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Authors: Cindy Myers

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BOOK: The View From Here
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“There's no gold in the mine.” Bob had been very definite about that. “And the vehicles are an old Jeep and a snowmobile.”
“A snowmobile!” Barb's laughter rang loud in Maggie's ear. “Oh, darling, it sounds like you are having a real adventure. What's the town like—Eureka or whatever the name is?”
“Eureka is beautiful. Not very big, but what's here is lovely. Gorgeous scenery. Very different from Houston. Very . . . rugged.” The mountains, but the people, too, had an informality and individuality she hadn't encountered before. As if living isolated from crowds and city conventions had allowed each person to assert whatever aspects of her personality she wanted, whether as a motorcycle-riding lawyer or as chicken-raising lesbian café owners. She smiled at the thought.
“You sound as if you like it.” Barb sounded amused.
“I don't know what I think, really. It's all so different.”
“Maybe different is what you need.”
“Or maybe if I stay here I'll end up as crazy as my father was.”
“Was he crazy?”
“I don't know,” Maggie admitted. “I've been here less than twenty-four hours and I've learned he may have had a drinking problem. He probably never remarried after he and my mom split, and he apparently never had any other children. He was eccentric enough to live up on a mountain all by himself, yet he seems to have had plenty of friends. I met a man who said Murph almost killed him, then a few weeks later saved his life, and the librarian apparently doesn't like him because he kept a library book out for five years just to annoy her.”
“He sounds like a really interesting guy,” Barb said. “And I must say, you've learned a lot in one day.”
“Everything I learn only leads to more questions. The only person he seems to have told about me is his lawyer. He went to all the trouble to leave me everything he owned, but why?”
“It's sort of traditional for people to leave their belongings to their only living relative. You qualify.”
“Nothing else about my father or the way he lived was traditional.”
“Maybe he felt guilty about abandoning you and your mother, and this is an attempt to make up for it. Guilt can be a powerful motivator, you know.”
Such as her own guilt that she hadn't done more to try to make contact with her father after she was grown. She'd vowed plenty of times to look for him but had never done so. “The more I find out, the worse I feel,” she said.
“So keep looking until you know everything,” Barb said.
“I think it's probably impossible at this point to know everything, since my dad isn't here to tell me.”
“Then keep searching until you find enough to make you feel better. Him leaving you and your mom was a shitty thing to do, but from what little you've told me so far, it doesn't sound like he was a complete asshole. That has to be worth something.”
“I guess you're right. I'm going to stay here a little while longer anyway.”
“Let me know if you need me to send you anything from Houston,” Barb said. “Better yet, let me know when I can come visit.”
“Give me another week or so to get settled; then I'd love to see you.” The thought of having Barb here to bolster her spirits—and maybe her nerve, if need be—cheered her.
“Is there anything interesting to do in Eureka, Colorado?” Barb asked. “Besides look at the gorgeous scenery?”
“There's a hot springs. Clothing optional.”
“Ooh, now that does sound interesting. We must try it out when I visit. Any good-looking men?”
Maggie thought of Jameso. “I've been too busy to look for men,” she said. “Why would I want one, anyway? The only ones I've known have been more trouble than they're worth.”
“True. But they have their uses.”
“I don't have any use for one right now.”
“Have fun solving the mystery of your father,” Barb said. “It will be good for you to be on your own in a new place—one without so many unfortunate memories.”
What about the good memories she had of Houston—and even of her marriage? There had been some, B.F.D.—before Francine Dupree. But maybe Barb was right. After her divorce she'd wanted to travel to exotic places in order to gain a new perspective on and new ideas for her life. Eureka wasn't Tuscany or Nepal, but it felt worlds away from Houston and her problems there.
Cassie had not slept well, and this translated into a fouler than usual mood that made most patrons avoid speaking to her. They approached the counter warily and handed over their library cards and books to be checked out or turned in without comment. Word spread through book readers that Cassie was “having one of her days,” and those who could, decided to wait until another time to visit the library.
