The Unknown: The Red Line.

hen I awoke, there was a worker building a sandbox outside the window. The hostess had warned me that this would happen. I had meant to ask her whether the sandbox was to be intended for children, but I was too overwhelmed by the house, built against the side of a mountain, with its levels of decks and sprawling angular mazelike layout. She had been very kind. Well, she pointed out that I looked terrible, which, I explained, was due to too little sleep and too much travel. I was tempted to take her up on the offer of the hot tub and sauna, but was unfamiliar with such devices.

I had declined on the hot tub and sauna but somehow had made it to the proffered guest bedroom where I lay in a fine bed—much nicer than the one at the hotel—but didn't sleep. Rather, I cried. Then, for awhile, I thrashed in violent rage. Then I sank into something resembling sleep. I dreamt, but I was awake. The solitude and warmth were a great comfort to me. In packing for the tour, which I had been dreading for weeks, to Seattle and then to Texas, I had chosen clothing more appropriate for Texas. As a result, I found myself suddenly in Seattle at 2 a.m. this morning without a single article of warm clothing or jacket. Being underneath the comforter helped.

Finally the exhaustion and emotional excesses had passed, and I lay there, listening to more people arrive upstairs. The house's upper level was the entrance. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't stay here forever, in the guest room, or perhaps I could. I stared at the photographs above the bed and tried to organize my thoughts. Tonight I was going to be exposed to rich people. The woman who was so nice to me was rich. I was obviously conflicted on many levels. The photographs above the bed, taken by the woman, were of Indonesian people, farmers, peasants, carrying giant bags on their heads. The woman, a photographer, made her living selling the photographs. I wondered whether the subjects of the photographs—the poor, colorful, lovely exotic Indonesians—were paid for being photographic subjects. These photos—very big enlargements—were mounted in incredible hand-carved wooden frames. They were extremely ornate. Again, my thoughts moved from aesthetic to political, wondering who had carved the frames. Were they purchased from craftsmen in Indonesia, used to frame photographs of Indonesian peasants, then sold at a marked-up price to Americans? And what was in the bags the peasants were carrying on their heads in a long procession down the rainy street? Crops, perhaps. And did those crops belong to the peasants or were the peasants working for larger interests, perhaps an American agribusiness?

Obviously I was looking at things all wrong. So this was Redmond. Would the photographer have let these peasants into her home and offered them her guestroom, as she had me? Accepting generosity was always difficult for me on many levels. There was the fact that I couldn't return it, having no house or guestroom. There was the fact that I didn't think I deserved it, both because I considered myself to be more closely related to the peasants than the woman, and also because of thoughts like these which, if voiced, might certainly have made me an unwelcome visitor. Finally, it was tempting to believe that I didn't need anyone to give me anything, that I could take care of myself and eat and sleep properly. But that was obviously not the case. I tried to remember, for the umpteenth time, the sequence of events that had resulted in my agreeing to come here. A sequence in which a mistake had passed unnoticed. Can the loser of the card game reconstruct the entire game in reverse, removing each card from the deck, comparing the hands she had with the other hands, and determine exactly when she lost the game, when she made the wrong move such that defeat became unavoidable?

I left the guest bedroom and went out into the room where the reading would be.  Quorum of empty folding chairs sat around tableclothed tables, a screen on one wall. Leather couches mingled with the folding chairs. It occurred to me again that I had no idea who these people were. Nor they me. But they existed and I did not. By agreeing to come on this trip, I had driven myself a notch deeper into debt. I was below poverty, a negative person. Nevertheless here I was, and when I stepped outside through a sliding glass door onto the lowest deck, the worker building the sandbox didn't return my greeting. Nor did I blame him. I was clearly drifting, for today, through the margin between two different worlds, belonging to neither, racking my brains with introspection if only to prove to myself, for my own satisfaction, that I did exist. I sat on the edge of a stepped garden plot, each plot held in place by wooden walls, and stared out over pine trees and mountains, beauty, not noticeably spoiled, owned by the new rich. The sun had come out and I was able to accept its generous warmth without conflict. But I knew I had to face the people, and so went back in. 


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The Unknown at Spineless Books.