Inherit the Wild

    Isabella was surprised at how quickly darkness fell and how complete it was. The silence that accompanied it was gone soon enough and replaced with the night sounds common to the Arizona desert. Howls and chirps and hoots and clicks. None being those she was familiar with. Her arrogance had betrayed her before but never to this degree. 

The other guests at the luxury dude ranch were probably toasting her absence right now and offering cutting remarks at her expense, but then she deserved it. Saying those things to Frank at the wagon wheel inspired dinner table was cruel and caused everyone in the room a great deal of discomfort. Isabella took pleasure in her ability to make people squirm. It gave her a sense of power over others that she loved.

It was someone bringing up the topic of age that sparked the powder. She hated talking about age. She hated that she was born in the last century. It sounded so ancient to have been born in 1899. She only missed the turn by 2 months but that was enough. Although she was stunning for 45, she would have nothing to do with that subject and the easiest way to change it was to attack Frank’s shortcomings. And that was something she did without effort and all too often.

But Frank and the others she’d walked out on were safe and warm now and having drinks in front of an over-sized fire, listening to Gene Autry sing “Back in The Saddle Again” through speakers disguised as barrel cactus, and she was lost and getting more lost with every step. She was getting cold too. The Arizona desert has a chill at night. Especially if you’re wearing a cocktail dress and left the matching wrap in your private bungalow.

Her plan was to have a walk around the perimeter of the ranch to replay the conversation leading to her stormy exit, and see if there was anything more biting she could have added, but she became too swept up in her performance to notice the wrong turn she made at the path near the staff’s quarters. And now her growing fear was causing her feet to move faster as though trying to match her quickening pulse. Deeper and deeper into the desert she hurried not even paying attention to the gravel and dirt invading her open toed slings of white python.

Most people walk in circles when lost, but Isabella had never been like most people. She walked in a straight line away from civilization and ended up in a maze of winding gullies that went nowhere. The terrain that water had not carved out was scattered with cactus and mesquite trees and unattractive bushes. She finally stopped moving with the hope of hearing a familiar sound; maybe music or a distant car. There were only unfamiliar sounds that caused the dread in her chest to grow heavier. It only took 30 minutes of being lost in the desert to strip her of the power and control she’d worn so recently. Then she did the unthinkable for her; she called out for help.

“Hello? Can anyone hear me? I think I’m lost!”

Her only answer was a far away yipping of coyotes that sent a chill down her already cold and exposed spine.

“Hello?” louder this time allowing her panic to color the word.

“Please, can anyone hear me?” at the top of her lungs.

Nothing but the sound of something small scurrying from one scrubby bush to the next. She’d never felt so powerless. Why did she agree to this stupid trip, she thought. A dude ranch at the edge of the Superstition mountains is the last place she would have expected to go, but Frank pleaded so.

“Please Izzy” he said. “If only you’ll do this for me, maybe we could still...”

He didn’t finish but he didn’t have to. She knew what he meant. He’d put up with her longer than any man should have and was nearing the end of his marital rope. His serious demeanor landed and she felt obliged to concede.

“Alright” she said. “But I’m not going to enjoy it ”. She did however think it might give her fodder for snide comments with her girlfriends when she got back to New York. Sipping champagne at the Waldorf, all wearing hats that matched the architecture, trading barbs and gossip.

The coyotes yipped again, this time closer.

“Help me please! Can anyone hear me?”

“Hello” she heard. It was a man’s voice. Not very far away.

“Yes, yes I’m here!” she said. “Please help me!” Her excitement caused her to choke a little. Her feet made short quick moves turning her in circles letting her search the darkness for her rescuer.

“I’m here!” she said again.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find you.” The voice answered.

“Yes, yes please hurry. I’m here! Shall I keep talking? Do you want me to keep talking? Hello? Hello!?” No answer. “Are you still there? Please say something?”

Still nothing. She felt more alone now than she did before hearing the voice. She felt abandoned as well and kept calling out for another full minute with no response.

“What could have possibly happened?” she wondered. Could he be as lost as she was, and wandered away from her instead of toward her? “Certainly he’ll keep looking until he finds me”. She thought.

