The Wood Wife (The Fairy Tale Series)by Terri Windling
The Wood Wife is the story of Maggie Black, who walked out of her life as the wife of a trendy West Coast musician to pursue her dreams. When Maggie's mentor, prize-winning poet Davis Cooper, died mysteriously in the canyons east of Tucson, he left her his estate, and the mystery of his life - and death. Now, in Cooper's desert home, Maggie begins a remarkable journey… See more details below
The Wood Wife is the story of Maggie Black, who walked out of her life as the wife of a trendy West Coast musician to pursue her dreams. When Maggie's mentor, prize-winning poet Davis Cooper, died mysteriously in the canyons east of Tucson, he left her his estate, and the mystery of his life - and death. Now, in Cooper's desert home, Maggie begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery that will change her forever. She is astonished by the power of that harsh but beautiful land and intrigued by the uncommon people who call it home - especially by Fox, a man unlike any she has ever known, who understands the desert's special power. As she reads the letters and papers left behind by Cooper and his lover, Anna Naverra - a gifted painter driven mad by the visions she saw - Maggie will come face-to-face with the wild, ancient spirits of that place and undertake a quest to discover their dark, long-hidden secrets.
A splendid desert enchantment that flows with its own eerie logicarresting, evocative, and well worked out despite the entirely superfluous last couple of chapters.
Read an Excerpt
Nigel came down the street toward her, his face shadowed with annoyance. Her heart, that traitorous organ, still leapt when she saw her ex-husband through the window glass. She knew then why she'd run back to Los Angeles, away from the nice man up north who said he loved her; Nigel was a hard act to follow. He entered the cafe, his irritation and his energy like a cloud that entered with him, changing the weather of the entire room. And reminding her of why she'd once run away from Nigel too.
He looked around the cafe with displeasure. Maggie had picked the place, a little Czech bakery popular with film students and would-be poets half her age. She imagined that he would have preferredsome trendy new restaurant where he could make a point of paying the extravagant bill. But this was her turf, not his, for once in their lives. She needed every advantage she could get. And he'd be mollified once he tasted the pastry. Good food, in Nigel's book, always won over ambiance.
"For god's sake, there you are." Nigel threaded his way through the students to her table in the corner. She stood for his embrace. In her boots with the heels she was even taller than he was. He kissed her on both cheeks, the European way, and said, "You're looking well. Fantastic, in fact."
Maggie shrugged off the compliment as lightly as it was given. Unbidden came the image of Nigel's current wife, a skinny young Parisian fashion model.
"How are you, Nige? You look...tired," she said.
He sighed as he sat, rested his chin on his hand, and gave the grin that had won her heart years ago. "What day is this? Thursday?Still Wednesday for me. I never got home to bed last night. We play Toronto this weekend, Chicago on Tuesday, my alto is sick and my percussionist has just discovered his wife is sleeping with the sound man. So what's good here?"
"The coffee. The strudel. Any of the unpronounceable Czech pastries. The French ones will disappoint you."
He signalled the waitress, a young woman with hair dyed an alarming shade of magenta and a torn "Kafka in Prague" t-shirt covered with paint. Nigel ordered for both of them without consulting Maggie, a habit she'd never been able to get him to break. He remembered this too late, and gave her a guilty smile. "Is there something else you wanted? I'll call her back."
Maggie shook her head. "So long as there's coffee and lots of it. Look, Nige, I can't stay that long. I've got a plane to catch at four."
"Today?" he said, genuinely taken aback. "I thought you'd be in L.A. a while."
"This is just a stop-over. To pick up a few things. And see you." She rolled a fork across the table nervously. "Actually, I'm headed for Tucson."
"Tucson? As in Arizona? Whatever for?" He leaned back in the chair and asked the question casually, but she knew that she had rattled him. His transatlantic accent shifted back to his native British whenever he was feeling out of sorts.
Despite her nervousness, she took a certain malicious pleasure in telling him, "I'm going to live there for awhile. I found another tenant for the house here; I told that piano player of yours he could have it. He's made an offer to buy it, and I think we should consider it. I can't honestly imagine coming back to Los Angeles."
Nigel sat still, with the ominous quiet he sunk into whenever something displeased him. She envied him that. She always spoke first and thought afterand usually regretted it.
The waitress brought their order as Maggie waited for the inevitable barrage of questions. She picked up the coffee cup gratefully, letting its warmth dispel her anxiety. She didn't need Nigel's permission or blessing. She needn't have told Nigel any of this at all. So why did she feel nervous as a cat on a griddle, as her granddaddy in West Virginia used to say?
For all Nigel's attempts at cool British reserve, his emotions were as tangible in the static field around him as if the air had changed color. Surprise shaded into suspicion and anger. It was not that he needed her here in L.A.. But he didn't like things happening outside of his control. They still co-owned the little house by Venice Beach where she'd lived for several years after the divorce, and it was his plan that she should come back to it. They prided themselves on a "friendly divorce". She went to his concerts and he went to her book signings, the former considerably more frequent and star-studded than the later; she was seen in the better L.A. restaurants in the company of Nigel and his current wife Nicole.
But for the last two years she'd been renting out the beach house, determined to stay away from L.A. and the circle of friends who still thought of her as half of the Nigel-and-Maggie Show. First she'd gone up to San Francisco, living on a boat owned by an actor friend of Nigel's who was filming abroad for the winter. Then farther up the coast to Inverness, and then even farther to Mendocino. Each time, although the destination had been her choice, the way had been comfortably paved by Nigel. Accommodations had miraculously appeared which she never could have afforded on her ownalways "on loan" from some friend of his but subsidized, she suspected, by Nigel's wealth.
It was still odd to think of her ex-husband as wealthy, although he had always assumed he would be. The popular and financial success of the medieval music group he directed had taken everyone but arrogant Nigel by surprise; whereas the fact that she was barely making it on a writer's income came as a surprise to no one. It was not that she worked less hard than he did, or that she was any less well-known in her field; but sales on poetry and essay collections, along with the occasional teaching gig, rarely earned enough to pay all the bills. Too often it was Nigel who paid them.
Nigel picked up his pastry and took a bite. His expression was bland, but there was thunder in the air. Then he pinned her with those lovely blue eyes that she'd never been able to withstand. "Why on earth Tucson, Arizona? I played a concert there once. There's nothing in that city but two-stepping cowboys and retired old dears from Long Island. Have you looked at the map? There's no ocean in Tucson. It's the desert, and hotter than bloody hell."
"Do you remember Davis Cooper?"
He nodded. "The cranky old dodger whose poetry you're so enamored of. I know he's dead. I saw it in the papers what was it, last spring?"
"Yes. Six months ago."
"Awfully sorry about that, Puck. You were still corresponding with him, weren't you? You know, I hadn't realized he'd won the Pulitzer 'til I read it in the obit."
"I've inherited his house. In Tucson."
For the second time that day she had the sweet pleasure of startling her ex-husband. He choked down his pastry and said, "Good lord, why? I thought you'd never actually met him."
She shrugged. "I hadn't. To be honest, it was just as much a shock to me. We've been writing for years now, but he always put me off when I suggested a visit. I wanted to write a book on him, remember? No one's done a definitive biography of Davis Cooper. He said 'no' flat out, but then he kept writing and we got to be friends. Of a sort. He's left me his house, and his papers. I assume this is his way of letting me do the book now that he's gone."
"What about his family? Wife? Children?"
She shook her head. "His ex-wife is dead; his lover is dead; neither had any children. There's just an elderly housekeeper, and he's left the rest of what he has to her. Not that there's much. The royalties on his books, some of which are still in print. A small life insurance policy. Some other bits of property in Tucson."
"Arizona is a damned odd place for an Englishman like Cooper to have ended up," Nigel said testily. "It's a long way from Dartmoor to the desert."
