Chapter 13

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“I remember you! The only high school freshman ever to win the State Spelling Bee, what was the word…”

Becky Stillworth walked down the Library steps to where Dorothy Gale stood waiting,

“‘Promiscuous'”  the girl said, her face the expression of every child biting into a lemon on a dare,

Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was my own mother who got the Word Committee to put it on the list of final round words. Luckily for me, I was an early-blooming High School Freshman girl, so nothing came of it.”

Becky Stillworth walked with a deliberateness that was clearly an effort to compensate for the conspicuous awkwardness of a developing body. In the race between gangly and voluptuous, the tomboy in her was fading fast.

Dorothy looked to confirm that the very subtle twist of sarcasm on the syllable ‘mis‘, was deliberate and caught the girl watching for her reaction. Dorothy smiled, somewhat self-consciously, and decided that she liked this overly-dressed girl. Looking down at her wrist watch, she decided that she had time to spare, before embarking on her mission of the day, a visit to the Charity Ward at St. Mary’s Hospital. What Dorothy refused to tell herself, ( so effectively, as to prevent awareness of her own obfuscation from ), her timetable was built on when she believed the nursing shifts changed. She also didn’t tell herself that she was hoping to avoid one nurse in particular.

Dorothy was struck by the layers of clothing Becky Stillworth wore, even as her own blouse showed an growing affinity for her sweat-dampened skin, as the sun scared away the few cooling breezes that remained free and about, on this early midday morning in Kansas. The younger girl looked towards the Elm trees in the Town Square. Arranged in a circle, echoing the placement of the benches, which, in turn, marked the ordinal point of the round stone fountain, the full-leafed trees shaded the center of the park from the lethal brightness of the Summer sun. The two girls let their steps take them in the direction of the benches.
As they walked towards the center of the Square, Dorothy tried to steer their path towards a bench on the side of the fountain, opposite from where she’d left her bicycle, ‘Mrs Gulch’s bicycle‘.

Her desire to avoid the bicycle surprised her. The feeling was accentuated by the feeling of relief, when Becky Stillworth sat facing away from the bench with the old, battered bicycle leaning on it, like abandoned crutches, sadly conspicuous in the middle of the Town Square.

“So Becky, what’s on your mind?”

Dorothy looked closely at the girl who sat facing her, one arm along the back of the bench, left leg folded under her. She stared at the bulky skirt and the cardigan sweater, thankfully worn un-buttoned. Becky Stillworth’s figure, remarkably developed for a girl of her age, made the inappropriate clothing somewhat understandable. She wondered if the girl wearing them understood.

“Yeah, big sweater. Long skirt. It’s easier this way.”

‘So much for her being unaware of herself,’ Dorothy thought, looking at the girl with increased respect. Becky stared back, dark eyes betraying an intelligence easily overlooked by the more hormonally-inclined.

“Well, I wanted to talk, because, it’s just that you’re the only ‘College girl’ I know of, in this Town.”

Becky put an inflection on the word ‘Town’ that made Dorothy recall her own mood earlier in the morning. She laughed and said,

“I think I know what you mean, Becky. The few kids from Circe who find a way to go to college tend to never come back. And the people here that have been to college, grew up somewhere else. It’s like an unspoken law, if you have what it takes to get out of town, you don’t have to come back. Yeah, Circe is a small town in every sense of the word.”

“Can I ask you kind of a silly question, Dorothy?”

Dorothy, intrigued, looked back at the girl and nodded,

“You enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Sarah Lawrence, as in, almost one of the Seven Sisters… in New York City.”

“Well, to be precise, the schools in Bronxville, which is a short distance from Manhattan. But yes, Sarah Lawrence College. What are you asking me?”

“Well, I guess what I’m asking you is, did you or did you not, see the three cows standing in the road, right where County Rd #2 turns into Main St. I know they were there this morning, when I came into town.”

Dorothy began to reply that she didn’t, but noticed a grin fighting for control of the 16 year old girl’s face. Their peals of laughter raced around the echoing, (and otherwise empty), fountain and spread out into the morning air. Mrs. Tremont, walking along Main St towards Randall’s Pharmacy to get her morning paper, (as she did every morning at this time, except Sunday morning, when she would pick it up after 11 o’clock Mass), stopped and glanced in their direction. Like a rabbit hearing an unexpected snap of a twig, the 85 year old widow froze, mid-stride, only her head moved. Identifying what was all too uncommon a sound in her life, she smiled at her reflection in the plate glass window of Lonnie’s Barber Shop and continued on her mission.

“Oh, that Sarah Lawrence!” Dorothy said with a grin, which tripped the switch for more laughter. Finally settling back, the wrought iron of the bench offering a very solid, although pretty uncomfortable support,

“I’ll give you the short, suitable-for-company-on-the-holidays version of how I came to be a Sarah Lawrence Coed. Someday, when we’re both old and have too much time on our hands, I’ll give you the whole story.”

Becky Stillworth smiled, and, as if only just noticing how warm the morning was, took off her cardigan, folded it lengthwise and put it behind her, to serve as a cushion against the dulled teeth of the iron bench. As if on cue, there was a honk of a truck horn, immediately followed by a distant, “Hey! Becky!!“, fortunately dopplering into the distance. Becky waved without looking away from Dorothy.

“My grandfa… my adopted Grandfather was one of three brothers who left France to seek their fortune in the New World. Just before getting on the boat to come here, Philippe, (my mother’s father), was forced to stay behind to care for his dying mother. His brothers, Charles and Bernard, went on ahead and settled in Philadelphia. The Sauvage family had been blacksmiths as long as the oldest person could remember, and once in Philadelphia the brothers set up shop and become very successful. It was, after all, only 1912, the demand for metal workers was quite strong.  Well, eventually the mother, (back in France), died and Philippe was free to leave and he headed to America.”

Looking at Becky, Dorothy was taken with the concentration reflected in the girls eyes. Seeing Dorothy’s look, she said,

“OK, I’m with you so far. Three French Brothers, One New World. Go on….”

“Well, this is where the family legends get a little murky. According to the version I got, (keep in mind, I was only 5 when they took me in), Philippe resented his two brothers getting a head start on him…a lot. Apparently he was as stubborn as he was ornery and didn’t get over his resentment until Kansas. And, there Philippe settled, opened a blacksmith shop, had 2 children, and watched one them die pointlessly young.

“Anyway, there wasn’t too much talk around the dinner table about the ‘Family Back East’, my adoptive mothers’ uncles, until Bernard Sauvage died.”

“Did I mention that both brothers were confirmed bachelors?” Becky shook her head and waited for Dorothy to resume.

“Well, they were. Bernard died last. And soon after, a letter arrived at the farm, notifying my parents that an endowment had been created, ‘For the Express Purpose of providing Tuition and Lodging to Sarah Lawrence College, for any (female) child of the Gale Family, for a Full Four Years of Education’. Well, that was somewhat interesting to my mother, but there was also mention of money being left to their niece. I got on a train in Kansas City with my Aunt Em and off we went, to attend the funeral and collect on the scholarship.

There was no one other than me at the Funeral of Bernard Sauvage or, the Reading of his Last Will and Testament under the age of 30. Among the three old-and-distant relatives sitting in the Lawyers office, smelling like mothballs, not a one had a daughter. So there we were, standing in the 30th Street Station, on a cold December morning in Philadelphia waiting to board a westbound train. Tickets to Kansas City in one hand and a full Scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in the other.”

On this July morning, as the two girls sat talking, the sun took it’s attention away from the buildings on Main Street. Like a predator, sensing prey in a burrow, the morning sun moved it’s bright direct light closer and closer to the center of the Town Square. The change was felt in the dying of what few stray breezes survived in the shade of the Elm trees. As the encroaching light feasted on the shade, the town to the east of the park seemed to move farther away. In a curious reversal of mirages, (that) offer a clear view of distant objects, the contrast between the shade that covered the park and the sunlight that bathed parts of Main St had a sort of, magnifying effect. Far greater detail of the brick facade of First Lenders Bank and reflected light on the sign over Randall’s Pharmacy, brought everything closer.