Frank was finding solace in his third Crown Royal Manhattan and the company of strangers. It was an exciting time to be alive with the war just ending. And the rumors that Hitler had taken his own life, along with atomic bombs going off made for great fireside talk among people just getting to know each other. He was beginning to feel quite comfortable with these new friends and they all seemed genuinely compassionate toward him because of the earlier scene. He wasn’t planning on going back to the bungalow anytime soon.

“Another Manhattan please” he said to the passing waiter in a western cut tuxedo.

Isabella stood shivering in the dark unsure of what to do next. She knew what to do next 33 years ago when at the age of 12 she escaped from an orphanage responsible for 6 years of abuse. But not now. She knew what to do next 6 years later when she was released from the New Jersey State  juvenile correctional facility. But not now. Now she was crying under a moonless sky trying just to decide whether to keep walking or stand still.

“Hello!” The man’s voice again.

“Hello! Yes I’m here! Please help me! Please! I’m over here!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find you.”

“ Yes, I know, you said that before and then I think you must have gotten lost yourself! Is that what happened? How can I help?.... Hello? Please answer me! Are you there?”

No one answered. Now a cruel fist began squeezing her heart and her stomach. She couldn’t understand what was happening. Why was he not answering. The coyotes howled again, this time nearer than before.

Frank twirled the maraschino cherry by its’ stem between his thumb and forefinger, dipped it in and out of it’s royal bath and twirled again. His new friends had all coupled off to their respective bungalows leaving him to tend the fire by himself. Staring through the flames, unaware of the tiny cocktail drops he was twirling on to his white dinner jacket, he searched for a reason to care about his marriage. It wouldn’t have been children. They had none. Isabella made her position known on that subject from the beginning. She was straightforward if nothing else.

“The world these days is no place for children” she would say. “There are far too many as it is.”

She never shared the details of her childhood but he had a good idea of what she’d been through and how it played into her feelings about children and everything else for that matter. She didn’t like weakness in people and yet she needed it to maintain her control over them. She used others’ weaknesses against them while keeping hers locked up far away. Until now. Now hers bled through her taut ivory skin and were exposing a frightened child with a dark past.

She began moving again. Not in any particular direction, just wherever there was nothing in her way. She’d left any semblance of a path long ago. The coyote’s howls lifted her briefly from the mild shock she had taken on and she plodded along faster. There was now a constant pathetic groan living in her throat. She came to a gully that sliced her path and chose to half stumble and half slide down its’ 10 foot bank. She found a gravelly sand at the bottom that hurt her feet to walk on. She didn’t remember losing her shoes but her raw feet were now bare which brought to mind that silly “Desert Diarama” exhibit in the lobby of the main ranchhouse that showed all of the different poisonous snakes in the area and warned against ever walking about at night. The hideous display also showed scorpions, tarantulas and one stuffed coyote with its’ teeth bared. “What a nasty looking creature” she remembered thinking. Now that image threatened her with every howl.

“Help me, please help me.” She whimpered not loud enough even for someone standing right next to her to hear.

“Hello!” The mans voice again, this time it seemed nearer or louder and now there was something familiar in it’s tone like she’d heard it somewhere before.

“Hello!” she said. “Who are you? Why cant’ you find me? I’m right here!”

“Don’t worry I’ll find you.”

“I don’t believe you!” she spit out between sobs. “You keep saying that and then you go away! Why can’t you find me?”

Her final plea fell into the rocky sand and was answered with silence.

Frank drifted from one moment in their relationship to the next and remembered what drew him to Izzy. She was wild and raw and powerful. All traits that he lacked. She was 10 years younger than he and knew exactly what she wanted. She’d also been married and divorced twice before turning 29 and had profited greatly from both ventures. She learned early on how to use her natural beauty and man made charm to attract men of wealth. He knew that was why she was drawn to him but he didn’t care.

His family owned several steel mills in the east and it was his job to run the finances. She’d say things like “You make steel and I’ll steal what you make” and then laugh and he knew she meant it but he still fell for her. They were married on her 30th birthday. It was October 30th, 1929, the day after the stock market crashed. She moved the date up from December 25th that very morning. Her original plan being to upstage Jesus, but with the crash she was offered the chance to thumb her nose at the world and say “Look at me, I don’t need Wall Street”. And she didn’t. She didn’t have stocks or investments. She had money, and lots of it. And Frank loved her.

