjugs. Feeling as if someone were watching him, he glanced overto the white house across the road.
There was a yellow bicycle leaning into the tall fence-row oforgan pipe cactus in front of the house. Inside the screened porcha dark-haired man sat in a wheelchair. A young Mexican manstood not far from him, leaning against the screen wall andgesturing to the other man. Strange to see a wheelchair out here,Jiggs thought as he set one of the water jugs up on the Bronco’sfender. No problems on the Baja he’d been told, just don’t drinkthe water.
After he finished setting up the campsite, Jiggs climbed downthe steep ravine path Ken had used. The sun was dragging ablanket of purple behind it and he knew he would have to hurrybefore it got dark. From the rocky beach the surfers looked likebirds bobbing on the water’s surface, their boards distant fromeach other, the black kelp bed between them. Jiggs wanderedalong the water’s edge periodically disturbing preening gulls inthe rock pools who squawked and flapped their wings as hepassed. When he came upon a large collection of grey,lightweight driftwood in the cup of a boulder, he gathered anarmload of the largest pieces.
When Jiggs got back to the campsite after several trips, his arms full of sandy driftwood, he saw the young Mexicanzigzagging away along the edge of the bluff on the yellowbicycle. Jiggs glanced across the dirt road. The porch wasdeserted but he could see a small flickering light within the house.He stacked the wood beside the fire circle and collapsed on thefolding chair with a beer. After about ten minutes, the sea breezepicking up, the Mexican came back on his bicycle along the samepath at the edge of the bluff. He dropped the bike to the ground infront of the house and went in the screen door to the porch. Thedark-haired man in the wheelchair rolled back out, and as Jiggswatched the man pulled himself up to a stand in front of thewheelchair. Under the young Mexican’s scrutiny, he brought onestiff leg forward and then moved the other up to meet it. In thismanner he slowly made his way across the porch.
Jiggs was still squinting in the deepening twilight, watchingthe man on the porch, when Ken and a fit-looking blond fellow ina bright blue wet suit came climbing up the bluff from the beach,their surfboards balanced over their heads.
“Jiggs 0!” Ken said, “here’s Buel.”
Jiggs stood, nodded at the blond man and sat down again.
“Not bad, not bad at all,” Jiggs said as he settled himself backinto the folding chair. “I’d give you old surfer types a B+.”
“Jiggs here is a tweedy college professor,” Ken saidoffhandedly as he stood his board on end beside him.
“See any tweeds?” Jiggs lifted his beer and looked down at hiscutoffs. “I was a damn adjunct lecturer, Ken,” Jiggs said, “ithardly counts for anything.”
Buel laid his board on the ground carefully, unzipped his wetsuit at the neck and extended his hand. “Glad you could make it.”He smiled. “Do much surfing?”
“No,” Jiggs said. He half stood to shake Buel’s offered hand.“Went skiing at A. Basin at Christmas and the knees still aren’t thesame–torqued them bad.”
Ken looked down at his feet.
“Got to do a lot of swimming then,” Buel said.
“So they tell me.” Jiggs nodded toward the house. “What’s thestory with that guy over there?”Buel turned around and gazed at the house for a long time. Theman on the porch had changed his direction and was slowlymaking his way back to his chair. His right arm hung at his side.“That’s Cal,” Buel said.
“Cal?” Jiggs turned to Ken who was staring out to the blackrocks of the punta.
Buel told Jiggs that Cal had stayed for a few extra days lastyear after he and Ken had left. One night Cal and Guillermo, theyoung Mexican man on the porch, had gone to Rosario, gottenblind drunk, and on the way back had driven off the bluff.Guillermo had been driving Cal’s car. Nothing much happened tohim. But Cal’s head injury had resulted in moderate brain damageand severe weakness on one side. Cal had never left CuatroCasas. Guillermo was taking care of him.
Orange flames leaped ten feet into the blackness above the bonfireand sparks flashed like sequins into the flounced skirt of the sky.Around the fire Ken and Jiggs had arranged the Bronco front seatsand the bench seat from Buel’s truck, covering them with brightstriped serapes Guillermo provided as protection against the dampsea air. Ken’s and Buel’s wet suits were thrown over the opendoors of Buel’s truck to dry. Around the fire, their faces wereglistening from the heat of the blaze.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Jiggs,” Ken said. “So when are you going to hit the water?”
“We’re going to have to cool that fire or move the seats backabout five feet soon.” Jiggs said. He glanced over at Ken who wasrolling a joint from a stash Guillermo had just given him.
“Gracias, old buddy,” Ken said to the swarthy young man whosat on a log next to his seat, the Mexican’s soiled baseball cap andblue satin Royals jacket a strange contrast to his dark Indian face.
“Con mucho gusto,” Guillermo said to Ken with a shy smile.He snapped his fingers and quickly turned back to the fire.
Ken turned to Jiggs. “Guillermo here doesn’t speak muchEnglish, but he knows what’s good.
Jiggs nodded and pulled his bucket seat back a couple feetfrom the fire.
Buel came out of the darkness behind them. “Good blaze” hesaid. “I’ve been walking along the bluff.” He dropped into one ofthe car seats. “The cosmic mother’s out wooing tonight for sure.”
