Chapter 34

Featured

“Are you sure you’re feeling up this?”

The Baumeisters waved from the porch as Almira and I drove out through the always open gate, turned right and headed south on County Rd #2.

We’d accepted their invitation to stay with them, at least until we made a decision where we would spend the winter. Given Almira’s condition, we didn’t need any convincing that settling here in Circe, at least until the baby was born, was the right decision. Even more importantly, there was something about Ted and Simone that made me feel welcome and, not being a person to quickly make friends, that’s saying a lot. Almira is, in her way, more comfortable around strangers, from the look on her face, as she walked through the front door just a few nights before, you’d have thought that she’d lived there all her life.

Simone and Ted Baumeister were in their late thirties and, at the moment, alone in the large farmhouse. Ted showed me what he referred to as, the ‘dormitory’ the day after our arrival, explaining that he’d just completed the interior and it was ready for whoever needed a place to stay. I started to say something about how it would only take a little time to move from the large second floor bedroom, when he interrupted me,

“Nein! Not you and Almira! Our children, they have all grown and moved on, this dormitory, I built because, well, because we are able to build it. You’d be surprised at how many people pass by our small farm here. Many are looking for work, some seeking direction, all need a comfortable place to rest for a short time from their journey. But you and little Almira, you are different. You, I think, you are family. You will stay with us in the house, for as long as you wish.”

I looked past the two-story building at the barn, about 100 yards further back from the road. It had corrals and pens on it’s far side, and beyond, lay fields, now in frozen slumber awaiting the warmth of Spring to awaken them. Ted and I walked back towards the house,

“I appreciate it, Ted. I don’t know how long we’ll be staying in Circe, but I know I like it here and Almira loves it. My wife is one of the most self-assured women I’ve ever met and she always finds the best in the people; her work with the unions makes that a very valuable quality. I saw something in her face the other night, when Simone opened the door and welcomed us. There was a relaxing, a letting down of her guard that made me believe in miracles. For the first time since we left Providence, I saw an expression on her face that told me she felt at home. Thank you. I won’t burden you with the details, but it is quite remarkable.”

Ted Baumeister, a very large man, easily six-foot three, put his arm across my shoulders as we walked up the porch stairs. At a volume that was something a little quieter than a roar, he announced our return,

“Simone! What is for dinner!”

Almira and Simone were sitting on a sofa that faced the over-sized fireplace, there were books everywhere. Some open on a low table, passages illuminated by the flames of the warming fire, several lying on the floor, a modern fairy ring surrounding the two women. Almira had one book in her lap, pointing to a passage that surely was in support of whatever point she was about to make to Simone, who had her own book, resting on the arm of the blue and gray fabric sofa. She looked up and laughing said,

“Exactly my question, Teddy. You and Sterling there, be sure to let Almira and me know in plenty of time to free ourselves of this avalanche of words and ideas. We are starving!”

We all laughed and Ted Baumeister and I headed for the kitchen.

***

Watching the road ahead, I noticed the scarecrow in the field that we saw the night we arrived at the Baumeisters. It was still in the same part of the field, except rather than left arm pointing, it’s right arm was pointing in what would have been the opposite direction. I felt a twinge pulling at the scar tissue on my face, ‘Well, Sterling’, I thought, ‘chalk one up to long-term effects of shell shock on memory.’ I followed the County Rd #2 to the right and after about twenty minutes I could see in the distance, still just a smudge below the razor clean horizon, a farmhouse and barn, both set at the end of a long fenced driveway.

Almira was quiet since we left the Baumeister’s. Ted and Simone referred to it as ‘the Keep’, an odd but somehow reassuring term for their homestead. She stared out the window, her eyes focused somewhere not on the maps and certainly not a place merely a physical distance away. I knew the look and I knew that all I could do was not worry and be available to her. Eventually she would return, as she always did, sometimes happy, other times exhausted, as if she’d crossed some immeasurable distance, exploring places not found on any motor club map.

I turned left off County Rd #2 at a gate marked: Gale

The barn, to the right as we approached the compound was freshly painted very red, the corral fencing was all new, un-broken and barely worn. There was a small structure next to the barn, a low one story building that seemed to serve as storage of some sort. My knowledge of working farms and farming now exhausted, I drove into the area, that friends back East would refer to as ‘the dooryard’, that lay between the barn and the house and parked the car.

The house had a wide porch lined with windows and a door at the far left end. Very similar to the Baumeisters. One look at Almira confirmed that it wasn’t that similar to the Baumeisters.

“You know that I will turn this car around, right this instant, all you have to do is say the word. You know that, right Almira?”

She smiled, a hint of reserve in her eyes, like a lone cloud in a clear sky,

“We are here, husband of mine, together we can stand up to anything the world might decide to throw at us.” A look of a 16-year-old grew in the depths of her eyes, “But, let’s make this quick, shall we? Simone said that she had some herbs that will tell us the sex of our child-to-be. I’d rather be there, having a beautifully odd woman pretending to know things about me than to be here at a stranger’s house, a stranger who will claim to know things about us.”

We got out of the Packard and went up to the door and knocked and waited.

***

“Sky don’t look so good.”

Eliza Thornberg, sitting next to Dorothy on the porch of the Gale house, titled forward in the rocking chair,

“The hell you say, Mr. Fonda! It’s warm, the sun’s out and there’s not a cloud to be seen anywhere. I think I had you up too late, last night! It looks to be a near perfect August day.”

She leaned back and let the half-round motion of the chair lift her legs up to the porch railing. Looking from under the brim of her straw hat, she looked towards Hunk Dietrich and, turning slightly, winked at Dorothy in the chair next to her.

Dorothy smiled tentatively, trying to recall if she’d ever seen her friend wearing a straw hat. She was fairly certain she had not and her smile faltered as it dawned on her that not only was it not Eliza’s hat, it was Hunk’s.

Hunk walked slowly across the dirt yard that between the farmhouse and the barn and the small cottage that served as his living quarters. He ate most of his meals with the Gale family, at least except during the winter months, when the demands of his correspondence classes kept him indoors, studying. There remained only a few more courses to complete in order to earn the college degree that formed the center of his private, personal life. Hunk stopped halfway across the yard and stared up at the sky. Having lived his entire life in the Midwest, he was very attuned to the slightest of changes in the weather. In a part of the country that otherwise appeared to be quite plain, in geographic character, the High Plains and the wide area that bordered them was prone to surprisingly dramatic (and lethal) outbursts of weather. Snow in the winter could show up at the end of an otherwise springlike day; rain, absent for months arrived with a pent-up ferocity to flatten crops and wash out roads. Almost in compliment to the plainness of the geography, the truly dangerous weather came with very little advanced warning. The tornadoes, often hidden in the night dark, sprang from the belly of thunderclouds, mindlessly destructive children, hungry for destruction.

Hunk stopped moving when Eliza rested her feet on the railing. She wore a skirt that, when simply standing, engaged in an innocent conversation, was of a somewhat provocative style, given the social context of a small rural community in the American Midwest. When the legs behind the skirt’s brightly patterned folds were tipped upwards, the resulting display of the female form moved into fashion territory much less commonly encountered on a working farm, in the middle of Kansas. Not that her dress slid up past her knees, at least not that much. The back half of Eliza’s legs was what caused the young farm hand to stop in his tracks. Like a slightly arabesque tent down a side aisle, part of a traveling carnival, the tented view of the Eliza’s legs held both promise and threat, neither explicitly stated.

Hunk stood, stuck in a patch of indecision as he wrestled with his conflicting response to the sight of the two girls, sitting on the porch waiting for Sunday dinner to begin.

Eliza smiled at Hunk, shaped by both affection and a touch of gleeful cruelty. She genuinely liked Hunk. She certainly found him physically attractive, although he carried a bit of the ordinary in his polite, deferential manner. While she found that quality sweet, in her experience it almost always was followed by boredom. At odds with this characteristic response, Eliza felt a visceral response, as physical as a sneeze, to her memory of the previous evening with him as they sat at a window booth in a forgettable diner in an equally forgettable town and Hunk Dietrich became someone else. It was not so much he became an exaggerated version of his normal self, as happened all too often when boys get drunk on liquor or love. The outcome of infatuation was usually that the big gets bigger and the unpleasant becomes awful. The transformation in the man in the diner was more akin to when a person is so distracted that they forget to be weak and simply act from the heart. The effect of this simple naturalness was overwhelmingly powerful. Even if she had not found Hunk Dietrich attractive, the previous evening would not have progressed differently.

Now, with a radio whispering a tune somewhere inside the house, Eliza Thornberg wrestled with her sense of control and was grateful that it was the daytime-normal version of Hunk standing in the middle of the yard in front of the Gale home.

“No, Eliza, sorry to say but you’re not from around here. There’s something in the air.”

Hunk’s tone was just a little more assertive. It was an echo of the previous evening, strong enough for Eliza to feel suddenly less confident with her feet on the porch railing. She sat forward, her satin D’orsays flat against the smooth boards of the porch.

Dorothy, still frowning, rocked back in her chair,

“Hunk’s always been good predicting changes in the weather. Out here, they call it, ‘having a weather eye’. It means he can sense a change before it happens. It’s a gift and he’s almost always right about whether it’s going to rain or be hot or have tornadoes destroy your town.”

The edge in Hunk’s voice seemed to fade as he turned his head and spoke to Dorothy. He was now standing at the railing opposite Eliza, leaning with both elbows on the rail, hands together, pointed at Eliza opposite him.

He looked at her and smiled,

“I like the idea that back East at your school, the worst thing they have for weather is snow. No surprise…. storms. I like that.”

Eliza, uncertain why, felt uncomfortable. Hunk turned towards her, locked eyes and she remembered.

“Well, we do have blizzards back East! We even had a hurricane pass by three years ago. They’re not exactly tame and safe.”

Hunk smiled in a way that made her feel like she had no idea who any of the people around her were and why she was among them,

“Sure, I’ve read about the wind and the tree damage. Huge storms that move slowly up the coastline. But around here, the storms are more…personal. And sometimes, there’s a storm that comes looking for you. And no matter where you hide, if it catches you, it will take you away.”

“I think I’ll go help Margherita set the table for dinner. I believe Auntie Em invited Doctor Morgan and his wife for dinner.”

“You want some help?” Eliza suddenly found herself wanting to be doing something boring.

“Nah, I can handle it”

Hunk vaulted the railing and crouched in front of Eliza, the suddenness and implied strength startling her into rocking back in the chair.

Smiling, Hunk put both hands on the ends of the armrests and tipped the chair forward. Eliza frowned and her temper, flared like a spark in dry pine needles, her eyes grew dark and was about to speak when,

“Dinner time, everyone!”

Hunk held out his hand.

Eliza felt the flare of temper, like a backfire out of control, spread within her. Her need to control and perhaps to hurt someone was replaced by a simple and plain feeling of need.

***

“So, Doctor Morgan, I understand that in a week or so, the construction will be starting!”

Emily Gale’s voice had a jagged trill to it that, had it been heard from a 6-year-old girl in the middle of a surprise birthday party, would not have been overly noticeable. The strained light-heartedness made each phrase of her attempt at dinner conversation, all the more brittle. The light in the room ebbed and flowed as clouds grew in the sky outside, the tone of her voice as jarring as biting down on a scrap of aluminum foil hidden in a fork full of picnic potato salad.

Henry Gale sat in his ‘good clothes’ at the head of the table. Being a round table, it was so purely on the basis of Emily’s announcement, ‘…and Henry sits there, at the head of the table’. Henry focused his attention on his plate, as if somewhere in the patterns of gravy and mashed potatoes there might be discovered a map to a secret treasure.
Hunk sat closest to the kitchen door and the two windows that opened out to the porch. Behind him, the mid-afternoon sunlight began to draw curved-geometric patterns on the white linen curtains as they swayed in the growing breeze. To his right, Eliza Thornberg sat and tried to appear interested in conversation that kept dying and being pulled from the ashes by the host. She was looking at Doctor Morgan and Emily Gale, but was exquisitely aware of Hunk Dietrich next to her, every few minutes twist in his seat and lean back to glance out the open windows behind him. Each time he did so, his leg would press against Eliza’s and a feeling of dismay would grow stronger inside her. Feeling a blush creep up from the top of her blouse, laying claim to the sides of her face, Eliza began to think that it might be time to think about returning to Philadelphia.

