A bell someone had hung in the olive trees tinkled in the breeze. Nate sat in the grass cross-legged with his palms open and relaxed, but he wasn’t meditating. It was more of a pose—waiting to receive what the universe had for him. His gaze raked over the rocky gorge that spilled downward, then swept up from the canyon floor, to the jagged line where desert kissed washed-out blue. He knew what he wanted. A certain nubile blonde who had shown up at Acrosanti three weeks ago in early May.
Years ago, that thin line of horizon between sky and sea had similarly mesmerized him. He was 52 and the sailing years felt like a lifetime ago. He inhaled and filled chest, diaphragm beneath firm pecs and abs. The athlete’s body from his high school and college years of competitive swimming was still lithe from hiking and working in the foundry making Paolo Soleri’s bells. Their music filled him with hope that, not just one city, but many would be built on Paolo’s dreams to rebuild society back into relational communities.
As if the universe heard him, Merci dropped down onto the grass beside him. “Taking a rest?” The Swedish accent made her simple words sound exotic. Sweat sparkled where the sun dappled her freckled skin.
He smiled. “Yeah, something like that.” He looked away, not wanting to telegraph his interest. The universe had already been kind to him when his life had imploded—bringing him to Acrosanti and “his people.” Some of them, like him, stayed from one year to the next, doing whatever needed to be done in the foundry, ceramics studio, the kitchen, or the mail room. Others came for five-week workshops in arcology—Paolo Soleri’s mashup of architecture and ecology.
Merci plucked at the grass, shooting shy looks at him. “How did you come to Acrosanti?”
Nate looked up, surprised, wondering if she’d read his mind. “My wife, daughter, and I stumbled across it when we were traveling.” He stared past the stately Italian Cypress Paolo had planted to remind him of his home in Italy. “Something about the place stayed with me.” He shrugged. “When my wife left me and took Caitlin, I didn’t know where to go, what to do.” He was crazy for telling this woman who had to be a good twenty years younger his pathetic story.
She sat very still, as though afraid to disrupt his flow of words. He felt across four feet of grass her yearning to hear his tale. When he didn’t go on, she said, “So you came here.”
His gaze traveled over the small cement amphitheater of the foundry behind them to the community house where he slept. He met her eyes. “Yes. It was my salvation.”
“I don’t know this word.” She leaned slightly toward him.
“Arcosanti saved me. I sold the boat my family had lived on in Florida and hitchhiked across America, thinking I just had to see this place again. It had been seven years since I’d come the first time.” He leaned back on his hands and stretched his legs out in front of him. No one had ever asked him this question. Maybe it would do him good to tell it to someone who wanted to hear it. “When I came, they gave me a job—it was in the ceramics studio then—and told me I could stay as long as I liked. I didn’t talk much in those days, losing myself in physical labor, getting to know the desert.”
“You mean walking in the desert as you do now?” She looked away as though embarrassed by her admission that she’d watched him.
“I hiked every trail for miles, even built new trails. But there is more to learn about a place. The air’s dry in high desert. The smells of mesquite and creosote. Rattlers—”
She shuddered and wrinkled her pug nose.
He chuckled at her reaction. “There are deer and skunks.” He stopped himself, understanding without her saying that she didn’t want an episode off the nature channel. “It was Paolo who really rescued me. One night he met me on the lanai behind the amphitheater. I stood there, washed in moonlight, trying to feel something besides pain. He was out for a walk, I guess. He talked to me about his dreams for a society that was truly a community of people who knew each other, who lived, worked, and played in the same place. A city without cars or the isolation they bring.”
Merci nodded, her eyes lighting up. “His philosophy is good. I want to see this city built in Sweeden. And his buildings are art—their shape, but also the splashes of color.”
“Paolo made me think of someone beside myself, our whole society. Many nights we talked and I could see his ideas happening. Eventually, I started to feel better, happier.”
She stared into his eyes until he wanted to kiss her plump lips. Before he could talk himself into looking away, she said, “Are you happy now?”
He looked away, uncomfortable. “As happy as I have a right to be.” He never wanted to be alone. He’d been alone for six years now. “What about you? What will you do when you go home?”
“College. I’m going to be a nurse.”
“A nurse?” Kerry was nurse. He’d sworn he’d never be with another nurse. The universe was sending him a sign. He stood and stretched.
Merci smiled impishly up at him. “You know, a person who takes care of sick people.”
When she smiled like that she looked 20 like Caitlin. His daughter. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask how old she was. But he didn’t want to know. Not yet. “I need to get back to work.”
Her gaze stayed on him and he couldn’t help noticing her freckle-laden legs, now pulled up against her chest—the pert breasts the size of tangerines. Did the freckles go everywhere? He cleared his throat and turned toward the foundry.
“People usually exchange stories. First one person, then the other. You owe me half a conversation.” She stood and dusted grass from her backside.
He turned back toward her voice, his eyes following the movement of her hands, then wrenching back to the wooden frame he had been working with earlier.
“Maybe some evening I will talk about our societies and how to fix them like Paolo.” She grinned at him.
Was she flirting? Was it possible? She would be a nurse. Just like Kerry. He lifted his brows at her as if to say maybe, maybe-not. He walked over to the frame with deliberate steps and loosened the clamps. When he looked over his shoulder she was gone.
[The rest of the story will run in the next blog installment.]