Dorothy noted the approach of the sunlight and remembered that she wanted to be in the hospital before the Lunch hour began.

“No, what I wanted to ask you wasn’t just about going to college.”

Dorothy looked up at two boys on bicycles lingering on the opposite side of the Square, talking and looking furtively in their direction. Looking about 13 or 14, both clearly were in the throes of adolescence. Their gestures were as easily decipherable as semaphore flags between battleships as they maneuvered off enemy shores.  One of the two was apparently all for a direct assault, the other resisting for as long as he could, until finally whatever hormonally-wagered pact was struck, they jumped back on their bikes, pedaling towards where the young women were sitting.

“Hi! Becky! Hi Becky!”

The greetings were projected ahead enthusiastically, even as they were still on the other side of the fountain. This was, of course, an effort to hedge the social bet, in case they were immediately rebuffed. One of the two approached as rapidly as mechanically and physically possible, intent on a dramatic stop, locking-up the brakes on his Schwann deliberately, skidding for maximum drama. His friend approached at a more controlled pace with the resigned patience of the non-dominant half of a boyhood friendship.

The two now stood astride their bicycles staring at Dorothy and Becky, clearly receiving commands from newly established centers in their brain. Less fluent in the language of the soon to be overwhelmingly dominant sex drive, they stood still, soldiers in full uniform, rifles as clean and shiny as only non-use could account for, both were clearly hoping to figure out what to say.

“Uh, hi! Hows’ your vacation, Becky?”

Dorothy watched as Becky regarded the boys, obviously in the Summer between Grade School and High School, and smiled,

“Pretty good so far, Billy. Tommy. How about yours?”

“Good! We saw you here and wanted to say hi”

Tommy was looking frantically towards the sky, as if hoping for divine intervention to provide some way to extricate himself from the increasingly awkward feeling of standing with purpose, yet having no clue how to proceed. He looked over at his friend who was simply staring at Becky Stillworth, mouth open in the peculiar way that happens when the words in the mind get lost and can’t find their way to the tongue, which. in turn, is satisfied to simply sit in the mouth, relaxed, waiting for instructions. Both boys heard the stories about Becky and what she did to Randy Hughes out at the Lake and, seeing the opportunity and future bragging rights dared each other into talking to her. Becky Stillworth was the reigning, hopelessly-optimistic dream of the majority of the boys in the 9th and 10th grades at Circe’s only High School.

“OK that’s good! Maybe I’ll see you in the Library this Summer?”

Becky laughed in a way that surprised Dorothy. It was not mocking the boys or herself, it was as if Becky was somehow having a nostalgic look back on her High School years. Dorothy realized that there was more to this girl than the poorly hidden figure and obvious ambition.

The boys jumped back on their bikes and rode across the street towards the library, (as if to assure Becky that they had a natural affinity for learning and libraries). They stopped briefly at the stairs leading up to the Library, leaned towards each other, looked back towards the fountain for barely a second and sped off down towards Main Street. Eventually they would find a place where they had the privacy and time to relate to each other, their individual versions of what they had accomplished, before time and hyperactive sex drive could change too much of what they could remember.

“I see what you mean,”

Dorothy started to say, now certain that Becky was looking for an older girls advice on dealing with the rampant and near inchoate sex drives of the small town adolescent, (boy and girl)

“No, it’s not what you think!”

Becky laughed in a way that made Dorothy feel like the younger girl, an assuredness in her laugh that came across with much more sophistication than her age would suggest. She found herself thinking of her friend Eliza,

“No, the boys, well they’re well…predictable. I figured that out the day I started to borrow clothes from my mother. The extra sweaters and skirts? I decided, I’d just keep acting like I’m hiding the boy-bait, it just was easier, you know? If anything about high school is tough to take, it’s the other girls. Hard to make friends with girls who think that, either I’m sleeping with everyone who stares at my chest, which, for the last couple of years been just about everyone, or I’m too stuck-up to want to be friends.

“No, what I I really wanted to ask your advice about was, how you do so well, handling adults.”

Dorothy looked at Becky in surprise,

“What makes you think that I know anything about adults? I’m only a soon-to-be-college sophomore.”

“Well, you… well, everyone knows you… from after the tornado. I was just a kid, but for a little while, you were all my parents talked about, so I figured you’re used to being in the spotlight. It couldn’t have been easy, but you’re not like the other kids in this town. I mean, sure they’re all ok, but they’re from here, they fit in and this is where they’ll all stay. You left.”

“Are you thinking of running away?” Dorothy had a brief image of a traveling fortune teller, with practiced swiftness, dispelled the thought.

“No! Nothing like that…. or maybe, worse!” Becky laughed, “What I really want, is to be a doctor.”

“What is it about the people in this Town!”

Dorothy stood up abruptly, laughing and looking around the Town Square. On the other side of the fountain, which had a mat of elm leaves plastered to the dry bottom in a careful, layered pattern that made Dorothy think of dinosaur bones, an old man, alone on a bench, looked up with a desperate hope for something to happen, that had not already happened. Seeing Dorothy, he focused his eyes on the figure of the young girl and then quietly went back to staring at nothing.

Becky got up, gauging the older girl’s mood quickly,

“Well, it’s just that sometimes, I think, ‘who am I kidding?’ Sure, times have changed and we can be what ever we want to be in life.  But it’s hard, when even your own parents look at you like they don’t know who you are. The truth is, sometimes I’m not sure I know who I am.”

Dorothy watched Becky as she walked over to the fountain and stared into it’s center,

“Its just that I don’t want to be someones….  ” emotion sharped her tone, a mixture of frustration, resentment and even longing, as she turned to face Dorothy

“I think I know who I am… who I want to be, but it seems like there’s two Beckys and I don’t know which one is the real me!  When I try to talk to my parents or teachers or even classmates, I see that look in their eyes, like they’re trying to figure out who the strange girl is and how she got into their house.”

“It’s not just you, Becky,” Dorothy looked past the bench with the rusted bicycle leaning on it, towards St Mary’s Hospital.

“At least you know that you want to go to college, you know what you want to be… at least what one part of you, wants to be,”  Dorothy watched as Becky put her sweater back on, preparing to return to her duties in the Circe Public Library,

“I’m in College because my grandfather was a bad-tempered, selfish man. I have no idea of what I’m supposed to do with my life. I just know that theres got to be more to life than Circe, Kansas. I just need to work up the courage to do what my heart tells me.”

“Well, I really appreciate your talking with me,” Becky stood close and hugged Dorothy, very briefly.

“I’m glad I got up the nerve to ask you about your life. And, maybe we can talk again. For now, I have to return to my odd life with my part-time job wearing too much clothing and help the people of Circe find just the right book.”

With that, Becky Stillworth walked across the quiet street, up the stairs and into the Library.

***

Ward C was as silent as a tomb. Rather than merely being hot, the air in the room felt charged with heat, just waiting for someone to exert themselves, to strike like bats swaying from the ceiling of a cave.

As she walked down the center aisle, Dorothy felt her anger grow from the carefully tended furrows of resentment, her thoughts held tightly,

‘I don’t know why I have to keep coming back to this place. All I want is to ask a question and everyone keeps getting in my way! Well, this time it’s just me and the old lady, and I’ll get some answers if I have to shake them out her.’

The beds were arranged in opposing rows of 5, the woman she came to see was in the last bed, at the far end of the aisle, on the left side. Dorothy noticed there were four empty beds, like the keys on an old, abandoned piano sitting in someone’s barn, merely iron frames and mattresses. Stripped of sheets and pillows, the mattresses were devoid of all purpose, black and white ticking conjured images of prisoners of war, purposeless, yet still threatening.

Dorothy felt her anger slide away, now replaced by a sense of undefined danger. She looked up at the ceiling, the fans were all she saw, turning slowly, holding back the life-robbing heat of a July afternoon in rural Kansas.

As she approached the last bed, Dorothy’s anger was revived by her un-expected relief at seeing the woman still in the bed. On the collar of her hospital gown was the same blood-red ribbon. The worn-brown blanket was neatly folded across the woman’s chest, a barely disturbed straight line, like a freshly, but hastily filled grave. A barely perceivable rise and fall in the fabric to let a visitor know she was still among the barely living.