She was distracted from her distraction by the sound of Emily Gale prodding her dinner guest with pointed questions intermixed with obvious flattery, all mixed together like a child’s mud pie, clearly determined to demonstrate a skill that she did not possess.

Dorothy was seated to Thaddeus Morgan’s right. The Doctor was bracketed by Gale women and had a look that any nurse at St Mary’s would recognize. It was the expression he wore whenever walking into the operating room knowing that there was little chance of the patient’s survival. It was professional stoicism at it’s best. Dorothy picked at her food like a farm hand sitting on a porch whittling, waiting out a passing rainstorm.

Thaddeus Morgan looked to his left, Emily Gale sitting painfully upright, the look on her face the determined optimism of a spoiled child about to sit in the lap of a department store Santa Claus and said,

“Well, there is much left to do before the bulldozers come to the doors. We have almost all the primary functions of the old wing moved to temporary quarters. My wife, Eleanor is over-seeing that part of the transition. A very talented administrator, my wife.”

Dr. Thaddeus Morgan, directed the last part of his answer to Eliza, who, in turn, leaned forward in her seat and nodded as if she was interested in hearing the qualification of the Medical Director’s wife.

“She regretted not being able to join us today,” he spoke now more to the table at large, as he recalled the morning, “she takes her duties at the hospital very seriously. Too seriously at times.”

Emily Gale was clearly less interested in the fact that the Medical Director had confidence in his wife’s abilities than she was in how soon the old wing of the hospital could be torn down.

“So, Thad, you expect to start demolition in a week to 10 days, do I hear you correctly?”

“Well, Emily, as I said, most of the equipment and fixtures have been re-located to other parts of the hospital. Of course, we still have one remaining patient in Ward C.”

Thaddeus Morgan watched Emily slice the roast on her plate with an expert efficiency that reminded him of the head surgeon in medical school. At the beginning of the semester of Thad Morgan’s second year, Doctor Alphonse Wolff would look over the body of the cadaver in front of him and say with a cheerful smile to the interns, “Gentleman, dinner is served.” Bringing himself back to the present he stared at Emily Gale, as she continued,

“Just move her out! From what I hear she doesn’t do anything but lie there, taking up space. Put her in the children’s ward. Put her in the morgue for all I care.”

Thad Morgan looked uncomfortably around the dining room table, as if searching for understanding or, failing that, a sympathetic ear.

“One simply doesn’t move a patient willy nilly, not someone in her condition.”

“Well, I never…”

Emily sat back, linen napkin twisted between her hands, eyes circled the room, looking angrily at someone to swoop down upon.

Eliza Thornberg was leaning forward in her chair, staring at her plate, brows pursed, an  expression of frustration mixed with a touch of fear. Hunk Dietrich was leaning away from the table towards the open windows, his expression one of alertness. Henry Gale continued to eat, shoulders relaxed, long-accustomed to the piercing talons of his wife’s temper and her inability to tolerate frustration. He continued to quietly enjoy his food.

“Listen, Thaddeus if you think all my plans and money are just going to stand by and….

“Will Mrs. Gulch wake up?”

Aunt Em’s head swiveled on her shoulders. No other part of her body moved, she simply turned her head and glared at Dorothy. Dorothy, for her part, looked intently at the doctor. Something flickered in Emily Gale’s eyes, something like doubt and fear.

“Will she ever wake up again?” Dorothy repeated quietly, as if she were asking about the weather.

“Young lady! Dr Morgan is the head of the entire hospital. He does not take care of everyone there and certainly does not look after an old lady like that Miss Gulch, lying in the way in the indigent ward.”

“It’s Mrs. Gulch,”

“What did you say?”

“Nurse Griswold told me that her proper name is Mrs. Gulch.”

“Who did you say told you that, Miss Gale?”

Thaddeus Morgan turned to face Dorothy, his considerable bulk almost obscuring Emily Gale who was also starting to stand up from the table, as if to move around the doctor.

“Nurse Griswold. A tall, thin woman with long blonde hair and the most curious way of moving. She told me that Mrs. Gulch is suffering from dehydration.”

Like a choir of badly trained monks, singing out of sync, the intake of breath came from all the people around the table at the same moment, a collective gasp.

“Nurse Griswold said Mrs. Gulch was ‘a girl trapped in an old woman’s body and just needed someone to help her get free.'”

Emily Gale stood up and spoke at the same moment as Dr Thaddeus Morgan tried to re-assure the girl and settle himself,

“Well, Miss Gale, medicine is not such a simple matter of how things look and do not look, there are tests and ….”

“That will be enough nonsense at my table, young lady…”

Somewhere in the distance there was a tapping sound. It began slowly and the sound of each individual tap grew in force and volume.

Hunk was already walking past the open windows, the curtains, now blowing inwards, wrapped themselves around his legs as he passed, headed towards the kitchen.

“Hail. And, unless I’m mistaken, lightning is moving this way. I think this might be a good time to tell our guests the location of your storm shelter, Henry.”

Hunk stopped at the door and looked at Eliza,

“Maybe I can rescue your pretty yellow convertible, ‘Liza. Stay close to Dorothy.”

Chapter 20

Featured

January 1912 in Lawrence Massachusetts was as un-seasonably mild as the preceding December. Hovering in the 40’s during the first days of January, the temperature was mild enough to melt most of the snow from what was coming to be referred to as ‘the Great Blizzard of 1911’. As with most damaged relationships, no matter how warm it felt walking along the city streets, during the scant hours of daylight, there was no forgetting the cold. Very much like the bitterness that springs to life within the person betrayed by a loved one, there lurked a pained enthusiasm, poised to leap upon the most inane of comments on the weather. The inevitable response, spoken aloud or in jagged-edged thought, ‘Yeah, but it’s only January. Winter’s not done with us. Just you wait and see.’ The battered wife, knocked to the kitchen floor after months of good behavior, experienced more damage to her capacity to imagine a future worth living, than to her face; the cold temperatures made the mild weather something of a promise of disappointment, rather than a sincere respite from the Winter.

The Winter of 1912 dug its icy talons into the earth. Even the bright sunlight held an edge, like the pain when touching hard ice, the skin of the fingertip sticking, as if to say, ‘No! Wait! I need to show you how cold it really is!’ The broad lawns of the Commons, deprived of the protective covering of snow, looked like a child’s first attempt at finger painting. Browns and greens mixed in urgent and broad strokes, the texture un-even, the result of the effort to apply color on top of color. The bare earth remained as hard as an Immigration official’s heart, except, ironically, in small areas bordering the south-facing walls of the Mills. The towering brick facades sank warmth into the soil at their base, as if donating a portion of the bright sunlight it stole from those most in need of its life-affirming power, the people who labored behind the walls.

On one of the milder January days, in an alcove that came into being as the result of fortunate architectural juxtaposition between the exterior of Stairwell Number 2 and an adjacent outside corner forming the southwest end of the Mill, two young people sat, sharing a lunch. Their backs pressed against the sun-warmed brick, shoulders and legs touching as much as their posture would permit. Temporarily Siamese-twins, their joining was less inhibiting of movement, while somehow offering a more intimate form of sharing. One read from a book, the other content to watch and listen as a world that neither could achieve alone was made substantial by their whispered thoughts.

“Have you given any thought to what we talked about?”

“About moving, going down to your parent’s house in Rhode Island?”

“Well, yeah that too.”

…the young man and the young woman sat together, sharing the cold January sunlight. The warmth of their touching shoulders and the strength of their legs bracing each other, caused the towering brick walls to become nearly transparent and they stared into their future.

***

Frederick Prendergast did not like his bosses.

Frederick Prendergast III was appointed to his position of Chief Operating Officer by the Board of Directors of the Essex Company. This made 15 very wealthy middle-aged men all his bosses. Having to answer to 15 different bosses would have been too much for most of the candidates that competed for the position. Frederick succeeded simply because he considered it essential to good management to know more about the people he worked for than they knew about him. During his final interview, Robert Pease, chairman of the Selection Committee, complimented Frederick, “This resume of yours, outstanding! You provide the evidence of your qualifications for the position with such meticulous detail, as to make the interview almost un-necessary!”
Frederick merely smiled. The dossier he’d gathered on Robert Pease was in no way any less complete. Knowledge was truly power.

And now they sat in carved-wood and leather chairs staring at him from the length of the board room table. Large windows offered an expansive view of Lawrence, smoke from the mills smeared across the cold blue sky, giving the impression of an improbably detailed clockwork model of the Mill Town.

Frederick Prendergast was attempting to explain to the men who owned Lawrence that their suggestion he reduce wages to match the newly mandated reduction in allowable hours was a foolish mistake. The Massachusetts law did cut back the number of hours in a legal workweek. What it did not change was the fact that the number of hours of work necessary to provide for a family, when wages were 15 cents an hour, was more rather than less. As with most politically motivated efforts to address social ills, recognition of the complete context of the problem was markedly selective. That, at the root of the problem, was not the number of hours in the work week, but the amount the Mills paid for those hours. The Mill Owners naturally chose to ignore this, as it was very much in their interests to keep wages low. The politicians chose not to recognize this fact because any attempt to include wages as part of a remedy would’ve brought a swift and incumbency-threatening response from the people in power. As with most laws meant to demonstrate the political class’s dedication to the rights and well-being of their constituents, the new law attacked the symptoms not the cause.

Lawmakers are very often the leading advocates of palliative care for the body politic. As a result, their legislative efforts to help their marginal constituency survive the cycle of low pay and high production demands was akin to the doctor who prescribes laudanum for a persistent cough. The patient appears much improved, until they die of pneumonia.

“The new law limits the number of hours that an employee can be required to work. I propose that we leave the weekly pay as it is and, very publicly, announce that all our workers are receiving a Production-Rated Raise.”

Frederick saw most of the 15 wealthy, middle-aged men look like something small had bitten them somewhere sensitive. He continued smoothly,

“We have the production figures from last year. I’ve added 30% to those numbers. We’ll call them… the ‘Safe-Production Numbers’ and tell the workers that we’re implementing this because we listened to their complaints. Because we value their contribution so much, we decided to give them all a Raise, rather than cut their pay the way the new law would have us do instead.”

Frederick Prendergast watched as the Board of Directors digested his suggestion. The reaction was as he expected, those with sufficient intelligence and avarice smiled to themselves quietly, the others, the more junior members chose to speak, intent on demonstrating their value to the Company.

‘Don’t louse this up, Prendergast or you’ll be back at Dartmouth in the blink of an eye. Try supporting your current lifestyle on the salary of an assistant professor.”

Frederick Prendergast smiled towards his 15 bosses. He appeared to be in complete agreement with every one of them.

“Gentlemen I assure you that I have control of the situation. The Mills will not slow down. We have a workforce that is divided among as many European cultures as there are countries. They may grumble and complain, but they keep to themselves in small groups. Not only that, over half of my workers are women. It’s in their nature to complain. But stand up together to resist us? Not in my lifetime.”

“Be clear on this, Prendergast, we didn’t hire you for your understanding of whatever god-forsaken rundown country these people left. We hired you to increase production. Plain and simple. Buy more machinery. Promise the workers more hours until we can get the new equipment installed and running.  We’re not running a welfare agency. We’re here to make a profit. That’s the only reason we built this city.”

***

There was a growing unrest among the workers in the mills of Lawrence as the ramifications of the new labor law became clear. Despite the diversity of language and culture of the workforce, rumor, as always, became the currency of the emotionally speculative market of ideas. Shared, exchanged and bartered in lunch rooms during the day and barrooms at night, speculation took root in the hearts and minds of the workers of Lawrence. Passion, especially in a culturally diverse community like Lawrence, is like a stew, it required a slow increase in temperature in order to bring out its varied ingredients. Fortunately there are people who, while being aware of the issues, are able to rise above the grind of daily labor. They are the ones who, for better or for worse, can bring about a focus, a coherency of thought that reflects the needs of the many.

