We’re celebrating Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary, and I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Through June 10th, there will be a new post from a different guest each day, culminating with a new, full-length short story by yours truly. I hope you enjoy my guests’ work as much as I do, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens during the NEXT year.
[Today’s Guest Blogger is Stacy Stephens. She was born in Omaha’s Near North Side, spending much of her early childhood in the same neighborhood where Malcolm X had spent his. However, she spent her adolescence in Gerald Ford‘s old neighborhood, her family having moved out of the aptly misnomered Pleasant View Housing Project.
Like Henry Fonda, she graduated from Omaha’s Central High School, where she attained the rank of Cadet Corporal in , and got good grades in the classes she liked. During and after High School, she worked a number of food service and telemarketing jobs, finally settling into a retail position at a locally owned pharmacy, ultimately becoming manager of retail merchandise, over-the-counter pharmaceutical products and liqour before marrying, having a child, and divorcing.
While raisng that child, she attended the Omicron Delta Kappa. She majored in Secondary Education Language Arts, graduating with a 3.08 GPA. Her formal writing classes included Journalism as well as Poetry and Fiction Studio., where she was elected to Student Senate three consecutive years, made twice, and was selected for membersip in
You can find her online at http://www.msstacy.com]
“He paused as if,
though this was too dark a chapter to be gone into,
it must have its place,
its moment of silent recognition.”
“A Lost Lady”
I don’t suppose it would be correct to say that David had returned from the Yukon. He had been there, had set out among thousands of others hoping to find gold in the wilderness, and found only wilderness. He had given up everything, which in his case probably wasn’t much, to invest in corn meal and back bacon, picks and pans, canvas, rope, tent pegs and a mule, which he ate before spring came. Having thus survived the winter without profit, other than experience, he again gave up everything and made his way south once more, his wherewithal being adequate to bring him no further than Black Hawk, Nebraska, which was nowhere near where he began. So he had not returned, but only found himself here.
Among those who bothered to hold an opinion of him, he wasn’t considered much of a man, but what man is? That’s only my opinion. He might be called wiry, if the speaker were polite or had nothing to imply. Otherwise, he’d be called wispy, to suggest a delicacy which might approach criminal behavior of a sexual character given the right wrong circumstances. This is, once again, only my opinion, but I had always sensed the fragrance of sour grapes when any man spoke of him like that. Whether he was too innocent or too discriminating to accommodate the rough-cut pansies who fancied him, I couldn’t be sure; I could only be certain, when they spewed their vitriol, that he had spurned them, if not naively, then gently. And none of them seemed ever to realize that their sinister implications cast more profound aspersions on their own characters by inference than they were casting on him. It’s only the man who burns his lips on a tin cup who complains about the coffee being too hot.
“Some day, Edna,” David said to me one spring morning as we rode out to mend fence, “I’ll have put enough by to invest in a shop in town.”
“A shop?” I asked.
“Reckon I can sell dolls,” he explained.
“And trains of cars for boys.”
“You mean a toy shop?”
We stopped at a post without barbed wire and began looking. If it had merely worked loose, we could just hook it to the post again. If it had broken, we’d have to splice it back together with a strip of new wire joining the loose ends. If it were entirely gone, we’d have to string up a new length from the previous post to the next one. It’s the kind of work where strength is wasted. You just need the dexterity to use pliers with gloves on your hands.
“Can’t people order toys from a catalog?” I felt compelled to ask. The proposed venture struck me as inherently risky.
“Of course they can,” he replied, reaching down to grasp a snarled strand. He gripped it just loosely enough to let it slide through his glove as his horse crept along. “Whoa!” he instructed the horse as he came to the end of it. “Cut me yea much,” he instructed me, tilting his head to indicate the distance to the next post. He didn’t have to tell me to add the extra length needed for twisting the pieces together. “But just imagine a girl actually seeing her dolly in a window,” he went on with our discussion as I snaked the vicious wire from its spool. “Not just a little ink drawing on paper.” He paused as I cut the fresh strand. When I handed it to him, a loop raised high above our heads and our horses, he resumed. “Think any daddy won’t buy his little girl a dolly once he sees her eyes light up?”
I had never had a dolly. My eyes had never lit up when I looked at one. Still, I could see his point, and knew it was valid. He might not have found gold in the Yukon, but he had learned how to prospect. He had the splice knotted tight.
“And I reckon I can put a train of cars in the window,” he added as he nudged his horse toward the post, pulling the wire taut.
“What makes them toy trains go?” I asked.
“Alcohol burner,” he grunted as he cinched the wire around the post. “The locomotive is a real steam engine.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Sure,” he admitted as we moved on. “That’s why little boys love ‘em.”
He knew his product and his clientele. How could he fail?
“Then I figure I’ll find me a good Christian woman,” he added, almost as if it were the moral of his story. He’d never said or done anything that gave me the impression he would know what he ought to do with a woman, although it was clear that if he wanted a man, he would have had one by that time. Perhaps he believed the sort of woman he hoped to marry could guide him into the uncharted waters awaiting him, or perhaps it was truly a matter of still waters indeed running deep. Although I was a bit curious about this, it was really no concern of mine.