"His lover was Mexican, remember? Anna Naverrathe painter. He met her down in Mexico, then they moved over the border to Tucson. Naverra died a few years later, but he never left the desert again."
"As I recall," Nigel said, interest warring with his anger and interest winning, "there was some mystery surrounding Naverra's death. And now your Cooper has died under mysterious circumstances as well, hasn't he?"
"He drowned. Isn't that strange? In the middle of the desert, with no water anywhere nearby. Murder, definitely. But no one knows why. His house was ransacked, and yet everything of value seemed to be untouched. The police never found out who did it. Poor old Davis. What an awful way to go."
She stared down at her coffee cup, swallowing her anger. Death had touched her life before, but nothing so brutal as murder. It maddened her that Davis had died when the streets outside were full of people who would never give anything half so fine back to the world they lived in. Why on earth would anyone want to murder an elderly poet?
"Hey Puck," Nigel said, leaning forward and encircling her wrist with his hand. "I'm real sorry. I know you admired old Cooper. I still remember when you did your master's thesis on The Wood Wife. You had a copy of the book under your arm the day we met."
"You remember that?" She looked up and smiled. It was a detail Maggie had forgotten herself. She remembered the scene, in an artist's studio in a bad but trendy part of London. The artist had been her good friend, Tat. Nigel had been her good friend's lover. The electricity between them had been immediate although it was two years, two lovers, and two cities later before they finally got together.
"I remember everything about you," Nigel said, giving her a look calculated to melt bones.
"You're married. Stop it." She smiled as she said it, but she withdrew her hand and picked up her cup.
"And whose fault is that?" he countered.
Whose fault? His as much as hers, surely. She might have been the one to end the marriage over his protestations, but the Parisian fashion model, and any other number of lovers, each more beautiful and empty-headed than the last, had preceded the divorce, not followed it. "I've a weakness for stupid women," he'd told her at the time, "they're just so restful. But you're my life."
"Well, your life is walking out the door," she'd snapped. Out of the door but not out of his orbit. She was moon to his sun, still trying to break free; and never quite certain it was freedom she desired.
"So it's research you'll be doing," Nigel was saying, framing her departure in more comfortable terms. "All right. I understand now. You'll probably get a good book out of this, even if old man Cooper isn't exactly canon anymore. Second-rate Yeats, they called him at Oxford; too fairy-taley I suppose. But still, a Pulitzer...."
"For his war poems. Not The Wood Wife."
"Ah, well that explains it. Look, you should talk to Jennifer, my editor friend at HarperCollins. A book like this would be right up her street. Give me your phone number in Tucson and I'll have her get in touch."
"Nigel, wait," she said as he flipped a leather-bound notepad out of the pocket of his Armani suit jacket, identical to her own jacket. They'd bought them together a couple of years ago; she always wore men's clothes, in basic black. "I don't know what I'm walking into," she explained. "I don't know what I'm going to write, or when. I'm just going down to check it all out."
"But nonetheless you want to sell our house in Venice Beach," he said, looking at her sharply. "It sounds to me like you intend to be there a while."
She made a helpless gesture with her hands. Unlike Nigel's other women, she knew herself to be neither beautiful nor stupid; so why did he always make her feel like an incompetent child? "I don't know where I want to be yet. Maybe New York or Boston for awhile. Maybe back to Europe. I'll spend some time in Arizona, go over Davis Cooper's papers, and try to figure out my next move. The only thing I know at this point is I don't want to come back to Los Angeles. There's nothing for me here now."
"That's not true, and you know it," said Nigel, his voice seductive, pinning her eyes with his own.
"Stop it," she said, and this time she did not smile.
He sighed. "All right, I won't call Jennifer for you. But I'll send you her number, just in case. Give me your address, Puck. I'll send you silly postcards from Toronto. You weren't planning to disappear into the desert altogether, were you?"
Irrationally, she didn't want to give it to him. But of course he had to have it. They were friends, weren't they? They still moved in the same circles; he still had her cat, an arthritic Abyssinian who loved Nigel more than the air she breathed and pined when parted from him.
He claimed her address, then restrained himself from asking after her affairs again. Instead he regaled her with stories set in his international Early Music world, courting her with his wit and his brilliance, nuggets of gold from his glittering life, clearly intended to remind Maggie Black of just what she had given up.
He succeeded. By the time she boarded the plane from LAX to Tucson, it was Nigel's parting embrace she carried with her, hot as heat rash upon her skin, and not the embrace of the perfectly adequate man she'd been dating up north. She watched the sprawl of L.A. diminish as the plane leapt up into the clouds.
"Goddamn you, Nigel," she said to herself as the city faded from her sight.
Fox sat on the steps of his adobe cabin breathing in the intoxicating smell of the desert after the rain: the pungent scents of creosote and sage, and the spicy scent of mesquite wood burning in a house further up the mountain. The rains had brought autumn wildflowers to the rock-strewn mountain slopes. Yellow brittlebush blanketed the hillside and orange globe mallow lined the sides of the wash. The small oval leaves of the cottonwood trees were turning autumnal gold. In the stillness of early evening he could hear the call of the mourning doves, a lone coyote high in the hills, and the sound of someone approaching, tires sliding on the old dirt road. An engine revved, revved again, then silence. A string of steady curses.
Grinning, Fox got to his feet and ambled down the path to his truck. Someone was stuck in the wash again. He wondered who it was this time. Dora, he wagered with himself. In Juan's new jeep, looking guilty as sin.
He got in his truck and drove down to the wash. The vehicle that was stuck was unfamiliar, a small Toyota with rental car plates, totally unsuitable for mountain terrain. The car had got halfway through the wash bed, then stuck in the sand on the eastern bank. A stranger emerged from the driver's seat, a tall, dark haired woman with a thin, unusual face. She looked up as his truck approached, her expression a mixture of worry and embarrassment.
He backed his pickup close to the Toyota, parked, and took the chains from the bed. "Don't feel so bad," he said to the woman. "It happens all the time."
She followed him as he hooked the chains to her car, looking as rattled by the unrequested rescue as she was by the car sunk in water and mud. "I saw the sign," she said, pointing at it: DO NOT ENTER WHEN FLOODED. "But I thought it looked so shallow...."
"I know. The water's just rain runoff. By morning the stream bed will be bone dry. Right now, there's no traction under there; you ought to pay attention to the signs." He grinned. "But we all ignore them half the time. I don't want to tell you how many times I've been stuck myself. Go get in your car now and put her in drive."
The woman got back into the Toyota. Fox couldn't quite peg her. The clothesa loose and mannish black suit over a casual white t-shirtwere pure New York or Los Angeles, her short haircut was artsy and European, but the accent was something altogether different. Kentucky? Virginia? He couldn't tell. He knew who the woman was, however. She'd come to live in Cooper's house and write a book about him. He'd pictured someone older and more stereotypically librarian-ish. Not a tall, dark woman with a voice like Kentucky bourbon. He shook his head as he started up the truck. That son of a gun, Cooper; six months dead and he was still full of surprises. The truck protested the weight on its tail, but it slowly pulled the Toyota up out of the water and onto dry land.
He parked under the paloverde trees and unhooked the car behind him. The woman rolled down the window. "I'm looking for Redwater Road."
"This is it," he said. "You've found it. It runs for another three quarters of a mile and then stops at the Red Springs trailhead."
She got out of the car and looked around at the valley wedged between two mountain slopes. The road had wound through the lower slope, a ridge topped with boulders, populated by tall cactus. On the far side of the canyon, Mica Mountain rose from the desert floor to a height of fifty-five hundred feet, a part of the Rincon Mountain range that stretched across the eastern horizon.