A city council member had dared to complain once about Cassie's surly attitude toward the patrons and taxpayers who were, after all, paying her salary, and had felt the full brunt of the Wynock wrath. He had endured a stern lecture on the role of the Wynocks in the community, the fact that the land upon which the library sat had once been Wynock land, and the sacrifices Cassie herself had made to make the library the thriving community resource it was today. If patrons wanted the equivalent of a cocktail hostess behind the desk, they could certainly have one, but she believed they were better off with a woman who knew the collections like the back of her hand and the history of the county better than anyone else. This library was more than the building and the books within its walls. This library was Cassie Wynock's life, and he would do well not to forget it.
The man had left, cowed and quiet, and the townspeople had accepted Cassie and her moods as much a part of the library as the uncomfortable chairs at the computer stations and the dusty collection of birds' and hornets' nest in the front display case. Cassie enjoyed the respect she felt was her due and things ran smoothly.
So she wasn't pleased when, shortly after lunch a skinny boy with a head as round as a light bulb and wire-framed glasses sliding down the end of his nose ambled up to the counter and stood there, staring at her. Cassie ignored him, and he shifted from one foot to the other, watery blue gaze fixed on her. He cleared his throat. Cassie continued to stare fixedly at her computer screen, though she was so distracted by the boy's strange presence she couldn't focus on the words printed there.
“Ma'am, could you help me?” he asked.
With her most forbidding scowl fixed in place, Cassie turned to look at him. She definitely didn't recognize him. His was such a striking collection of physical attributes, she couldn't have forgotten him. “Yes?” she asked frostily.
“Do you have any books on the Native Americans who lived in this area?”
She'd expected some inquiry about video games or graphic novels or use of the computers—the usual interests of boys his age. “Shouldn't you be in school?” she asked.
“No. Do you have any books on Native Americans?”
“To which Native Americans are you referring?” she asked.
“All of them that used to live here,” he said. He seemed completely uncowed by her forbidding tone and manner, a novelty in itself.
She stood. “You may find some books in the Juvenile Nonfiction area.”
“I don't want kids' books,” he said. “I want real books. History books.” He glanced around him. “Do you have a local history section?”
Intrigued, Cassie led him to the history collection and the half-dozen books about the Uncompahgre tribe and their impact on the area. “These books may interest you, but you'll need a library card to check them out,” she said.
He pulled a biography of Chief Ouray off the shelf and opened it, holding it close to his face. “You can give me one,” he said. “I'm going to be living here now.”
She tried to hide her surprise. She'd assumed he was a visitor, perhaps from one of the families who spent the summers in one of the guest cabins along the river. “Where will you be living?”
“With my mother and grandmother—Olivia and Lucille Theriot.”
So this was Lucille's grandson. Cassie had almost forgotten. She'd seen the expensive-looking SUV parked in front of Lucille's house that morning, but in a fog of sleeplessness had failed to make the connection. “How long are you going to be staying?” she asked.
“A while, I guess. Mom says I have to start school Monday.”
“What grade are you in?”
“Seventh.” He closed the book and met her with that disconcerting, unblinking gaze. “Can I have a library card or not?”
she was tempted to say, solely on the basis of his impertinent tone. But it wouldn't do to discourage a kid who actually wanted to read. “Your grandmother will have to sign for you and I can issue a card on her account,” she said.
“Does that mean I can't take the book with me now?”
“That is exactly what it means.”
His lips pushed out in a pout, and she could almost see him weighing the merits of putting up an argument. He decided against it; he was definitely a bright young man. He replaced the book on the shelf and scanned the other titles nearby. “Is there anything here about mines in the area?” he asked.
The phrasing of his question caught her off guard. The last person to ask her that was Jacob Murphy. “What do you want to know about mines for?” she asked, as she had asked Jacob.
