Chapter 36


The newborn child, wrapped in woolen blankets (embroidered with the name ‘Packard’ along one edge) stared up at her mother as Sterling drove the car towards the Baumeister’s farm. He never completely took his eyes off the baby or his wife for the 20 minutes that remained. Sterling Gulch managed to drive the seven miles to the farm almost entirely using only his peripheral vision. Two young people and one very, very young person travelled alone together, over the gravel road under canopy of the prairie night sky.

Almira, fine brown hair stuck in flattened clumps to the smooth skin of her forehead, looked at her baby and said,

“My God! We created this? How is that even possible.”

Sterling, leaning across the seat, left hand on the steering wheel, his right arm around Almira and the child, laughed,

“Well, dear, when a man and a woman loves each other very much… Ow!”

Almira, her eyes shining in the darkened interior of the car, joined her husband’s laughter,

“You did well, my husband. She has your nose and jaw line, for which I’m very grateful.”

Sterling Gulch turned and put his hand gently under Almira’s chin, the slightest of pressure, without changing the downward tilt of her face,

“She has eyes like a nighttime sun. She has your eyes, Almira. And I am very grateful for that. But what this child does not have is a name. She should have a name. Although ‘our beautiful daughter’ is enough for me, we really should give her a name by which others may know her.”

“Agreed, Sterling. You are the writer and creative one in the family.”

Almira stopped and somehow smiled directly at Sterling without takes her eyes off the baby,

“What a change in that word there is now, we are a family. So, husband, what is our daughter’s name?”


Almira smiled at the baby, as tears turned her eyes into pools of dark light,

“Aurora, welcome to the family.”

The car moved along the road as new lights in the distance grew into windows and figures stepped from the porch, as the car came to a halt.

Simone and Teddy were both, somehow without reflecting headlights or glowing with the red glow of the brake lights, at the passenger side of the car as Sterling turned off the engine.

“Welcome home.”


Chapter 35


Dorothy Gale frowned as she watched Hunk Dietrich sprint towards the house, trying to run out from under the growing hail. Through the dining room window she could see the hail as it bounced off the ground, in that oddly delicate way that hail has, at least at the very beginning of a storm. The hail that bounced off Hunk as he ran, grew from little more than white raindrops to pea-sized ovals of ice in the short time it took him to cover the distance from the barn to the house. She heard the double thump as Hunk, deciding to forgo walking up the porch stairs, jumped the last six horizontal, and three vertical, feet to the protection of the covered porch.

The tops of the trees bent to the wind in an odd, undulating motion that made her think of fronds of kelp responding to an approaching storm. It was as if the branches were trying to root themselves in the black-heavy clouds beginning to surround the farm. That the wind was constantly changing speed and direction was more un-settling than a stronger steady wind. The conversation in the dining room of the Gale home shifted from being the center of everyone’s attention, to being an unintended contrast to the sounds of wind and hail everywhere other than the inside of the house. Adding to the growing tension was the sight, through the flapping curtains, of inverted leaves on the trees, their pale undersides giving the elm trees an ominous and slightly ghostly appearance.

Hunk backed through the swinging door from the kitchen, brushing ice from his shoulders as he turned, seeking Eliza Thornberg’s attention.

“Your car’s in the barn, my lady. It’s as safe there as anywhere in these parts, at least at this moment. And best of all, it won’t be full of dents and broken glass after the storm passes.”

Emily Gale and Thaddeus Morgan stood behind their chairs, Hunk’s precipitous departure had ended all chance of a civilized conversation over Sunday afternoon dinner. Emily shot Hunk a look of disapproval only to see that he was giving everything he had to being noticed by the young woman from Philadelphia. She immediately looked at her husband Henry, always her most reliable go-to person, whenever she had the need to lash. He was sitting and eating his meal, oblivious to his wife’s quandary, a host without the power to maintain a balanced interaction among her guests.

Neither Dorothy nor Henry Gale moved from their places at the round dining room table. Eliza Thornberg moved from her place closest to the windows and stood in front of Hunk, her expression deceptively intense.

“Are you out of your god-damned mind? What were you thinking? Did you forget to put in your brain this morning? That hail drumming the roof is the size of golf balls!”

Hunk smiled into the angry girl’s face. His confidence grew, in no small part fueled by the adrenaline that remained in now unnecessary abundance after his run through the pelting hail. Hunk’s normally guileless smile shifted, exertion twisting a normally pleasant and open smile into a grin.

“Who says chivalry is dead? Weren’t nothing, ma’am. I was glad to do it.”

Adrenaline, after the precipitating event, is often slow to flush from one’s system. Much like a person stepping from a dark room into one that is brightly lit, Hunk struggled to re-assess the signals he was receiving from the people in the dining room. He was clearly the center of attention which, for 99% of the time, was not where Hunk Dietrich enjoyed being. His confidence began to shrink as Eliza’s expression remained unchanged. A smiling appreciation of his spontaneous action was nowhere to be found in the girl’s face. She did not appear to be amused; to the contrary everything in her manner conveyed disapproval. Worse than her not smiling back, worse even than her getting angry, was the scorn that seemed to be just under the surface of Eliza Thornberg’s face. There was a near palpable sense of a gulf between her and the other people in the room. Her expression was the same that an explorer, greeted by the eagerly friendly natives of a primitive and unsophisticated land, might wear. Hunk felt an all too familiar feeling of dismay grow like predatory vines through his mind, self-consciousness providing all the thorny bite needed for it to capture his mind.

“No, Hunk, I’m not thanking you for going out into the storm. I’m asking you what you were thinking about, going out into that hail to rescue a ….car. A car, Hunk, not a person trapped in a dangerous situation, not even an animal. That I might understand, but a car.”

Hunk’s confident smile shimmered with uncertainty, doubt growing like rot in an apple, the visible signs only a hint of the depth of the decay.

“You’re still looking at me like I’m speaking Swahili. Don’t you get it? I don’t care about the car! Hell, it’s not even my car. It’s a loan from some man I met once, a man who wanted to suck up to my father. The stupid thing could get struck by lightning and burst into flames and I wouldn’t have left the table until dinner was over.”

Hunk stared, fear and uncertainty re-asserting an all too familiar hold on his face. The conversation that floated above the dining room table fluttered like an over-sized moth, suddenly successful in its effort to find the brightest (and most dangerous) light. Dorothy looked up from her plate and looked at Eliza and Hunk the way a person stares at a friend at a masquerade ball, knowing that under the mask was a person very well-known to her.

Eliza turned from Hunk quickly enough that his face was obscured by the wave of brunette hair. As light as the touch was, he recoiled as if stung by a swarm of hornets. Seeing the stunned looks in the eyes of her host, she tried to restrain the vehemence in her voice,

“What is it with you people? Tell me how I’ve only been here a week and can’t appreciate the subtleties of life in the country. I get how direct and forthright and ‘tell it like it is’ you people are supposed to be, but I sure as hell know greed and insecurity when I see it. As nice and friendly every one has been to me, there’s this thing about possessions that you have that’s really un-attractive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the people where I come from aren’t as prone to greed and wanting more than the other guy, but they don’t cover it up with all the wholesome, pious ‘aw shucks’ crap that I see around me.”

From the suddenly nighttime sky, came the rumble of thunder. Hunk pulled aside the white curtains and stared towards the southern sky. His eyes and ears strained to see and hear something in the distance. Blown by the wind, the curtain wrapped itself around his waist, an oddly intimate embrace.

“Sorry to interrupt everyone’s lunch, but this might be a good time for you all to move it down to the shelter.”

“No, Hunk. I’m not going down there. I’ll wait here. If you’re right about whats coming next in this storm, what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll get sucked up into a tornado? The last time that happened, my life actually improved, at least for a while. Don’t you agree, Auntie Em?”

“Now you’re just talking crazy, young lady.”

Emily Gale staring at the girl, addressed her dinner guest,

“See, Doctor Morgan? This is exactly what I was telling you. She insists on being defiant.  What have I done to deserve this kind of disrespect? I should think that given how we’ve provided for her all these years, allowing her a better life than she would have had… otherwise. For all my sacrifice, this is what we get, demands and disobedience.”

“‘Dr Morgan‘? What exactly are you talking about, Aunt Emily? What has Dr. Morgan have to do with this family. Not counting, that is, that damn hospital wing that means so much to you. Sounds like you’ve been sharing a lot about our family with Dr. Morgan. Did you tell him about my visions after the Storm of ’37? Did you go to him, demanding that he do something, give you a potion, a medicine that will make your ‘niece’ behave? Did you hope he would suggest something to restore me to being a useful part of the Gale Farm?”

Dr. Thaddeus Morgan, his expression betrayed his regret at not taking the less responsible path and staying with his wife this Sunday afternoon. Hearing the distant growling of thunder, he looked around the dining room; he felt an actor on stage, in a play he was shanghaied into the role of good-natured foil. He decided to remain silent, confident his cue would be obvious or, better yet, the action would focus on one of the other players.

Henry Gale continued to enjoy his meal. He sat, a look of contentment on his face, comfortable not participating in the conversations flaring up in the room. His expression, one of acceptance for what he knew was good and resignation to the things that were bad. The secret to his composure being that he knew he had done well to procure one and could only endure the other. When he did look up, a pause between bites of roast chicken and the occasional sips of cold water, his face projected a peacefulness more commonly observed in the face of soldiers after learning that the order to charge into the enemy’s guns, but not yet hearing the actual order. He looked around the dining room and saw nothing but responsibility, debt and a fleeting promise of happiness. He looked back at his plate and continued to eat.

Eliza Thornberg sat down in her chair. The white linen curtains behind her, given life by the increasing wind, draped themselves over her shoulders, a momentary bride.

Hunk’s posture was a perfect illustration of the fight/flight instinct. Like all animals, when first aware of an approaching but undefined threat, his body portrayed the simplest of all life’s decisions. Survival required action, debate of options, a luxury.

Dorothy turned in her seat towards Emily Gale and the hapless Thaddeus Morgan. Emily looked around the dining room and felt sad and angry. As she watched her adopted daughter turn her attention on her, Emily Gale spoke first.

“Dorothy Gale! You don’t know how lucky you are. You have a hardworking father and mother who wanted only whats best for you and the family. No matter who tells you otherwise.”

Dorothy began to feel the need to get up and run, out of the room, out into the yard, out into the path of whatever storm happened to be heading towards her. What kept her seated was a belief, more of a fragment, of a forgotten memory. There was something that, once she discovered it’s nature, would make sense of her feelings. It had something to do with travels, but ever elusive it slipped from her mind.

She looked around the dining room and had the sudden conviction that everyone wore a disguise. She frowned at her own thought, she knew quite well who was who and  was certain no one was wearing a disguise or mask or hiding any secrets.

