Bad Seed: Chapter Six

Plumes of white steam rose from the mineral hot spring pools, swirled in the light breeze, and caught the early morning light as the sun moved from the plains to the high country of Colorado. As a hotel guest, Lena had the run of the hot springs pools before the doors opened to the public in a few hours. She wandered the fifteen small pools which looked like over-sized hot tubs made by artisans with native stones and minerals mined from the surrounding peaks of the San Juan Mountains. On the deck of the smallest pools, she dropped her notebook, robe, and plush hotel towel onto a nearby lounge chair, slid off the dollar store flip-flops she bought the night before, and sat on the edge of the pool overlooking the San Juan River. She dipped her feet into the steaming water. The warmth entered the soles of her weary feet and rushed up to calm her spinning brain. She slid into the pool, submerging her body, then her head. Lena listened to the lub-dub of her heart echo through the calm water. 

With a renewed sense of calm, she doggy paddled to the edge of the pool, and took in her surroundings as if for the first time. Pink morning light licked the impressive and rugged San Juan Mountain peaks. Huge columns of steam billowed out of the hot spring pools and created a foggy, dream-like atmosphere. This was much better than wandering the Denver convention halls: politely laughing at lame chemistry jokes and deftly deflecting the clumsy flirting of her business competitors. She’d flown into Denver the day before, picked up her rental car, and drove past her hotel and the Denver convention center where she was booked for the American Chemical Society Spring Meeting. Tomorrow night, she was supposed to give the keynote address: The Future of Agribusiness in the Post Chemical Era. Or some such bullshit.

The speech was rehearsed and the notecards tucked into her briefcase. Her suit pressed. Shoes polished. But her heart wasn’t in it. There was nothing particularly thrilling about better living through chemistry or being the supermarket to the world or advancing human development one field at a time. It was capitalism run amok no matter how lofty or humanitarian the mission statement, it was all about the bank account balance.

She rolled onto her back and floated face up in the small pool. The infinite dome of blue sky above her seemed a good limit to let her mind wander over future possibilities. She needed a solid plan before broaching the subject with her husband and business partner. She could drive back to Denver and give her speech as her swan song. But even that felt like a lie. There was no Post Chemical Era in agribusiness and anyone who stood at a podium declaring such was a damn fool and a liar. Agriculture seeds sold in the United States were miracles of biotechnology and chemical engineering. 

Lena needed a pool like this at home: rocks from a native quarry, large hot tub with salt instead of chlorine and views of the landscape that inspired Grant Wood. Plenty of people had hot tubs or meditation temples on their property. This would be the combination of both. What could she accomplish with a quieter, more focused mind?

She dunked her head again and held herself under for as long as possible. When she broke the surface, she held the entire vision of the renovation in her mind’s eye. She’d put in three tubs: one at this temperature, one much hotter, then a cold plunge pool. Tony Robbins had a cold plunge pool–he was nearly the epitome of enlightenment–and he swore by the Finnish practice, something about lactic acid build up in the muscles. Maybe they could also build a sauna in a small bath house on the property. 

Lena climbed out of the pool and the chill of the spring morning quickly wrapped around her. She pulled on the hotel robe, pulled her wet hair up in the towel and found a quiet corner of the terrace overlooking the hot spring pools and the San Juan River. A tiny outcropping of rock that overlooked the river and stood apart from the rest of the pools and lounge chairs. She stretched out on a lounge chair and opened the Clairefontaine dot grid notebook that, in some form, had been her daily companion for over twenty years. She flipped to the perforated pages in the back and began drawing out her vision for the veranda she would build on the back of her Iowa home. She spent a pleasant half hour drawing her vision of her new spa backyard with pools and waterfalls. Although her doodles were elementary, she saw it all in her head. This drawing and planning was a distraction from her current predicament, but she was happy for the diversion. 

She pulled her cell phone from the plush pocket of her robe, texted her assistant in Denver to cancel her appearance due to illness. With the recent resurgence of COVID, the end of flu season, and RSV keeping hospitals and clinics full across the country, the lie was believable. Lena then called her husband. 

