“Up in the Wash? You want to keep going and get back to people. You might get a park ranger going through there once a day but if you can keep driving, drive.”

The Story of A.R.Eyes

S.Vlahos

(The story below is a story of a chance meeting. It is a story full of question marks, but it isn’t my account. The story below was told to me by a friend, and perhaps over one too many. I have never met A.R. Eyes. To my knowledge, that person doesn’t exist. I have done an exhaustive search for the past year and have come up short. However, the manuscripts attributed to A.R. Eyes — Mercury’s Wake, John K, and The Fourth Wall– are very real. They are partially published here as a tribute to whomever and wherever A.R. Eyes might be.)

It’s rare when you meet an expat who actually wants to recognize another expat.

Especially if you’re both American. American expats are rather sensitive about our cultural identity as loud-mouthed rubes. It therefore goes without saying that if you are an American expat, you avoid the other American expat. Ugly truths might be revealed.

I met Emily shortly after I had arrived in Edinburgh. A mutual friend from the States connected us. Emily is an illustrator and both of us share a love of the Southwest. But all things being equal, we both had a way of getting lost in the new quotidian of our lives as Americans in Scotland. We were both in that swamp of being unknown yet desperate to be known, to be, dare I say, tangible.

One night, we decided to meet for a catch-up at the Café Royal. I was early. When Emily arrived, she seemed a bit distracted. Agitated. I suggested we do a pub crawl and finish it off with a takeaway from the Mosque Kitchen.

Café Royal is an old bar featuring ceramic scenes of the great Scottish innovators, oddly, Benjamin Franklin among them. We had gotten there at five and the place was packed. This was pre-pandemic.

The bar area was knee-deep in lager-drinkers. I managed to squeeze myself in between two rather tall, Scottish men, neither of whom cared to acknowledge me. I was apparently the proportion of a flea.

“It’ll start to empty around dinnertime. Do you want me to hang your backpack on the hook underneath the bar?”

“They have those? That would be great,” replied Emily, a bit breathless. She handed me the bag. It was quite heavy.

“Have you been lugging this around all day? It’s super-heavy.”

“I know. But I don’t like to leave it at home when I go out.”

“Did you pillage the Armory?”

“No. I’ll fill you in, but I need a drink.”

“Tennents?”

“No, I need something stronger. I’d love a whiskey. Two shots. Glenkinchie, if they have it.”

They did — not surprising. Café Royal is a great bar in the Scottish tradition and therefore into its whiskeys.

I delivered our drinks, struggling to serve Emily between the two towering Scots. “I got a whiskey, too.”

“Cheers.”

We sipped.

“Wow, that’s unexpectedly sweet. I usually expect a lot of earth when I drink a Scottish whiskey.”

“This is the Edinburgh whiskey,” enthused Emily, “ironically, I discovered it in Boston.” She took another sip. “It tastes quite light upfront but it lingers in a really warm manner.”

“Agreed,” I said as I took another small sip of whiskey. The experience was like a flood being held back by a door with only a small trickle slipping between door and floor. There was an element of stealth to Glenkinchie’s flavor profile.

“So, what’s in the bag?”

“I’ll get to that,” Emily replied. She had calmed down a bit. “But, I have to tell you the story first. I haven’t told anyone, even Iain.”

“Well, maybe it’s time you let Glenkinchie speak,” I said rather cheekily.

Emily wasn’t charmed nor in banter mode. “You have to be serious when you listen to this story.”

“Duly admonished.”

“That’s just a little too Brit. Stop that. It’s weird.”

“Okay,” I said dramatically, “sorry for acclimatizing.”

“On that subject, acclimate is so much better.”

“Worse, when did the word innovative get an innovative pronunciation?”

“I agree, I find that pronunciation awkward, but I guess the Brits could respond by asking why do we say erb instead of herb?

“Because Herb is a man’s name.”

“I think it’s because the original American allies were the French. Okay, you’re doing what you always do, you’re getting me off-track.”

She was right. I love inane digressions that have absolutely no value. “I’m sorry, you’re right. Go on.”

“Do you remember last year when I went to Vegas?”

“Yeah. Sounded great.”

“Well, it was and it wasn’t.

“Why I decided to fly to Las Vegas in August, I’ll never know.

“But I don’t have to tell you what it feels living here as an American. I know it’s beautiful, in some ways idyllic. I love where I live, I love that I can walk the dogs in a field of green and off-lead, I love all the Springtime flowers, snowdrops, crocus, and daffodils, I love the walkways in the Meadows with blankets of freshly fallen cherry blossoms.

“But I am a desert rat.

“I miss it. And I seriously missed it last August. Too much stress that year and so many growing pains in my relationship with Iain. I just had to get away and get fully warm and smell the air at sunset in the Arizona desert with its gentle breeze. Growing up in Tucson, I didn’t understand seasons in quite the way people do here. In Tucson, seasons are discreet.

“Anyway, please stop me when I get trite.

“So, I booked one ticket to Vegas. Iain wasn’t too thrilled about it. We’re hardly ever apart.

“I arrived in Vegas in the early afternoon, the temperature was already 105˚, which was fine by me.

“God, I miss the heat,” I interjected, “I miss feeling like my bones are warm.”

