August 11, 1922 Circe, Kansas
‘The crying rock’, the name given by the Shawnee, had somehow escaped being renamed upon the arrival of the settlers. A notable exception, as the second assault of any conquering force is to re-name an area’s natural features. It is a re-drawing of the map, both literally and figuratively. This strategy is especially devastating when it was applied to an indigenous people who lacked an aggressively utilitarian relationship with nature. After all, what claim of ownership might a native enforce on property, when they didn’t even know the legal name of the place?
In the cleft of a granite outcropping, shielded by a grove of cottonwood and red cedars, ‘the crying rock’ produced an endless supply of very, very pure water. Refreshed by an un-detectable process of exchange, the level of water in the small pool never changed. The fresh water replaced the old which, in turn, sank back into the bedrock. There was no obvious outlet for the water, it did not form a stream that grew into river, to flow away across the land. It was simply a pool, shaded by trees, surrounded by granite.
Surrounding the pool, a ring of red cedars and cottonwoods created a natural shelter from the extremes of the seasons. In the winter, the wall of green held back the cold wind that, like waves on the shore, crashed against any obstruction or variation of the level earth. The cedar and cottonwood, like any effective shield, gave and bent before the force of winter’s wind and, by doing so, survived. In the summer, the spring’s waters prevented the roots and lower branches of the trees and bushes from falling prey to the heat of the summer sun. The height of the surrounding greenery allowed light to penetrate only at midday. The afternoon hours, when sun’s heat was most damaging on plants and people, found the interior space surrounding the spring, in dappled shade as the sun descended towards the western edge of the world.
The sun had just set on the private horizon of the tops of the surrounding trees. Stillness descended as the cooler shade crept across the grey-into-green floor of the space. The pool, half inside the cave and half out, onto the chance leveling of the earth, had a smooth shoreline, as the grass gave way to hard-packed earth that became impenetrable granite as it slid into the water of the pool. The space around the pool of the spring was only 20 feet from any edge to any other edge. The rock walls of the cave extended outwards, forming a slightly titled back-rest before it blended back into the ground.
After we ate lunch I found the point along the smooth rock wall with the angle to the ground that created the perfect back-rest. I sat, manuscript and satchel to my right, upright enough to reach my papers and yet did not have to bend over too much to write. Almira found me to be a suitable cushion between her back and the granite and leaned back against my chest, my legs serving nicely as arms of her newly discovered chaise lounge. She stared off to the left at the dapples of light that chased each other over the roof of the cave, the wind pulled at the top branches of the shading trees.
It was quiet, the dry sighing of the branches of cottonwood trees accented the shade of the private space.
Almira had a book open in her lap. They both remained un-read, artifacts of a life and effort that waited patiently for us beyond the living green wall. Time passed in shared quiet, for us measured in minutes, for the sheltering trees it might have been years and to the spring that bubbled from the granite, time was a quality of existence, not a measure of quantity elapsed.
“Are you glad we met?”
Almira smiled at my question, I felt her tracing her happiness along the ridges of muscle and tendon of my forearms, crossed, encircling her,
“I would have no other life, Sterling.”
I pulled her closer, my face slid through the soft waves of hair and I held Almira’s right hand up in front of us,
“What a beautiful ribbon you have around your wrist. Are you borrowing our daughter’s clothing already?”
Almira laughed, turned her head slightly, her fine, brown hair forming a delicate veil,
“It’s the ribbon that you used to secure Aurora’s blanket as we drove home the night she was born. It’s my single favorite article of clothing, I’ll have you know.”
“Yeah, its funny, I remember I first saw it the night we turned up on Teddy and Simone’s doorstep. It was in a basket of cloth and yarn next to the couch in the living room. I swear I just barely glanced at it. What caught my eye was it’s incredible ruby-red color, but I didn’t stop to pick it up or anything. It was, if you recall, a very odd night.”
I felt the weight rock against my chest, her silent acknowledgement of our first night in the house that became our home.
“Anyway, I was coming back from my last trip out to the car, you were already upstairs in our room,”
“Well, I was…we were very tired, and our daughter-to-be made it clear that she wanted me to stop getting up and down so she could get some rest!”