To the north, the Catalina Mountains dominated the sky and local imagination. Most hikers, horse riders and climbers favored the taller Catalinas, or the Tucson Mountains at the city's western edge, leaving the Rincon range in the east to the deer, the mountain lions, the botanists, and the rangers who fought off the lightning fires each summer. The Rincons were a secretive range; there were no roads up to the heart of it. To learn its secrets, one went on foot, climbing hour after hot weary hour, through cactus and scrub at the base of the mountain, up through gnarled groves of live oak, to the forests of pine at the peak.
Although designated as a Federal wilderness, there were still a few places in the Rincons where old land-claims permitted people to live, removed from the sprawl of city life below: the cattle ranches of Reddington Pass and along the Happy Valley Road, and the dude ranch in Red Springs Canyon, nestled in the northern slopes. The ranch had been built in 1912 out of oak, mesquite, adobe, and stone. Its buildings were scattered across the small valley, connected by footpaths and one rutted road. The dude ranch had flourished for a handful of years; a hunting club had owned the property for several more; and then the land had been broken up, the buildings sold off one by one. Each cabin had its own history now of owners and tenants who had come and gone; yet together they still formed a loose community close to, but separate from Tucson.
Fox prided himself that he knew damn near everything there was to know about the history of the canyon; after growing up here, he knew these mountain trails far better than the city streets below. To him, this was a beautiful land, dramatic, surprising and mysterious. But he could tell by the look in the woman's eyes that she was not One of Them, as Dora would say. One of Them, with desert heat in her heart and a desert wind singing in her bones. She looked around at the loose, dry soil, the spiny cactus and ocotillo thorns, with an edgy, city-bred wariness as though it was an alien moon.
She turned that wary look on Fox, appraised him, then stuck out her hand. "I'm Marguerita Black," she said. Her grip on his hand was firm.
"Johnny Foxxe. Or just Fox. You're Cooper's friend."
"That's right. I'm looking for his house. If you're Johnny Foxxe, you're the son of Davis' housekeeperand the man who has my key."
He acknowledged that he was the keeper of the keys, and turned back to his cabin to fetch them. He was conscious of her eyes on his back until he stepped through the cabin door. He found the woman disconcerting; there was something too direct for comfort about her manner and her level gaze. He reckoned she was older than him, five years at least, maybe even ten; she had streaks of silver in her dark hair, and a sexy air of worldliness. He glanced out the window as he reached for Cooper's keys on the hook by the kitchen sink. She stood looking up at the Catalina crags, watching them turn the color of old violet glass in the setting sun.
She clearly hadn't expected to find the place so isolated and rougha reasonable enough assumption on her part, Fox had to admit. Cooper's address merely said Tucson, and Tucson was a modern enough city with a population reaching half a million; you had to know the town to realize it had these wild pockets as well. He grinned, imagining what she must have thought as the roads took her further and further from civilization. She didn't seem entirely pleased by the place. But she also wasn't scared off. Yet.
He went back outside and handed over Cooper's keys: the heavy iron key to the house and the smaller one to the generator shed. "I'll take you over and turn on the water. We ought to check the flue as well before you light a fire thereI think something is nesting in the chimney."
"Thank you. That's very kind of you."
He waved away her thanks. "It's my job. Didn't anyone tell you that? You own my cabin. And all this land from here, up the wash, to the third bend in the road. I take care of all the house repairs instead of paying rent. Don't look alarmed. I'm not a nuisance, and old adobes need a lot of work. I'm patching Cooper's roof at the moment. You'd best be glad you have me around or it would flood come the winter rains." The woman looked at Fox warily. Too bad. He came along with the house. He'd claimed that cabin long before and wasn't going to let go of it now. "There's another cabin on your land, up there, just beyond that ridge. Tomas lives there. He's an auto mechanic. He doesn't pay rent either, but he'll keep your car running, and he'll bring you good game during the hunting season."
"I'm a vegetarian," the woman said flatly.
Fox grinned. "Take Tomas' vegetables then. And his eggs. You eat eggs? He's got a big garden. And chickens. And a bunch of goats."
"What can possibly grow up here, in this soil?" she asked him curiously, looking around at the rocky expanse of mica-flecked granite and quartz.
"You'd be surprised," Fox told her as he climbed, uninvited, into her car. He waited expectantly until she joined him. "Follow the road on this side of the wash," he directed as she shifted into gear. The sun was passing behind the outer ridge, casting the valley into shadow.
"How many houses are there in the canyon?" she asked him, pulling back onto the road.
"Just six?" She sounded surprised. He was right. She hadn't expected the isolation.
"Just six. Cooper used to own fiveour local land baron," he told her. "There's your house, and its two cabins. There's my mother's housebut it's so run down that no really lives there now. I've turned the most functional part of it into a carpentry workshop. Then there's the old stable, which Cooper sold to Juan and Dora del Rio a couple of years ago. And there's the Alders in the Big House, down where the road dead-ends."
"The Big House?"
"It was the main guest hall when this was still a dude ranch. You'll like John and Lillian Alder. They're retired now, all their kids are grown so it's just the two of them rattling around the place. The house was in Lillian's family; she's been on the mountain even longer than Cooper."
"And I'd venture a guess that John Alder is the reason you go by Fox and not Johnny, am I right?"
"You got it. John Alder and John Alder Junior. We got divided into John, J.J., and Fox fairly early on."
"Well, it suits," she said, leaving him to ponder just what she meant by that.
She steered the car through a mesquite grove of small, crooked trees, roots fed by a stream that ran through Red Springs Canyon and then disappeared underground. On the other side of the grove was a clearing where a simple, rustic adobe house stood, shaded by an old cottonwood tree, and guarded by three tall saguaro cactus with many heavy arms. A wide wooden porch ran entirely around the low, square building the color of wet sand. On the front porch, two weathered Mission rockers and a Mexican bench stood to either side of a heavy wood door painted indigo blue. A wisteria vine as old as the house arched over the porch with twisted, woody growth. Beside it a tall bouganvilla was weighted down with bright scarlet blooms. The flowers glowed like flames in the dusk, brightening the gloom of the approaching night. The woman cut the car's engine, and the wind in the mesquite grew still.
They sat for a moment, in silence, for no reason he could fathom. Then he swung his long legs from the cramped little car, waited while she did the same, and followed her to Copper's door. The porch light was busted. Another thing to fix. She fumbled with the heavy key, and finally it clicked open. He reached past her to turn on the light, and a blur of darkness came at him. Fox heard a sharp intake of breath, felt feathers brush against his skin. Something hit his shoulder hard, pushing him away from the door. A huge white owl swooped from the house, through the porch, and out into the trees. It must have measured a full five feet from outstretched wingtip to wingtip.
"My god," she said in that low whiskey voice that sent a shiver through the core of him. Her eyes were wide, alarmed. "I've never seen a bird that big. How long has it been in the house? Has the place been empty since ."
Since Cooper was murdered, Fox finished the sentence silently. The old man had died some miles away, but he doubted that distance was comforting to her. Six months had passed since Cooper's death, and the police had no clue who had killed him.
"I've been in and out of the house, doing repairs," Fox assured her, "and I've never seen that owl before. It must have just gotten in somehow. There's probably a broken window. I'll take a look. Right now, I'm going to go turn on the water. If you go through the door there, into the kitchen, you'll find a light switch to the left."
He left her in the kitchen, looking curiously around her new home. It was strange to think of Cooper's house that way...but the old man must have had his reasons for leaving his house to a lady friend he'd never even mentioned.
He stepped back out onto the porch and looked down the road toward the mesquite wood. The white horned owl had disappeared. He knew what Tomas would say about that. An owl was bad luck, a sudden death, or the ghost of someone who had died. Fox had lied to the woman. He had seen it before. Six months ago, over Deer Springs, on the night Davis Cooper was killed.
