Gargoyle 35
cover photo (Youth and Age on Holiday)
by Leslie A. Bell
publication date 10/1988

Cuatro Casas

Joyce Renwick

The sun hung above the rocky point in front of them as Jiggs and
Ken drove past a roughly lettered sign that said, “Pack Your
Trash.” They pulled into a glass-littered camp- site at the edge of
the sandstone bluff. The water below them had changed to gun
metal gray and a hundred feet out a lone surfer was sitting astride
his board near a dark kelp bed and a cluster of black rocks that
rose 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 the
truck’s door said, “Buel Snyder, San Jose, CA, ‘Celestial

Jiggs brought the Bronco to a stop. As he yanked on the hand
brake, 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 roof
rack 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 knees
bent, angled across the face of the wave with the grace of a city
kid on a skateboard.

“Whoo-eee!” Ken whistled. “Look at him, would you?” Ken
leaned his yellow long board against the Bronco and rummaged
under 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. He
glanced around at the littered ground of a half dozen campsites
along the ridge and noted the rusty fifty-gallon oil drums that
were placed at intervals along the bluff. “He’s not so old by the
looks of him.”

“Well, everybody’s got a different schedule then,” Ken said. He
glanced at his watch. “They made some improvements on the
house.” He nodded across the road.


style house, flanked by what looked like outhouses–a couple
painted hot pink, a couple pastel blue. The screened-in porch on
the side of the big house was obviously new. “Who lives there
anyway?” Jiggs asked.

“Some Mexican guy named Guillermo. You’ll see him later
when he wants the two bucks.

“Two bucks?” Jiggs said. “For these crummy campsites?”

“Why not?” Ken said. “For all us aging California surfer
hippies two bucks is nothing.”

“Come on,” Jiggs said, “a laborer here makes eight bucks a

Ken shrugged. “So that’s four campsites. Doubt you’ll see four
in 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 his
palm along its fiberglass surface.

The launch ramp’s behind the shacks,” Ken said. “They keep
the boats in them.” Ken applied more board wax with an athletic
sock he had found under the seat. He swirled the surfboard on its
skeg 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 named
after four outhouses?”

“Yep, kind of poetic, ain’t it?” Ken pulled his wet suit from the
back of the Bronco and threw it over the open door.

“Look Ken,” Jiggs turned to watch the slow curl of a listless
wave 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 at
midtide,” Ken said. “You wait and wait and suddenly it’s there.
All those southern swells, those water pussys just bursting at your
back. You know how it is.”

“Don’t remind me.” Jiggs stepped on a rusted can and then
flung the flattened tin and some shards of glass into the blackened
stone circle in the middle of the campsite. “Big fire tonight,” he

Ken yanked his wet suit off the open Bronco door. “Sure,” he
said. “Sure. Knock yourself out.”

Ken turned to the water and watched the blond surfer leap to
his feet, executing quick roller coaster turns on his short board to
increase his speed as he rode the wave.

“Oh hoo, Jiggs my boy,” Ken whooped. He yanked on his
black wet suit. “I’m off.” He grabbed the yellow board and swung
it over his head.

Jiggs followed and watched Ken run down the littered ravine
to the beach, his yellow board balanced over his head. “No
leash?” Jiggs yelled down after him as he watched Ken head for
the water.

Ken grinned up from the white rock ledge below. “Some
people 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 of
him. When he was knee deep, he hopped onto the board and
started paddling out–his legs bent up out of the water–depending
only on the power of his thinly muscular upper body.

Jiggs walked back to the campsite. He leaned against the
Bronco and folded his arms above his belly. The surf was coming
in, wide rolling swells in sets of five with a four to five minute
wait between sets. Jiggs noted again that Buel was a good
conventional surfer who grabbed a right and just hung in there.
Ken was a goofeyfooter who took the lefts facing shore, his back
to the wave, his arm in the tube. Ken had told him that he, Buel
and Cal had surfed together every June since they first met at
Cuatro Casas five years before, glad for each other’s company
away from the brash young surfers at Trestles and Malibu who
competed 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 recent
displeasure with the sport. Jiggs supposed they had all been
merciless once, but as Ken said yesterday as they drove down
101, they’d done it all eighteen years ago at Topanga.

