Arrow Canyon

Out here where we are, down this end of the county, we don’t have much in the way of attractions. Not any more, anyways. Unless you’d call the Ute jerky stand an attraction. Or even Arrow Canyon—that used to bring folks in. Used to be you could get yourself up in one of those little rock shelters and haul out all sorts of crap. What they call artifacts—those things the ones they call The Old Ones made: carvings and whatnot, clay pots and such. There’s nothing left of course. Looters had it pretty much cleaned out by the time Indian Affairs got wind of it. Now there’s not so much as a shard. But Arrow Canyon—sure. That used to be a draw. So was the rodeo, when it was. Three towns west, and we always got the overflow. But it’s a dozen years—at least—since the rodeo closed after that rope thing with the boy, that Murdock boy. Since then there’s not much else to bring folks in. Sure, we get a few locals, but mostly it’s your truckers, your salesmen, the odd motorist who winds up here by accident—everybody on their way to somewheres else. So no wonder I notice these three—the ones checked into unit 4—when I’m pushing the cart past the office and Hank pokes his head out and says: Luce, how’s the count?
How’s the count is what Hank always says when he sees me headed for more towels—hand, face, and bath—which is what he is asking about—and I tell him: Good Hank, the count’s good. That’s what I always say. But the actual count? As in: Am I keeping track of who tucked what into which suitcase and high-tailed it down the interstate? Forget it. Cups yes—the ceramic ones for the Mister Coffee. Or sort of yes. You’d wonder who’d want a cup with a cactus in a cowboy hat, but like they say: There’s no accounting. So cups—the ceramic ones—sure. But your plastic-wrapped tumblers? Your hot-or-cold containers? No. I don’t think so.

And not the single-use soaps either, not that he’s asking. He’s a stickler, that Hank, when he gets to doing his management thing which is how he gets now and then. But it passes. With six units and one adjoining, and what Hank calls a limited staff—which is limited to it being just me—you cut corners, no matter what Hanks says. The johns for instance. If there’s nothing really that obvious—and let me spare you the gory details—all they get is a spritz of Clean Latrine and that Sanitized-For-Your-Protection strip goes on. Sanitized. That’s a good one.

Hey. We’re not La Quinta. We’re not the Ramada Inn.

As for cups, Hank caught on to the count being off pretty fast when unit 4 called the office: Can we get cups in here?

So now here’s Hank inquiring about cactus cups, as in where are they, and not when I’m out wrapping up the 11 AM check-outs either. No, Hank is asking at 11 in the PM, and at that hour when someone comes around unannounced and asking as to where the cups in 4 got to, let me tell you: It’s a bit of a jolt when you’re in for the night, in bed for the night with your hot cup of something, such as your cup-of-soup or your instant what-have-you that you fixed with your portable immersible that Hank says don’t use, it will flip the circuit breakers but you did and you do, you always do and somehow it never does, and Hank comes a-rapping. Luce? he says. You in there?

Am I in there. Am I in there. That’s a good one. Where else would I be?

What? I yell back.

What happened to the cups in 4? he says.

What happened? What does he think happened? Gone is what. Packed up, wrapped up—probably in one of the hand-size towels—and gone. If it’s a guest-room amenity, it’ll walk. Ice buckets, lotion, soap. You name it. Even the complimentary coffee slash sweetener slash non-dairy creamer packs. Or the entire condiment presentation caddy and the in-room copy of Fun In & Around Canyon Country. Someone once walked off with the gratuity envelope. You know: We Hope You Enjoyed Your Stay! Come Again Soon! Your Housekeeper has been ______. Like they say: If it ain’t nailed down. They’d take the Mister Coffee carafe if it would fit in a suitcase. They’d take the clock radio if it wasn’t such a piece of crap.

Luce, he says. You up? Luce? and raps some more.

I know he’s not going away, that Hank.

So I throw off my covers and head for the door. I keep the chain on, as if I need some privacy, as if Hank’s not allowed in, though he’s been in. Plenty of times. Times too numerous to mention. But tonight, no. I’m just not up for it even if he is, so to speak.