“That’s why we like each other. We have a love/hate relationship with the heat.”

“Yeah, there was a part of me that couldn’t wait to get out of L.A. Now, there’s a part of me that wishes I were still there. But go on. I interrupted.”

“Hey, we’re drinking and we’re American. We like to interrupt.”

We laughed and I felt a digression coming on. Emily knew me well enough to pick up on the signs.

“I know where you’re going, but don’t. This is a long and weird story I have to tell.”

“Just tell me when you need a break.”

“Not anytime soon. So, when I got to the garage to pick up my rental car, I was suddenly hit with that familiar sensory overload of heat mixed with the smell of carbon dioxide — lethal. I had to get out of there, fast. I threw my backpack on the back seat and took out my laptop and phone so they wouldn’t fry. I also took out the charm Iain gave me.”

“Oh, yeah. That little, antique kilt pin.”

My little interruption stopped Emily’s flow. The moment was uncomfortably long. Finally, she snapped back in.

“Yeah, the pin. I pinned it to that linen safari jacket from the charity shop. I love that jacket.

“Anyway, the plan was to spend a night in Kingman, drive to the South Rim, then head to Canyon de Chelly.

“I know that drive, it’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, it takes you through Navajo Country.”

“Navajo Country?”

“They call it Navajo Nation, actually, but I see it as a country.

“Anyway, I wanted to visit Canyon de Chelly, it’s one of my favorite parts of Arizona. Certainly, my favorite canyon. The plan was to do a little circular route in northern Arizona. So, I’d return from Canyon de Chelly through Flagstaff, Sedona, and I thought I’d visit a place I haven’t been to since college called Arco Santi.

“I stopped off at a diner just outside of the border to Arizona. I needed to fill up.

“After I filled up, I called Iain. It was early morning in Edinburgh but I knew he’d want me to call.

“We chatted briefly. It was early. When I heard his voice, I realized how much I missed him. I regretted traveling without him. I told him I’d call him when I got to Kingman.

“I was hungry so I decided a little snack would be nice. I couldn’t eat the British airline food. I’m just not into a chippy.

“I pulled up to a large diner. Massive with about two people in it and super-sized menus for super-sized meals. I got a slice of meringue pie and an Americano, which no one says in the States. I felt stupid saying it.

“I sat in a booth. My waitress was all smiles. I wondered how old she might be. She’d pulled her hair back in a high pony tail and was quite blonde. I thought we might be the same age and I wondered if she wondered the same about me.

“You know, how you and I like to wear cloaking-devices when it comes to our own age?”

“Could we have another round?” I responded. The bartender had finally noticed the fleas needed a refill. “You know what I always say when it comes to aging, Em? Just don’t look up.”

The bartender delivered us our whiskeys with chasers of ice water.

“So, where was I?”

“The diner and the waitress.”

“Oh, yeah, the strange diner. There was a man sitting across from me in the next booth. He could be twenty years younger but he looked comparable only for all the sun his skin had absorbed over the years. He was smoking a cigarette. That threw me. He had on massive rings and was eating a massive dinner with his massive hands. It was a brown meal. The only brown I’ll eat is chocolate.

“Except for the moments he focused on cutting and stabbing meat, he focused on me. I tried my best not to look but I have always found it difficult not to. I forget I’m not invisible.”

“Well, that’s what artists do, isn’t it, study?”

“The waitress noticed the guy was staring at me so she said to him, ‘Hey, Cal, you got any business today? No rush it’s just you’ve been eatin’ for a while. Don’t like your food?’ He knew what she was up to and she knew he knew. She handed him the bill and chastised him as he paid up, ‘And, dear? You know you can’t smoke in here, whether you’re packing or not. Somebody could have asthma in this restaurant.’

He put out the cigarette on his plate and stood up. Yes, indeed, he was packing. That threw me. And it wasn’t a small gun. It was a .45. I watched him exit the diner and get into his Trans Am.

“As the creepy man pulled out of the parking lot, the waitress said, ‘Ever notice how the tar on the road sizzles?’ I smiled, and she continued, ‘You know, I don’t like men with guns. I mean, who or what are they protecting?’

“As I was leaving, I went over to her and gave her a $5 tip. I wanted to thank her and besides, I never trust leaving tips in large diners. As I gave it to her, she said, ‘I’m not sure about that guy. He used to stare at me a lot till I got older and wiser. I try to get him out pretty quick. I just clear the table before he’s done. Pisses him off but, hell, I’m a middle-aged woman not much direction for him to take on that one. Sumthin’ not right about him. Stuff can happen around here and no one would know, would they?’

“I looked out the window. The diner sat on a strip of land with a couple of gas stations and fast food joints. At this time of year, the earth was mostly dust and tarmac, at least, in these areas just off the interstate. She was right, someone could follow you out here and you’d have little recourse but your phone.”

“If it gets reception,” I added.

“Then the waitress said something kinda strange, ‘Stay alert but keep your mind free, darlin’. It’s the only way to protect yourself out here. Oh, yeah, it may not look like it but this is monsoon season. Watch out for flash floods.’

“Keep my mind free? I thought about what she said for most of the trip down to Kingman. What did she mean? Monsoon? The sky was blue and immense. Beautiful. A few clouds only, fluffy and white.