Jiggs went to the back of the Bronco to unload. Even though
there was still a fair amount of light he suspected it would get
dark suddenly, as soon as the sun plunged behind the Punta. He
pulled the cooler out from behind the seat and placed it near the
fire circle, then returned to the Bronco to get Ken’s tent, a folding
camp chair, the Coleman lantern, the sleeping bags and water
jugs. Feeling as if someone were watching him, he glanced over
to the white house across the road.

There was a yellow bicycle leaning into the tall fence-row of
organ pipe cactus in front of the house. Inside the screened porch
a dark-haired man sat in a wheelchair. A young Mexican man
stood not far from him, leaning against the screen wall and
gesturing 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’s
fender. No problems on the Baja he’d been told, just don’t drink
the water.

After he finished setting up the campsite, Jiggs climbed down
the steep ravine path Ken had used. The sun was dragging a
blanket of purple behind it and he knew he would have to hurry
before it got dark. From the rocky beach the surfers looked like
birds bobbing on the water’s surface, their boards distant from
each other, the black kelp bed between them. Jiggs wandered
along the water’s edge periodically disturbing preening gulls in
the rock pools who squawked and flapped their wings as he
passed. When he came upon a large collection of grey,
lightweight driftwood in the cup of a boulder, he gathered an
armload of the largest pieces.

When Jiggs got back to the campsite after several trips, his arms full of sandy driftwood, he saw the young Mexican
zigzagging away along the edge of the bluff on the yellow
bicycle. Jiggs glanced across the dirt road. The porch was
deserted but he could see a small flickering light within the house.
He stacked the wood beside the fire circle and collapsed on the
folding chair with a beer. After about ten minutes, the sea breeze
picking up, the Mexican came back on his bicycle along the same
path at the edge of the bluff. He dropped the bike to the ground in
front of the house and went in the screen door to the porch. The
dark-haired man in the wheelchair rolled back out, and as Jiggs
watched the man pulled himself up to a stand in front of the
wheelchair. Under the young Mexican’s scrutiny, he brought one
stiff leg forward and then moved the other up to meet it. In this
manner he slowly made his way across the porch.

Jiggs was still squinting in the deepening twilight, watching
the man on the porch, when Ken and a fit-looking blond fellow in
a 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 back
into the folding chair. “I’d give you old surfer types a B+.”

“Jiggs here is a tweedy college professor,” Ken said
offhandedly as he stood his board on end beside him.

“See any tweeds?” Jiggs lifted his beer and looked down at his
cutoffs. “I was a damn adjunct lecturer, Ken,” Jiggs said, “it
hardly counts for anything.”

Buel laid his board on the ground carefully, unzipped his wet
suit 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 the
same–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 the
story with that guy over there?”
Buel turned around and gazed at the house for a long time. The
man on the porch had changed his direction and was slowly
making 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 black
rocks of the punta.

Buel told Jiggs that Cal had stayed for a few extra days last
year after he and Ken had left. One night Cal and Guillermo, the
young Mexican man on the porch, had gone to Rosario, gotten
blind drunk, and on the way back had driven off the bluff.
Guillermo had been driving Cal’s car. Nothing much happened to
him. But Cal’s head injury had resulted in moderate brain damage
and severe weakness on one side. Cal had never left Cuatro
Casas. Guillermo was taking care of him.

Orange flames leaped ten feet into the blackness above the bonfire
and sparks flashed like sequins into the flounced skirt of the sky.
Around the fire Ken and Jiggs had arranged the Bronco front seats
and the bench seat from Buel’s truck, covering them with bright
striped serapes Guillermo provided as protection against the damp
sea air. Ken’s and Buel’s wet suits were thrown over the open
doors of Buel’s truck to dry. Around the fire, their faces were
glistening 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 back
about five feet soon.” Jiggs said. He glanced over at Ken who was
rolling a joint from a stash Guillermo had just given him.

“Gracias, old buddy,” Ken said to the swarthy young man who
sat on a log next to his seat, the Mexican’s soiled baseball cap and
blue 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 much
English, but he knows what’s good.

Jiggs nodded and pulled his bucket seat back a couple feet
from the fire.

Buel came out of the darkness behind them. “Good blaze” he
said. “I’ve been walking along the bluff.” He dropped into one of
the car seats. “The cosmic mother’s out wooing tonight for sure.”

“Wooing?” Jiggs said.

Ken looked up from his methodical activity, rolled his eyes
and went back to work.