He stood on the porch for a few moments more, but the huge white owl did not reappear. He stood and listened to the song of the lone coyote somewhere farther up the canyon. He'd often seen its skinny figure skulking near the house since Cooper had died, smaller than the others in the hills, one eye white and blind. Fox yipped back to his four-legged friend, whose answer came an octave above. Then he headed back to the water pipes at the rear of his father's house.
Dora put a tape on the tapedeck as she maneuvered through the evening traffic on Speedway. R.Carlos Nakai's Navajo flute filled the truck with haunting music soft as water on stone, a whisper of feathers, the wind in a high mountain pass. Nakai was a Tucson man, and his music perfectly suited the underlying rhythms of the desert land.
Outside the Bronco's windows, however, the desert was decidedly less tranquil. The city's traffic was beginning to swell with the autumn migration of college students and snowbirdsas the locals called winter residentsescaping cold northern climes. She was glad that the fierce summer heat had passed and the city was coming back to life, but she already missed the quiet of the season when only hard-core desert dwellers remained.
The day had been far from quiet at the Book Arts Gallery where she worked downtown. Two important collectors had come down from Santa Fe, purchasing several pricey hand-made books between them. Then there were the chatty tourists from Des Moines, book lovers who spent an hour among the shelves, asking a million questions. Then twenty students from the Book Arts class at the universityall dressed, despite the Tucson heat, in the black uniform of art students everywherecrowded into the gallery's small storefront for a lecture on hand-binding methods. After the slow, sweet summer months, Dora had to learn to deal with people again, to put her thoughts and her troubles aside and smile when the gallery door opened.
It was a relief when her boss closed the door for the night and there was only the gauntlet of rush-hour traffic between her and the silence of the mountains. The traffic thinned out on Tanque Verde at the easternmost edge of the city, and then disappeared altogether when she crossed to the Reddington Road. The road snaked into sage-green hills backed by the blue of the Rincon slopes. The pavement ended. Dora shifted into 4-wheel drive and began to climb.
The dirt road wound upward into the mountains, past Lower Tanque Verde Falls, past the Upper Falls as well and over the top of a cactus spiked ridge surrounded by acres of sky. A narrow, pitted, unmarked road led back to Red Springs Canyonat least when the summer monsoons or winter rains didn't wash it out. Then Dora stayed downtown with her inlaws until the floods had past.
Thank the Lord it wasn't flood season. She needed her own house around her. She wanted a fire, some Mexican beer, the patchwork quilt draped over her feet and the four cats over her lap. The days were still hot now in October, but the nights were growing brisk, especially up here. She hoped that Juan had made something warm like soup or chili for dinner. She hoped he'd remembered to make anything at allall too often these days he hadn't.
Dora sighed. She'd never really minded being the breadwinner for the two of them before. She believed in her husband's artwork and his need for the time to paint. Up until the last six months he'd also worked restoring the house; he'd sold a bit of his art, and taken on the odd commission. But lately Dora turned firmly away from that depressing line of thought. Juan needed her now. And so she needed these two jobs. There was no point in dwelling on the inequity of itfor what was she going to do, up and leave? There was nothing in Dora's blood and bones that would permit her to let a loved one down.
As she approached the wash she saw water in it, turned to silver by her headlights. She ignored the flood signs, gunned her engine, went through the standing water at a steady speed and made it safely up the other bank. She followed the road deep into the canyon, noting that there were lights on in Cooper's place. A line of smoke came from Cooper's chimney, and another one from farther up the road in the direction of her own house. Juan, dear heart, had already lit a fire. She smiled as she pulled in beside his jeep and climbed down from the truck.
The house had been a stable which she and Juan had converted themselvesor more accurately, were in the process of converting. The big main room was cozy and complete, with a kitchen at one end of it, but the bedrooms were little more than sheetrock shells awaiting their plaster walls. An old stone barn stood caddy-corner to the stable, built for barn dances in the dude ranch days. It made a good-sized studio for Juan. Her own work-space would be in its upper loft when Juan got around to reinforcing the floor; meanwhile her desk was in a corner of the kitchen surrounded by stacks of papers, books, and the inevitable clutter of a building site.
She entered the wide stable door into the house, which smelled of apples baking. She and Tomas had picked them in Wilcox last week, and Juan had apparently made one of his famous pies. Dora let out a small breath of relief as she hung up her beaded Indian jacket, kicked off her cowboy boots. She clung to these signs of normalcy, added them all together each day to convince herself Juan was all right.
"Juan?" she called. He wasn't in the kitchen, he wasn't in the bedroom. She crossed the courtyard to the barn, but that was empty too. A single light was lit over his work table; the rest of the studio was dark and cold. The doors had been left wide open. Outside, a movement caught her eye. Four shapescoyotes?dashed across the yard, headed toward Cooper's house.
She stepped farther into her husband's studio. The floor was cold beneath her feet. On Juan's table was a sculpted figure that he had been working on all week, the image of a local cowboy hero. It was the kind of schmaltzy commission he loathed but used to accept anyway just for the work. Now he turned these jobs away; he would have turned this one down as well only this time she'd clipped the overdue electric bill to the client's request.
Dora stood in front of the table and looked at the work before her in alarm. The cowboy's blandly handsome features had changed: his eyes were thinned to narrow slits, his nose was hooked, his cheekbones high, and stag horns were growing from his forehead. Beside it, a bucket of plaster was overturned, its contents puddled on the table and the floor. Juan's favorite cup was smashed and coffee was stained across the wall.
She could feel the rapid beating of her heart as she crossed the room to the open doors. "Juan?" she called into the night. Silence and darkness answered her. He's all right, Dora told herself firmly. He just got a little frustrated and now he's gone for a walk, that's all.
She turned off the lights, shut the doors, and crossed the yard to the kitchen's warmth. But even sitting beside the fire, a warm quilt wrapped around her, Dora found herself shivering as she waited for her husband to return.
Crow climbed the funnel of rock that led to the top of Rincon Peak. The rock was sharp beneath his bare feet. A strong wind whipped his long, black hair. When he reach the top, he sat under a star-filled sky and waited. At last he heard the boy approach, a rush of air, footsteps on stone.
"The man is dead," the boy told him, angry, daring him to deny this.
"Yes," Crow replied mildly. "It's been six months since you've been gone."
The boy ignored this quiet reproof. Time, as yet, meant nothing to him. "Then who stands guard over the east?"
"Not I. Not you. The stars still watch. The rocks still sleep. Nothing has changed, my deario."
"You lie. He's dead. He's gone. And you lie."
Crow shrugged. "And what if I do? You know who I am, and what I'm like. All things must be true to their nature. Even the dead. Especially the dead."
The boy laughed. And laughing, flung himself right over the mountain's edge.
Crow shuddered. And then he laughed himself.
The boy had left a white feather behind. Crow picked it up, tied it into his hair, then began the long descent.
Big Sur, California
October 5, 1947
Henry, you old bugger,
You are entirely wrong about deMontillo's latest. How you can get excited about that self-serving puffery disguised as poetry is completely beyond meall that pathetic he-man verbiage about the terrible beauty of battle when we all know he spent the war safe in his mistress's villa, waited on hand and foot by sloe-eyed Moroccan girls (or was it boys?). This sudden critical appetite for deMonty the Perpetual Dilettante is bewildering, and you, at least, ought to have better sense.
By now you'll have read about the floods. Our land remained dry, of course, being so far up in the mountains here, but we were cut off from the valley for several weeks. Red Water and Tanque Verde creeks flooded over, entirely washing the roads away. I tell you, I was beginning to go stir-crazy, cut off from the mails and the news of the worldbut Anna was in her element. I swear she wishes it would flood again. It's gotten so she doesn't want to see anyone with the single exception of yours truly, and on some days barely that. She is obsessed with these new paintings of hers, and they are, indeed, magnificent so how can I complain when the washing piles up and dinner is beans on toast again? I want to get a girl up here to do the work, but Anna won't have it. She's shy of her creations nowshe won't paint if anyone else is around.
