Narrows

Yesterday afternoon was woefully unproductive.  In the mood to start a new blog posting, I sat at the computer for fifteen minutes, could think of no subject worth exploring, and commenced to waste a full hour playing Spider Solitaire.

So today when David suggests driving to Spicewood and checking out the Narrows Recreation Area, I’m all for it.  Recreation is one of my favorite things; and every time we pass the sign on the highway with the arrow, one of us says that we should go see what it’s referring to.  Also, anything’s better than having a head so empty that I can’t even come up with an idea. 

For a writer, typing off five hundred words that say nothing is part of the job description.  So why couldn’t I do that yesterday?  The most likely reason for the difficulty is that the novel I’m currently working on is all-consuming.  Here’s the first-page, a teaser:   

Saturday morning, ten o’clock. 

The strategy room on the DA’s floor of the Caprock Tri-County Courthouse, a corner chamber made inharmonious by the sort of imperfections that make me squirm—a landscape hanging crookedly, a bank of cabinets with two drawers not quite closed, a set of blinds with an uneven slat. 

Sitting in the center of a semi-circle, I’m neatly dressed in creased black pants and a silvery silk blouse, none of which I paid for.  It’s my funeral attire, which suits the ambient mood.  My emotions compete—humiliation, resentment, and exhaustion.  These people know I work into the early hours.  The timing was set for their convenience, not mine.

This committee has convened in reaction to my latest and most scandalous felony.   I’m in real trouble this time. 

They all lean in.  Not one of them wants to be here. 

Judge Ramos, round-headed, bald, rotund.  Casually dressed, jeans and boots, his weekend clothes.  For twenty years this man has assigned proportional consequences to Caprock’s miscreants.

Mayor Cantu, petite with burdened eyes and girly lashes.  Reasonable and kind, he sincerely considers what’s best for Caprock before all else. 

Beverly Arnold, thighs straining against her brown stretch pants, three chins, brassy hair from the eighties.  As my high school counselor, it was her job to chastise me for smoking in the bathroom, skipping detention, and sneaking coffee from the teachers’ lounge.  She’s been asked to share her thoughts about my issues, and to recommend accordingly.  High school was years ago, and I can’t imagine that she possesses any insight that’ll shine a helpful light on my current situation. 

Dr. Hamm, highly respected dermatologist.  I’ve never seen him in jeans before, but here he is, in worn denim, with pale green Taggios on his long feet.  By being here, he’s doing a favor for my friend, Fran Furlow.  She’s his office manager and, either because he owes her or she guilted him, he’s agreed to act as my character witness and advocate. 

Wenton Parsons, the DA, my deceased father’s brother.  Guardian of the family name.  Slacks, dress shirt, and tie.  He holds himself to a standard, not because he’s vain, but because he wants to be taken seriously.  His silver hair and moustache, trimmed regularly, bring an intimidating dignity to the proceedings.  I bet he and Mom had a heart-to-heart this morning.  I’ve put him in a tricky position. 

And Henry Joos (pronounced juice), my attorney who’s doing his best to get me out of the mess I got myself into.  Heavy in the chest with no ass at all, his kakis are frayed at the heels and his loafers went out of style years ago. 

The six of them peer at me with identical expressions of dismay and compassion.  Ages range from fifty to sixty-five.  All were friends of my father, principal at High Plains High for twenty years, who died of an aneurism two years ago.  Out of respect for my dad, and because they knew me when I was a child, the last thing they want to do is send me to prison because of a handbag. 

 An excellent beginning, right?  I’m fifty-five thousand words into it and it’s going well, but sometimes a story needs to mull.  So, wanting a break and fresh air, I pull on a jacket.  We get in the car and I drive fifteen minutes on 71 toward Austin, then turn left at the Exxon station.

“We need to have something in the house to serve the kids for breakfast on Monday,” David says as I navigate the tight, pitted road.  “Bagels?”

“How about yogurt?  We don’t need bagels because neighbors keep dropping in with cakes and cookies.”  I sigh.  It’s what people do at Christmas, but it’s too much food.  Maybe Curtis will take a couple of fruitcakes home with him. 

This area we’ve traveling through is so overgrown that we can’t see beyond the vine-draped barbed wire on the side of the road.  It’s creepy and dense, and I suspect the wall of thorny weeds conceals meth houses, which I’ve been told are prolific in this part of the country.  Suddenly the wild growth disappears, opening to reveal a beautiful ranch with a substantial iron gate and a long curving driveway leading to an elegant home.  Longhorns lounge on the front lawn.  I wonder about the relationship between the people who live in this very expensive isolated splendor and their neighbors, the meth people.  Both factions probably voted for Trump, so they have that in common. 

“I think we should have bagels, too,” he says, “just to make sure.”

“I’m telling you, the last thing we need to do is obtain more baked carbs.”  On my counter are three cakes, some kind of German dough balls, brownies, and pumpkin tarts.  Also, one particularly talented woman in the cul-de-sac made truffles that melt on your tongue.  

“Okay, but I’m warning you, if we don’t have enough, it’ll be on you.”

“What, exactly, is going to happen to me?  Will punishment be involved?”  Curtis and Anna are only two people.  We don’t need to gather in more food. 

“Just be warned.”

The road curves, rises and dips, and eventually leads us to a peaceful park overlooking the Colorado River.  A field for kicking a ball around, two picnic tables, and a dock where you can put your boat in the water.  Glorious clean air offering an unlimited supply of allergens.  No one in sight. 

“Well, isn’t this a pleasant place?” I walk close to the water, taking in the breadth and movement of the river.  Why call such a broad expanse Narrows?  “If we were people who picnicked, we could do that here.”

“Whatever breakfast we have on Monday needs to be easy and quick because Curtis and I are leaving for the golf course around eight-fifteen.”

“Is a bagel quicker to eat than a slice of pound cake or a few mini-tarts?”

“I’m just saying, maybe bagels would be better.”

And so on the way home we stop at the grocery store and buy bagels. 

 The sign made us curious.  

The sign made us curious.  

 Maybe naming this broad portion of the Colorado "Narrows" is like calling a bald guy Curly.  

Maybe naming this broad portion of the Colorado "Narrows" is like calling a bald guy Curly.  

 Gray sky, gray water.    

Gray sky, gray water.    

 This stretch of road is pleasant, no meth houses in sight.  

This stretch of road is pleasant, no meth houses in sight.