I felt Almira laugh soundlessly, the vibration of amusement rippled down through my chest. She tensed for a second, repositioned the side of her head, as if searching for a sound, interrupted by her own laughter, itself silent. Just as suddenly she relaxed, as I continued,
“It must have been the last trip to get something from the car as I walked through the living room. I know I looked around the room, it being late and all, not a person in sight. Then, as I was about to go up the stairs, I heard Simone’s voice right behind me!”
We laughed, sharing the memory of the first encounter with our host’s tendency to be observed only when she desired. Neither of us ever felt threatened by Simone’s ability to be in one place and then another, without being seen traversing the space between.
“Anyway, I turned and there she was, right behind me. She looked at me, took my hand and pressed the ruby ribbon into my palm and said the strangest thing.”
I felt a shudder ripple up Almira’s back. I remember an expression my mother would use, usually when a chill breeze might sneak under a warming sweater, ‘I believe that somebody just walked over my grave’. I pressed my arms along Almira’s sides, holding and warming us both. She smiled into the distance, searching for a sight too far away to see.
“She said, ‘Here, Sterling, this ribbon will hold an angel to the earth and keep the devil at bay.’ Our friend Simone was wonderful, but she would come out with some of the strangest of things at times.”
I looked down at the manuscript that lay open in the leather portfolio spread open on the flat rock to my side. I was in final re-write of my second novel and felt a familiar reluctance to see it end. There was a joy at the thought of creating a world that others, people I will never meet, could enter and discover strange lands and places.
The red and black Navaho blanket seemed to float over the packed but dry soil that spread from the edge of the pool out to the surrounding evergreen. The dark clay of the ground fading into a pale green as it approached the low fronds of the living wall that protected the entrance to the natural spring, which in turn, gave rise to the shallow cave that contained the pool of water.
“There you are.”
Her head on Sterling’s chest, the deep male voice sounded more distant than possible, given the clearing around the spring was, at best, 20 feet across. One section of the wall of green opposite where she and Sterling lay, took on a darker shade that formed a man’s shape which pushed the branches outward.
Herschel Goloby stood over Almira and Sterling Gulch. He held an oily-dark gun in his right hand and a pair of handcuffs in his left. He threw the shiny metal into Almira’s lap.
“You, put them on him.”
Almira felt the muscles in her legs and forearms tighten in the pre-conscious response of most animals when, facing a threat, decide to fight rather than flee. She shifted her weight on what had a second ago been the comfortable (and comforting) surface of her husband’s torso. Sterling, who was responding alike, through the increased tension of his muscles provided a stable platform for her leap.
Springing up and towards the man with the gun, Almira found her intended trajectory altered by an un-expected motion from behind, as Sterling began his move. Mid-flight, Almira realized that she would not hit the man full-on. Instead, Sterling’s push forced her to the right.
Surprisingly quick, for a man of his size, Herschel Goloby, brought his gun around, in a swiping motion from right to left and caught Almira full in the face, as she closed the distance between them. The soft, wet crunch as the gun barrel impacted the side of her nose was louder than the battle-scream that was her only warning of her attack. From the corner of her eye, she saw Sterling grab Herschel in a two-armed hug. Even as the bigger man attempted to bring his gun arm back from striking Almira, there was enough delay to allow Sterling to trap his arms. Almira hit the feathery trunks of the row of red cedar that formed the wall to the right, her shoulder and back impacted on the spiny branches.
Herschel Goloby found himself in the grasp of a 6 foot 2 inch man trapping both his arms, pinning them to his sides. The small woman lay on the ground to his left, her face blood-red from where the sight at the end of the gun barrel scored a deep gash. He found himself unable to move his arms as the other man pulled him away from the woman on the ground and towards the pool of water. His instructions to bring the man back alive forgotten, Herschel twisted in an effort to break free of the bear hug the man had on him.
Sterling grabbed Herschel’s gun hand and spun to his left. Both men, locked in mortal embrace, rotated in a counter-clockwise direction, a lethal pirouette that, immediately unstable, caused them to fall towards the edge of the spring.