“What took you guys so long?” Buel asked as he stretched his
legs out toward the fire. “I’ve been meaning to ask all afternoon. I
made Cuatro Casas two days ago.” He noticed the row of
carefully rolled joints growing on Ken’s knee. “Never mind,” he
said with a smile, “I don’t need to ask.”

“We stopped at K38,” Jiggs said. He jumped up to throw a few
pieces of driftwood on the fire.

“Wasn’t any good was it?” Buel looked up at the sky. A star or
two shone through holes in the dark clouds. “Hey,” Buel paused a
minute, “did you hear about the guy who fell off the bluff at K38
not too long ago?”

“No,” Ken said. He tossed some marijuana stems over his

“Amazing,” Buel said, “this guy was camping there in the
parking lot next to the kilometer marker with his girl. Fell off at
night and nobody knew. She did a lot of screaming and they
finally 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 direction
of the house. “Lately I’ve been trying not to put anything that isn’t
pure into my body.”

“You always were strange, Buel,” Ken said.

“It’s important.” Buel’s tanned face was outlined in the
firelight. Ken waved a thin, tight joint in the air. “Well, this is pure
unadulterated–” He pulled a burning stick from the fire, lit the
joint and took a drag.

“Talking about adultery,” he said after a moment, staring down
at the glowing joint he held cupped into his palm, “I’ve given up
on women.”
El amor es un bico,” Guillermo murmured. He was sitting on
a stump facing the fire.

“Yeah, well Guillermo’s the real lover round here.” Ken
elbowed 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.

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 Jiggs
who shook his head. “‘I’m so tense!'” Ken pounded his feet on the
ground in front of him, “I need a Xanax!”

“Sounds like you caught something from your patients,” Buel


“‘Que cuando pica,'” Guillermo sang, staring into the fire, his
hands hanging between his knees, “‘no se encuentra remidio. “‘

“Sure, sure, Guillermo,” Ken said, “there’s not a thing you can
do for it.”

“Surf it through,” Buel said.

“Yeah, sure.” Ken passed the joint to Guillermo who had
stopped singing and was staring again at his hands. Guillermo
took a drag, walked the joint over to Buel and padded back to his
place in front of the fire. Jiggs noticed he was wearing soft
moccasin-like shoes.

“It’s been a long time since I smoked,” Buel said after
accepting the joint from Guillermo with a nod and a smile. “Last
year, 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. He
quickly looked back down into the fire. In the darkening night
they could hear the rising tide rolling onto the rocks below.

“I’ve been overextending myself,” Buel said, “those contractors
are after me all the time.”

Jiggs got up. He pulled some driftwood from the stack and
tossed it into the fire. A column of sparks rose into the dark sky.

“Yeah,” Ken said above the crackle of the fire. “Can you
imagine–” 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 to
Ken who put the joint out in the dirt in front of him. They all sat
quietly for a few minutes, leaning forward, staring into the orange
and blue flames of the driftwood fire, the night still and beginning
to cool around them.

Jiggs thought he heard something move in the pile of
driftwood at his right. He listened closely. Nothing. He stared out
into the dark desert beyond the flickering circle of light from the
fire. Only an hour ago he had watched the twisted shapes of the
cactus fade into the dark. By now small animals would be coming
out of their cooling burrows, eyes luminous in the moonlight as
they stalked the trembling prey that would sustain them. Creatures
that in daylight froze in their tracks in adaptive invisibility could
not use this ploy at night when predators, like bad dreams, sought
them out by odor and intuition. Jiggs strained to listen for other
sounds from the dark beyond them, but heard nothing more than
the crackle and hiss of the fire. A heavy scent hung in the air.

“That’s Queen of Night cactus you smell.” Jiggs jumped as
Buel spoke out of the dark behind him. “Okay,” Buel said as he
moved into the firelight, “I have a question for you, doctor.”

“Me?” Ken asked.

“Yep,” Buel said as he sat down again and stretched his legs
out 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 forward
and stared into the fire for a long minute. “But did you ever
notice–” He sat back in the seat. “–if you turn in your sleep, your
dream changes?”

“I feel a little like that now.” Ken laughed. “It’s just cell
memory, old buddy.”

“No, I never noticed,” Jiggs said shaking his head.

Guillermo glanced up from the fire. “Where you been?”

Jiggs looked at Guillermo as surprised as if he had suddenly
taken off in awkward flight.

“Don’t worry about it, Jiggs,” Ken said. “Buel’s been teaching
our friend a little English.”

“I’m serious,” Buel said. “Movement.”

