Time stood still for a moment as Las Vegas lights shimmered on the window. I turned looking around my hotel room and the pile of case work on the table. Then I finally did it, reached for my phone and dialed.
“Denio Bar,” a woman answered
I could hear the bar chatter in the background over the phone. “Is Ben there?” I asked, exacting a response of who.
She said to my amazement, “I’ll get him,”
He must be 80 years old, I thought. Remembering that he looked old and cranky the summer I stayed there, twenty years ago. He owned the bar and ran it with a hard way.
A rough whisky honed voice answered the phone, “This is Ben.”
“You probably don’t remember me, I’m Tom Allen and I stayed in Denio one summer.”
Ben paused then said, “Hell, I don’t even remember myself half the time. Ah, wait a minute, I remember you. You were the fresh faced college kid who hooked up with my singer. You were in here every night for a while.” He paused again for moment then said in a gruff voice, “That must’ve been fifteen or twenty years ago. I don’t imagine your calling just to chat with an old man. Jane’s long gone, she left with some guy from Vegas ten years ago. Last I heard, she was living near Majors Place, doing some singing once in a while at the Bar and Grill there. That what you called for, son?”
“Yeah, thanks.” I hung up the phone. The mention of her name made a stream of memories flood into me. I wanted to find her, rekindle that lost summer of twenty years ago. A time when I needed an escape from Law School and a young life that seemed like a bullet shot from a rifle, headed toward a target, not having time to look at the world.
I had quit my summer job and driven into the high desert without a destination in mind. Night had fallen and I found myself in Denio, a small town on the Nevada border. I rented a room and headed toward Ben’s bar trying to make sense of it all. I thought about making it to Reno the next day, but didn’t much care about anything beyond the stiff taste of a bourbon.
There she was, like some vision in the desert, singing a soft country ballad to a ruckus but appreciative crowd. Her name was Jane. One night became two in that dusty town. Somehow the sea of music, people and time brought us together and found us talking at the bar. She moved her slender body as she walked like the music she sang, smooth and wonderful. I judged her to be a few years older than me. Her face carried the knowing look of the desert. The tan it gave framed bright eyes full of life.
I remember her saying, “You’re a fresh face around here. Not a rancher?” She looked at me with her beautiful eyes for a moment and said, “No definitely not a rancher. What are you doing here?”
Shrugging my shoulders as a response, I ask her the same thing.
I wasn’t thinking much of Reno by the 3rd night. I could listen to her for hours. The songs she sung were honey filled with notes and tales of the high desert. On breaks she came over. We left together that night going to the small house she rented.
She hailed from far Eastern Oregon where her family had a ranch. After her parents died, the money dried up and the ranch had to be sold. Jane talked about how everything she loved went away then. Now more than anything, she wanted to save enough money to buy her own place in the desert.
The desert burned hot that summer, like our love and times we shared for a month or more. We made love those hot days, soaked by the sweet sweat only love can give. Jane would talk about her dream place in the desert. How it would be set back from the road, with a mountain range in back and a vast view of the desert in front.
I could not shake myself free to dream like that. Too many years of law school to come. To much city bread into me. It became time for me to return to that world.
So one day, when the sun was high in the sky and the heat bore down on me, I took a last look at the desert. We said sweet goodbyes to each other. We stayed in touch for a while, but I never escaped my path in life again.
The gold in the path and success kept me on track. First a leading law firm in the West, then on the East coast rising to head litigator. My single-minded action took charge of cases midstream and wrestled them to good endings. They paid me well, made me a partner, heaped praise on me. I had gathered all the other trappings that went with that life.
But now, I found myself in a hotel room in Vegas looking out on the desert again. Here I was on a case, a round of routine depositions slated for the next day. The job could easily be done by the junior associate I brought with me. There lingered a small part of me that still wanted to escape to the memories and time of Jane again.
I told my young associate, who already had sights on my job, to handle the day. Giving him the excuse that I was meeting with another client up North who had a potential big case for us.
After talking to Ben, I looked on the map for Majors Place but couldn’t find it. I did a search on the internet. Sure enough, there it was, four hours NE of Vegas in the Great Basin Desert.
I read the description of the place. “Majors Place is an unincorporated community in White Pine County, Nevada. It is at the junction of U.S. Route 6, U.S. Route 50 and U.S. Route 93. It includes a bar, restaurant, two hotel rooms, and an RV park. Fuel is no longer available.”
I chuckled to myself and thought, this place seemed all Jane. I remembered her image and being as she walked and dreamed in those days. I couldn’t help thinking how perfect it would be to return to them and her.
The next morning, I rented a car and drove into the desert toward Majors Place. Las Vegas disappeared in my rear view mirror like the mirage it was. I pressed the gas pedal more, anxious for the miles to melt into the desert.
Soon, the country became open, broken only by distant mountain ranges in the direction I headed. The pavement, blue sky and horizon became one as my mind drifted back to times past.
I stopped at the Bar & Grill in Majors Place. The waitress told me, “Jane hadn’t performed there for a while. We miss her, lovely woman and voice.” She remembered that Jane was living on a ranch up Great Basin highway 93, a few short miles from here.
I drove out past a few lonely ranches and turned onto 93. Two mile more and I saw a distant ranch. The ranch entrance hung a sign “The Desert J.” This has to be Jane’s, I thought to myself.
I paused looking up the long road to the ranch house. In the distance were the mountains of the Great Basin. I turned the other way, nothing but vast desert. “Jane’s dream,” I said aloud. I got out to take in the vista and gather my thoughts. The sun was high now and the air still. The desert sun embracing me with its heat.
I turned and caught a reflection of myself in the window. Damn, I look old, I thought. I wondered how Jane might look. It wouldn’t matter, she would never change, always the desert wild flower.
I got back in the car and started to turn into the ranch but paused again, asking myself if I should turn back. It had been twenty years. The desert had given Jane her dream and let mine pass to another place. The desert was like that, keeping the dreams it liked and weeping away the ones that didn’t fit.
Jane was Jane. I was who I was, and the desert was the desert.