Annie LoPizzo stood before the Organizing Committee,

“There are more and more people asking for help down at the Hall. There will be less pay and more work, if my sources are correct. For now, we can handle the demands for extra food and clothing, our members are as giving as the bosses are not. The problem that this Committee needs to address is focusing the unrest among the workers. It’s growing rapidly and will soon be uncontrollable. We must provide the workers with a sense of direction.”

The expression on the faces of the Committee spoke volumes. The four men looked smugly attentive and the lone woman nodded silently.

“We appreciate your concerns, Annie,” the chairman, Pierre Marchand, spoke with a confidence that was easily mistaken for condescension,

“However we’re finally making progress with Management. Our talks, our private talks, are about to yield fruit. We need you down at the Union Hall making certain that all who come to seek aid are provided whatever help we can afford. This is a very delicate stage of the negotiation. Further unrest among the workers will cause us problems. You understand, don’t you?”

“I don’t believe you understand the people you claim to represent,” Annie noted immediate disapproval take hold of the men, while the woman, Monique Lafrenier, let a smile slide silently from her face, clearly awaiting the outburst from her fellow committee members.

“That is precisely the reason you are in the Union Hall and not at the negotiating table. Let those of us with skills in diplomacy and negotiations deal with this situation. We’re not here to start a war with the Owners of the Mill. We’re here to get our workers the best possible deal consistent with the needs of Management.”

*****

The yellow convertible sped down County Road #2, leaving the Gale Farm in a cloud of dust that seemed to glow with the approach of the sunset.

Even before the screen door slammed, as the two girls stepped off the porch, Eliza heard Dorothy say,

“I need to drive.”

Eliza Thornberg watched as her friend moved towards the convertible at what one might consider a mad dash. Without a word, she veered to the passenger side door, got in, and leaned back in the seat.

The car was powerful, the roads were flat and their speed was hazardous.

“So, where’s this Lake your boyfriend was so desperate to get you out to?”

Eliza leaned back against the door. The wind rushing over the windshield tangled insubstantial fingers in her hair, pulling, twisting and yet, always letting go. She had to yell to be heard over the sound of the engine and rush of the wind in the open car.

The Packard roared past a small, hand printed sign that read, ‘Almira’s Keep’, headed in the general direction of the Lake, just to the north of Circe.

Instead of turning off onto to Kiowa Lane, Dorothy gunned the engine and the convertible, rocking perilously on it’s springs from the sudden change in direction, raced towards the center of Circe.

Eliza felt the heat of the setting sun fight the cooling wind that flowed in behind the triangular vent windows. Her blouse, now every bit the old campaigners vest, displayed sweat stained campaign ribbons. She looked over at her friend, who was staring intently at the road ahead.

“You don’t have to let them get to you, you know. Screw ’em all!  Thats what I always say.”

Eliza’s shouted words echoed down the street as Dorothy took her foot off the gas and let the car coast past the sign that read, ‘City Limits’. She laughed at how loud her voice sounded, absent the roar of the car’s engine.

The rough-hewn posts that anchored three strands of barbed wire that kept the endless fields from consuming the roadway disappeared and were replaced by domesticated shrubbery and green lawns. The two girls in the yellow convertible drove slowly through the outlying neighborhoods that surrounded the small town.

“I saw all this when I first drove into Town,”

Eliza slouched in her seat, resting her head on her arm along the top of the passenger-side door.

“Say what you will about small towns, Dorothy, but I’d go crazy if I had to live here. Either that or I’d marry some guy and make him get rich. …and then get the hell out.”

Her laughter bounced off the white picket fences that began to grow along the edges of the lawns of houses set, like chess pieces, in the center of small lots.

Hearing the silence from the other side of the car, Eliza turned towards her friend. Dorothy stared straight ahead, tears shining on her face. She was aware enough of what she was doing to keep the car in its lane, as it moved along at no more than five miles per hour. She wore an expression that was, at once one of disbelief and yet, held a hint of an underlying hope.

The center of town appeared suddenly. The stop sign at the corner of West Main St. and Main Street marked the abrupt beginning of sidewalks and parking meters. Stores and small shops replaced tall trees and green lawns.  Shaded front porches transformed into glass storefronts and the harsh blue sky regained dominion over the land.

“Dorothy?” Eliza sat up straighter, leaned over and put her hand on her friend’s shoulder. Dorothy continued to drive slowly down Main Street.

Eliza saw the Town Square approaching on the left and pushed on the steering wheel. The car turned in a meandering sort of arc and managed to head up the street that ran between the Square and what could only be a library. There was loud honking and shouts in the air, as the yellow convertible cut, (slowly), in front of on-coming traffic. A modern-day Moses parting a sea of rust-sided farm trucks and overly shiny black sedans.

The car at the front of the now-stopped traffic, in the opposite lane, contained a well-dressed man who leaned out the driver’s side window and shouted,

“You have no right to drive like that!! You are a menace! I plan to report you to the authorities immediately!!”

Eliza, leaning with both hands on her door, managed to stand nearly upright in the open car and locked eyes with the shouting man. Seeing the look on the face of a very angry and clearly well-to-do young woman, he fell silent,

“Go ahead and try, you fat bastard. I’d love to see you try.”

Eliza felt pleased as she watched the well-dressed man slide back into his seat, hitting his head on the edge of the window as he did so. She pushed gently on the steering wheel, and the car, coasted towards the curb. When the left front tire bounced up on the sidewalk, she turned the key in the ignition and the yellow convertible fell silent and came to rest.

Eliza got out of her side of the car, walked around to the driver’s side and opened the door. Dorothy looked up at her and got out. Spotting a wrought iron bench around a dry water fountain, Eliza took her friend’s hand and walked over to it and the two girls sat down.

“Well, Dorothy, from the looks of that fountain there, I’m sure we’re not in Central Park. I need you to tell me all about Kansas.”

Dorothy smiled, looked past the fountain, towards the horizon and the now setting sun. Eliza had a strange feeling that her friend was about to start singing, but instead spoke quietly.

“When I was thirteen and wanted to ask my mom about, you know, the things that were happening to my body…”

“Boobs, I believe is the medical term…”

Dorothy giggled and continued,

“She looked at me and said, ‘I believe it’s time that you were told the truth. You were adopted. Now don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not part of this family, you are. We really think of you as part of this family, but I’m not your mother. And don’t worry, you’re just becoming a woman. Nature has a way of taking care of things, you’ll be alright.’

“…then I met Tom Hardesty and I thought he was the one person in the whole world who really understood me.”

“Yeah, how is it they always say that? And the better ones manage to sound so sincere!”

“..but he broke my heart and though we stayed friends…”

“…and, then there was the Storm. I really believed, for weeks afterwards, that I had visited a place, a place where I belonged. Everyone pretended to believe me, for a while anyway. But then they stopped listening. I kept trying to tell them, not just what happened to me, in that place, but that because of it, real or not, I knew there was answer. That there was someplace where I belonged. But everyone just went back to life the way it’s always been and eventually, I stopped talking.”

“When I came back here, this summer, from school? It was even worse. In part because of you. Having a friend who wasn’t from Circe, didn’t already have friends from around here, someone who seemed to like me for myself. That made coming back ‘home’ feel even worse.”

Eliza reached over and took her friend’s hand and held it in hers.

“…so, I spent the first weeks back in Kansas trying to figure the answer to a question that I wasn’t really sure I knew. Sorry about this not making any sense, but I thought that this woman, Almira Gulch, somehow I got it into my head that maybe she could tell me something.

“Was that the ‘Almira’ on the sign that we passed on the way here? The one that said, ‘Almira’s Keep’ or something?”

“Yeah, but that’s where everything gets mixed up in my head! All my life I’ve heard that she, this Almira Gulch, was a wicked, stingy old maid. To make matters worse, just before the Storm, she came to our house and tried to take my dog away. She seemed so very mean. But then, when I got back this summer, I found out that she had the new high school named after her because she gave most of the money to re-build it. Nothing made sense. So I tried to find her and talk to her and it turns out she’s in the hospital. In a damn coma of some sort!”

“Will she get better? Enough to talk to you?”

“… I don’t know! Every time I go there, she’s asleep. But…

“What?”

“Well, this is going to sound strange…”

Eliza laughed loudly enough to make the pigeons that were stalking an old man who had just sat on a bench on the far side of the fountain, bag bird seed in his hand. Dorothy stared at her friend, but could not help herself, the tension transformed into laughter and joined in.

“If you’re going to tell me something strange, I better prepare myself.” Eliza pulled Dorothy to her side and they laughed together.

“Well, odd. Lets call it, odd. This nurse is there every time I go to try and talk to Mrs. Gulch. No matter what day or even what time of day. She is tall, has beautiful blonde hair and a way of moving that I’ve never ever seen in a person, at least a person around here. And, when each time I was there, she’d talk to me like she was Mrs. Gulch’s best friend.”

Both girls sat in silence, the hungry pigeons landed and converged on the old man.

“Well, then! Lets go!”

Dorothy looked up, she appeared tired but, somehow more at peace with herself.

“Go where?”

“We’re off to see this Nurse….”

“Nurse Claire?”

“Nurse Claire! From everything you’ve told me about everyone here in this half-horse town, she’s the only who doesn’t seem interested in using you. So, lets go!”

***

There was only two other patients in the Charity Ward of St Mary’s Hospital.

Standing to the side of the narrow bed, Nurse Griswold smoothed the blankets that covered the still form. She took the small photo of a small young boy from the top of the side table and placed it in the drawer.

Leaning over, she smoothed back a loose wave of grey hair from the worn, but peaceful face of the woman in the bed.

“We’ll soon have company. I believe that our little friend may be near to finding her way.”

Chapter 19

Featured

(The Gale Farm County Rd #2 Circe, Kansas. July 15, 1939)

(6:00 pm and the light through the windows filled the dining room with a more than passable imitation of mid-afternoon, as sunset was still hours away, at 8:55 pm to be precise. The sky was clear, blue and in no way threatening. The FarmAll thermometer on the barn showed the low 90s. A light breeze tried to sneak up and over the open windowsills and down into the house through the thin white curtains, as if to hide from the sun for the 3 hours remaining.)
(Dinner was at a round, light oak table, in the center of the room between the kitchen and the parlor. The linen tablecloth had a decorative blue border and was very obviously quite expensive. The kitchen is on the other side of a single swinging door that has a brass push plate.)

(Emily Gale, Henry Gale, Hunk Dietrich, Dorothy Gale, Eliza Thornberg and Tom Hardesty)

“Time for dinner, everyone!”

“Eliza? you sit over between Dorothy and me. Tom? right there, on Hunk’s left. (laughing) No, his other left. There, by the door to the kitchen.”

[chairs scraped over the floor, in unison, but un-coordinated, low-throated wooden screech of final adjustment]

“There! everyone comfortable? Well, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have such a full table of guests. It’s been such a long time. Now, Henry? Why don’t you say the Grace.”

“Dear God, we thank you for this our bounty that you bestow on our family. We give praise and promise to live in your sight. We ask that you continue blessing our family that we might serve as an example of your rewards and everlasting goodness. Amen.”

“Amen”… “Amen”… “A..”

“Margherita! Please! We have a table full of very hungry young people!”

“Right away, Miz Gale, the biscuits are just coming out of the oven.”

“Well, everyone dig right in, we don’t stand any formalities here. Tom? Just pass everything to your left.”

[a sound like the branches of a crystalline forest brushed by a summer wind filled the dining room]

“Don’t forget to help yourself to the green beans. Picked them myself this morning. Margherita! Is that lemonade ready yet?”

“So, Hunk, did’ja get a chance to get out to the Lennon spread this morning?”

“Yeah, but just a quick look. There’s a passel of old equipment out there, didn’t look like much of it’s in any kind of working order.”

“Hunk! Henry! Not another word! This may not be a proper holiday, but I’m declaring the ‘No Work Talk Rule’. Dorothy’s friend Eliza here has no interest in hearing what Hunk did with his day.”

“Not at all, Mrs. Gale! I’m sure what Hunk does is very interesting.”

“You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, and call me Auntie Em… or Emily.”

“Ouch!”

“Are you alright?”

“Oh, nothing, just a sudden cramp in my calf, a little souvenir of a polo accident. I’d think that life on a real working farm would be quite interesting.”