To the right of the bed was a single, worn-green metal night stand. On top was a dry, glass vase, and a copy of ‘The Jungle’, with a well-worn bookmark. Dorothy recalled the book being there from her first visit, but with a different bookmark. This one was made from plain parchment paper with a leather border, like little teeth, running along both sides. In the center, written in faded ink, was the phrase “Short pay! All out! All out!”

A small, brass-framed, photograph of a young, dark-haired boy, faced Dorothy from the top of the nightstand. She picked it up, hoping to find a notation or, at least, a date, so she might have a clue to the identity of the boy who appeared to be about 5 years old.

Dorothy looked around the ward and saw only 5 occupied beds and no one else, her sense of outrage dying, replaced by  a sense of disappointment,

To herself, aloud,

“Well, this simply is not fair! I have every right to have my questions answered! And someone needs to help me find out why I’m not being…”

Like very dry tinder on the ashen coals of a morning fire, the sound of her words allowed her outrage to flare anew. Looking down at the nightstand, she saw a single, closed drawer. As she reached to open it, she heard sounds from the woman in the bed. She was moving her arms, freeing them from the bedclothes and, at first, they seemed to be random spasmodic motions. Even as Dorothy turned to face the bed, the old woman’s hands were suddenly clutching at her face, and the sounds she made went, from anger to fear, never shaped into words, but clearly meaningful. As her hands, too long in quiet rest under the covers, began to make ineffective movements, it looked like she was hitting her own face.

Dorothy, looked on in shock, as if the statue of the Civil War general in the Park had dismounted his horse and started to give orders to passerbys. At the same moment she found her anger changing into care and concern, as she watched small wrinkled hands impacting the dry, old skin of her face with increasing force. Dorothy without thinking, leaned over and held the hands, gently but away from the women’s face. The sounds coming from Mrs Gulch subsided as suddenly as they started, the strain of her bone-thin arm muscles relaxed. Dorothy sat on the side of the bed and placed the old hands together on top of the blanket. Smoothing the grey hair that, freed from the passive restraint of the pillow, lay across the face of the still sleeping woman, Dorothy heard,

“Very good, Miss Gale. You are the woman that I felt you were when we first met.”

Dorothy did not feel the need to act surprised or shocked at the voice, one that she instantly recognized.

***

“Jesus, Joseph, Sweet Mary Malone! the blood!”

“Help me get her on the couch!”

“Sure, but I need to see some men about a beatin….

“They’ll wait! Hell, they’ll be back with their friends all too soon. We must get her head elevated and stop the bleeding…”

“Dear God, I’ve seen broken noses, hell, I’ve had broken noses, but this poor girl’s face…”

Chapter 12

Featured

‘Damn this Kansas heat!’

Walking up the stairs of the Circe Free Public Library, Dorothy looked back towards the round stone fountain at the center of Town Square. The exertion of her bicycle ride into town, deprived of the cooling breeze of her trip from the Gale Farm, was beginning to have an effect. Her body was quickly turning her delicate cotton blouse into an impromptu bathing suit.

‘To think that I spent sleepless nights in school, pining for this cardboard-flat griddle of a Town! For that matter, how is it that I’ve never seen that fountain with water in it?’

Like the first taste of a lemon-sour candy, Dorothy felt the pleasurable bite of resentment slowly bloom in the part of her mind, where feelings shape the world.

‘They’ve ignored that stupid fountain since after I got back… after that stupid tornado. Come to think of it, that’s when everyone started to change.’

Dorothy thought back to that time, only two years before. She’d survived a direct hit by ‘the Storm of ’37’ and for several month that followed, felt such love for everyone, not just her family, but also for the Town itself. Circe surely was the best place a girl could be, surrounded by family and friends. The stone fountain, once her favorite place, was emptied of water by being where a huge elm tree, tossed into the air by the debris-filled winds, decided to land. Once the tree had been cut up, (Aunt Em magnanimously volunteered her husband, Henry and Hunk Dietrich’s services to chop up and remove the 100-year-old tree. Dorothy recalled that they’d sold it for firewood to some of the harder hit farms in the area), the stonework was repaired. The plumbing, the secret pumps underneath, the heart of the fountain, never received the necessary attention. There was little in the way of spare money, in the devastated town, to restore something as frivolous as a decorative water fountain. With the passage of time, ‘the stone fountain with the wonderful jets of water, rising from its center’, as the newspaper described it on the day the fountain was officially dedicated to the local boys who fell during World War I, became ‘the stone fountain that never has any water in it’. Much as an aging person, steadily losing the capacity for physical  exertion, genuinely has no interest in running up the stairs or taking a brisk walk, the people of Circe accepted ‘the fountain with no water in it’ as theirs, the fountain they really wanted. Unfortunately, this attitude was not limited to frivolous civic monuments, as the recovery efforts had their desired effects, the shared sense of the virtue of un-qualified charity, changed, like the swelling of arthritic joints, into prudent self-interest. The spirit of communal effort ended, recovery complete, and with it, the need for giving without restraint, to those less fortunate. As for ‘the-girl-who-rode-the-tornado’, she stopped being a welcomed diversion from the efforts to re-build and was, instead, an un-necessary reminder of a difficult time for the people of Circe. In a very real sense, Dorothy, and her tales of a wondrous land became irrelevant. Library staircases no longer called out to be run up, fountains were quite acceptable as dusty granite bowls, and stories of a better place were, ‘just a mite peculiar’.

Dorothy recalled a History Professor, in her first day of classes, in her first semester, who stood before the class and, without preamble, said,

“Zhuangzi was a Chinese philosopher who said,

‘I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?’

If you young ladies hope to get the most from your time in my class, please decide immediately which you are…”

Everyone laughed, a most basic celebration of youthful pride for being among the elect.

Now, on this Summer day, walking up the broad and identical steps of the Circe Public Library, Dorothy did not feel much like laughing.

“Miss Gale? Are you alright?”

Dorothy looked up the stairs and saw the young girl looking at her with concern.

***

Her back still towards the room, Almira felt herself being twirled around, like an un-willing participant in an impromptu country dance. The effect was all the more disorienting, by the fact that her field of view was but a narrow horizontal rectangle, her scarf still wrapped across her face. The combination created what would best be described as a 5 second zoetrope. In those few seconds Almira saw: a fire burning brightly in the hearth on the right side of the room, opposite an old blue sofa; the door to the  adjacent meeting hall/storage room shut and, on the left side of this room, her friend, Annie LoPizzo. Her hair wild and disheveled, like a drunken window dresser’s attempt to combine the Perils of Pauline and the prosaic Labor Union storefront. Annie stood behind the main counter, which displayed Union pamphlets and flyers, along with a list of emergency services and resources.  All made available to visitors and Union organizers. Between Almira and the counter stood two men she’d never seen in the Hall before. One was tall, had greasy red hair and wore a suit that looked like it had been borrowed for the occasion. The second man kept looking at the entrance, as if the most important thing to happen would involve the front door. And, of course, there was Almira’s personal Orc. Addressed only as Herschel, he was every bit a wool-covered cliff, the stopping point of her twirling view of the room.

Like the rough-wooden planks of a primitive rope bridge, held in place by twisted vines, Almira’s upper arm was locked in the grasp of the big man. And, like that bridge over a tropical chasm, Almira could move to the left and to the right, but only as far as the natural extension of her shoulder and arm would allow. At full extension, she could move no further. She might as well have been leaning against one of the large Elm trees in the Lawrence Commons.

As the shock of her abrupt entrance began to fade, Almira focused on two facts:  her upper left arm was becoming more and more a part of this man who reeked of liquor, tobacco and sweat, and her friend Annie was in danger.

Marveling at the fullness in detail, emotional immediacy, and utter non-appropriateness, Almira found herself re-living an afternoon, when she was 10 years old, walking home from school. She was walking alone, her classmates who lived on the same block, had left her behind, lost in thought. Hearing an odd sound, she looked up to see a large dog, a boxer perhaps, charge towards her.