“Wooing?” Jiggs said.
Ken looked up from his methodical activity, rolled his eyesand went back to work.
“What took you guys so long?” Buel asked as he stretched hislegs out toward the fire. “I’ve been meaning to ask all afternoon. Imade Cuatro Casas two days ago.” He noticed the row ofcarefully rolled joints growing on Ken’s knee. “Never mind,” hesaid with a smile, “I don’t need to ask.”
“We stopped at K38,” Jiggs said. He jumped up to throw a fewpieces of driftwood on the fire.
“Wasn’t any good was it?” Buel looked up at the sky. A star ortwo shone through holes in the dark clouds. “Hey,” Buel paused aminute, “did you hear about the guy who fell off the bluff at K38not too long ago?”
“No,” Ken said. He tossed some marijuana stems over hisshoulder.
“Amazing,” Buel said, “this guy was camping there in theparking lot next to the kilometer marker with his girl. Fell off atnight and nobody knew. She did a lot of screaming and theyfinally went and found him. He was okay, though.”
“The world’s a dangerous place,” said Ken.
“Yeah, isn’t it,” said Jiggs.
“I don’t know about you guys.” Buel glanced in the directionof the house. “Lately I’ve been trying not to put anything that isn’tpure into my body.”
“You always were strange, Buel,” Ken said.
“It’s important.” Buel’s tanned face was outlined in thefirelight. Ken waved a thin, tight joint in the air. “Well, this is pureunadulterated–” He pulled a burning stick from the fire, lit thejoint and took a drag.
“Talking about adultery,” he said after a moment, staring downat the glowing joint he held cupped into his palm, “I’ve given upon women.”“El amor es un bico,” Guillermo murmured. He was sitting ona stump facing the fire.
“Yeah, well Guillermo’s the real lover round here.” Kenelbowed Guillermo off the log. “Love’s a bug, he says, a real bug.But I tell you women are too loony on their moony days. Avoid.Avoid.”
Guillermo sat back down on the log and said nothing.
“I don’t know about that,” Buel said, “some of my best friends-” Buel smiled. “I thought you liked loons, Ken.”
don’t practice anymore.” A burning stick popped and sparked.“Worked in a surf shop in Laguna Beach for a while this year,Buel. Met Jiggs again there, in fact. Hadn’t seen him in years.”
Ken took another drag from the joint and offered it to Jiggswho shook his head. “‘I’m so tense!'” Ken pounded his feet on theground in front of him, “I need a Xanax!”
“Sounds like you caught something from your patients,” Buelsaid.
“‘Que cuando pica,'” Guillermo sang, staring into the fire, hishands hanging between his knees, “‘no se encuentra remidio. “‘
“Sure, sure, Guillermo,” Ken said, “there’s not a thing you cando for it.”
“Surf it through,” Buel said.
“Yeah, sure.” Ken passed the joint to Guillermo who hadstopped singing and was staring again at his hands. Guillermotook a drag, walked the joint over to Buel and padded back to hisplace in front of the fire. Jiggs noticed he was wearing softmoccasin-like shoes.
“It’s been a long time since I smoked,” Buel said afteraccepting the joint from Guillermo with a nod and a smile. “Lastyear, I guess. As I said, I’ve been trying to keep my body pure.”
“Since Cal–” Ken said.
“You got it.”
Guillermo glanced up when Calls name was mentioned. Hequickly looked back down into the fire. In the darkening nightthey could hear the rising tide rolling onto the rocks below.
“I’ve been overextending myself,” Buel said, “those contractorsare after me all the time.”
Jiggs got up. He pulled some driftwood from the stack andtossed it into the fire. A column of sparks rose into the dark sky.
“Yeah,” Ken said above the crackle of the fire. “Can youimagine–” he chuckled, “Buel, the surfing plumber.”
“Why not?” Buel asked. He took a long drag from the joint,extended it to Jiggs who shook his head and then passed it on toKen who put the joint out in the dirt in front of him. They all satquietly for a few minutes, leaning forward, staring into the orangeand blue flames of the driftwood fire, the night still and beginningto cool around them.
Jiggs thought he heard something move in the pile ofdriftwood at his right. He listened closely. Nothing. He stared outinto the dark desert beyond the flickering circle of light from thefire. Only an hour ago he had watched the twisted shapes of thecactus fade into the dark. By now small animals would be comingout of their cooling burrows, eyes luminous in the moonlight asthey stalked the trembling prey that would sustain them. Creaturesthat in daylight froze in their tracks in adaptive invisibility couldnot use this ploy at night when predators, like bad dreams, soughtthem out by odor and intuition. Jiggs strained to listen for othersounds from the dark beyond them, but heard nothing more thanthe crackle and hiss of the fire. A heavy scent hung in the air.
“That’s Queen of Night cactus you smell.” Jiggs jumped asBuel spoke out of the dark behind him. “Okay,” Buel said as hemoved into the firelight, “I have a question for you, doctor.”
“Me?” Ken asked.
“Yep,” Buel said as he sat down again and stretched his legsout before him on the serape-covered seat. “This is a good one.What is the first level of consciousness?”
Ken laughed. “Guilt,” he said with only a moment’s hesitation.
