I had followed my ex-girlfriend there. That is how I got there. Which is strange, because she was already remarried by then. The people were friendly enough. The sophisticated world traveler was exotic there and roused both respect and fear. I am comfortable in most situations and can make the people around me conforable too. A trick of lowering the profile so that one enters the playing field at the same level as the others. No big words, no references to famous people met. But it can still be sensed.
The town was as lost among the pines strewn over the rocky mountains as it was lost on most maps. The buildings dated from the mining era. Some had been modernised, but they all showed their ramshackle boomtown origins. There seemed to only be trees, wooden buildings and rock. All the undergrowth had been trampled long ago, leaving only scrappy rock and dust.
My guide, the one who saw me as a link to greater things, mysteries, knowledge, was Suzie Valdez, sandy blonde gone light with the summer, not thin, with a voice that nearly squeeked when she got excited but otherwise stayed enjoyable to listen to.
Her house, with high ceilings, un adorned walls, save a few posters and kneedlepoints, that with the height of the ceilings seemed to be just above the mopboards. Furnishings were mostly original, but worn. A TV added, a radio, signs of modern life added like geologic strata to the history of the place. It had been built by her great-grandfather, her grandmother's father. She knew her grandmother well. She had only died three years ago. Her marriage photo still stood on the mantel.
Arthur, her only child, a bespeckled scrawny eleven-year-old's curiosity overruled his normal shiness and although he didn't speak, he stayed within eye shot and although he read, his concentration was on what his mother and this man were saying, not that he missed a word of the text, mind you.
She gave me a tour of the town. The most prominent functioning building was the town hall, where the mayor had her office. On the second floor was her office, well her desk, but the big room also served as multi-function dancehall, meeting room, public library, county records office (a filing cabinet).
Suzie explained how it all worked, and I asked about the library. The black haired mayor, although she obviously had nothing to do, glowered at us over her glasses, and went back to prentending to be doing important things.
The library was an atlas, a dictionary and a couple other books at the end of a row of files in cardboard boxes. Suzie underlined that she was an avid reader of spy thrillers, and she made her paperbacks available to whomever wanted to read, which greatly increased the size of the libraries holdings. She should probably bring the read ones down and leave them at the library, but she liked having the books she read at home, like photos of old friends. Seeing the titles assured her of something intangible yet valuable.
Then there was what they called "The Castle," a ruin of stone foundations and a few eleventh-of-september wooden structures defiantly yet sculpturally defying gravity. The basement cellar, which was visible from the whole in the living room floor, showed the partially excivated remains of indian dwellings. The pots and remnants of basketry were in the museum (a cardboard box, next to the library in the mayor's office).
I begged to walk home alone and as I rounded left a corner on main street, I came across Arthur, who was holding a two foot tall doll, something out of the twenties with a straw hat and sewn hair. When he saw me, as if he hadn't seen me, he started to sing. I was the intended audience, but he sang to himself. A song he made up on the spot. He held the dolls hands in each of his and animated her to the words. His voice although small, was sure and solid. A few others stopped on the street or came closer. He was an odd child, but he sure could sing.
The song had no rhyme or metre, but a narative quality that he punctuated with slight movements of his own hands. He drew a spiral in the dust on the window pane with his right index finger then drew a line through it.
A thought passed through the gathering that perhaps this odd performance was an embarassment to the town. Perhaps even if they liked his singing, they shouldn't be showing such an oddity to an outsider, especially one so cultured.
When he finished. He looked directly in my eyes and pushed his glasses back up on his nose. I took his hand and we walked to his mother's house.