But’ a small voice in her head spoke up, meek yet bold, as if a mouse before a man, ‘you also once knew that there was nothing beyond the rainbow and you were totally certain that scarecrows couldn’t speak, witches were not real and every day life was to be lived and not questioned. Didn’t you?‘ There was the lilt of hope in the last words. It was more a reminder of something that she misplaced, but not thrown away.

Dorothy Gale felt dismay spreading like a yawn from her thoughts to her feelings, the tired that was just behind the yawn was how she felt when she returned to Circe after the Storm of ’37. Then, as this Sunday afternoon, she looked around at the townspeople and her family and friends and had to resist the desire to ask everyone, “I know who you are here, but who are you really?” The changes from her time in… the other place, were such that she did not feel that she had changed, that instead, the world around her had changed. As it did, or did not.

Increasingly feeling like a stranger in her home and hometown, Dorothy Gale realized that the cure was simple but the price was high. She could go back to her life being Dorothy Gale, the painfully normal farm girl who had been adopted by the prominent Gale family and raised almost like one of their own children, or she could find her real mother.


“Remember that night last spring, out in the corner of the yard at your father’s house?”

“You read to me, from my Gulliver’s Travels.”

Almira’s voice rose from the dark side of the front seat of our car, the small orange glow on the end of my cigarette a tiny fire, lighting the woolen hills of blankets she had gathered around her for our drive home through the cold Kansas night. The other side of the front seat was extra dark because Almira had taken the three blankets, (that she made the sales manager give us when we bought the car right off the showroom floor), and built herself a …. not a nest.

While great intelligence is an asset in any man or woman, what set Almira apart was her passion. Her will to love, to bring together, to fight when necessary and to protect those in need of a champion; despite the fact she was as near to bringing a child into the world as possible and still be able to run to the car after an excruciatingly tedious social occasion, what she had created on her side of the Packard’s front seat was not a nest.

As a mother-to-be, my wife was not a member of one of the gentle and kind and complacent families of God’s creatures, fashioning warm and dry nests, from pieces of branches and threads of straw meant for comfort as they brought new life into the world, trusting in nature and good fortune that she might be over-looked by the larger (and hungrier) varieties of God’s creatures at her moment of weakness.

Almira had taken the new, very expensive brown woolen car blankets and built a den.

“Yeah, I remember.”

“You gave me a life to bring out to the world that night. A life that’s some of me and some of you.”

I slid my right hand over across the seat and felt her reach out and grasp it.

“You gave me my own life back, that night, Almira.”

“It’s always going to be you and me, and our child, isn’t it?”

Almira shifted in her blankets, leaned forward with both elbows on the dashboard, her chin in her hands and watched as we drove across a flat and simple landscape.

“Remember the times we sat huddled together outside the mill? You and me surrounded by the brick walls? we could escape the cold and the hard times in that small space, because I had you and you had me. The world, that world out there, is only where we pass through, it does not define us. Our love, and only our love, defines and gives us meaning.”

I heard the smile and confidence in her voice as we drove through the dark.

The Gale farm was not all that far from where we were living with the Baumeisters, at least not far by local standards. If it were a summer day and I was alone in the car I could have made the trip in 45 minutes. It was neither. This Sunday’s evening drive looked to be about 90 minutes. Which was not a bad thing. Since arriving in Circe, Almira and I have not had a lot of time alone. Simone and Ted were wonderful hosts, but that they were the only other people in the large farmhouse did nothing to decrease the feeling of being in a fish bowl at times.

“I love Simone and Teddy, but It’s good to be alone. As guests in someone’s house, even up in our room, I never feel, you know, like we’re alone. It’s nice to be with you, seems like its been forever.”

Almira seemed to read my mind. It was a talent that I had come to grips with and it’s mostly a good thing.

“Once the baby arrives, I suspect that moments like this will become a bit of a luxury.”

Almira pulled on the back half of her blanket den and I saw her eyes, the familiar intensity in them triggered not-unpleasant ripples to run through me.

“How do you do that?”

I laughed, but softened it by pretending to concentrate on the road ahead, which now was a ribbon of lighter dark against a nearly black background. The flattened cones of light ran ahead of the car, the stars, somehow, provided enough light to make out the prairie landscape on either side of the road.

“Do what?”

“Change your size at will. At one minute I see a shy 16-year-old girl, reading a book on a hand-me-down couch in a musty union hall, the very next minute I watch you make politicians, business men and stevedores hang on your every word. A very cute mammal running circles around the huge dinosaurs who roar and make like they will rule forever. And you, my powerful inheritor of the earth, just wait and bide your time.”

“Well for one thing I don’t know if I like your choice of similes. And besides, I do not change size and make myself the center of everything!'”

Our laughter gave the noise of the car on the gravel road a run for its money.

“Well, thanks for coming along, babe. If I had to go through that alone, I don’t know if I could have made it to desert.”

“Henry Gale seemed like a nice enough fellow. His wife Emily, well, Emily is a very impressive young woman. She’s accomplished a great deal with what she had, with where she came from.”

Almira spoke more to the passing scenery, as if by understanding the geography, she would better understand the people living in it.

“You, my dear wife, possess the mind of a politician and the heart of an angel. Emily Sauvage inherited money from her uncle Charles. It was only after an unsuccessful attempt to make it in Philadelphia society, that she returned home and bought a run-down farm with part of her rather sizable inheritance. Everything else she has done since then was evident in the eyes of the 16-year-old girl, fresh from Kansas, when she visited her brother at Dartmouth.”

“And you, my dear husband are gifted with an imagination that lets you see the world in a grain of sand and the ambitions in the eyes of a lonely girl. It is you who has the heart of an angel. All that most of us would have seen in her eyes, then or now, is a desperate need for material things in the vain hope of securing social status. All in the service of making her feel a part of a world that she doesn’t believe she belongs.”

I was, as always, impressed by Almira’s talent for people. The Sunday dinner at the Gale farm went exactly as Emily Gale had planned it and it was successful in re-assuring her that she was on the path to a happy life. Henry showed us the barn and the livestock and the equipment, still shiny and new. His enthusiasm for farming was simple, sincere and the one relaxing aspect to the entire afternoon. The dinner, of course, was in Emily’s domain and was not as enjoyable.

“Well, thank you anyway, babe. Once I handed over Cyril’s envelop, I was pretty much ready to leave and get back to the Baumeister’s. Have I told you what a genius you are at bringing out the best in people.”

“One odd thing.”

I looked over at her, light brown hair providing a decorative fringe to the brown woolen blanket she wore as a hood,

“Odder than the small bedroom on the far side of the living room? The one where someone had painted a row of animals along the top of the wall, just below the ceiling?”

“Very observant!”

I laughed at the burst of pride in my chest at her two-word acknowledgment.  I suspect that when I’m old and in my 50s, I’ll still feel as good when Almira compliments me.

“And very diplomatic of you not to ask about it. But, there was a moment in the kitchen. I had a casserole dish in each hand, was turned to leave to put them on the table and she was standing there, next to the door to the dining room and staring at me. I didn’t say anything, just stood there. Finally, almost to herself, Emily said, ‘Dorothy is what I will name my child. No matter how long it takes, that’s the name I will give her and that will make her mine.’
She looked up, as if seeing me for the first time, laughed and said, ‘So much to do, a good hostess never rests.'”

The dark sky arced and connected ‘back there’ to ‘up ahead’, as we drove to our temporary home with the Baumeisters.


I saw a frown of pained surprise grip Almira’s face. It was gone as soon as I turned to look closer at her. My foot came off the gas pedal but my left hand tensed on the steering wheel.

“Nothing. Your little friend Emily may know how to read, but is far from a good cook. Something I ate, maybe some of whatever was in that orangey yellow casserole dish. Gas. It’s not enough that I feel like I have to pee whenever I… stand up or sit down? I get to have gas too!”

She laughed, curled her legs up on the seat between us and looked up through the passenger side window,

“So much space. If I look at the right angle, it’s like I’m flying over the land and I ….oh!”

Now both my hands tried to change the placement of the indentations carved into the steering well.


The note of surprise in Almira’s voice was replaced by an upturn into fear, followed immediately by a sound that I’ve never heard from her. Out of nowhere came a memory of one time my father took me to Roger Williams Zoo. There was a new exhibit, an African lion and the newspaper said that the curators believed she was pregnant. My father and I stood at the edge of the moat that encircled the lion exhibit for at least an hour. We never once saw the lioness. I remember being disappointed and my father saying, ‘Sometimes, son, things go according to our plans. But pretty much nature does what she does on her own timetable.’ As we turned to walk away, I heard a roar from the depths of the cavern-like enclosure. It was a sound of fear mixed with triumph that I never heard again, until just now.

“My god!”

I looked frantically through the windshield and, twisting, out through every window, searching for something in the vast darkness that I could recognize. I looked back at Almira, she was pulling the blankets against her shoulder and pushing her feet against my leg. Hard.

“Sterling…. I think it’s happening…”

“But the doctor said… you are supposed to have the baby in January…”

The look on her face made me stop talking about doctors.

I brought the car to a complete stop, but kept the engine running. A part of me was thinking that we would at least be warm, a much bigger part of me was looking for a direction to run in, to take Almira someplace where people knew what to do. I even got out, stood on the running board and looked up the road in the direction of the Baumeisters. I did resist the urge to climb on the roof and wave my arms, as the sounds of my wife in distress grew and made the featureless landscape darker than I would have thought possible.

“OK, if you can hold out just a little longer, I’ll get us back to the Baumeisters. Simone will know what to do.”

Sitting up a little, Almira caught my eyes and held them by force of will,

“This, dear husband, is not a matter of learning. This is a matter of our baby deciding to join us ahead of schedule.”

“But if I drive real fast… ” I saw a look of exasperation grow in her eyes, “Ok, then I’ll drive real slow and we’ll be closer every minute and then…”

Almira reached from where she leaned up against the car door and grabbed my hand and held it tight. Encouraged, I continued,

“And if we can get close enough, I’ll use the horn and they’ll hear us and they’ll come to help you.”

Her grip tightened to the point where it felt like the bones in my knuckles were rubbing directly against each other,

“We’re alone out here, Sterling. The time is now. The baby is not going to wait. I need you to help me. It’s just you and me”

Her eyes began to focus somewhere I would never see and she made a sound, nearly the same as the one that I heard as a 10-year-old boy. This time my father was not standing next to me to explain what I must do. I suddenly knew that, as it had been the first night we met, on a winter’s night years before, I needed to hold her and know that she had the strength to do what had to be done. And she would know that I would be there and never let her go.

In a brief lull, in the quiet of the car, land and fields and night animals still, as they witnessed Almira’s cries, I brushed back a stray veil of dampened hair from her eyes. She looked up at me and smiled,

“Almost there, husband of mine, we’re almost there.”