She recalled her father, one afternoon, after Almira came home from school with a tear in the hem of her skirt and a school book that had been half-chewed by a neighborhood stray, tell her that there are rules for dealing with dogs, and sometimes, people,

“There’s a good lesson here, Ali. Dogs are simple and they are direct, unlike people. If you let them scare you, they will sense your fear. If they believe you are weaker than they, it is much more likely they will attack. People are sometimes like dogs. There are certain people in the world who will attack just because they believe you are afraid.”

Almira stood very still as the dog, barking ferociously, charged at her. She let go of her fear and watched the dog calmly. It didn’t bite her, but neither did it run back into its yard, instead, it stood to her right and barked and growled at her feet. She remained still and calm. The dog did not seem inclined to leave. So Almira, talking pleasantly to the dog, started to walk towards the corner, around which her friends had just disappeared. She felt something push against her calf, just above the heel. The dog growled and bumped Almira’s calf several times. She stopped walking and the dog resumed its growling at her feet. Fear began to well up, from a place behind her chest. She tried walking, and the dog again bumped her calf, this time with an open mouth, she could feel it’s teeth. Her fear grew and took on an odd feeling of despair that made her look around, feeling, somehow self-consciousness. Almira knew that the dog would not bite her, but there was something in what he was doing that conveyed both the sense of a harmless game a dog might play and, at the same time, the very real potential of a vicious attack. Almira felt trapped by the dog. She stood still for another 5 minutes, hoping something would happen. Finally, after what felt like an hour, the owner of the dog appeared on the porch and called the dog. The dog started to run back but stopped, turned and bumped Almira’s ankle one more time and ran off without a second look back. Almira walked home, legs shaking from tension, eyes welling with tears of shame and her mind racing in anger at herself for being so inadequate.

This man, Herschel, reminded Almira of that dog, all those years ago. She knew that this time, this night, there was no one who would appear and simply call him off. The only person in the room that might have that kind of power, was the red-haired man. The problem was, at the moment, he was moving around from the front of the counter, knocking pamphlets to the floor, never taking his eyes of the face of her friend, Annie LoPizzo.

Almira managed with her one free hand to pull the scarf off her head (and away from her face), so she could take in the entire room without having to move her head.

The leader of the group was the man moving in on her friend. He had the eyes of a predator. He moved with such overwhelming self-confidence that, somehow there was the impression of good humor. This thin man with the dark, hungry eyes was clearly enjoying himself.

Almira found herself drawn to how the men were dressed. Alike, but with nothing in common. Their overcoats were commonplace enough, but all three projected a similar newness, lack of wear, clearly they were bought at the same time. It was obvious that all the overcoats were bought by the same person. Nothing of a sufficiently binding similarity as to  create a uniform, but undeniably, there was a single authority that bound the three men, now standing inside the United Workers Association Hall.

“Hey, Robbie, come on, we’re supposed to scare them a little and leave, that’s what the boss said, go there and…”

“Shut yer mouth, Liam. You talk too much.” the red-haired man, Robbie, glared. He was already behind the counter, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Annie. Showing no outward signs of fear, she nevertheless stood absolutely still, as tense as the night sky after a blinding flash of lightning, crash of thunder on its heels.

“Liam!! Make yourself useful and go stand outside. And don’t be lettin’ anybody in! Understand?”

Even as the howling wind rattled the windows, and shadows of tree limbs waved in the dark, Liam showed ever sign of relief. Almira thought she might’ve known him from somewhere. Oddly, she found herself not wanting him to leave. Somehow, he represented the only hope of avoiding total savagery. Liam didn’t say a word, although, as he shut the door, Almira saw him glance around the room, with a look of guilt and shame. Nevertheless, he shut himself outside, in the relative safety of the cold and windy night.

“Herschel! Sit the lassie down somewhere and keep her out of trouble. I need to ask our little Union whore here some questions.”

Like a rag doll held by a child, Almira felt herself dragged towards the hearth, and without a second thought, whipped around, her feet barely touching the floor, tossed towards the blue sofa across from the hearth. Unconcerned with whether she fell to the floor or landed on the sofa, Herschel turned and faced the other end of the room where Robbie was about to join Annie LoPizzo behind the counter of the room.

Almira pulled herself upright from a half-kneeling position, turning her head to keep the others in view, and pushed herself into an upright position at the end of the sofa. Looking at the hearth, a line from a children’s book came into her head,

Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch,’

The hearth, with its granite surround, had a pile of wood stacked to the left of the firebox, and, on the opposite side were a number of pokers and tongs. Relics of the days when there would have been a coal fire in the hearth and a blacksmith, using the tools of his trade. When she first starting coming to the Union Hall, Almira noticed the tongs and pincers and asked Annie about them, “those were probably made right here in the building, 50 years ago.” Almira quickly became skilled at starting and maintaining the fire, using only the tongs.

For 16-year-old Almira Ristani, the United Workers Union Hall came to be what her corner in the living room had been, when she was a very little girl. Protected by her mother’s determination to shield her from the harsh and un-imaginative life of the immigrant family. Remarkably determined and strong-willed people, countless families, willing to cross an ocean in order to find place to establish a livelihood, would all too often find that the things that made life worth living, more than subsistence and survival, had been washed overboard in their journey to a new world. Almira discovered that the people who frequented the Hall were either those who, recently fallen on hard times, sought help to survive or were those who wanted to help others sustain hope for a better life. They were the very people she passed in the streets every day, toiled along side inside the brick prison of the Mill, were so much more than she could appreciate in the Mill.

Almira came to be a regular at the Bennett Street Union Hall. Carving hours from her week, her time would be spent organizing the inventory of supplies kept in the larger room adjacent to the front room. On those days when the work was done, Almira would sit on the worn blue sofa, tending the fire in the hearth and, in the warmth of the company of people with the desire to help others, she would explore the world through the writings of her beloved Emerson.

Almira was jolted from her thoughts by the up-tilting movement of the couch as Herschel sat his considerable bulk down next to her. He was close enough that his open overcoat covered her legs. The scent of dogs and fear flowed over the blue sofa, banishing the comforting smell of the wood burning in the hearth.

Robbie, meanwhile, with a obviously contrived look of interest, picked up a ledger from the counter, made as if it’s contents were fascinating reading, and, without a word, let it drop to the floor.

“Now, lass. I need to know something about your little operation here. I need to see your membership rolls. That’s not a bother is it?”

Annie stood her ground, managing a smile that, to anyone other than a friend, would have been quite convincing. Almira felt her stomach drop at the fear she could see growing in her friend’s eyes.

“What is it you want? This is private property, you have no right to come barging in and making demands and, frankly acting the complete ass!”

“What do I want? I want to know who it is that comes here. I want to know who it is disturbing the neighbors, we’ve had complaints, yer know. So why don’t you just hand over the list and we’ll leave you two ladies to your evening.”

Robbie’s voice began at a normal volume, rose to a shout and ended in a growl. He stood behind Annie and, on the pretense of reaching for a book on the counter, leaned into the woman. Annie spun slightly to her left, letting the forward motion of the man continue unresisted which he did with a pronounced lurch, having been off-balance when he started his pressing against her.

“There ain’t no list. If I had one I wouldn’t give it to the likes of you. Why don’t you get off and go back to your Mill bosses and tell ’em that there ain’t no one that matters down at the Union Hall.”

Annie looked around the room, trying to find something to use as a weapon. She saw a pair of tailor’s shears and was reaching for them, when the Robbie grabbed her hand.

“Looking to find something to stab with, are you? We’ll have none of that now.”

Robbie grabbed the scissors with one hand and, with his other, grabbed a Annie’s hair at the scalp.

Almira felt her entire body tense, rising from her slouched position on the sofa.

Like the dog from Almira’s nightmares, Herschel turned towards her.

“You’re good to sit so quiet like,” Herschel put his calloused hand on Almira’s thigh, her coat, having fallen open when she landed on the couch.