“Movement,” Buel said with a smile.
“Yeah,” Buel said, “but I can’t explain it.” He leaned forwardand stared into the fire for a long minute. “But did you evernotice–” He sat back in the seat. “–if you turn in your sleep, yourdream changes?”
“I feel a little like that now.” Ken laughed. “It’s just cellmemory, old buddy.”
“No, I never noticed,” Jiggs said shaking his head.“Movement.”
Guillermo glanced up from the fire. “Where you been?”
Jiggs looked at Guillermo as surprised as if he had suddenlytaken off in awkward flight.
“Don’t worry about it, Jiggs,” Ken said. “Buel’s been teachingour friend a little English.”
“I’m serious,” Buel said. “Movement.”
Buel gestured to Ken who gave him another joint and theplastic lighter. “My wife’s into metaphysics,” Buel said. “Did I tellyou?” The joint glowed in the darkness in front of him as he lit it.“She’s off to England.” Buel’s voice was high and strained as heheld in the smoke. “–wants to study one of those haunted castles.”
Ken’s laugh ended in a bout of coughing. “Do tell,” he chokedout. “Do you believe this guy, Jiggs?”Jiggs shrugged. “I’m suspending judgement–“
“Geez,” Ken said. He turned to Buel. “So who’s going to takecare of you while she’s away? Any little honeys?”
Buel smiled. “The cosmic mother,” he said slowly.
“Are plumbers supposed to talk like this?” Jiggs asked.
“In California they do.” Ken threw the roach into the coals.They sat in silence for a few minutes, staring into the flames ofthe sputtering fire, the night settling in upon them.
“My father died this winter,” Jiggs said barely above awhisper. He cleared his throat. “Just got purple in his chair onenight watching the tube. Late show. My mother found him in themorning.”
“Too bad,” Ken said glancing at Jiggs quickly and then backinto the fire.
Buel and Guillermo were silent.
“Indian television.” Ken pointed to the fire.
“Yeah,” Jiggs said. “Yeah.”
Suddenly Ken got up and galloped around the bonfire, slapping his sides. ‘”Oh, I’m so nervous!'” He stopped at Guillermo, pulled the baseball cap off the Mexican’s dark head, put it on his own, and ran around the fire circle again. “Wait, wait,” Ken said as he came to a halt again in front of Guillermo. Ken took the baseball cap off and peered down into it.
“Guillermo wants to tell me something.” Ken bent down so theMexican could speak into his ear. “Oh,” Ken said, “Guillermosays he has to go check his goats.”
“Those goats we saw by that shack coming in?” Jiggs asked.
“Sure,” Buel said from the bench seat, his eyes closed.“Guillermo goes off on his bicycle to visit them all the time.”
“In the dark?” Jiggs asked.
“Sure,” Buel said. “He sees in the dark.”
“So to speak.”
“Reflex. He just knows the place.”
Guillermo touched Ken’s arm and spoke to him quietly for amoment. Jiggs could hear the rapid lilt of his Spanish.
“Here’s one for you guys,” Ken said. “Guillermo says his goatsare stoned all the time. That’s right,” Ken said as he shook hishead. “Stoned.” He grinned. “Guillermo says he puts his headnext to the goat’s skull and he can feel the stillness in there. Feelthe goat just being.”
“They eat all that prickly pear,” Jiggs said.“No,” Ken replied. “I swear that’s what he said–just being agoat. Besides, cactus is good to eat. Isn’t that right, Guillermo?”
“I swear that’s what he said. Stillness. At least,” Ken said,“that’s as close as I can understand him. Guillermo’s prettymessed up himself. But he says he lines his head up next to thisgoat’s so maybe he can catch onto how it is–to just be–naturallike.”
“Okay,” Jiggs said, “maybe like those country people who siton their porches and watch traffic.”
“Sure” Ken laughed, “they put their heads up next to cars,”“Listen to the fenders, maybe.” Jiggs chuckled.
“Those goats down there may be into stillness,” Buel said,looking up at the dark sky, “but the hogs there are a wholedifferent story.”
“Exceptional beings,” Ken said. He sat down on the car seatnext to Jiggs. “Hey, I had a friend who had a pig so smart henamed it ‘Number One.'” He poked Jiggs in the side. “It lookedlike that big black one we saw, Jiggs. Liked to chase cars. Canyou imagine a pig galloping after you as you drive down theroad?”
Ken jumped up, blew out his cheeks and ran around the firecircle. After a couple more circular gallops he sat down. “Justlike–that,” he said winded. “But Guillermo has no respect forpigs. He just told me. Well, his hat told me.”
Guillermo shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
“Guillermo, did I tell you that goats and pigs have a fineintelligence?”
“Too much of the weed,” Buel said.
Ken grinned into the fire. “Buel would call it a ‘first orderconsciousness’.”
Jiggs laughed. “Completely gone.”
“Sure,” Ken continued, “pigs can climb ladders, go get themail, bring in the newspaper, and if properly outfitted can get abeer out of the fridge.”
“What do you mean by ‘properly outfitted’?” Jiggs asked.
“Oh, if you have a can dispenser,” Ken said. “You wouldn’texpect a decent pig to nose around in a six pack would you?”