“I am here as I have always been and will always be, wife of mine. You are the center of my world.”

I felt her grip increase and after the passage of time I could not count, her cries were replaced by a smaller cry. I pulled her close and she and I formed a shelter between us, three of us now.

Chapter 34


“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 33


‘Route 56 West’

Below the black, Highway Gothic letters, too small to be read from the inside of a car in the westbound lane, were the words: ‘National Old Trails Road Association’.

The black enamel paint was still shiny, surely not more than six months old. I let the Packard coast past the sign, leaning over my sleeping wife to read the legend under the ‘Route 56’. The vegetation at the base of the signpost was barely rooted in the grayish red soil. The Highway marker was planted in the no-man’s land between the packed gravel roadway and the farm fields that paced the road as it fled to the West.

Back behind the wheel, I got the car back up to cruising speed. The writer in me took over, as it occurred to me that the sign we’d just passed was best appreciated by drivers racing down the road. As both a highway route marker and a symbol, it truly represented the whole, rather than the parts. Route 56 was as big, (or long) as the State of Kansas was wide. I smiled to myself, grateful that Almira was asleep, as she surely would’ve instantly intuited the reason for my slowing down and staring at the sign. She would have said something to the effect that life offered some of us more splotches of color on our palates than it did for others. Although she would sound like she was teasing, I would see a reflection in her eyes that reminded me that we were one whole person in two, very different bodies.

Driving through the middle of Kansas, between Council Grove and Circe, I couldn’t decide if the three-strand barbed wire fence, never far from the road, was there to protect the endless fields from the highway or to protect those of us who flew over the prairie in our cars and trucks from something more primeval lying just beneath the grassy floor of the rolling hills.

Next to me, Almira moved in her sleep, a small sound escaping her lips, barely discernible against the rumble of the car engine. Only her face showed in the mound of blankets that she had gathered around her when we left Council Grove.

‘Circe 17 miles’

Almost as a postscript, less than a quarter mile beyond the shiny modern highway sign, there appeared a second signpost. Nearer to the fence than the roadway, this signpost seemed to be a refugee from the surrounding fields. More than a simple wooden post, the upright was the former trunk of a mid-sized cedar tree. It’s branch knobs weathered smooth, feathery bark long since peeled down to the inner heartwood, sun and rain bringing out a grey-red color. Nailed to this post were hand-painted signs: Sante Fe NM – 570 miles * Winslow AZ – 862 miles * Barstow CA -1,275 miles and San Diego CA – 1385. The lettering of each was clearly done by different people, at different times. You couldn’t help but sense a different intent in each. Like tea leaves from a fortune teller’s cup, each small painted rectangle offered a clear invitation to the promise of a new and better life. Leaving behind the familiar, the un-stated cost.

Although the distance from Kansas City to Circe was only 200 miles, we decided to break it into two days of driving. This wasn’t only for the obvious reason that one of us was an eight months pregnant woman. We’d both been experiencing a curious reversal of the normal urgency that people experience when the end of a long trip draws near. This feeling established itself as soon as we stepped off the train from St Louis.

That we’d picked Circe as our destination was not an entirely random choice. Circe was the hometown of my friend, college roommate and Army buddy, Cyril Sauvage. As men often do, when mortality becomes a significant part of daily life, we made a battlefield promise to each other, that the survivor would deliver a final letter home. This responsibility was made less onerous by the un-stated fact that to be burdened by the promise meant that life continued on; it was a secret gamble on life.

Being that I survived the war, I was honor-bound to keep my promise to Cyril, who did not. When the time came to leave our home in Providence, the cost of my survival asserted itself and Circe became our destination.

We were driving to the home of Cyril Sauvage’s sister, Emily. I met Emily Sauvage once before, while a freshman at Dartmouth College. Cyril and I were roommates in the Pike House dormitory. Though a year ahead of me and an engineering student (to my liberal arts), we got along well enough. Late in the fall semester, Cyril’s mother and sister travelled to New England to visit. I recall that Emily Sauvage, for whatever reason, went to great lengths to appear older and more mature than her actual 14 years. On the next to the last day of their visit, while Cyril and his mother attended a formal tea at the Dean’s home, I took Emily on a tour of the campus and the town of Hanover. Emily seemed quite impressed by the sometimes over-done attempts at sophistication so often found in an Ivy League school. For my part, I admit to having been a little immature, even for a college freshman and sort of showed off a little. I was quite convinced of my charm and was somewhat irresponsible on a couple of occasions as we visited a bar or two in town.

It was the envelope in my satchel, my promise to Cyril to deliver it home that jogged my memory to remember receiving at least two letters from his sister after her visit. I think I might have written one letter in return back. But life took over and I was soon caught up in my life as a future writer and part-time small-town Casanova. As it turned out, I left school after my first year and my wanderings lead me to a mill town a hundred miles away. Through no effort on my part, only the good fortune that comes to some, I managed to find a life that waited in the form of a girl in a mill town. A girl with eyes that saw my soul and reflected the potential good that I had long given up on ever achieving. It was only when I returned to school, after marrying Almira Ristani, did I re-connect with Cyril, who was, by then, in graduate school. One night after exams, sitting in a bar, he convinced me that joining the American Expeditionary Force would be the best way that I could prove to my young wife that I was responsible enough to be the head of our yet-to-be family.

Now, in the dying light of an early December afternoon, I looked at the small signs growing off the long dead cedar tree and thought that maybe California would be a better last stop.

“You know what I miss the very most about our home back in New England?”

Remaining mostly hidden in her private cavern, Almira remained quite still. I turned my head,


I laughed and the pile of blankets next to me shook as Almira giggled from under the covers. She had a gift for laughter that you might liken to musical genius or perfect pitch. She was capable of expressing amusement in seemingly endless variety. Everything from a belly laugh to rib-cramping guffaws that make you feel at risk of dying for lack of breath to a polite but sincere laugh that not only did not interrupt the eye contact of a close social interaction but enhanced it. Everything from the childishly enthusiastic energy of a giggle to a barely noticeable snicker.

“Where are we now, babe?”

“About an hour from Circe.”

She said nothing, content to look out through the windshield,

“Hey, Almira I’m sorry to drag you all the way out here into the middle of nowhere….”

“No! I’m the one who dragged us out here.”

“OK we’re both responsible, but for different reasons.”

The skeletal winter trees stood lining the ridges that ran along the highway. Harsh brown jagged silhouettes clawed at the cold blue sky, threatening the sun with the ancient anger of the winter season.

“You know, we don’t have to stay. I’ll give them Cyril’s letters and his medals, pay my respects and we can be on our way.”

“I appreciate that. And if it were just you and I, my answer would be, ‘Yes, lets you and I stay on the road’. If my destiny is to become a vagabond union organizer traveling with a published author searching the countryside for truth in this new century, I wouldn’t hesitate. But it’s not the two of us, it’s the three of us. Our family. Our love has made us more than just a woman and a man trying to make sense of a cold and all-to-often cruel world. You and I have created one more chance for the world to get it right. We are a family now.”

Almira spoke with an intensity that I’ve heard directed at me only in our times of sharing love or when standing before an audience of people showing them how to better live their lives. Riding along Route 56, headed west, her passion banished the limitless horizon and towering sky that surrounded us. There was only the two of us and our soon to be born child.

“You know, once we get settled here, or where ever we decide is home for the three of us, I was thinking that I’d take a quick trip back East.”

She watched me in a silence that was louder and more jarring than anything I heard in my entire war year.

“Wait! Hear me out. I have friends from college who are now well connected businessmen. A couple of classmates are very successful attorneys. I thought I’d go and sit down with this Herlihy guy and put an end to the questions and suspicions once and for all.”


“I’m sure that once I talk to the authorities, they’ll strike us from their list and we’ll never hear from the Lawrence Police again. It’s the only way.”

Appearing ahead in the growing dark, like a ghost forced to wander the same corridors in a haunted mansion night after endless night, was a white square to the side of the road, ‘County Road #2’ in black letters against a once-white background. It stood at an intersection, a loyal solider unaware that the battle-lines had been re-drawn, determined to fulfill his duty despite the lack of reinforcement. The intersection, like so many we’d driven through in the last two days, was simply the point where two roads crossed at right angles. For a part of the country that seemed to be nothing but wide-open spaces, there was an oddly contentious feeling to these four corners in the middle of nowhere. Two ruler-straight bands of tar and gravel meeting at a single point on the map, a physical manifestation of a point between ‘here’ and ‘there’. Of course, each road existed only because they maintained their own definition of ‘here’ and ‘there’. It seemed to be as basic, and sadly hopeless, an example of the plight of all of us wandering the earth.

I turned right onto County Road #2 and accelerated, the hope of catching up to the setting sun still strong, despite the dark in my rearview mirror.

Almira slept fitfully in her nest of blankets and pillows next to me. Being eight and a half months pregnant made the drive from Kansas City difficult for her. Being 5′ 2″ made creating a relatively comfortable space in the front seat of the Packard possible, given enough pillows and blankets. Fortunately for us, Kansas City was large enough to have several car dealers and among them a Packard dealership, the only car brand to offer a sedan. The thought of driving 200 miles in an open car, even with a canvas roof, was not a welcomed prospect. A direct result of my father’s shrewd business sense while he was alive, and very ample Estate, we didn’t hesitate to buy the sedan that sat on the showroom floor of Hudson-Jones’ Packard dealership on Fulton Street in Kansas City. The car was large, comfortable and, being this year’s model, even had a heater. Almira sat behind the wheel, her arms extended straight out in order to have her hands on the wheel and still reach the pedals and looked at the salesman and said,

“Throw in three of those driving blankets and we’ll take it.”

The car was as comfortable as we might have hoped and, after a day of writing letters to send to Edward, (who would re-post them from the Providence post office), we set out for Circe, Kansas and the home of the sister of my friend Cyril Sauvage. Emily Sauvage, now Emily Gale, lived outside of Circe on a farm she and her husband Henry bought with money inherited from an uncle back East. I got in touch with her once we’d left Providence and she was expecting us, ‘sometime in December’.

The day grew dim as we drove north on County Rd #2.

Awakened by the slowing of the car, Almira sat up on her side of the front seat.

“Where are we, Sterling”?

Her voice was quiet and, somehow, confident. It was the tone of a woman accustomed to being called upon to make a decision, yet always open to the opinion of others.

“We seem to have come to a fork in the road.”

As forks in the road go, this was a wide fork, more like it was the joining of two separate paths than the splitting of one. Opposite us was a rail fence that ran both to the right and the left, off into the distance at a shallow angle. There was still enough light to see that behind the fence was the winter remains of a cornfield.

“What the hell is that!”

Almira sat forward in her seat and pointed off to the right. A hundred feet or so, back from the road as it disappeared to the right, was what looked like a man wearing a straw hat, standing among the stubble of the previous season’s harvest.