“Not to hear them two talk about it! Most mornings start right here at this table and are nothing more exciting than listening to these two going over Henry’s lists of chores. You might not know it, coming from Back East, but this is one of the biggest farms in McPherson County. But interesting? Back-breaking work from sun-up to sun-down. At night, Henry’ll sit out on the porch smoking and making up a new list. Hunk over there, well, after dinner he’s always bent over one of his books, like a cur dog gnawin at a bone thrown out with the dinner scraps.”

“Well, Em, some’ll still have meat left on ’em! There’s a lot inside those old books. I take my bones where I find ’em and when I get too tired I bury what’s left for later.”

[laughter pooled around the guests, like rain-storm runoff, flowing ’round clumps of grass]

“Speaking of dog bones, the chicken is great, Mrs G!”

“Thank you Tom. Elbows off the table, please.”

“Dorothy tells us your father owns a publishing house back in Philadelphia. My family is from there, maybe we know some of the same people.”

“Don’t be tutting me, young lady! I didn’t say that I knew that many people Back East. Like I always say, family is family and at the end of the day that’s what counts…”

“Well, Mrs Gale, Daddy doesn’t spend as much time at his office as he used to, he travels a lot now, mostly New York and out to California.”

“I declare! How interesting that must be, so close to the arts and literature .. have you met any famous authors?”

“Well, my father had a party last summer, I think Scott Fitzgerald and that Steinbeck fellow were there but I’m not sure… but I didn’t actually meet them.”

“Your car, Eliza, it’s got California plates…”

“…yeah, that’s a real swell car ‘Liza  You think you’d mind if me an Dorothy borrow it later? The Lake’d be a welcoming cool place, on an evening like this.”

“So, are you living in California now?”

“No, Hunk, I was just out there with a friend, I tried out for a movie…”

“You don’t say! Can’t really say I’ve ever shook hands with a movie actress!”

“It’s nothing like you’d think…It’s really boring most of the time. Stand around a set, freezing cold, waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Of course, when the Director yells ‘Action’ ..then it gets interesting”

“Maybe you should go out there. My friend Jack is a director and knows everyone. I have a feeling that you just might be the kind of man they want for the movies I auditioned for,”

“Well, kinda busy mending fence this week, but maybe next week.”

[Laughter]

“Well, Eliza I’m glad that you decided to stop on your way and surprise me, ’cause you really did”

“That’s what friends are for, right? To surprise each other and be there when we’re needed”

“So, Miss Thornberg, what are you studying at school?”

“Don’t answer him! Hunk here will have you in a corner with his questions and you’ll never get free.”

“…really, that sounds like fun. Well, Henry… oh! sorry Mr Gale, I didn’t mean you!

“Hunk, I haven’t declared a major yet but I’m leaning towards”

“Sorry, Mrs Gale  ‘Henry”s my nickname for your foreman over there. Don’t you think he looks just like Henry Fonda in ‘The Farmer Takes a Wife’?”

“Why if that isn’t the silliest thing I ever heard, Hunk, don’t you listen! We’ll never get the Lennon Farm worked in”

“Don’t worry, I don’t see myself moving West any time soon,”

“I do”

“What was that, Tom?”

“I said, I was thinking that moving out West, might be the right thing to do…”

“Oh that’s just great! One friend drops in un-expectedly and one suddenly decides to move on! Doesn’t anything around here stay the same long enough to understand?”

“I ain’t moving…”

“I know Hunk and I love you for that…”

“Well, Missy you haven’t exactly been a hometown girl yourself. If memories serve me,  you weren’t but a month out of High School before you decided…”

“I recall that it was your brother’s Will that made College-Back-East possible!”

“I reckon seeing how your mother and I were everyday, ’til night’s dark after the Storm… ”

“You just thank your lucky stars, Dorothy, if it wasn’t for Uncle Bernard, you’d be stuck here, on this farm that you seem to think so little off…”

“I didn’t say that! I just…”

“You see, Eliza, Dorothy was hurt in the storm. After the wind stopped and people crawled out from their shelters, well lets just say you know a community by how everyone pitches in and helps one and other put the Town back together.”

“Auntie Em! I’m certain Eliza doesn’t need to hear about the storm and it’s boring aftermath.”

“What ever would make you think that! The Storm of ’37 is a part of local history which makes it a part of who we are! Of all people, I’d think you’d be the last one to not want to talk about it…. You certainly didn’t mind talking about it in those weeks right after…”

“No, Mrs. Gale. I knew Circe had a bad tornado, it was in all the newspapers. It’s just that  Dorothy’s never talked about it. Except when she first moved into the dorm and our room…”

“I don’t remember telling you about the storm…”

“Well, you didn’t exactly tell me. At least not consciously, but the first few nights, well, I thought I might need to request a different roommate! The yelling in your sleep! I still get goose bumps remembering it…. there was a tone to your voice, it was as if you were being drowned out but had to be heard,  “Let us in, please!!! It’s getting closer!!! Open up we’re out here!!’ You really don’t remember?”

[quiet rushes through the room like a winter night’s wind]

“…me, my father and my brother Ethan, we came out of our shelter that day and there was a rowboat setting right up on top of the chicken coop, didn’t crush it or nothin.  Lost two hens and had to fix the roof of the coop, though…”

“Who wants some fresh-baked apple pie?”

“You know what I’d like to do after such a good meal? Take a drive. Please save us some of that pie, Emily. Dorothy and I will have some after we get back. Dorothy? Show me this lake you’ve told me so much about!”

“Sorry, Tom…. girls only.”

*****

(The  one bedroom apartment of Annie LoPizzo  3 Union St, Lawrence, Massachusetts. December 15, 1911)

(It was 6:00 and effectively full-dark nighttime, as Sunset was nearly 2 hours earlier, at 4:11 pm.  Through the two windows, the white blur of wind-driven snow, the occasional needle-tapping of sleet on the glass lent credence to the estimate of a temperature in the low 20s and dropping.)
(Dinner was at a small, square wooden table that had three chairs that match and one that didn’t. The table was between the door and the other half of the large room, divided by a large brown sofa. The kitchen ran along the wall to the right of the table. Gas stove, white porcelain sink and a small icebox, everything was almost within arms reach of the table.)

(Almira Ristani and Sterling Gulch)

“I’m back from the Arctic… I can’t believe you sent me out in a raging blizzard for bread….”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“Hey! ‘Mira! I was kidding! … I wanted to go! ‘Though it was lucky I caught them at the Bakery just as they were closing….”

“But…”

“…and I’ve had more than a few dinners here, and I know for a fact that Annie would right kill me if I let you serve me her sausages and gravy without fresh bread.”

[laughter joined the two, comforting one and encouraging the other, a not-obtrusive maitre’d for an informal dinner]

“You changed your clothes! you look very, uh very….”

“Disheveled?”

“Well, I was thinking ‘pretty’ But I can go with ‘disheveled’ That shirt is very nice!  uh…here’s the bread! do you want to heat it in the oven first?”

“Good idea! I just need to get down the plates. No, I can get them… well, thank you, it does still hurt a little to stretch too much. Put them on the table and, please sit down.”

“Are those yours?”

“Are what mine?”

“All those books on the couch, ‘Civil Disobedience’ ‘Woman in the Nineteenth Century’…”

“Don’t make fun, those are my mother’s books, well, some of them, anyway,”

“My god! You have Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass'”

“Ok now, stop fooling around. Put it back on the couch, come over here and sit down. Annie made what she said was your favorite dinner…”

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the
egg of the wren,”

“What? Well, don’t look so dumbfounded, Almira. You know, I went to college too! For nearly a full year, anyway…”

“It’s just that I….”

“I know, you’re surprised. Sometimes I get tired how people judge me by my good looks and rugged build and then act so surprised when I say something that isn’t about working at the Mill or fishing or drinking or carousing…”

“I didn’t I mean …I don’t think, well, you do have a rugged build…”

“So you think I’m good looking…”

“Yes, no, well…. that not what I meant! I wasn’t making fun of you!”

“No, I believe you weren’t. But now since you’re bringing up looks again, I think you’re a pretty nice girl yourself.”

“Sorry, all I meant to say was, that I didn’t go to college. Hell, I haven’t gone anywhere.”

“But all those books and the talks at the Union Hall about Thoreau and Brook Farm, I naturally thought”

“Well, you thought wrong.”

“Here, come and sit and have some food. Annie spent the morning putting together this for you and I’m not sending you out into the snow and wind,”

“Well, I thought, maybe if it keeps getting worse, I could…”

“…at least not without getting some warm food into you.”

[a silence grew between the two young people. Binding rather than separating, a sense of un-self-consciousness for one, a feeling of recognition for the other It was the discovering of another person so in tune as to become irreplaceable, if a happy life was to be lived from that point forward]

“…and so I figured, why not hitch hike around, for a while. There’ll always be a school to go to later. I just wanted to learn more about life than what a Professor would tell me.”

“I’ve often thought that, if I could only leave Lawrence, and find a place where people aren’t satisfied with doing the same thing day after day, year after year. My mother was a teacher, back in the old country, and she’d tell me, ‘Almira, use that mind of yours. There’s so much to the world that you don’t yet know. Find a way to go and explore it. Remember, that no matter how far you roam, your heart will always be your true compass. Trust it and it will take you to the one you’re meant to be with and, most importantly, it will also take you home.”

“You are, you’re…. so different from any girl I’ve ever known…”

“Sure, how many girls do you know have two black eyes and a nose like a witch?”

“No! I don’t mean how you look. It’s the way you look at things and you think about things… you really are special.”

“…for a girl with such

“Now I know you’re just playing.  But the fact is. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind, since, since that night.”

“That night, the night when I hurt that man, I hurt him real bad. I can still hear him screaming…”

“Hey don’t! he had it coming, he was an animal.”

“No, don’t get me wrong. I hurt him as bad as I could and I don’t regret it. It was the only way I knew to get him to stop, stop hurting Annie and stop before he could hurt me… I would do the same again, it’s just that… it all makes me feel sad somehow.”

“…what?”

“You!  I just called you a pretty girl. And I meant it. But just now, when you were talking about that night, I realized that calling you pretty is like calling the Mona Lisa a ‘good portrait of a woman’….
If you want to say you’re a witch…”

“I said my nose makes me look like one.”

” Well, if you’re not, then whatever spell you did cast on me worked. You’re more than pretty… you’re everything that I didn’t know a woman could be. And now that I know, I don’t really think I can go back…”

“Who’s going back? Where?  Sterling, would you be a gentleman and take this coat! I’m freezing!! Almira! you’re looking very animated tonight, I trust our gentleman hasn’t been too boring and would you please fix me a plate, I’m starving….”

“….now what is this about Sterling here going away? You can’t by the way, there are things happening down at the Mill that will soon cause everything to change.”

*****

(Almira’s Keep Pole# 444 US Highway 61, Circe, Kansas. July 15 1939)

(It’s 6:35 pm and the early evening light is still bright enough to cast shadows running towards the East of the grove of walnut trees that shaded the converted barn. The temperature inside the dining hall is 95, the temperature outside, in the shade is 87. Outside the dining hall, to the right of the entrance and in clear view of the house is a grassy area with several wood trestle tables, it’s the favored gathering area when the weather is not forcing the transient guests to remain in doors.)

(Ephraim Hardesty, Ethan Hardesty and Phyllis McCutcheon)

“Lets go sit outside.”

“Ethan, grab your plate and lets go sit out at the table by the tree yonder.”

“Really, I can’t put you to so much trouble. I usually take my meals in the kitchen, there’s so much to do.”

“It’s a fine warm evening. It’ll be my pleasure to have some company for dinner. Ethan here eats in a hurry and my son Tom, well, when he’s around.”

“Your son, Tom is an exceptional young man.”

“You know him?”

“Well, he’s here at least a couple of days of the week, helping out and taking his payment in supper in the hall. Although, I suspect he’s mostly here to learn songs and play with some of the people, the musicians who seem to like this place as they wander around the country. Like that nice Mr Guthrie. You must be very proud, your son is quite talented.”

