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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Return To The Springs

Carl was up before sunrise, collecting his thoughts for the day's business. The first dim light of pre-dawn revealed stark silhouettes of cacti, and a few desert trees. Hills sat in black hunches outlined against a slate-grey sky. Air was crisp and cool. A few sounds of awakening life drifted through the open window. It was the beginning of a familiar desert day.

He was already dressed, and was waiting for the coffee-pot to do its thing. The table lamp cast a warm glow. Carl felt comfortable pleasure in the homey simplicity of the cabin. Although it was so familiar, he was discovering new things about an increased ability to savor the familiar. He had not realized before that there could be companionship in the company of 'things'. Some old thorn of deep loneliness had been plucked from his soul, and the wound had been healed by awareness of the inclusiveness of Life. Even in this simple scene, every particle now seemed alive with the flowing of that Presence the Ulathai called "Amrishi". Carl knew that regardless of what it might be called, it was the All-Pervading presence of Life and Consciousness, varying only in form and degree.

When the coffee was ready, he poured a cup, and sat sipping, thinking about the day's plans. He'd stop at the Trucker's Cafe for breakfast. The prospects of sitting in the bustling cafe, listening to trucker-talk, and the highway sounds, appealed to him now. He wanted to reach into everyday life up to his elbows and feel of it. It all had a new meaning for him. It was a bit like coming suddenly into an inheritance, which had been there all along, but unnoticed - until now. Wealth was shining in every aspect of living. He'd been blind to it before. He wondered if he'd find it somewhere in Julie's response to his call. He decided that, whatever the outcome of the call, their relationship had already been tinctured with the gold of his new awareness. Someway, he'd help her sense it too.

The most private phone booth in town was in the hotel. He planned to call Julie from there. It wasn't for privacy he sought this isolation. It was for intimacy. He knew that if he called about eight-thirty he would catch her before she left for work. He'd be able to visualize her, newly awakened, still a little sleepy-eyed, before the worldly outer facade had been put on. This was significant to him. The thought was that he'd be better able to reach the fundamental Julie, and he'd find it easier to be the fundamental Carl. This offered the best ground for reconciliation, he thought. It was so important to him, he planned carefully.

After the call to Julie, he'd talk with Jim Hayes about the newspaper job. Whether he took it or not, depended to some degree on Julie's response to his call. If all went as he hoped, he'd be wanting to talk with Alex Carlisle later, about locating a house for him and Julie. Then, before returning to the cabin, he'd pick up some supplies.

He was glad he'd brought the typewriter after all. When packing to leave he hadn't wanted anything to link him with the electronic world. On an impulse, he did decide to bring his old manual portable typewriter. It had done nothing for a long time but knit itself a cloak of dust. Then recently, Julie had hauled it out and got it ready to use, with an idea of giving it to a kid down the street. The family moved before she got it there. At the time he packed it into the car, he still wasn't sure why. He chuckled , thinking how much of this whole episode was beginning to seem pre-planned. Soon, both he and the old relic of the past would be busily employed again.

As he rinsed out the few dishes, he wondered about the truck, hoping it had dried out enough to start, and the battery wasn't dead from sitting. He checked his pockets for the list he'd made, and collected the rest of the cash-on-hand, and his checkbook. Now to see if the truck would start.

Cooing all sorts of nice names, he coaxed and worked with it, till he was rewarded with the sound of a healthy engine throbbing. Soon he was bouncing along the dusty road with The Springs growing nearer every minute. By tonight some processes would be set in motion , supplies would be in, and he could start the book.

It was a little before seven thirty when he reached the highway. With an hour to wait before calling Julie, he headed for the Trucker's Cafe. Only a few truckers were having breakfast, but he knew more would soon be arriving, so he took a counter seat. Liveliness of the morning crowd was pleasant. The nametag on the waitress read "Millie", so he wished her "Good Morning, Millie". She gave him a big, friendly smile, which enhanced his mood all the more. Every small, commonplace detail seemed endowed with new value and importance. Carl took careful note of all these small things that increased his tune-in to life. It was all new to him.