She has taken to roaming the mountain by night and it's no good trying to stop her with tales of rattlesnakes or wolves or mountain lions, let me tell you. She's meeting her muse out in those hills. When she returns there is a fire in her eyes and she works like a woman possessed by spirits until she drops in exhaustion. She is strong and brown, and so terribly thin. She has never looked more beautiful to me. I am frightened of this intensity, and yet I am stirred and fascinated. The process of creation seems to pour directly from the ground through her small body into the paint.
My own work, it comes...in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs, it comes, it comes. I am nearly done with Exile Songs and count myself an exile indeed, from Europe, from Paris, from the cafe life which the war has stolen from us all. Perhaps when this collection of poems is done I'll be able to lay those ghosts to rest and resign myself to this raw, brash land; but so long as I work, I am back there again, sitting in the Paris streets with you and Fred and Breton and the rest. Then I leave the page and I leave the desk and I find myself here, on a mountainside, in the desert, the farside of Nowhere. In truth, Nowhere is as good a place to be as any otherit doesn't matter where I am so long as I can do my work and live on the streets of Memory.
Yet for Anna, in her own exile, place has become the crux of her being, the source that now feeds her art in a way that I am still trying to grasp. The Red Springs is just water to me, not the well of inspiration it is for Anna; I see no salmon swimming in its depths, no hazel nuts falling from the trees. I have no muse. I struggle on my own. Every word, every line is chiselled with great effort from the hard white block of language.
Exile Songs will be published next spring. And then deMontillo better watch his ass.
Yours as ever,
Maggie woke early, with a wrenching sense of dislocation. She stared at the water-stained ceiling above her and tried to recall just where she was. On a mountainside, in Davis Cooper's house. The sky outside was a shade of violet that she'd never quite seen before.
She got up, washed, put her bathrobe on and padded into the kitchen. She'd always been an early riser; she felt cheated if she slept too late and missed the rising sun. She cherished the silver morning light, the stillness, the morning rituals: water in the kettle, bitter coffee grounds, a warm mug held between cold hands, the scent of a day unfolding before her, pungent with possibility.
As the water heated, Maggie unpacked the bag of provisions she'd bought along: dark Dutch coffee, bread, muesli, vegetables, garlic, a bottle of wine. In the small refrigerator were eggs, cheese, fresh pasta from Los Angeles, green corn tamales from downtown Tucson. The only strange thing about the unfamiliarity of this kitchen was the knowledge that it was hers now, these pans, these plates, this old dented kettle, this mug decorated with petroglyph paintings. For years she'd been travelling light and making herself at home in other people's houses, and having an entire house of her own was going to take some getting used to.
She made the coffee, grilled some toast, and sat down at the kitchen table with yesterday's edition of the Arizona Daily Star, too unsettled to actually read it. Davis' kitchen was the heart of the house, with a rough wood table in the center that could have easily seated a family of twelve and not just one elderly poet. The kitchen hearth held a woodstovethe winter nights were probably cold up here. Fat wicker rockers were pulled close to it, covered by faded old serapes. The walls were a mottled tea-colored adobe with shades of some brighter tone showing through and wainscotting up to waist-height stained or aged to a woodsy green. The window frames were painted violet, the doors were a rich but weathered shade of blue. Mexican saints in beaten tin frames hung among Davis' pots and pans; folk art and dusty tin milagros hung among strings of red chili peppers, garlic, and desert herbs. The windowsills were crowded with stones, geodes, fossils, clumps of smoky quartz, and Indian pottery shards.
The rest of the house was less colorful and cluttered, with plain adobe walls and simple, old Mission furniture made of oak. There was a small living room with a beehive fireplace and an old-style ceiling of saguaro ribs; the side bedroom where Maggie had slept on a lumpy feather bed with a tarnished brass frame; Davis' study in the front of the house; and one other room at the back of the house that seemed to be firmly locked. The wood plank floors were strewn with Navajo rugs in patterns of brown, black and red. Every straight wall held bookcases packed with books in English and Spanish. Indian drums hung over one case, a Rincon trail map over another, but otherwise the walls were bare, studded with nails as though recently pictures had hung there and been removed.
The electricity, Johnny Foxxe had told her, came from a generator she shared with her neighbors. The water was from her own underground spring and tasted of rust. She wondered if her phone was hooked up yet. As she got up to test it, it began to ring. It was probably Nigel. Who else would phone her before dawn?
"Hey Puck," he said, "how's life in the desert?"
"Nigel, I've been in Tucson for exactly," she looked at her watch, "twelve hours. It's a little soon for a progress report."
"So what's it like? Is it hot there? Did you meet any cowboys or Indians yet?"
"Not unless you count the kid who rescued my car from a ditch. He had a snazzy pair of cowboy boots on, but no chaps or spurs, I'm sorry to disappoint you. It's early, Nigel. Go away. I'll call you when you get back next week."
"Car? Ditch? Did you have an accident?"
"No, mother. I'm hanging up now. Have a good time up in Ottawa."
"Toronto," he said as she hung up the receiver.
She poured herself another cup of coffee and ignored the phone when it rang again.
It rang and rang and eventually stopped as she stood in the door of Davis' study. She had peered into the room last night, but had hesitated to enter it. It had been a disturbing room by moonlight: the desk with the poet's papers still on it, as though he had just stepped away. If the old man's ghost was haunting the house, this is where it would be.
The room was now bathed in blue pre-dawn light filtered through the french doors and two small windows set deep in the adobe wall. Through the glass of the doors was a view of the Three Graces (as he had once named the three tall saguaro cactus in a letter to her) and a yard full of ground-hugging prickly pear, scrubby wildflowers and hard-packed earth. In the distance, beyond the long dirt drive, was the wash, a fugitive river that ran only after the heaviest rains. Its banks were edged by cottonwoods with the mountains looming behind them, black against the purple sky. It was a dramatic landscape, harsh and vivid. She did not find the desert beautiful. The air felt parched; her skin felt dry; the color of the sky looked unnatural. Already she missed the deep and abundant green of the Pacific coast.
She sighed, turned on the lamp by the desk, and sat in Davis' desk chair. She picked up an ink-stained Monte Blanc pen, covered with a thin layer of dust. In the unfinished letter below it he'd been declining a request for an interview, in the acerbic epistolary prose that Maggie had known so well. The rest of the house was a stranger's house, but here was the man Maggie knew: in the pictures pinned above his desk; in the calligraphic handwriting; in the books on the shelvesbooks that he'd discussed in his long, cranky, occasionally drunken and often hilarious letters.
The desktop was full of letters and envelopes postmarked around the world. This had been his work these last years, this voluminous correspondence. There were no poems on the old man's desk, except the poems other writers had sent. Davis Cooper had not published a book, or a single poem, in over thirty years. Instead he drank. Legend had it that it was alcohol that had fueled his early brilliance, and alcohol that had destroyed it. An occupational hazard, he had called it; in his day, it was normal, almost expected.
Maggie picked up a pipe from the corner of the desk and breathed the scent of stale tobacco, trying to catch the lingering essence of a man she would never meet. Goddamn him, he'd kept putting her visits off and off until it was too late. It was absurd to be angry with a dead man, but she was angry with Davis nonethelessand at the same time overwhelmed by his last unexpected gift: the chance to finally know the man, to understand the life he'd led. The study was crammed full of notes, letters, journals, marked-up manuscripts; an entire life sat in these pages, was filed away in trunks and drawers. He'd been a reclusive, secretive man. But he'd trusted her with all this.
