Saturday, January 17, 2004
Eight miles from the highway via a twisting dirt road I arrive at a faux-stone McMansion. It sits alone on the side of Langley Hill surrounded by oat grass and the occasional craggy oak. Janelle, who has probably heard the approach of my truck for the last ten minutes, greets me as I step from the cab.
"You made it," she says. "Not everyone does."
Janelle has gray hair in a braid down her back. Near the brand new house is an old barn where I repair copper pipes that their handyman accidentally cut through. Janelle and her husband Gary watch me work and chatter constantly at me, two sweet people, lonely. Upon learning that I'm a published writer, Janelle pumps me with questions. She seems starved for intellectual conversation. Gary, meanwhile, asks about water quality. He's a retired software executive, struck it rich in stock options.
In the fields are no cattle, no horses. A couple of deer are grazing.
It strikes me as odd: they buy 40 acres, build their dream house, a view of sunsets, rolling hills of golden oats, the ocean nine miles away, the country life without livestock or crops — and they can't fix anything. From their chatter it becomes clear that their neighbors frighten them. On one side, a billionaire from Silicon Valley is setting off dynamite, blasting holes in the hillside for wine cellars. On another side, an old rancher shoots any dog that enters his property.
From outside the house I can see a telescope on a tripod next to the vast glass window, facing the fields and ocean. Their great view comes at a cost. They're naked to the weather, exposed to an unrelenting uphill wind bringing fog and chill. As I work, the air screams — literally howls — through cracks in the siding of the barn.
At one point Gary realizes that while he has been talking at me, his wife has wandered away. "Where's Janelle?" he asks.
"I don't know." I'm soldering pipes.
A few seconds later, I hear the honking of my truck. Gary is leaning, reaching through the window, pressing the horn. From deep in the canyon comes an echo, like a ghost truck.
Janelle appears. "I'm here, dear. I just went to the house for a moment."
Gary grasps her. They walk into the howling barn, side by side, clutching hand to hand as I finish my work.