As he waited for Millie to return for his order, he listened to the trucks moving in and out, and along the highway. The flow of early morning activity made him feel right in the stream. The breakfast aromas that filled the cafe`were warm and welcoming. Casual banter of truckers' shop-talk caused him to chuckle from time to time. It was sure 'earthy' enough ! Like hearing your footsteps on the ground, it suggested solidity.

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked around to see Alex smiling down at him. "Come on over to a booth and have breakfast with me", he said. Millie arrived and they ordered at the counter, then moved to a booth

As they sat down Alex was saying,"I sometimes come in early and have breakfast here. May has to take the kids to school this morning - a mother's meeting - so I told her I'd have breakfast in town - makes it easier for her".

Carl was thinking he might as well talk with Alex now about finding a house. Might help to have some information when he talked with Julie. So he launched right into it. "Alex - who would I see about buying a small house somewhere around here ? It's possible my wife might join me, and the cabin is too small. I'd like something not right in town."

Alex stared out the plateglass window a moment, as if weighing the question. When he answered, it was in a thoughtful tone. "Well - you might see Andy De Alberca". He paused, and looked uncertainly at Carl. "Have you met him "? Carl shook his head - "No - never even heard the name. But then , I haven't been around much since I've been here. I really don't know many local folks."

Breakfast arrived, and they both settled into it with the appetite of ranch-hands. After a few minutes, Alex returned to the subject, watching Carl's reaction as he spoke. "The De Albercas were the original settlers here, that is - at the actual Springs - out at the oasis. Stories say the first to settle here was a black man, who came over with a group on a Spanish ship. This was way back, even before the colonies."

"They say he fled from the Spaniards with a young woman from the group. It's the usual story of mis-treatment. She was pregnant by one of the Spanish sailors." Alex shook his head solemnly. "I'm afraid there are many dark pages in our early history".For a few minutes he concentrated on breakfast. He summoned for more coffee, then returned to his subject. Carl listened attentively.

"Anyway - how they ever got this far is hard to imagine, because they were supposed to have landed on the east coast - what is now Florida. But then - desperation can accomplish things that calm resolution cannot. The story goes that they kept moving, deliberately choosing a desolate area finally - feeling that anyone likely to seize them would not come there - and would think it impossible that they could have come such a distance and survived. They probably would not have, had it not been for the Indians who lived in this area at the time."

Alex stared out the window again. His eyes seemed fixed into distances far beyond the obvious horizon. He took a few sips of coffee, and continued.

"Some today don't believe the story. I'm not one of them. I know Andy, and he's made of very enduring stuff. If I had no other reason for belief, his word would be enough. I do happen to have reasons beyond that though. But, that's another story."

"To get back to what I started to tell you - Andy told me that the name was not De Alberca then, but was an African name of great respect. The new name was taken as a token of new life. Andy is a descendant of that woman, and Indians who once lived in the area. It seems the pregnant woman gave birth to a son. When he grew up, he took an Indian as his wife. Also, the woman and the African man who rescued her had other children in time. They had great friendship with the Indians, and so through years there was quite a bit of mixing."

Alex paused in deep thought. Finally, looking into Carl's eyes, he spoke slowly, and respectfully - "Andy has all the best qualities of all of them. They don't come any finer. It's the De Albercas who, through the years, have been protectors and guardians of the oasis, that it might remain a place of beauty and renewal for us all."

"I'm telling you all this, because Andy has an adobe house in the oasis area. You could talk to him about it. It's a beautiful place to live. I know, I live there. But De Alberca has the final say about available land there, and he guards it sternly. You would think that God Himself had entrusted it to his keeping" ! With this, Alex gave Carl his most penetrating look; as if he were telling him to see De Alberca - and to respect him.

