Lee’s house was much nicer inside than it appeared from the outside, although his housekeeping left something to be desired. Dirty dishes and used teacups were everywhere, as were stacks of books on subjects ranging from hard science to Eastern mysticism to the Kennedy assassination. There was also a wide selection of Classic Literature, from The Brothers Karamazov to Moby-Dick to Gravity’s Rainbow. An old, lopsided gray cat eyed me cautiously from a corner.
“Sorry, I don’t do much entertaining,” he said as he cleared some papers off a chair to make a place for me to sit. There was something new in the way he carried himself, but I didn’t know what to call it. There was a grace to it, but then he had always been graceful; this was something different.
Lee offered me a cup of tea and I accepted without stopping to think that hot tea was the last thing I wanted in this climate. It was even hotter inside than out and I could feel the sweat gleaming on my forehead, but Lee looked cool and comfortable. I found this highly annoying. Heat makes me cranky.
Nothing was said as Lee heated the water and put the tea in to steep. I was trying to think of a polite way to ask what the hell he was doing here, but fortunately he saved me the trouble.
“I bet you’re wondering what I’m doing here.”
I nodded. “The thought had crossed my mind.”
“I sometimes wonder myself. Well, the first part is easy to explain. Last Thanksgiving I decided to come out to the desert, get away from everybody and everything, just do some thinking. I was hating my job. Hating it. That place was just money, money, money…the share prices, the stockholders, the competition. Nobody cared about what we were actually doing.
“It was my own fault, really. I had no business there in the first place. But after all the wandering, I wanted some stability, some security….
“Anyway, I drove out on Thanksgiving Day and set up camp at a spot just a couple of miles from here.” He gestured vaguely toward the window. “It was great. Peaceful. By Saturday I had forgotten most of what was bothering me, but I was dreading having to go back. That night I went for a walk.”
He paused to locate two clean teacups and fill them. “I haven’t told anybody else this story and I know it’s going to sound weird. I’m still not really sure what happened. Promise you won’t think I’m nuts?”
This was very unlike Lee. He had always been totally sure of himself; if you disagreed with him, you were wrong, and that was that. I recognized now what was new in his manner: a sense of humility.
“OK,” he said, smiling and sipping his tea. I watched his eyes roll up and to the left as he accessed his memory. “I went out for a walk. There was no moon, and I’d never seen the stars look so clear. But it was cold, and getting colder. I was just starting to think about turning back when I felt this…warmth.”
There was a catch in his voice as he said the last word, and I tried to meet his eyes but he was far away now, completely in the moment.
“It was like being gathered up in your mother’s arms. Or like walking through a door into a warm house, hearing a fire crackling inside, smelling soup in the kitchen. I just suddenly felt completely safe.
“Then I looked up and there was a light in the sky.”