Chapter 26

Featured

Eliza walked down the aisle that ran the length of Ward C, without conscious thought, she found (and held) to the very center of the space between the rows of beds. All but three of the ten beds were empty. They were, in fact, more than empty; five were metal frames, a rolled up mattress lying on the zigzag network of wire that provided support for the thin mattresses. Only the three occupied beds still had visitor chairs and, of the seven empty beds, half lacked a nightstand.

Eliza could see her friend Dorothy, standing silently at the far end of the room, a conscripted sentinel, guarding the near-dead in St Mary’s Charity Ward.

Mrs. Eloise Oppenheimer (according to the white card held by shiny metal brackets on the end of the bed), lay in the first bed on the left. Seemingly awake and conscious, she watched in perfect silence as Eliza walked past the end of her bed. Eliza paused, looked back at the woman and, raising her hand in a chest high wave, saw nothing in the old woman’s face that indicated that she was there at the end of the bed. Mrs. Oppenheimer reminded Eliza of a cat she had as a little girl. The cat, a grey Siamese named ‘Theodora’, would sit in one of the window seats that overlooked the patio and surrounding formal gardens of the Thornberg home. Playing by herself, Eliza sometimes found it amusing to try to frighten the cat, approaching the window from low along the row of bushes, suddenly jumping up in front of the window, waving her arms. Invariably, Theodora would remain as she was, sitting and watching out the window. Never once could she remember seeing Theodora show any sign of being caught by surprise or otherwise startled. The cat sat on the window seat cushion and, with the minimum amount of head turning, followed the antics of a young girl on a manicured lawn, playing out adventures to add excitement to her solitary childhood. Mrs. Oppenheimer reminded Eliza of Theodora, only her stare held less humanity.

Further down the aisle, about halfway to where Dorothy stood, Eliza saw what at first appeared to be a rolled-up mattress, laying in the middle of one of the beds. As she drew closer, the mattress became a man, a very obese man, covered in a light brown blanket, head propped up at an angle between two pillows. The reason for this awkward position became apparent as she walked past the end of the bed. Wheezing sleep sounds, like the cries of a drowning man heard from a distance, a distance too far to make rescue a reasonable thought, followed her as she walked down the aisle. The sleeping man fought to find a rhythm to his gasps, propped up by worn and flattened pillows. She hurried past, less afraid of waking the man and having to deal with questions than she was of being captured by the silence of a stranger’s last breath.

Eliza reached the end of the aisle. There was a row of windows along both walls that formed the corner of the room. Beyond the glass, lay the receiving area of the hospital, the scenery was black asphalt and white concrete, the growing darkness broken only by the firefly light of orderlies standing in the dark, smoking cigarettes and talking quietly. On the nightstand next to the bed, a small table lamp threw light in a conical plume up to the ceiling. The meager light it cast seemed brighter as the windows became more reflective with the deepening of the darkness outside.

Dorothy stood very still, her brown hair pulled back on either side, almost into twin braids, her white sweater open over a blue and white check blouse. She was staring down at what, on first glance, appeared to be one more empty bed. Her eyes were downcast, in a sort of stubborn stare, as if demanding that the object of her concentration become something different from what it was. Following her friends gaze, Eliza caught the silent flash of a scarlet ribbon sewn into the collar of a worn hospital gown. The collar of the gown was all that showed of the woman in the bed, otherwise completely covered with a blanket. Small in stature, her face was a study in contrasts. Though closed in a very deep sleep, her eyes were beautifully shaped, set above prominent cheekbones that, in turn, lead to thin, almost severe lips. Even in the half-dark and full-stillness of the moment, she was a very attractive woman, delicate features complimenting her small size. Except, that is, for the nose. While noses are the center of the face and as such always significant to how we judge a person’s appearance, the nose of the sleeping woman was of an exceptional size and shape. As facial features went, this nose not only demanded attention, it commanded it. Sharp along its upper edge, it rose downward from the brow to create an angular promontory. Projecting from the face, this nose seemed to say, ‘hey! you have to get past me if you want to get close to the woman’.

“I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Nothing makes sense.”

Dorothy spoke, almost in a whisper, with a tone somewhere between a question and a complaint.

Eliza Thornberg felt a chill skitter across the back of her shoulders, invisible spiders racing for cover from something that frightened them. Almost immediately, her true personality reasserted itself.

Stepping across the aisle she grabbed the back of a chair and, without bothering to lift it off the floor, dragged it noisily to where her friend stood.

“Sit” she commanded. She then found another chair and, dragging it with a fair amount of racket, placed it next to the bed opposite Dorothy. Eliza preferred to make noise, given the opportunity she felt more…. alive, when there was sound filling the space around her.

Taking off her sweater, Eliza shook it out and hung it over the back of her chair. She looked around the ward once and sat down.

“OK Dorothy, now tell me the story of how you know this woman. And don’t leave anything out.”

And Dorothy began to speak,  “… and I took Toto and we ran away.”

***

Almira came into our bedroom and asked me if I wouldn’t like to come downstairs to sit in the garden with her. Cursing myself, I replied,

“Maybe in a little bit.”

I remained silent as she stood at the bedroom door, the pain, insufficiently hidden in her face, echoed the self-loathing that bloomed in my mind. Each second she stood there, poisonous air fanned the fire, which, try as I might, I could not extinguish. The silence grew and became, as silence between two people often does, something monstrous and destructive, feeding on unspoken fears.

“Alright, Sterling. I’ll be down in the library if you want to join me.”

She walked out, closing the bedroom door, which made the hateful voice inside me almost rabid with angry glee…’She closed the door? Now, even if you considered leaving here, you have to get up and open the door yourself. And when you do that, you admit that you’re the jerk. What the hell does she think she’s doing!’

The ravening voice in my mind had grown steadily stronger in the year since I returned home to an emotional landscape that seemed to constantly change. At first, the dominant emotion among my friends and family was relief that I was not killed in the war, that I did not die. This positive emotion eventually changed into sympathy. People talked about everyday matters and tried their best to act as if nothing had changed. However they could not ignore the fact of my injuries, of my crippled right arm, (that with therapy would get better) and the burn scars on my face and chest, (that wouldn’t). Sympathy, in terms of shared emotion, is like running a marathon. The beginning is chaotic and the position of the competing runners at the starting line is of little importance. Over the course of the race, however, the true pain of losing is not so much a result of being beaten by better runners as it is being left behind. The race ends at the front of the pack, not the back. Sympathy has a way of silently turning into bitterness. However, in the Gulch household in 1920, even sympathy could not last without changing, altering itself. Sympathy, without a sense of confidence or optimism is nothing more than fear with a social face. This fear was very basic, it was that, ‘the way things have always been, will never, ever happen again’.

There was a knock on the door. Before I could get up, I heard Edward speaking through the door,

“Begging Mr. Gulch’s pardon, may I speak freely?”

I decided to play along. To be honest, I didn’t want to think. To think was to give that part of my mind a chance to pull me farther into the depths that I was becoming much too accustomed to, so I said,

“Of course, Edward.”

“You need to get out of the goddamn bed. Sir. Go and suffer in the bathroom and then get yourself downstairs to your wife. You may have scars and memories that remind you how screwed-up your life is; she does not. And yet, she does not give in to her own demons. Demons, I might add, that we all must contend with, at least those of us who know that life is not neat nor does it always make sense.”

He opened the door and stood staring at me. I looked back at him.

Edward appeared to be as old as my father, however, there was something to the way he moved that made me think of ancient Sparta. Not that his appearance was anything more than that of a tall, thin, older gentleman’s gentleman. There was, however, a certain calculating shrewdness in the way he carried himself. It showed more in the slow deliberateness of his movements than in any overt demonstration of strength. He was one of those men that uncharitable strangers might describe as cold and aloof. He was anything but, however, I’ve known him since I was a young boy. Whenever my father had a problem that no one could help him solve, in the end, Edward would be there.

“I trust you won’t think I’m being impertinent, sir. You should to go to your wife, she needs you more than she will ever say. The work that she’s done in the two years that you’ve been away has taken more of a toll than she would ever admit. Quite a remarkable woman. You, if I may say so, have the potential of becoming a remarkable man. She deserves nothing less.”

I got up, the sense of un-defined hopelessness faded out, perhaps just for the moment, but it was enough time for me to move out of the room that I had imprisoned myself in for the last six months,

“Anything in particular I should know about the time I’ve been away, Edward?”

“Nothing you don’t already know, sir.”

I saw what I believed was a look of approval and felt like I did when I won my first medal in high school track. As I walked past. he said,

“There was a policeman here last year, from Lawrence MA. He struck me as the kind of man who, while not overly dangerous on his own, when directed to action by people he feels indebted to, can be quite dangerous. Captain Herlihy was his name. I do not trust him.”