Almira felt the beginning of something change in her, even as she felt the increasing closeness of the man. Herschel’s scent clung like cobwebs in the dark, the nerves under her skin sparkling painfully. His hand, now on her thigh, brought on a feeling of self-consciousness, as if by being touched, she was a party to what was starting to happen. Her stomach conspired with her mind, each looking to the other, tempting the sense of panic. Her own woolen overcoat taunted her with its ineffectiveness to shield her from his assault. Something shifted in her mind, her body echoed it, in silence.

Sensing a change in the girl, Herschel grabbed Almira’s left wrist, leaving his left hand to continue its advance, pushing up along her leg, seeking weakness.

“Come on now, I’m not such a bad fella. Your friend will be alright. Come on now, gimme a kiss,”

Pulling on her left arm, Herschel leaned in, intent on kissing the very still girl.

Almira saw Herschel get closer, and felt the man get closer, tilted her head back and spit in his face.

“What the…!!! ” Herschel’s roar was met by the sounds of hyena- laughter from Robbie, still holding Annie LoPizzo by the hair,

“Fock, Herschel! If the lassie is too much for you to handle, I’ll get Liam back in to help you out.”

Keeping her wrist in his right hand, Herschel  laughed un-certainly, leaned back and wiped his face with his left hand. He turned to look over at Robbie,

“Shut it then, I’ll show you…”

Almira leaned to her right, grabbed a pair of tongs on the hearth and clasped them on a small log, burning in the front part of the fire. Using Herschel’s grip on her left wrist, she pulled herself, (and the tongs with the white ashed, red-coaled log), back towards the man on the couch. She jammed the tongs and log into his lap and continued her forward motion, leaning on the tongs, pressing them to his body.

Herschel’s immediate response was purely instinctual, he tried to back away from the assault on his body, except, he was seated on the sofa. In his effort to push back farther, to avoid the incredible heat that began to race up through his body, he lost all traction and both feet slipped on the floor, leaving the shouting man with no leverage at all. His entire world consisted of the sharp pressure of the metal tongs and the almost frigid heat of the log, which, by now, found new fuel in the cloth of his overcoat and trousers. He finally looked up and saw the face of the girl, the small helpless girl who, just a timeless moment ago had been his possession. She was now standing over him, their eyes locked and Herschel felt a new fear,

“How about a little fire, Herschel?”

Herschel began to bellow, barely human noises, that echoed of pain and fear. His feet found purchase enough that he could stand and, swinging his right arm, he hit Almira full in the face. The girl flew backwards over the end of the sofa.

Robbie, seeing the large man move spasmodically, while frantically hitting himself, arms flailing, tightened his grip on Annie’s hair. To keep from falling she grabbed his wrist.

The door to the adjacent meeting room suddenly swung open and a young man stepped into the room, speaking as he entered the front room,

“Hey, Annie the side door was open, so I…”

His eyes widen very briefly, reached into his overcoat, took out a small pistol and pointed it straight-armed at Robbie’s face,

“Let her go.”

Chapter 11

Featured

The Summer of 1939 in Circe Kansas expressed itself earlier than usual. Rather than wait until the crest of July, when the skies, scrubbed of clouds had nothing to hold back the hate of the sun, this particular year the heat made its initial appearance in the middle of June. Not to such an extent as to be spectacularly hot or otherwise noteworthy, not even to a level to dominate the casual, passing-in-public conversations of the citizens of Circe. These topics remained focused on crops, politics, dust storms (thankfully to the west) and infidelity, with only the occasional reference to how Summers seemed to start earlier and earlier each year. Though early, the June temperatures were not impressive enough to be claimed by the old timers. Deprived of relevancy, not only by age, but by virtue of woefully out-of-date practical skills, anemic civic presence or any other of the small, but expected contributions to everyday life, these old, pale, worn and leather-tough denizens of Circe, Kansas would be found gathering together at dusk, in the park, after the sun has stopped making demands that only the young could ignore or, perhaps in front of the Town Hall on the cooler (as in ‘early’) mornings. They gathered in diminished numbers, exhibiting the opposite of the force shared by a magnet and iron filings, the absence of a force drawing them to the younger, active, engaged population, bring them only other old people. Of course, weather, as one of the few constants in the world, and therefore immune to the segregation of usefulness, was bestowed upon the active-elderly, that they might assume stewardship, both the record of weather past and, by human-logical necessity, the prediction of the future (weather). An agrarian cultural’s version of the proverbial gold watch, the elderly were the established oracles of weather and climate. It remained one of the few critical functions the old were allowed to retain, not otherwise sanctioned by modern culture.

Dorothy Gale leaned her bicycle against one of the wrought iron benches that, like markers on a sundial, interrupted the smooth circumference of the stone fountain, (the one without any water), that designated the center of the Town Square. Dressed as lightly as possible, in anticipation of the heat, (which started the day with, ‘It’s Summer!’ and promised to end with ‘Hot enough for you?’), which given her ‘left-behind wardrobe’ and those items she brought back from New York, proved not to be a simple task. Dorothy was aware of the fact that in order to gain the approval of her Aunt Emily, she needed to distract and confuse the older woman’s natural tendency to judge. Painfully earned past experience  indicated that her best strategy was simply to give Emily Gale what she wanted, and so Dorothy found a blue and white checked blouse and a skirt of the lightest cotton. Less comfortable, after a year away at school, with the idea of bowing to the demands of her adoptive mother, Dorothy placated her resentful side with the reasoning that, sleeves can be rolled-up and buttons can be un-done. When she came down the stairs into the kitchen, Auntie Em smiled broadly,

“Why don’t you look like a little girl I once knew. Doesn’t she, Henry? Doesn’t Dorothy look every bit the good-hearted girl who wouldn’t disobey or utter an unkind word to anyone. It does my heart good to see how well you’ve turned out!”

Dorothy smiled and continued towards the door,

“I’m going to Town for awhile. No, I don’t need a ride, I’ll take the bicycle.”

As she rode out of the dirt-and-stray-chicken backyard, Dorothy glanced back and saw her Aunt standing just inside the screen door, head turned, talking to her husband, Henry. Had she glanced in the other direction, she might have seen, Hunk Dietrich step back from the door of his little house, remove his hat and looking thoughtful.

Walking across the Town Square towards the library, Dorothy Gale felt a sense of relief to be away from the farm. When she woke that morning, the first thing that came to mind was that she could not spend another day in the house, with her Aunt and the housekeeper. She was amazed at how everyone had changed in the relatively short time she was away for her first year of college. Dorothy dearly loved Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, and would be eternally grateful for the home they provided for her, from, well, from before she could remember. It just seemed that everyone had somewhat changed. And not just since she returned to Kansas, a few weeks prior. It was during her Senior year in High School when people seemed to begin to change. She could accept that the recovery from the ‘Storm of ’37’ took a toll on everyone. She could even accept that her own recovery had been, well, a bit prolonged. But she got over it. Other than the occasional dream that, upon awaking, colored her day with surprising emotion, she was still the same girl she’d always been.
Of all the changes, the most prominent was in her adoptive parent’s obvious obsession to make the Gale Farm into something more. Larger, more efficient, more profitable, more…  It was almost as if, after experiencing the destruction of a large portion of the Circe (and many of the surrounding farms), something inside them came to believe that in order to avoid a repeat of the ravages of the F5 tornado, they needed to do more, have more…  increase the acreage, increase the number of barns and corrals and pens.
And so, this first day of July, Dorothy Gale walked through the Town Square without conscious purpose or goal.

“Miss Gale!! Miss Gale!!”

Dorothy looked up and saw a young girl walking down the steps of the library, waving at her. She recognized Becky Stillworth, the student-librarian assistant, mostly by her very impressive figure, wrapped in what seemed like her mother’s skirt and a blouse two sizes too big.

“Could I talk to you, please?”