*****

(Prendergast home 23 Haverhill St. Lawrence, Massachusetts December 15, 1911)

(It’s 6:00 pm and the wind that hasn’t let up since 3 in the afternoon can be heard howling through the eaves of the 3rd floor attic. Snow freezes on the windows, framing the Town Commons across the street with a filigree of ice. Hope for an early letup vanished with the barely-seen sun, there remains only an increasing fear of how bad the storm will be.)
(Dinner is served in the Formal Dining Room. The long dining table is set for two at the end of the table closest to the fireplace, as if seeking the most elemental of protections, as Nature demonstrates it’s un-ending power. There are candles on the table, the dominant illumination is from the fireplace, which casts an ever-changing light over the room and the diners. Nothing appears the same, from one minute to the next.)

(Frederick Prendergast, Grace Byrne)

“Are you happy here, Grace?”

“Yes, Mister Prendergast”

“Frederick, please, I get Mr Prendergast all day long from everyone. It gets so tiresome, you would think it wouldn’t, being in charge of as much as I am, but it gets so wearying. The problems that they come to my office with and layout on my desk and they get to go away, happy. Or at least relieved that there is someone to fix things, things that they shouldn’t have messed up in the first place.”

“I can just imagine…”

“But the worst are the people who I give a job to and they get so full of themselves and strut around the Mills, like they’re important and they don’t bother to actually do what I assigned for them to do. Of course, eventually it gets worse and guess who they come running to…”

“You?”

“That’s right! And they are suddenly in need of assistance”

“Well it’s understandable how they would see that you’re the person who can fix it”

“You don’t know how refreshing it is to hear someone say that, Grace! Sad to say, I don’t get even the smallest appreciation from Mrs Prendergast. With her, it’s all about the twins are sick or the twins need this, the twins have to go to school. Do you think she even knows how hard I work?”

“I’m sure she loves you and the boys very, very much. You’re all she ever talks about during the day.”

“Well I hope that’s true because I’ll be spending more time down at the Mill in the next few weeks. There are some new laws about who can work and how many hours each week. Can you believe that? Meddling with business is going to take this country to perdition as God is my judge. There are changes coming to Lawrence and I only pray that I can control the effects they’ll have on the workers.”

Chapter 17

Featured

It snowed in Lawrence, Massachusetts the week before the Christmas of 1911. While snow in December was not unusual, the skies seeming more menacing and the first flakes far larger, was, in part, due to the contrast with the mild weather of the first half of the month. Lulled into willful denial of the nature of the winters in New England, phrases like, ‘this might be the Winter without snow’, or ‘I can remember one year, must of been ’97 or ’98, when we went this far into the Winter without snow, it was a record warm year, that year’, floated in the air along the sidewalks, as tired workers and their nervous managers passed and mixed in a collegial stream, lulled by the un-seasonably warm temperatures of the first two weeks of the last month of the year.

The snow started early on Sunday, the 17th. As people walked to church, the pedestrian niceties possessed a subtle, barely-there, tinge of relief, ‘well, this is not unusual’ or ‘about time’, as if to express their disappointment at snow falling in December might somehow make matters worse. By unspoken agreement, no-one thought to complain about the snow fall, as if to speak of it, might, somehow, cause Winter to remember it’s true nature and make up for lost time. Like an elderly teacher nearing retirement, forgetting a scheduled exam, his students knew that to remind him of the over-sight would surely cause him to come up with a test far more difficult. All, as if to prove, somehow, that he wasn’t suffering from a mental decline.

It was still snowing when the faithful left their respective churches, stepping now more carefully, as the hour of snowing changed the sidewalks and paths through the Town Common from a condition of being ‘pretty’ to one warranting, ‘be careful’. Some were clearly disappointed that their prayers had been ignored. They did not express this disappointment for the same reasons the students of the increasingly senile teacher did not mention tests. Afternoon saw no end to the snow and the weather had taken the irrevocable step from, ‘snow’ to ‘a snow storm’. The un-seasonably green grass acquired 4 inches of snow cover by 3:00 pm and the sky grew darker than the clocks would require. Often, the early evening is when a mild snow storm begins to slow and stop, this was not to be, on this particular Sunday. By 6:00 pm the grey sky had turned a mottled black and it was as dark as midnight, the wind blew with increasing ferocity, out of the northeast. Old timers recognized the early signs of a blizzard and went about in their homes, making certain they knew where the candles and the empty buckets were, already wearing an extra sweater, as if to store up warmth against a very cold night.

***

“What the bloody hell are you talking about, Herlihy. Yes, I did, in fact, attend Dartmouth College. Speak up!!  No, I have not recommended that a study be done!”

Frederick Prendergast debated whether he should stand to make his point or remain seated. Both offered a certain advantage. Looking across his wide desk at the policeman, with the too shiny badge and shoes glistening with permanently fresh machine oil stains, he decided standing wasn’t worth the bother.

Sargent Herlihy was, at first, excited to hear from his Captain that he was asked to go the office of the CEO of the Essex Company. He genuinely, if not naively believed that anything he did that came to the attention to those who ran the City of Lawrence, would surely bode well for his career. Now, standing in front of an elaborately ornate desk, a single piece of furniture worth more than he was, Sargent Gareth Herlihy was having second thoughts about his ambition. The man behind the desk was the most powerful man in Lawrence, but there was something about the man that he just didn’t like.

“At least you didn’t add to our problems. Thank you for that, Sargent,”

Seeing the cop perk up and his chest swell at the attention, depressed Frederick Prendergast more than he was when he left Church for this ridiculously un-necessary meeting. That he was meant for better things than to ride herd on cops and Mill town toughs, was apparently still being overlooked by the owners of Lawrence, Massachusetts, the real owners, the Essex Company,

“Keep an eye on that Union Hall. There are changes coming. Changes that will not sit well with a certain, unruly element in town. Can I count on you, Sergeant Herlihy?”

“Yes sir, yes you can. I’m your man.”

Sargent Gareth Herlihy left the office of the CEO of the Essex Company feeling angry. He hoped that there would be trouble somewhere in town tonight, snow or no snow. Arresting unruly suspects usually cheered him up.

***

Almira knew she was dreaming. Sometimes this was very amusing, as she would wander the world of night and explore, secure in the knowledge that everything around her, large and small, threatening and inviting, was insubstantial and therefore not a particularly real danger to her.

This dream was different. Some of the more curious elements were oddly familiar and yet, somehow, seemed to deliberately hold back some critical bit of information or insight. The threatening and frightening elements of this particular dream were more vague than usual, darkly-foreboding feelings, like a low ground fog, moved silently, as if stirred by a night-breeze.

…she was walking away from a small cottage that stood at the base of immensely tall, red cliffs. Clearly someone’s home, it’s location did not seem to enjoy the benefit of being sheltered by the towering cliffs, but actually, was at risk. And it was not that rock shards, boulders might fall and crush it, rather the danger seemed to lie in how the cliffs seemed to grow, and in the process of growing, threaten to absorb the little house, turning it’s soft, warm light into hard, cold brick. There was a sound, the dreaming girl suddenly realized, a moaning that was coming from within the bricks.

Almira started to run from the cliffs and their song of despair. Coming to the top of a flower-covered hill, she stopped running and stood, paralyzed by the sight of endless plains, spreading out before her, farther than the eye could see. Small clumps of trees, many with a companion blue lake, dotted the nearly flat landscape, she looked for and failed to find any pattern to the arrangement. Both of these other-wise quite normal and even charming features, served only to make the endless fields seem even more soul-sapping. She turned to her left and saw a man, standing at a small crossroads, just a short distance from where she stood, (this being a dream, after all, Almira smiled to herself). The intersection, in the middle of the vast prairie, really was just a smallish square of prairie grass that was more trampled into dirt than the areas around it.

“Pardon me, can you tell me where I am?” She asked the man, who appeared not to notice her sudden arrival.

“No, but I would be happy to tell you where you should try to go.”

The man, who Almira thought looked a little like Emerson, was smoking a pipe that made her add, ‘and a bit of Abraham Lincoln’. Looking directly at her, the tall man began to re-fill his pipe. Somehow it had become enormous, despite the fact that he’d been smoking when she first noticed him. He continued to focus on his pipe, until he had it filled to his satisfaction, at which point he assumed the manner of an orator,

The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.”

He looked off into the distance, as if for a dramatic effect and, then smiled to himself, while bending over to whisper in her ear,

“Even though I wrote that, I now think it’s rather obvious, don’t you? It was my good fortune to have first read it in public as a part of a sermon. Do you know how little people actually pay attention when listening to a sermon?”

Almira giggled and thought she felt something near her leg, looked down, but saw nothing.

Emerson/Lincoln stood looking at her and, with the air of an actor relaxing after a demanding performance, put his pipe away and said,

“My friend, Margaret Fuller, once said,

Two persons love in one another the future good which they aid one another to unfold.’

I rather like that one, don’t you?”

Almira found herself blushing, but nodded, her hand coming up to her face,

“and, personally, I think that this is the best we can hope for, but since I’m only a dream man…”

Again, Almira felt a warmth rise in her face and spread through her middle,

“…this is your dream about finding your way, I should try to be more sure of myself and therefore, helpful to you. So I will say,

‘If you go one way, it will be as it was. Of course, if you choose to go the other way, it will be as you hope. Neither is your choice alone’.”

Almira looked towards what felt like the western horizon, although she knew that in dreams, nothing was as it appeared to be, turned back to face the man and found only a plain field, a scattering of flowers growing in a pattern that hinted of a path.

‘Well,’ Almira thought, ‘I had better get moving’, as the far-off sound of a distant scream began to grow, coming from the direction of the tall, red cliffs…

 

The aroma of minestrone soup lifted Almira from her dream, the sound of a tea kettle gave her sleep-closed eyes a direction to look.

“Well, look who’s finally awake! Hey, good morning, sleepy head.”

Her friend, Annie LoPizzo, stood in front of the stove, in the kitchen end of the large room. Almira wrapped in a brown quilt, was lying on an even darker brown sofa, at the far end of this same room. Annie wore an apron around her waist and her long dark hair up in a bun. She lifted the kettle from the stove, poured boiling water into a small teapot and brought two cups, (decorated with a woodlands scene, done in pale blue and saucers with a gold band circling the rim), over to the low table in front of the couch. Returning to the stove, Annie brought back the teapot, a small sugar bowl and sat on the couch next to Almira, who had raised herself into a more upright position, while keeping the quilt nearly to her shoulders.

“I have to work the new Sunday second shift today. The Owners must have extra long Christmas gift lists this year.” Annie looked back towards the stove, got up and walked over to it, stirred the contents of a large sauce pan, and then arranged some plates on the kitchen table.

“It’s snowing, so I’m leaving a little early. I want to stop at the Union Hall to check on the Dombrovsky twins, before I go on to the Mill. Those girls are well-meaning and hard-working, but you’d think, with them being twins, it would be impossible to be so dumb! I’ll have to make sure that all the supplies are out on the counter. With this snow, I’m sure we’ll have people stopping by for supplies.”

Annie walked into the bedroom, unbuttoning her blouse, her apron left behind, draped on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. Pulling at the back of her skirt, she stepped out of it, never stopping, as she walked about the bedroom, gathering together the clothes she always wore to work at the Mill, clothes that were simple and fit closely to the body. She did not make this choice out of vanity, although a person would be forgiven for thinking so, as Annie had the kind of figure that men lusted for and women coveted.

As Annie stood in the bedroom doorway, wearing only her bloomers and a tooth brush, Almira found herself at once self-conscious and, at the same time, jealous of her friend’s natural comfort with herself. Her own figure was developed to quite an impressive degree, unfortunately, her self-confidence was not keeping pace with the increasingly prominent display of her feminine attributes.

“Sterling will be stopping by later, probably towards dinner, I have some gravy simmering on the stove for him. You should stay with the soup, maybe a little bread, ok?”

Almira pulled herself up on the couch,

“I’m not a little girl that you need to have someone babysit when you’re at work!”

Almira watched as Annie stopped working at her hair with her hairbrush. She saw a passing look pull at her friends face, the effort she made to resist whatever feeling possessed in that split-second showed in a slumping of her shoulders, her breasts, for just a fleeting time, made her look a woman of many more years and much more harder a life. Annie shook her head in a way that made Almira think of a horse, bridle removed after a long hard day pulling, shook her own mane and took the pleasure of feeling her hair brushing her shoulders to rejuvenate her,

“It wasn’t my idea! Your handsome and determined protector has been coming here everyday since …that night. Of course, you haven’t seen him because you’ve been asleep, healing. But he comes here every day. He sits and pretends to be interested in what my day has been like and how much work it is to run the Union Hall. And, you are never out of his sight.”