“No, no, no.” Guillermo said. He rose from his place on the logand gazed out over the dark expanse of the desert. “Buenasnoches,” he said turning to them. “Yo tengo dolor.”
“Dolor?” asked Ken.
“Si, tristeza de estomacjo.”
“What did he say?” asked Jiggs.
“Oh–sorrow in his belly,” Ken replied. “Stomach ache.”
Jiggs rose and threw several light grey sticks of driftwood intothe fire.
Guillermo went quietly to the edge of the bluff to pick up hisbicycle. He stood there and seemed to be listening to the sound ofthe water lapping against the rocks below. After a few minutes hehopped on his yellow bicycle and wobbled off.
“So what does he do now?” Jiggs asked.
“Puts Cal to bed, I guess,” Ken said.
“No cosmic mother for Cal,” Buel said from his place on thecar seat.
“What’s going to happen to him?” Jiggs asked.
“Maybe you should ask about Guillermo,” Buel said.
“Look, it’s like this,” Ken said throwing a glowing stick backinto the fire. “With a brain injury there’s rapid recovery in the firstfive to ten days, significant recovery by six months. After a year,not much more. If he were a kid he could recover almostcompletely. But he’s not a kid.”
“So how old is he?” Jiggs asked. “He must have been in goodshape.”
“He was the best,” Buel said.
“About our age,” Ken said. “Thirties, forties–I’m not sure.”
“Age isn’t important,” Buel said. “Courage is important. Doingis important. Take Viet Nam for instance. It didn’t take courage togo there. Just bravery, just withstanding. Going to Canada wouldhave taken courage. What did you do, Jiggs?”
“So Guillermo’s been taking care of him for a year?”“Yeah, Jiggs, a year,” Buel said. “Why do you ask? Why didn’tyou answer my question?”
Jiggs was silent. He went to the Bronco and came backwearing a faded flannel shirt over his T-shirt, and carrying a fifthof Jose Quervo. “Tequila?” He asked as he offered the bottle.
“That stuff makes me crazy,” Buel said. He got up and threw adry bush into the fire. It blazed and smelled like burning sage. “Iwant to get out early.” Buel shook his head. “Look,” he said, “I’vegot it straight from God, Herman Hesse, and T.S. Eliot.”
“That’s quite a crew,” Jiggs said.
“Only the best,” piped up Ken.
“You know the Sanskrit, da, dattaim, dattyamin?”
“No,” Jiggs said.
“It’s from The Wasteland, what the thunder said, man, where’veyou been?” Buel smiled. “My wife and I talk about it a lot.Anyway, at first I thought the words meant ‘to care,’ ‘tosympathize,’ and ‘to discipline.’ Now I know it’s first ‘to give.'”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Jiggs said.
“That’s what I’d guess,” Buel said. “It’s not convenient, hey?To step out of your own dreary conformity for even a moment?”
“Come on, Buel.” Ken reached over to take the bottle fromJiggs. “Shit,” Ken said. He took a swig, and then handed thebottle back to Jiggs. Ken nodded over to Buel who, in that shorttime, had fallen asleep in his chair.
Jiggs stared into the fire, the bottle of tequila between hisknees. After a few minutes Buel got up slowly. He pointed to histent trailer at the edge of the bluff. “See you both in the morning,”he said and he slipped away from the fire.
Ken jumped up. “Yeah. Yeah. Me too.” He gave a brief waveof his arm, crossed the campsite and disappeared into the dometent at the edge of the road.
Jiggs tossed another piece of wood on the fire and then satdown on the ground in front of it, his back against the Broncoseat. He smelled the salty spray of the water behind him, now athigh tide lapping against the rocks. He could feel the dark of thedesert creep in upon the dying fire.
Jiggs wondered how he had been talked into this trip. Hehadn’t surfed in years. Ken had called it his annual “geographiccure,” and claimed he was tired of driving all the way down to theBaja alone. Ken could be pretty persuasive when he wanted to be,and Jiggs wasn’t doing much anyway. Sometimes, Jiggs thought,when you go a long way you learn something, and sometimes youdon’t. He hadn’t learned anything so far, but he had had plenty oftime to remember things he would have preferred to have leftbehind.
It had been raining for several days after the funeral andrestless, Jiggs had been wandering through the house. His motherfound him downstairs in the small tidy workshop under thekitchen.
“What are you doing, James?” she asked him.
“Nothing much.” He picked a power drill off its hangingbracket on the pegboard, turned it in his hands, and put it down onthe workbench. “Just looking around.”
“So many things crowd in around you in a lifetime,” she said,looking at the orderly arrangement of tools hanging on the walls.“Why don’t you take the tools back East with you? That’ssomething he would have liked.”
“I doubt it,” Jiggs said. “I don’t have any use for them.”
“Maybe someday you will.”
“You know I’m not handy,” Jiggs said. He glanced out thecasement window. “Where’s all this California sun you bragabout?”
“I saved the tools for you, James.” She looked down at herhands. “Your Uncle Harry wanted them. I love your Uncle Harryyou know, but I told him they were for you.”
“Why didn’t you consult me first?” he said. You make a thingpoorly, he thought, and it falls apart, use it some more, and it’sbroken again. “Why bother?” he said aloud.