***

The Winter of 1911 in Lawrence Massachusetts started with a promise of moderation, the first two weeks of December being especially mild. Like the lover who refuses to accept the end of a relationship and yet, never intends to accept the change, this New England December seemed to really be different, the lack of snow and the optimistically bright sun serving to tempt people with a very well-executed lie, ‘Look! I’ve changed my ways, would it be this warm in December if I didn’t really mean it this year?’
Despite, or in that odd way of people wanting to believe the charming charlatan, even the native New Englanders felt hope for a mild Winter. Passing on the streets, winter coats un-buttoned, they would smile and say, ‘So far, so good’, as if their mutual agreement would relieve them of the guilt of having been fooled, once Old Man winter made his inevitable appearance. And each person, risking hope in a mild winter, knew that winter was waiting, like a drunk outside the door, marshalling his resolve not to give in to guilt. Inevitably the effort to seem normal, (and not drunk), resulted in an over-compensation and the worst fears of the family waiting inside would be confirmed.

Almira Ristani walked along Canal St towards Bennett St, and the United Workers Alliance Meeting Hall. Darkness had fallen early and Winter returned with a vengeance, as if by waiting until dark, the contrast with sunny mild days would be less offensive. Her wool scarf, wrapped around the collar of her grey outer coat, left as little of the actual Almira exposed to the elements as possible. Only her eyes and a necessarily exposed portion of her face was in direct contact with the darkly howling wind. The blowing of very fine snow and ice had the effect of bending and twisting the conical pools of light that punctuated the sidewalk along her path. The effect suggested that even light (which at night is surely Man’s primeval protector), was also at the mercy of the cold winter night. Almira found herself hurrying between the pools of light, as if there was danger lurking in the frigid shadows. The Mill buildings, always a fantastical sight to anyone with an imagination and a willingness to stray beyond the literal, were every bit of the ice castles of Jötunheimr, the shadow of Frost Giants darkening the already dark sky. The hanging icicles, threatening silent impalement, the frost that seemed to grow, in defiance of gravity, up the walls and over the metal-framed windows of the brick buildings, all contributed to the creations of  dark canyons in that part of Lawrence that hugged the banks of the Merrimack River.

Almira chided herself for such unpleasant fantasy and resolved to find the beauty in the Winter season, the only season that was host to Christmas. The lights in the Mills did, at first glance, appear such as to offer some hope of warmth and life. But the effort to look up at them only served to part the wrapping of her scarf, and the wind, like a starving predator immediately lurched towards the opening to the warm of her body.

‘Stop now!,’ Almira thought, in what she hoped was a stern enough voice to overcome the fact she was trying to talk herself out of being scared. Since her mother died, she had become all too aware of the lack of power her own thoughts had on her own feelings and emotions.

“Almira, my little Adventurer”, she heard in her mother’s remembered voice, “you must not be so hard on yourself!”

As a very young girl of 5 years, Almira would sit in her corner of the main room in the Ristani’s apartment and read as her mother worked on her mending and sewing. The books that were her mother’s legacy, and, in turn, her daughters escape, sat in little used bookcases. Idresca Ristani’s profession, before leaving the old country, had been that of   Teacher. Unfortunately, it had less currency in Lawrence, where what little formal education available to children of the labor class was as tightly controlled by the local Church, as any guild, back in the old country. Idresca recognized her daughter’s gifts and was grateful to be able to provide a nurturing environment for a young mind that consumed ideas and knowledge like a baby at her mother’s breast.

Almira lived with the books that her mother brought across an ocean, from halfway around the world. Her precocious daughter found herself able to leave behind the confines of the two room apartment, through the pages of Cervantes and Bullfinch and Shakespeare and Swift. However, there would be times, roaming free in worlds far from the monotony of life in a Mill Town, that little Almira Ristani would come across a word that was foreign and unknown to her. Like the laborer straining at a part that’s solidly rusted into place, she would stare at the book, brow furrowed, as if to force, by effort of will, the word to reveal its nature. She would rarely ask her mother for explanations as Almira had the gift (and very much the curse) of believing that she could reason out the unknown.

“Sometimes, you can think too much,” her mother would come over to where she sat and putting the child on her lap, “the world is more than words. if you mean to explore the world, you need to start here”, and she placed Almira’s hand over her heart, “you must follow your heart as well as your mind. Never worry about being unable, only be concerned about being un-willing. Do you understand?”

The child would look at her mother and clutched her too-big-for-5-year-hands book, puzzled by her mother’s words. In the pages of the books, the world held promise, a promise of understandability.

Now, walking alone focusing on the steps in front of her, Almira thought about the time she’d spent at the Meeting Hall helping her friend, Annie in the near-endless labor of providing help and aid to those in need. That the UWA found fertile ground in Lawrence, Massachusetts and put down roots there, came as a surprise to no one other than the Mill Owners. The Essex Corporation, of course, being the source of the idea, will and resources necessary to design and build a modern city. The first manifestation of the modern industrial/civic complex, the Essex Corp the driving force behind the very idea of designing and building a City devoted to industry (textiles).

Carried over from Europe in the hearts and minds of workers, skilled and un-skilled, the Union sought to provide a counter-balance to the power of the those who owned the City of Lawrence. That a large portion, if not a majority of the mission of the UWA was to provide social services should not be surprising. Though barely providing for their own families, members were charitable to a surprising degree. Serving as a collection and redistribution point for donations of household goods and perishables (and non-perishable food items), the headquarters on Bennett Street served both as warehouse, distribution center.

Almira helped out at the Union hall whenever she could, her job at the Mill and caring for her family left little time to spare. She found an invaluable resource in a neighbor, Mrs. Swaider, who would take care of Almira’s 4-year-old sister, Illyana. The price for this help was greater, in some ways, than anticipated, as Illyana soon came to see the Swaider household as her real home, and the adults who claimed to be her family, well-meaning strangers.

When at the Hall, and when the work was done, Almira would sit in the part of the front room where there was a fireplace, (the once-constantly heated foundry, when the building housed a blacksmith), and read. Almira reading brought to mind the flourishing of a wild orchid in the deepest of jungles, a stranger (or explorer seeking treasures) would, coming upon Almira would forget the surround wood, stone and shingles, captivated by the concentration she exuded. Thirst of curiosity had an effect on her appearance, a very attractive affect. She was in love with new ideas and new ways of experiencing the world. In the trance of reading, a passerby (or our intrepid explorer), would be see a young girl very much in love and, even in the sooty-mean world of manual labor, in service of machinery, there are few things as likely to capture a person’s heart. Some speak of the glow of love, for Almira, there was a light that emanates from those blessed with an appetite for ideas.

Almira was quite aware of the direction (and ferocity) of the December wind as she walked to the entrance of the Union Hall. The howling of the wind was loud enough to make pointless any attempt to knock on the plain metal door. In any event, it was not locked. The building formerly housed a bicycle repair shop, (and before that), the aforementioned blacksmith shop, and, its original was as an ice house. Consisting of 3 rooms, 1 large (the former stable), a smaller room that fronted out on to Bennett Street the former bicycle repair/blacksmithery and a kitchen utility room.

Were the wind blowing consistently in one direction, it would simply be a matter of waiting for the wind to pause, (as wind always does), and then, exert force. Force to hold the door from ripping off it’s hinges, or force to pry the door against the wind that would strive to hold it shut. This particular early evening in December, the wind was not settled into a particular direction. Northerly for a spell, then a change to the southwest, perhaps out of the East.

Almira walked, rather, was pushed into the front room of the Meeting Hall by a surprise gust of frigid air, her hair pressed against her head strongly enough to mute her hearing.

Putting her shoulder to the metal door, the wind insisting on joining her inside, Almira pushed with both hands, one shoulder, finally, leaning at a 45 degree angle until the solid metal click of the door latch, signaled, ‘All clear, you’re inside’.

Almira heard voices before she could turn to see who was speaking. The tone of three people, (one female two male), was not of a tone she’d expected. One was threatening with a hint of fear, the other was threatening with a clear undercurrent of pleasure and the third, perhaps the most threatening, was without emotion or interest or fear. It was the voice of a person wanting to hurt someone or break something, just because they could.

“Go home, Almira! We’re not working tonight. Leave  …now!”

Annie LoPizzo’s voice was sharp and aimed directly at her. It was a mix of confidence, concern and, most of all, urgency.