“As I approached Kingman, large drops of rain started to hit the windshield. The horizon went a dirty grey.

“I turned on the AM radio and frantically searched for a road conditions station. The sound of the rain pelting the car roof mixed with the awful white noise of the radio just made the whole thing infuriatingly momentous.

“Weather Alert: Flash Flood Warning. Heavy Rain in the Kingman and Bullhead City areas. Watch for flash floods at designated points and do not attempt to cross them.

“I turned off the radio and turned to FM. No WIFI reception. I wouldn’t be in control of my life’s soundtrack for the foreseeable future. I found an Oldies station. They were playing Ain’t No Sunshine.

“As I hit Kingman – a Flash Flood Warning sign. Its lights were blinking.

“I passed the sign. I noticed a woman hitchhiking on the side of the road. She was standing next to her car. It was a Toyota Corolla. Now, I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker since I first learned to drive, and even still, they were kids I knew from my high school. I’d never dream of picking up a hitchhiker, but this woman looked soaked and vulnerable.

“I stopped and rolled down the passenger window. I asked if she was okay, and of course she said, ‘Does it look like it?’”

“She said she was staying no more than a couple of miles down the road in the same direction I was going.

“When she got in the car, I realized she was soaked to the bone. I could hear the water from her jeans drip onto the carpet. She was embarrassed and made small talk.

“‘I was driving down along the Kingman Wash,’ she stated. ‘Nothin’ there. No rain. I don’t know what happened to my car. I hit something, but when you’re up in the Wash? You want to keep going and get back to people. You might get a Park Ranger going through there once a day but if you can keep driving, drive.’

“‘Flat?’

“‘Down to the rim. As soon as I pulled over, it started to pour. Just my luck.’

“‘Where you coming from?’

“‘Vegas. I was visiting a friend.’

“‘No kidding? I just flew in there from the Scotland.’

“‘From the sublime to the absurd.’

“‘That’s for sure.’

“As we drove along, things got to looking worse. The rain began to hit the windshield at such a speed that the wipers couldn’t even provide a nanosecond’s vision. It was a wall of water. I can remember the lyrics of Ain’t No Sunshine as they played at that precise moment…

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long
Anytime she’s goes away

“I thought about Iain.

“Within about a minute, the rain subsided and we could see ahead of us, not far, but far enough. There was a car stopped ahead in the opposite direction. The hitchhiker said, ‘Jesus, this ain’t good. That’s a flash flood ahead.’ I was stuck on her using the word ain’t. She just didn’t strike me as a person who would use the word ain’t. Yes, the woman in the diner told me to watch out for flash floods, but it looked like the other car was going to cross so I figured it was okay to do so ourselves. I was desperate to drop this woman off and to get down to Kingman and call Iain. I told the hitchhiker it looked fine.

“The car traveling in the opposite direction was green, like chartreuse, and I thought ‘what an ugly color for a car.’ As we approached the water, it looked like a puddle, a wide puddle albeit, but I’d upgraded to a car that had better clearance underneath it. I put the car in low and approached the water slowly. The hitchhiker said, ‘Just take it slow cuz these things have a way of putting a period on your life. I guess in Scotland that’d be a full stop.’

“As I pulled forward, I could feel the force of the water like it was hitting my knees, like my knees were an extension of the car or vice versa. The noise was deafening. The hitchhiker yelled something but I couldn’t hear her over the noise and my mental struggle to stay calm. It felt like we were about to be rushed out to sea except the sea was a barren desert.

“Just as I thought I was going to lose control of the wheel, the car tires got some traction. As soon as we were in it, we were out of it. Ahead of us, glimpses of sunshine.

“I remember being incredibly relieved and saying, ‘My god, I’m glad I sprung for a heavier car.’

“But there was no response. I turned to look over at the hitchhiker. No one there. My face flushed. I pulled the car over to the side of the road and got out. I looked behind me down the road I had just come up. I could see the puke green car that had crossed the floodwater at the same time we had. But I couldn’t see the woman. I thought she’d maybe gotten out of the car? I don’t know. Had she opened the door and jumped out?

“The weather was quickly lifting. I got back into the car, U-turned, and went back down the road, looking every which way. When my car approached the flooded area, I was surprised to see hardly any water remaining. More importantly, when I drove past the spot where I had picked up the hitchhiker, there was no car, no Toyota Corolla.

“Was I daydreaming, deep into one of my own stories, so much so that I believed it was real? Was I just jet-lagged? I put my hand on the passenger seat. It was dry. I reached down to the floor on the passenger’s side. It was dry.

“With nothing to mark the existence of that woman, I turned the car back around and drove back down the road and into the sunny day. The DJ for the Oldies station came on and said,

“You all alive and kickin’ after another sunny monsoon day? Here’s one we haven’t heard for a while — Bill Withers, Ain’t No Sunshine.

“I thought, ‘What? You just played this, dude.’

“But at this point, I was in Kingman — a 1950’s Colortone postcard, like the ones my grandfather used to collect.