“I just think it would be interesting to know more about them.”
“Mines are dangerous places. Don't go getting any ideas about exploring them. You'd be trespassing, and besides, you could fall in and get yourself killed.”
He scowled at her. “I may be a kid, but I'm not stupid.”
“Don't talk to me in that tone of voice, young man.”
His gaze slid away. “Yes, ma'am.” But there was no hint of humility in his words. Oh, this one would be a handful indeed.
Without another word, he turned and shuffled out of the library. Cassie felt an uncharacteristic pinch of guilt as she watched him leave. Could she possibly sound any more like an old maid librarian? Really, what business was it of hers if the boy wanted to go looking around in dirty old mines? That was for his mother and grandmother to worry about, though the two of them didn't have any qualms about letting him wander all over town by himself. Not that Eureka was dangerous or anything, but people should have standards.
That was the difference between Cassie and most other people, she thought as she returned to her desk. She had standards. Protocol and decorum needed to be observed. Failing to do so was the first step down a slippery slope to the bottom.
Chapter 6
ack at the cabin, Maggie put the groceries away and thought about starting her search through her dad's things. But the silence pressed in around her, too heavy and weighted with grief and regret to allow her to sit still. She fled instead out of doors, pausing to pull on a denim jacket she found on a hook by the door. The jacket smelled of wood smoke and leather, and a scent decidedly male but not unpleasant. As she slid her arms into the sleeves, she thought this was as close as she'd ever come to a hug from her father.
She rushed out the door, as if to leave such sentimentality behind, and followed the path that led up behind the house. In less than a minute she was breathing hard, but she pushed on up the hill, anxious to see where such a well-worn trail would lead. She cleared the house, then circled a clump of knotted evergreens and emerged on the side of the mountain, looking out over a valley not visible from any of the windows in the house. She recognized the snow-covered profile of Mount Winston in the distance, a silver ribbon near its base that might have been a road.
She continued hiking, less winded, though her heart pounded in her chest like an engine laboring up a grade. The trail leveled and she followed it along a ridge between two uplifts, the gravel a pinkish gray beneath her feet. The sun streamed down in a brilliant, clear light unlike any she'd ever seen before. It was more silver than gold, illuminating every detail of each flower petal and blade of grass. She imagined this was a light artists and photographers would rave about—the kind of light a recluse or depressive would have hidden from.
If this path was any evidence, her father had spent a lot of time on this mountainside, in this light. It was almost funny, the idea that someone who lived in a place like Eureka, that others would see as a retreat, would need to get even farther away. Maggie knew plenty of people in Houston who vacationed in Colorado every summer to escape from the heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast. For years she'd lobbied Carter for a trip to the mountains. The closest she'd come was getting to tag along on a business trip to Denver about ten years ago.
She'd suggested they take a few extra days and drive to the mountains, but Carter had refused to leave the office that long. He'd placated her with talk of a return one day on a real vacation, but like so many of his promises, that one was never fulfilled.
At the time, she hadn't even felt particularly bad about that. That was simply how Carter was. She'd accepted it, the way she accepted that fiber cereal tasted bad but was good for you, or that mammograms were something she was supposed to get every year.
Love, or an emotion she mistook for it, had blinded her to all the other possibilities out there. So here she was in Colorado at last, looking for possibilities.
One very large possibility loomed ahead of her right now. She stopped and studied the yawning black hole in the side of the mountain. Could this be the entrance to the mine? As she drew nearer, she could make out the iron grate set across it and the large padlock affixed to that. She stopped in front of the lock and read the sign posted on the rock to the left of the entrance: N
. V
. S
. Handwritten underneath in black marker: T
, B
She laughed. Despite Bob's assertion that her dad had tried to kill him, Jake apparently had a sense of humor about their feud. How had Bob gotten to the mine, anyway? she wondered. The only path she could see led right past the cabin, and all those windows.