I stopped and looked at him. His facial expression subtly changed, I realized that Edward, for all of his proper manners that came from a lifetime of being a butler, had a lethal side that would not stop at anything in order to protect those given to his care.

“Thank you Edward.”

“Certainly, sir.”

***

Almira sat at the desk over-looking the garden. Through the French doors, (one open and one closed), the breeze moved just enough to destroy the illusion that the lace curtains were, in fact, not finely etched glass. The brick patio outside formed a square platform, surrounded by an intricate array of perennial flowers and evergreen shrubbery. The back of the Sterling property was large in comparison to the other homes located on the fringes of the  East Side of Providence. The boundaries to the rear were defined by a brick wall that ran through a wooded section of the yard, down the sides and returned to the house itself.

On the desk, her copy of Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’, open to the title page, on the opposite page in red ink,

To my dear friend Almira,

I wanted to give you something that had meaning for both of us and, yet at the same time be special to us individually. The world is a better place for having you in it and I am a happier woman for having known you

love, Annie

Almira let her finger trace the letters slowly. As if a phonograph needle, the sound of the words were sent directly to her heart.

“I have an idea,”

She looked up to see Sterling, standing in the open doorway. He immediately turned and walked back into the hallway, his words trailing behind,

“…stay right there, I’ll be only a moment.”

The lace curtains swayed quietly, an early April breeze drew her eyes outside the library.  She reviewed her plans for her 5th grade class, once they returned following the April break. Her thoughts strayed to the parents of her students, many of whom she knew from her work at the Union Hall on Valley Street, a small building among the vast textile mills. She smiled as she recalled when, at the end of the fall semester, Sister Aloysius called her to her office,

“Mrs. Gulch, please have a seat. You know that as a parochial school we serve at favor of the Bishop? Our parish is new and a little different from the other parishes, in terms of the neighborhoods that we include. That our parish includes the wealthy East Side as well as the working poor of Olneyville is a reflection of beliefs of the former Bishop. He felt that including the wealthier neighborhoods with some of the more …less fortunate, would result in a more ecumenical gathering. I do not disagree. However, our current Bishop is from a more, shall we say, refined background. He recently spoke to our parish priest, Father Coleman about your work with the parents of some of our students. The new union hall that you seem to be involved in, to be specific. He went to great lengths to remind Father Coleman that our parish includes business people, prominent business people.”

Almira sat and tried to ignore her growing anger.

“I just want to say that I admire you. And, as strange as it may sound, I’m grateful that you are not a member of my Order. I’m in charge of running this school, that means all of the teachers answer to me. Not being a nun, I do not have the authority to tell you what to do with your free time, away from school. However, that is not at issue, at least with me. If I judge your character correctly, you will do as your conscience tells you. If that turns out to be in conflict with the Church, in this case, the Bishop, I have no doubt that you will continue to do what you know you must do.”

Sister Aloysius got up and stood looking out the window, the ghost of a smile just visible as she turned away,

“And so, I will say, as your Principal, the Bishop would be happier if you ceased some of your …extracurricular efforts.”

Almira felt something within stir and stood, feeling a growing anger,

“Sister Aloysius, I must…”

Turning from the window, the Principal of Our Lady of Intercession school interrupted,

“That’s excellent! As long as we understand each other!”

Smiling, she continued through Almira’s hesitation,

“I believe that you are one of those rare young women who not only hear what the heart tells her, but has the courage that puts those who would try to make you conform, more at risk than they realize.”

Standing in front of Almira, Sister Aloysius, a tall woman, smiled down at her 5th Grade teacher.

“I trust that you will do what you know is right and that you will recognize your friends, even if they don’t always make it clear that they are your friends, am I correct, Mrs. Gulch?”

Almira smiled back at the nun, reached  out and touched the other woman’s hand briefly,

“You are correct. Thank you.”

Returning to the present, Almira looked up at Sterling who, once again, was standing in the doorway. He wore a heavy winter coat. In his left hand, a small paper bag, in the crook of his right arm was an old coat that she thought she’d lost. Her right eyebrow took control of the conversation,

“Wait! Don’t say it!”

After looking around the library in a theatrically cautious manner, Sterling leaned backwards and looked up and down the hallway. Satisfied, he walked to where she sat at the desk and extending his right arm, said,

“Here put this on! We don’t have much time!”

Almira felt the memory-echo of a forgotten time grow in her mind. Putting on the coat, she felt openings cut into the inner lining to allow access to the two large pockets of the old wool coat.

“Come on.”

Taking Sterling’s right forearm, she let him lead her out through the patio doors, down a flagstone path to the back section of the property. There the brick wall that surrounded the property took a 90 degree turn. When they got to the corner, Sterling took off his coat and laid it on the ground, sat with his back against the brick and looked up to her.

The feeling that flickered in her mind and echoed in her heart overwhelmed her and, without a word, she sat on the ground to Sterling’s right. He shifted slightly and, with his left hand, held out her old copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.

Still holding the book out to her, Sterling spoke softly, reciting the opening words from the book she’d memorized a lifetime before,

“The author gives some account of himself and family. His first inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked, and swims for his life…”

Almira took her left arm from the coat and Sterling wrapped it around himself and the two read into the night.

***

The yellow Packard, it’s top still down, sat in the dirt yard between the farmhouse’s back porch and the barn.

“When you country people do nighttime, you don’t hold anything back, do you?”

Eliza rested her head against the back of the driver’s seat and stared up into a sky full of stars and emptiness. She felt both at peace and on edge. One was the result of being in an open car on a comfortably warm night at the end of July, the other from listening to the incredible story told to her in a nearly empty hospital ward.

Dorothy Gale told of growing up adopted, cared for but not loved. Learning about life in the raw earthiness of a barn, from a boy with the sensitivity of a man. As she listened, Eliza travelled to a place that was not of the world and yet, at the same time, was the only world  that answers to questions made a difference to the people that mattered. She heard about risking all for friendship and having the courage to protect herself and return to a home she could only appreciate for its absence. And, finally, she listened quietly as the girl told her about how she became the person she thought she needed to be. Yet, with time, all novelty becomes mundane, and she learned the harsh lesson that the only special qualities are those within.

“Hey, that story back there, at the hospital. It all happened?”

Eliza leaned to her right to look at Dorothy,

“God’s honest truth.”

“Well, I had planned on spending August at our Newport house. It has horses and boys and a secret beach on an Island just a short boat ride away. I was going to invite you to come and stay before we have to return to school.”

Dorothy sat up and turning towards Eliza, rested her left arm across the back of the seat. She idly played with the waves of brown hair that surrounded her friends’ head. Laying her own head on her forearm, she said,

“Thanks. But this thing here, Mrs. Gulch and my mother and everything. I can’t. I have a feeling, and I don’t know why, that this summer is important. Sorry.”

Eliza reached over and pulled Dorothy to her shoulder and stared back up to the distant stars.

“Then it’s decided! This year, I’ll be summering in…. what’s this hick town called?”

Dorothy Gale looked over in feigned outrage, pushed her friend’s shoulder, sat upright and pulled the door handle.

“Circe!  It’s called Circe and we’re in McPherson County, Kansas. Soon to become the most sought after of vacation destinations!”

Both girls laughed and walked to the front of the car.

“If we’re quiet, I can show you your room without waking up Auntie Em,” Dorothy took her friend’s hand and started towards the house.

She took two steps before she realized that although she still held Eliza’s hand, her friend had not moved. simply extended her arm. Instead, Eliz was looking towards the small cottage that stood next to the barn.

“You go on ahead, Dorothy. I’ll find my way. I think I’ll just say goodnight to Henry Fonda, real quick.”

She watched as Dorothy’s eyes widened enough to be noticed, even in the starlit yard,

“Well, your Hunk was the first to welcome me here, before you and your boyfriend showed up. It’s only good manners to return the gesture.”

Dorothy looked at her friend with an expression of affection and outrage, feelings that she’d become all too familiar with since meeting Eliza Thornberg.

“He’s a friend. Keep that in mind.”

Dorothy squeezed Eliza’s hand.

“And, from what I’ve gathered, he’s quite smart enough to realize that. I’ll be good.”

Eliza walked towards the single light that painted a yellow rectangle on the low slung porch.

Chapter 25

Featured

“Where the hell is everyone?”

Eliza stood in the doorway of the Charity Ward, a single book between two bookends, reluctant to let the double doors swing shut behind her. Ordinarily, Eliza Thornberg was the first one to raise both hands on the roller coaster, smile back at the man sitting by himself in the smoky after-hours bar or even, borrow a car in an unfamiliar city to surprise a friend at home in a part of the country as far from where she was raised as cornbread is to shortbread. Hearing only a single muted dinging sound of an elevator down one of the empty corridors she walked, following her friend Dorothy, Eliza was feeling more eight than eighteen years old. Standing alone, embraced by the soft rubber edges of the doors, her eyes struggled to adjust to the anemic light that coated the walls and floors of the ward.