Frank hadn’t moved in almost 2 hours now and was being lulled to sleep by Bob Wills’ fiddle as Isabella was being dragged further still into despair. The shock that flirted with her earlier grabbed her by the throat now and was shaking any remaining fight onto the gully floor. The howling and yipping was close enough now that she could also make out growls and squeals but she didn’t care. She dropped to her knees in submission.

“Hello!” It was the voice, returning to deliver another round of torment.

“Stop it!” she screamed. “Stop saying that! Stop calling to me!

She was rocking forward and backward on her hands and knees in rythym with her sobbing, fists clenching handfuls of dirt and sand, head hanging between her shoulders. She was done. That’s when the memory she spent most of her life trying to keep out, breached the walls and overwhelmed her. The fire that chased her down the corridors of the textile mill where her father worked, roaring like a monster, reaching for her at every turn. The black acrid smoke stealing the light and violating her young lungs. And her father’s desperate searching voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll find you!” he said. She collapsed from the smoke and came to in the arms of a short stocky mill worker named Helen who was standing in the street staring at the block long inferno with the others that made it out. Izzy’s father was not among them. She was used to being held by the women of the mill, with her own mother having died during childbirth, but no amount of holding or sympathetic words could comfort her.

“Your daddy’s gone dear” Helen said “and you’ll have to be a very strong little girl now.”

She knew what gone meant, and she didn’t want to be strong. She wanted to cry.

One final violent sob into the sand and she passed out.

Carl’s maintenance uniform looked as out of place as it felt in the main lounge of the Lost Dutchman Dude Ranch, but he needed to find Frank. Frank was almost asleep in the large chocolate suede club chair when Carl’s hand gripped his shoulder. He whispered something to Frank that jolted him to sobriety and out the main entrance behind Carl in the direction of the staff’s quarters and the desert’s edge.

“I told you not to hurt her!” Frank said.

“I didn’t!” said Carl. “I didn’t touch her. I just scared her, but she started screaming and passed out in the bottom of a gully.”

“And you just left her there?

“I didn’t know what to do” Carl said, “and there were a bunch of coyotes out there so I thought I better come find you,”

“Oh my God” Frank whispered as he hurried behind Carl past the poolhouse, past the stables and into the desert. “What have I done?”

What Frank had done was follow after his wife earlier with the intention of demanding an apology. But not quite having the courage he needed, he laid back far enough that she didn’t notice him. When he saw her turn the wrong way and into the desert he froze, thinking she’d realize her mistake and turn around but she didn’t. Then he saw Carl locking an equipment shed nearby and the years of emotional abuse he’d suffered triggered his next move. He offered Carl a hundred dollars to go out and scare his wife. Carl didn’t like the idea at all but an extra hundred swayed him.

“Don’t hurt her” Frank said. “Just scare her.”

Then he told Carl to use the phrase “Don’t worry, I’ll find you.”  He’d remembered that from reading the story of the fire and her father’s death in her diary years ago looking for a reason for her cruelty. He had no idea of the damage it would cause.Then he hurried back inside and told the others his wife said she didn’t want to deal with his insecurities right now, which brought more sympathy.

But now, hurrying through the desert to find her, he was sick with guilt and shame and worry for someone he once loved.

As Frank and Carl neared the gully that held her they could hear movement and

yips and growls, and reaching the edge they made out 10 to 15 coyotes moving around something 10 feet below them. The scene was made all the more disturbing by it’s being mostly obscured by darkness. They slid down the bank yelling, scattering the nasty animals and there lay Isabella. Unconcious but untouched. The coyotes had been there for at least 20 minutes now and hadn’t harmed her. As though they recognized a part of her. The wild part. They were connected to her somehow and had been, on some level, watching over her. Frank scooped her from the sand like a broken doll and rushed her to safety. She didn’t regain conciousness until the next afternoon and from that day on Frank never left her side. She was never the same after that. The wild part of her remained on a gully floor at the foot of the Superstitions. That was the part Frank was initially attracted to but the vulnerable side that exposed itself now drew Frank in even more than the wild. He never told her what he’d done that night.

They did find happiness together, and although a bit late in life, they were blessed with a child the following year which brought them even more happiness. It was a girl and they named her Coyote. She was married and divorced twice before turning 29 and profited greatly from both ventures.