“He liked to keep busy, James.” She turned away. “Switch offthe light when you’re through.” He had heard her slow footstepson the wooden stairs and then the click of the latch as the doorclosed.
Jiggs took a sip of the tequila. A small grey lizard scurried out ofthe pile of driftwood, skittered across the sand in front of the fire,stopped for a moment as if listening, then turned toward Jiggs.The lizard side-stepped up to Jiggs’ hand that was resting on thesand beside him, paused, and then climbed on top of it. . Jiggsstudied the creature. It was about nine inches in length includingthe thin iridescent blue tail, the rest of it the soft grey color of kidgloves. Its narrow, ribbon like tongue flicked in and out severaltimes. Its eyes were small black beads with glints of yellow thatreflected the fire.
Jiggs didn’t move. He had never been fond of animals. He’dignored the dog when he was a boy, let the fish tank become astagnant pool in which dead moths floated on the surface andbewildered mollies slowly succumbed long before he noticed,becoming rigid monuments to his neglect.
The lizard crawled up his arm, stopped at the elbow, thenproceeded to his shoulder and across his chest. It hung there, littleclaws caught in the threads of the flannel shirt.
There is nothing wrong with this creature, Jiggs thought. Infact, everything right with it resting on him as it was, unafraid,curious, taking a risk that he would not fling it into the fire.
Jiggs looked out into the desert. Clouds were visible in thenight sky, and in front of him he saw the outline of a saguarocactus in the pale moonlight. The cactus looked like a manpoised, waiting. It was too late, he thought, he could never pleasehim.
The lizard inched up his chest and flicked its tongue at the juncture of his neck and chin. Jiggs felt it as a dry caress,something like the kisses his mother had given him as a child. Hesat up abruptly. The lizard fell to the ground and scurried backinto the woodpile.
Jiggs stared back into the dark of the desert. He couldn’t seethe cactus anymore but he felt the wind begin to stir, and heimagined the frozen windmill he had seen near the vegetable farmthey drove through to get there begin to turn with a rusty creak inthe dark. Nothing real. Nothing real. He heard the surf wringingits hands wavelet upon wavelet all the way to the punta, and itcame to him suddenly that Buel’s cosmic mother guided eachwave along with the palm of her hand.
Jiggs stood up on his stiff knees and walked over to the edgeof the bluff. He thought of Cal being clumsily lifted into bed byGuillermo after waiting in his chair a long time in the dark.
Jiggs crossed the glass-littered campsite and crawled into theback of the Bronco to sleep.
It was six in the morning. The sun had just dealt its first cardsover the lagoon behind the white house. Buel, in shorts and a Tshirt,stumbled out of his trailer. He looked up at the brighteningsky and then down over the bluff to the surf below. The tide waslow, pulled back from the rocks with haze hanging near shore, butbeyond it, in the pale morning light, the water was spread out likea blue satin cloth. No wind. The waves were coming in in threeswith a long wait between sets. It looked good. Or good enough.Calm. Buel went back into his trailer and emerged with a red andblue bundle under his arm. He crossed the dirt road still moistwith morning.
In ten minutes Buel banged out the screen door wearing hisblue wet suit, pushing Cal in the wheelchair ahead of him. Calwas wearing a red wet suit and a dazed expression. When theyreached the edge of the bluff Buel stopped.
“Now just look at it,” Buel said.
Cal gazed out over the water, his dark hair standing up like anaccidental punk hairstyle. He rubbed the side of his thumb alongthe padded arm of the chair. “I haven’t been here,” he said, hisvoice halting and low, “–long time.”
“That’s what I thought,” Buel said standing beside thewheelchair, his arms folded across his chest. “Take a goodlook.”
Cal glanced down at his wasted legs and then out at the water.Buel waited a minute, and then knelt alongside the wheelchair.Under his knee the low-lying succulent cactus on the edge of the
bluff split and bled. They studied the water silently for a fewminutes.
“What do you think?” Buel asked finally.
“Good–enough,” Cal said, his head tilted to one side, his faceexpressionless.
“I’ll take the boards down.” Buel jumped up and headed for histruck. “wait here,” he called over his shoulder. Cal nodded.
Buel came back from the truck with two long boards, oneorange, one white, under either arm.“Still a– logger?” Cal said.
Buel looked at Cal in surprise, then chuckled. He disappearedover the side of the bluff and down the ravine to the white rockbeach below.
Cal watched the small, gray-winged white gulls ride theupdraft that swooped up the side of the bluff. When they reachedeye-level, they tucked their black heads and feet for a drop to thewater. The red berry cactus beneath his chair had an odor bothsweet and salty.
In a few minutes Buel reappeared over the rise.
“Here we go,” he said. He swung Cal up out of the wheelchair,which fell to its side and collapsed with the movement. Buelcarried Cal high in his arms over the bluff and down the trashstrewngully to the beach.
“You ought to be glad you’re not walking on this stuff,” Buelsaid when they got below. “Broken bottles, wet paper. No respect.Just no respect for the earth that is alive, after all.”
The surfboards were at the edge of the dark water, propped upon their skegs on the white rock, their noses wet.
“This is–crazy,” Cal said as Buel set him down beside theboards.