Windows reminded her of the curtains she still had to work on. If she wanted to sleep past dawn tomorrow, she ought to try to tackle them.
She pulled on the gate, but it was fixed fast. She'd have to look through her dad's things for the key and come back later. She started back down the trail and had almost reached the cabin when she saw a large, fawn-colored animal on the path ahead. She stopped, transfixed, and stared at the bighorn ram, horns curled like nautilus shells on its head. It stood not more than ten feet away from her, regarding her with calm, golden brown eyes.
She had never before been so close to a wild animal, unless one counted the copperheads she'd killed with a hoe when they invaded her flower beds in Houston, and she did not. She stared, transfixed by the soft thickness of the animal's pelt. It had almond-shaped eyes and a nose that looked like black leather.
But after several minutes passed and the ram showed no inclination to move, Maggie began to feel impatient. The wonders of nature were all well and good, but she was ready to get back to the cabin. She had curtains to sew, and she was thirsty. Hungry, too. And she was probably getting burned, standing out here in the sun so long. “Shoo,” she said, motioning with her hands.
The ram blinked and shifted its feet. Then, instead of moving away from her, it took a step toward her.
Maggie began to feel nervous. Though the ram wasn't terribly tall—only about three and a half feet at the shoulder—it was stocky and clearly muscular. And those horns looked really hard. Was it upset because she was trespassing on its territory? Did it plan to fight her, the way she'd seen on nature shows? Would it try to knock her off the mountain?
She looked around for some sort of weapon with which to defend herself. There were plenty of rocks along the path, and this close, she could probably land a good blow on the animal's side. But that might only make it mad. And she didn't want to hurt it; she only wanted it to move.
“Go on, now,” she said, raising her voice. “Shoo!”
The ram kept walking toward her, very slow and deliberate, its feet picking delicately among the rocks in the path. Maggie backed up but didn't compensate for a bend in the path, and before she knew it, she was pressed up against a large boulder, the ram between her and any kind of freedom. Oh God, what was it going to do to her? She squeezed her eyes shut, thinking this would probably be a good time to remember some of the prayers she'd learned in childhood Sunday school.
Something wet and slightly rubbery swiped across her neck, like being swabbed with a large wad of already-chewed gum. She opened her eyes wide and stared at the ram, who moved his attentions to her cheeks, licking like an overgrown dog happy to greet its master.
Maggie couldn't help it; she began to giggle. How absurd that the first kiss she'd had in months and months was from a sheep!
All fear banished; she shoved the ram hard in the side. It moved away, reluctantly, the way on oversized dog who'd been begging at the table would move. Obviously, it wasn't wild. Had her father made a pet out of this beast? Leave it to her old man not to be satisfied with anything as mundane as a dog or cat.
She made it to the cabin, the sheep following her right up onto the porch. She had to shut the door in its face. Then it stood with its nose pressed to the front window, bleating pitifully.
Ignoring the animal, she hauled one of the theater curtains out of the box she'd deposited in the middle of the living room and dragged it up the stairs to the loft bedroom. In lieu of a measuring tape, she found a ball of twine in the kitchen and cut lengths equal to the height and width of the bedroom window. She marked the velvet and cut it, then began to hem.
The rhythm of the task soothed her, and after a while she let her eyes wander from the work to the room around her. A low bookshelf under the window held half a dozen battered Louis L'Amour paperbacks, a field guide to birds, and a brown hardback book that had a look of age.
She set aside the sewing and fetched the book from the shelf.
History of the Mining Regions of Eureka, Colorado, and the Surrounding Territory,
by the Reverend A. J. Kirkland. The cover was faded brown cloth, water spotted, and frayed at the edges. The inside pages revealed a copyright date of 1923—and the kind of paper checkout card Maggie associated with the libraries of her childhood.
Eureka County Public Library
was stenciled across the bottom of the page.
She closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. So this was the book that had gotten her father on the bad side of the local librarian. She wondered if she should return it. Maybe she'd meet the woman first and then decide.
On the bottom shelf was a steel lockbox, the kind used to store canceled checks, tax receipts, or other important documents. Maggie looked away and picked up the sewing again, but the box seemed to stare at her accusingly. “Don't be such a ninny,” she said out loud, and hauled the box onto the bed beside her.
The box was locked, but thirty seconds of jimmying with the sewing needle and scissors popped the lock. She lifted the lid and sorted through the top layer of papers—titles to the Jeep and snowmobile, old bank statements, and property tax receipts. Next came what appeared to be every automobile license permit her father had ever paid; receipts for iron, lumber, and other building materials; a doctor's bill from 1996 that showed he'd been treated for a broken hand; and a traffic citation for reckless driving from two years before. Why had he deemed these items important enough to save?
She set all this aside and peered into the box again. At the very bottom lay a brown five by seven envelope. Across the front, in what she could now recognize as her father's handwriting, was the single word,
Angie was Maggie's mother. Her hands shook as she folded up the brass brad and lifted the envelope's flap. Inside were two white envelopes, addressed in her mother's slanted hand. She opened the first letter and read:
Dear Jake,
It was good to hear from you again. I'm glad you're doing well. Your place sounds really pretty—I'm glad you've found a spot where you can feel at home. I know you said Houston reminded you too much of the jungle, so it seems right you should end up in the mountains.
I am doing as well as can be expected. Maggie came by this morning and I wish you could see her. You would be so proud of our little girl. She has your eyes, and sometimes when she's really serious and she tucks her chin in a little when she's speaking, it reminds me so much of you I almost expect to hear your voice coming out of her mouth.
She is married to a good man, Carter Stevens. They never had children, which makes me sad, but it is their choice, so I tried not to say anything. He has his own business, a shipping company, and Maggie is his office manager.
I will send you a picture when I find a good one. I want you to see how pretty she is, all grown up. Can you believe it's been almost forty years? Sometimes when I close my eyes it seems like yesterday.
I'm going to close for now, but hope to hear from you again soon.
The letter was dated the year before her mother's death. Her mother's cancer had been diagnosed by then. Had the illness prompted her to hunt down Jacob Murphy? And how had she managed to find him, hidden away here in the wilds of Colorado?
Or had Jake contacted her?
She opened the second letter. It was much like the first, full of praise of Maggie and her “wonderful” husband. What would Angie have said if she'd known the decision not to have children had been Carter's, not Maggie's? Letting him bully her—yes, that was what he had done; she could see it so clearly now, though she hadn't before—was something she would regret the rest of her life. Maggie wished she'd had the courage to confide in her mother about that; Angie might have offered some words of advice or comfort. Then again, Maggie was glad her mother hadn't lived to know Carter's betrayal. She had died believing Maggie had found happiness in her marriage, something that had eluded Angie.
No mention was made of Jacob's long absence from their lives. Maggie read both letters again, hoping for some explanation of her father's actions, why he had left them the way he had. But none was forthcoming. The second letter mentioned that a picture of Maggie was enclosed, but it was missing from the envelope.
She stared into the now-empty metal box, wishing for more. She had carefully sifted through all her mother's papers after Angie's death and had found no correspondence from her father. Why not? Had Angie burned the letters?
These communications contained no mention of her mother's illness. Had she kept that a secret from her ex-husband?
Maybe I'll make it to Colorado one day,
she wrote.
You know you're welcome to visit me in Houston any time.
Why hadn't her dad made the trip? Maggie felt her heart squeeze as she stared at the writing. She wished more than anything that her mother was with her at this moment, to explain to her why she'd written the letters and what they meant.
A loud rapping shattered the silence. Maggie gasped and the empty box almost slid from her lap. She rescued it and stood, then hurried downstairs to answer the knocking.
BOOK: The View From Here
11.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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