Buel gestured to Ken who gave him another joint and the
plastic lighter. “My wife’s into metaphysics,” Buel said. “Did I tell
you?” 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 he
held in the smoke. “–wants to study one of those haunted castles.”

Ken’s laugh ended in a bout of coughing. “Do tell,” he choked
out. “Do you believe this guy, Jiggs?”
Jiggs shrugged. “I’m suspending judgement–“

“Geez,” Ken said. He turned to Buel. “So who’s going to take
care 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 of
the sputtering fire, the night settling in upon them.

“My father died this winter,” Jiggs said barely above a
whisper. He cleared his throat. “Just got purple in his chair one
night watching the tube. Late show. My mother found him in the

“Too bad,” Ken said glancing at Jiggs quickly and then back
into 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 the
Mexican could speak into his ear. “Oh,” Ken said, “Guillermo
says 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 a
moment. Jiggs could hear the rapid lilt of his Spanish.

“Here’s one for you guys,” Ken said. “Guillermo says his goats
are stoned all the time. That’s right,” Ken said as he shook his
head. “Stoned.” He grinned. “Guillermo says he puts his head
next to the goat’s skull and he can feel the stillness in there. Feel
the goat just being.”

“They eat all that prickly pear,” Jiggs said.
“No,” Ken replied. “I swear that’s what he said–just being a
goat. 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 pretty
messed up himself. But he says he lines his head up next to this
goat’s so maybe he can catch onto how it is–to just be–natural

“Okay,” Jiggs said, “maybe like those country people who sit
on 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 whole
different story.”

“Exceptional beings,” Ken said. He sat down on the car seat
next to Jiggs. “Hey, I had a friend who had a pig so smart he
named it ‘Number One.'” He poked Jiggs in the side. “It looked
like that big black one we saw, Jiggs. Liked to chase cars. Can
you imagine a pig galloping after you as you drive down the

Ken jumped up, blew out his cheeks and ran around the fire
circle. After a couple more circular gallops he sat down. “Just
like–that,” he said winded. “But Guillermo has no respect for
pigs. 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 fine

“Too much of the weed,” Buel said.

Ken grinned into the fire. “Buel would call it a ‘first order

Jiggs laughed. “Completely gone.”

“Sure,” Ken continued, “pigs can climb ladders, go get the
mail, bring in the newspaper, and if properly outfitted can get a
beer out of the fridge.”

“What do you mean by ‘properly outfitted’?” Jiggs asked.

“Oh, if you have a can dispenser,” Ken said. “You wouldn’t
expect a decent pig to nose around in a six pack would you?”

“No, no, no.” Guillermo said. He rose from his place on the log
and gazed out over the dark expanse of the desert. “Buenas
noches,” 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 into
the fire.

Guillermo went quietly to the edge of the bluff to pick up his
bicycle. He stood there and seemed to be listening to the sound of
the water lapping against the rocks below. After a few minutes he
hopped 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 the
car 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 back
into the fire. “With a brain injury there’s rapid recovery in the first
five to ten days, significant recovery by six months. After a year,
not much more. If he were a kid he could recover almost
completely. But he’s not a kid.”

“So how old is he?” Jiggs asked. “He must have been in good

“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. Doing
is important. Take Viet Nam for instance. It didn’t take courage to
go there. Just bravery, just withstanding. Going to Canada would
have 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’t
you answer my question?”

Jiggs was silent. He went to the Bronco and came back
wearing a faded flannel shirt over his T-shirt, and carrying a fifth
of Jose Quervo. “Tequila?” He asked as he offered the bottle.

“That stuff makes me crazy,” Buel said. He got up and threw a
dry bush into the fire. It blazed and smelled like burning sage. “I
want to get out early.” Buel shook his head. “Look,” he said, “I’ve
got 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’ve
you been?” Buel smiled. “My wife and I talk about it a lot.
Anyway, at first I thought the words meant ‘to care,’ ‘to
sympathize,’ 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 from
Jiggs. “Shit,” Ken said. He took a swig, and then handed the
bottle back to Jiggs. Ken nodded over to Buel who, in that short
time, had fallen asleep in his chair.

Jiggs stared into the fire, the bottle of tequila between his
knees. After a few minutes Buel got up slowly. He pointed to his
tent 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 wave
of his arm, crossed the campsite and disappeared into the dome
tent at the edge of the road.