“What do we have here? Why it’s a girl. No, come in! We’ll all have a little talk, we can be friends.”

..this male voice was as confident as Annie’s but there was an insidious charm bending the ends of each sentence.

“Herschel, Make sure the door is locked.”

Chapter 10

Featured

“Confound it, Ephraim Hardesty! How can you stand there acting like a man without a care? I’m trying my best to live as a good Christian and the Bible tells us that we are our brother’s keeper. But as God is my witness, I don’t know how long I can keep the Banker and the Sheriff off of your front porch! You need to listen to my Offer. You know good and well that the Lord helps those who help themselves. And I’m here to help you! But time is running out on you!”

Mrs. Emily Gale stood in the Hardesty Farm’s backyard, in front of the wide back porch. The sun burned through the low, early morning clouds and, like a spotlight, reflected off the silver rims of her glasses. Sharp, almost painful reflections of light shot from her face. Her husband, Henry Gale, stood a couple of steps behind and to her left side, and from his posture seemed to be alternating between anger and embarrassment. To occupy himself he stared out over the half-grown corn in the fields beyond the barn. It was a Friday morning on the 1st of July and the dry dirt yard released small clouds of dust at the slightest movement, incredibly short-lived mushrooms sprouted and released dry spores. Hunk Dietrich sat in the truck, on the driver’s side and seemed to be deep in thought, everything but his eyes as un-moving as the rose-rusty cab. The morning had started warm and it was clear that the afternoon held more of the same. It promised the kind of heat that would fill the horizon with mirage fields of wheat and corn, only the gap below the wavering images betraying the illusion.

“I don’t rightly care a lick about what you can and cannot do, Emily.”

Ephraim Hardesty stood on the porch, behind him, the still figure of 5-year-old Ethan showed, daguerreotype through the screen door. Ephraim was not surprised by the visit, he had, in fact, been expecting it. The visit from Henry Gale and Hunk Dietrich a few weeks before in mid-June, was clearly a preliminary skirmish, intended not only to test his resolve but to gather intelligence for the upcoming battle. He looked at the woman standing in his yard, like a Spanish Conquistador standing in the middle of the first good-sized village, she was impressive with her attitude of fierce self-confidence. Detracting from this impression was the fact that she’d brought along her husband and farmhand. In an un-intended effect, the two men came across less as additional forces to enforce her Will, more looking like attendant to her presence. More Henry than Hunk, Ephraim knew that both men were not in his back yard by choice.

Ephraim tried to remember the 14-year-old Emily (Sauvage) Gale. The girl took memory-dim shape sitting next to Ephraim in the small two room schoolhouse, a near-lifetime ago. Randall’s Drugstore now stood on the spot where, years before, children were sent by parents eager for them to learn whatever might allow them to avoid a life of back-breaking labor, a life all too common among those who’d settled in Kansas at the end of the last Century.  Emily had been as kind and caring as her father was difficult and given to drink.  In his defense, the now adult Ephraim Hardesty thought, Philippe Sauvage was from the Old Country and, although he would give the shirt off his back to a neighbor, he was fiercely protective of his family. The Sauvage Clan, (if it could be called that), consisted of only 4 people, Philippe and his wife Eloise, Emily, and her older brother, Cyril.
Life was not kind to the Sauvages. Philippe struggled to provide for his family as a blacksmith. He had a natural gift for what, one day, would have been referred to simply as, ‘engineering’. He knew metal and he had a talent for shaping and forming it in ways that were useful. Philippe Sauvage took great pride in his work and though his customers were very appreciative of the quality and craftsmanship, many were put off by his lack of tact and charm. Parson Levine, in a well-meant effort to be charitable, described Philippe’s flawed talent as ‘explosive perfectionism’. Like many fathers, Philippe dreamed of his son joining him in the blacksmith trade. In the kind of ironic twist that’s often suspected of being fabricated just to increase the dramatic effect for re-telling, Cyril was the first (and only) Sauvage to go to college. His intelligence and ability to understand new concepts was so great that the parish priest (of St Mary’s the church that burned down in 1919, not the Hospital), through his connections Back East, arranged for a full scholarship to Dartmouth College. Unfortunately Cyril was not only a young man, he was also a Sauvage. When the drum beats of militarism grew louder in the second half of the second decade of the new Century, Cyril was unable to resist and enlisted in the US Marines. The War in Europe was ravaging France and, in that way of youth, Cyril felt the call to defend his father’s home country and carry the Sauvage name into battle. He was killed in the first day of the Second Battle of the Marne, July 16,1918.
Emily took the news of her brother’s death very hard. Her father more so, though by virtue of both culture and gender, he did not show it. He was, for all intents and purposes as mortally wounded as his son, unfortunately, his wounds took longer to kill him than did his son’s. Emily tried, unsuccessfully, to hold her family together. Eventually she was sent to live with relatives Back East, soon after a quiet August day in 1920 when her mother was killed in a tornado. Her father put her on the train in Kansas City, went back to Circe, dove into the bottle, and never saw his daughter again.

When Emily Sauvage returned to Circe Kansas, 15 years later, she was very much a different woman. She was different in all the important ways that make women different from men. Where once she’d go without, just so someone with less could, have a little more, Emily Sauvage now sought more, even when it meant that another person might then have less. After being home a short time, she found Henry Gale working for near-slave wages on a pig farm, just outside Nickerson, Kansas. With the money from an inheritance, (from her mother’s side of the family back in Philadelphia), a new last name and a burning desire to create something, Emily Gale bought an abandoned farm and set out to give it life and make it prosper.

“Well now, Emmie,” Ephraim noticed the way Emily Gale tensed when he used the childhood name. He chided himself for being cruel and continued,

“I do appreciate your efforts to keep Old Man Banker off my doorsteps, really I do. But this farm is my life and I won’t be giving up on it.”

“But….”

“…and I won’t be hiding behind a fiery woman’s skirts, like a little boy, afraid a bully has found his secret and will take it all away,” stepping back into his house, Ephraim turned and looked out over the dry and dusty yard and said,

“Oh, and good morning to you, Henry!”

Ephraim locked eyes with Hunk Dietrich, still sitting in the driver’s seat and, nodded, ever so slightly. Emily Gale turned in the direction of the the parked truck, but not in time to see the answering nod from Hunk. Instead she swung on her husband,

“Clearly this man has lost what little sense that hussy of a wife of his neglected to take with her when she took off with that Bible Salesman.”

****

“And, as our last stop, oh my, I mean the last place we will visit on today’s rounds, Ward C,”

Dr Thaddeus Morgan said, with a look of self-satisfaction for his unintended witticism. He pushed through the double-swinging doors and was well into the Ward, before he realized he was alone. The Charity Ward appeared quite empty. ‘Of people‘, he corrected himself with quite a petulant tone, ‘these patients in the beds were…well, they were patients, not people.’ The Intern and the newly-hired nurse, who had been accompanying him on morning rounds, were nowhere to be seen.

“Well, I suppose they stopped to write notes of my diagnosis of terminal happiness for that boy in the Children’s Ward. Not that there’s to be anything useful to be learned here in Ward C. By the end of August there won’t be a patient left…”

“May I help you?”

Dr Thaddeus Morgan was a man given to spontaneous, (and grandly-emotional) outbursts whenever caught by surprise, his reaction at this moment, was anything but characteristic. He stood and stared at the tall and (a word that one would also deem uncharacteristic for Dr Morgan to assign to a person), willowy blond nurse who was standing in aisle that separated the two rows of beds. She was staring at him with what could be best described as an expression of peaceful strength.

Dr Morgan, surprised that this odd description of ‘peaceful strength’ would occur to him, remained mute,

“I said, ‘May I help you?'”

There was something about this woman that seemed familiar. This observation had the effect of restoring the rightness of the world for Dr. Thaddeus Morgan. The basis of this ‘rightness’ was the fact that this hospital, St Mary’s was his, as he was the Chief of Medical Services and this woman, by her uniform, was obviously a nurse. The natural and proper order of the universe was re-established to his satisfaction.