Almira looked surprised, a bit scared and yet quietly happy,

“What? You must be mistaken! You are why he is here, you’re so… so what men want. I am an ugly duckling in comparison. No, make that a ragged, under-sized raccoon. …with a very large nose.”

Annie stood and looked at Almira, and tilted her head, as if to get a different perspective, then walked over and, after brushing the girl’s hair down and to the side, stepped back and said,

“Well, now that I look, you’re right. But a very pretty, young raccoon.”

The room was silent, then both broke into laughter.

Almira Ristani hid from her thoughts nearly as much as from her emotions. To a passerby, she would seem cold, aloof and un-caring of the difficulties of those around her. However, to a friend and especially to a man who sees his life made worthwhile in her eyes, she was much, more more.  To them, she appears a small, delicately featured girl who might someday turn into a woman. Her pale blue eyes were the color of a distant horizon on a summer afternoon. However, at those rare moments when caught off-guard, the observant person might be startled by the depth in her eyes. And, if one were especially daring, ambition incited by love, they might even see in her eyes, back where the soul touches the world, a sparkle of night flashing like distant lightening.

“You know men, but you must be mistaken.”

“I do know men. And you are still very young and, probably the smartest person I know… old or young, man or woman. You have such a gift for understanding,”

Annie sat on the edge of the couch and, after brushing Almira’s hair from her eyes, put her hand over the girls heart,

“You still have so much to learn about this. And, unlike that sharp and controllable mind of yours, the heart is like the ocean, powerful and un-controllable. And you, my little raccoon, have everything to learn about that particular subject!”

Almira took Annie’s hand in hers and looked at her friend,

“Yes, I know the bruises will go away. But my nose is now different, it feels different on my face. I find myself trying to look around it. It makes me feel that I need to squint. This morning, when I looked in the mirror, I thought, ‘So this is what a young, growing witch sees when she looks in the mirror’.”

“Stop that! This instant!

Annie’s voice was angry and Almira was taken aback by it’s vehemence,

“I never want to hear you speak like that about yourself again! Ever! I am a very attractive and intelligent woman, and I have only attractive and intelligent people for friends. Are you calling me a liar? If you are, we cannot be friends. I don’t have friends who think that I don’t know what I’m talking about or am stupid or something!”

Almira felt a sudden dipping in her stomach at the emotion in her friends voice. The passion and sincerity made the prospect of their friendship being at risk, terribly real. Annie remained seated and, for the young girl, the feeling of safety in the small space between the back of the couch and her friends leg melted the cold fear and a happy sadness overwhelmed her. Almira grabbed Annie’s arm in a hug, like a child clutching at her mother’s dress, a universal signal for being in need of protection.

Annie sat and held her friends hands as the girl began to cry,

“I won’t. I promise! As long as you are my friend, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of how I look, even the girl in my mirror.”

Almira curled on to her side, being very careful in resting her face against Annie’s leg. Annie stroked the girls hair, smoothing the tangles of fine hair, as if it was the tangle and confusion and knots that created the storm within her young friend, and to comb out and untangle the very, very light brown strands, would bring peace.

Without lifting her head, Almira spoke, almost into Annie’s thigh

“Exactly how well do you know men?”

Her body shook, as she tried to restrain her giggling.

Annie raised her eyebrow and looked sternly at the girl, both began to laugh,

“Your precious Mr Emerson and Mr Thoreau, with their lofty insights into the transcendental? They are children playing with wooden blocks compared to my understanding of the ways and nature of men! Your church-leading, college-men-of higher-education have not learned the secret language of boys who would be men. Young men speak words and think that we listen, seeing only the pretty pictures they paint with their voices. We listen and we watch, and …and, if we are smart, we learn to know them from what they do not say. Most of all, for those of us who are very, very smart, we learn from what they do not tell themselves.”

Leaning over the girl on the couch, Annie tucked in the quilt extra tight on the sides.

As Annie LoPizzo closed the apartment door, she looked and saw her houseguest on the couch with her books. Some lay open, across her lap and more on the floor, in front of the couch. Leather-bound pickets, running in staggered rows in the quiet before the battle.

***

Dorothy was out of the truck and running up to Eliza before Tom turned off the engine. She grabbed her friend in a hug that spoke of the quality of the time she spent apart much more eloquently than the amount of time passed.

“How long have you been waiting? I wish I’d known you were coming….” as she broke the hug first

“I only just got here. Don’t worry about me, I’ve had Henry Fonda here seeing that I didn’t get too bored.”

Dorothy watched as Eliza smiled at Hunk, barely keeping from licking her lips. For his part, Hunk only smiled into her friends dark eyes. Like a square of paper in a pan of developers solution, the parts appeared first, the meaning, second. With a feeling of surprise, tinged with something unidentifiable, she thought,

‘What happened to my scuff and stumble farmhand, Hunk? Eliza’s good with men, but I had no idea she could raise the not-yet-living to life.’

“Well, Dee, from the looks of your cute friend in the truck, you had some plans of your own, should I come back a little later?”

Eliza started to walk towards the cottage under the apple tree, next to the barn, “Come on, Hank, these two clearly have something on their minds. Show me all those books Dorothy told me so much about.”

Dorothy felt a hand entwine her fingers, large and strong, forcing them apart, forming a grasp that was at once rough and at the same time intimately exciting.

“Wait. No need. We were just stopping by the house for…”

Before she could complete the sentence, a distant sound, growing from the East, caused everyone, except Eliza and Hunk and Tom Hardesty to turn and look out over the fields towards County Rd #2 and the approaching vehicle.

“Shit! Why couldn’t it be a tornado tearing up the road instead of them!”

Dorothy looked around the open yard area, first at the house, then the barn and then the small cottage, where Eliza and Hunk had managed to get halfway to, and then at the two vehicles, Tom’s stake body truck, with Hardesty Farms painted on its rusty blue side panels and Eliza’s bright yellow Packard, it’s black canvas top making it look like a very large bee, sitting still between the flowers in a country yard.

“Hunk! Take Tom to the barn and Eliza, you stay with me. Let me do the talking, ok?”

Dorothy looked at the other three young people, Hunk looked thoughtful, Tom looked determined and Eliza was clearly amused.

Chapter 13

Featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So Becky, what’s on your mind?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi! Becky! Hi Becky!”

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

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

“Uh, hi! Hows’ your vacation, Becky?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see what you mean,”

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

“No, it’s not what you think!”

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

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

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

Dorothy looked at Becky in surprise,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To herself, aloud,

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Help me get her on the couch!”

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

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

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

Chapter 9

Featured

(Early) Sunday Morning

December 10, 1911

The Hammond Street Presbyterian Church
Lawrence, Massachusetts

Frederick Prendergast III and his wife Constance, walked across the Lawrence Town Commons, on a mild December morning. The bite of cold that prevailed through the night and into the early morning hours, broke, like rotted teeth on some Christmas confection, and was replaced by temperature so mild, if only by contrast, that Frederick decided that the family would forgo the carriage and, instead, walk across the Commons, to Sunday Services.

In 1848, the Essex Corporation gifted the town of Lawrence with 17 acres of vacant land for use as the town Common. Along the four streets that bordered this greenery, were, churches of a New England, variety of denominations, City Hall, the Library, (complete with Greco-Roman columns), and a row of imposing private residences. The Commons itself was of a decidedly odd shape. If one were to rise above the earth and view the arrangement of abutting neighborhoods and sections of town, one could be forgiven for insisting that the Town of Lawrence, (from this lofty height), possessed the shape of a great Chalice. The Cup formed by the green of the Commons, the surrounding mansions and houses of worship taking the place of decorative jewels and gold filigree. As a chalice, a broad and stable base was necessary and there, the stolid red brick of the Mills, arrayed along the Merrimack River, completed the image. The Chalice, as potent a symbol in human experience as might be found, also represents the most basic of elements: Water, Fire, Earth and Air. Missing is, of course, the human element. That there could not be a Lawrence, Massachusetts without people, goes without saying. It is the experiences of the different social classes in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1911 that is most telling. Much like the different shapes of the neighborhoods and sections of town that creates this provocative image of a chalice, each social class, in part, defines the other groups and, ultimately the whole. Grand mansions were, in fact, dependent on the members of the lower class to enable them to exert their power, causing the city to grow and thrive. Even as Frederick Prendergast is determined to increase production (and profits) of the Mills of Lawrence, so Annie LoPizzo becomes a focal point of the growing dissatisfaction of the workers in those very same Mills. Surely the concept of ‘interdependency’ needs no further illustration.

As Frederick Prendergast and his wife Constance stepped through the tall oak doors of the Hammond Street Presbyterian Church, snow fell from above, released from the grip of overhanging branches by the warming temperatures. Frederick led his small family down the central aisle, to the first rows of pews. Marked by a discreet brass plaque on the end of the row, Nanny Grace Byrne sat with the twins in the second of the Prendergast pews. Without the thought (or need) to watch them get settled in, Frederick and Constance stepped to the first row.

After removing and placing his overcoat on the bench to his left, Frederick helped his wife with her coat. As he did so, he noticed, just above her ear, three snowflakes clinging delicately to her white-blonde hair. Smiling to himself, he thought, ‘Well, snowflakes, you have found the one safe place to come to rest. Given my dear wife’s disposition you may very well survive to make it out of the service in your current form!’

“What is it, Frederick?” Constance, glancing up from folding her gloves, looked hopefully at her husband.

“Nothing, my dear. I was just thinking how lovely you look this morning.”

Glancing behind them at her two sons, Constance Prendergast sent a hummingbird smile towards her husband, her eyes flickered with the hint of hope and uncertainty.

Frederick sat back in his pew, as upright as his starched-white collar. He showed no signs of the chafing discomfit he endured. He pulled and re-positioned his collar, in a manner that served to convey an overwhelming sense of self-satisfaction in his dress, and allowed the opportunity to assure himself that the somewhat dingy, yellow-grey ring inside his shirt collar was, in no way, visible to anyone sitting behind the Prendergast Family. Following on the motion of his hand to his neck, Frederick casually surveyed the congregation. He noted the absence of those who could little afford to be absent and nodded, in shared-virtue acknowledgment, to those for whom his own attendance was significant. Like taking in the vista of a magnificent mountain range, Frederick recognized other stockholders of the Essex Corporation. As the newest Member of the Board, he felt it his duty to account for the spiritual health of those who controlled the life and well-being of the City.
Frederick glanced to where his two sons sat and caught the eye of Grace Byrne. She looked back, almost startled and yet, with a hint of furtive enjoyment, held his gaze. Having established eye contact, Frederick made a point to smile, while implying that he was quite busy counting heads in the Church, and continued his survey. Looking away too soon, he missed an expression of surprised hurt that clouded the face of the 18-year-old Nanny.

Frederick Prendergast III was one of those rare people gifted, (or cursed), with an acute sensibility for his appearance. Most adults learn, acquire, are taught and imitate their peers until they become sensitive to the virtue of conformity to (whatever might constitute) the common standard of appropriate dress and appearance. If one were to liken this gift, (or curse), to the ability to sing, it would be necessary to describe Frederick Prendergast as a virtuoso. In his defense, this ‘sensitivity to appearance’ was nothing as simple as being vaingloriously burdened by up-bringing or inherited personal insecurities. Frederick Prendergast genuinely believed that, in order to help those around him aspire to more and more acceptable appearance, it was incumbent upon him to stand as an example.

Promptly at 11:00 am, dressed in traditional Geneva gown, white preaching-tabs interrupting the solemnity of the black cassock, Minister Allyn Montrose stepped up into the Pulpit and stared out into the congregation. After more than a minute of the young man staring at the congregation, Frederick began to glance around, seeing the uncertainty, like an un-expected breeze, ruffle the patient expressions on the faces of those sharing the front row of pews. The feeling of disquiet, paradoxically, all the more noticeable for the silence that held them all.