What’s this now? I say as if I didn’t hear him.

He leans in as close as he can with his mouth near the chain. Luce, he says real low. Sorry to get you up this late but where are you keeping the cups? Just tell me, he says. Don’t get up.

Don’t get up.

But I am, and the last thing I want is Hank messing around in the supply closet and messing it up and/or finding things. Or not finding things.

What unit? I ask him.

Three cups, Unit 4, he says. But Luce, he says. I can get them. Just tell me where.

Go back to bed Hank, I tell him.

You sure Luce? he says. You sure?

I wait until I hear Hank shut the office door so I know the coast is clear and I go out.

I stand a while.

It’s a clear night. Sound travels. The generator over at the Murdock place revs up and starts to hum the way it does when their power goes out. And it’s always going out, out their way, just off the grid. It’s straight-out flat and nothing but sage, so you can just about see their place from here, especially if you’re standing on the dumpster. Not that there’s much to see. Used to be they had a regular working ranch out there—nothing big, mind you, but they did all right—Johnny and his daddy and his ma. Twenty acres it was, or maybe twenty-five, and cattle mainly but some wool-sheep, too. But that’s gone. Been gone. Sold off. Now it’s just the house sitting on a little plot. Not much to see.

I stand a while more. There’s stars. There’s moon. The wind comes up.

There’s the smell of mesquite from the Ute fire and the smell of sage—there’s always that—and then there’s the smell of whatever’s blooming out there this time of year.

Cliff-rose maybe.

For a second I re-think that Hank thing, but it passes. A yip-yip from somewhere in the dark brings me around.

It’s that coyote I’ve been seeing—a raggedy old boy nosing around the Murdock place and once out by our dumpster. Yip-yipping all by his lonesome.

Damn that Hank.

Over at the Murdock’s, the generator rumbles off as the power kicks in. A light goes on in their kitchen: Johnny’s ma, I’ll bet, fixing him some dinner. And in the backroom—the back bedroom—that’d be his daddy emptying the bucket they keep by his bed. They’re getting on in their years, Mr. and Mrs. Murdock—in their sixties by now. At least.

I take the cart—the whole she-bang. There’s always someone who will hear me rumbling by and ask for an extra who-knows-what. Toilet paper, tissues, lotion, soap. But it’s light tonight with three units vacant, three units filled, and two of them are regulars so to speak. There’s Mendez in 5, from over at the U-Totem since his wife threw him out. There’s a couple in 6 whose names I won’t mention but one of which wouldn’t want anyone spotting his pickup parked in plain view in her drive, if you get my drift. And then there’s those folks in 4.

We get just the one station—Country Ten-Seven—and they’ve got it on in there, in 4. Reception is better at night most nights, unless we’ve got rain coming. I don’t know why that is. Hank says sunspots, but then Hank says lots of things.

But tonight it’s clear and starry, and the music’s coming through just fine. And not to be nosey, but they’ve got the lights on and the drapes open so I can see right in and you can bet I’ve seen just about everything there is to see when the drapes are open like that. Just about everything, and then some. So I’m passing by the big window, not turning my head to look since that would be too obvious and what do I see with those drapes open but two of them in there up and dancing.

And these two, they’re no kids either and neither is the oldest one, an old grey-haired guy sitting in a chair. I could see that when they checked in—the three of them. The two cutting the rug I figured to be a couple, and the other one I took to be the daddy—her daddy—since I hear her say: I’ll get that Daddy—when the daddy is lugging in his stuff and looking pretty shaky, breathing hard and looking just about done in.

I give a little knock. I say what I say: Housekeeping.

Hold on, she says through the door. Turn that down, she says.

The radio goes low and she opens up.

You folks need cups? I say.

Oh yes, she says. Come on in.

Right away I can see they’re a pretty messy bunch, these three. They’ve got newspapers spread all around and maps unfolded, and the suitcases open on the bed and the floor with all sorts of clothes hanging out.

And on the floor around the old guy—the daddy—there’s crumpled-up tissues where he missed the trashcan. Not that you could fit anything else in the trashcan. It’s already filled up with paper cups and empty pop bottles and banana peels and what looks like the wrappings of those Ready-Wrap sandwiches that Mendez sells over at the U-Totem.

She takes the cups and sets them by the Mister Coffee. Joe, she says, give me a few bucks.

Oh that’s not necessary, I say—which is what you say. But thank you anyways.

No no, she says. We must have gotten you out of bed, she says. Joe, she says: Give me a five.

She’s making me dance, Joe says reaching in his pocket.

Not me, says the daddy.

You’re next Daddy, she says.

They’ve got the bathroom lights on—both the overhead and the sink—so it’s easy to see that it’s already mussed it up in there, too. The shower curtain is half in-half out, which by the way drives Hank to distraction. They’ve got towels hung half-ass on the edge of the tub and the curtain rod, and the bathmat’s all rumpled.

You folks need anything else? I say. More towels maybe? A few more soaps?

I think we’re ok, she says.

Let me get you some extra towels at least, I tell her. Looks like you could use a few, I say and give a little nod toward the bathroom. Hey, I’m thinking: there’s a big load of laundry coming my way anyways, so what’s a few more? And with that tip, the five?

Cart’s right out side, I tell them. It will only take a minute.

Well, she says.

And I pop out and load up: three fresh hand towels, three face, three bath; a brandy-new box of Kleenex, a bunch of hand-and-body lotion combo packs, a bunch of single-use soaps. Why not? I mean: the five. Who gives you a five?

In the bathroom, it’s a real mess. Worse than I thought. Toothpaste squishing out of the tube. Whiskers in the sink. Hair on a comb. Pee drips on the seat. That kind of thing. And there’s some kind of machine plugged in, some kind of thing with a hose on it and a little jar of water attached. Something for breathing into, I think. Or breathing out of. Plus there’s bunch of medicine bottles on the toilet tank, and a plastic see-through box full of pills set inside little squared-off spaces marked Morning and Evening. For the old guy, I figure. The real old guy—the daddy. No wonder he’s looking like he looks.

I fix the shower curtain. I put the damp towels on the rack. I wipe out the sink. I wipe off the seat. I flush the toilet and put down the lid and put the new stuff on top, arranged real nice.

I turn off the bathroom light. OK, I say. You’re all set.

Well thanks, she says.

You all have a good night, I tell them.

But the old guy, the daddy—he stops me: Hold on Miss, he says. You live around here?

She won’t know, the woman says.

Sure she will, the daddy tells her. Go on, he says. Show her that map, that place we’re looking for, he says. What’s it called? he says. Arrow Canyon?

It’s that crappy map that Ed Little Bird hands out at the Ute jerky stand. Drew it himself, I happen to know. He’s got those big-arm cactus stuck in here and there, even though there’s none of those anywhere around these parts—except the ones on the coffee cups—and a road-runner running at the bottom of the page, which I have seen smashed flat out on ninety-seven. He’s got the reservation boundary all marked off with teepees which the Utes don’t have and never did, and a big stick of jerky marked You Are Here which looks pretty right to me. And he’s got a dotted line for the dirt road into Arrow Canyon.

Well Miss? says the daddy.

I’ve got the map in my hand. I move in closer to the light by the bed.

It’s not to scale, I say, but the turn-offs are right. Except that left off ninety-seven can be a little tricky. It’s a lot closer than it looks.

I look at the three of them and they’re all looking at the map and nodding. The Joe guy is rubbing his chin.

See? says the daddy. What did I tell you? I told you she’d know. Like I always say: Just ask the locals.

What do you want with Arrow Canyon? I say.

Well, she says, I thought we’d have a look at the petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs?

The rock art, she says.

The rock art. So I think that maybe they’re thinking there’s still stuff to steal out there. Not that the old guy, the daddy, is doing any climbing up rocks. Hey. He barely made it in the door with the luggage.