After a second Almira laughed.

“A scarecrow! Finally something that reminds me of home, out here in this endless outdoors!”

There was a softening of the edge to her voice, her initial caution now relieved of the potential threat.

“Outside of town, back home, there was a small farm that ran along the edge of the Merrimack that we used to walk out to see, on summer days. It had a small herd of cows, three horses and cornfields. But they were normal sized fields, the kind you could run through with your friends on a summer day, not like these monstrosities out here. You could get lost and die before finding your way out of one of these fields.”

I looked at her as she stared, her eyes peaceful,

“Then it’s to the right we go?”

Her smile broadened,

“Well, it seems like the best choice, does it not, husband of mine?”

“Indeed it does, wife of mine.”

We drove up the road, which fortunately was maintained as all the roads to this point. The light of the sun was beginning to bleed redly into the horizon, the clouds, emboldened by the sun’s decline, gathered like wolves surrounding the dying glow.

I saw lights in the distance, on the left side of the road and pressed on the accelerator.

“So, we might have gotten a bit off the track. If I learned anything fighting in the war, it was: when it starts to get dark, find a place where you can watch all approaches and have something solid at your back.”

I turned in through a pair of rough-hewn wooden gates, both pulled back to the sides in the open position. On the road, just before the gate, was a sign, very artistically painted that simply read: ‘Baumeister Welcome to All’

I parked in front of the two story farmhouse, got out and walked around to the passenger side door. The house had a covered porch running across the entire front and lights glowed behind the curtains at each of the four windows. As I closed Almira’s door, I saw a  large building a hundred yards of so away and to the right of the farmhouse and next to that, a small grove of trees.

I knocked on the broad wooden door, Almira stood to my right. While I knew better than to ask that she stay in the car, I did insist that she stand slightly behind me, at least until we knew who we were dealing with in this large and well-kept farmhouse.

I could hear a woman’s voice, increasing in volume as she moved about the interior. At once distant as if she were in a room to the back of the house, then nearer, but almost immediately sounding distant again.

“Teddy!! Are you down there?”

“Mein lieber abwesend gemachter Ehemann!”

“Oh alright. No! Stay in your workshop, I’ll see who it is.” ( her voice grew louder)  “Coming! I will be there in a…”

Frowning, I looked at Almira standing next to me, her car blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She was smiling.

“Such a night this is….”

I heard a latch being thrown and a chain rattling, heavy links giving off a dull clinking sound as she withdrew whatever lock there was on the inside.

The door did not so much open as the light grew from a narrow pointed vertical bar, broadening into a doorway sized area of illumination. As dark as it now was behind us, we could almost feel the warmth of the light bathe us as we stood on the porch.

“Come in, please! Come in”

The first thing I saw was a woman’s face, surrounded by light. As she stepped back and my eyes adjusted, the light resolved itself into the interior of the farmhouse. But not all the light. A surprising amount of it stayed in place, surrounding the woman in the open doorway. The first thing I saw was her hair, it was the lightest shades of blond possible, without being white. The woman was tall, nearly as tall as I was and her eyes were very blue. The description ‘willowy’ shouldered all other adjectives from my mind. She looked at me and smiled.

She looked to my right where Almira stood, the blanket like a cowl over her head, held in a folded bunch at her throat, spilling open down her front, bulging belly and down to just brushing the tops of her shoes.

I glanced down at Almira affectionately. I looked back at our host, thinking to introduce ourselves and was startled that, somehow, she was now standing in the middle of the room, still looking at Almira. Granted it had been a long day on the road, but I would swear that this woman essayed the slightest of curtseys, a barely-noticeable downward nod of her head. It was enough that her long blonde hair flowed forward around her face, in the briefest of waves.

Almira pulled the blanket from her head and stepped forward.

The blonde woman smiled and said,


Chapter 31


“I think we lost ’em. What do you say we slow down a bit?”

I leaned forward, elbow on the dashboard and looked directly into Almira’s eyes. As focused as she was on driving, I didn’t want to risk distracting her, as we barreled down Clark Ave in the dead of night.

“No, dear. We haven’t and we can’t. Look out the back, and over to the right. Wait for the cross street coming up….. now!”

“Oh yeah. Damn!”

My mood was not improved by the sight of a pair of headlights racing across the opening in the city block created by the intersection.  We must have been doing fifty miles an hour, fortunately the streets were pretty much straight lines and right angles. The blocks of tenements, factories and, increasingly, storefronts and office buildings, were divided by compass-square intersections. The approaching traffic signal, swaying on cables over the next four-way intersection, demanded my attention.

“Traffic light up ahead, babe.”

Almira, being the woman she was, pressed the gas pedal closer to the floor, in response to my warning. She wanted to be sure I saw the other car that was racing along a parallel street. Our respective paths terminated in the center of St. Louis, which, in a peculiarly Midwestern literalness, was actually at the riverfront.

“Watch now…there, see it? Maybe three blocks back. They’re gaining on us. Our new friends are very much still on our tail. Of course, not counting the winos and extra hardworking girls, we’re the only two cars out on the streets of St Louis at 1:33 in the morning. They’re not going to have a problem keeping us in sight.”

Given the fact I was the only passenger in a car driven by my eight months pregnant wife, and therefore able to twist around and look in any direction I wanted, the headlights on the car behind us were not hard to see. Like the eyes of a predator in chase, occasionally blinking its eyes, the headlights of the car behind us would flare, then fade as they raced past cross-streets and the occasional vacant lot.

“Yeah, I see them now.”

Looking over at Almira, I was struck by two distinct yet overlapping impressions.

Despite being very pregnant, she was able to sit behind the wheel because she was all of 5′ 2″ tall. Her overall size being on the petite side, allowed her to sit forward enough on the seat to reach the pedals, without her mid-section interfering with steering the car. Part of the trick to this was in her posture. Almira sat very erect, her shoulders back, spine ramrod straight. She conveyed a certain prim and proper attitude by how she sat at the wheel. If you ignored the buildings passing at blurring speed from front to back through the car windows, my wife was the picture of a proper young woman, out for a bicycle ride down a quiet country road.

Contrasting this impression of a leisurely ride in a car was her face in the passing streetlights. The forward motion of the car produced an odd effect; the light coming in through the windshield illuminated her from the bottom upward, her face and eyes being last. And in the light they belonged to a woman possessed of such feral intensity that, were she not my wife and the woman I loved, I would’ve had to fight the impulse to run, or unable to do that, look away.

There was an energy about her that I’ve witnessed only twice before in all the time we’ve been together. It was not that she appeared under strain, the tendons of her neck remained smooth beneath her very pale skin, if anything she seemed almost relaxed behind the wheel. She gave the impression of a person focused on everything and yet nothing in particular. Almira projected a serene competency that was almost palpable, as we raced at suicidal speeds through intersections heading towards downtown St. Louis. And our pursuers were catching up. Even at the distance between us it was clear this was the same shiny black Lincoln that’s been parked or idling nearby, from the moment Almira and I stepped off the train in Union Station.

Almira focused intently on the road ahead, checking the rear-view mirror with only the briefest of glances. Being so late, (or early, seeing as it was well past midnight), most of the traffic lights at the intersections were in blinking mode. Extending straight ahead of our car they formed a solid row of round yellow lights, pointing to the riverfront and our hotel.

By chance or by design, the stoplights were synchronized in their blinking. Viewed through the windshield of our car, they appeared to be one long string of lights, except for the very last. Oddly enough this last shone with a steady green light, a silent promise of passage, provided we got that far. I sat back and said,

“Well, dear wife, on the basis of the evidence and information before us, the only reasonable course of action is to…. follow the yellow lights.”

Without looking away from the road stretching out before us, Almira smiled and said,

“When in doubt, go faster, my love, go faster.”

Almira’s eyes weren’t exactly shiny, however, a chance reflection of a street light off the plate-glass of a storefront, produced a glint, a spark of unnatural light.

“When the devil is chasing you, dearest husband, you have the advantage. It can see only where it is you’re going. You are the one who knows where the chase will end.”

I laughed to myself as a portion of my worried mind briefly expressed sympathy for our pursuers.

In the car, grayish-blue light brightening then smoothly fading as we drove through intermittent daytime, the intensity in Almira’s eyes grew, the expression on her face, fiercely exultant.

Rough shards of memories of the war, my true military medals and decorations, seemed to rattle in the back of my mind. demanding an audience. I’d seen men wearing the very expression I saw on my wife’s face, men who no longer thought about surviving, only of the approaching battle. My favorite professor in Officer Candidate School used to end nearly every class in the 3 months of ‘advanced training’ with the pronouncement, “Gentlemen, not only is ‘the best defense a good offense’, it will more often than not be your only course of action. The alternative being to sit and wait for the enemy to make his choice of action.”

With a certain sadness I looked over at Almira. I could see that she was, once again, running into battle in a land that I would never know. It gave me confidence in our immediate survival and made me hurt for my inability to help her. I knew that I would do anything to protect her, but feared that I would not be in time to keep her from going farther, perhaps, too far into that place where she was so powerful.

I took out a Lucky. my lighter and raised my eyebrows in invitation to Almira, who laughed,

“Well, only if you have some moonshine to go with it. Otherwise, I’d better focus on the road ahead, as I’m about to surprise our friends.”

I felt a stray memory of the war, torn free from the wall of feelings that had finally become impervious and all but opaque. The memory, mostly flashes of physical and emotional sensations, was of the moment before being ordered out of the trench. It was late morning and the plan was for us to charge an enemy emplacement. Leaning against the claybrown dirt edge of the trench, like the railing of a pew in church, I let the fear soak into the dirt as I crawled up and out and stood in the first steps of a run. At that moment I felt nothing but a sense of quiet peace. Now, riding in an expensive car, in the middle of a December night, I let the bluish cigarette smoke pull itself up over my eyes, the hard edges of concrete, metal and glass became much less threatening.

The long black car full of company goons currently gaining on us as we raced towards the Mississippi River was courtesy of the management of the Curlee Clothing Company. Founded by a man from Alabama who decided to take a certain innate ability to dominate the weak and dependent away farming and apply it to clothing manufacture, the first Curlee store was opened in Dothan, Alabama in 1912. A man of great intelligence and little virtue beyond a drive to bend the world to his will, Shelby Curlee was not what you would call a natural champion of workers rights. From my reading on the train from Philadelphia, Curlee was rabidly anti-union. His tactics included forcing all new workers, even the most unskilled, to sign yellow dog contracts upon employment. The threat, of course, was not just that they could be fired, rather the more coercive element was that they would not find any work, anywhere in St Louis. Management tactics like that made the Essex Company, back in Lawrence, seem positively liberal.