“When I got to my motel room, I decided to make a call to the County Sheriff. It wasn’t an easy call. I didn’t even know the woman’s name. I just knew she drove a blue Toyota Corolla. I told the dispatcher my mother was waiting for her housecleaner to arrive. I said the housekeeper was driving a blue Toyota Corolla and she was already an hour and forty-five-minutes late. The dispatcher checked for any accidents along 93 or 66 involving a blue Toyota Corolla.

“None.

“The motel room was all green — oppressively so. I don’t know of any self-respecting hotel or motel room in the desert that has a green interior, except for this one. The green amplified my nerves with a creeping sense of claustrophobia. I called Iain.”

“You must have been relieved?”

“You’d think. But he wasn’t in a very nice state-of-mind. Actually, he was quick to get me off the phone.”

“That’s odd.”

“Exactly. I hung up and went downstairs to the Mexican restaurant. I was feeling dull and not in my skin. What am I saying? I felt crazy. Iain had said he didn’t understand a word I was saying, that it all sounded like nonsense.”

“Maybe he was a little pissed off at you for having gone on the trip without him.

Anyway, I hate it when our beloved Brits use that word, nonsense. It’s so dismissive.”

“But Iain would never be patronizing or dismissive. He’s never uttered a rude word to me in all the years we’ve been together. He always says beautiful things. I wanted to cry but drank, instead. The margaritas smoothed things out a bit, they also made the green room a little greener. I, therefore, drank enough to knock myself out.

“The next morning, I treated myself to a churro and hot chocolate and got back on the road. I was headed toward i40, the South Rim, and glamping.”

“You went glamping? I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“I spent about an hour just outside of the South Rim taking photos of the Flintstones Campsite. We all have to indulge in stupidities from time to time. Had I time and did it not look suspiciously derelict, I would have stayed overnight just to work out how the place actually functions. I mean, what kinds of things do they offer at a Flintstones campsite? Or, more importantly, a Flintstones diner?”

“…what kinds of things do they offer at a Flintstones campsite?”

“Are you offering me the opportunity to digress?” I quickly jumped in.

“No. When I got to the glamp camp, I parked in the lot and was driven to my tent by a guide. Strange, I thought I noticed a blue Toyota Corolla. Were it not for the heavy corralling of the super-efficient and super-friendly guide, I might have gone over to have a look. To be honest, though most of me didn’t want to. Whatever happened in Kingman was inexplicable. I was either going a little crazy from jet lag or my mind was in creative overdrive, but none of it was worth a revisit.

“The tent was great. I laid out my stuff and then got in the car and drove up to the El Tovar lodge at the South Rim. I’d made a reservation for an early dinner. Prior to eating, I spent a little time peering at the gaping South Rim. It was the magic hour so the reds were redder. I love that time in the Southwest. It’s sacred.

“The El Tovar Hotel was something else. It is an immaculate throwback to a turn-of-the-century reflection on traveling. I think it’s as much a part of visiting the Grand Canyon as visiting the canyon itself.

“Dinner was great. The drinks menu was delightful. I had a Miner’s Sarsaparilla, and for dinner I had a crab-stuffed rainbow trout. I dunno, there’s something about a really beautiful, first-class hotel in the middle of nowhere that is incredibly appealing to me. But it was eerily empty. Well, not totally empty but nearly. There were none of the oppressive mobs of zombie tourists in a brain-freeze of uncertainty over whether or not they were actually interested in magnificent vistas and geology.”

“Let’s toast to crass American tourists! All of us, everyone!”

“Cheers to that. Maybe we should move to lager?”

“I think you’re right,” I said, ordering a couple of pints.

“Let me get it,” Emily insisted.

“No, I’m feeling incredibly generous and I don’t want you to lose your thread. I’m totally engrossed.”

Both Emily and I are storytellers – she does it in pictures, I do it in words. I hesitate to call myself a writer, perhaps because my father was a great writer and I started off a singer and have always considered my inner voice to emanate best in siren tales.

“Fair enough, but I buy the next round.”

A barstool came empty – left so by one of the towering Scots. Thank god, a little space. Emily sat down and continued her tale.

“When I got back to my tent, I decided to make a little campfire and sip a tea. While I was tending to my tiny fire, I heard a woman’s voice in the distance.

“’Hey, can I join you?’

“As you know, when you camp, you welcome other campers. It’s an unwritten law.

“‘Sure,’ I said.

“As the woman approached, the classic chill ran down my spine. It was quite dark and I couldn’t be sure, but she looked like the hitchhiker I had picked up in Kingman – the woman with the blue Toyota Corolla.

“She smiled at me and said,

“’My name’s A.R., just A.R. I like to keep it that way. I don’t like people to know my sex until they know me in my writing and my work. I’m surprised to find another woman braving the American outback on her own. What’s your story?’

“I told her my name, about my life in Scotland, my childhood in Tucson, all the necessary cliff notes details – probably more than I wanted to divulge.

“’Yeah? That’s cool,’ she said. ‘I’m from Flagstaff originally. I’m a cultural anthropologist.’

“We chatted a while. She had a lot of stories to tell about her profession, her interest in native American culture, the time she spent engaged with native Americans, learning their stories, their traditions, etc. Still, there was a question that needed answering.

“‘You look really familiar,’ I said.

“She quickly responded, ‘Yeah, so do you.’

“And with that, she smiled an opaque smile and asked, ‘Where are you headin’ tomorrow?’