There were lights, hidden behind dusty sconces running along the top edge of the walls, their glow spreading tentacles of light up and across the ceilings. The slowly turning fans threw shards of dull illumination back towards her, imbuing the room with a sense of motion and activity. Trouble was, there was no motion or activity in the room.

In her application to Sarah Lawrence College, Eliza Thornberg described herself as, ‘a girl who, despite having the good fortune to be born in a wealthy and powerful family, was always ready for the new and un-expected experiences in life.’ During her personal interview with the Dean of Admissions, when asked what she thought would make her an asset to the school, she said, ‘I enjoy un-covering the unusual, the darker side of life, the parts of the world that most people of my age would avoid, taking risks to see and explore everything the world has to offer. Even the dangerous things.’ The look on the Dean’s face was recounted with glee for months afterwards. Well aware of her strong academic record, her parents accused her of faking her surprise when the acceptance letter arrived. Eliza was not faking.

Eliza felt a pulling on her very expensive v neck cardigan, as a bloom of goosebumps grew high enough to catch on the soft fabric. Looking around she saw a large open room, wider than it was deep. To her right was a grey metal desk and a file cabinet. On the wall, next to the file cabinet, was a row of ten open file holders. All but three were empty. In the three were clipboards holding patient charts. There was a gooseneck lamp on the desk, throwing a stretched oval of yellow light across the desk blotter. The blotter itself had a large calendar taking up its entire surface. The days of the month were numbered in large blue-lined squares, one month per page, which could be torn out and thrown away whenever the days ended. She saw ‘August’ in block lettering along the top edge of the blotter. This struck Eliza as odd, there still being eight days remaining in July. Odder yet was the red circle around the blue square that marked August 11th

“No!”

The sound of Dorothy’s voice made Eliza jump. For a moment, her eyes remained submerged in the deep pool of yellowish light on the nurses’ desk. Suddenly disoriented, she took a step backwards, caught one heel and began to fall. She felt herself held, steadied by a strong, yet gentle grip on her arm. Feeling herself fall, she remained focused on the desk and it’s lamp and it’s calendar, seemingly the only steady point in her suddenly uncertain location. She heard a voice. It was not coming from the far end of the room where she could see her friend standing next to a low bed. The voice, a woman’s voice, came from just behind her.

“Easy now, Eliza. She needs you. Your friendship will make the difference between young Dorothy Gale merely surviving this summer away from school and coming to understand that, if she chooses correctly, a full and satisfying life awaits her. But only if you are there for her.”

Eliza Thornberg recovered her balance and whirled around, only to see the darkness in the corners, where the light was too timid to reach.

***

“You probably do not remember me, Miss…”

“Mrs.   Mrs Almira Gulch.”

“‘Mrs.’ …beg your pardon.”

Gareth Herlihy projected his best ‘confident smile’. It was his only defense against feeling out of his social class. He leaned forward from the leather sofa that Edward had guided him to, immediately upon his entry into the library. Almira stood by the French doors.

“…but we met several years ago in Lawrence. It was in the winter of 1911 and,”

“I recall, Captain. What can I do for you?”

Almira looked directly at the policeman.

“Well, I’m following up on an investigation into the death of a Union organizer and a young man who also worked for the union. Her name was Annie LoPizzo and his was Robert Maclachlan.”

Captain Gareth Herlihy’s voice grew louder, in no small part to counter his eroding self-confidence. A richly appointed library in what could only be called a small mansion in the better part of the capital city of Rhode Island was not his preferred environment. He thought with a grimace how his job would be so much simpler and more enjoyable if they would just let him deal with the lowlifes, minor criminals and run-of-the-mill drunks. Instead, less than a week earlier, he found himself summoned to the office of Frederick Prendergast, the CEO of the Essex Company. Without bothering with the social niceties, clearly they were seen by his host as necessary only with social or professional equals, Frederick launched into a somewhat frenetic rant.

“Listen to me Herlihy and listen closely. The goddamn union is getting out of hand…again! After five years of getting along with the union leaders, they went and let in some new blood and they’re desperate to keep ’em happy with their ‘power of collective bargaining’ bullshit. What a joke. They give us what we want and we let them put on a show of organizing and demonstrating and then make like they’ve wrestled some benefit from the management. But there’s a couple of new people on the board and they don’t know how the game is played. The press is out of control, so we can’t count on them. There’s a movement to demonstrate for the American Way and make sure everyone knows that all these strikes are coming from foreigners out to steal our liberties and create anarchy. The people I answer to believe that that will be enough to get our heel back on the neck of these troublemakers.

Personally, I’m not convinced that it will be anything more than a temporary fix. I need something stronger. I need you to find the vicious killer of the beloved Annie LoPizzo and the hard-working Robert Maclachlan, both viciously killed in the course of a peaceful demonstration. And the only person of interest that isn’t dead or been beaten into innocence is that little girl who was sitting in the street with the dead striker and that kid, who showed up not that much before all the labor trouble. They’re the only viable leads left. I have contacts in the other mill towns and we know they headed south to Rhode Island the day after the funeral for the LoPizzo woman. Go find them and get us some useful information. We need to nip this union growth in the bud and there’s nothing like a murder trial to get the average worker’s mind off the day-to-day routine. Don’t let me down!”

“I remember you quite well. You were a Sargent then.”

He realized, with the feeling of a person sitting in a boat without oars watching the dock move away, that somehow he was at a severe disadvantage with this young woman. He had advanced in his career because he had a talent for projecting his emotion purely by the tone and volume of his voice. He’d discovered early in his career that in a situation where he needed to exert his will on another, the words he employed were almost totally superfluous. In the world of the petty criminal, hopeless drunk and momentarily lawless citizen, Gareth Herlihy was a very effective law enforcement officer. He became Captain on the strength of his personality in the context of the weakness of the people he was charged with keeping in line.

Herlihy felt uncomfortable with the decidedly serene confidence of the young woman. Most people, of any age, when informed that the police were interested in what they might know about a crime, usually became uncomfortable, un-easy. There seemed to be something in law-abiding people who made them feel uncomfortable when they became the subject of interest to the police. That was very much not the case this Friday afternoon with the rather young woman, a girl, really. She did not seem defensive at all. Worse, her attitude showed a tendency to challenge his very right to be asking questions. Not only was the little girl, (at least someone reading his file notes that described her as being 22 years old, 5′ 3″ and approximately 100 lbs would picture a girl) but those notes did not address the face of this young woman and they did nothing to prepare a person for the way she had of looking at a person.

Now, sitting in a room that probably cost more to furnish than he spent to buy his small house on the outskirts of Lawrence, Captain Gareth Herlihy felt insecure. With a silent laugh of horror, he thought, ‘this is how my suspects must feel, after they realize that I got ’em in my jailhouse and they don’t leave unless I let ’em leave’.

Captain Herlihy did what he did best when feeling the need to re-establish control of a situation, he raised his voice, ‘blustered’ might be a reasonable, although un-charitable characterization.

For a moment, the deepening gloom of the approaching evening seeping into the dark wood panelling of the library triggered his memory of the last time he spoke to this very strange girl. It was after the funeral for Annie LoPizzo, 5 years before. The memory was cast in a feeling of discomfit, a feeling made all the more foreboding by its seeming in-appropriateness. Then, as now, the circumstances of their meeting was not a happy social occasion, but it was not, by any stretch of the imagination an overtly adversarial or negative  meeting. He was uncomfortable then too. There was something to this girl who for no reason he could imagine, made him think of a wolf. Wolves, at least when viewed from a distance, have the appearance of large domestic dogs. It was only when they got up close that the differences became un-ignorable, and first and foremost (of this difference) was in how the animal regarded man. Most dogs have a way of looking up at a man who went a long way to supporting the saying that they were ‘Man’s best friend’. Not so with the wolf. Dogs seemed to like, even look up to men. The way that a wolf regarded a man, even in a non-confrontational situation, showed that they recognized a fellow killer. This girl had that look. Not anything outwardly aggressive or threatening, there was simply a recognition of the capacity for evil in people. More than that, there was nothing in her that implied that this capacity for evil was shocking or to be feared. Wolves did not reel in horror at what a hunter might do, they recognized violence as a natural part of their world. Neither good nor bad. It made Herlihy, who was very familiar with the fallen side of human nature, hesitate. Although he was not a denizen of this dark part of the world, she clearly could see and walk among the wolves.