Jiggs tossed another piece of wood on the fire and then sat
down on the ground in front of it, his back against the Bronco
seat. He smelled the salty spray of the water behind him, now at
high tide lapping against the rocks. He could feel the dark of the
desert creep in upon the dying fire.

Jiggs wondered how he had been talked into this trip. He
hadn’t surfed in years. Ken had called it his annual “geographic
cure,” and claimed he was tired of driving all the way down to the
Baja 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 you
don’t. He hadn’t learned anything so far, but he had had plenty of
time to remember things he would have preferred to have left

It had been raining for several days after the funeral and
restless, Jiggs had been wandering through the house. His mother
found him downstairs in the small tidy workshop under the

“What are you doing, James?” she asked him.

“Nothing much.” He picked a power drill off its hanging
bracket on the pegboard, turned it in his hands, and put it down on
the 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’s
something 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 the
casement window. “Where’s all this California sun you brag

“I saved the tools for you, James.” She looked down at her
hands. “Your Uncle Harry wanted them. I love your Uncle Harry
you know, but I told him they were for you.”

“Why didn’t you consult me first?” he said. You make a thing
poorly, he thought, and it falls apart, use it some more, and it’s
broken again. “Why bother?” he said aloud.

“He liked to keep busy, James.” She turned away. “Switch off
the light when you’re through.” He had heard her slow footsteps
on the wooden stairs and then the click of the latch as the door

Jiggs took a sip of the tequila. A small grey lizard scurried out of
the 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 the
sand beside him, paused, and then climbed on top of it. . Jiggs
studied the creature. It was about nine inches in length including
the thin iridescent blue tail, the rest of it the soft grey color of kid
gloves. Its narrow, ribbon like tongue flicked in and out several
times. Its eyes were small black beads with glints of yellow that
reflected the fire.

Jiggs didn’t move. He had never been fond of animals. He’d
ignored the dog when he was a boy, let the fish tank become a
stagnant pool in which dead moths floated on the surface and
bewildered mollies slowly succumbed long before he noticed,
becoming rigid monuments to his neglect.

The lizard crawled up his arm, stopped at the elbow, then
proceeded to his shoulder and across his chest. It hung there, little
claws caught in the threads of the flannel shirt.

There is nothing wrong with this creature, Jiggs thought. In
fact, 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 the
night sky, and in front of him he saw the outline of a saguaro
cactus in the pale moonlight. The cactus looked like a man
poised, waiting. It was too late, he thought, he could never please

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. He
sat up abruptly. The lizard fell to the ground and scurried back
into the woodpile.

Jiggs stared back into the dark of the desert. He couldn’t see
the cactus anymore but he felt the wind begin to stir, and he
imagined the frozen windmill he had seen near the vegetable farm
they drove through to get there begin to turn with a rusty creak in
the dark. Nothing real. Nothing real. He heard the surf wringing
its hands wavelet upon wavelet all the way to the punta, and it
came to him suddenly that Buel’s cosmic mother guided each
wave along with the palm of her hand.

Jiggs stood up on his stiff knees and walked over to the edge
of the bluff. He thought of Cal being clumsily lifted into bed by
Guillermo after waiting in his chair a long time in the dark.

Jiggs crossed the glass-littered campsite and crawled into the
back of the Bronco to sleep.


It was six in the morning. The sun had just dealt its first cards
over the lagoon behind the white house. Buel, in shorts and a Tshirt,
stumbled out of his trailer. He looked up at the brightening
sky and then down over the bluff to the surf below. The tide was
low, pulled back from the rocks with haze hanging near shore, but
beyond it, in the pale morning light, the water was spread out like
a blue satin cloth. No wind. The waves were coming in in threes
with a long wait between sets. It looked good. Or good enough.
Calm. Buel went back into his trailer and emerged with a red and
blue bundle under his arm. He crossed the dirt road still moist
with morning.

In ten minutes Buel banged out the screen door wearing his
blue wet suit, pushing Cal in the wheelchair ahead of him. Cal
was wearing a red wet suit and a dazed expression. When they
reached 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 an
accidental punk hairstyle. He rubbed the side of his thumb along
the padded arm of the chair. “I haven’t been here,” he said, his
voice halting and low, “–long time.”

“That’s what I thought,” Buel said standing beside the
wheelchair, his arms folded across his chest. “Take a good

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 few

“What do you think?” Buel asked finally.