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to divulge this information but thought that I might as well. I actually liked her and was enjoying her company. ‘I’m headed to Canyon de Chelly.’

“She was immediately excited by the mention of Canyon de Chelly and asked if she might tagalong before heading back to Denver, where she lived. ‘I’m headed in that direction, anyway,’ she said.

“That night, I slept listening to owls and hearing some kind of snorting creature rustling about my tent. It was divine. I realized I had neglected to call Iain but I was still put off by his behavior on the phone the day before. I thought it best for both of us to give it distance.

“The next day, we headed off to Canyon de Chelly through Navajo Country. We drove in our own cars. And before you ask, yes, she was driving a blue Toyota Corolla. At that point, I decided to embrace the word coincidence.

“I listened to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour as I drove. We stopped off for lunch at a Navajo restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I got a Navajo taco and deep-fried ice cream for dessert. It was fantastic. It’s a strange place, Navajo Country, but thank god for it. It’s empty.

“When we got to Canyon de Chelly it was as it always is, a sudden surprise. That’s why the Anasazi lived there. It’s a hidden canyon where you can see your enemy approach but they can’t see you. There were hardly any tourists. We climbed up to the White House ruins. I put my hand on the handprint pictographs of ancient men or women. I always feel that I am shaking hands with an ancient human when I do that.

“We decided to camp out overlooking the canyon among the juniper pine. Beautiful. Apparently, Canyon de Chelly has a lot of UFO sightings.”

“God, you wouldn’t get me camping there,” I said as I slurped my Tennents.

“I sense aliens are kinder than humans. I am far more afraid of man.”

I didn’t want to get her onto a depressing digression since we were into our third round and that’s the point when stuff can go either way when it comes to the emotional spectrum.

“Sorry, I interrupted, go on.”

“A.R. had a large tent, so we pitched it and made some camp-style food – chilli on spaghetti. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. We also had Sol beer and mescal. I kept light on the mescal, especially since I’m quite sure I met this woman in Kingman, or I foresaw meeting her?

“A.R. went into a long digression about finding a book in an abandoned car during one of her desert excavations. Something about the book and its origin intrigued her. After a few shots of mescal, she turned to me and said, ‘You know I don’t just look familiar. We met.’

“I was speechless, she filled in the silence. ‘There’s something I’m gonna tell you, something strange that you might not believe. I jumped lives in that flash flood, and I reckon, so did you.’

“’What do you mean?’ I asked. Her thoughts had a clear sense of direction. She asked, ‘Anything seem a little off to you about stuff after that event?’

“I didn’t answer.

“A.R. continued, ‘I bet there were a few things that didn’t add up for you after that. Have you spoken to your husband?’

“‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘that night.’

“Then, I panicked and blurted, ‘Do you mean, I’m in a different lifetime?’

“‘No,’ she said, ‘you’re in your lifetime, you just have a lot of them. It’s something I read about a long time ago and didn’t think much of. It’s also part of native American myth, well, not so obviously stated, but if you look, it’s there. Both of us came to a point of departure where we could jump lives or die. The weirdest thing is that we both not only jumped, we jumped and found each other… again. That’s karma, my friend. What a story! All you gotta do is look everywhere and in everything and there’s an amazing mystery to unravel.’

“It was too much information for me. I didn’t sleep that night. I still hadn’t called Iain. I suddenly felt like I was married to a stranger.

“The next morning, we got up to leave. A.R. was planning to head back to Denver via 285 and I was planning to drive down to Prescott for the night. But the trip took another turn. A.R.’s car wouldn’t start.

“‘Can you drive me down to Gallup? I have a friend there. It’s not that much out of your way and you can still get to Prescott by nightfall or stay with us. Or, I can hitch, it won’t be the first time I’ve done it,’ she winked.

“I really didn’t want to stay any longer with A.R. I liked her, she was interesting, but she’d blown my mind. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘Gallup’s not that far from Flagstaff. I can stay there instead of Prescott. I mean, what am I gonna do? Leave you in the middle of Navajo Country to hitchhike? It didn’t work out so well the last time you hitched.’

“With that, she immediately put her tent in the trunk of her car.

“‘Aren’t you gonna lock up?’ I said.

“She laughed, ‘Trust. People are pretty good out here, especially the park rangers.’

“With that, she threw her backpack along with a large book bag onto the back seat of my rental car.

“‘What’s that,’ I asked.

“‘The book bag? I’m a writer on the sly. Just books about people trying to work out what the hell it’s all about. I’m overwhelmed by all the stories out there, all the possibility. Stories abound. My stories? I’d love them to be published in one lifetime or another!’

“We laughed and hopped in the car. I drove her down to Gallup and dropped her off at her friend’s house. Nathan. Interesting guy. A bit eccentric, a house full of rocks from every part of the globe. Some were enormous. I wondered how he got them there.

“A.R. walked me to my car. ‘Well, I’m not gonna say it hasn’t been real,’ she said, ‘It’s been unreal but, hey, moving right along, right?’ ‘Yeah, right,’ I said.