“And your husband, Mr Gulch?

“He is away in Europe. Fighting.”

“Oh, I see. I shall be brief then. I’m doing a follow-up investigation into the two deaths that day. Do you recall anything of that day, the day of the demonstration?”

“You mean the Bread and Roses Strike?”

The young woman smiled to herself and Herlihy was taken with a sense that he was watching a person looking through a scrapbook. It was such a strong impression that, for a second, he could almost make out images reflected in her eyes.

“Other than my friend being murdered? No. I don’t recall anything more than that.”

“And Robert Maclachlan did you know him very well?”

“I did not know him at all.”

“I don’t believe you are being truthful with me, Mrs. Gulch.”

“And I don’t believe that I care what you think, Captain Herlihy.”

“The citizens of Lawrence want to know what really happened that day and it is my sworn duty to pursue the matter. There are people and, …organizations in Lawrence who have an investment not only in the city but it’s people and they will not cease in their efforts until those responsible are brought to account.”

The police captain stood. The library door opened and Edward stood, silhouetted in the skewed rectangle of light. He had Herlihy’s overcoat and hat in hand.

“Be that as it may, I have nothing to add to your investigation, Captain.”

Almira turned to look out onto the gardens, now a darkscape with glimmers of morning in the blooms closest to the door.

“I spoke to your Sister Aloysius at the school where you have begun teaching, I try to be as thorough in my work as possible. She speaks quite highly of you. Not only of your teaching skills, but also of your volunteer work with some of the …less fortunate workers in the mills. It would be a shame if your efforts contributed to a repeat of history. I will wish you a good evening and my best wishes for your husband’s safe return from the war. For now, good evening, Mrs. Gulch.”

***

1918 Arras, France

The dream is the same dream I’ve had since landing at Saint Nazaire, a near lifetime ago. It’s always the same and always different, in the way of recurring dreams where the differences are as interesting as the dream itself. The recurring part, the part that makes it ‘that dream’ is how it begins. I hear Almira calling to me from across a field. I don’ see her because I’m not in that field, I’m working on something. In a blacksmith shop, complete with an anvil and bellows and a forge. From where I stand, I feel the heat from the forge but alternately there is a blast of frigid air that stabs my face. There are shoes hanging from the ceiling, all sorts of shoes.

Hearing the tone of Almira’s voice change from greeting to alarm, I put down the hammer and walk out the door. The blacksmith shop is clearly in a town, there is a sense of vehicles and people passing in the street outside the windows, but when I step out from the shop, I’m standing on a hill. I hear Almira’s voice again, sounding increasingly urgent. Her voice comes from a wooded hilly area in what otherwise appears to be wide open prairie lands. At this point, the differences in each dream usually appears. Sometimes she’s facing me, more and more, she’s turned away. She always appears to be holding something in her arms. But, no matter what, she is backing away from something in the woods and mostly she sounds like she’s trying to warn me of danger. But increasingly, I come out of the dream with a sense that she’s crying out for me to help her. Sometimes there are other people in the dream, but they’re all people who are looking to Almira for help. Very often the dream ends with the sound of thunder, but of late, the sound is stretching out into a longer, more personal sound, a howling, like wolves howling in a winter’s forest,

Usually, on nights of the dream, I wake to the nurse who stands next to my bed and touches my forehead with a white cloth. There is no rise of daylight and there’s no sense of the approaching of night. I lie in a single bed with an army green (which is really a brown-without-ambition) blanket and stare at the lights in the ceiling. The only thing that provides me with a sense of reliability is when the nurse appears. It’s the reverse of fading into sleep and dreams. Like a summer sunrise, I sense a lightness, becoming more and more a shape, a whiteness that descends down from the gray over-hanging sky and, drawing closer, resolves into a face, her blue eyes first and then the hair…. like quiet thunder on a cloudless day, her voice turns into words, her words reach into my mind. I assume that I am on some drug, because I always remember that I forget to ask what her name is and where we are, content to stare into her face, framed in a blonde halo.

“Lieutenant Gulch, can you hear me?”

Now, I’m confused. I hear my name, but the person speaking is short, balding, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and is not a beautiful woman. I suppose the drugs don’t always work as well as they’re suppose to, so I tried to close my eyes.

“Lt Gulch, wake up! We need to move you. And your cooperation is really gonna make this go smoother.”

I decided that if I don’t open my eyes, then things will eventually go back to the way they’ve been since…. well, since I started having the same dream over and over and sometimes waking up to a beautiful nurse.

“Nope. Can’t do this to me, I need to get this ward up and transported outta here.  As the cops in my neighborhood used to tell us, ‘you’re coming along with us, whether you want to or not’.”

Maybe it was the tone of his voice, which had none of the poetic cadence of speeches in dreams, so I opened my eyes again and stared at Capt Tribianni (according to the white on black name tag on his shirt pocket).

“Better! Lets start with the stupid questions and then I’ll tell you the plan and I can get on to the next soon-to-be-discharged patient.”

He pulled a metal chair from somewhere to his right and sat down, crossed his legs and stared at me,

“Come on! Gave you a clue there… say something and I won’t have to put a notation on your chart that will require less from you now but will cost you too much when you get home.”

The doctor raised his eyebrow, which provided the only hair that his forehead had until you got way back on his head or over his ears.

“OK, doc. Lets do the easy parts first. I’m leaving this place. That’s neither good nor bad until you tell me where I’m leaving to…”

“Fair enough. You’re leaving and heading home. The U S of A. Long boat ride, but from what I see on the chart here, you’ll survive the trip. You’ll have company, the War is over. You slept right through Armistice Day! Now that you passed the first test by not asking me any disturbing questions like ‘how soon can I re-join my outfit’, lets deal with the really tough subject…”

“How bad am I hurt?”

“Give the man a kewpie doll!”

“I’ll give it to you straight. You have all the parts that you came over here with, it’s just that some don’t work as well and others are a little damaged. You get to walk out of here and you can sign for your stuff, provided you’re left-handed. Your right hand is going to take some time to get back to being as useful as it was when you got off the boat. So, wait, don’t ask! I’ve given this talk 13 times today already.

“You’ve been down here in the Caverns in Arras for a month and a half. Mostly because of the damage the mustard gas did to your lungs, although the shattered right arm was also part of the reason. What makes you a lucky man is that down here we’re able to prevent the influenza from completing the job that the Germans started on you. You missed the worst of it. So we’ll get you thinking about moving around a little. Then, we’ll tell you to start moving around more. You’ll start to hate the head nurse, but he’s used to that, it tells him you’re getting better. Then, in about 3 weeks, we put you on a truck that will take you to a boat that will return you to your country. Then the real hard part begins.”

“No, that won’t be a problem for me. I have a wife who’s waiting for me.”

The doctor got up and, after tapping me lightly on the knee with the chart, walked to the end of the bed and hung it on a hook at the foot of the bed.

“One thing, doc. The blonde nurse, when does she come on duty? I want to say thanks for her help.”

“Don’t make me put a note in your chart, son. All the female nurses shipped out 2 months ago, their skills were more needed on the frontline hospitals, Frankly this place is a storage facility. Haven’t seen a woman in 6 weeks.”

He seemed to be watching my face more carefully than he should, given that I asked such a simple question.

“Oh. never mind. Must be mistaken.”

He nodded, more to himself, and walked away.

Chapter 24

Featured

 

“I don’t understand why you have to do this, Sterling; maybe your college buddy Cyril Sauvage has something to prove, with his parents coming over from France and all, but you have a family… well, you have me,” Almira’s hand drifted over her mid-section as she stood washing the same dinner plate over and over, through the window at the sink, she watched the darkening of night steal the life from the day.

“It’s not just him, Almira, the whole world is at risk and if Germany defeats France then England is next and then where would our family be,” Sterling Gulch sat at the kitchen table, back towards his wife, staring into the adjacent living room, its wide picture window that looked out over Narragansett Bay was slowly turning into a mirror, as night surrounded the house and the only illumination came from the kitchen as he and his wife fought the not-yet-felt ravages of war.

“You’re so close to having your degree, I’ll be teaching in a year, isn’t that enough?”

“It’s more than enough, it’s everything I could hope for but, I need to do this…” he fell silent as the words that connected him to his wife were stalked and eaten by the wolf of aggression and politics, friendship and fear of not-measuring-up, claiming it’s ransom.

Almira Gulch looked at the window before her, the light of the kitchen created fairytale-like reflections of herself and her husband sitting at the table in the center of the room when a subtle motion drew her eye to the living room picture window in which two people showed, seemingly withdrawing from one and other, farther and farther apart, beyond any true dimensions of the physical space.

