Fiction: Is Life a Curse?

Following in the footsteps of a murdered artist, William is thrilled … and a little scared.

“Um, what happened to the other fellow—the last artist?” William asked.

“He was killed,” the missionary said his eyes welling with tears.

“Oh damn. I’m sorry,” William said. Maybe things would get dangerous. A sickening thrill ran up his spine. He had nothing to lose.

“None of us could bear to replace him for a long time, but none of us are Michelangelo either.”

“Neither am I!” William didn’t want to get their hopes up.

“You’ll be fine. It’s just . . . well, Ignatius . . . he was unbelievable. It was an incredible loss for us and really put my faith to the test. It’s easy to be bitter at times.”

“Yes, life can be a curse,” William said.

“Life is NEVER a curse! Ignatius is in a better place after all.”

William rolled his eyes.

“What?” Kenyon asked.

“It’s kind of childish to believe that, don’t you think? My sister died, and she’s just gone. That’s what I believe now,” William replied.

“Now?”

“No, I mean that’s the way it is,” William said.

“You know, some folks think they feel their loved ones after death.”

“Yeah, I had that as a kid, but it was just me wishing.” William missed Eliza as much as he always had. “If I ever have children, I want a girl.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yes, it’s more than sad,” William replied. “We never talked about her much—my father did a little—the only thing he did right! I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have to go now. You know where to find me if you still want me. Thanks again and good night and all.”

William raced across the street to The Buckskin and ordered a proper drink. Was he out of his mind? No, he would not go with a bunch of hypocritical, pompous missionaries.

So what if he was comfortable here in this squalor? He ignored the fact that if he didn’t come up with cash soon he’d be thrown from his room. After a few hours, blind drunk and cut off, William stumbled back to his home. His belongings were piled out front. “Shit,” he cursed as he tripped on something and made for the door to find it bolted shut. He pounded and shouted oaths, but no one listened.

And so morning came with William curled on the landing.

“William Weldon, wake up!”

He sat up pale and bleary-eyed, forgetting where he was. “Oh. Mr. Kenyon.”

William had nothing to say. Right now he didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but he made his way down to the little pile of his things.

Kenyon found William’s Bible.

“Oh, that,” William said as he stood up, stretched and scratched his matted hair.  “It was my Uncle Simon’s—he’s gone now. