Sunday, September 11, 2005

Postcards from a Dream


"Stay back, Ophelia!" Dad's voice was echoed and amplified by the gray-blue walls of the cave which I realized was the entrance to a never-developed mine. I could tell by his voice that he had found something. Perhaps it was the cache of coins and jewelry hidden by the notorious Captain Endes-Wicker and Miss Rosamund MacLean, also known as the "Pink Lady Bandits." Displaced when their homes were burned to the ground during the Civil War, they moved west where they found it convenient to thieve from the thieves who regularly robbed settlers on the California Trail as they passed through this remote part of northern Arizona and southern Utah.

"What is it?"

"Don't come in. It's bad. You won't like it," said Dad.

It was too late. Curiosity had already gotten the best of me, and I was fast on Dad's heels. If he had found the treasure, I wanted to see it.

"Don't worry, Dad. You can trust me. I won't break or disturb any artifacts." The air in the small cave was cool, and the rough-hewn walls had a blue-green sheen as the sun's rays hit the limestone matrix, interspersed with azurite, malachite, chysacolla, along with chalcopyrite, which flashed a glittery metallic color.

"What kind of treasure? Where is it?" From where I stood, I could see Dad leaning over a wooden crate of some kind, and what appeared to be a broken chair.

"I'm not sure if it is what we had hoped to find. But, someone definitely was here, and, from the looks of it, it wasn't very pleasant," said Dad. "Brace yourself, Ophelia. It's ugly."

My head immediately filled with ghastly images of bones, knives, manacles, implements of torture from the Spanish Inquisition. An "Iron Lady" for the Pink Ladies?

"Really?" I asked, leaning forward, trying to make my way around a large rock.

"Really, Ophelia. You needn't sound so ghoulish," admonished Dad. "But you have to remember these were not calm places or times."

Crawling over the rock, I felt ashamed of my curiosity, and of the fact that I half-hoped to find something shocking. What confronted me gave me pause, and I wasn't quite sure how to react. In the crate were dishes, cups, cutlery, and neatly stacked mason jars with rusty lids. A pile of old blankets and what appeared to be what used to be a mattress until the chipmunks, squirrels, and mice liberated the stuffing from it for their own constructions. A tobacco tin lay open, empty. Then I saw what made Dad ask me to hang back. It lay next to a crumpled, half-chewed up wool blanket.

"Are those what I think they are?" I asked, in a gagged, choked voice.

"It depends on what you think they are," said Dad. His voice had deepened, and it was no longer so harsh.

"Oh no. They can't be. Is that human hair? Scalps??" I asked. To my annoyance, I could feel myself growing tingly, my hearing muffled, and a strange buzzing and twitching. I was starting to go into the dissociative state I had learned accompanied a seizure.

"These are a couple of old fur collars." Dad's voice was calm and I could hear humor coming back. I could feel my stomach begin to untwist itself.

"Yes? What? How?" I struggled with my body.

"It totally had me fooled. From a distance, they look bad."

I looked at them and could feel myself coming back to the presence.

"Ick," I said. "The mice got to them. Is that a coat next to the blankets?"

"Yes. Do you want to take a closer look?" asked Dad. "The dishes are basic but in pretty good condition. I think they're old, but probably 1890s rather than 1870s. Someone must have holed up here for part of a summer or fall."

I moved closer. It was easy to see how Dad had mistaken the gnawed scraps of fur for scalps and the idea made me smile. I would enjoy teasing Dad about this on the long drive back home. I knelt next to the wooden crate and started to lift out the dishes and to look at them carefully. In the meantime, I was watchful for spiders or scorpions.

Una Puerta de Madera en Todos Santos, B.C., Mexico - photo by Susan Smith Nash

Between two plates I found a small New Testament, but no evidence of individual ownership. It reminded me of looking through the contents of a box of merchandise, and not the contents of one's temporary home. Then, removing the last plate, I encountered a small packet of postcards, clearly Victorian. Although they were faded, they were in surprisingly good condition and the colors were still vibrant.

"Dad, look. Postcards from Marrakesh," I said.

"I went there once," responded Dad, wistfully.

"You did?" That statement temporarily distracted me, then I returned to the half-dozen postcards that depicted a magical, Moorish fantasy of minarets, intricate tile, fountains, arched doorways, veiled women.

"Dreams of Marrakesh," I read. "This is amazing. Look, there are several scenes. Here's the Kasbah. Also Medina, Riyadh, Mosques, Al-Moor-Avid Palace," I said.
"I really found North Africa to be interesting. I used to feel sorry for the dockworkers, though. The French were hard on them," mused Dad.

"Can we take the entire crate? It's not very big," I asked, as I began to replace the plates.

"Let's be sure to put it in the back, just in case there are spiders or scorpions we haven't found," said Dad. "Then we'll go by a U-Haul store and get proper packaging for the drive home."

"Sounds great." I leafed through the postcards again and wondered how a person intrigued by Marrakesh would find himself or herself in northern Arizona on the Kaibab monocline, north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The drive back to the hotel went quickly, and my mind joined that of the former tenant of the Blue Cave, lost in dreams of Marrakesh.

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