“Good–enough,” Cal said, his head tilted to one side, his face

“I’ll take the boards down.” Buel jumped up and headed for his
truck. “wait here,” he called over his shoulder. Cal nodded.

Buel came back from the truck with two long boards, one
orange, one white, under either arm.
“Still a– logger?” Cal said.

Buel looked at Cal in surprise, then chuckled. He disappeared
over the side of the bluff and down the ravine to the white rock
beach below.

Cal watched the small, gray-winged white gulls ride the
updraft that swooped up the side of the bluff. When they reached
eye-level, they tucked their black heads and feet for a drop to the
water. The red berry cactus beneath his chair had an odor both
sweet 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. Buel
carried Cal high in his arms over the bluff and down the trashstrewn
gully to the beach.

“You ought to be glad you’re not walking on this stuff,” Buel
said 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 up
on their skegs on the white rock, their noses wet.

“This is–crazy,” Cal said as Buel set him down beside the

“Doing anything at all is crazy if you think about it,” Buel said
taking a deep breath and bending to touch his toes. “Anything at

Buel stretched his arms out behind his back and glanced at
Cal. “Put your feet in for a while,” he said. “Let me figure this

Buel surveyed the surf in front of them. To the right large
rocks rose from the water halfway out to the surf break. The dark
punta jutted into the water at an angle in front of them and to the
left, calmer water was dark with kelp. The waves were coming in
like an arm sweeping across the surface, occasionally rolling
under the black-green patches of seaweed to lift it out of its path.

“How do you feel about kelp?” Buel asked Cal who was sitting
awkwardly on the rock shore, leaning on his left arm, the pale
flesh 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 of
the neck and waded into the water in front of Cal. He grabbed the
man under the arms and pulled him up to a stand in the cold
water. “Can you do that for a minute?”

Cal nodded.

With one hand under Cal’s shoulder, Buel pulled the orange
long board out and steadied it in the water in front of Cal. “Get
on,” he said.

Cal hesitated.

“Do it,” Buel said, his stance wide, his hands on either side of
the orange board.

Cal grabbed the board with one hand and fell onto it, belly

“All right,” Buel said. He leaned over, still holding the board
steady and attached its leash to Cal’s thin ankle. “You don’t need
to lose this thing,” Buel said as he adjusted the velcro anklet.

Cal nodded, his thin body stiff and crooked on the board. He
raised his head to watch the surf forming at the punta.

Buel fastened his own leash, quickly hopped on his board and
reached 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 a

“Okay,” Buel said, and he pointed to the surf break.

They paddled out slowly, lazy swells moving under them like a
fat man in a hammock rolling over in his sleep. When they got to
the kelp beds, the glistening seaweed on long tangled roots–as
disturbing as water snakes–caught on their boards and entangled
their feet which they hung behind them as rudders. Each time they
got tangled they quickly kicked the slick seaweed off and went

When they reached an area of calm, Buel asked if Cal could
get himself into a sitting position. Cal nodded and with his left
arm–his face determined, then suddenly relaxed–Cal pushed
himself 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, Buel
faced the red sandstone bluff, his back to the punta. He could see
the wheechair lying on its side, the sun rising behind it, and to the
left of it Ken’s dome tent and the still-smoking fire.

Cal braced himself with his left arm and adjusted his position
on the board. The swells were gentle beneath them. After a few
minutes Cal’s shoulders dropped and his expression softened.
They rode the swells without speaking, Buel thinking about the
first time they met when Cal was still a surfer with a California
reputation who had taken to him, and had shown him with not
much more than a grunt or two how to walk the board. Cal did
spinners on his orange long board and then offhandedly gave the
board to Buel saying he just had a new one made. Later Buel had
tried a short board and found it more to his liking, but he never
forgot Cal’s cool instruction, which had given him permission to
surf badly in the beginning. Just do it was all.

Buel remembered those first runs, the excitement of the
avalanche of water moving under him and catching up, always at
his back. The pure energy moving through water and driving him
ahead 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 element
that at once bathed and stung. Often the water threw him against
rock, often it lapped gently at his feet as he knelt on his board, the
sun rising each morning beside him like a woman elegant in
public and passionate alone. He was often tumbled by the power
of a hot wave, then soon soothed by the lapping caress of the sea
mother who entangled in the rooty snare of her kelp beds. Buel
knew there was nothing he could say as he rode the board beside
Cal, each of them staring out to sea with the dazed look of
fishermen.After a few minutes Cal lifted his chin several times
toward the bluff. “Guillermo,” he said.
Buel shaded his eyes and scanned the campsite. The sun had now
risen above the tent. “I don’t think he’s there. Nope, I don’t see
anyone up yet.”

