Evening in the middle of the arid western summer
A cabin nestled between the jagged, dry hills of south-east California. Far from a past life. The town of Randsburg but a tiny speck on the map. The single winding main street running through the sleepy town and leading down to the highway near old Burro Mine. Along this highway and several miles further to the north-east there are fields of coarse, dry brush now as the night sky, unlit and untouched by the false luminescence of man. Dark. Creatures dwelling in the darkness scurrying, flying, fleeing, and making the dreaded music that the creatures of light fear as they hunker in the relative safety of their burrows. Cacti standing tall among the brush. A night owl perched on the tallest cactus in view of the cabin, staring into the brilliance of the fiery square floating in the darkness.
Through the lit window there is a room. The house of oak and pine built for a purpose and sparing the luxury. A single room is all he needs. A floor on which to stand, a roof and walls between which he may be protected from the weather, a comfortable old rocking chair in which to sit and think and write when a viable thought crosses his mind. A single room is all he needs. In the center of the room there is an old wooden rocking chair, and in the old rocking chair he is. An old journal in his hands, bound in cracked leather. Yellowed and crisp pages poking out along the perimeter of the book. Creases of time scarring the cover much like the creases of time spread across his face. Laugh lines, frown lines, the old childhood scar now a deep rift across his right upper cheek. The once finely trimmed black beard now a thick gray bush, extending from his cheeks down past the jaw line and well below the point where he used to shave, keeping the beard even and presentable. It now grows wild, as wild as the fields of brush surrounding the cabin, for he is old, and when one is old there is no need to impress anyone. His hair remains short, despite the absence of vanity, with faint streaks of black still visible. The widow’s peak that once helmed the crown of thick strands now a distant memory, having given way to a broader and higher hairline. The old man’s chest twitches beneath the fabric of his dull brown collared shirt as he rocks in the old wooden rocking chair, followed by his stomach, then arms coated in a layer of shimmery silver hairs, then legs tucked inside a pair of old black denim pants, then finally, his feet. His feet protected by white socks with gray sole knit, warmed by the trapped heat from the fire, bringing the old man up and down in his old wooden rocking chair.
He sits in the center of the room. A counter in the corner to his right providing kitchen space, and the stone hearth immediately to the right of the wooden counter more than able to manage cooking meals. Tonight, the aroma of boiled beef, carrots, potatoes, and salt waft out of the faded black pot in the fire. The smell filling the room, much like it has many times throughout the old man’s life. This was once a place used to get away from the pressures of life among peoples and the false luminescence of man. Now, it is his only shelter against the pang of reminders. The old man is unable to deal with the reminders. A weak old man, doing his best to forget until his last breath in the rocking chair. He feels the onset of sleep, but he is not ready to sit and lay upon the cot in the corner behind him. The old man continues sitting, rocking forth and back, staring into the crackling fire. He adjusts his right hand, running the dark, wrinkled finger tips along the creases of the journal. Eyes darting left and right as he stares at the fire, memories flooding back into his mind. Reminders…
He allows his old dark eyes to glance above the hearth of the fireplace, face remaining fixed on the fire. The eyes look up from beneath thick gray brows. A large vertical portrait is hung on the stones, framed in rich, dark wood. Portions of the frame still glistening from the lovingly applied wood stain that once made the frame shimmer and glisten in the light of a fourth floor apartment. Now, the frame merely serves to hold the glass that protected the pencil-drawn portrait beneath it. A woman’s face is immediately discernible in the top portion of the frame, lips pursed and curved upward as she smiles at the viewer. Her eyes fixed… locked on someone past the viewer. Was it the artist? Was it a humorous occurrence just at the right moment? Or, was she simply a wondeful model? Only the old man knows why she looked past the viewer, and why she smiled so sweetly. Bared white shoulders raised as she rests her hands against the beige stucco of a balcony railing. Fingers delicately folded, her fingertips gripping the rough stucco coating of the balcony. Flowing black strands of hair cascading down onto her shoulders, free and gently nudged by the ocean breeze on a late summer afternoon. Her black blouse stretched as she leaned back, legs and lower half of her body not visible in this particular portrait. In sharp contrast to the black blouse, is her skin, as white and beautiful as the freshly fallen snow of the mountains the old man came to know so well. Behind her a thick blanket of fog overtakes a large expanse of ocean, and a crimson gateway to the north fades into view through the white mist, extending from the center behind the woman and cutting off along the frame on the left side. The sky beyond the bridge on left side of the portrait, behind the woman, a calming shade of blue; along the rim of the balcony, just barely visible, is the wide expanse of the urban sprawl below the building. A random smattering of buildings and skyscrapers, as generic as any other around the world and of no particular interest in this portrait, this portrait of a woman hanging above the hearth of the stone fireplace.
The old man quickly averts his gaze, as he dares not stare at the portrait. He may only steal a glance on the nights when he feels strongest and able to resist his thoughts.
As he sits, a wind flows around the cabin. A strong wind, given that it had to travel over hills, forests, grasslands, deserts, and finally mountains to reach the cabin. Yes, a strong wind indeed. It gets stronger, seemingly bent on this particular cabin. Bent on reaching this man. And, as he sits, with his old cracked journal in hand, rocking on the old wooden rocking chair, the wind reaches him. Flowing in through the seams around the door, from the fireplace, from unseen cracks in the cabin’s exterior. The wind reaches him and his eyes rise. His nostrils flare… mind set ablaze by the warm air circling inside the cabin. Suddenly, he lifts his head, staring at the portrait. His brows furrowed, wrinkles around his eyes and along his forehead springing to life. The laugh lines, and frown lines, and deep rift on his cheek. The aroma from the air fueling the flames, as rich and lovely as the bloom of flowers in the spring. And as he concentrates on the portrait, on the face, on the eyes, his teeth clench beneath his pursed lips. The old man’s ears perk up and move ever so slightly, his rough palms now tightly gripping the arms of the old wooden rocking chair. He hears the portrait speak to him.
"Come back to me... Come back to me." A familiar, pleading voice.
The old man hears the voice, but does not listen. A lifetime has taught him well, and of the lessons he has learned the most important now comes to mind. His fingers become lax, releasing the graying wood. His gaze falls to the fire in the stone hearth. The old man continues to rock, back and forth, in his old wooden rocking chair.