A shudder ran through the young woman, a distant calling from somewhere within her fought to be turned into sound, “…Private Gulch, the very first thing you do is determine the range of the enemies weapons and try and stay outside of it, until, that is, your commanding officer tells you to crawl over the barbwire into the next trench, do I make myself clear?”

The summer weather lingered well into September in 1918. Yellow and gold fought with green for possession of the foliage. This seemingly minor shift in hue was a subtle, yet treacherous advance into Winter. The June-warm schoolyard tempted one to believe that this year, Summer would never end. Despite this gentleness of climate, there was something wrong with the sky. The blue that spread from late morning into cloud-ragged afternoon, was, somehow, too blue. It was as if Mother Nature had something to hide, something perhaps more extreme in the way of weather. Jackets and sweaters lay piled by the schoolhouse steps, as forgotten as the lessons of the morning and the Summer only recently left behind.

Ethan McDonough stood alone at the chain link fence that defined the schoolyard of Our Lady of Intercession. A prisoner of that permanent war of childhood, he faced away from the school and the returning clumps of noisy boys and scandalized girls, looking beyond the fence. The recent squall of a recess fight had blown over, the combatants drifted apart, the winner being the one at the center of the larger crowd of classmates. Such fights were common enough, especially among boys at this age, which is not to say that the outcome wasn’t something terribly important to one and barely remembered by the other.

The newest teacher was always assigned recess duty. It served as an opportunity to earn her way into the sometimes vicious, always polite society of the teacher’s lounge. Recess duty in the elementary grades was much like life guard duties in May and September, while the elements and risk of injury (or death) are there, the spirit is, for the most part lacking.

The young woman, not all that much taller than some of the 6th grade boys, walked out into the school yard, against the tide of children withdrawing to the classrooms. The ringing of the school bell every bit an alarm that childhood was over, (at least for the next two hours). The children parted to either side of her as she walked out towards the fence and the solitary child.

“Tell me Ethan. Why were you fighting?”

“They said bad things about you!”

Almira Gulch felt the tendons on her hand tighten and, smiling to herself, reached into her coat pocket instead of to her face. She felt the softly edged paper of the envelope and the impulse to cover her face evaporated as she crouched down in front of the boy.

“And what kind of bad things…”

Ethan McDonough’s face turned stubborn, which in a child of his age is where infatuation is often hidden. The conflict played out in averted eyes and firmed jaw, the more he thought about how he should answer, the more his innate, still un-developed protectiveness showed through in his expression.

Almira thought of her practicum teacher, at the start of her final year in school, ‘You are the adult, they are children. Do not forget that but do not lord it over them. A slave will always resent their master, no matter how kindly they are treated. Children deserve more and will always seek to be treated as equals, even when they know that they are not.’

Almira smiled at the boy and, after a fleeting hesitation, his internal conflict evaporated and his face lit up with a sad joy,

“They said you was a witch and you ride a broom and you can put a curse on people!”

Almira resisted the impulse to laugh. Her own nature would respond to such an unkindness with forgiving humor. She’d learned fairly quickly that such a reaction is misinterpreted, especially by the very young. Children, along with dogs, are surely the most literal-minded of all living things. Instead, she brushed off the gravel stuck to the knees of the boy’s corduroys, battlefield decorations in silver and brown, and handed him his jacket. Her look of appreciation caused the boy to stand straighter and, a sense of pride elbowing away his shame.

***

Almira began her teaching career as 5th Grade Teacher at Our Lady of Intercession, a parochial school on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island.  The only lay teacher on the faculty of the Catholic school, Almira felt more at home among the nuns than she did the three public schools she visited during her last year as a student. Her placement at the small elementary school was facilitated by the Placement Office of the Rhode Island Normal School. Ranked in the top three of teaching colleges in the United States, graduates of Rhode Island Normal School were always successful in securing a teaching position upon graduation.

Although Almira Gulch scored higher on her Entrance Examination than any applicant in recent memory and maintained  a 4.0 throughout her studies, the Placement Office felt that finding a position in one of Rhode Island’s public schools might be somewhat difficult. Her faculty advisor, Mr. Alger, wrote in her student record, as she began her final year, ‘This student is possessed of a certain off-putting manner and exhibits a resistance to proper management. Clearly this attitude is an understandable and inevitable consequence of her facial deformity,’ he went on to write, ‘it is the regarded Opinion of this Office that every effort be made that she might be placed in a private school, rather than a part of the State system. In no way is this intended as a reflection of the effects of her disfigurement on her ability to be an effective Teacher. It would, however be in keeping with best Teaching Practices and Principles to not expose young children to a person of her appearance.’

Sister Aloysius was principal of Our Lady of Intercession and she liked Almira from the very first interview. While Almira’s academic record was very impressive, she was much more impressed by the quiet confidence of the young woman. While her clothing was not only quite appropriate for a lay teacher in a parochial school, it’s quality spoke of a person who wanted to be a teacher more than someone who needed a job. That, the principal smiled, was almost always a good predictor of success in a school setting that was inevitably much more personal and far less burdened with the trappings of a public school system. This impression of personal preference for the values of individuality was reinforced when, looking out her office window before the interview, Sister Aloysius watched as the young woman rode into the school yard on what, she believed, was the biggest bicycle she’d ever seen. As she watched, the young jumped from the bike and spent 5 minutes re-arranging her clothing. This included putting on a hat that was in a wicker basket that was attached to the back of the bicycle’s seat. Completing her preparation, Sister Aloysius watched as this young woman deftly kicked a stray ball quite accurately back to the knot of boys who were kicking up dust with their game of kickball. The enjoyment on her face as she did so ignited a burst of laughter from the children in the school yard. The principle of Our Lady of Intercession smiled and waited for her job applicant to arrive at her office.

The interview went the normal course for a teaching position interview, reading of records, explanation of grades and awards, likes and dislikes. Finally, there came the point in the conversation where there was no longer any information or insight into the candidates schooling or qualifications left un-noted. There was, in fact, nothing left to talk about other than the applicant’s face. Sister Aloysius asked her point-blank,

‘How will you handle the looks and the stares of the more rude people? Parents of children, particularly those children who require extra attention, are not always the kindest of people. Our parish is, in large part, consisted of working poor Catholic families. Does that pose any problems that we should discuss?’

Almira smiled and replied,

“I grew up among the working poor. My husband Sterling is from the other end of the social order, where wants are few and choices plentiful. I believe I will be alright with parents from any background. After all, it is the children who are in my care, not the adults.”

“I believe that you’ll do just fine, Mrs. Gulch, just fine.”

***

“…they are wrong, Ethan. I am not a witch, although I might find myself cursing them.”

The young woman’s laughter was heard by the very young boy and his expression became that of one who has been offered a part-ownership in a treasure map.

“I understand why you were fighting. You should not get into a fight. Unless you are threatened or your friends are threatened. But why are you crying?”

“Because they all laugh at you when you’re not there and I can’t make them stop.”

Almira stood up and, putting her hand on the boy’s shoulder, turned and began the return to afternoon classes.

“Ethan? I’ll tell you a secret. Having people laugh at you is not the worst thing in the world, even though at first it feels that way. There are other ways that people are mean and cruel and as long as you believe in what you’re doing, there is nothing they can do that will hurt you. So when you see little people hiding around you, coming out in the open only when they think you are out-numbered and afraid of them, know that you have the real power. Just believe in yourself.”

***

At the end of the school day, Ethan would linger by the door of the 5th grade, a place he’d just spent 6 hours. The boy seemed to look forward to clapping erasers outside on the steps than he did any other part of the day, looking for all the world, the opposite of a coal miner at the end of a day’s shift underground. With the last of the books back in their cupboards and the classroom ready for the new week, Almira walked down the green and white tiled corridor, confident that the boy would follow. This was not such an impressive prediction as, with the focus of his dreams leaving, the hollow rooms and echoing corridors of Our Lady of Intercession held as much attraction for the boy as a crossword puzzle that had been filled in (and crossed out) in the daily newspaper.

“Well, time for me to pedal off for home, Ethan.”

Almira reached into her coat pocket and touched the envelope she took from the mailbox on her way out the door that morning. She’d resolved to wait until after school to read it. Being a Friday, a letter from Sterling (after an interval of 6 weeks since the last), would provide a small celebration. It was, after all, the end of the last week of her first month as an elementary school teacher. The intervals between his return letters grew in a curiously negative inverse proportion to how much she missed him. It was as if receiving a letter was a reminder of the increased absence, more than it was welcome communication from her husband. Accepting the books and lesson planner from the boy who stood next to her bicycle with every bit of the dedicated formality of any royal retainer, Almira put everything in the bicycle’s wicker basket, smiled at Ethan and rode out of the schoolyard and down Lloyd Street towards home.