The task before her was daunting. She wondered how and where she should begin. By living here, she answered herself. By sleeping where he slept, eating where he ate, walking this raw, uncomfortable land and trying to learn what kept him here, away from all his colleagues and friends back in Europe and New York. Were the demons that drove him still in this place, or had he taken them with him to his grave? Had he ever written poetry again? It was Maggie's belief that he had.
His letters weren't the work of a retired man, but of an artist still struggling with his craft and his muse. His study confirmed that impression. This was a working writer's room. The walls were filled with poetry, other poets' work as well as his own, written in brown ink right on the walls in that distinctive calligraphic hand: Blake, Shakespeare, Yeats, Pound, Stevens, Neruda, Adrienne Rich. Quotes from sources as diverse as popular fiction, science texts and the Bible. He'd written on the walls in other rooms too; she'd come across poems in surprising places (Keats by the john, Borges by the sugar tin, a line from one of her own poems on the back of the bedroom door) but here he'd covered the walls with them, a collage of words, in four languages: his own English, his adopted Spanish and French, and Rilke in German.
Above his desk was a line from Homer:
Sing heavenly muse.
Under that were the last words of Michaelangelo upon his deathbed, to his apprentice:
Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio,
draw and do not waste time.
The first was written in faded ink; the second quote was fresh and new, written in a slanted, urgent hand. Why would a man who had given up his craft write out those particular words? She was certain that somewhere in this room she would find evidence that he'd been writing still, writing up to the very end. But if so, why had he kept it a secret? And would the work be any good?
She looked long at the bulletin board hanging above Homer's exhortation. Old photographs were pinned to it and she recognized her friend from the photos printed in biographies of other poets: the young Davis, fair haired and clean featured, in the square-shouldered suits of New York in the Forties; a more weathered face in the Fifties in the harsher Arizona light. Here was one taken with T.S. Eliot in London, another with Pablo Neruda. A grainy snapshot of Anais Nin and Henry Miller had been taken in Paris before the war. There were several photographs of Anna Naverra, the Surrealist painter he'd become involved with when he fled his brief marriage to a New York socialite and ended up in Mexico. All the photographs were black-and-white; there were none more recent than thirty years before. As thought his life had then ground to a halt, like the poetry did.
She examined the other items pinned to the board: A grocery list. A phone list. A list of book titlesall nonfiction. A list of what seemed like place names. A list of the titles of Maggie's early poems. A list of words that had no obvious connection between them at all.
Three small pictures tacked to the board were the only images of art in the room. One was an old, faded postcard from London's V & A Museum: "The Moon's Betrothed," by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Charles Endicott Bete. The second postcard, from a Tucson gallery, was a contemporary painting by Holly Roberts: the abstracted figure of a man with stag horns rendered in greys and blues. Below that card was a larger reproduction of a painting by Brian Froud, an English artist the poet admired and with whom, she knew, he had corresponded. Froud lived on Dartmoor, the wild corner of Britain where Davis himself had been born. The painting was of a mysterious woman in a mask of leaves and crowned with horns. The figure could have easily stepped from the pages of Davis' "Wood Wife" poems. She wondered if it illustrated the poems, or simply grew from the same rocky soilthe landscape she had always assumed inspired the poems. Until she came here.
Tucked behind the Froud picture was an envelope, a thick one, of heavy starched paper. Maggie pulled it out and looked at it, startled. It was addressed hastily in Davis' hand to "Black Maggie" his name for her. The envelope was sealed with wax, and covered with thick, grimy layers of dust. Whoever had cleaned the house since thenJohnny Foxxe or his mother, she supposedhad not discovered the envelope, or had left it there undisturbed.
As she stood holding it in her handshalf-eager, half-afraid to open itthe phone began to ring again. Nigel, she thought to herself crossly as pocketed the envelope and headed back to the kitchen.
It was not Nigel, it was her best friend, Tat, calling her from London and blithely unaware of how early it was on this side of the world.
"Hey, Tat!" Maggie said, ridiculously glad to hear a familiar voice and to be reminded that this remote place was still connected to the world she knew. She and Tat had known each other for half their lives, ever since their university days at Exeter, in the west of England. Not far from where Cooper had been born, and where she'd discovered his work.
"I've been trying to reach you all week," Tat said. "What happened with whats-his-name in Mendocino? When I called, he said you'd left him and he wouldn't say where you'd gone. I had to track down Nigel to get your number. Where is it I'm calling anyway?"
"Why does everybody say it that way? It's not the end of the earth."
"No, but it's surely next door to it. You must be at Davis Cooper's house. How long are you going to be there? When are you coming home?"
Home to Tat was London, just as to Nigel it was L.A. Neither could imagine anyone actually choosing to remain in any other place. For Maggie, it was the idea of "home" that was hard for her to imagine. Itchy feet, her granddaddy always said. She'd moved between half a dozen countries, trailing friends, lovers, possessions in her wake, and all of those places were home, and none of them. She wasn't quite sure what "home" meant.
"I don't know where I'm going next," she told Tat, just as she'd told Nigel yesterday. "I expect I'll be in Tucson for a while. Davis' house is in the mountains, not the cityrather more isolated than I'd imagined. But at least I'll have a warm, sunny winter, and plenty of work to keep me busy. If I'm going to give this book a go, there's a hell of a lot of research ahead."
"So gather up the papers and bring them along with you. You're going to have to travel anyway, aren't you? To interview the people who knew him? Most of his old colleagues must be in New York or over here."
"Or dead," Maggie said with a sigh. "But I'm nowhere near the interview stage yet. First I've got five decades worth of papers to go through. And there's something else," Maggie added, struggling to find the words to express it. "He wrote those poems here, Tat. About this land. These mountains. I haven't been here a full day yet, and I've already realized that everything I thought about his poetry is wrong. That thesis I wrote years ago is nonsense. I thought The Wood Wife was rooted in his memories of rural England. But he wrote it in a landscape that's like nothing else I've ever seen. If I can't understand this place, or what Cooper found so compelling here, then I'll never really understand his work. Does that make sense to you?"
"It does." Tat conceded. "Which is a pity, because I really wanted to talk you into coming over here. I miss you, girl. Well, maybe I'll try to get over there instead. It will have to be after my show in November; I've still got too many printss to finish. London is horrid in the winter anyway. It would be good to escape the rain. If I come to visit you in the wild west, do you promise me sunshine, art supply stores, and handsome western lads to go dancing with?"
"Will you settle for sunshine and art supplies? There's a handsome western lad next door, but he's too young, and probably too aware of just how handsome he is."
"Ummmm, just my type. The ones that have Trouble written all over them. You know I have a weakness for those sexy American accents."
"You're the only Brit I know who does. Everyone else winces when we open our mouths. Will you really come, Tat?"
"Girl, I'll book the flight today. What do you want me to bring you?"
"Single malt from the Highlands and the latest on Di."
"You're on," Tat said. "Now it's back to the drawing board for me. Ring me if you get lonely. Cheers."
Maggie hung up the phone slowly. She hadn't felt particularly lonely before, but she suddenly felt so now. The house was too empty. The mountain was quiet but for an astonishing racket of birds. The sun was still just a glow on the hills but the sky had paled to lavender. The wash had dried out during the night, and now was just a broad expanse of sand.
She saw something lurking out in the yard, on the far side of the cottonwood tree. She stepped closer to the window. It was a coyote, standing motionless. She'd never seen one close up before. It was the size of a German shepherd, but tawny colored, bushy tailed, with the ears and pointed muzzle of a fox. The coyote was skinny, its ribs sticking out, and an eye was damaged, filmed over. It stared at her through its one good eye, and she stared back, feeling strangely moved. It was beautiful in its wildness. Then it turned silently and trotted away, heading through the trees to the bed of the wash. Maggie let out the breath she'd been holding as she watched it disappear.