“Ready for your speech?” Walter asked after they exchanged hellos and morning pleasantries. 

“Not feeling myself, so I canceled,” Lena said. Lying to her assistant was one thing, but honesty within her marriage was sacrosanct. She sat up straighter and adjusted the towel on her head like she was about to address a jury.

“You alright?” he asked. She heard a faint click over the line and knew that he’s closed his laptop and was listening with rapt attention. 

“Not really.” Lena let the truth hang in the silence for a long moment. “I’m watching this amazing sunrise in the Rockies and you’re sitting in your office dreading your day.” 

Walter sighed. 

“Toby starts on Monday, right?” 

“Yeah.” Lena knew her husband well enough to know that his terse answers weren’t dismissive, rather he was attentive. 

“I want to come back here on Labor Day and share this place with you.” Although framed as desire, the simple sentence was the closest she’d come to issuing an ultimatum in their fifteen year marriage. 

After another long pause, Walter said, “I hear you.”

Boo Boo

The Harlequin Great Dane was maybe two years old and almost grown into his over-sized puppy paws. His massive head bigger than a basketball with quizzical deep brown eyes. Porter admired the dog’s unblemished gray coat.

“I guess I’ve taken to calling him Boo Boo,” Jo said as she shrugged.

“Isn’t he yours?” Porter asked.

“Naw. He just showed up last night. Now he won’t leave my side.”

“If he’s Boo Boo, does that make you Yogi?” Porter asked.

“Maybe. But Boo Boo was the smart one. Yogi was a con man.”

“Interesting spin on the pursuit of pic-a-nic baskets.”

Excerpt

“Bundled in his heavy farm coat, wool cap and heavy mittens, Rudy left the warm confines of the homeless shelter. The wheat sculpture was unrecognizable under several inches of snow. He walked in the same direction he and Otto trekked a few days prior. The unplowed snow was knee-deep and still coming down as he trudged on. As he broke a trail in the snow, he thought of his animals on the farm and hoped his father put them all in the barn to survive the night.

“A layer of ice remained hidden under the snow. The first snow of the season was always the wettest and this was no exception. His thick, wool socks were no match for the frigid snowmelt soaking into his boots.

“The hike that had taken him and Otto only fifteen minutes was approaching an hour when he reached the first structure buried in the snow. Rudy had never seen snowfall like this. He’d heard his father and other old farmers talk about thundersnow like it was a mystical act of God. Trudging through waist-deep drifts as he crossed from the industrial complex while listening to thunder rumble and boom with the staccato flashes of lightning, Rudy decided Dante got it wrong all those years ago. Hell’s address was more north than south: more ice than fire. Sinners needed a parka rather than sunscreen. “

White Hell, Chapter 61

Homeless

“Men from the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus stood at varying distances down Ninth Street. Several smoked, some fidgeted with their tattered overcoats and others stood like statues dedicated to the disenfranchised, but none of them talked or interacted. On the other side of the street, women scurried down the block leaving their office jobs and headed for their cars parked on the southern reaches of downtown. 

“Abby preferred to keep her ostrich head in the sand and oblivious of mankind’s perversions. Predatory and uncivilized, men on one side of the street set to pounce while their quarry ran from tree to tree with heads bowed in fear. She imagined Rudy escorting her down the street, guiding her away from puddles and opening doors. 

“Rose and Abby strode down the male side of the street. Several men nodded a greeting, two even said Rose’s name like she was a local celebrity — famous among the destitute. Rose walked with head held high against the freezing rain that misted around them. Abby felt like she was walking down the high school hallways with some of the popular girls. For some reason, this put her at ease like popularity equated to security, but it also made her yearn for the banality of school. Abby longed for fourth period chemistry or even fifth period physics. She’d even welcome the horror of gym class. But routine made her easy prey as she considered Aidan stalking the high school hallways. “

White Hell, Chapter 23