Arriving home, Almira went directly to the kitchen. Gertrude Rogers could always be found in the kitchen, coordinating the activities of the small domestic staff. A certain self-consciousness still lingered, whenever she spoke to the cook or the maid, as if she was a little girl playing dress up. She accepted her role as the lady of the house, if only by marriage, and approached it the way that she approached most problems. The first step was to understand the problem and second, understand the other person or people involved. Despite her self-consciousness, Almira resolved to act the part of the head of the household to the best of her abilities. The staff took to her in this new role as easily as they had when she and Sterling first returned from Lawrence, Massachusetts six years before. However, Sterling and Almira lived with his parents only long enough to find a place of their own, a small house near the waterfront in the Fox Point section of the city.

Seymour Gulch never quite recovered from the death of his wife Edith who died, the year before, early in 1917. A healthy woman throughout her life, Edith Gulch nevertheless had a flare for the dramatic. Whenever the occasional cold or illness had the gall to appear in the household, she would proclaim, with a bit more enthusiasm than one might otherwise experience, that Death, himself, would soon be calling at 23 Loring Ave. Edith Gulch was, in fact, in perfectly good health up until the moment she died.

Although Sterling and Almira loved their house in Fox Point, his father’s increasing infirmity made moving back into his parent’s home inevitable. This change of residence was hastened by Sterling’s decision to enlist in the American Expeditionary Forces. Almira soon found herself the only woman in the Gulch household that did not wear a uniform. She was, nevertheless, happy to help in the care of her father-in-law. Being wealthy, while not preventing ill-health, did permit it to be suffered in more comfortable surroundings. More importantly, though less directly acknowledged, wealth, at least wealth sufficient to allow for a domestic staff, relieved the members of the immediate family of a great deal of stress that affected all when dealing with terminal illness.

“How was Mr Gulch’s day?”

Almira sat at the small kitchen table, across from Gert Rogers. It had taken several efforts by Almira to establish a less formal relationship with the person in charge of running the Gulch house. Almira’s insistence on sitting and talking with her in the kitchen served to establish that, as uncomfortable as it might be for the staff, if Almira wished to have coffee in the kitchen, it was her prerogative as lady of the house. And so it was.

“He’s still eating. In the afternoon he seems to perk up, especially when Lila is working. He’s quite taken with her.”

Seeing the expression on Almira’s face, she continued,

“But all in all, not well. Each day the night comes sooner and the morning takes longer and longer to start the day. I fear our Mr. Gulch will not see Thanksgiving. If only Sterling were home. Sorry, of all people for me to say that to, you are the one in least need of being reminded.”

“I know. But don’t feel sorry. He’s been my husband for all of six years, you’ve known him for what, 18 years?”

“Yes, ma’am. Mr. Gulch made his fortune late in life, when Sterling was only six years old. But he never let it change him or his family. Fine house, people to take care of it (and them!) sending Sterling off to school, he has always been a kind and considerate man.”

“Well, we won’t be losing him this weekend. What do you think of a picnic out on the patio tomorrow? The weather is still warm, I think he’d enjoy that!”

“Splendid idea, Mrs. Gulch. Something like that is just what the doctor ordered, whether he knows it or not!”

Pulling the envelope from her pocket, Almira placed it in the middle of the table.

“From Sterling, is it?” Gert had a way of sounding 20 years old whenever the topic of discussion focused on Sterling.

Almira smiled,

“It is. If you have another pot of that wonderful camomile tea, I would love to take some to the library.”

“Don’t give it another thought, Missus. You go ahead while I brew a fresh pot and I’ll bring it right in.”

Almira sat in the library, facing the French doors that opened out into the small garden area. She had one of the doors open, a cooling early evening breeze joined her on the couch. Gertrude arrived with tea and crumpets, set everything on the sideboard and left without a word.

Putting the cup down, Almira read,

Almira,

They tell us that we’re winning the war. I find that doesn’t make me as happy as I would have thought. Forgive the delay in returning your letters, now that we’re in Europe we spend more time doing less, at least compared to the endless shipboard time getting here. The interval (between these letters) holds greater sway over me than ever would I have imagined. With each day that passes, the world in which you and I are together moves farther and farther away and this world of guns and wounds, explosions and grief grows larger. It fills my world, both awake and asleep, the sounds of death inform most night’s dreams. But I still see you here, among the letters I write and the letters I read and it makes all of the difference in the world. That the girl who could work 10 hours a day in the roaring caves of a textile mill yet, on our brief time together in the middle of the day, eating a rude lunch of bread and cheese, bring to life the subtle thought of philosophers and thinkers, that is the part of my world that I protect from this place around me. And, my protecting this memory of the love we share, in turn protects me. The death I see around me is not all the result of bullets and bombs and yellow gases. What terrifies me more is the death of the soul that I see over-taking more and more of the men around me. It is a despair that no longer even tries to cry out in anguish, silent as the feet that keep moving and the hands and arms that keep firing the weapons that we are given to aim at those they tell us are the enemy. The real enemy is not those men, looking for all the world like the men who are dying around me, only they are on the other side of the battle-torn earth.
There was a time, a moment when you looked at me and I saw a life that would make something as terrible as this war worthwhile. I hold onto that memory. It is my lifeline to a world in which we both might soon return to.
Always yours,

Sterling

“Mrs. Gulch? There is someone at the door asking to speak to you.”

Almira brushed the single tear from her eye and turned towards Edward, standing in the library door.

“Who is it?”

Edward Fenton managed to have an expression that was at once non-judgmental and yet clearly expressed concern.

“A policeman. He said he was Captain Herlihy from Lawrence, Massachusetts and would like to ask you some questions. Shall I send him away?”

Edward’s expression of concern acquired a certain ferocity that was all the more noticeable for his butler’s uniform.

“No, thank you Edward. Put him in the parlor, offer refreshment and tell him I will join him shortly.”

***

“What, did everyone take the night off?”

Eliza walked, slightly behind Dorothy, as the two girls crossed the central lobby of St. Mary’s Hospital. Even though it was still early evening, there was no one in sight, not behind the reception desk, at the small gift shop, not even an orderly washing the silent corridor floors. Dorothy continued to walk down the hallway, to the right of the reception area. There was a sign on the wall, it included an arrow, and in black letters it said, ‘Charity Ward’.

As the two reached the end of the corridor, signs of construction become evident. Wiring outlets were exposed and sections of the ceiling had been removed. Eliza stared up at exposed pipes and conduits, those presumably serving the floor above and wondered to herself, ‘They sure are in a hurry!’

Looking  back, Eliza saw her friend being swallowed by the double swinging doors under a sign that said, ‘Charity Ward’.

Chapter 23

Featured

The second week of January 1912 brought season-appropriate cold. This return to normalcy, at least as far as the thermometers were concerned, was welcomed by the mill owners. The striking workers, unsurprised at yet another element of their world turning against them, took it all in stride. Trash barrels, roughly cut to allow a warming fire, were stationed on the corners of each block along Canal Street, like cavalry forts strung across the undeveloped territories of the early American West. In a pale imitation of the recent Christmas season, these fires offered actual warmth, as opposed to a premise to request donations. The cheerful displays of a Santa Claus standing next to a pretend cookpot hung over a fake fire was transformed into rusted steel drums full of real fire and men and women in patched clothing standing guard over their livelihood. The plummeting temperatures and rising winds tempted management to hope for an early surrender. The same cold wind whistled through the picket lines that stood at the entrances to each mill, built in place with all the determination of any desperate military commander.

“They may speak six kinds of mongrel English and treat their children like pawns in a city park chess game, but I assure you gentlemen, the winter will convince the workers to listen to our demands and return to work.”

Frederick Prendergast III spoke with a confidence that served to remind him that he was indeed, the right man for the job. Smiling at the men around the conference table, he could picture himself seated among them. He was certain it wouldn’t be long before he was also sitting, rather than standing, listening to some underling trying to make bad news sound like good fortune.

“You also told us they’d never organize. That the workforce, being mostly women, you said, they would put providing for their squalling brats and layabout husbands ahead of something as abstract and uncertain as a labor strike. You need to end this quickly, Prendergast, the press is getting out of hand. Just last night I read a story in the Boston Herald about the strike and they quoted someone referring to this as ‘The Bread and Roses Strike’! That is not good for business. Thank God it was buried on page 6. I called a friend on the editorial board of the paper and reminded him that this was an illegal work action incited by foreign anarchists.  And now, there’s this business of shipping their children off to relatives! Get this strike shut down or you’ll be joining them out on Canal St.”