“As I started the car, she leaned in and said, ‘You remember when we were camping at Canyon de Chelly, I mentioned that book I found and jumping? The book gave me some fresh thoughts about the nature of things. And the jumping? It’s called a quantum jump. Look it up. We have the power within us to do it. Sometimes, when we are at the edge of our lives and need an upgrade, we have options. You and I recognized each other. Plain and simple. We experienced something awesome. Thank you, Emily. Happy trails, my friend.’

“A.R. thumped the car as if she were patting my back. She gave me a wink, and I drove off.

“I wanted to get out of Gallup and call Iain. I desperately needed him. I also needed to disprove the whole whacky concept of quantum jumps. I drove into a gas station, filled up, got a coffee and some hostess powdered doughnuts. I called Iain. When we spoke, he seemed rather distant, unhappy maybe. I remember saying, ‘Darling, no matter what lifetime we were in, you would want to find me, wouldn’t you?’”

“Did you really ask him that?”

“I did.”

“I was unaware you two were living in a 1930’s movie.”

“Oh, stop. Everyone has their private romance, and unfortunately, his response wasn’t exactly romantic. He said, ‘Sure.’

“A bit thrown by Iain’s unwillingness to indulge my neediness, I mentioned that I had the antique pin he’d given me and he said, ‘I never gave you a pin, Emily. Maybe it was from another boyfriend.”

“Does he always get suspicious like that?”

“No. Then he said, ‘Call me later when it’s not in the wee hours of my morning.’

“I sat in my rental car feeling a bit dull. This just wasn’t my Iain. I instinctively reached for the safari jacket with the pin in it. I wanted to touch that pin. It was a symbol, in many ways more important to me than our wedding rings. In touching the pin, I felt I would be touching Iain.

“You certainly love him.”

“Yeah, but the pin wasn’t where I’d fastened it.”

“That Eyes woman. She took it.” I belted out as if I were watching a British Panto. I was clearly feeling a bit jocular on whiskey and lager.

“Don’t joke. She wasn’t strange, and this isn’t the end of my story, not even close. I looked everywhere for that pin. I was beside myself with a weird grief over losing it.

“I drove to Flagstaff and got a hotel with a lovely terrace bar. I needed to sort things out by not thinking. As I sat on the terrace, I got out my laptop and googled quantum jumping.

“It was still quite hot out at 7 pm. I ordered a chardonnay and a bottle of Perrier. I was wearing the only dress I had brought for the trip – a red rayon sheath that allowed me to stay vibrant yet cool. I sat with my dress jacked up and threw off my sandals so I could stretch my bare feet to the balustrade.

“I noticed another storm brewing in the horizon.”

“The weather was certainly active when you were there.”

“The severe heat does it, so I didn’t think anything of it. It was somewhere out there.

“You think you’d have learned that lesson after Kingman.”

“Are you telling this story or am I?”

“Sorry, go on.”

“Anyway, the definition I found for quantum jumping was jumping down a rabbit hole, a time-space shift where a person can embrace an alternate, better reality.

“I panicked, thinking, ‘Am I living in a different reality with a different Iain?’

“The thought was absolutely horrible. I didn’t want the other Iain, I wanted my Iain, the man given to waxing poetic with a sense of importance mixed with earnestness.

“Pushing those thoughts away, I decided to google A.R. Eyes.

“The first thing that came up didn’t put my mind at ease. She was exactly what she said she was.

Aaron Ravenna Eyes received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Denver in ontology and anthropology. She is a professor of cultural anthropology and comparative religion at University of Denver.

“Well, that might account for her metaphysical predisposition,” I said.

“‘Maybe.

“I got up and leaned against one of the pillars along the terrace balustrade, drinking my white wine and reviewing everything I had experienced since I got off the flipping plane in Vegas.

“There was a sudden stroke of lightning…alarmingly close. The bartender came outside and announced, ‘Folks, you need to get inside until the storm subsides.’ I responded, ‘I thought you’d have lightning rods on top of the building.’ ‘We do, but we’ve been instructed to clear the terrace. Lightning has a mind of its own.’

“Per instructions, I gathered my stuff to go inside the bar when there was another flash of light. All action seemed to slow down. I turned back to the balustrade only to see lightning headed toward me. I didn’t move. I was fascinated. I couldn’t move. It felt like the inertia you experience in dreams. I just couldn’t gather the energy for action until the deafening aftermath of thunder nearly kicked me inside.

“I responded with a classic, ‘That was close!’ The bartender, who had a sassy disposition, replied, ‘Well, it would have been closer if you were still standing on the terrace!’

“But I was on the terrace.

“I suddenly realized I didn’t have my laptop. I panicked, my entire life’s on it. The bartender recognized my panic and cautioned me, ‘Give it a minute.’

“We all waited.

“Once given the all-clear, I ran back to my table.

“My computer was still there and unharmed.

“I got back to my search, scrolling down the page for more on A.R. There was an article citing her participation in the consecration of an ancient burial site in Cochise as well as another article about some of her work in further excavation of kivas in Chaco Canyon.

“I scrolled back up to link to the University of Denver. I thought I might get some more information on A.R., maybe find an address for her. But in its place was an accident report from the Denver Sun dated last January. A blue Toyota Corolla had slid on black ice, breaking the traffic barrier, skidding off a steep cliff. I remember the words exactly, the passenger was later identified as University of Denver professor, A.R. Eyes.

