Blue Cottage Life
The air was changing Clare tugged her zipper to the tip of her teal Patagonia fleece, knowing it was too light to offer any more protection. In a few weeks it would be retired to the back of her closet, abandoned til spring to wait out the snow. But for now, she stood at the edge of the canyon and looked. A cold wind whipped and howled around her face, netting her eyes and cheeks with strands of long dark hair. The sun threatened to disappear before she could get home, but she had no fear. This was her canyon. This fed her soul. She knew her way back in the dark.
Jogging back down the ridge, keeping her breath even and pacing her steps, Clare made sure to watch her footing. This was no place to twist an ankle, no one would be passing by to help. As she neared the bottom, the last of the sun had just disappeared over her shoulder behind the mountain ridge. It cast a hazy purple shadow over the small, sleepy town, and the streetlights were just starting to flicker on. All dozen of them. She walked the rest of the way, reaching the road and cooling down as always by the time she reach her place.
The small blue cottage was hardly something to write home about, faded by the high desert sun and thoroughly absent of all modern updates. But to Clare it would suffice. It was just enough to meet what little needs she had.
The lights were off, telling her that Holly had not yet made it home and would probably be out for the evening. Much more the socialite than Clare, her roommate seemed to find plenty of activities to occupy herself in the tiny Colorado town. Most of which weren’t advertised in the brochures.
Dinner would be simple, as usual. She stretched out her legs, showered off the sweat, and yanked her faithful George Foreman grill out of it’s resting place under the sink. She and George. They had dined together on countless occasions, and tonight would be no different. Salmon, light and pink. She placed the fish steak on the grill, careful to watch it for just enough time, then covered it with lemon juice and cracked pepper. Healthy. Respectable. Far from gourmet. Clare didn’t like to cook, but she liked going hungry even less, so she made do. For the rest of her supper she would rinse and shred lettuce, chop a cucumber to top it, and drizzle it with her favorite poppy seed dressing. Dressing so good it seemed to be apologizing for the salad it had to cover.
The cooling house temperature was enough to encourage Clare to grab a book and snuggle down in bed early. Warming up beneath the thick, lumpy, familiar quilts she’d brought when she moved here from Iowa, Clare was comforted by her grandmother’s handiwork. Not quite time to turn on the heat in the house, but getting close. Perhaps next week. Clare always waited as long as possible in the fall.
A relentantless ring pierced the darkness and woke Clare out of a dreamless sleep.
“Clare. Clarie! It’s me, your favorite roomie!” Holly droned into the phone. “Clarie, I need a favor. Me and my friend were just up here having some fun and I lost my keys in the dark. Can you come up here ‘en get us?”
Bleary-eyed, Clare squinted at the clock. Three-thirty on the morning, and Holly was drunk.
“Where are you?” Clare questioned flatly.
“We’re just up at Boggy Draw… not far. A couple miles past the alpacas, and you’ll see the bug.” Holly assured. “Can you hurry, Clarie? It’s cold up here, and I don’t have a coat!” She was whining now. Like a mosquito humming around her face while she drove, nothing made Clare crazier than drunk whiny women. Especially when they they live with you.
“I’m coming. But this is the last time, Holly I mean it! ” Clare replied with unmasked irritation. Who doesn’t bring a jacket when heading up the mountain? Colorado is cold at night, every night, all year. Period. What was she thinking? But Clare knew. Having grown up all her life in small town Sheffield, Iowa, Holly was dying to be a city girl. To wear the skimpy clothes, parade the flesh, and follow the fashion trends. The only problem was that Holly never actually made it to anyplace with an urban pulse. Hardly paved Dolores, Colorado was not the place for slinky skirts, tube tops, and stiletto heels. It wasn’t all that different from Sheffield. Dolores boasted less than three official clothing stores, and they mostly contained hemp infused hiking apparel or generic tourist garb. If so inclined, one could hoof it over to Cortez, 15 minutes away and 1,000 feet lower in elevation, but the results would be about the same. The most notable advantage being the new Super Wal-Mart.
Fifteen minutes later, Holly’s tasseled leather jacket on the passenger seat beside her, Clare was cruising through the dark. Half staring into the woods for her inane roommate, half looking ahead for deer or elk in the middle of the road, Clare reminded herself it was rutting season. She wondered who Holly’s “friend” could be this time. In a town with no stoplights or chain restaurants, Holly certainly managed to meet plenty of new people. Mostly a result of being a beer maid at the Mountain Bar, one of two very different drinking establishments in Dolores. The other, the Dolores River Brew Pub, was far more “outdoorsy family” oriented, and drew the liberal academic sorts with kids. No doubt Clare’s latest pick-up was another granola-breathed drifter, just hiking through. There was a chance he was a cycler, or one of the extreme sports type, blowing through town to bike a few trails, or having just climbed the red rocks of Moab. Either way, he’ll be gone tomorrow, and that was the way Clare preferred it.