“Doing anything at all is crazy if you think about it,” Buel saidtaking a deep breath and bending to touch his toes. “Anything atall.”
Buel stretched his arms out behind his back and glanced atCal. “Put your feet in for a while,” he said. “Let me figure thisout.”
Buel surveyed the surf in front of them. To the right largerocks rose from the water halfway out to the surf break. The darkpunta jutted into the water at an angle in front of them and to theleft, calmer water was dark with kelp. The waves were coming inlike an arm sweeping across the surface, occasionally rollingunder the black-green patches of seaweed to lift it out of its path.
“How do you feel about kelp?” Buel asked Cal who was sittingawkwardly on the rock shore, leaning on his left arm, the paleflesh of his forehead knotted into deep ridges.
“Kelp,” Cal said squinting up at him. “A little’s okay.”
“Right,” Buel said as he zipped up his wet suit at the back ofthe neck and waded into the water in front of Cal. He grabbed theman under the arms and pulled him up to a stand in the coldwater. “Can you do that for a minute?”
With one hand under Cal’s shoulder, Buel pulled the orangelong board out and steadied it in the water in front of Cal. “Geton,” he said.
“Do it,” Buel said, his stance wide, his hands on either side ofthe orange board.
Cal grabbed the board with one hand and fell onto it, bellydown.
“All right,” Buel said. He leaned over, still holding the boardsteady and attached its leash to Cal’s thin ankle. “You don’t needto lose this thing,” Buel said as he adjusted the velcro anklet.
Cal nodded, his thin body stiff and crooked on the board. Heraised his head to watch the surf forming at the punta.
Buel fastened his own leash, quickly hopped on his board andreached over again to steady Cal’s.
“How’s your paddling arm?” he asked.
“Fine.” Cal strained to pull the slack half of his face into asmile.
“Okay,” Buel said, and he pointed to the surf break.
They paddled out slowly, lazy swells moving under them like afat man in a hammock rolling over in his sleep. When they got tothe kelp beds, the glistening seaweed on long tangled roots–asdisturbing as water snakes–caught on their boards and entangledtheir feet which they hung behind them as rudders. Each time theygot tangled they quickly kicked the slick seaweed off and wenton.
When they reached an area of calm, Buel asked if Cal couldget himself into a sitting position. Cal nodded and with his leftarm–his face determined, then suddenly relaxed–Cal pushedhimself up on the board.
“Now just think how we look from the bluff,” Buel said.
Cal shook his dark hair back out of his eyes. “Pelicans,” he said in a husky voice.
“Sure Cal, bobbing on the water.” Astride his board, Buelfaced the red sandstone bluff, his back to the punta. He could seethe wheechair lying on its side, the sun rising behind it, and to theleft of it Ken’s dome tent and the still-smoking fire.
Cal braced himself with his left arm and adjusted his positionon the board. The swells were gentle beneath them. After a fewminutes Cal’s shoulders dropped and his expression softened.They rode the swells without speaking, Buel thinking about thefirst time they met when Cal was still a surfer with a Californiareputation who had taken to him, and had shown him with notmuch more than a grunt or two how to walk the board. Cal didspinners on his orange long board and then offhandedly gave theboard to Buel saying he just had a new one made. Later Buel hadtried a short board and found it more to his liking, but he neverforgot Cal’s cool instruction, which had given him permission tosurf badly in the beginning. Just do it was all.
Buel remembered those first runs, the excitement of theavalanche of water moving under him and catching up, always athis back. The pure energy moving through water and driving himahead of it, a wall of water rising behind him. He felt within it,part of it, yet separate and powerful, full of grace in that elementthat at once bathed and stung. Often the water threw him againstrock, often it lapped gently at his feet as he knelt on his board, thesun rising each morning beside him like a woman elegant inpublic and passionate alone. He was often tumbled by the powerof a hot wave, then soon soothed by the lapping caress of the seamother who entangled in the rooty snare of her kelp beds. Buelknew there was nothing he could say as he rode the board besideCal, each of them staring out to sea with the dazed look offishermen.After a few minutes Cal lifted his chin several timestoward the bluff. “Guillermo,” he said.Buel shaded his eyes and scanned the campsite. The sun had nowrisen above the tent. “I don’t think he’s there. Nope, I don’t seeanyone up yet.”
“Guillermo,” Cal said, “is there.”
“Do you see–” Buel asked. “Oh, yeah,” Buel turned to look atan oncoming wave, “he’s standing by you, all right.” Buel yankedat his wet suit sleeves. “Now look,” he said, “it’s starting to set up.When the first one breaks, I’ll take it. You grab the second.”
Cal gave him a startled look.
“Well, do you think we’re going to sit here all day? I’vewatched you walk on the porch.” Buel said. “I know you can do it.”
Cal shook his head.
“You outsurfed everybody here for years. You know the puntaand you know what kind of stuff comes through here. Do whatyou’ve always done. Tumble a little maybe, you can always pullyour board back with the leash and just plain hang on.”
Cal nodded. “Yeah,” he said with a crack in his voice,“smoking along.”
“Forget it. The surf’s setting up. Get ready.”