During our first few days in town, two very large men spent most of their day sitting in a car outside the Claremont Hotel where we stayed. They’d always look like they’d just arrived, were just leaving or were waiting for someone from the hotel. As we began to spend more time away from the hotel, they’d follow us, always at a discreet distance. At first, the surveillance was very low-key, just obvious enough to be sure that we understood that we were being watched. A trip to the museum or a stroll along the river meant that somewhere, within a block of the museum, or at the point where the river walk rejoined the city sidewalks, there would be two very large men leaning up against the fender of a car, reading a newspaper, or sitting on a park bench. They were our constant companions, although it would be more accurate to say, ‘Almira’s constant companions’, since it was her visit to St. Louis that prompted this unwelcome attention.

Having been invited by delegates of several of the newly formed unions, Almira’s days quickly filled up with meetings and appearances. Neither of us was surprised when our host, the head of the local garment workers union, pointed our un-official companions out, sitting on the fenders of their car, across the street from our hotel. We both laughed when Roxanne Matthews, secretary of the International Ladies Garment Union (ILGU), said casually,

“They’ve got you on their list. Avoid going anywhere alone, and by alone I mean the two of you. We have people who’ll accompany you when you leave your hotel. Your best protection is to always be in public view, be sure there’s a crowd, not matter what you do. I mean, if you go out to a restaurant or the museum or even walk along the river make sure there’s plenty of people around. These people won’t do anything if there are a lot of witnesses.”

We weren’t planning on staying in St Louis very long, however since we were, my wife was immediately in demand. In our time in New York and Philadelphia, Almira’s days were divided between training and education and politics and socializing. There, the bulk of her time was spent in what she loved the most, teaching. It was different in St Louis. Most of the requests for her time was to attend social functions, meeting with union-friendly politicians, civil servants and other community leaders hoping to enhance their standing with their own constituency by having lunch or dinner in the company of my highly esteemed wife. Not that Almira wasn’t very good at this aspect of her profession, she had a natural gift for commanding attention and a skill at presenting ideas that captivated people wherever she went.


The car chasing us passed through a parallel intersection (in a sense, another form of the same intersection that we were driving through), at nearly the same second. I could see, looking past Almira and out her window, the man in the passenger seat of the other car. I had the odd thought, ‘Maybe he and I are the champions and are meant to fight. The outcome of our contest to determine the future.’ Then I saw the slightest hint of a smile hiding at the corners of my wife’s mouth, and it was clear that it was she and the driver in the other car who were the knights in this contest. My role was every bit the passive squire. I was attending to Almira, she was the champion in this contest. The battle was, in fact, already engaged.

“Now would be a good time to close your eyes, darling. I need to make our friends understand exactly who they’re dealing with,”

Almira did not take her eyes off the road, though she did shift in her seat, just slightly.

She reached forward, turned off the headlights and stepped on the accelerator. We were approaching a section of the city, just a block from the police station, where there were two missing streetlights. Maybe the sense of security from being in running distance to St. Louis’s finest, lessened the urgency to replace the broken bulbs. The result was that in the center of the block, the street was nearly as dark as the night that surrounded us. Almira slammed on the brakes and, once stopped, backed our car between two buildings. We sat in an alley between Salzmann’s Fine Fur and Jewelry (since 1879) and Solomon’s Shoes. Almira turned off the car’s engine.

The city was as quiet as any night in the wilderness. Instead of the distant howling of a predator or the nearby rustling of underbrush by nocturnal prey, there were random whistles from late working factories on the far edges of the city and the mechanical groans of trains, linking together, a post-industrial midnight orgy, heard from the train yards that huddled by the river’s edge.

I looked over at Almira and she held a finger up as a signal to listen and I heard the angry squeal of brakes. It sounded to be from about 2 blocks back the way we’d come. Our pursuers were clearly confused, our easy-to-follow car lights having suddenly disappeared. After a minute’s pause, surely to allow for some quick arguments in the car, we heard gears grinding as the driver, no doubt on the losing side of whatever discussion of strategy that had just concluded, let his frustration interfere with his driving. A slight squeak of tires told us they were turning, and two blocks down our street, the headlights of their car lit the intersection.

The long black car turned in our direction and seeing nothing, no tail light receding in the distance or any other sign of another car, accelerated in our direction. As I watched, they raced through the first block. I heard the engine in our car start-up.

Looking over at me, Almira held her index finger to her smiling lips, for all the world a girl anticipating the arrival of the guest of honor at the surprise birthday party she’d arranged. We drove out of the alley and turned left into the street heading towards our determined pursuers. Our car moved very slowly, clearly Almira wanted to stay in the dark, in the middle of the block, for as long as possible. I saw the headlights of the other car closing the distance between us. As soon as they crossed the intersection and entered the much darker section of the block where we sat, Almira hit the accelerator and, a few seconds later turned on our headlights. For reasons I never found necessary to ask, though I could easily guess, she held the button of the car horn down as we raced towards the rapidly approaching car.

The other car swerved to our right, little more than fifty feet away. Whether it was defective or there was something in the road, their right front tire chose that moment to blow out. Their swerve turned into a skid and the driver, no doubt more skilled in physical intimidation than was he in driving, slammed on his brakes, which had the expected result, and the car began to skid. Their speed was such that they no sooner started to skid than the front and back wheels hit the curbstone. The Lincoln stopped skidding and began to roll. Had they started their turn even a second earlier, their path would have been blocked by the bus stop kiosk. The passenger was ejected through his own window, to his misfortune, his path was blocked by the top of the bus stop shelter. He appeared to fold over and under the leading edge of the shallow metal roof. Neatly divided at the waist, his legs on the top of the roof, his head and torso, continued under the enclosure. The car managed one-half additional roll before it hit the plate-glass window of Muriel & Stanford’s Fine Furnishings. There was a tremendous crashing sound, snapping and breaking of wood and fabric adding an oddly less jarring note to the scream of rubber and metal.

Almira continued on her path up the street to the intersection, turned right and then right again. Now on Market Street, we rode along in the now quiet St. Louis night, down to 4th Street and the Claremont Hotel.


“I’m sorry, Captain Herlihy, Mr. and Mrs. Gulch are away.”

Captain Gareth Herlihy stood on the steps of the very imposing house on Loring Ave, on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island and silently cursed Frederick Prendergast and the Essex Company. Gareth Herlihy was respected by the men of the Lawrence, Massachusetts Police Department and widely regarded for running one of the most effective and progressive police departments in New England.

‘So why are you still an errand boy for that fop Prendergast, and the damned Essex Company, Gareth?’ he would ask himself every time he found himself on a train bound for Providence RI. Not blind to the facts of life in a New England mill town, he found resentment growing whenever he had to endure a meeting with the CEO of the Essex Company. Owning the textile mills meant that the Essex Company owned the city and it’s citizens and, more to the point, it owned the police chief. The meetings, mercifully infrequent in the last few years, always ended the same,

“Herlihy! Do I have to spell it out? You persist in making me think that I do! I don’t enjoy this, but until the murder of Robbie Maclachlan is solved I will keep sending you where I must, to get me the people who are key to this case. We’re approaching the tenth anniversary of the strike and the murder. Go to Providence and get me new information that will help close this case or, bring back some suspects. I don’t care which!”

Standing on the doorstep on a grey-cold December afternoon, Captain Gareth Herlihy was feeling displaced frustration, an occupational hazard, but real nonetheless.

“I understand what you said, I’m more interested in where they went than in hearing that Sterling Gulch and the former Almira Ristani are not at home.”

Gareth Herlihy felt the muscles in his right arm tense and reminded himself that force was not always the most effective way to get people to provide the information he needed. Besides, there was something about this tall grey-haired man standing in the doorway that put him on edge. His success in becoming the chief of police in a very tough town was in no small part due to the quickness with which he sized up the other guy. Not only was this talent important to his success, it had, at times made the difference between life and death. This man who dressed like a butler had the eyes of a killer. It was obvious that there was no point in trying to intimidate him. If anything, he seemed mildly amused at the conversation.

‘Well, Gareth,’ the Captain of the Lawrence Police Department thought, ‘you’ve travelled four hours on a cold and drafty train to get down to this god-forsaken state, lets not leave empty handed.’

“If your employers happen to send you a post card from their travels, I don’t suppose you’d mind forwarding  it to my office?”

Gareth Herlihy, one of the toughest police chiefs among those charged with maintaining law and order in the industrial cities of New England, stepped forward with his card in his right hand. He managed a smile that seemed to falter and fall into the expressionless gaze of the tall man in the butler’s uniform. Finally, Edward, with an upward twist to the corner of his mouth said,

“Rest assured, Captain Herlihy, that should new information be vital to your investigation, I will personally deliver it to you.”


On the four-hour train ride back to Lawrence, Gareth Herlihy sipped from his flask and thought about retirement.


Asleep in the Presidential Suite of the Claremont Hotel, Almira Gulch had dreams of flying and her tears flowed down to the pillows.

Awake in the Presidential Suite of the Claremont Hotel, Sterling Gulch had serious doubts about his responsibility to the man who talked him into enlisting and going to war. He wondered whether California might not be a better place to end the journey with his wife and family-to-be.

Chapter 30


When beginning a trip that’s only partially dependent upon reaching certain and specific geographic destinations, there is no better time of year than summer’s end. The advantage of Autumn, compared to the other three seasons, is that it’s muting of nature’s beauty, encourages travelers to focus more on the people, rather than the places that make up a journey.

Sterling and Almira Gulch left Providence, Rhode Island in August and had only a single specific destination. They knew that ‘the journey,’ as they called it, would end once they reached a small town in the mid-Plains region of Kansas, by the name of Circe. It was their itinerary that was the interesting thing about Almira and Sterling’s journey. That they imposed no particular timeframe, schedule or deadline for arriving in Circe, Kansas, allowed them complete freedom in the path they took. That they needed to leave Providence and wanted to end up in Circe was the full extent of their discussion prior to getting on board the first of many trains.

The young couple did not, however, get on a train bound for Kansas City, Kansas. This fact spoke volumes about their feelings towards the trip. Without becoming entangled by inference and innuendo, inference and innuendo that might help acquire an insight into their motivations, in the simplest of terms, Sterling and Almira Gulch needed to get out of town. They needed, (or felt the need) to become, ‘unfindable,’. This somewhat clunky term was preferred over the more common, and certainly more potent phrase, ‘to go into hiding.’ In purely objective terms, they were hiding from the authorities from Lawrence Massachusetts. Specifically the Chief of Police, who was representing the interests of the Essex Company, owner of the city of Lawrence.

Subjectively speaking, Sterling and Almira Gulch were hiding from the past. To be fair, only one of the two would have acceded to that attribution of motive. Neither felt a need to discuss with the other the appropriateness of this attempt to avoid contact with the authorities. That they agreed that it was the best course of action was not in question, sharing how they perceived the outcome of not running, was. However, neither felt the need or desire to bring it out in the open.

