Feb 5, 2011

The Most Recent Strange Peregrination of F. S. Whinkla

. . . being an honest recollection of events as they occurred on the last leg of his return journey to Kleadrap from Dallas, Texas after wandering several months in and around the Orient.

Part III

I don’t know what I expected to find, but the room I entered might have been the lobby of almost any non-commercial motel or bed and breakfast in the western U.S., except for the flowers. Most prominently placed, on a black lacquered shelf opposite the entrance, was a large, dark, copper-hued raku vase holding three pink peonies, a lobed philodendron leaf, and a gnarled piece of light brown driftwood, all delicately placed. Someone was adept at ichibana. An oval coffee table and several leather chairs took up much of the floor space. To the right, behind the front door, a short counter extended from the wall and beyond that, partially hidden by a cabinet, I could see the whirling glow of a computer screen. A small fire of piñon logs burned gently in a corner fireplace, and just for a moment Larry I imagined I might be in New Mexico. To the left of the mantelshelf hung what looked to me like a Cezanne, a giclée print I imagine. Two corner windows were curtained with heavy cinnabar-coloured drapes, tied back with black velvet cords. I called out “Hello.”

At the end of the counter was a beautiful potted Melicytus ramiflorus tree in full bloom. The yellow-green flowers growing on the naked twigs exuded a pleasant, intoxicating fragrance. How did I know it was a Mahoe tree Larry, well, to tell the truth, in case you think me more a horticulturist than I am, there was a very informative metal tag attached to the white-barked trunk. The shrub is native to New Zealand by the way.

As no one had appeared I called again, this time louder. After a few seconds I heard the faint sound of music, Vivaldi I think, coming from behind a curtained doorway at the back of the room, and then an elderly man bounded out to greet me. I say bounded, but danced would also be an apt choice of words. “My goodness,” he said, hurrying toward me and offering his right hand, “I was being charmed by a Bach cantata and didn’t hear you come in. Now, how may I help you?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” I said. “I stopped at a store in town and the clerk must have thought I was looking for a place to stay because he gave me directions to what he thought was a Bed and Breakfast somewhere up this road.”

“Ah Brian, where would we be without his kind assistance?” he sighed, rolling his bright blue eyes toward the ceiling, “But yes, and no. Yes, I suppose this is what people call a Bed and Breakfast, but No, I’m afraid we’re booked solid for the next several weeks. I’m sorry.”

“I understand,” I said, “I hadn’t thought of looking for a place to stay before I stopped at the market, it’s only mid afternoon. I have no idea why I drove up here. Another time perhaps.”

“I’m sure you’d enjoy yourself here,” he said. “By the way, I’m Lucien, Lucien Tu Fu Smith.”

I was about to respond but he quickly continued.

“My father was rather enamored of Chinese and Japanese poets as you may have guessed. And with a surname like Smith, well, you have the yin and yang of things.

“Whinkla,” I said, “F. S. Whinkla, and the F and S are just that, the letters F and S.” I shook his hand a second time and tried not to stare but he somehow commanded my attention. He was sixtyish, not heavy, but showing unmistakable signs of a portliness to come, about my height, five ten or so. He had white hair that fell a little below his shoulders. It was thicker than mine, and I remember his eyebrows were somewhat darker, and very bushy. His mouth seemed small, but that might have been a result of his Hemingway-like beard. His hands felt rough, but his fingers were long and slender, somewhat delicate looking. His voice was very pleasant, deep, measured, resonant, yet clear. I could imagine him reading Dylan Thomas aloud to himself as he wandered the fields and hills”.

“Tell you what,” he said, guiding me by the elbow toward an adjacent room, “there isn’t a motel or hotel within fifty miles. You seem like a decent chap, and if you want to stay the night there’s a small bunkhouse beyond that grove of cottonwoods” He indicated the trees which were about a hundred yards, clustered around the mouth of an arroyo. “We tell the government we’re a working ranch so we maintain a few outbuilding and half a dozen pieces of machinery none of us know how to operate, just in case. You’re welcome to spend the night there, no charge. But you may find the accommodations a little rustic.”

“Rustic,” I said, perhaps a little too quickly, “you’ve no idea the places I’ve slept the past several months. I appreciate your offer but if I could just unroll my sleeping bag out in the open that will be accommodation enough.”

“Well, there it is then,” he said, pointing to the horizon. “four hundred plus acres of calcified earth to chose from. But, if you change your mind, the bunkhouse is unlocked.”

We both stood staring out the window for a few moments and I became aware of how quiet it was. I thought I could hear the faint, high-pitched sound of a violin, but it could just as easily have been the silence ringing in my ears.

“This is the common room,” he said, walking over to a refrigerator, “we keep this ice box filled with bottles of our well water, juices, whatever’s in season, yogurt, milk, even a variety of beer if the guests have been generous, and sometimes, if you get here before I do, a bottle or two of wine. Of course there’s coffee, cocoa, and a variety of teas. Help yourself. If you feel like leaving a little something there’s a piggy bank on the counter next to the toaster. There’s a microwave and small gas stove. Pots, pans, plates, and all the other culinary apparatus you’re likely to need are in the cupboards and drawers. There’s a sink to wash up in if you decide to cook. I serve a hearty breakfast for our guests, but if you’re only going to be with us one night you’re welcome to join us tomorrow, anytime after sunrise.

I was overwhelmed Larry, I didn’t know what to say. “I’ll be glad to pay for breakfast,” I muttered, “and I should probably pay for camping in your field.”

He fluttered his bird-like hands. “No, no, I consider you my personal guest.” he said, “You can park your car in the barn if you like. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off.”

I thanked him again, and after another look around left by a side door. After descending what seemed like a long flight of dark stone steps, guarded at the bottom by two white marble lions, I wandered back to my car. I felt a little confused, apprehensive even, though I couldn’t identify a cause.

Larry, I apologize for taking so long to explain what happened on my drive home from Dallas, I thought I could sketch an outline in a couple of pages, but even leaving out most of the details I see this taking far too long, and I haven’t even gotten to the heart of things. I’ll try to make the rest of this as short as possible.

to be continued