They had finished breakfast, and Millie was filling the coffee cups again. Carl sat silent, thinking about the story Alex had just revealed to him. It was a story of great overcoming, and victory of a sort full of meaning. There was no bitterness in the souls of its heroes and heroines, only a spirit too large to do anything with adversity but transform it into progress. There was a remarkable willingness to share the gains, rather than dam their flow. Carl was sure he would like De Alberca. He knew it would be impossible not to respect him.

He checked his watch. Just time to drink the coffee, then go to make his call to Julie. He had one more question for Alex. "I'd like to talk with him, Alex. How can I contact him "? Alex answered with a question. "Would you like to ride out there about four P.M. when I head for home ? I can show you where his office is." Carl readily agreed.

As they paid their bill, Carl got change for his phone call. Outside, the two agreed to meet there again at four. As he drove to the hotel, Carl noticed something else missed before. He realized he'd never really seen the little town before. Now he noticed with appreciation that it had a scrubbed and tended look, clearly a product of the inhabitants' care. His vision had been turned inward before, focused on his own inner turmoil. How could his view have registered the actuality of what he saw ? He'd viewed it all through clouds of his confusion.

The hotel lobby was empty, except for Harvey Benson, who handled just about everything except the cleaning. Carl greeted him - "Good morning", and Harvey replied in kind, commenting on how good it was to see something besides fog at the window. Carl thought how well this expression fit his own inner change of vision.. In a lighthearted tone, he asked the older man - "You had some fog around here "? Harvey laughed - "Either that or I been seein' things that aren't there "!

As he waited, it seemed the phone rang endlessly. When Julie finally answered, his heart did a little dance at the sound of her clear, cheerful voice. She didn't seem surprised to hear from him. She sounded warm and receptive, as if she were genuinely glad to hear his voice. This was encouraging, so he told her right away what he had planned to say; that he'd been doing some thinking, and he now realized that he'd brought home too much of his detached, business attitude. He told her that now he understood that was what went wrong with their marriage. They hadn't shared the everyday things of life, because of it. He told her he could now be a better companion - he loved her, and wanted to try again.

For a moment, he felt almost in a panic that Julie wouldn't hear the difference inside him. Would she be viewing things as they were for too much of the past ? Had he rushed in too rashly ? It's amazing what can go through the mind in a minute.

His uncertainty was shortlived. Julie's silence was brief, only to catch her breath. She surprised him happily, saying she'd been doing some heavy thinking too. Now she understood that his ability to detach himself had been necessary to his work. She should have understood the cause of his preoccupation. If she had been more patient, they could have worked it out. Yes, yes - she too wanted a second chance ! All this she told him in a rush of words.

Of course, Carl was elated. With less anxiety, he explained how he had needed to realize what the problems were, and the time apart had helped, and worked toward good for them both. He saw his chance to speak of their future offered now, much easier than he had dared hope. Without anymore hesitation, he said eagerly, "Well, let's give it another try "! Her reply left no uncertainty. "I've been hoping you'd want to, Carl. I've been waiting for you to call"!

Like a horse freed from tether, Carl rushed through the gate. His words came in a steady stream of elation. He had so much to say - so much promise, and hope, and wonder, to bring to their future. "Julie, I've decided to take some time to do some freelance writing I've always wanted to do. This little town is just the spot for getting your thought sorted. Would you be interested in selling the house, and coming out here ?"

Again he felt brief panic that he may be pushing too many plans on Julie, without waiting for her to share in making them. Hoping to remedy this, he added, "Now - if you don't want to give up your job, we can arrange another way."

Julie laughed. "Oh - Carl - if this isn't the answer to a prayer, I don't know what is ! I feel like I'm at a dead-end here, always sending other people away on traveling adventures, and moving in a circle myself. A circle that has now worn into a deep rut ! I've been thinking day and night about getting somewhere where there's fresh air, and room to stretch out ! I'd love it ! This must be Providence !"

Carl was sure of that ! He told her he was going that afternoon to see about a house in an oasis nearby. It sounded promising, but he had nothing definite to tell her yet. She said anything he decided on would be alright with her. Just so there was some space around it !