“I scrolled back down. The Google page was different. I found an obit for A.R. Eyes.

“My head was racing with crazy thoughts which were suddenly interrupted by a tourist from the bar. ‘Sorry, ma’am, but I think you left this in the bar?’

“It was my safari jacket. ‘Thanks,’ I said.

“‘The pin’s quite unique.’

“‘Oh, yeah, that’s a family thing. During the Crusades. My ancestor was the keeper of the heart of Robert Bruce.’

‘Fascinating, she said, ‘you’re American, aren’t you?’

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. I thought you said the pin wasn’t there?”

“Exactly.

“The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed and into the car in order to get to Arco Santiwith enough time to enjoy some time there.

“I met Paolo Soleri years ago while studying architecture at Arizona State. I did a whole summer there as an intern. Hot as hell.”

“Paolo Soleri?”

“Artist/architect. He established an academic ethos of anti-urban sprawl thru architectural sites called arcos. A bridge could contain a whole city. Pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the living spaces at Arco Santi are a bit like rabbit hutches. I booked the nicest space, however. It’s a loft space with loads of windows and a couple of black widow spiders.”

“You slept with black widows?”

“I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.

“Anyway, Arco Santi had changed with Paolo gone. I took a nap when I arrived, I was exhausted. I woke up in time to take a walk into the surrounding desert at magic hour. The wind blew the best kind of warmth into my entire body. I don’t know of a better feeling than a warm desert breeze at sundown.”

“Spoken like John Wayne.”

“Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim.”

“Are you a John Wayne fan?”

“On the sly.”

Emily had finally loosened up. The whiskey and lager plus an emptying out of the Café Royal had allowed for a more intimate and relaxed conversation. We decided to can the idea of a pub crawl and Mosque Kitchen. Instead, we stayed on at Cafe Royal for Cullen Skink and Oysters on the Half Shell.

We ordered a bottle of wine and water.

“So, go on, you were in the desert at the magic hour…”

“Yes! I thought I could clear my head of all the anomalies, as A.R. called them. I sat down on a large stone. I felt tired and stressed, everything I had hoped to lose in the desert environment. I tried to ease into the evening.

“As the horizon went pink, I couldn’t escape the thought that I shouldn’t have taken the trip. I felt hugely vulnerable.”

“It’s funny, Em, but I think we’re all vulnerable in transitional points in our lives. When I moved to Los Angeles, I got into two car accidents. The first happened when I was first leaving the East Coast, a fender bender. The second was big. I hit four or five cars in an intersection after being hit by someone running a red light off a freeway ramp. My car was like a pinball, hitting one car, then bouncing across to the next, and so forth. I survived it but had to go to ER. I had my bull terrier in the car with me and no other recourse than to give her to a couple that had witnessed the accident. I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again. But they found me. I think my spirit was vulnerable in that shift and so it let bad stuff in. Maybe your flying to Arizona was about you confronting your decision to live in Scotland? Maybe, there’s a lesson in there and when you discover it, you will no longer be vulnerable?”

“Maybe.”

“You mentioned spaghetti and chilli? When I traveled cross country, I stopped off in Joplin and had chilli on spaghetti at a place called Fred and Red’s. I loved it.”

I was digressing, and Emily wasn’t having it. She continued with her story.

“I think you’re right about being vulnerable. The thing is, I’ve always felt incredibly safe in the desert, like everything about everything is right when I’m there, but not that night.

“I heard something and looked down. It was a sidewinder.It had clearly escaped the heat of the day by burrowing under the stone I was sitting on. How stupid was that? I know better. Before I could move away, he lunged.”

“The snake bit you?”

“Yup, but weirdly, I suddenly felt calm. My breathing was steady, my body was in a place of stillness. And I guess I passed out.

“I came to in the Arco Santi kitchen. There was a nurse there. She thought I might be severely dehydrated. I told her I was bitten by a sidewinder. She asked me to show her the bite and I pulled down my hiking sock. But there was no bite. She told me that had I been bitten, I would have shown pretty obvious signs right away. She checked my entire body for a bite. Nothing but a few scratches.

“Later that evening, I forced myself to attend a classical concert in the amphitheatre – a piano quintet. They played Schubert’s The Trout, and in the silence of the evening, I could nearly feel the action of the bows against the strings. The music resonated and I drifted on that mix of sonority and delicate agility until I went to bed.

“When I got up the next morning, I felt pretty invigorated. The sky was again threatening a storm of some kind but I felt beautifully alive. I grabbed my stuff. With another storm on the horizon, I needed to get out of Arco Santi pretty quick or possibly get stuck on the road out.

“I threw my backpack onto the back seat of the car and noticed A.R.’s books. ‘Damn it!’ I said. Now I would have to find a post office somewhere along my route in order to return her books to her. They were precious to her. At that moment, I had totally forgotten what I had discovered two nights before in Flagstaff in a drunken haze and an electrical storm. A.R. Eyes was dead.”

“How could you forget that?”

“Hmmm, let me think. I was severely dehydrated and had hallucinated that I was bitten by a rattle snake?”

“I just googled John Wayne quotes,” I said, reading from my phone, “Snakes like you usually die from their own poison.”

“Thanks for digressing.”