“Took you long enough!” Holly’s voice echoed through the dark, haunting, woods as Clare stopped the SUV in the middle of the dirt road. She hated the dark, and didn’t get out. Holly snatched the passenger door open and scrambled in laughing as she sat on the jacket Clare brought her, ignoring it completely. A man Clare had never seen before, with a backpack full of what sounded like empty wine bottles and a blanket bunched up under his arm, shamelessly climbed into the back of the Rav-4.
“This is Erik -with a K!” Holly explained with a quick thumb jerk towards the back seat “He’s a road biker from Salt Lake. I brought him up here to show him our stars.”
“They don’t have stars in Utah?” Clare muttered under her breath.
“Great to meetcha”, Erik launched in. “Thanks for coming to get us. Holly must have dropped her keys while we were collecting wood. We tried to make a fire, but it didn’t work so well. Then we couldn’t find them in the dark. Anyway, I can’t believe she even has cell phone reception up here, isn’t that crazy?!”
“Alltell!” Holly chirped, proud of her service provider.
“Amazing. You know there’s a fire ban…”, Clare trailed off but nobody was listening. She turned her silver Rav-4 around and headed back down the mountain. Holly would have to hitch a ride back tomorrow with one of her many followers to retrieve her pink Volkswagen Bug.
“It’s a good thing you came when you did” Holly slurred with enthusiasm, “We heard coyotes, and they were coming this way!” Yep, Clare thought, and I hear they prefer inebriated blondes.
Flicking her eyes to size Erik up in the rear view, Clare recognized the lanky, wiry build, typical of cyclists. Erik fit the profile of the stubble faced, tight-shorted, men who rode through town on their way to find that ultimate trail. Or in training for the famous Leadville race. “So, Erik with a K” Clare began, “where are we dropping you off?” “Oh,” Erik stumbled, clearly thinking he would be riding home with Holly, “Um, I’m staying with my friend at the KOA”. Niiiice, Clare thought to herself, who considered KOA’s the K-mart of the camping experience, and hung a left at the Dolores Hwy.
After discarding Erik, Clare headed home. The moon was high in the inky night sky, and reflected brightly off the Dolores River, which was snaking silently along the road. There were too many trees in the way for Clare to see it, but she knew the scene was there, and the night felt familiar. Clare just passed the closed Koenig hardware, pulled over to the right, and parked in front of the ramshackle blue cottage tucked under the rock face. She roused a now passed-out Holly from the passenger seat, looped her muscular arm around Holly’s slender waist, and drug her wobbly carcass in the house. Holly had always been the lighter of the two. Clare had the stronger, more muscular build, and Holly the curvier, wispy, hour glass figure that society worshiped. Clare never competed with Holly, but preferred to focus her efforts elsewhere. Who has the time? There were better things in life to strive for.
Neither of them spoke, the routine was familiar. Clare shuffled Holly back to the smaller of the two rooms in the tiny cottage. She unbuckled the straps of Holly’s black platform wedges, yanked them off and rolled her under the covers. Heading back to bed she’d be lucky to get another hour of sleep before work. Clare dreaded these nights. The calls in the dark, the fishing for and retrieving of her intoxicated roommate, the responsible big sister routine. But somewhere in her heart, deep inside, Clare felt sorry for Holly. Floundering about inside, searching fruitlessly for direction and happiness in every dead end decision she made. Being two years older, Clare felt the need to look out for Holly. They were closer friends when they were younger, even if they had been drifting apart lately. People change, and not all friendships are meant to last forever. “Should at least get paid for being her nurse,” Clare mumbled as she sank into bed.
Sunday morning dawned gray and dreary. A light rain was misting the windows, blurring the houses outside. Clare took no extra precautions to be quiet while getting dressed. Partly to punish Holly for yet another night of poorly timed favors, but mostly because she knew Holly would never hear her. The girl could sleep through a bomb going off, and seldom arose before noon on these “mornings after”.
Clare dressed quickly in a calf-length khaki skirt, green cable knit sweater, and calf height brown leather boots. She stopped at the Dolores Food Market for her traditional Sunday morning breakfast, a fresh baked chocolate bran muffin with a Blue Sky Cola (her one vice), then got back on the road.
Clare pulled into the divot laden gravel parking lot half-way through the first song, sliding in next to Charli just as the music swelled. Charli shot a smirk Clare’s way, then shifted her gaze back to the words on the screen. The building surrounding them was a simple quonset hut, looking like half of a soup can from the road and the inside of a casket from indoors. But no one paid it much mind, too much life going on inside to worry about appearances. Proof that community blooms where it’s fostered, regardless of the setting.
“Late night?” Charli asked on their walk to the parking lot after the service. “Not by choice,” Clare retorted. “Where was Holly this time?” Charli questioned unsurprised.
“Boggy Draw. Escorting one of Utah’s finest to a spectacular view of the stars. Thank the Lord she lost her keys, or I’m sure she would have driven them both over the edge of the mountain.”
“That’s a little scary. Did you get around to ever mentioning her drinking to her?”
“You mean you don’t hear the screaming from your place?”
“Well, at least she pays her rent on time.”
“Yeah, until she wrecks her Bug and ends up in jail.” Clare stated wryly.”Where to for lunch?”
“Dolores Cafe?” Charli suggested.
“Works for me”.