Tom Allen lived in his Dad’s old cabin five miles west of New Mexico State Highway 107 along about twenty miles south of Magdalena. The retired astronomer stepped out behind his place and put his left hands on the branch of a dead tree. Figured he’d cut it down for firewood, though he had plenty already for the winter.
“Looks like we’ll be getting some rain from the west, ol’ girl.” He patted Sally’s head, and the golden retriever nuzzled her snout against the leg of his jeans.
He’d been born in a little town south of Albuquerque sixty-six years ago last Friday, so being dressed in his old Stetson, a plaid shirt, faded blue denim jeans and high leather boots seemed normal to him, but the old normal, since he’d spent most of his adult life in places like Pasadena’s JPL, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, not to mention in the halls of academia. His colleagues at Stanford and MIT would never understand.
“Storm’s getting closer. We’d better head back in, especially before you see some rabbit you want to be chasing.”
Sally barked with ascent and then happily followed the old man back into the house.
He fed the only companion he had left, started a fire in the rustic, stone fireplace, and then sat down to his own solitary dinner of chili and corn bread. The windows shook with wind and rain as the leading edge of the thunderstorm hit, then, as he washed the dishes and set them to dry, he looked out the back window, and watched a sky starkly illuminated with the rage of the thunder god.
“Guatauva must feel out of his element in this desert, don’t you think, Sally?” Tom chuckled, but then saw the dog was terrified by the thunder. He walked over to the throw rug by the fireplace where she was whining and shivering. Sitting beside her, he stroked warm, soft fur. “There, there, old girl. He won’t be bothering you here. He’s just looking for his lost love. I know how he feels.” He felt tears momentarily well in his eyes, but willed them back. The time for grief should have been over decades ago, yet his heart still felt as empty as the desert.
The retriever laid her head on Tom’s lap and let him comfort her, not knowing she was also comforting him. Guatauva continued to spend his wraith on the New Mexico desert, which was unmindful of the downpour and the lightning, just as it had been of sun, heat, cold, and snow since time beyond mortal imagination.
Tom took a patio chair and walked some hundred yards into the desert. It was after midnight, and he couldn’t sleep again. So he sat, smoked a cigar, and stared up at the stars which had been his livelihood and almost his religion.
He pondered the words of Rico, who was old when Tom was young, who taught him the legends of the Taino people of the Caribbean while he was studying at Arecibo. It was at Arecibo where he had met Grace, a fellow student. They married three months later and spent four all too short but wonderful years together.
He thought it was ironic, him a cigar every night after dinner and another before he went to bed, and yet she was the one who died of cancer at the age of twenty-eight. She was two-months pregnant with what have been their first child, a little girl.
The weather had dropped just above freezing, and even after his cigar was spent, his breath still was a white mist at each exhalation. The clouds had cleared up, and the night sky was an obsidian jewel stretched over him like a celestial shroud.
“I hope you find her, Guatauva. I know exactly how you feel. Believe me, I do.”
He placed the chair back down on the concrete patio, and sat down so he could pull off his muddy boots. The aftertaste of his cigar still clung to the inside of his mouth as he quietly opened the door and stepped inside. His socks felt moist so he slipped them off at the kitchen table. The fire was burning low, and Tom stood and started walking toward it, intending to put on another log and maybe watch the flames while sipping a glass of bourbon.
“Are you ever going to come to bed? I didn’t get married so I could sleep alone, silly.”
Tom blinked, and unbidden, his mouth gaped open in shock.
She was young, and raven haired, and beautiful, as beautiful as they day they got married, standing at the edge of the living room dressed in a diaphanous nightgown, the one she had modeled for him on their honeymoon, only now, she’d thrown a terry cloth robe over it.
“Who else would it be?”
“I thought…” He reached out for her and saw his right hand was that of a younger man, the man he used to be before he lost all light and hope, before she died. He turned his palm to his face and stared in awe.
She feigned impatience, tapping a bare foot on the hard wood floor. “I’m waiting.” Grace, a living, lovely Grace, cocked one hip, crossed her arms, and smirked, teasing her husband.
“Mommy?” From the other end of the hallway, tiny feet pat-patted toward the woman. She must have been about four, tousled light brown hair, the color of Tom’s before he’d gone gray, wrapped in a blanket and holding a stuffed elephant tightly to her chest.
For the first time, Tom heard Sally whine from her rug by the fireplace (why hadn’t he noticed her before?), then stand and pad over to the child, her tail wagging with affection.
“Hi Sally. Be a good girl and sit,” the girl sleepily commanded.
The dog obediently sat in between Tom and the child, but never took her eyes off of the little girl.
“Mommy? What are you and Daddy doing up so late?”
Grace walked over to her, knelt, and embraced her daughter. “Daddy and I were just talking. I’m sorry if we woke you up.”
“The thunder scared me, and I couldn’t go back to sleep.”
“Well, the storm’s passed now, Peggy. It won’t bother you anymore tonight. It didn’t wake your brother, did it?” Then she looked up at Tom. “You didn’t hear Greggy cry, did you?”
“I was outside.” He gazed dumbly at mother and child. Sally looked at him in puzzlement, echoing Tom’s emotions.
“Looking at the stars again? They are beautiful out here. They’re the reason we both became astronomers.”
Peggy murmured as her face was nuzzled in her mother’s breasts. “Are we going back to Pasadena soon?”
“Don’t you like it here in the desert? We come here every fall to visit your Grandpa and stay at the cabin.”
“Dad’s alive?” It came out as a whisper.
“Tom, what’s wrong with you? Of course he’s alive. We’re having breakfast at his place in town in the morning, that is, if anyone ever goes to bed. You know we stay in the cabin every year because he couldn’t let go of the old place after your Mom…”
“That’s right. Mom died before Dad did.”
“Tom?” Then she looked down at Peggy again. “I’ll take you back to bed, okay?”
“Okay, Mommy. Will Daddy give me a hug?” She looked up at young Tom with tearful eyes.
“Of course I will.” He dropped to his knees at her feet and hugged his wife and daughter as Sally circled them.
“I love you, Daddy.”
Tom began sobbing and barely managed, “I love you too, sweetheart.”
Grace stood up and took Peggy by the hand, then looked back at her husband. “I think we need to talk. I’ll put Peg to bed, check on Greggy, and be right back.” Her expression was more of bewilderment than anger, but he knew he was going to have to give her some sort of explanation. For the life of him, though, he had no idea what he was going to say.
After they disappeared down the dark hallway, he turned and walked out the back door. The patio was icy cold, shocking his nervous system as bare feet touched frozen concrete. He felt Sally press next to him. Somewhere in the night sky, something in the stars looked down at the astronomer as he looked up at it.
“Did you find her, Guatauva? I think you did. I think you found your lost love, just as I have. Now I have to learn to be a husband all over again. Tonight, I’ll learn to be a Dad.”
I wrote this for Thursday photo prompt: Stark #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use one of Sue’s original photos as the prompt for crafting a poem, short story, or other creative work.
The image reminded me of the American southwest, although I can’t imagine it was taken there. I basically made the tale up as I went along. I wanted to use an indigenous peoples thunder god, and Guatauva was the closest thing I could find, a deity of the Taíno people. No, there’s no legend of Guatauva searching the world for a lost love. I made that part up to fit the theme.
Oh, Magdalena, New Mexico is a real place, and although they’re not expecting a rain storm anytime soon, by midnight tonight, the temperature is predicted to be about 37 degrees F (2.77778 degrees C).