Noticing that one of the more senior members of the Essex Corp Board of Directors was staring in his direction, Frederick replaced his look of puzzlement with a frown, a non-verbal acquiescence to what clearly was a rapidly growing disapproval of the new Minister’s style. Adding to his discomfort, Fred recalled the final interview of Elder Montrose. Less than a month before, Frederick sat in the Bishop’s Office, (the Bishop held a fairly significant portfolio of Essex Corp Preferred Stock, and was only too happy to agree to Frederick’s request to participate), the conversation still fresh in his mind,

The Bishop had been quite explicit,

“Elder Montrose, for someone so young, you’re being charged with quite a difficult task. The Congregation at the Hammond Street church is rather, let us say, diverse. More than half of those sitting on the hard-wooden benches are people who work in decidedly menial capacities, in no small part to the benefit of the one-third, most of whom are sitting in the first 5 rows. They, the one-third, while in need of the true message of the Gospels, are the most immune to the message we, of the Clergy, are charged to convey. In effect, you must craft your message to teach some a lesson they feel they have no need to learn, while reaching the others with a message of inclusion.”

Frederick nodded both in approval, and support of the Bishop’s position. Remaining seated to the left of the marble and carved relief mantle of the fireplace, he asked,

“What do you think of that?”

Allyn Montrose seemed startled when Frederick spoke, as if he’d forgotten that there were three people in the office that day.
Frederick Prendergast had decided that it was both his religious and civic duty to help the new Minister to better understand the challenge that confronted him. He regarded Allyn Montrose with, what he had often been told was, a skilled eye for assessing the worth of a man, (or the value of a woman). Tall and a bit on the thin side, especially given his profession, Allyn Montrose avoided personal invisibility purely by virtue of his eyes. His tendency to move slowly and, for the most part, react slowly to those around him, were more than offset by the intensity in his eyes. Frederick thought that eyes like those in this, soon-to-be-the-new Minister, were portents of success when observed in quarterbacks of  football teams and Field Generals facing overwhelming odds on the field of battle. That he saw this quality in the eyes of the man given charge of the faithful of Lawrence, Massachusetts, made him nervous. As the new Director of Operations at the Everett Mill, Frederick was uniquely qualified to identify with the new pastor, however, as a person, Frederick was inclined to not allow himself to get too close to the hordes of workers that played such a critical role in achieving success. Fellow Harvard graduate or not, Frederick decided that he needed to test this young man’s mettle.

“So, Elder Montrose. Can you make the faithful of Lawrence truly understand and accept their responsibility to their benefactors?”

Frederick smiled as he spoke and was surprised to see the other man recoil from him. Unbidden, a voice from childhood, ‘You’re an agreeable young man, you like people, but when you smile, you use only half your lips. You must, my son, practice smiling until you can do so without appearing to be sneering.’

“Well, yes, Fred, provided if I understand what it is you’re asking.”

The new Minister recovered his composure very quickly and Frederick made a mental note to be careful in any future dealings with Allyn Montrose.

***

“This blessed December Sunday, our Sermon will begin with Matthew 25:14–30,”

Elder Allyn Montrose, began his first Sermon,

“The “Parable of the Talents” is probably one of the most direct expressions of God’s Love for his creations. It also offers one of the most direct, un-adorned by metaphor and story-telling techniques, lessons of the Bible. It is a lesson in responsibility and in opportunity and, finally, it makes clear that God helps those who help themselves.”

In the front row of the Hammond Street Presbyterian Church, one, soon-to-be-wealthy man, noted the nods of approval from several, already-very-wealthy men and congratulated himself on his good judgment in picking the new Minister. Coinciding with the nods, and quite un-noticed, were the cries of the very small children and the whispered assurance of a never-to-be-wealthy, young woman.

“With the ‘Parable of the Talents’, the Apostle Matthew tells us of a man who invests in those who are beholden to him. This man, who in today’s modern parlance, would be called a self-made man, is about to embark on an extended journey to foreign lands and, calling his servants, tells them, one by one, of his plans and assures them that he values their loyalty and devotion in the service of his house. As a gesture, he gives, to each a certain number of talents, which was the currency of the day. This was no small matter, at the time, the value of the talents he gave them was not insignificant.

After many months, the Master returns home and calls each of his servants, to whom he entrusted no small amount of wealth, to account for themselves in his absence. Now these three servants, to whom he gave the talents had worked for him varying lengths of time and, not so surprisingly, each enjoyed different levels of responsibilities.
First came the servant to whom he gave the most, being the one that had worked for him the longest. In fact, this first servant was in charge of the day-to-day finances of the estate. When asked, about the original sum he was given, the servant replied, with great humility and obvious pride that he had wisely invested his talents and increased the value of his holdings tenfold.
The second servant, being employed less time than the first, and therefore was given half as many talents presented himself to the Master of the house and reported that his holdings had also increased. He confided in his benefactor that he took the initiative to purchase as many slaves as the amount he was given permitted and and hired them out to the other farms of the valley. The Master of the house laughed and said, ‘Your industry and shrewdness makes me proud of my decision to give you those Talents’.
Finally the last servant comes before his Master and when asked to account for his use of the wealth he was given, lowered his head in shame and says, ‘I have only that which you gave me, Master. Being new in your employ I was unfamiliar with the customs of your House and assumed that the money was being entrusted to me for safe keeping while you travelled foreign lands.’ And taking from his tattered purse, the single Talent, he looked directly at his Master and said with humility, ‘I return that which you gave for me to hold in trust.’

The two other servants looked with disdain on this man and, trading silent winks, quietly left the room. The self-made man of wealth looked down on this simple man and said,

‘Evil and lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!’

Turning to his guard he spoke in private, loudly enough for all in the room to hear,

‘Give it to the one who has ten. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

Once again, the smile-that-sometimes-appeared-half-formed, grew on Frederick Prendergast’s face as he felt the righteous affirmation of the value invested in him that he would deliver to the Essex Corporation Board of Directors. He would return more talents than he possessed.

“In closing, the poet Milton wrote in, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent’ 

And that one Talent, which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he, returning, chide

This very community, Lawrence Massachusetts is as blessed as the First Servant, the one who took what was given to him and turned it into so much more. As we leave this Church this morning, let us look about us, at the Town and it’s people. Truly now, as the new Century dawns, each of us should pray to be shown the truth. Because, as today’s parable tells us so clearly, God’s gifts of opportunity abound. There is much put within reach of all, by virtue of those we’re blessed to have among us. Let us all resolve to work hard so that, by increasing the holdings of one, the potential for further opportunities will increase. Never forget, God helps those who help themselves”

Filing out of the Church, the last to leave and speak to the Minister, Frederick Prendergast III, his wife at his side, shook Allyn Montrose’s hand and said,

“Reverend, your Sermon today fills me with hope for this Town. We have both taken on roles to guide the less fortunate and help them contribute to the greater good.”

“I’m glad that you enjoyed my Sermon, Mr. Prendergast, it is men like you and companies like the Essex Corporation and the Everett Mills that help bring people to these doors. I trust that we will both be worthy of the trust that has been put on us.”

At the bottom of the Church stairs, Grace Byrne stared first at Constance Prendergast, then at Frederick Prendergast and thought of her family back in Bansha, unable to join her in this new country. The promise of a Roman Catholic priest on her behalf accounted for her being offered the position of Nanny to the Prendergast children. The increasingly un-ignorable demands being felt coming from Frederick Prendergast promised to put a reunion with her family in jeopardy. Walking ahead of Constance and Frederick Prendergast, a five-year-old on each hand, Grace felt the echo of the Sermon, “…the Lord helps those who help themselves”

Chapter 6

Featured

“I don’t care what your Nurse Griswold says, I want this patient re-evaluated. If it’s determined that she’s a poor risk, she’ll need to be transferred to a different facility, one that does not play as vital a role in the community as St Mary’s Hospital. Do I make myself clear?”

Like a sculpted marble altar, the ceremonial focal point of many a glorious cathedral, the still woman lay on the narrow hospital bed, shrouded in once-white linen, as Doctor Thaddeus Morgan spoke in the direction of Nurse Sally Rowe. Like an altar boy asked, at the 11th hour, to serve Mass with a new priest, Nurse Rowe looked attentive and tried her best to project an attitude of respectful obedience. She was both a new Nurse, (fresh out of school), and a new nurse at St Mary’s, (hired only the week before), and, although young, she’d assimilated the facts of life, as manifested in the healthcare profession’s caste system. Her Supervising Nurse had warned her that the Chief of Medicine was given to flights of ‘hands-on-Management’ fantasy, and might, without warning, show up on the Ward looking for errors to correct. This was her first encounter with Dr. Morgan and she was impressed by the accuracy of her Head Nurse’s description,  ‘he is an exquisitely dressed bully’

Dr. Thaddeus Morgan was 45 years of age, short (5’10”), at least 90 pounds overweight, and wore wire-rimmed glasses that no longer fit properly, which caused painful looking creases at the corners of his eyes and just in front of his ears. He had very thick brown hair worn in a style that his barber assured him was exactly like Errol Flynn’s. Thaddeus Morgan’s extremely obvious self-indulgence was clothing. Since leaving medical school, Dr. Morgan could be recognized by the exquisitely, (and expensively), tailored clothing that he wore both to his private practice, and to the Hospital. He had a tailor in Kansas City that he would visit at least twice a year for the express purpose of refining and adding to his extensive wardrobe.

Were one to note only his haircut and his wardrobe, Thaddeus would have been a singularly attractive physician. However, he possessed a complexion that benefited from an overly copious network of blood vessels. On a good day, his face had a rosy, healthy glow. During the stressful portions of these good days, rosy became florid, invisible veins appeared, like war paint across his cheeks and down the sides of his neck. As if unaware of how precariously attractive balanced against un-attractive, Thaddeus Morgan wore a remarkably exuberant mustache. To be more descriptive, a ‘handlebar mustache’ and, at the risk of too fine a point, ‘a waxed handlebar mustache’.

The result was a man who, despite holding a position of great authority, went to great lengths to inform onlookers that here was a man at war with himself.

Dr. Thaddeus Morgan was very self-conscious about his weight. It had been so, since childhood, a childhood during which the contralto singsong taunts of  ‘Fattius Morgan…  Here Comes Fattius Morgan!!’ were recorded in that horribly permanent part of the memory where reminders of how we might appear before the world are stored. The poison of such injury to the soul is, sadly, immune to logic and reason, whether dispensed by a well-meaning parent intent on consoling their child, a well-meant and usually futile strategy, or as self-administered advice and consul.  Thaddeus would often reflect on the intractability of the human psyche, recognizing how inconsequential these slights were, in light of his station in life, yet he would still feel his shoulders hunch and his eyes seek a hiding place, whenever such memories intruded on his adult reality. The tragedy of it all, Thaddeus would say to himself, (he would never speak of this aspect of his childhood, Shame being the twin gargoyle of Humiliation), is that it all still had an effect on his life as an adult. While a lifetime of education and scientific training afforded him the luxury of the insight into the nature the injury his child-self suffered, it did nothing to change anything. The permanent after-effects, the emotional reverberations, in subtle and all-to-often undetectable ways, shaped his adult behavior and therefore the quality of his life.

Not content, (better to say, unable to give the child-shaped demons the slip), to simply out-grow and therefore leave the hazardous environment of his childhood, ten year old Thaddeus Morgan endured the slings and arrows of the socially dominant, yet intellectually inferior classmates in school. Girding himself with a wall of fat, overeating became both response and defensive strategy. His studies and (their) promise of a better world, surrounded by accomplished adults who would support his efforts to excel were the light at the end of the tunnel. Finding an appropriate role model was the real challenge. In the year 1916, while still in grade school, the profession of physician seemed, to young Thad Morgan, to be the most accessible and promised the highest return for his effort. Soldier, Politician and Movie Star, as alternative goals, were all judged to be un-realistic ambitions. The first on the basis of the physical requirements, the second because of his unconscious appreciation of the fact that to be a politician was to be a person that would line up with the bullies, making snowballs (but not actually throwing them) for people like his tormentors, and Movie Star, while never considered a worthwhile or realistic goal by the young, (but in many ways, quite mature), Thaddeus, did have an effect on how he expressed himself once he began to succeed in his efforts.

