ver the years, Desert Exposure has welcomed submissions to our annual writing contest. This year the 2017 winners provide a wide variety of humor and vision in their story and poetry submissions.
NOVEMBER 2017 • 21
2017 Writing Contest We would like to thank all who entered and shared their hearts, ideas and information with us. You will find several of the winners in the October Desert Exposure, here are the remaining two winning stories.
Contest winners are determined by points which are accrued according to how the judges rank each piece. Sharing the grand prize, poetry winner “Wildflowers” by Beate Sigriddaughter and short story winner “Septem-
ber Song,” by Jo Isacksen stood out to the judges. Contest honorable mentions in the prose division are “Source,” by the indefatigable Tom Hester who has taken a good share of Desert Exposure prize money with
his intriguing tales of Silver City and “Rincon,” by Mary C. Smith, a classic look into the mind of a singular old man of New Mexico. Honorable mention poems “New Mexico” and “Ghosts” have a bit of an earie feel.
2017 WRITING CONTEST • TOM HESTER
stood at the shop’s front window, my mind empty of thought but crammed with feelings leaping like crickets. I’ve been jittery these past months since my return from Mexico. I was still standing at the window as he entered the gallery, jangling the bell, but he didn’t greet me. Instead, he stared at “Omnipresent,” an oil that I had hung at the entry just hours before, and then he wheeled and said to me in his Ian McKellen baritone, “You know, I never forget an image. I may misplace my keys every morning but I never forget a painting.” There he stopped, not pushing to the clear conclusion but letting the braggadocio be like a loaded pistol, his silence a finger on the trigger. When I opened Art’s Lair on one of Silver City’s charming backstreets, I sought escape from the stresses of Santa Fe gallery ownership. I had naively believed I was bidding a permanent goodbye to customers like this one. He’s from out of town. Tasseled Ferragamo loafers tell me that. He’s got money and attitude. Tailored shirt with the sleeves rolled up and Armani pleated slacks tell me that. And isn’t that a Patek Philippe on his left wrist? Game, set, match. He turns away from “Omnipresent” to introduce himself. Ramon Villaseñor, he says. Says that he knows my first wife Adriana. She lives in Seattle and Jackson, having left behind Silver City long ago. Since she goes by her original name now, Adriana Joyce, she had to have told him her connection to me. Then he had to have come to Silver City to tell me that he has a perfect memory for paintings; no one just happens to drop by Silver City on a whim, as a short side trip. He says he owns some of Adriana’s stuff. I smile and ask him how I can help him. “Oh, I can find my own way around an art gallery,” he says, with an ominous wink, intimating “Adriana revealed it all to me.” I want to rip that smirk from his face and toss him out the door. But I don’t. Gallery owners don’t attack their customers. At least successful ones don’t. Gallery work is all stress — sifted, tamped down, and purified. When you, who I assume is a normal customer, enter a gallery, Dave Brubeck’s whispering through the speakers and Zapatec rugs are glowing on the creaking oak floor while pictures smolder in frames against grey walls. All is calm, right? But I assure you, the owner, perched there behind the tiny desk, is seething. Seething. The gallery’s moneymaker, the high-end painter, whose eight-by-ten-foot canvases
2 01 7 Honorable Mention At first glance “Source” by Tom Hester doesn’t fill the requirement of a typical southern New Mexico tale, but he brings the atmosphere and semi-isolation of the Silver City art scene out with yet another of his twisty, strange and detailed stories.
of prairie dogs at night have remained unsold for eight months, is threatening to march down the street to the competition while smearing untruths across the art world about the gallery’s miserable representation. Or a Connecticut couple has just dithered over a $2,000 acrylic for hours until they suddenly opted to buy instead a $2,500 stuffed donkey from a failed hedge fund manager who has set up a taxidermy shop next door. The gallery owner may affect a cool exterior, but inside? Seethes with bitter anger. Bitter anger. So Mr. Farragamo Patek wanders down the side aisle where more of my later work hangs. He’s humming, and I recognize the tune from Pajama Game. I know these types. I knew them on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. I knew them on Canyon Road. Now, here they are in Silver City. “Never forget a canvas,” they say. He’s leaning over to examine my career catalogue raisonné. Well he should. What was it that the San Francisco Chronicle art critic wrote about my first show in the Inner Mission before the neighborhood became a sinkhole of billion-dollar app writers? “Fiery truthteller in the Mission.” Critic Manfred Kurtz called me that. Kurtz’ notice wasn’t lengthy but it packed a wallop. Those were my days of lots of passion with the impasto, thick true hues scraped onto the canvases that screamed, “Fiery truthteller!” The Art Scout repeated those words in their own headline the same year. Look there. You see, Mr. Armani Patek is reading Art Scout’s 500-word rave notice that made me the Wunderkind of the Bay Area. Fame, I discovered,