The operator notified three minutes, and Julie told her to bill the rest to her number. They talked on, making plans. Julie would quit her job at the Travel Agency, but stay there until she sold the house. She'd transfer some money from their account to Arrowhead Springs Bank for him. He would find a house there, pay down on it, and they would handle the rest when Julie sold the house. He would stay there, and begin work on the book.

Carl said nothing of the transforming experience he'd been through, nor of the subject of the book. All that would come out in the right way, at the right time. He did mention the newspaper job. When all the details were settled, and they were about to hang up, he said what was in his heart. "I love you, Julie - and I've missed you. I'm sorry I was so blind for so long. We'll start over, and I'll make it up to you."

Julie sounded like there might be tears at that end. "I love you too, Carl. I always have - even when we parted. I should have understood better, and been more patient. You weren't the only one who was blind."

She was silent a moment. Carl could feel her presence. The energy of her thoughts seemed to move in his mind. He knew both her thoughts, and the feelings that moved through them. Her voice sounded near and intimate. "You know, honey, this is something that a lot of couples go through. We're fortunate to see what the problem is so clearly. Many don't, and lose something very precious. No-one appreciates seeing at last more than those who have been blind. We'll be able to value our new start better because of the past. I'm happy". Carl felt it too. He could only say, "Me too, baby, me too".

Carl promised to call every weekend, or whenever he had special news. He would call to give her the newspaper number to reach him, if he got the job. She asked if he wanted a cell phone. He said not now. He didn't say so, but he felt he still needed to immerse himself in the new locale, inner and outer, for awhile. It was a happy pair who at last said 'goodbye-for-now'. Julie was probably late for work, but it didn't matter now. Carl headed for The Springs Report.

It took only a few minutes talking with Jim Hayes for Carl to know he liked him. He was a big man, tall and husky, with an open face and deep, brooding eyes, with mirth waiting for an excuse to gleam. He was a bit brusque in manner and speech; the kind of a man in whom trickery and cunning were completely absent.

Carl had always liked that kind of person. There was no need to be on guard with them, or to juggle words for fear of misunderstanding. With Jim Hayes you could speak plain and he would like you for it.

And Jim spoke straight what was on his mind. Watching Carl closely, he asked - "Why would a man with your experience want a part-time job with a smalltown newspaper like The Report ? Maybe you'd get bored and leave in a month or so - or figure you were worth more than I can pay - "?

Carl smiled. He respected the question. It was just what any potential employer like Jim would wonder about. What he hadn't asked, at least yet, was whether Carl had come there because he couldn't go anywhere else. So Carl answered that too when he replied. "I don't want a full time job on a big newspaper. I've had my fill of that. I like newspaper work, but not so it takes all my time. There's some free-lance writing I want to try my hand at that I've not had time for before."

He waited for these words to sink in, before continuing. When he saw a faint smile creep into Hayes' eyes, he added, "I won't be running off soon, Mr. Hayes. My wife will be joining me here, and we'll be buying a house somewhere around here as soon as I can find what we need." He paused a moment, then added with a smile. "And I have references - if you are wondering about my past record".

Hayes smiled, which was a sort of quick twist of the lips. "Well - guess that covers it", he said, then added off-handedly - "Just call me Jim, Carl". They discussed duties and salary. Carl found both to be suitable. They shook hands and agreed Carl would start the following Monday. This gave him four days to line up his business. He'd only be working a four day week so that was no problem anyway.

As he started out the door, Jim called him back. Watching Carl's face with those deep, unrevealing eyes, he said, in a nonchalant tone - "About that house - you might talk to Andy De Alberca - out at the oasis." Carl smiled. "Thanks, Jim - I'm going out there with Alex Carlisle this afternoon". Hayes just nodded, and got very busy with some papers on his desk. Carl was still wondering about the cryptic tone as he drove to The Springs Market. Maybe it was just another evidence of the 'unlocked door'.


CHAPTER NINETEEN
The Oasis