Almira pushed herself half-upright, wincing at the pricks of the cedar branches under her hand. She shook her head and was rewarded by lightning bolts of pain. The knife-edged shocks radiated through and around her eye sockets, bony fingers extending around the sides of her head and meeting in the back at the base of her skull. With an oddly dainty and careful motion, she wiped the blood that flowed down from the cut over her left eye enough to clear her vision and looked for a weapon. On the ground, nudging her thigh, a forgotten lover at the end of a movie, was a rock the size of a soft ball. Careful not to bend her head, she felt the tickling wetness of blood getting blocked by her eyebrows, Almira picked up the rock. Getting one foot planted on the ground, and pushing off from her thigh, she managed to stand. She looked at the two men, now on the ground at the edge of the silent pool.
Sterling and Herschel were entangled on the ground, heads at the edge of the spring, where the granite rose from the earth, forming a crescent shore. Sterling was lying half on Herschel, his legs moving clear to find a grip on the ground that would allow him the leverage to rise. Herschel was on his back, his head on the edge of the pool.
Almira, lurched across the clearing, as much from her effort to counter-balance the weight of the rock she held in both hands, as her feet moved to remain underneath her. As she got to where the risk of tripping on the legs of the two men became significant, she spoke in a voice that hung in space,
“Sterling move to your left. Now.”
Sterling let go of whatever his hands were grappling and pushed off to the side, leaving Herschel, on his back, his head cradled by a rocky mound, half in and half out of the spring. Herschel stared at Almira, as she raised her arms over her head.
Almira brought the rock, grasped in both hands, downwards. There was an odd ‘give’ as the rock impacted the front of Herschel Goloby’s face. This was followed immediately by a dull cracking sound, the sound sometimes heard walking over fresh snow covering an older, crusted layer beneath. The bones that made Herschel Goloby look like Herschel Goloby were driven inwards and upwards. Unfortunately for him, these shards of bone were all that protected the brain from the outside world.
Unable to counter balance the downward momentum, Almira fell to her knees. Still holding the rock, she clenched her thighs as death spasms raced down through Herschel’s’ legs and out through his arms. She raised the stone over her head, both hands clenching through the blood that coated the un-even, roughly oval shape and looked down at the man. Herschel’s face was identifiable only by virtue of location at the front of the skull. Where there should have been a nose, the most distinctive promentory of the face, there was a depression, a bloody caldera, the hollow of the lower skull showing dark and in the center, the blunted remains of a nostril. There was, somehow, still a spark of life in his open eyes. He stared back at her, his torn lips pulled back exposing broken teeth, it was the look of any animal, driven by instinct to survive at any cost. Defiance flared, not as a rational argument against extinction, rather a silent scream against the forces that provided it self-awareness and was now taking it away.
Almira made a sound, something between a scream of rage and a wail of sorrow.
The blood flowing from the front of Herschel Goloby’s wreck of a face slowed, as his head, no longer controlled by life, fell back into and under the water of the spring.
Almira let her fingers fall from the rock, now seated in the center of the man’s ruined face. A chance spasm moved his head to the left and the stone rolled to the side and fell into the water with a curiously casual sounding splash. She watched as tendrils of blood followed the rock downwards, pulled by secret currents into the depths of the inner pool.
Her ragged breath, slowed.
Almira knew that she needed to get to Sterling. She turned, tried to stand and fell. After what seemed like a lifetime, she got one foot under herself and pushed against the body of Herschel Goloby with the other. It provided her the leverage to stand and, as Newton would insist, gave motion to the body, which rolled once and slid into and down under the dark water.
Emily Gale watched the old sedan approach the farm. Turning off County Road #2 with the elaborate caution of a driver either very young or very old, the car pulled to a stop in front of the house, its engine coughed twice and shuddered into silence. Unlike the greeting she offered her previous, un-planned guest, she stood holding Aurora in her arms. Emily held the child carefully, slightly away from her body, subtle indications of how un-practiced she was in holding a child in her arms. An observant onlooker might have noticed the strain and tension in the wrong groups of muscles.
Emily forced herself to smile, the only set of muscles that she felt confident in relaxing, the rest of her body feeling the weight of the child in her arms. She felt tension grow in her lower arms rather than her neck and shoulders, which surprised the young woman, as her posture had always been one of her best features. The muscles of the body always tell the tales that lie in the mind. Here, in the early afternoon, it spoke of a woman who had less fear of dropping the baby than she had of the child being taken away from her. Emily Gale stood with her back to the barn and dormitory building, facing the car in a way that assured that the child in her arms would focus on her and not the two men getting out of the car.