* * *
Eli McNichols had arrived in Black Hawk when I was still a child. I assume his arrival had something to do with a potato blight, although my grasp of history is imperfect and indistinct. I only know that while he found no particular advantage in being Irish, his being Catholic was no detriment to him, either. The protestants of the County, divided into several congregations, lacked the political clout contained in the County’s single large and united Catholic parish, which elected him sheriff once he marshaled it behind him, not long after his naturalization. He then learned that by exercising his authority regularly, he could keep it strong. It was often observed that while the Governor commanded the militia, Eli commanded respect. Accordingly, no one remarked on his bride simply arriving on the Burlington, having departed Ireland at his instruction and expense some weeks earlier, other than to say that she was lovely. She was, of course, covered with damp soot, but this standard veneer of rail travel scarcely detracted from her obvious charm.
“Sure an its a warm reception your town’s folk are giving me, Eli,” was the first thing I heard her say. I was struck by her Irish way of rhyming “warm” with “arm.” We had all come to see her, not only out of curiosity, but from a wish to avoid explaining to Eli why we hadn’t done him the honor of welcoming his fiancee.
She looked still more beautiful the next day, at her wedding. Her dress, which was sparkling white and had arrived in town several days before she did, was rumored to be no less than nine yards of the finest silk available.
Even if Eli had been a lesser man in the county, it’s unlikely that anyone would have talked much about Alice’s increasingly obvious clumsiness. It went without saying, generally, that the bruises and black eyes revealed a propensity toward walking into half-open doors in the darkness, and that she ought to be more careful.
* * *
It was well into summer when, on a
We couldn’t quite hear what she said, but did see Eli raising his hand, drawing it back. As he did this, his head turned, and he saw us behind them. He lowered his hand.
“Mind yer lip,” we heard him say.
David trembled, and I realized that I had never seen him angry before. When we stopped to unhitch the horses, Eli and Alice continued on their way.
“Ought to be a law,” David said as he shook the reins.
“If there were,” I observed, “we could hardly expect him to arrest himself.”
“Whoa up,” he said to the horses when we were at the church. Mother and Father got in, and we said nothing more about it.
* * *
It was a few weeks later that we saw the badger.
We had just finished dinner. Mother was pouring coffee. Although the day was hot, it’s never too hot for coffee after dinner.
“What ails that creature?” she asked suddenly, gazing with an uneasy intensity at something outside. I stood and looked. A badger, having emerged from the shallow draw beyond the yard, was ambling toward the house. At night, this might be only slightly strange, but in the heat of the noonday sun, the best explanation and certainly the safest assumption was that the animal was in the earlier stages of rabies. At once, I had my rifle loaded and was soon outside, quickly kneeling and firing as soon as I had my aim.
The badger flew backward, flipping in the air and landing several feet behind where he had been. Already, David had brought a shovel.
“If I’d had you in the Yukon with me,” he said as he began digging a firebreak around the carcass, “I wouldn’t have had to eat my mule.”
“Do you even have a gun?” I asked.
“Just a pistol,” he told me. “The only thing I brought back from the Yukon, besides the clothes I was wearing.”
After putting my rifle away, I fetched a tin of kerosene, soaked the animal down, and put a match to it. We watched it burn from a comfortable distance, and that evening we turned the earth over on it to a depth of a few feet.
* * *
After the incident with the badger, it occurred to me that since rabbit tastes like chicken and their fur does fetch a small price, I could prolong the lives of our best layers and help David put by a little for his toy shop while keeping in practice with my rifle. We began hunting rabbits. I’d shoot them, he’d skin them and dress them, and my mother would cook them.
On toward Autumn, we had accumulated a large number of pelts, and the night of the Czech festival, David figured there would be several people on hand to buy them, although we would have to wait until late, since nobody would want smelly rabbit hides with them all evening. By that time, his buyers would also be drunk, which would doubtless enhance his negotiating skills.
We were riding into town, each with a pile of skins across our horses’ flanks, when we saw a couple walking in the moonlight, going away from the activities. We knew, when we heard Eli’s voice carrying, that it was him and Alice. We couldn’t make out what he was saying, but could tell that he was drunk and surly. We heard the impact of his fist on her cheek just moments after we saw her sprawling away from him and stumbling to keep her feet. Instantly, David was at the gallop. I reined my horse in and dismounted, noticing then that my rifle, in the saddle holster, was still loaded.
I saw David’s pistol sparkle in the moonlight. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I heard Eli.
“Are ye daft? This is the twentieth century, boy. This is nineteen-aught-three. We don’t have gunslingers here anymore.”
A number of people were hurrying out from a brightly lighted barn, where there was still some dancing going on.
David spoke again.
Eli replied, “As ye will, then.”
I saw moonlight flash on the barrel of his gun. There were shots, I saw splinters fly from the side of the barn, above everyone’s heads. The breeze dispersed them behind the crowd, from the midst of which came several screams.
Eli lay on the ground.
In just a few moments, it was known that he was dead. Holding his pistol between his fingers, David surrendered it to one of the men nearby. Several of them escorted him to jail, where he waited with them until a deputy could be sworn in to officially arrest him.
* * *
The jury, made up of Presbyterians and Lutherans, couldn’t see hanging David for shooting an Irishman. The argument his attorney presented allowed them to consider it as a crime of passion, what with Alice being so strikingly beautiful, and they found him guilty of manslaughter, sentencing him to ten years. The circumstances having occurred in full view of the public, there was no autopsy, or even a careful examination of the body. So it was never known that David had, in fact, hit the broad side of a barn. The fatal bullet had been fired from my rifle.
[It’s me again. I hope you enjoyed this great story as much as I did – be sure to swing by Stacy’s site to say “hi,” or catch her on “The Twitter” at http://www.twitter.com/msstacy13.
Coming up tomorrow: another great short story!]