A wave swelled before them. “Now!” Buel yelled. He paddledbefore the curl, leaped to a stand and rode across the face of thewave at the front of his board. He turned on the wave to watchCal who was frantically paddling one-armed in front of thesecond wave.
“Now!” Buel shouted. “Do it now.”
Cal hesitated, then pushed against the board with his strongerarm, a wobbly lead foot beneath him. He got to a half standbefore the white water caught up with him. Standing precariouslyfor a moment, on one leg and the weak toes of his trail foot, helost his balance and fell.
Buel unleashed his board, dove in the water and went afterhim. For a moment he could see Cal’s dark head in the surgingwhite water and then it was gone. Buel could see nothing but amad sweep of foam going toward the rocks.
Buel swam toward the spot where he had last seen Cal’s headbobbing above the surface. He swam to the rocks beyond it andfound Cal, his arm around a green, moss-covered rock, the orangesurfboard a short distance away. Cal’s wet hair hung in his eyesand thin river of red flowed down his cheek form a cut above hisleft eye.
“Are you all right?” Buel was breathless. He let his legs dropand found the water was only waist deep.
Cal nodded. “All right.” He was moving one arm in a modifiedside stroke
“You can stand here,” Buel said. “It’s not deep.” He wadedover and touched Cal lightly on the arm. “Cal, pull in your board.”
Cal yanked his leg to himself and the surfboard came bouncingtoward him. He lay his left arm across it and rested his faceagainst the smooth surface.
Buel rescued his own board from the surf and hopped on.“Let’s go,” he said.
Cal pulled himself onto his board and they paddled slowlyback to the calm kelp-filled area where they had lined up before.
“What did you tell me years ago?” Buel said when they reached their destination. “‘Rely on your board,’ you said, ‘I’m here but the board’s better.'”
Cal wiped a hand across his forehead, looked at it, and smiled.The bleeding had slowed. “No,” he said slowly, “not me.”
“Yes,” Buel said. “You. You gave me that hideous orangeboard you’re riding. And there’s still some of your magic in it.”
“Magic,” Cal said flatly. He glanced down at his thin arms andthen over at the seagulls that were riding the swells a few yardsaway, their wings tucked, like trim little boats. Cal shook his darkhead and then slipped off the board into the water.
He came up on the other side of his board. “Underwater,” Calsaid, “is easier.”
“Kick, you turkey,” Buel said. “Hold on to the board and kickyour legs.” Buel hopped off his board and swam behind Cal. Hestood and grabbed Cal’s thin legs in the water and began movingthem in a rhythmic scissors kick. “Okay,” he said, “keep it up.”
While Buel watched, Cal maintained a slow kick, his left armacross the surfboard, he cheek resting on its wet surface.
“All right,” Buel said when Cal slipped off the board again andcame up shaking his head. “Okay, friend.”
Cal moved his arms unevenly in front of him. The surfboard,still attached to his ankle leash, bobbed beside him with eachmovement of his legs. “Not good–enough,” Cal said. He leanedacross his board and lay there for a few minutes, his ribsretracting, his breath coming in rhythmic whistles. He slowlypulled himself onto the board and up into a sitting position. Calrested a minute, his dark head down, his chin on his chest. Heslowly turned to watch the water behind him.
“Not good enough,” Cal mumbled as he stared at the flat lineof the horizon to the left of the punta.
“Okay, so it’s not the Banzai Pipeline,” Buel slapped at thewater. “So you’re not Duke Kahanamoku, and it’s not the ultimatewave. Damn it Cal, you’ve done enough surfing to know that threefourths of the time what you’re really doing is fishing. Fishing fora wave. Just being there.”
Cal stared at the long horizon that had been graduallybrightening into a clear morning sky. His breath came in gasps.“It’s something,” he said at last. “At least,” he threw his head backand shook out his dark hair. His face was pale. “–something.” About half past six that morning Jiggs climbed out of the back ofthe Bronco where had had been sleeping, stretched and lookedover the water. He saw two surfers out riding their boards. Whenhe turned the sun had just cleared the roof of the white house.Jiggs went back to the Bronco and pulled out his sleeping bag.
Ken emerged from his tent scratching his lean belly.
“Oh,” Jiggs said nodding toward the bluff. “I thought it wasyou out there.”
Jiggs gestured toward the water and continued rolling up hissleeping bag on the Bronco’s hood. “Take a look.”
Yawning, Ken went to the edge of the bluff.
“That’s Buel,” he said. “And–what the hell? Cal’s out therewith him.”
“Buel must have taken him down,” Jiggs said. “Early.”
“Wonder how he talked him into it,” Ken said. “How’d he talkGuillermo into it?” Ken wandered toward his tent.
“How come Cal hasn’t drowned yet? ” Jiggs shouted after him.
“Damned if I know,” Ken said shaking his head. “Archimedes,maybe. Ever heard of him?”
“Of course, but what?” Jiggs watched the dark figures bobbingout on the water beyond the kelp beds. “That’s crazy out there.”
“Buel’s got it under control,” Ken said. He squinted up at thesun. “Good surfing day on the Baja.”
Jiggs looked up and saw Guillermo coming along the bluffpath toward them on his bicycle, a milk pail hanging from thehandlebars. Goat’s milk sloshed from the pail as Guillermojumped off the bike beside them and stared out over the water.“Madre de Dios,” he said.