Much like a binary star system, two suns with their own planetary systems locked in a larger, slower but far more significant rotation around a single common center point, Almira and Sterling maintained very distinct public and professional lives. It was this center point that allowed both to flourish and develop as individuals. They both grew in their respective professions far more than they would have as solitary individuals. While one might observe that each of the two suns of our binary system, each with their planetary systems were, in fact, self-sufficient and therefore truly successful in their own right, no one could argue that the sky would have shone as brightly were they not bound together.

And so, with nothing driving them to walk down the streets of Circe sooner, rather than later, the couple allowed their interests to determine the path they took to Kansas. Being young and being a new couple (in all ways), they grossly underestimated the changes in their lives that was a direct result of Almira’s pregnancy. Because they were young, they were able to believe that Almira, being six months pregnant, would not have an effect on their very loosely drawn plans to get to Circe Kansas.

Almira and Sterling arrived in New York on August 12th. The train car, was full of light and fresh with drafts of sea-scented air as it traveled along the New England coastline. The future seemed near and almost touchable, as the couple spoke of their plans. As they crossed Connecticut, conversation consisted of small, happy sketches of their hopes, (secret and shared) and snapshots of memories, (shared and still re-tellable, one to the other). As the day passed and the sun raced ahead to await them in the west, the ocean gave way to cornfields and pasture land. Eventually the fields rose from the earth in shapes of homes and stores and other commercial developments. The structures grew taller and more complex and closer together along the path of the train. Finally, after passing through the exhaust fumed canyons of the city, the train descended into the earth and traveled green-tiled tunnels to Grand Central Station. The wisps of air through the windows became more metallic than salty, the exhausts of machines tinged with a smell of industry. The conversation in the compartment turned quiet and cautious, in the flickering darkness.

Almira responded to the changes first, unconsciously pulling her jacket around her midsection, an ancient instinctual effort to protect against an un-specified threat.

“Are you cold?”

Sterling turned in his seat to face Almira. His shoulders broad enough to almost entirely block the sight of the steel and concrete tunnel walls.

“No, babe, just had a chill.”

Almira Gulch had the rare ability to inspire self-confidence in people. While many are able to inform another of their own confidence of success, it’s another thing entirely to be able to project emotional certainty. The first offers opinion, the second allows the person to believe it to be a fact. Almira had that gift. Sitting in a private compartment on a train speeding underneath the largest city in the world, she thought she felt a chill. What she felt was not so much a drop of temperature as it was a sudden, unexpected dip in her sense of confidence. It was as if the child within her had upset a certain balance, the natural equilibrium that Almira maintained with the world and people and demands that surrounded her each day. She did not like the feeling, but chided herself for being selfish.

“Bill Lawrence said he’d have a car waiting for us. Be good to get to someplace that doesn’t move.”

Sterling buttoned Almira’s jacket as the two sat, the subtle, near constant jerking motion of the train changing from side-to-side to a front to back pulling and pushing. She smiled and held his left hand as it deftly looped the last button into place. Looking out the window, she was surprised to see the concrete and steel scenery replaced with people and colorful signs as the train came to a complete stop at the platform.

Sterling gathered the satchel that contained his notes and manuscript and the single bag that held Almira’s notebooks and her copy of Gulliver’s Travels and stood at the compartment door.

“Want to go explore the world with me?”

“Anytime, my husband, anytime at all.”


Almira Gulch received a very sincere welcome in New York City. Her efforts helping workers successfully organize in Providence and other cities had earned her the respect of labor professionals throughout the Northeast. She was recognized as an expert in education, which all agreed was the most critical first step in organizing a predominately first-generation immigrant workforce. Almira had a talent for encouraging people to see that the path to a better life started with an education, an education beyond the minimum requirement to work in the mills and sweatshops and factories. She was effective because she was able to instill in people a belief in their own inherent worth and competency. Her peers admired her; her students loved her. It wasn’t a question of whether Almira would find work during their stay in New York, it was a question of drawing limits on the demands on her time and her energy. Almira Gulch loved her work, and the city was a place where she came into her full potential both as a teacher and a union organizer.

Sterling Gulch’s daytime life was all about writing his novel. For him, the demands of the days in New York City were without a specific schedule or (an) organizing rationale. Unlike Almira, Sterling did not have specific obstacles to be met and overcome. Nevertheless, his days were full and, in ways, more demanding than his wife’s. His work was difficult for that very reason, the lack of a defining organization. Sterling talked to people, and whenever the opportunity presented itself, he listened to their stories. He spent hours and days in museums and coffee shops, sat in on park-bench debates and poetry readings, stood in front of soapbox orators, and he stopped to read the curled paper messages glued to abandoned buildings, searching the smeared print for secrets and insights, like the Dead Sea Scrolls of modern urban life. Sterling felt the power and the life of his story grow as he fed it the words and memories, hopes and fears from all the people he could engage. His was a need that demanded that he see in others what he could not see within himself.

Because they had the resources, both financial and personal, their time in the city was a full, invigorating time in their lives. New York City, their first stop, became a second home for Almira and Sterling Gulch on their journey to Circe.


The estate Seymour Gulch left to his son and daughter-in-law was greater than anyone would have guessed. Seymour Gulch was not from money. Nevertheless, he was able to provide his small family with a comfortable lifestyle from his income as a teacher in the Providence school system. When he had the good fortune to encounter an opportunity, he had the foresight to recognize its potential. Moreover, he possessed the courage, (at the time, some called it recklessness) to invest everything he had into a new company, ‘The Electrolytic Marine Salts Company.’ With the capital from the original five investors the company become quite successful. The value of stock in the company started to rise from the first day of business. Word spread that the firm’s proprietary gold-from-seawater process was successful. The company’s stock went through the roof. Everyone wanted to own a piece of the Electrolytic Marine Salts Company. By the end of the first year of business, the original five investors, which included Seymour Gulch, became quite wealthy. The investment in the initial offering was not, however, Seymour’s most canny investment decision. His shrewdest decision was to sell his stake in the company after the first year, even as the value of the stock continued to soar. He had no trouble finding a buyer for his holdings. His decision to cash out was met with not a little derision from the business community. As a matter of fact, he encountered the most scorn from one of his business partners.

“Great wealth requires great courage, Seymour. It’s probably for the best that you step back at this point from our Company. We’re about to enter a phase that’ll make us such riches that the Carnegies and the Morgans will look like paupers in comparison.”

Edgar Rosenfeldt, along with Seymour, was one of the original five partners. He stood next to Seymour’s car, outside the offices of the company’s law firm, Edwards and Angell. Seymour had just completed the sale of his ownership in the Electrolytic Marine Salts Company.

“I’d say that I’ll miss you, but I pride myself on always being honest. The truth is my share of the company will be that much greater for your selling out. I should be saying, ‘Thank you’!’. I’m sure you’ll do alright. Have a nice life.”

As Seymour got into the backseat of the car, Edgar, feeling especially gregarious, leaned over, intent on getting a laugh from the driver. Edgar Rosenfeldt took pride in being popular with those he called, ‘the hired help’ and never missed an opportunity to demonstrate his innate bonhomie. Slapping the roof of the limousine loudly, facing the open driver’s window, he started to speak. His overly broad smile and small piggy eyes was met with an expression on the driver’s face that was neither resentful nor obsequious, rather it was a look of frank appraisal. Edgar straightened up abruptly, started to speak, looked again at the driver and walked silently back into the towering office building.

“He certainly seemed quite sure of himself, didn’t he, sir?”

Edward’s eyes in the rearview mirror flashed a glint of humor in the slightest upwards movement of an eyebrow.

“I suppose, Edward, that to be great, one must be willing to take chances. Fortune favors the bold. Or so I’ve been told.”

“Quite. A fellow Butler,” Edward smiled very slightly, “who served in the Rosenfeldt household, once remarked that the family’s fortune came from an odd involvement in the tulip mania, many years ago. The staff would often joke about ‘old money.’ As they say, ‘what goes up….’ shall I continue, or would Mr. Gulch prefer some quiet to savor an equally quiet victory?”

The two men laughed as the car left the business district and drove up Thayer Street, past Brown University and the quiet residential streets that overlooked the Seekonk River.


On their seventh weekend in the city, Sterling sat and looked at the typewriter. Smiling, he pulled the sheet of paper from the Olivetti, its metallic clicking marking the passing rows of words and laid it face down on the neatly stacked pages to the left. He pushed back from the desk with the air of a man completing an arduous but very worthwhile task. He looked at the 12pt Times Roman, double-spaced stack of paper that was his completed novel. From the living room across the central hallway of the townhouse, opposite the study where he did all his typing, he heard a voice.

“Sterling, can we stay in tonight? Really not feeling well.”

The speed with which Sterling crossed from the study to the sofa where Almira sat curled up in a quilt, provided a simple affirmative. His response time, however, spoke volumes about her husband’s priorities.

“Anything wrong? Is it, …are you, …what can I do?”

She smiled as a memory of her mother played across her mind. She remembered blankets on a threadbare rug, a towering bookshelf, and an open wall formed by the legs of 3 dining room table chairs. It was where a very young girl sat safely, in a corner of the Ristani living room, watching her mother sew while sitting at the kitchen table. Precocious and bold, Almira could remember the feeling she had as child, that she was working with her mother, the books that lay around her slowly yielding their secrets in the single main room of the Ristani apartment in Lawrence.

“Here, come sit with me. Everything is fine with our future and still-un-named child. Her mother is just tired after a day spent helping a middle-aged Romanian man understand how a 19-year-old girl from County Cork could be instrumental to his job unloading raw silk. It didn’t help that the sponsor of the workshop asked everyone to bring a little something for lunch. Knish, pierogies and boiler room coffee is not recommended for women who started their day throwing up the previous night’s dinner.”

Later that Saturday night, after the distant sounds of trains and taxis and late-night revelers faded into the canyons of the city; Almira sat up in bed.

“Your book, it’s almost done, isn’t it?”

Although completely asleep when his wife began to speak, Sterling attempted to reply before awakening,

“What? Who’s cooked, there nothing there, dark… What, did you say something?” 

Almira laughed and continued,

“We should get back on the road. I’ve done as much as I can with the people here in the city. They’ve got the organization and just have to grow the membership. The hard part is done. Speaking of growing,”

Almira sat with her legs crossed Indian style with a wall of pillows between her and the edge of the bed. Sterling, covers now drawn over his head, lay to her left. She crossed one arm over herself and with the other moved the pillows into a protective wall. She smiled at the thought of how often the turning points in her life took place in small, secret places of her own construction. An alcove created by towering brick walls of a ravenous mill, a converted blacksmith shop with a forge-fire blunting the icy punch of winter, the circle of loving arms and legs in the middle of a blood-washed street, hundreds of strangers as guards and even the corner of a backyard boundary wall, away from the light of the plentiful resources in a huge home, all were small encampments where her life was renewed.

