Working on the proposal

If you look out of the window in my living room you get a good view of  the Asheville River Arts District’s industrial chic: old warehouses converted to art galleries and coffee shops, bright colors painted on decrepit buildings, graffiti-tagged freight trains rolling ponderously by. The weather here can’t decide what to do with itself. It’s trying to snow but it just can’t quite get cold enough, so it spits ice and rain and coats our cars in rinds of frost. It’s gray and cold and wet: weather I love.

I’m missing it, though. I’m deep in my notebooks, spending time on Mars.

At the moment I’m staying in a wattle and daub hut, and I’m carefully searching out chinks in the walls and sealing them with a muddy paste. Water is precious now but this task is essential. The monsoon season is long over and the sand is dry and loose. Hot winds kick up suddenly out here and continue for days on end. This is sand storm weather. They can roll in over the horizon with breathtaking speed, as big as mountain ranges. But for now the horizon is clear: the sky an ochre smear over the pink desert.

The main colony sheds light a few hundred yards away, Bentley’s Emporium and the Widow Kessler’s new restaurant glowing like Christmas trees in the early evening. One of the mechanical water witches labors by on loose treads, sand grinding in its gears. It will need servicing soon, but there are no more replacement parts. We’ll just have to make do. Somebody will think of something.

When the work here is done I’ll go down to the restaurant and sit at the counter and listen to the people talk. There are two dissolute brothers scheming quietly in a corner. There’s a retired British explorer there who likes to reminisce about the year he spent in Zanzibar. There’s a guy who plays for the Negro Leagues back home, who came here with a barnstorming team and just decided to stay. There’s a thirteen year old kid who just fell in love. And there’s the Widow Kessler, of course, with her strange secret.

I order something from the tap. I don’t have to go back to Asheville anytime soon.


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