The driver was the Honorable Alexander Lucius Dellamonte. He pushed his door open into the half-way position, the better to provide support as he moved his considerable bulk from the car seat to the dooryard. His driver’s coat, very similar in color and texture to the canvas roof of the car, had the effect of making the man appear to be a part of the car itself. Judge Dellamonte glanced up at Emily as he forced his legs down on to the dusty ground and heaved himself into an upright position.
On the far side of the car, Gareth Herlihy, Captain of the Lawrence, Massachusetts Police Department, already out of the car, stood looking at the two-story building and the red barn beyond. Emily thought of her earlier visitor and realized that this man also was more interested in the other buildings of the farm. Her frown grew as it occurred to her that the majority of the day’s visitors had an agenda other than hers. Although confident in the virtue of her actions, she found herself feeling increasingly impatient.
The dust, freed from the dirt of the yard by the rolling tires of the car, caught up with the now still automobile and continued on towards the two-story dormitory building, it’s paint fresh and clean, the red barn and the open land beyond.
“There you are….”
Emily Gale, seeing that the people she required were finally present, fought to keep the uncertainty from her voice. The child was becoming an increasingly heavy strain on her arms.
August 11, 1939 Circe, Kansas
“There you are…”
The voice of the tall, thin, blonde nurse seemed to hang in the air, motionless despite the air-stirring of the ceiling fans. Like propellers of a ship still tied to a pier, the slowly spinning paddles flickered the light from the round white fixtures, more noticeable as the world outside the long, low room grew darker for reasons of its own.
Dorothy Gale stared at Nurse Griswold, once again standing next to the only occupied bed in the empty Charity Ward. It was not so much that she moved quickly and gracefully from being next to her to being 30 feet away, she was simply in one place at one moment and another, the next.
“Don’t concern yourself with how I move from where I am to where I must be, come here. No! it’s alright,” the ghost of a smile accented her eyes, “walking just as you always do will suffice.”
The woman laughed. It was the first time Dorothy could recall hearing her laugh, there was an undertone of sadness almost hidden in the woman’s laughter that, had she heard it from anyone else, it would surely make her cry.
Dorothy Gale stepped up to the side of the bed. The worn brown blanket rubbed the side of her knee, it was the distant feeling of familiarity that often hid in boxes of childhood clothing or yellow-edged envelops, falling from their hiding in an old book.
Dorothy sensed movement outside on the west lawn, in clear view through the row of windows along the wall. Even as the motion outdoors registered in her mind, she experienced the sensation of the lights in the ward brightening. With the increase of light, the figure in the narrow bed became more detailed.
Dorothy’s first impression was of a very small, very thin and very old woman lying, like an Egyptian mummy caught halfway through the process of mummification, in the bed. The worn brown blanket was clean, free of wrinkles and was tucked in at the sides of the mattress, contributing to the impression of a body rather than a living person. The blankets were not so tight as to obliterate or otherwise obscure the shape of the person in the bed. The slight changes of the otherwise flat plane of the covers suggested a certain roundness to the figure. This would lead a reasonable person to conclude, ‘this is a woman, an old woman in this bed’.
Above the folded line of the top of the sheet was a face framed in greying hair. The hair had enough of its original brown to prevent the thought, ‘white hair of a very old person’ and instead, ‘brown hair of a woman rapidly approaching old age’.
The woman was not awake, her eyes were closed, her features almost inert and therefore left the person comfortable ignoring the question, ‘what does this woman look like?’ The impressions of a person’s appearance is intimately tied to the play of expressions, a frown of aggression, the smile of friendliness. All accent the emotions, (theirs and ours) and increase (or decrease) the observer’s judgement of attractive or un-attractive.
The nurse was nowhere to be seen. The moment at the side of the last bed in the row of beds was for Dorothy Gale and the sleeping woman, a ribbon of the deepest red sewn to the collar of her tired blue nightgown.
Dorothy reached out to touch the ribbon and the woman opened her eyes, slowly, as would a person returning to morning from a night’s restful sleep,
Dorothy jumped back and felt the leather and steel of a chair at the back of her knees.