“Guillermo,” Cal said, “is there.”

“Do you see–” Buel asked. “Oh, yeah,” Buel turned to look at
an oncoming wave, “he’s standing by you, all right.” Buel yanked
at 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’ve
watched 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 punta
and you know what kind of stuff comes through here. Do what
you’ve always done. Tumble a little maybe, you can always pull
your 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 paddled
before the curl, leaped to a stand and rode across the face of the
wave at the front of his board. He turned on the wave to watch
Cal who was frantically paddling one-armed in front of the
second wave.

“Now!” Buel shouted. “Do it now.”

Cal hesitated, then pushed against the board with his stronger
arm, a wobbly lead foot beneath him. He got to a half stand
before the white water caught up with him. Standing precariously
for a moment, on one leg and the weak toes of his trail foot, he
lost his balance and fell.

Buel unleashed his board, dove in the water and went after
him. For a moment he could see Cal’s dark head in the surging
white water and then it was gone. Buel could see nothing but a
mad sweep of foam going toward the rocks.

Buel swam toward the spot where he had last seen Cal’s head
bobbing above the surface. He swam to the rocks beyond it and
found Cal, his arm around a green, moss-covered rock, the orange
surfboard a short distance away. Cal’s wet hair hung in his eyes
and thin river of red flowed down his cheek form a cut above his
left eye.

“Are you all right?” Buel was breathless. He let his legs drop
and found the water was only waist deep.

Cal nodded. “All right.” He was moving one arm in a modified
side stroke

“You can stand here,” Buel said. “It’s not deep.” He waded
over and touched Cal lightly on the arm. “Cal, pull in your board.”

Cal yanked his leg to himself and the surfboard came bouncing
toward him. He lay his left arm across it and rested his face
against 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 slowly
back 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 orange
board you’re riding. And there’s still some of your magic in it.”

“Magic,” Cal said flatly. He glanced down at his thin arms and
then over at the seagulls that were riding the swells a few yards
away, their wings tucked, like trim little boats. Cal shook his dark
head and then slipped off the board into the water.

He came up on the other side of his board. “Underwater,” Cal
said, “is easier.”

“Kick, you turkey,” Buel said. “Hold on to the board and kick
your legs.” Buel hopped off his board and swam behind Cal. He
stood and grabbed Cal’s thin legs in the water and began moving
them in a rhythmic scissors kick. “Okay,” he said, “keep it up.”

While Buel watched, Cal maintained a slow kick, his left arm
across the surfboard, he cheek resting on its wet surface.

“All right,” Buel said when Cal slipped off the board again and
came 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 each
movement of his legs. “Not good–enough,” Cal said. He leaned
across his board and lay there for a few minutes, his ribs
retracting, his breath coming in rhythmic whistles. He slowly
pulled himself onto the board and up into a sitting position. Cal
rested a minute, his dark head down, his chin on his chest. He
slowly turned to watch the water behind him.

“Not good enough,” Cal mumbled as he stared at the flat line
of the horizon to the left of the punta.

“Okay, so it’s not the Banzai Pipeline,” Buel slapped at the
water. “So you’re not Duke Kahanamoku, and it’s not the ultimate
wave. Damn it Cal, you’ve done enough surfing to know that three
fourths of the time what you’re really doing is fishing. Fishing for
a wave. Just being there.”

Cal stared at the long horizon that had been gradually
brightening into a clear morning sky. His breath came in gasps.
“It’s something,” he said at last. “At least,” he threw his head back
and shook out his dark hair. His face was pale. “–something.” About half past six that morning Jiggs climbed out of the back of
the Bronco where had had been sleeping, stretched and looked
over the water. He saw two surfers out riding their boards. When
he 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 was
you out there.”


Jiggs gestured toward the water and continued rolling up his
sleeping 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 there
with him.”

“Buel must have taken him down,” Jiggs said. “Early.”

“Wonder how he talked him into it,” Ken said. “How’d he talk
Guillermo 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 bobbing
out on the water beyond the kelp beds. “That’s crazy out there.”

“Buel’s got it under control,” Ken said. He squinted up at the
sun. “Good surfing day on the Baja.”