springs from the tiniest seeds. I painted dozens and dozens of pictures. Our little apartment on Potrero Hill could barely hold all the canvases. In two years I sold 17, including two to museums. Seventeen and two. Unmatchable. I admit it now. The fire burning in those first canvases after escape from art school came from love, from being swept along by frenzies like a tumbling cottonwood trunk in the Rio Mimbres at flood. I had Hemingway’s point of view. Whenever Papa started a new book, he required the blood-swelling inspiration of a new romance. Me too. When I attacked a new avenue of painting, as in “Omnipresent,” I got a new girlfriend or wife. At least that was the way it worked out when I was young and full of juice. It’s the price of genius. I was digging deep into myself and the feelings of absolute freedom, loosed by obsession, furnished the catalyst for creation, for flames that blazed up. But in the end the love dies to ashes and with it the urge to create. I know both, the flames and the ashes. Adriana had some pretense at art herself even though she didn’t go with me to the Institute. She stayed in Silver City and did stuff in clay mostly, I think. Little figurines, glazed plaques, that sort of thing, if I remember right. She said that my paintings gave her inspiration. I don’t wonder. Her real job after we married was in the bowels of a bank on California Street, photocopying endless reams of accounting documents and putting them into file folders. The pay from that sweat shop toil met our rent and bought my oils, canvases, and frames as well as endless bottles of Mateus. That was what we drank. Can you believe? Mateus, while we lived an hour’s drive from Napa Valley. But we were kids from southern New Mexico, so what can I say? It’s ironic, isn’t it, that all the time we were at Silver High, Adriana, not I, showed talent as she pirouetted at the center of attention, junior and senior class secretary, surrounded by giggling friends with big hair, going on dates with the Fighting Colt quarterback, that sort of thing. She entered some drawings at the County Fair over in Cliff and got blue ribbons. Her charcoal portraits impressed people, though she said at the time what anybody could readily see, that her chins and noses were off because of sloppy shading. I was superb at chins and noses but at nothing else. Scrawny and pimply, son of the Sinclair gas station owner and his house-
wifey wife, I had no charm, no confidence and no idea what life was about. From this point looking back on that senior art class project, I wonder if I had not been paired with Adriana then, today I would be driving a propane truck, delivering fuel to ranchers. I say to Mr. Ferragamo Patek, “Yes. Yes, sir. That’s a painting I did years ago, It looks fresh because I just took it out of storage.” What does M. Armani Philippe want, scrutinizing my work like some Inspector Clouseau? Adriana and I had graduated to the big time in that high school art class. We were assigned to paint acrylic landscapes. I suppose the teacher Miss Uresti wanted us to celebrate the importance of our junior year accomplishments in water colors and pastels and found-object assemblages. We were moving on up. Adriana and I agreed that the project deserved extra effort, and Adriana suggested that we go to McKnight Canyon in the Black Range on the east side of the Mimbres. The aspens were about to flare into chrome yellow. We believed that Art existed in what we were looking at, not in what was in our heads. We were exceptionally dense kids. I picked up Adriana in my mom’s Plymouth Valiant. The Joyces lived in a sprawling ranch house northwest of Silver City, at the top rim of Arenas Valley. Her family had come to the area in the 1880’s or whenever, and I imagine they had their pick of homesites. I remember slipping and yawing on the washboarded road before entering a sanctuary of box elders with shade as deep as in Muir Woods. The stone and adobe house, with its long porch facing south and its big hipped roof shingled in locally shaved shakes, belonged in a movie like Giant. As I drove up, I half expected to see James Dean lounging on the trunk of Adriana’s candy blue Mustang parked in the curving drive. I didn’t know what to say when Adriana climbed into the Valiant. She was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt. I remember fixating on her boots, a pair of abused Tony Lamas, obviously worn for corral chores. She chattered on about the day’s displaying the typical high-country gorgeousness -- early October crisp captured under a celestial blue sky. I said nothing. The county road in those days was not meant for underpowered Plymouths. The car whined and bounced, almost careening off boulders, till I told Adriana that we had to hike the rest of the way. It
was a long ways. The truck tracks climbed the slope through the juniper, which were like giant, green dust balls hugging the stony earth. I puffed and heaved, pretending to stop to take photographs of the valley with my little brown Kodak. Adriana, either from her track team workouts or her cheerleading fitness, bounded ahead of me. I remember thinking that she could have been satisfied alone, with no wheezing companion. “Hey,” I shouted. “Wait up.” “You hurry,” she said, laughing. I had no air to laugh. When we arrived at the mountainside of aspen, I was bent double. As I regained my breath, it was a rare moment of perfection in my life. I stood in a cataract of yellow light that pooled about me, transforming my wretched, pimpled being into a mythical Neptune rising from an opulent sea. The white tree trunks formed a beaded curtain glowing between a golden ground and a Prussian blue sky, darkening as the day died. I’ve talked to lots of people in Silver City who attempt every autumn to catch the aspen in full golden splendor only to be a halfday too early or a rain storm too late, the wet leaves coating the ground like a Versace cape. Adriana and I stepped into a long grove of trees, their shimmering surfaces gilding the air that stirred and curled to stillness. “Oh,” Adriana said, again and again. I held my breath. But we did not face one another, as you might see a couple do upon viewing their first Vermeer at the National Gallery and try to find in the other’s expression a shared delight. Adriana removed the lens cap from her Pentax 100 and took the pictures that became the source for our acrylics. I remember that my painting was almost as wonderous as the moment, though my mother sold it at a yard sale while I was at art school. The customer’s baritone murmurs. “I would like to purchase the small painting of a yucca, there in the corner, next to the rock sculpture.” Villaseñor points toward the shop’s back wall. I go to retrieve the frame. It’s Jane Kreuger’s painting, displaying Jane’s expert brush strokes, perspective, and mastery of sunlight. Villaseñor does have a good eye. In San Francisco Adriana took in a mutt off the street. It missed blotches of fur, its eyes were lusterless, its tail drooped. Within weeks Mezcal was ready for the
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