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Sedona: City of Refugees

     Kathleen Sullivan Buckley set her jaw and her hat against a cold north wind as she walked toward her husband’s funeral.
     God forgive me, she thought. Even hell is too good for the bastard.
     Suddenly feeling naked against the gale and her own raw feelings, she stopped for a moment to gather herself together, took a deep breath, and felt the sting of unrepentant hatred flood her soul.
     Preoccupied with her sinful thoughts, Kathleen failed to keep up with her mother, Rose, who walked ahead and stopped suddenly at the steps leading up to the church. The older woman looked frail. One small, knurled hand ravaged by arthritis gripped a rosary, while the other gathered her cloth coat about her throat in an effort to keep out the gnawing April wind. Scott Buckley’s expensive bronze casket was being carried past the rustic Stations of the Cross that stood outside the adobe-styled church, and when Kathleen caught up with her mother the sight of the casket momentarily jarred her.
     Rose pulled a handkerchief out of her coat pocket and dabbled at her eyes. She looked apprehensively over at her daughter. “I’m sorry, Kathleen--sorry for it all.”
     Kathleen nodded but did not answer. Instead, she felt a sudden, sharp pain in her left clavicle. Automatically, she reached up to rub it and reflected on her mother’s remark, which flung a long, dark shadow back through her years with Scott, years that had moved her into middle age and stripped her of her faith in the Roman Catholic Church.
     Kathleen turned away from the casket, trying to hide the malice in her eyes and for a moment she took in the breathtaking red rock scenery of Sedona. Here it was, just a few days past Easter, and the vermilion buttes were still dressed in a mantle of white, accenting the redness of the rocks. The recent spring snow torm had descended upon the tourist community as suddenly as Pentecost.
     The scene before her was like stepping back in time two thousand years. Three life-size crosses  representing the crucifixion stood across the parking lot from St. John Vianney Catholic Church, acting as a backdrop to the open vista of imposing buttes. The stark landscape spread as far north toward Oak Creek Canyon as the eye could see, somehow reminding Kathleen of the Holy Land, although she never knew why. She had lived in the northern Arizona community for more than a decade and never ceased to be amazed at its striking scenery. As she took in the view, Kathleen involuntarily shrugged her
shoulders as if to shake off her attachment to the place. Her six months away from Sedona only made her realize the red rock monoliths were both its blessing and its curse, and perhaps her own. She may have left Sedona to save herself, but the splendor of the place was burned into her being.
     As Kathleen turned back to view the casket, the wind whipped her dark hair loose from the bun at the nape of her neck, giving her a slightly disheveled appearance. Rose reached up to her daughter and gently, lovingly tucked the unruly hair behind Kathleen’s ear.
     “There,” the older woman said. “You need to appear the best you can today.”
     The daughter did not respond, but the vacant look in her dark brown eyes prompted Rose to heave a heavy sigh.
     Kathleen’s cousin, Charley, came up beside her and put his arm around her shoulder. A thin, angular man, Charley was only a year older than Kathleen, but his gray hair and full, bushy beard made him appear older than 50.
     She leaned into him, feeling sickened by the cross of
loathing she carried for her husband. She eyed the gleaming bronze coffin with unease. Its ornamentation was overdone, just as was everything Scott owned. Simplicity was not a trait of Scott Buckley, even in death. She realized that inside the coffin lay the remains of the man she had been married to for years, his body smashed beyond recognition, his immortal soul released
into God’s care, and she was glad for it, glad that she no longer had to feel the pain of his physical presence.
     Kathleen left Scott six months before his death because of his addictions. He loved his fine whiskey and his assorted women, most of them lonely seekers who came to Sedona looking for spiritual enlightenment from high-priced New Age gurus.
    Scott knew where to find the women, often corralled at some hotel bar murmuring about the spiritual wonders they had experienced in Sedona that day and charmed them easily into his finely-spun web of lies and deceit. A superb dinner at one of Sedona’s high-priced restaurants, a bit of close dancing, and the lonesome women fell easily into bed with him hoping this would be more than just a one-night stand. And, often it was, until Scott grew tired of the New Age babble they spouted with enthusiasm, believing everything in their lives were related to the crystals they hung around their necks.
    Kathleen’s Irish-Catholic stoic temperament carried her through most of her trials with Scott, his belligerent language and behavior toward her, never seen in public. But it was his last volatile attack on her that finally forced her to face the state of her empty marriage. The day was crushed into her consciousness.
     Business at Buckley Hardware, often the gathering place for local merchants to meet over a steaming cup of coffee, grew stagnant because a large discount hardware chain recently opened in Sedona, threatening the base of Scott’s power in the community. It never mattered to Scott that he and his brother, Philip, owned ten other hardware stores throughout the state. For Scott, the Sedona store was his baby, his personal pride.
     That day, Scott called Kathleen at home, something he rarely did. She heard an edge to his voice and asked if something was wrong. Besides a sagging month-end financial report on the Sedona store, Scott told Kathleen he had spent a frustrating hour on the phone with the U.S. Forest Service District Ranger.
     “This land trade with the Forest Service is getting on my nerves. Now I’m told the property has to go through some kind of search for archeaological artifacts. Frankly, I don’t give a good goddamn that a stinking Indian decided to bury his relatives on my land 500 years ago!”
     When Kathleen put the phone down, she had a vague sense of uneasiness, but the feeling passed as she worked through the day, trying to finish a free-lance writing assignment for Arizona Highways. She didn’t hear Scott as he entered the house that evening and was unaware of him as he stood silently watching her from the doorway of her office, anger clouding his dark features as he gulped from a Jack Daniel’s bottle that he grabbed a moment earlier from the bar.
     “That’s all you do, you bitch, work at that goddamn computer!”
     She jumped at the sound of his voice and instantly got up from her desk.
     “Scott! I’m sorry. The time got away from me.”
     She acted confused, having been so engrossed in her work.He moved to her, placed the bottle gingerly on her desk and pushed her roughly back into the chair, shoving his face close to hers. His hot breath was within inches of her nose, and she could smell the whiskey.
     His voice held a sneer. “Ah, the great writer, telling the wondrous story of Arizona.”
     She opened her mouth but said nothing, fearing a response would only make him angrier.