She held the quilts and blankets back as Sterling turned to face her and slid over underneath the covers. The darkness allowed the two to see a future in which the three of them would be together, each separately demanding of the world what was needed and giving back what they could,

“So, my love, let’s thank the Lawrences and get back on the road. We have places to see and places to be and, as long as we have a coat to share…”

Almira ran her fingers through his hair, raising a finger to trace the inner surface of the blanket affirming the momentary permanence of their quiet, dark shared space,

“… or a blanket that keeps the world at bay, we will have all we need.”

Sterling slid his right arm between Almira’s shoulders and the pillows and, as she kept the quilt suspended over their bodies, extended her legs out and the two slid together. The world they shared with the approaching third member of their small tribe evident, made their joining both gentle in the love they were bringing to the world and, at the same moment possessed of a fierceness that jumped from Sterling into Almira. It was from Almira that the passion escaped into the otherwise silent world outside the quilt.


“Sorry to see you kids leave so soon. In any event, Ted Thornberg’s expecting you. No, I told him that all you needed was enough time to go over your manuscript. Very bright young guy, he knows you’ll want to be on your way. Ted and I did a deal with your father back in ’12, made a ton of money. In fact, Ted financed his publishing business from the proceeds of that one deal. He’ll treat you right. And, Almira? You and his wife Diana should really hit it off,”

Bill Lawrence leaned over towards Almira as the limo sped down 2nd Avenue,

“She’s pregnant too, very pregnant. Hell, she might have the kid while you visit. Nice girl though.”

Getting out of the car, Almira and Sterling walked across the wide sidewalk towards the entrance of Grand Central Station; Bill Lawrence leaned out the car’s window.

“Stay in touch.”

Almira and Sterling Gulch felt the train start forward as it left the station. Almira Gulch felt the lurch simultaneously with a slight kick in her middle as she held her worn copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ on her lap. Sterling Gulch heard the rumble as a train passed on the adjacent track, speeding towards New England and felt a burning sensation across his face as his memory surprised him in the compartment, miles and years from the war.


“He’s very taken with you.”

“What? Who? Who’s taken with me, well, who besides most guys that have a pulse and can see.”

Eliza didn’t bother to laugh, or for that matter even smile. She was focused on keeping up with the middle-aged woman who lead her away from the picnic tables, across a small pasture and up into an area of hills and rocky outcroppings. A glance back over her shoulder showed the Gulch Farm spread out in the wide, nearly flat valley. At the rear of the barn, the second largest structure in the small compound of buildings, she could see Hunk and Tom Hardesty working to unload a truck.

“Why, Hunk Dietrich, of course.”

Eliza frowned, as much at the fact that the older woman did not sound out of breath as her slightly disapproving tone of voice.

“Henry? You must be joking. Anyone can see Hunk only has eyes for a certain well-intentioned farm girl. A girl who also happens to be my best friend.”

“…Watch your face.”

Phyllis let go of the branches as she disappeared through what seemed to be an impenetrable grove of juniper bushes. Eliza ducked just in time to avoid being hit in the face. As she did, she caught a glimpse of the other woman’s shoes, stepping down a steep decline hidden just beyond this wall of green vegetation. Turning her back, she pushed through the cedar and smiled as expecting the drop-off, found footing and did not stumble as she walked down into the clearing where the woman stood, waiting.

“Nice spot. Bring the boys up here a lot, do you?”

Walking further into the clearing, Eliza realized that she could smell the spring before she saw it. As if cut into the side of a birthday cake, the opening was 15 feet across, 10 feet tall in a roughly conical shape. Just within this shallow cave, the pool of clear water threw light in rippling patterns across the stone of the ceiling.

Phyllis McCutcheon stood at the edge of the pool,

“So Miss Thornberg, what is it you wish to know about Almira Gulch?”

Looking around Eliza noticed an outcropping of stone just where the opening to the cave became a part of the surrounding hill. It provided a place to sit, not inside the cave and not completely exposed to the sun that, at this time of day was still very unrelenting.

“Frankly Phyllis, I don’t give a shit about the old woman. I do care about my friend. She can’t seem to let go of a need for information from the woman in the hospital bed. I’ve asked her, and all she says is, ‘she took my dog and made me leave Circe.'”

Phyllis McCutcheon stood quietly and watched as Eliza got up and began to pace along the edge of the pool.

“In the year I’ve known her, Dorothy’s never once mentioned a woman who stole her dog, and while she left Circe to go to school in New York, I can’t recall her ever telling me anything about traveling. Funny thing about all that talk of travel…”

Phyllis looked up at Eliza, her head tilted in silent encouragement,

“I remember when I took her to Times Square. It was the beginning of the Fall semester, and I didn’t know her that well, she was nice, but she kinda kept to herself. I decided, ‘lets show the country girl how different life in the big city can be.'”

Eliza saw the very slight elevation of her listener’s eyebrow, and stopped,

“I wasn’t being cruel, I wanted her to relax and enjoy being at Sarah. And besides, the other girls were starting to make fun of her, so I figured something like that would give her a chance to fit in.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Phyllis spoke quietly,

Eliza found a loose stone beneath some bushes and threw it into the pool and watched the other woman. Seeing no reaction, she continued,

“Anyway, we all went downtown and Dorothy did seem impressed. Hard not to, with all the lights and noise and the people. You know, Times Square on a Saturday night, right?”

Seeing no reaction, Eliza continued, now joining her companion in staring into the bottomless water of the spring,

“The odd thing wasn’t her reaction, the thing I remember was in mine. I watched Dorothy Gale, fresh off the farm, blue-checkered dress and all, take it all in, very methodically. There was none of the gaping jaw, wide eyes that show on the faces of most people. No, Dorothy was analyzing, assessing the situation. I distinctly remember thinking, ‘This girl is not impressed. She’s clearly been in stranger places than Times Square on a Saturday night. And, from the way she’s looking everywhere, she’s also been in some pretty dicey situations.’

So what gives with my friend seeming desperate to getting some old, sleeping woman to answer her questions?”

“It’s really quite simple. Your friend, Dorothy Gale was raised to see Mrs. Gulch as being exactly the opposite of what she is as a woman. Her adopted mother, Emily Gale, filled your friend’s childhood with stories that depicted Almira Gulch as nothing more than an evil, selfish and greedy witch.

The truth of the matter? In terms that a silver spoon-fed girl like you can relate to? The fact is Almira Gulch, that ‘old woman in the hospital bed’, gave her life up for Dorothy’s.”

Eliza stared as Phyllis McCutcheon walked back through the green wall of cedars that protected the spring, opening a way through the thick spiny branches with her forearm.

“Wait! What the hell do you mean ‘gave up her life’? I saw her last night, and she was breathing, didn’t exactly talk much, but definitely alive. Hey! Come back here…”

As Eliza stepped into the opening in the bushes she heard,

“…And watch the branches.”

She managed to close her eyes as the thick, bristly swath of cedar limbs hit her face and chest, stinging tears under closed eyelids.

She broke free of the bushes in time to see the figure of Phyllis McCutcheon cross the pasture that lay between the wooded hills of the spring and the clear fields surrounding the farm buildings.

“Hey! Answer me!! What do you mean, ‘she gave her life!”

The woman, halfway across the grassy field turned and spoke in a voice that although not a shout, carried to Eliza’s ear as perfectly had she been standing with her hand on her shoulder,

“For a student at Sarah Lawrence, you seem kind of dense. Good thing you’re such a sexy girl, maybe you could make a name for yourself in the movies.”

Eliza Thornberg laughed as the other woman continued to walk towards the farm. She decided that she liked the quiet middle-aged woman and thought that they would become friends.

Chapter 29


Circe, Kansas, straddled the border between fertile low-river farmlands of the eastern half of the state and the upwards rise to the Great Plains. Elevation increased from 680 feet above sea level on the state’s border with Missouri to a high of 4,000 feet. In McPherson County, the terrain was best described as ‘un-decided.’ A 100-mile wide band running north to south was neither thick forests and verdant farmland, as found in the east, nor was it the flat, high plains prairie land to the west.

The town of Circe was the center of a patchwork of corn and wheat fields, interrupted by small forests and medium-sized lakes. The land in this middle zone, steadily rising (while flattening out) towards the Plains did not make for effortless farming. Farms spread out between and among the low foothills, the price of every successful crop always very dear. The essential elements of labor and water were anything but in ample supply. Planting corn, and sometimes wheat, along with raising livestock, families bet their lives on their efforts to wrestle life from the land. In this semi-arid climate, water was a most precious commodity. It commanded a high price from those who needed it, imbued those who controlled it with the power of life and death and brought about an end to those unfortunate enough to be caught between the two.

To the northeast of Circe, on the western side of a small range of foothills, was a natural spring. Hidden in the cleft of a granite outcropping and shielded from view by a grove of cottonwood, an endless supply of cold water bubbled up from the earth. Although it never stopped bubbling, the level of the water in the small pool never changed. The new water replaced the old which, in turn, sank back into the bedrock. There was no other outlet for the water, it did not form a river to flow away across the land. It was simply a pool, shaded by trees, surrounded by granite.

The English translation of the Shawnee name for this simple wonder of nature is ‘the crying stone.’ The spring was considered a sacred place. Warriors believed that its waters would hasten the healing of wounds. Mothers believed that babies bathed in the crystal cold water would become great men or powerful women. Medicine men knew that this was a place where the gods touched the earth. Many a shaman spent a lifetime trying to learn what might be learned, to gather what power might be found in this connection between the world of man and the earth.

In 1898, Theodore Baumeister and his wife Simone, German Mennonites, took advantage of the Enlarged Homestead Act and bought two hundred fifty acres of farm and forest land about twenty miles to the north and east of Circe. Theodore and Simone left Germany with a dream of finding a place where they could build a home for themselves. Being members of a faith that was at the time very mobile, they planned not only to farm the land but to create a place where others might find safe harbor. They built the farmhouse and barn first. They raised cattle and hogs, and planted the fields with corn to provide a buffer against the sometimes violent swing in prices at the slaughterhouses in Kansas City.

The Baumeisters did well with their farm and managed to save the money needed to bring their dream fully to life. They built a large two-story structure they called the meeting-house, siting it between the farmhouse and the barn. Simone planted elm trees, as she could see in her mind a time when mature trees would offer shade in the extreme heat of summer in Kansas. The meeting-house provided sleeping quarters on the second floor and a dining and living area on the first. It was completed in 1910 and by 1912, as word spread, it provided a home to wanderers and pilgrims. Mennonites and Mormons and travelers from all parts of the country. There was always the sound of life in the meeting-house, no matter what time of year. Mennonite churches across the Prairie States spread the word of this refuge, and the meeting-house was always full.