She went outside onto the porch and sat down in a rocking chair. The air still held the nighttime's chill and she was glad for her bathrobe's warmth. It was one she had pinched off Nigel long ago, and still held the memories of their best days together. Now the robe's flannel was faded and threadbare, but its touch was a familiar comfort in this unfamiliar place. In the pocket was Davis' envelope. Maggie pulled it out, stared at it, then she broke the thick wax seal.
My dear Marguerita, the letter read, if you find this note, then I fear that I have failed. I pray to God that I will notbut prayers are worth little on a gin-sodden tongue, and my God has long turned a deaf ear.
Yes, more secrets, even now. I dare not tell you more. Words have power, remember that, woman. Even written on a page. Letters. Runes. Alphabets. The stars, the stones, the very trees reveal the language of the earth.
I am leaving you my house, and everything that's in it. My books. Anna's paintings. My journals, and my notes for poemsdo with them as you will. Did you guess that I've been writing poems? "The Saguaro Forest" is my last work. I wrote it for the mountain. Someday you'll understand.
Until we meet again,
April the 16th,
the night of the Dark Stone
Maggie read the letter over twice more. It made no more sense than the first time. She was righthe'd been writing again, that was clear. But what did all the rest of it mean? And why did he write that he'd meet her again when he'd never met her at all?
April 16th was the night he had died. The night of the Dark Stonewhatever that was. The night he'd been left dead out in the desert, his gin-sodden tongue silenced forever.
She folded up the letter again and sat there simply holding it. Sorrow was a rock lodged in her chest. She wished she was a woman who could cry. She wished she could wail and howl with grief not just for what the world of poetry had lost, but for what she had lost and would not have again: The man whose work had inspired her; whose unexpected friendship had been so conditional, yet so necessary; whose long and supportive letters had followed her halfway around the world. But she never cried. Not once, in all the long years since her parents died on a wet highway. Back then she had cried enough tears that perhaps she simply had none left now.
She had a history of losing the ones she loved. She was seven when the car crash claimed her parents; her only grandmother died not long thereafter. For years she used to watch Nigel while he slept, certain that she'd lose him too. When Tat flew over, Maggie would not rest until the plane safely reached the ground. She called her granddaddy in West Virginia once a week, to be certain he was still there.
In the hills the coyotes knew her pain, gave voice to the tears the woman would not shed. One called to her; another added his voice; then another; and another. Their eerie song filled up the canyon. The half-blind, lone coyote heard them; and Dora's cats; and Tomas, in the hills. But Maggie, like Davis Cooper's God, was deaf to the language of their call.
Dora sat feeding mesquite branches to the fire. Her face was pale, her eyes were red; the cats were huddled close to her side, sensing her distress. Beyond the circle of warmth from the hearth, the early morning was cold, and still. The sun hovered behind Rincon Peak, preparing to start the day. Juan was somewhere out on the hundreds of trails that crisscrossed the mountains. Or had fallen down some steep ravine, or had stepped on a rattlesnake in the dark, and now lay helpless, waiting for day to come and someone to find him.
She rose stiffly from the chair. The cats jumped down to wind around her feet and herd her into the kitchen. She opened up the cat food tins, feeling dazed by lack of sleep. This was the third time he'd gone off this week. But he'd always returned long before dawnexcept for that once, six months ago. She shuddered, and reached for her sweater. It was cold at this end of the room.
Dora put four cat food bowls on the floor, one for each cat so they would not fight, then she took the dog's water dish to the sink. The dog had disappeared as well, and she hoped Bandito, their big old mutt, was in the mountains looking after Juan. As she looked out the window over the sink she saw two shadows approaching the house, a smaller shadow trailing behind. She set down the bowl and it shattered, knifing a gash through the palm of her hand.
Dora grabbed a dishrag, staunched the gush of blood, and rushed to open the door. Outside, Fox was crossing the cobbled stable-yard, half-carrying Juan as he limped along. Juan's feet were bare, his chest was bare, and his lips were blue with cold. Dark red paint was crusted on his fingers and streaked his skin.
"Where was he?" she asked, her voice cracking.
Fox looked at her, his eyes flat and dark. "By Red Springs. He's freezing. Help me to get him inside."
"Juan?" Dora said as she took his other arm. His eyes slid across her face and away. "Come inside now. Lean on me. It's nice and warm by the fire," she said, hearing herself speak in the soothing voice that she usually used for the cats.
She turned and whistled for Bandito to come. But the creature who lurked at the edge of the yard was a coyote, not a dog. It regarded her with steady eyes, and then disappeared through the creosote. Bandito emerged from under the couch where he had been hiding all night.
They sat Juan down in the chair by the hearth. She wrapped the quilt around him. His feet were torn and bloody, as though he had walked a long, long way. She tucked a pillow under his hea d, and Bandito settled in close by his feet. Juan's eyes were closed, his breath even; he was already fast asleep.
She looked up at Fox, who stood holding a cat, gazing into the fire. "Have tea with me, Johnny?" Dora whispered. He nodded and followed her to the kitchen.
Fox sat down at the table he'd built for her and Juan last year, made out of mesquite wood polished to a smooth, rich red-brown surface. The cat slid from Fox's arms to his lap, and two of her litter mates joined her; the fourth sat purring on Fox's boot with a silly grin on her face. He'd always had a gift for charming cats, and dogs...and women too, Dora thought as she put the kettle on the stove. He was a good-looking devil, long and lanky, with skin tanned deep by the desert sun, his brown hair as perpetually dishevelled as his rumpled flannel shirts and his dusty jeans. His smile was an endearing one, revealing a chipped front tooth. Dora placed a mug in front of him, and washed another one for herself. Then she sat down at the table, all her energy draining in a rush.
Fox touched her hand, wrapped with the bloody rag. "What's going on?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted. "Juan has been like that since Well, for awhile now. He takes off at night, and when he comes back he's dazed or half asleep. Then when he wakes up again, he says he doesn't remember."
"He just gets up and starts roaming in the middle of the night?" Fox asked. "Has he seen a doctor?"
"He won't go. He says there's nothing wrong with him. He used to walk in his sleep when he was a boy, and he says there's nothing harmful in it, but I don't know. There's more to it than that. Juan won't talk to me about it."
She wished he would offer to talk to Juan himself. But she couldn't ask Fox; the code of etiquette among men was different than that among women friends. If she poured out her fears about Juan to Johnny Foxxe, was she supporting her husband or betraying him?
"Have you tried locking the door?" Fox asked her.
"What good would it do? He's awake when he leaves. I can't keep him locked inside the house. He's my husband, not one of my cats."
"He could get hurt out there at night."
"I know. But how can I stop him?"
"Look, Dora, there's some fool with a gun out there, ignoring all the No Hunting signs. Tomas I have both seen him roaming around, down there by the creek. You tell Juan he'd best be more careful. The idiot will think he's a deer."
Dora swallowed. "I will. I'll tell him that."
They sat in uncomfortable silence then until the kettle whistled loudly and Fox rose to make the tea.
He measured sticks of Mormon tea into the pot, filled it with hot water, and said in a conversational tone, "That woman has come. Did you know that? The one who'll live in Cooper's house. Marguerita Black."
"The writer?" asked Dora with surprise.
"Yeah, I reckon she must be a writer. She's supposed to be writing a book on Cooper. 'You heard of her?"
"Hell yes," she replied, grateful for the change of subject from Juan. "So have you, you know. Remember I loaned you The Maid on the Shore? That book of essays about the California coast?"
"Oh yeah? Didn't Annie Dillard write that? That was Marguerita Black? No wonder the name sounded familiar. I thought I must have heard it from Cooper."
