INTO THE CANYON: A Chapter Book for Grown Ups

Submitted by Virginia Watts on Wed, 04/25/2012 - 18:44



  Adobe House San Fernando Canyon, built circa 1849

Kate drank her morning coffee standing in front of the TV, transfixed by a boa constrictor crushing a small pig.  The pig was suffocating, its little legs frantically rowing the air.  When the struggling stopped, the boa moved into position, fitted its jaw around the pig’s head and began to swallow.   Before long the shape of the entire pig was visible inside the snake. “This process can take several hours or even days. We have used time lapse photography so you can see the entire feeding cycle,” announced a detached male voice.

Kate felt a great deal of sympathy for the pig.   She took several deep breaths before snapping off the TV. 

Well, snakes have to eat. 

A hot, dry wind was picking up out of the northeast.  It was the miserable Santana wind she hated.  Her skin was parched and her ears were ringing.  She started whacking away at the first overgrown rose bush by the back of the house, pink petals scattering.

She struggled with a thick branch, leaning on the handles of the shears.  It wouldn’t give.  Suddenly she felt breathless, like there wasn’t enough air or her lungs were too small.  The coffee she drank earlier pooled in the back of her throat. She gave up on the branch and sat down on the bench swing under the peach tree, sweating from the heat and her own thoughts. 

She kept seeing a snake out of the corner of her eye as she sat there, her heart pounding.  She told herself it was fantasy, trying to break the spin into a full-blown anxiety attack.  She told herself it was the hot wind picking up out of the northeast, setting her nerves zinging.

But she knew what was happening.  It was the flood of memories triggered by the picture of the boa constrictor and the pig. And she knew the power of it was that right now, at fifty-five, she was feeling trapped.  Trapped and in danger of being crushed and consumed.

She picked up a peach that had fallen on the swing seat and ate it, willing it past the knot in her stomach, the juice dripping between her fingers and off her chin.  The fruit was over-ripe, more thumping down from the tree. Yellow jackets whizzed over the ferment on the grass.  The whole garden was a mess.  Lavender and rosemary foamed out of their beds, sweet broom had filled a corner of the yard.  The faded blue flowers of the plumbago and its leggy branches annoyed her, reaching out the way they did in all directions at once.  Why didn’t she start on the plumbago?  Why attack the poor roses out of season? 

It was Clifford that had her so unhinged.  She met him in a bar.  Clifford, who was Clifford, not George, her husband.  She’d been sitting in a booth, sipping wine, her nose running, tears streaming down her face.  George, that bastard who was her husband, had just destroyed her last hope of funding for the Women’s Center.  She’d given every shred of emotional and intellectual energy for the last two years to that project. No wonder he’d been getting home late and leaving early – he was afraid to face her.

Good, he should be.

She ordered more wine, but it wasn’t the bartender that delivered it.  Clifford, smelling like sage or rosemary – she couldn’t decide which – brought over a bottle and asked if he could join her.  She noticed him sitting at the bar when she came in.

He didn’t look like somebody who would make a pick up in a bar – he was far too composed.  And she certainly didn’t look like somebody who was waiting to be picked up, not with her blotchy face and soggy handkerchief. 

He introduced himself.  He said he had seen her at a meeting a few years ago when she made a pitch for the Women’s Center for Social Justice.  “…away on business in the mid-east for the last eighteen months…knew George because the two of them had been graduate students in anthropology twenty years ago…so impressed by the pitch for funding for such a worthy project…remembered how passionate George had been about the Adobe House project…”

That George fact was not a point in his favor.  She wanted more wine.

Too much fast talk, she thought.  George’s passion for the Adobe House was now ruining everything.  Oh what the hell.

She asked him to sit down.

[to be continued…]