So Thaddeus studied and ate and got ‘A’s. Accompanying each ‘A’ was a bruise from being pushed down, a puncture wound from a tack accidentally left on his seat in English class. Each injury, (an adult might call them minor, that adult would then betray which side of the battle they had spent their childhood), a Purple Heart in the battle ground of childhood. It was a war of attrition, and Thaddeus’s sense of self-worth was damaged from the very first sortie. The ability to feel ‘a part of’ the circle of people who made up his young world being the first casualties. As for his opponents, the dogs of this quiet war were, at least on the surface, much more merciful. For them, the cost was to be discovered later in life in the chains of social inferiority, forged by the young, worn as adults. Except, of course, for those among Thaddeus’s tormentors who might grow up to be politicians or, perhaps, very successful farm owners.

But in that quintessentially childlike way, the courage of the tormented is entirely lost on both the tormentor and the tormented. Thaddeus endured each assault stoically and twisted his own natural desire to strike out/ to strike back, inwards. His books were the punching bag that his father would never have permitted, his studies as much a martial art, preparing to win a life in which the bullies would be cast out and down, below where he would stand. Freedom from their torment by virtue of social/professional standing, was the best a very intelligent, but still only 10-year-old child, could imagine.

Returning to the town of his birth, (and subsequent torment), Thaddeus Morgan opened a practice and joined the staff of St Mary’s Hospital. He was a brilliant young doctor and a remarkably over-dressed man.

Now, on a Saturday morning, a time that he expected to find the staff at their most relaxed, he looked around the ward, seeking an outlet for his frustration. The thin layer of sweat that uniformly covered his skin, despite the relatively mild temperature, was beginning to form beads along the edge of his scalp, glistening trails down the side of his face, a condensate of fear. His white lab coat, hanging open, brought un-sought attention to his protruding stomach, all the more noticeable by contrast to the thin human shapes that gave 3 dimensionality to the narrow beds of Ward C.

“For that matter, where is Nurse Griswold!?” he looked around the room, over the tops of the 10 beds, anything below eye level, having no influence or bearing or consequence in his world, whatsoever.

“Where is who?’ Sally Rowe, very new to St Mary’s, already knew that in her profession, some things never changed. Leading among unchanged, the potentially lethal unintended consequences of Doctors acting outside of their specialty and the practical (and therefore often ignored), wisdom of the Charge Nurses. Sally started working at St Mary’s the week before and had been on rotating shifts, providing coverage and relief as needed. She had not yet met half of the nurses working in the hospital.

“Nurse Griswold! Tall, blonde, quiet to a fault. I met her on the occasion of this patient being admitted,” Dr. Morgan’s glance down at Almira Gulch was brief and, if one were not very observant, might be mistaken for a random glance. Nurse Rowe had the distinct impression that the Chief of Medicine was uncomfortable looking at the occupants in the narrow beds, particularly this one in Bed #10. Unremarkable and nearly indistinguishable from the other nine patients, but for the dark red ribbon sewn into the faded blue collars of her gown and the photo of the small boy on the nightstand, turned to face towards the center of the room, as if standing guard.

****

“I’m heading into Town.” Dorothy stood next to the battered grey bicycle after wheeling it out of the barn. The small basket on the front still had a lid, as did the larger basket behind the rider’s seat.

Uncle Henry and Hunk Dietrich stood on the back porch and watched as Dorothy, with an odd look on her face, lifted the lid of the basket on the bike’s back fender. She stood very still, shook her head very slightly and got on the bike.

Hunk walked up as Dorothy started to move, the bicycle going fast enough to maintain balance, and, standing in front of her, legs on either side of the front wheel, held the bike in place, stable enough that Dorothy was able to keep both feet on the pedals.

“I’ll be in Town later this afternoon, probably around 3 or so. I’ll be inside or out front of the Library, there’s no need to have to pedal home after a long day,” with a glance towards the porch, Dorothy nodded slightly and, released by the tall man, headed towards the gate.

Riding along the flat, dusty road, Dorothy Gale felt good. The bicycle, though showing the wear of excessive use, (and no small amount of sudden and un-expected abuse), rode well. She smiled. It had been a long time since she’d taken out off on her own, and she looked out over the wide rolling fields to either side of the road, the barbed wire of the fences implying a dotted-line-division between ‘it’s ok to keep going’ and ‘maybe you want to think about what you’re doing’.

Dorothy thought about how little physical exercise she had since returning from school. Not that there was a lot of bike riding in Bronxville, NY. The Phys. Ed. curriculum at Sarah Lawrence was quite rigorous. For freshman, it was a prerequisite and despite the obligatory complaints about early morning cold on the athletic field in September, Dorothy enjoyed the exercise, an alternative to the cars and taxis that were the normal mode of transportation.

Dorothy was planning on stopping at the Hospital and hoped to meet Tom Hardesty in the Town Square. She was certain that he would be agreeable to a fishing trip, provided he didn’t have his two girlfriends with him.

***

Tom Hardesty opened the door to his father’s darkened bedroom and spoke quietly, but very distinctly,

“Ethan’s in the kitchen, I think he’s making you some breakfast. He’ll be fine. When you get up, don’t get nervous. I took the truck, I have to run into Town for a while. Everything’s alright. I’ll be back sometime later in the day.”

Tom heard a sound of sleep-groggy assent, closed the door and walked out the back door of the house.

“Hey Ethan!  Tend to the chores. Don’t go off until I get back, ok?”

A distracted ‘yeah, ok’ floated above the head of the 10-year-old boy.

Tom got in the truck and headed down towards County Rd 28 and Town and, he hoped, a  chance to see what might have been.

***

Emily Gale stepped out on the back porch where her husband Henry and Hunk Dietrich sat, relaxing after lunch.

“This may be Saturday, but you two aren’t in Kansas City where you’d have nothing to do for the afternoon. The only Day of Rest in my book is tomorrow, the Sabbath, so if you two aren’t able to find a way to be useful, I’ll be all too happy to oblige!”

Henry Gale took a scuffed leather tobacco pouch from his left jacket pocket and, from his right pocket, a well-worn Meerschaum.

Emily stared at her husband, the challenge unmistakable. She looked at Hunk Dietrich and was unable to will him to make eye contact, as he was intently focused on carving a small block of wood.

Recognizing the battle was lost before it started, Emily Gale relented. A consummate manager of people, she decided to use the sense of relief the two men were surely feeling at their apparent success in out-witting her, to her advantage.
‘If the cattle and the hogs had as much brains as the men in my life think they have, we’d all be riding in the back of the truck headed to Kansas City’, she thought as she pulled her favorite porch chair around to face the two men.

“Well, I guess there’s no harm in slowing down a little on a nice June Saturday like today, now is there?” both men nodded slowly with the timid alertness seen in rabbits suddenly in the shadow of a hawk passing overhead,

“Henry, tell me what you learned over at the Hardesty place this morning.” Emily Gale took a small notebook and pencil from the pocket of her blue and white print dress,

“Are they ready for an Offer to save their farm?”

“Well, Em, it was kinda funny. Hunk and I got there around about 10:30. Ephraim came to the door, after we banged on it long enough to raise the devil, looking like a man who needed a drink. His boy, Ethan, just a little spud, was in the kitchen. Ephraim stepped back from the door, by way of an invite an we both walked in. Ain’t never seen a young ‘un work so natural in the kitchen as that boy. Had coffee brewin on the stove, smelled right good, wasn’t it so, Hunk? and, the boy looked like he was fixin some food up too,” Henry Gale turned his head towards Hunk,

“What’d that smell like to you, Hunk, smelled like bacon and eggs, didn’t it? Smelled real good, near as good as Margherita’s breakfast,” hearing a sudden clattering of dishes through the open kitchen window, Henry leaned to his right and spoke in the direction of the screen door, “Meaning no disrespect, Margherita! You put out the best spread in the whole of McPherson County!”

Turning back to face his wife, who was staring at her husband with a patient, and well-practiced expression, Henry continued,

“So, Ephraim sat himself at the kitchen table and stared into his coffee cup, like he was hoping it’d be something other than what it smelled like”,

“What can I do for you, Henry?” he said to me, after taking a careful sip of his coffee,

“So I told him we were just paying a neighborly visit and, seeing how it’s been going around town that he was having some troubles, if he needed some help we could maybe lend him some farm hands,”

Henry ignored the sound his wife made and looked over at Hunk, to avoid seeing the increasingly rapid tapping of her pencil on the small pad in her lap. Hunk was so engrossed in his wood carving that he didn’t notice Henry looking at him for support or, for that matter, Emily’s increasing impatience. Hunk did, finally, look up in the general direction of his employer and said,

“yeah, right good coffee it was!” averting the look in her eyes,

“…but the farm looked like it was being worked. Nothing new to the place, no repairs or anything, but clearly Ephraim is keeping up with the demands of his farm. Hard to imagine that just him and his two boys were keeping the place in such a good state all by themselves.”

Emily Gales’ impatience suddenly faded, and like a photo in a pan of clear developer solution, a look of wary suspicion began to form on her face.

***

“I have to get back to Town by 2:00 pm, don’t forget.”

Dorothy sat at the back of the rowboat, her bare feet on the cool damp wood of the floorboards. Listening to the rusty-wooden sound of the oars being pulled, she felt the rocking surge as Tom started rowing them out towards the middle of Echo Lake. Closing her eyes, she let her right hand drop into the water, tiny waves rising up the sides of her fingers as the water began to move past. The water wasn’t particularly cold, but nevertheless, she felt the skin on her forearm tighten and raise into goosebumps. Her eyes closed enough to appear to be dozing, she looked at Tom Hardesty in the center of the little boat. The act of rowing created a curious rippling effect on his body, more a sequential tensing of muscles, rather than a flowing effect. It seemed to start with an obvious tension in his upper shoulders, which lagged behind the motion of his body as he leaned backwards, pulling on the oars. It was as if the weight of the water on the flat wooden oars was transmitted up his arms, preventing his bending backwards from the waist. Dorothy smiled at the thought that what she really was seeing was Tom Hardesty trying to drag the lake up to where he sat, each time the lake moved to where he was, he’d lean back, always staying ahead of it. The muscles in his shoulders and chest became more and more defined as he rowed, his white tee-shirt beginning to stick at certain points in the movement of his torso. She also noticed that the water flowing around her hand was not as cold as she thought.

***

Tom Hardesty had parked the truck along the side of the Town Square that faced the Library. He decided, during the short ride into town, that he wasn’t going to take any chances. By sitting in his truck he limited the chance that either Nancy or Patricia would spot him. They’d both been there when Dorothy suggested they meet on Saturday, but Tom did nothing to remind them of the ‘date’ and was hoping they’d forgotten.

He spotted Dorothy as she rode an old grey bicycle up to the where the sidewalk cut through the Park, kept going to the waterless Fountain, got off her bike, and leaned it against a nearby bench and sat on the stone rim.
It was what she wore, not what she rode, that became the focus of Tom’s attention. Slacks on women was an uncommon sight, in the large Small Town of Circe KA. Her blouse looked familiar, but she’d done something to it, tying the shirt tails together, revealing her midriff that caused him to both sit up and notice. Lacking the vocabulary of fashion to analyze how the 18-year-old girl achieved this effect, his response was to mutter, “Damn!” (to anyone who might also be watching).
Tom got out of the truck, stopped after about 5 steps and returned for his guitar. Pulling it out through the open window, the guitar banged on the sill, a musical alarm ringing in the quiet morning air. He laughed, in part at his how nervous he felt,

‘Come on, Tom’ he thought, ‘this is Dorothy you’re talking about, nothing to get all worked up about.’

At the sound of the guitar, Dorothy looked in the direction of the truck and, without saying a word, got up and, pushing the bicycle along at her side, met Tom before he had gotten more than 10 feet from his truck.

“Let’s go!” seeing Tom’s questioning expression, she continued,

“To the Lake! You’re taking me fishing today!” as his expression changed from temporary confusion to more of an assessment of the situation, she put her left hand on his shoulder and said, closer to his ear than necessary,

“Unless, of course, you’d rather wait for my two best friends from High School to join us. Now if the chance to row me out on the Lake is what you’d prefer, help me get this bike in the back of the truck and we can get going.”

Tom laughed out loud, grinned to himself and thought about haylofts, and, inexplicably, tornados.