Dora shook her head. "I would have remembered if Cooper had ever talked about Maguerita Black. I've been reading her work since I was in college. She used to publish these travelogue kind of pieces in Harper's and the New Yorker: very urban, cosmopolitan stuff, full of people who were always dashing off between London and Rome and Amsterdam, you know what I mean? I ate it up. I used to fantasize about living that kind of life someday. But the sad truth, Johnny," she said with a wry smile, "is that now I want my own house around me, a comfy chair, a cup of tea and a good travel book instead."
"Are we talking about the same writer? The Maid on the Shore is
"Quieter. More down to earth. It surprised me when it came out...but I think I like it the best of all. What a kick that she'll be living next door, huh? Have you met her? What's she like?"
"Like you said," he replied carefully. "Urban, cosmopolitan. Like someone who wrote for The New Yorker, not like someone who wrote The Maid on the Shore."
"Hmmm. That's interesting," she said. "Now wait 'til I tell Juan." But at the mention of Juan's name the animation drained from Dora's pale face. She cast a wary look toward her husband where he sat by the fire, sleeping soundly. His own face was clear and untroubled, his cheeks flushed from the heat of the flames.
She rose, her tea untouched. "I ought to go get Juan into bed."
"You need some sleep yourself," Fox pointed out, spilling cats from his lap as he stood. He cooled his tea with tap water, and then drained it in three great gulps.
"I wish." Dora gave him a weary smile and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.
She stood at the door as Fox left the house and watched him amble down the road. A shadow darted at his heels. The small coyote was still out there, its fur matted, its ribs distinct. She watched it weave its way through the treesalmost as if it were following the man but dared not approach too close to him. She was glad the cats were safe inside the house; they'd make a good breakfast for a hungry coyote, and that one looked like it could use a square meal. A whole coyote pack was singing in the hills; there seemed to be a lot of them around. Today she'd keep the cats locked in and send Bandito out to mark their turf.
The sun was rising above the mountains now, bringing its heat back to the canyon. She still had time for a bath and some breakfast before she headed into town and opened up the gallery again. Juan was sleeping so peacefully that she wouldn't try to move him after all. She envied him that untroubled sleep. For her, it was going be another long day. She picked up her cup of tea and went to run the bath water with four cats trailing along behind. As she did so, she realized she'd never asked Fox what he'd been doing in the mountains himself, up before the crack of dawn. Like Juan that night, six months ago. She frowned.
No, she wasn't going to think about that. She was going to put one foot in front of her at a time, take a bath, get dressed, get into her truck, and drive off this mountain into town. When she got back home, if she wasn't too tired, she'd try to talk to Juan again. Somehow, it was going to be all right. It had to be, that was all.
She sat in the shadows of the mesquite grove, crouched among the trees roots, her long and sensitive rabbit ears twitching as the wind above her changed direction. The voice of the wind was a rustle in the leaves, speaking in a language she'd once known and had forgotten. She did not have a name. She had not earned one yet. Or perhaps she had, and had forgotten that too. She was not old, as her kind reckoned age; and she was old, old as the granite hills. Old as Time, which spiralled like the tattoos on a shape-shifter's skin.
She put a pale, human hand to her mouth, licked it, and washed her face with it, smoothing back the soft grey fur. She knew she must sit and wait in this place. She didn't know what she was waiting for. No matter. The day was warming up; her heart was light; her belly was full. She stretched out on her back and rolled among the leaves, delighted with herself.
When the coyotes howled she ignored them. It was other meat they hunted nowthe coyotes, and the Hounds of the Dark Hunter's pack. She wondered which of them would reach their prey first. Did it matter?
She seemed to remember that it did, but she'd forgotten why it mattered. Or what it had to do with her.
New York City
March 9, 1948
I agree completely. A trip to New York is exactly what we need. We have been buried alive out here these last months and the heat that descends on us in June is more than mortal man was meant to bear. I tell you, I think Anna needs a change of scene as much as I do. If you can persuade her to make this trip, I'd be most gratefulas would Riddley, at the gallery.
Our Anna has become a different creature out here; she is turning into a desert woman. Strip away that Mexico City gloss of urban civilization and the granddaughter of an Indian peasant lies beneath. She is a wonder to me, brown as the stones, fierce as a she-wolf, graceful as the deer. She is something other than woman in this place, she is earth and fire and sky as well. It is all in the paintings. Riddley has a shock in store when he sees the new work.
But she is too much alone, out in the hills. She rebels at visitors, at seeing old friends. She wants only me and the companionship of these creatures she paintshas she spoken of this? I don't know what to think. I accept the fact that our Anna has...visions; she is after all a woman, a witch, a lapsed Catholic, a painter, a Surrealist. I am but a war-scarred cynic myself, and perhaps my own vision is thus limited; it is only through the canvas that I can see the world as Anna describes it.
And yet...even I have begun to think that perhaps there is something in these hills. I can't see it, but I can almost hear it. A low drum beat. A murmur of language. There are poems in these trees, in the rock underfoot. I resist it, this slow seduction. The land itself fought against Exile Songs, saying: "Write our poems, Cooper, not yours...." And I shut the door and I closed the curtains and I finished the book nonetheless.
Yes, I must come to the city againor I shall be lost to the language of this land and forget my own native tongue. Gotham Book Mart has offered to host a publication party when Exile Songs comes out in June. If we can pull our desert woman from her mountains, even for just a few short weeks, I shall wire them and tell them we are coming. Even Anna must long to escape the damn heat.
Help me, Maisie. She'll listen to you.
Yours as ever,
Excerpted from THE WOOD WIFE by Terri Windling. Copyright © 1996 by Terri Windling. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This is one of those rare books that draws me back to its pages again and again. The emotional impact of the story and the beauty of language never dull for me. Each time I succumb to the siren's call, I find myself getting lost in it's magic all over again. The Wood Wife is not just a book. It becomes part of your life and pops into your consciousness at odd moments. It's not just a must read..it's a must have.
A beautiful, engaging story. I wish I could read it again for the first time, but it still has its magic after several re-readings.
I think Anonymous of March 13, 2006 reviewer worded so well. I couldn't have said it Any better. Loved the book!
In the Arizona desert, award-winning, gin-pickled English poet Davis Cooper drowns in a dry gully. He leaves his house near Tucson and his papers to tyro poet Maggie Black though they never met, but clicked through correspondence. Maggie leaves California and her talented musician husband to move into her new home. Maggie finds stanzas from unpublished poems and a gallery of paintings left by Cooper's lover, Anna Navarra. The paintings frighten and enchant her. Maggie learns from the natives that an unseen world of magic hides in plain sight of this mundane realm. Obsessing with a need to better appreciate Cooper and Navarra, Maggie begins digging deep inside her soul. The journey is mysterious and strange as she ventures beyond the time-space continuum into a magical orb where she will begin to comprehend how Cooper died among other enigmas. THE WOOD WIFE is an engaging fantasy that targets high school age readers, but will be fully enjoyed by the older genre fans as well. The story line beautifully yet seemingly effortlessly blends harsh realism of a remote part of the southwest with that of a reverie realm. Readers join the heroine on her journey of self discovery while exploring along side Maggie the magic endlessness of the unseen world seen through the heart. Terri Windling provides a triumphal tale that the audience will appreciate. Harriet Klausner
I bought this book because it was in the Brian Froud series, which I am quite interested in. The book was fantasy-dipped in all sorts of magical creatures coming to life from Anna's paintings and Cooper's poems, but at the same time as penetratingly real as the desert's sun. I loved the way the story twisted and turned and sometimes even bended all the way backwards but yet still was easy to follow and very capturing. The characters in the story are most unusal and complete the story perfectly. The story captures every emotion. I especially liked how it included some of Cooper's poems. I almost thought he was real. Is he? :) He could be, who knows. The point: I couldn't put it down!