Frederick looked at the faces of the ten Directors for signs of support or, failing that, at least a sign of a dissenting opinion to the hardline taken by Barry Williboughy. As the newest member of the Essex Company’s Board of Directors, he’d been Frederick’s nemesis from the first meeting. In the warm, well-lit room, Frederick was dismayed to realize that Barry Willoughby was reflecting the will, perhaps un-consciously, of the majority of the Board. The simple fact of the matter was that he had no allies and that ending the strike was his only hope, if he was to continue his rise through the ranks of the Essex Company.

“Gentleman, I have everything under control. Even as we speak, I have the police on their way to pick up the man responsible for the tragic and totally un-necessary death of a union organizer. I will release a statement to the…”

“Enough, Prendergast! The tawdry details are your concern. What we require of you is to get our workers off the street and back at the machines. Spare us the human interest stories. Get our mills running!”

Frederick Prendergast smiled, nodded his head and left the boardroom without another word. Returning to his office, he stood in front of his secretary’s desk and stared at her until she said,

“Yes sir? What is it I can do?”

“Get that goddamn incompetent flatfoot Herlihy and tell him to get over here right now. Then send someone out to find that idiot Maclachlan and tell him to get his sorry ass in here from whatever dive or whorehouse he’s holed up in!”

Frederick knew that he could count on Sergeant Herlihy.  He was not very bright but very loyal and ambitious to a fault. Robbie Maclachlan was another matter entirely. The red-headed enforcer had a bully’s heart, a very sharp mind and not the slightest hint of a sense of loyalty. He realized that he should have been quit of the man, after he botched the last job he sent him on; visit the union hall late at night and put some fear into the union rep. Frederick thanked his lucky stars that Herlihy was nearby and able to keep a lid on the mess Maclachlan made of it. He decided that he’d fire him as soon as he could find him.

Lizabeth Addams waited for the office door to slam. To her mind, she executed her duties to the greatest degree by waiting for the Chief Operating Officer of the Essex Company to have the final word. Only then would she proceed to execute his directives. She was quite aware that her boss was under a great deal of pressure and she was willing to do anything to help him succeed. She felt she owed that much to her unborn child.

***

Almira Ristani and Sterling Gulch walked along Route 110 as it followed the southward path of the Merrimack River. They walked down the middle of the road for two reasons: it was still early on a Sunday morning and traffic was nonexistent and with the sun rising to a cloudless day, it was the more ice-free part of the road surface. The decision to walk the 13 miles to Lowell, Massachusetts stemmed from their desire to find a train station less crowded with soldiers and newly deputized police. A mill town in its own right, Lowell had not yet caught the union fever. Their plan was simple: walk to Lowell, board a southbound train and pay a visit to Sterling’s parents in Providence, Rhode Island. They would have appreciated their plan more (but, of course, regretted not following it), had they tried to depart from the Lawrence railroad station instead. Even on a Sunday morning, the station had more soldiers than baggage porters. In part, this over-abundance of civil authority was the un-intended by-product of a union strategy. All workers with families, (which is to say, most workers), put their young children on trains to go and stay with relatives or union sympathizers out-of-state, well out of harm’s way. This, of course, did not fail to make an impression on the Essex Company and local officials. Within a day of the beginning of this exodus, City officials announced a new travel ban: anyone under the age of 21 traveling by train, must be accompanied by at least two adults.

‘A proper family, traveling on holiday, would surely include the nanny. And in these modern times, it’s very often the case that both parents cannot travel together. This new Travel Rule is for the safety of the children of Lawrence.  They are, after all, the first concern of the Essex Company. And, as the father of two children. I might add that certainly any loving parent will surely see the wisdom of such a regulation on travel.’ Frederick Prendergast was happy to provide a statement for publication by the Lawrence Gazette.

The winter-cold air added a certain extra character to sound itself, as the two young people walked and the signs of civilization faded back into the ‘grow-where-growing-is-possible nature of the New England countryside. Gradually, with each step over the cold asphalt pavement, the man-made sounds of machinery and motor vehicles were replaced by the life-sounds of the woods, meadows and the Merrimack River, that followed the two young people as they walked. At points along the way, the blue waters seemed shy, hiding behind groves of aspen trees and long mounds of blueberry bushes, coming out briefly wherever smaller streams dashed under road bridges for a reunion with the larger river. Crows remained the only evidence of a bird population, all other species long since taken wing for warmer climes. Of course there were still the red-tailed hawks and the giant-winged turkey buzzards, graceful predators floating high over the land, slow patient circles waiting for death to provide for them. By noon, the two covered most of the distance to their destination. The countryside began to show signs of man, as stone walls appeared to grow in the woods, running in rounded lines over the hilly terrain. Increasingly, green checkerboard squares were visible across the blue ribbon of the Merrimack, their guide and only constant companion.

They spoke very little since leaving Lawrence. There grew a connection between the young man and the young(er) woman that allowed any focus of interest by one to be immediately known by the other. A slight shifting of eyes was the equivalent of several declarative sentences (followed inevitability by questions and qualification) between people married for years. Increasingly, they were attuned to each other, to such an extent that any change in the rhythm of breathing or focus of the eyes was immediately noted. In fact, they almost always noticed the same things. Nevertheless, two people are still two separate lifes. There can never be complete similarity. That they were a couple, a man and a woman, allowed for the greatest degree of congruence, of a common outlook on the world. The complementarity of a young couple in love is a thing of wonder. It’s a ‘magic’ so remarkable that reasonable and mature people usually are blind to their sharing.

Annie LoPizzo’s funeral was quiet and it was sad, but it was not a small affair. It was very much the opposite of what she would have described, were she still alive. But, that very observation is at the heart of the truism that, ‘funerals are for the living and not the dead’.

Sterling arrived, the morning of the demonstration, at Almira’s side, in the middle of Canal Street, even as Annie LoPizzo’s life was flowing out of her, tracing the cobblestones in scarlet. He knew better than to try to pull Almira away. Instead, he sat down in the street, facing her, his longer legs encircling Almira’s, which in turn cradled and protected Annie’s body. He remained on the ground, as the striking workers gathered around the three of them. His eyes held Almira’s much as his body protected her and he waited until the girl’s spirit could let go of her friend. Finally, Almira looked up and into Sterling’s eyes with longing, powerful, yet wholly undefined. He reached over, brushed a curtain of light brown hair from her face and held out his hand. They sat holding one and the other’s hands, their arms and legs intertwined, holding the world at bay. Eventually the police and the ambulance arrived. The siren on the ambulance wailed, not needing to scream so that the crowd would step aside, each member of the throng became pall bearers in a street funeral.

Sterling took Almira back to Annie’s apartment. He sat her on the couch and cleaned the blood from her face and hair, finally he wrapped her hands in a warm wet towel. Removing her blood-stained blouse, Sterling found a heavy flannel shirt from a bureau in the bedroom, he wrapped the girl in its soft embrace and sat holding her. The light from the windows retreated and the dark of night crept in as he sat cradling her head in his arms. She slept and he sat, until the rise of the sun the next morning.

The funeral service was held in St. Mary’s, the granite and fieldstone church on Haverhill Street, across from the Commons. The priest read from a book written by strangers and spoke of a woman that he believed he knew. The union sent a single representative to the Mass. In the course of the Mass people arrived, shadows on the central aisle their only usher. They showed up, one at a time, as a couple, in small groups of friends. By the time the Mass ended, the church was full and people stood, in silent groups out the doors, now held open by the crowd, down the stairs and across the street to the Commons. Almira and Sterling returned to the apartment and awaited the people and friends, near-relatives and those who’s lives had been touched by Annie LoPizzo. Some of them would loudly proclaim their remembrance of Annie LoPizzo and the close relationship that they had, others walked in and stood quietly, simply being there and, after a time, left to be replaced by others. The older women brought folding chairs and they sat wherever they found the space, in the apartment, out in the hallway, even into the living room of the apartment across the hall, it’s own door open, an offer of additional seating. The murmuring line of people grew. They came to visit where Annie lived as much as they came to visit Almira and Sterling. The two young people provided the human essence of what Annie represented to the people of Lawrence, a hope for the future. The two very young people received the visitors and accepted the condolences and remembrances. In the middle of the afternoon’s line, Sargent Herlihy appeared and stepped past Father Deljuidace (who was sitting in the hallway, just at the foot of the stairs to the second floor apartments). He walked into the apartment and stood in front of Almira, who was sitting on the brown sofa in the center of the room. Sterling rose from sitting next to her. Herlihy addressed Almira,

“I remember you. You’re the little girl at the Union Hall that night last month. And you…”

He turned his head slightly towards Sterling, and with an expression that didn’t even pretend to be one of sympathy, said,

“…you were there too.”