Jiggs looked up and saw Guillermo coming along the bluff
path toward them on his bicycle, a milk pail hanging from the
handlebars. Goat’s milk sloshed from the pail as Guillermo
jumped off the bike beside them and stared out over the water.

“Madre de Dios
,” he said.

“Heap big mathematician,” Ken yawned. He turned to

Balancing the bike and the milk pail on its handlebars,
Guillermo pointed to the wheelchair that was lying on its side
further down the edge of the bluff.

“Cal?” Guillermo said.

“Geez,” Jiggs said walking up to them, “I didn’t even see that

“A body in fluid,” Ken said, stretching. “I need some coffee.”

“How can he do this?” Jiggs squinted at the surfers who were
riding their boards near the rocks.

“Is buoyed by a force–” Ken continued,”–equal to the weight

“Ken, cut it out,” Jiggs said.

Guillermo lifted the milk pail off the bicycle handlebar, set it
on the ground, then lowered the bicycle into the cactus berries at
his feet. He squatted beside the milk pail at the edge of the bluff
and watched the bobbing surfers out on the water.

“Looks okay to me out there,” Ken said. “Come on, get up
Guillermo. We can have coffee now that you’ve brought the

“Look,” Jiggs said, “how can he do this? It’s just plain stupid to
have Cal out there.”

“Why?” Ken turned to go back to his tent. “Buel would say
Echidna the sea mother has it covered.”

“Verdad,” Guillermo said, his gaze still fixed on the two figures
out on the water.

“All right, Ken,” Jiggs said, “I don’t mean how can he do it
scientifically, or even mythically, I mean– well, humanly.”

“Ah, there it is, Jiggs. When there’s nothing else–” Ken turned
away. “You figure it out.” Ken turned to Guillermo. “I saw a
stump 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 its
rusty handlebars. “‘After I roam up and down–‘” he shouted. He
hopped on the bike and rode in a circle in front of Jiggs and
Guillermo, “‘o’er the waste as a wanderer.'” He kept the bike
wobbling in place, “‘and lay my head in the bowels of the earth.”‘
He rode close to Jiggs and then wobbled out beyond the fire
circle. ” ‘ Let mine eyes see the sun.’ ” He glanced up at the sun
which was over his tent now, and then back to Jiggs. ” ‘When will
the man who is dead ever look on the light of the Sunshine?’ “
Ken turned and rode off toward the bluff path. “Gilgamesh,” he
said. “The best thing about this bicycle,” he announced over his
shoulder, “is–no brakes.”
Jiggs and Guillermo watched Ken ride off, zigzagging along the
edge 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, ride
the calm between sets.

After a few minutes Guillermo nodded to Jiggs and sauntered
away along the ridge path. Several yards down Jiggs saw him cut
across the road past the small pink and blue houses and head
toward the lagoon.

Maybe the goats were still gathered at the shed for their
milking, Jiggs thought, or maybe Guillermo was going there
simply to put his head against the skull of his favorite goat. Jiggs
squatted down on his stiff knees and picked one of the cactus
berries. The sticky pink-tinged juice stained his fingers. He
glanced up to see Cal on the water, standing on his orange board.
He was leaning to one side in an awkward, unnatural stance, but
he was surfing, nevertheless, all the way to shore. Jiggs heard a
whoop from below.

Jiggs dropped the cactus bloom. He jumped up and ran to the
Bronco. He pulled out his wet suit which was stuffed under the
driver’s seat and put it on quickly. Moving to the rear of the
Bronco he released his old green long board from the roof rack
and with the heavy board under his arm, he charged down the
gully to the beach.

When he got there he found Buel at the edge of the water
pulling in the boards. Cal sat on the rocks, his head down. “What
are 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’s
edge 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 of
it. Jiggs, sometimes you have to do something.”

“Do something? You mean you couldn’t think of anything
else? 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 to
unzip the neck of his wet suit. “We got the cosmic mother looking

Cal shifted his position on the rocks. He looked from one to
the other. “Hey.” Cal had a lopsided grin on his face. “Water–‘s

Jiggs watched Buel pull the boards further up on the rocky
beach. Then Buel went over to Cal and lifted him in his arms. He steadied himself, and started the climb up the soft side of the
Jiggs turned back and stared over the water. The black rocks of
the punta were covered with the white dots of gulls, and pelicans
rode the morning glass near the horizon. Movement, Jiggs
thought. He grabbed his surfboard and with it under his arm
waded out into the blue-black water.