No point in going on out there, I say. Everything’s cleared out, out there.

Cleared out? she says.

Looters, tourists, I tell her. There’s no pots anymore, I say. Everything’s long gone.

Not pots, she says. Just what’s on the rocks. We heard there’s carvings on the rocks and on the canyon walls. Symbols, she says. Hunting scenes.

Who says? I say

The Ute, Joe says. The one who gave us the map.

The Ute. Right. Ed Little Bird. I look at that map one more time and I see where he’s got a little deer drawn in and a stick figure of a hunter with a bow. Like something a kid might do.

Sure, I tell her. There’s all kinds of scratching on the rocks. That rock art I mean. But you can’t get those rocks out, I tell her. You can’t just hike in there and pick them up. Everything’s too big for you all to be hauling out without a truck. Or a back-hoe, even. It’s nothing you can just pick up and put in your pocket. It’s all on the boulders, I tell her.

We’re not collecting, Joe says. We just want to take a look, he says. We drive to places to take a look. It’s why we came out here, he says.

Just to look?

We’re not interested in taking anything out, she says.

Just to look. Now this is just amazing. These three out here not just by accident, but coming out here, coming all this way—and who knows where they’re coming from—just to be looking at scribbles—at scratches—on a rock. Amazing.

She drags me all over, Joe says.

Me too, says the daddy, and he starts getting up from the chair, or trying to. He makes what looks like a big effort to push himself up—grunting and such—but he flops back down.

Here you go Daddy, she says, and she puts her arm under his. On three. Up you go.

Now this old guy is pretty wobbly, but he pushes her off. Just wait, will you? he says. Just give me a minute. And he rocks back and forth some and then he’s up on his own.

Well look at that, she says. Much better, she says. 

Horse shit, says the daddy.

My father here—he’s having a little trouble walking these days, she says.

Oh hell, the daddy says, I can make it. I made it this far.

Can we see them from the road? I’m not so big on hiking around in the heat myself, Joe says.

Oh you two, she says to the two of them.

Sure, I say. You can see them. And it shouldn’t be too hot if you get an early start. Not this time of year.

Would we need a guide? she says. The Ute—he offered to take us out there but I thought we’d try it ourselves.

And now I’m thinking: Well wouldn’t that Ed Little Bird be more than happy to show them around? Rock art. Right. He probably snuck out there and chipped in a few new ones himself. Just to make it more interesting.

You don’t need a guide, I tell her. Just cut off ninety-seven right where the road splits, I say and I show them on the map. You head on through a little wash, I tell her, and it’s all over the place, the rock art. On the big boulders. On the canyon walls. All kinds of marks and symbols and such. You can see them from the road. Just go slow. Keep looking up.

See, says the daddy. She knows. What did I tell you?

Just watch that first turnoff, I say.

OK, she says. Will do. Come on Daddy, she says. Time for bed.

Hold on a minute, the old guy says. Miss, he says to me. One more thing: Any place around here where we can get a few beers?

It’s late now. There’s no wind, but it’s colder. And quiet. Even that old coyote must have turned in. Except there’s a light still on over at the Murdock’s place. There is every night. There’s all kinds of chores they’ve got to do before getting Johnny ready for bed. The bed, the bucket. The food that gets mashed up. There’s a tube and it goes in the tube and there’s a special way you hold it up. Mrs. Murdock showed me. She showed me that and she showed me other things. How the other tube comes out. How his breathing thing goes on. How his arms and legs should go.

I hear them leaving in unit 4 early, before the sun is up. Getting an early start before the heat. There’s the usual banging around folks do when they’re checking out. I lean over the end of my bed and peek out through the curtain. She’s out there. She’s leaning against the car with her elbows on the roof. She’s got her binoculars out, looking off in the direction of the Murdock place.

What’s she looking out there for? I’m thinking.

Joe! she says in the kind of a whisper you could hear three doors down.

I hear him just a little ways off, behind the screen door.

What? he says. What is it?