“You have to admit it’s pretty perfect.”

“You’re drunk.”

“I put on my safari jacket. It was a bit chilly. As I pulled out from the primitive road out of Arco Santi, I looked at my hands and immediately pulled back off the road. The jacket I had bought at the Charity Shop in Bruntsfield was khaki when I bought it. I’m very sure. It was now white.”

“I don’t know of a charity shop that doesn’t have dingy lighting.”

“Can you please drink some water?”

“I swear I’m not drunk.”

“You are.”

“Not.”

“Okay what bit me? Where did I think I was bitten? What was the color of my jacket?”

“Nothing bit you. You thought you were bitten on your leg under your hiking sock, and your jacket was white”

“You are–”

“I meant to say khaki due to dingy lighting in charity shops. That’s how they get people to overlook the little stains or tears.”

“I buy nearly all my clothes at charity shops. Can I please continue?”

“Sorry. We were at the point about your jacket being white not khaki…?”

“Just another anomaly. So, I changed my plan and decided to drive to Wickenburg and from there to Phoenix where I might get a flight out. Well, it was a thought. I wasn’t sure. I stayed at a nearby ranch in Wickenburg. It was perfect and without pretense.

“The minute I got in my room, I called Iain. I was pleasantly surprised. ‘Darling, I want you to enjoy your trip but can you check in from time to time? I need to know you’re safe and I want to know what I am missing apart from missing you.’

“I wanted to cry. I had stupidly thought I had lost him to a kooky, unproven idea called quantum jumping.

“After our conversation, I went downstairs to grab my backpack from the backseat. There, were the books. This time, I remembered A.R. was gone. So, what would be the responsible thing for me to do with them?

“I went on the internet to see if I could find a family contact for A.R., and now, it gets crazier.

“Nothing under A.R. Eyes came up, no University of Denver, no Navajo Nation, Chaco Canyon, no car accident in January.

“I improvised every variation on her name, but came up with nothing. I searched the White Pages in every state of the flipping Union. (I had to pay for it, too.) Nothing.”

“Cullen Skink and Oysters?”

Food had arrived.

Emily and I ate silently.

After the waiter cleared the table, Emily spoke up.

“And then, I found something a few pages down on the search. An accident report out of Kingman County. A blue Toyota Corolla had turned over on the road leading down to Kingman. The woman was identified as an A.R. Eyes.

“Okay, but then you said you couldn’t find her at the University of Denver?”

“So? Maybe in that lifetime, she didn’t work there.”

“I don’t know, it’s pretty far-fetched.”

Emily smiled as if she had just solved the million-dollar question.

“The thing is, that blue Toyota Corolla was found the same day I was in Kingman.”

I had nothing to say. Emily continued.

“The next day, I decided for sure I was going home to Scotland. I didn’t want to be in the desert anymore. I wanted one thing only. To be with Iain. I drove to Phoenix, paid double just to change my flight.

“How did I meet A.R. in August if she was already dead? Twice?

“I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to consider it. A.R. jumped, for sure. But so did I, and I reckon more than once.”

“So, that’s the book bag?” I said, pointing to the bag hanging on a hook under the bar.

“Yeah. I brought it back with me. I read a couple of passages from that were supposedly written in the book she found in Chaco Canyon. She said she couldn’t determine the book’s age – all stuff desiccates to one state in the desert no matter how old it is. She said she found the book in an old 1960s abandoned Cadillac that had the line Iggy was here scratched into the paint on the rear wing. She started speculating about how it might have gotten there. She also did some lab tests on it in terms of its age. There was a substance, like a mineral or something, on the pages of the book that the lab couldn’t identify. The book was handwritten, the title page tattered. She told me that the book’s identity, or more, the how of it became the subject of at least one of her books. She was inspired by whomever owned that book and whomever might have written it. She was convinced there was something about that book that didn’t belong where she’d found it, and, of course, she attributed its being there to quantum jumping. She was certain quantum jumping happens a lot and that you only have to look for anomalies. But that’s sort of what she did, explore ancient sites that might have anomalies. I don’t know, there are things I just don’t want to know.

“Still, I feel a responsibility to A.R., like all of this happened for a reason and I owe her something.

“I find it all pretty upsetting when I talk about it, which I haven’t for over a year.”

“Emily, I’m not freaked out by your story. I think it is amazing, and I think you should look on the bright side. See yourself as a Phoenix. We should all look on the bright side. Whatever we live, it is our own reality and…well… sometimes necessity is the mother of invention… or, reinvention.”

Postscript: I have now read all the works of A.R. Eyes. There is something visceral about them. They have a vibe, but they are also funny like I imagine A.R. probably was. Her first novel is entitled Mercury’s Wake. It’s broken down into books which I imagine I’ll put together as one story at some point. The characters in the book follow the story of John K Mercury. I found this story among the other manuscripts. The difference was that it was bound albeit severely worn. The author is anonymous though my assumption it is A.R., herself. This is the book A.R. claims to have found in that Cadillac on the road up from Chaco Canyon. She titled it JOHN K.

The first book in Mercury’s Wakeis entitled Pompeiiand you can find it here

Read JOHN K in its entirety — https://medium.com/series/john-k-348efdd4f0b8