Sterling looked back at the policeman. Herlihy turned his full attention back to Almira, who stared into his eyes. Herlihy seemed to shiver and immediately looked away, clearly uncomfortable and only after Almira looked back down at the book on her lap, he continued,

“Well, don’t go no wheres, you two. With Miss LoPizzo’s death there are questions that need to be answered. Despite what you may think of me, I thought the world of Annie and I’m going to find out who fired that shot. If you hear anything, anything at all, you tell me. I know that you, laddybuck, you’re a regular at some of our city’s less respectable establishments, down to the river. If you hear anything, you let me know. Do I make myself clear?”

Silence hung in the air. Finally, Almira looked up at the policeman and said,

“We will. There’s nothing I want more than to find the person who shot my friend Annie.”

The police sergeant found himself feeling sorry if there was someone that this strange girl decided was the cause of the death of her friend. He suddenly wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else, his training forced him to remain where he was, increasingly ill-at-ease until finally he managed to nod and turning, gave the young man one last glare, left the apartment.

Later that night, Sterling woke, his arms empty (and slightly cold). He looked towards the door of the bedroom and, silhouetted in the light from the living room, he imagined he saw Almira. She seemed to be wearing Annie’s clothes, but they were darker than he recalled. Sleep, never quite leaving his eyes, succeeded in its eternal campaign to keep the sleeper in the bed by convincing Sterling that he was dreaming. As he drifted off, he thought he heard a night-soft voice,

‘Back to sleep, my love. We must be traveling tomorrow. Go back to sleep. We must hurry and get back to the road.”

Sterling thought/dreamt that he mumbled in response, 

“Yeah, Almira. I’ll take us from here. No one will ever hurt you like this again.”

With the sunrise, they gathered what little Almira had kept in Annie’s apartment. Having brought clothing only as needed, since the incident at the Union hall, she had nothing with which to carry her few possessions. They both looked around the apartment for something to use as luggage. Almira came into the bedroom with a small, brown wicker basket, with double hinged top and a folding handle. She smiled with a mix of resignation and hope. Sterling had his own canvas rucksack ready and they walked from the apartment. Just as they reached the sidewalk, Almira stopped suddenly and, without a word, ran back into the apartment. Minutes later she returned and lifting one of the top lids on the basket revealed her well-worn copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ nestled in the few items of clothing.

Several hours later, the police knocked on the door to Annie’s now empty apartment. They questioned the occupants of the other 2 apartments in the building. No one could recall seeing either Sterling Gulch or Almira Ristani anywhere near the building in at least a week. They had trouble remembering what the two looked like or where they might be. The police were frustrated, as there was a killer on the loose and they had every reason to believe that Sterling Gulch or Almira Ristani would have been useful to them in their efforts.

Now, in the early afternoon, at a high point in the road, clear of the pine forest that followed them from the mid-point between Lawrence and Lowell, Sterling stopped and set his bag on the sandy dirt of the roadside,

“You’ve been quiet on our Sunday walk.”

Almira stood next to him, looking down at the river as it flowed past the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. The southern bank of the river lined with tall, dark-red brick textile mills, the town growing outward, away to the south.

“We’ve come a long way.”

The girl, her overcoat open to balance the warmth of the noonday sun and (a) 13 mile walk, rested her hip against his, leaning into him.

“Any regrets?”

Sterling looked down, Almira looked out towards the crisscross of iron girders of the bridge across the river. His hand found hers and he stood, comfortable with the feel of the girl at his side. He thought, ‘Although she’s leaning on me, if I suddenly stepped away, she would not fall. I’ve a feeling that I’ll come to both love and hate that about her.’

Instead of stepping away, Sterling pushed her, very slightly at the shoulder and was rewarded with the sound of her laughter,

“No, my love. My life is with you. The town we left? It’s just a place on a map. The people gave us what they could but even though I’ll never forget Annie, I need to find the place in the world that I was meant to be,”

Taking his hand, Almira placed it over her breast and continued,

“My mother once told me, ‘Almira, follow your heart and it will always lead you home.’ My heart has lead me to you. And you and I are here. My home is wherever we might be, whether it’s a shining city full of towers and wonders or a small farmhouse with the stars as neighbors, that is the only place I want to live.”

Sterling leaned inwards and kissed her. His right hand, still on her breast, began to find a will of its own, his fingers came alive and discovered an urgent need to explore their surroundings.

“I said we were home. I didn’t say we were in the bedroom!”

Almira laughed. The couple turned and walked towards the Lowell Train Station

***

“Sergeant Herlihy is here to see you, sir”

“Send him in.”

Frederick Prendergast enjoyed problems because he knew how to solve them. He knew how to solve problems, because he knew people. He’d always had the ability to size up a man and know what he wanted. Really wanted, not necessarily what they said out loud or stated or demanded, but what they really wanted. Early in life, Frederick realized that this kind of understanding made controlling that person almost too easy. Woman, on the other hand, he smiled to himself, were much simpler. All they wanted was to be wanted by someone who everyone admired and looked up to, and he was very good at appearing to be that. Perhaps too good, a frown tugging at his face, women did have an annoying way of not realizing when the game was over. Worse, they demanded that he continue making them feel like the most special woman (or girl) in the world and, worse even than that, sometimes they tried to do something about it.

His secretary, Lizabeth Addams, stood in the doorway to his office, smiling into the room while his visitor remained in the outer office.

“Sergeant Herlihy,” she announced, with a smile that was at once an offer and a demand. Frederick stood up from his desk, walked to the windows that overlooked the city of Lawrence,

‘Come in Sergeant”

Lizabeth stared at her boss’s back and looked lost and then angry and walked back to her desk in the outer office, leaving the policeman to shut the office door himself.

“So it looks like things are beginning to quiet down, am I right, Sergeant?”

“For the most part, Mr Prendergast. The strikers are still on the street. They’re quite creative with their ideas of how to protest. They’re sending their children away to relatives out-of-state. Never seen that before.”

“We’ve never had the entire workforce walk out of our mills before either, have we Sergeant?”

“No, we haven’t. But now that the Mayor has the militia out in force on the streets, everything’s been peaceful and orderly.”

“I wouldn’t call having my goddamn mills shut down and not producing a single bolt of cloth ‘peaceful and orderly’!!”

Frederick turned to shout directly,

“…would you Sergeant?!!”

“No. Well no, but at least there’s no more vandalism or violence. We were really getting concerned, what with that Union woman getting herself killed. But with her funereal now over and done with, I think we can say we’re out of the woods on that.”

“You’ve arrested the Union leaders who are responsible, haven’t you?”

“Well, we’ve charged them with conspiracy. I don’t know how likely it is that a judge will convict them of murder, being how they were both in Boston on the day of the strike.”

“Don’t worry about them being convicted. We have them in custody and we have a good and well-behaved judge. All in all, I’d say that we’ve done a good job of minimizing the damages, one death and a few broken windows,”

“…two deaths,” Herlihy began to fidget in the green leather upholstered chair

“…what? What the hell are you talking about?”

“We found the body of a man, down off Water Street, half in the river. At first we thought he was just another drunk who had too much and drowned himself. They could smell the liquor from the street, so at first glance that seemed the case.”

But?” Frederick did not like the turn this Sergeant was causing his day to take.

“Well, the beat cop called it in and I got there just as they were dragging him up the river bank, feet first. God help me, ain’t never seen the likes and I pray I never will, but somebody took the poor bastard’s heart, cut it right out of his chest.”

Frederick stopped and stared,

“The only good thing was that he wasn’t nobody of any account. A low-life by the name of Robbie Maclachlan.”

“Goddamn it”

***

Dorothy Gale and Eliza Thornberg stood on the sidewalk that crossed from the Town Commons, ran along Cathedral Ave and ended in front of St. Mary’s Hospital. With the approach of evening, the decision was made to leave the convertible parked across from the library and walk the block to the hospital.

“I don’t care if Visitor’s Hours are over, about over, nearly over or no goddamn people allowed. I’m going in. Are you with me, or would you rather wait in the car?”

Eliza stared at her friend with the same sense of wonderment she felt when she took Dorothy on her first trip to Times Square. As then, she tried to reconcile the shy farm girl, quiet and as kind as anyone she’d ever met, with this determined and very angry young woman. The Dorothy Gale standing in front of her, in the gathering dusk in a small Kansas town was to the shy farm girl as Amelia Earhart was to Amy Semple McPherson. While Eliza Thornberg never lacked in self-confidence, there was something about her friend that made her worry.

“Yeah. I’m  going in there with you! Damn right, you couldn’t keep me out. Friends, right?”

After a slight, (really, it was just a second too long to allow even the illusion of that kinder girl), pause, Dorothy turned and walked up the granite steps.

“Well, it’s decided then! We’re off to see the woman.”

Eliza Thornberg half-sang, as much to the night air, as to her friend’s receding back.