“What is your name, young lady? Who is your Supervi…”

Thaddeus Morgan left his authority-establishing question hanging in the air, as the intended object of his exertion of managerial Will was no longer standing in front of him. She was standing at the far end of the aisle, which could not be the case, as she had been standing in front of him and now, well, now she was not. The nurse remained where she (now) was, as still as the shadow of a mailbox.

Thaddeus’s first impulse was to demand she come back and resume her position in front of him. After all, he was in charge of the hospital, she surely would obey. Instead, while be certain to keep the tall figure, in the white on white uniform of a St. Mary’s nurse, in the center of his line of sight, he walked towards her. He thought he heard a noise from the hallway outside Ward C, but for reasons that he could not express, refused to take his eyes off the nurse as he walked the 25 feet or so to where she waited.

‘She’s waiting for me. Quite patiently, it would appear.’ the thought kept Dr Morgan company, as he walked. He thought that there was something important that he was forgetting, but it kept escaping his mind.

“I’m sorry, I must be getting forgetful in my old age. I neglected to introduce myself,”

Dr Morgan had a solid respect for his conversational skills. ‘He could talk a tree out of it’s leaves, at the height of Summer‘, professor at his Medical School once said of Thad Morgan.

“I’m Doctor Morgan. And you are?”

Thad Morgan decided that he liked this woman. She must be a new hire, although that didn’t make sense, since he personally interviewed everyone hired at St Mary’s. Everyone. From the janitor to the newest surgeon, they all met with Dr. Thaddeus at least once. And seeing this woman up close, he was certain that he’d not ever met her. And yet, there was something familiar about her.

“I’m Nurse Claire Griswold. Now that we’re properly introduced, may I ask, again, what is it you want here?”

Thad smiled. There was a directness and a total disregard for status or rank or any of the social niceties essential  to the smooth operation of a hospital. He felt more at home with the situation. Even if he didn’t know this nurse, he was her superior and she would answer his question,

“I was taking the new intern and the newest nurse on rounds, for an initial orientation. I thought they were following just behind me, well, they seem to have gotten lost, which can happen here in the old wing of the hospital,”

it occurred to him, with something of a shock, that he was babbling like a 6th grade student trying to delay having to answer a question to which he should have had the answer. This Nurse Griswold was regarding him with a look that, had it been any other circumstance, he’d of been delighted, (and, not a little flustered), he suddenly realized that he was staring at this woman. Her eyes were of a  pale blue that brought to mind the wrapping paper of a present he received for his 5th birthday. It was a toy medical bag, complete with a stethoscope and a Diploma with his name on it. He remembered how his mother laughed when Thad would put on the stethoscope and try to listen to heartbeats, of anyone or anything nearby. His dog, Scout, was his most frequent patient, tolerating him in that way of seeing only love in the often un-intelligible actions of the boy in his life.

“Do you enjoy being a physician?”

Nurse Griswold asked, still standing where she was, when he last looked. This last elicited more relief in Thad Morgan than he was capable of appreciating.

“Why I should certainly say so! I’m the Head of Medical Services! I’m in charge of all medicine here at St Mary’s.”

Dr Thaddeus Morgan spoke with a pride that made some men leaders, (in the eyes of those inclined to need leaders), and with a certainty that made other men charismatic preachers. It was not simply that he spoke the truth, it was the emotion that anchored his world around him and all that he felt he’d earned.

“That’s not quite what I asked you, Thad,”

She was standing closer to him than he’d realized. Her eyes seemed to require all of his attention and though he’d noted that she was tall, he couldn’t understand how it was that he felt like he was looking up into her eyes.

“Well, yes, I realize that. And no, you’re quite correct, I really do enjoy my work…”

At that moment there was a wobbling whirling sound of gum-rubber wheels and wooden clipboards pushing through the swinging doors of Ward C. Ahead of the cart that contained mid-morning medications, was a young man and a young woman. Both looked somewhat sheepish, that expression being replaced by one of surprise.

“Dr. Morgan! We looked all over for you!” Nurse Sally Rowe spoke with relief in her voice. The young man beside her chose to let her offer the explanations for their absence. Even as an intern, he recognized that sometimes it was best to allow the Nurse to take responsibility. In case things did not work out as planned.

Dr Thaddeus Morgan caught himself turning back to Nurse Griswold, but, smiling, he said,

“Well, lets not dilly dally. The work of medicine waits for no one!”

As he led the Intern and the new Nurse out into the hall, he allowed himself one quick glance around the Ward. It was as empty of people not lying in bed as he’d thought it would be, but thought to himself that perhaps he’d stop in for a quick visit, from time to time.

***

“Come on, doll. You know you want to, I can see it in your baby-blues”

Jack Clayton stood behind Eliza and pulled her close. Eliza found this a familiar situation, what was not familiar to the 18-year-old Sarah Lawrence co-ed and heiress to the Thornberg publishing empire, was a growing feeling of ‘wanting’. She pulled herself away from his embrace, and was surprised to hear herself think, ‘There, now I can think this through’.

A naturally sexy and attractive young woman, Eliza Thornberg understood the economy of desire, were it any of the other, more conventional form of human endeavor, her talent and ability in these matters would warrant her the title of savant.
Eliza Thornberg knew people. She especially knew, men. She knew what they wanted. And, most importantly, she knew how to use this knowledge to her advantage. What was puzzling her, at this particular moment, was what it was that she suddenly found herself ‘wanting’. This was new. Desire, she was familiar with, it was, in a non-sociologically approved term, her bread and butter. This new thing, springing from Jack Clayton telling her that he needed to return to California, to the movie studio, to the film that he was working on and his asking her to join him, that was the problem. She found herself wanting to do it. The fact that he would ask, was not a surprise. Invited to the Thornberg’s by an author whose bestseller was published by her father’s company, Jack Clayton was after the rights to make the book into a movie. He’d worked in a number of successful films as a production designer and assistant producer, but reading the book (published by Thornberg Press) knew that he could turn it into a successful film. He also needed financial backers and that was in part the reason for accepting the invitation to the June party.

That a trip to California would be fun and a desirable way to spend part of her Summer was not surprising. That she found herself really wanting to accompany Jack Clayton to Hollywood, that was surprising. The ‘wanting’ is what Eliza found disturbing in that it forced her to confront the possibility of ‘not getting what she wanted’! Until just a moment ago, she had not wanted for anything in her life. Having spent the previous few days in the company of Jack Clayton, hearing him speak causally of people who made movies that had an effect on millions of people, somehow the idea of being a part of that magical (and diabolical) process had taken root with her. This realization was morning sickness of an un-planned obsession. A dream to become… another version of the girl she had been.

“I’ll go with you, on one condition,” Eliza smiled, feeling on familiar ground.

“Anything!”

Certain that she was in control, the only place she could escape the nagging voice in her head, the voice that whispered, ‘you don’t matter… to anyone’, Eliza turned from the window,

“You must join us in Newport in August.”

“If you promise not to invite any more boyfriends from college, I will be there with bells on,” Jack smiled confidently.

“…and

Eliza was gratified to see the man’s smile falter, something like fear fraying it, yet Jack Clayton rallied his defenses and raised an eyebrow in worldly acceptance of the always-high-stakes negotiation between men and attractive young women.

“…I want to be in a movie.”

Without waiting for an answer, Eliza Thornberg stepped the few steps back, to where she’d been, her back to the man in her bedroom. Feeling his arms again capture her, she smiled and began to consider how best to break the news to her father.

Her father needed to be approached carefully. Jack Clayton wasn’t quite the typical houseguest. Stephen Lawrence, who’d ignominiously left on the night of ‘the Afternoon Social That Wouldn’t End’, too drunk to know what he’d done wrong, was already forgotten. His failure was to not recognize the expectations he was being held to, a non-forgivable sin in the world of the wealthy and privileged. Eliza was not overly concerned, attractive and successful boys from Yale were not a rare commodity at Sarah Lawrence.

Eliza had long since accepted the reality that, while she was her father’s daughter, his first love, (now that Eliza’s mother was dead), was money. And the movie industry seemed to combine his interests. And now, with her new insight into her life’s potential, very much in her interests.