“Heap big mathematician,” Ken yawned. He turned toGuillermo.
Balancing the bike and the milk pail on its handlebars,Guillermo pointed to the wheelchair that was lying on its sidefurther down the edge of the bluff.
“Cal?” Guillermo said.
“Geez,” Jiggs said walking up to them, “I didn’t even see thatchair.”
“A body in fluid,” Ken said, stretching. “I need some coffee.”
“How can he do this?” Jiggs squinted at the surfers who wereriding their boards near the rocks.
“Is buoyed by a force–” Ken continued,”–equal to the weightdisplaced.”
“Ken, cut it out,” Jiggs said.
Guillermo lifted the milk pail off the bicycle handlebar, set iton the ground, then lowered the bicycle into the cactus berries athis feet. He squatted beside the milk pail at the edge of the bluffand watched the bobbing surfers out on the water.
“Looks okay to me out there,” Ken said. “Come on, get upGuillermo. We can have coffee now that you’ve brought themilk.”
“Look,” Jiggs said, “how can he do this? It’s just plain stupid tohave Cal out there.”
“Why?” Ken turned to go back to his tent. “Buel would sayEchidna the sea mother has it covered.”
“Verdad,” Guillermo said, his gaze still fixed on the two figuresout on the water.
“All right, Ken,” Jiggs said, “I don’t mean how can he do itscientifically, or even mythically, I mean– well, humanly.”
“Ah, there it is, Jiggs. When there’s nothing else–” Ken turnedaway. “You figure it out.” Ken turned to Guillermo. “I saw astump down the road that will be perfect for the bonfire tonight.Mind if I borrow your vehicle, Guillermo? Think I’ll check it out.”
Guillermo nodded and turned back to watch the water.
Ken moved the milk pail aside and picked up the bicycle by itsrusty handlebars. “‘After I roam up and down–‘” he shouted. Hehopped on the bike and rode in a circle in front of Jiggs andGuillermo, “‘o’er the waste as a wanderer.'” He kept the bikewobbling in place, “‘and lay my head in the bowels of the earth.”‘He rode close to Jiggs and then wobbled out beyond the firecircle. ” ‘ Let mine eyes see the sun.’ ” He glanced up at the sunwhich was over his tent now, and then back to Jiggs. ” ‘When willthe man who is dead ever look on the light of the Sunshine?’ “Ken turned and rode off toward the bluff path. “Gilgamesh,” hesaid. “The best thing about this bicycle,” he announced over hisshoulder, “is–no brakes.”Jiggs and Guillermo watched Ken ride off, zigzagging along theedge of the bluff.
“He’s truly crazy,” Jiggs said.
Guillermo said something in Spanish. Something about aqua,water, Jiggs thought, but he couldn’t make it out. The young man shrugged.
Jiggs walked to the edge of the bluff and watched the two men,one blond in a bright blue wet suit, one-dark haired in red, ridethe calm between sets.
After a few minutes Guillermo nodded to Jiggs and saunteredaway along the ridge path. Several yards down Jiggs saw him cutacross the road past the small pink and blue houses and headtoward the lagoon.
Maybe the goats were still gathered at the shed for theirmilking, Jiggs thought, or maybe Guillermo was going theresimply to put his head against the skull of his favorite goat. Jiggssquatted down on his stiff knees and picked one of the cactusberries. The sticky pink-tinged juice stained his fingers. Heglanced up to see Cal on the water, standing on his orange board.He was leaning to one side in an awkward, unnatural stance, buthe was surfing, nevertheless, all the way to shore. Jiggs heard awhoop from below.
Jiggs dropped the cactus bloom. He jumped up and ran to theBronco. He pulled out his wet suit which was stuffed under thedriver’s seat and put it on quickly. Moving to the rear of theBronco he released his old green long board from the roof rackand with the heavy board under his arm, he charged down thegully to the beach.
When he got there he found Buel at the edge of the waterpulling in the boards. Cal sat on the rocks, his head down. “Whatare you risking his life for?” Jiggs demanded.
“What?” Buel said glancing up at Jiggs in surprise.
“You heard what I said.” Jiggs dropped his board at the water’sedge and waded over to Buel. “He’s been battered on the rocks.Look at him.”
“Haven’t you ever gone against rocks?” Buel stood. “It’s part ofit. Jiggs, sometimes you have to do something.”
“Do something? You mean you couldn’t think of anythingelse? He could have died.”
Buel looked down at the water at his feet. He shook his head.“He could have died before, but he didn’t.” Buel reached back tounzip the neck of his wet suit. “We got the cosmic mother lookingout.”
Cal shifted his position on the rocks. He looked from one tothe other. “Hey.” Cal had a lopsided grin on his face. “Water–‘sfine.”
Jiggs watched Buel pull the boards further up on the rockybeach. Then Buel went over to Cal and lifted him in his arms. He steadied himself, and started the climb up the soft side of thebluff.Jiggs turned back and stared over the water. The black rocks ofthe punta were covered with the white dots of gulls, and pelicansrode the morning glass near the horizon. Movement, Jiggsthought. He grabbed his surfboard and with it under his armwaded out into the blue-black water.