But not long into the second decade of the new century, drums of war were being heard in Europe. Slowly at first, but as insidiously as the corn blight that starts at the very edges of a field, the politics of strife spread across the country, reaching into the wide, isolated communities of the Midwest. The simple and hard-working people of Circe began to wonder what it was those people did out there at ‘that German place.’ Eventually, the farm was sold to a young couple from ‘Back East’. The Baumeisters stayed on and lived out their days, working the farm, making strangers welcome.

The farm, known since 1927 as ‘Almira’s Keep’, was essentially the same as it was in 1912.


The sun, in the middle of an afternoon in the first week of August was every bit the monstrous orb found in a six-year-old child’s first attempt to draw a sunny day. The sun was looming, un-relenting and without the seasonal restraints offered by the other nine months of the year. The rising columns of red and silver in thermometers acquired a more ominous appearance; warnings of danger, rather than a reassurance of a comfortable afternoon outdoors. Very much the difference between a strong wind making a row of flags and pennants flap in colorful excitement and the triangular red flags stretched into solid, pointed wedges by the winds of an approaching hurricane. The sun ruled the sky without mercy and without promise of respite.

Hunk Dietrich thought it probably would get over 100 degrees before the sun set. He looked over at Eliza Thornberg and amended his weather observation to include, ‘women don’t sweat, they glisten.’ Hunk was in a good mood at the moment, sitting with Dorothy Gale’s college roommate at a picnic table in the shade. He felt the silence at the table grow from companionable silence to simple lack of conversation. The self-confidence he felt while talking and driving her car was nowhere in sight. Desperate to keep the silence from marking him as an inept companion, Hunk decided on a non-verbal strategy to re-establish his qualifications and ultimately, his right to sit with an attractive young woman. He stretched. Arms moved upwards and both legs outwards. Seeing the reaction of the girl, he realized he was out of danger, for the moment.

“So Hunk, who are these people? I see at least three groups of people who obviously are not related. Everyone in the dining room over there seems to be friendly with everyone else. What the hell is the story here, Henry?”

Sitting on the unpainted wooden bench, Eliza Thornberg appeared as comfortable as any wealthy young woman seated in the summer parlor of a Newport mansion or dining at a wrought iron table on the patio at the Tavern on the Green. In contrast to Hunk’s half-rolled up sleeves, sweat-darkened collar and trailing shirt tails, her clothing made her look at home. As was the case when wearing expensive clothing, Eliza looked naturally beautiful. Her light blue silk blouse appeared to float around her body, emphasizing her figure without being, in any way, obvious. A small area between her shoulder blades found the fabric held close to the skin, the only indication of the extreme temperature. A barely noticeable tiara of glistening sweat was beginning to creep along the edge of her hairline, her dark brown eyes alive. There was a humor to her expression that softened the sharp edges of her smile.

Hunk relaxed, hopeful at the pleasant tone to Eliza’s voice. Hunk always felt confident and self-assured when someone asked him for information. He leaned across the table, as if careful to avoid being overheard.

“They’re just people. You know, folks who’ve lost everything…trying to survive… Wait, sorry, I guess I forgot.”

“Forgot what”?

Eliza didn’t bother looking at her companion, interest in her surroundings was beginning to fade. The lack of intonation in her answer hinted at a growing boredom.

“You know, most of the people of the country losing everything and hitting the road, desperately trying to survive? The Great Depression, 20% unemployment…. bread lines. Go ahead you can stop me when any of this sounds familiar.”

Hunk stared at the girl, the gulf between their worlds a chasm. He felt a sudden desire to move away, go somewhere else, do something different. The where and the what were irrelevant.

As if overhearing the economic plight of their parents being discussed, a group of children ran close to the table. Their feet (and youthful energy) kicked up low clouds of dust. Like smoke cloaking the flames of low fire, the plumes of seared earth made the humid air feel much warmer. The sudden slam of a screen door made Hunk and Eliza turn towards the house and watch as Phyllis McCutcheon approached their table.

Hunk stood up and walked towards her, glancing briefly at Eliza he said,

“There’s someone who I want you to meet, wait here.”

Eliza took a pack of cigarettes and a Dunhill lighter from her purse, said with unmistakable indifference,

“Take your time, Hank.”

Hunk met the approaching woman at the edge of the shade cast by the small grove of trees next to the dormitory. Phyllis McCutcheon was a middle-aged woman, her worn, but expertly mended dress seemed to suggest an indifference to her appearance. After only a short time in conversation with her, this indifference showed itself to be more an absent-mindedness. Phyllis McCutcheon was one of those people for whom responsibility was the most important thing. She thrived on responsibility and helping others. People like her were always in demand. Unfortunately, (for people like Phyllis McCutcheon), this demand was in limitless supply. The people in her life would demand her help and she would attempt to comply. Her wardrobe was the first casualty in the daily battle to live up to the expectations of others.

Almost always of good cheer, Phyllis came across, to friends and strangers alike, as a woman who was always busy. At times this had the effect of making her appear pleasantly harassed, but never so much as to cause her distress. It was evident that she understood that the responsibilities she held were far too much for one person. However there was also a certain underlying optimism, she appeared certain that, given time and patience, everything would work out for the best.

“Phyllis, hi!”

Phyllis stopped in the middle of the yard between the dormitory building and the smaller farmhouse. She looked up just in time, barely avoiding bumping into Hunk, who was standing directly in her path.

“Hunk! What a pleasant surprise.”

Only slightly shorter than Hunk, she held out her notepad, as if it’s pages of indecipherable pencil marks constituted a passport. It was, to her, sufficiently informative to provide greetings, instructions, and acknowledgment for anyone she encountered in her very busy days. Hunk stood in front of her and waited. He’d known Phyllis since she decided to stay and help Almira Gulch run the farm/sanctuary/rooming house on the outskirts of Circe Kansas and knew that silence was not inappropriate.

Her arm moved very slightly upwards, as if to present her notes, he waited until the woman caught up with herself.

“It’s good to see you. Who’s your friend? She’s very… pretty. Will she be staying or…”

Hunk smiled, her fragmented speech a reminder of why he liked Phyllis McCutcheon. She had a sense of the incredible bounty in the world if one only took the time to look for it. The two of them very much a pair of castaways standing on the shore of the deserted tropical island, taken with the wonder of what they saw, seemingly unaware that they were shipwrecked and alone. There was, in their respective capacities to ignore immediate circumstances, security in their ability to make the right decisions and take the right actions when the time came, or circumstances demanded. Hunk recalled when Phyllis announced her intention to stay permanently at the Keep. During breakfast, Henry Gale went on at length describing the new and, apparently permanent, resident at the Gulch Farm, finally, his wife, Emily looked over at Hunk and said, “Sounds like another fool in paradise, Hunk. You two should get along.”

“I want you to meet someone.”

Hunk reached out his hand and stopped about an inch short of the woman’s arm. Keeping his hand at her arm, almost but not touching, he turned towards the picnic tables. Without seeming to notice the lack of contact, Phyllis turned with Hunk, and they both stood and looked at Eliza Thornberg, about twenty feet away.

“This is Eliza Thornberg. She’s a friend of Dorothy Gale, and I brought her to show her around Circe.”

Eliza looked at the two, waved her hand and seemed to laugh to herself.

Hunk waved back and looked at Phyllis, who then also waved.

Eliza put her hands to either side of her mouth and in a voice meant to sound like a shout, said,

“Pleased to meet you, Phyllis. My friend Henry has been doing a great job as tour guide, but I think he just hit his limit in the social graces. Would you bring him over so we can talk in the shade?”

Phyllis smiled, her eyes seemed to turn inward slightly, her posture, relaxed up to this point became a little more assertive. She turned and put her hand on Hunk’s arm, smiled and said,

“Hunk, your new little friend wants us to go visit her. Shall we?”

Hunk felt his stomach twist a little, a feeling that usually accompanied his efforts to interact socially with others. He looked at Phyllis,

“Visit we shall.”

Hunk put his right hand on his hip and Phyllis put her left arm through and held his forearm, and they walked towards the tables in the shade. Phyllis began to point to various parts of the farm as if she were showing a visitor the farm for the very first time. Hunk played along and nodded on occasion.

Finally, they stood in front of Eliza Thornberg who smiled at the mid-aged woman, held out her hand but remained sitting.

“Miss Thornberg, this is Phyllis McCutcheon. Miss McCutcheon, this is Eliza Thornberg.”

The three laughed.

“So, Henry here says,” Eliza saw the look of question on the other woman’s face and added, “when I first met Hunk, I mentioned to Dorothy that I thought he looked a lot like Henry Fonda. I still do. Don’t you? In any event, I was curious about the woman who owns this place, Mrs. Gulch, Almira Gulch? When I mentioned this Mrs. Gulch at the breakfast table this morning, Dorothy’s mother, Emily, got a very strange look on her face. It was a look of both hate and guilt, not a pretty sight. I wasn’t even slightly tempted to ask her why she looked like someone had just thrown a rock through a priceless stained glass window. I’m definitely not a shy girl, but I knew better than to pursue the topic of Mrs. Gulch.

In any event, I promised Dorothy that I’d hang around here until it was time to go back to school. I get the distinct impression that if that old woman wasn’t lying in a hospital bed, I wouldn’t be here because Dorothy wouldn’t be spending her summer vacation in this backwoods hole in the wall town.”

Eliza reached across the table and put her hand on Hunk’s arm, smiled and said,

“I’m not disparaging your little town; you know that, right?”

Hunk laughed and to Eliza’s surprise, reached over and tousled her hair, leaving it sticking out every which way. Stunned into silence she stared at Hunk who proceeded to pat the more disheveled hair back into place, smiled and said,

“Eliza girl, I have not the slightest doubt of your good intentions.”

Phyllis sat and observed the interaction. Finally, she seemed to remember the notepad in her hand.

“I’ve only been here at the Keep three years, but I can tell you that Almira Gulch is one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met.”

Eliza lead forward,

“Hey, Hunk!! Could you lend us a hand in the barn?”

The three looked up to see Tom Hardesty walk around the corner of the meeting-house,

“Eliza. How’re you Miss McCutcheon. Hey Hunk, we’re trying to load a truck, the lift stopped working and all I have is a winch and some halfway old guys. Could you lend us a hand? Won’t take but a minute.”

“Go, Hunk. I’ll wait here. Miss McCutcheon here is about to tell me the real story of Dorothy’s old-woman-in-the-bed.”

“The heck with that! What are we, old ladies sitting and waiting for the menfolk to do everything for us?”

Phyllis McCutcheon smiled but she locked eyes with the startled young woman from Philadelphia.

“Come with me, ‘Liza, I’ll show you a most wonderful cave in those hills up yonder, and while we walk, I’ll tell you about my friend Almira Gulch.”