Shh! she says, waving him over, starting to hand him off the binoculars. Coyote, she says. Take a look. And he comes on out and lets that screen door slam shut behind him.

Joe! she says.

Where? Joe says. Where is he?

Well no-where now! You scared him off! He was over there, right by that house with his head in the garbage

You sure it wasn’t a dog? he says.

It was a coyote, she says. An actual coyote. But he’s gone now. Jeez Joe, she says.

I'm heading down the walk with the cart, wrapping up the check-outs, only there’s not that much to wrap up this particular morning. Three units. That’s all. Mendez, who probably will be back tonight if he didn’t patch things up with his wife, and those two from town who probably won’t.

And those three, of course. The folks in 4.

I figure they’re there by now. The sun’s been up a while but even so, it’ll be tolerable in Arrow Canyon. This time of year, it’s cool enough till noon. And the cliff-rose might be blooming. Might be. Should be. All along the west slope, I remember; there was plenty.

We’d go on out there—out to Arrow Canyon—me and Johnny Murdock. We used to go around together for a while, though mostly he was busy with his daddy’s ranch, the twenty or so acres. And he’d make a little extra when the rodeo came through, setting up barrels and concessions, riding and roping. That sort of thing. And then we’d head out to Arrow Canyon—sometimes when the cliff-rose was blooming and sometimes when it wasn’t, and other times just looking for stuff to steal, just like everyone else. Hunting that stuff The Old Ones left behind when they packed up and went wherever they went. Most everything had been carted out by then. Picked clean. The stone shelters under the cliff overhangs all kicked in. But that boy—that Johnny—he climbed way up in this little space in the rocks. Some little spot high up enough where no one else could get to. That’s just how he was—always taking chances, getting into something, doing what he shouldn’t. And I’m looking up and shouting for him to be careful and watch out and Johnny Johnny come on down. But he’s up there a while, past where I can see, and then I hear him: Luce! and he’s standing way up there and waving. Waving something. And then he’s starting down the slope, nearly running, nearly tumbling, rocks rolling and spilling all around him and he’s not even paying no mind and then he’s down, he’s here all smiling and dusty with that red canyon dirt.

It was a little dog he brought me down. A stone-carved dog the same color as the canyon. An artifact.

I’ve got it still, that stone dog. Somewheres. I know I do.

They’ve left the door ajar in unit 4. It’s not such a mess. Not like it was. They’ve got the trash bagged up and the newspapers stacked and the damp towels in one neat heap. And nothing’s missing, either. Not a thing. Six bath towels, six face, six hand. One ice bucket. One clock radio. One Mister Coffee, carafe, and condiment convenience caddy. Three cactus cups.

I check the envelope. You know: We Hope You Enjoyed blah blah. Your Housekeeper has been ______.

And hey: There’s a five. Another one.

A five.

Well.

Hank catches me at the cart. So? Hank says. Everybody checked out?

Sure, I tell him. Everybody’s gone.

What time did Mendez leave? he says.

I don’t know. Early, probably.

And those two in 5? he says.

Checked out, I tell him, even though he already knows it since the pick-up’s gone with them sure in it.

They leave the key? he says.

Yep, I say.

How’s the count, Hank says. 

As in towels—as in hand, face, and—well, you know.

Good, Hank. Count’s good, I tell him

Good, Luce. Good, he says, and he gives me a thumbs-up and a little wink. So Luce, he says. See you later?

Later, when the beds and bathrooms get done, maybe I’ll take a little ride. Hank won’t care a whit, just as long as the rooms are ready. Hey, he’ll hardly notice.

It’s a nice ride. And not too far. You just have to watch for that first turn off of ninety-seven. It’s easy to miss.

The air is sweet out there if the cliff-rose is blooming. And even if it isn’t, there’s always the smell of sage. Always the sage.

There’s always that.

Contributor

Pamela Ryder

PAMELA RYDER is the author of  Correction of Drift: A Novel in Stories about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and a new collection, A Tendency to Be Gone.

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