Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BIll Wiley

I remember when BIll Wiley moved into the Raine's place above the Fullick house on Arroyo Road. The Raines were from England—and so, they were exotic. We kept our distance.

Mrs Raines, our stern substitute teacher, who rode her big bay English, choked on a piece of steak at a dinner party—so we all knew the house was haunted. Death was an admiral dressed in jodhpurs, carried a whip but lived a lot farther away than England. Mr. Raines wasn't himself afterwards. Soon, the big bay dressage gelding was sold, the house along with it.

I used to ride bareback up to the cottage and Brenda Fullick and I would peer in the french doors at the long dinner table where it happened. Mrs Raines' cherished delphinium—a touch of Oxford in California—was blooming, tall blue pillars of grief. Campanula and coral bells tolled in the islands and eddies of wind. The abandoned riding crop, a snake in the grass.

I imagined that she wore the black cocktail sheath with pearls. The rustle of taffeta. Their first formal sit-down party in their new home in the New World. Settings for twelve. Was there an uninvited Judas guest? One for each moon? The silent white Os of their mouths as she slid to the floor. Facing east toward home.

In those days no one knew Heimlich. We were too far from town for rescue. Second-hand story. Tragedy travels on swift wings. I gave up red meat. Their fairy tale cottage stood idle, as if in mourning. They had built the house on a rocky knoll and the land and the seasons were taking it back, board by board. No one wanted to buy the house someone had so tragically died in.

When Bill Wiley eventually moved in, the first thing he did was to wedge a foam core dressmaker torso in the crotch of the madrone tree. I was riding back home late at night—I thought it was Mrs. Raines' ghost come to haunt us but the red mare was more sensible.

Bill didn't mind us kids riding by his back door. He'd smile and wave to us, from his stockpile of interesting junk. Stroke his handlebar moushtache and readjust his wide-brimmed leather hat, and get back to work.

Mrs. Raines would roll over in her grave to see her prim yard like that. But now the place fit right in with the rest of the Valley. Abandoned cars and TV sets. Twisted iron and weathered wood. He was an assemblage artist. I was the girl on the red horse. He was a stranger too. An outsider. We kept our distance.

Funny, how decades later, translating an idea into image, Bill etched plates of horses at Crown Point Press. A red and a bay. The whip and the Buddha of compassion. The horse she's riding is blue. The circle complete. I like to think it was in unconscious memory of Mrs. Raines resurrecting itself. I never did know her name.

On his etching, these words were inscribed:

Some horses respond to the shadow of the whip
Others respond to the first light tap
Still others must be flogged
Until they feel it in the marrow of their bones
So which horse are you
For which horse does Buddha have the most compassion?
—William T. Wiley

1 comment:

Jenn Bower said...

NICE! Thanks for sharing with me. Personally - I am of the opinion that consistent compassion is the way - may take longer to get there, but who is in a hurry?