Monte Cristo Memory (written years ago)
A small item in the local newspaper had major significance some months ago. The Lodge at Monte Cristo had burnt to the ground. Undoubtedly arson. Or carelessness. Ten sentences reduced Monte Cristo to rubble and somewhere out in the world, some pallid, feverish man with faded eyes was sitting in the back booth of a bar playing with matches, feeling at last that he has achieved significance. At least, I am almost certain it was such a man or perhaps a group of clammy-palmed boys high on booze or drugs or perhaps it was even the group of sinister men I saw rolling down an old dirt road in a car the color of blood stains.
News of the fire kept me away for a while. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking to the end of the road and seeing the place leveled. I had known happiness at Monte Cristo and shared that happiness with others. I still have the green T-shirt I bought there on my first visit as a tourist that says “Monte Cristo” in yellow letters. The only other shirt I have with words on it is one a friend gave me when I stopped drinking that reads, “Blue Moon Tavern.” That, of course, is another story and here, not relevant.
What comes to mind when I remember Monte Cristo is the way the Lodge looked at night. One night in particular, I couldn’t sleep and stood outside the cabin we had rented, looking up toward the stars as if the stars had a message for me. I believed in messages in those days. I thought if I looked long enough I would find the words that could change my life.
The night was very dark and the stars were very bright. The Lodge was lit up from within and JR, caretaker of the Lodge, was silhouetted against a warm, yellow window writing in his journal. It was the only light in the world. If I were high on acid, I could easily see JR as God, sitting in the light at the center of the world, keeping the darkness at bay. Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, they say. JR did it with kerosene lanterns. JR made light in a dark world. JR also kept the water running, the generator working, made sure there were cracked but usable plates in the rented cabins. He’d turned one of the buildings into a free school and at one time had a few pupils.
The Lodge was overrun with children, animals and tourists rattling maps and asking the same questions over and over “How far is Sunday Falls?” “Is there really gold here?” but JR kept a revolver in his desk drawer. There’d been trouble in the past and probably would be again. Drunks from Granite Falls would come in sometimes late at night looking for trouble. This was before the road washed out, of course. After the road was closed to vehicles most of the drunks stayed in Granite Falls.
This particular night I stood outside the Lodge and felt the warm peace within and JR’s gentle head outlined against the light. How had he achieved it? What tools had he used to find such peace? What did he have to leave behind to stay in Monte Cristo? How high the price he had to pay? What was I doing wrong that I had to keep leaving the mountains and returning to the city?
That night the Lodge looked like a perfect little world, running flawlessly through the senseless machinery of Time. I wanted in but JR was the guardian of that world and he wouldn’t just let anyone in. He knew the password but wasn’t talking. I stood outside the Lodge until I got cold enough to return to the cabin. The light was still burning in the Lodge. It still burns in my mind.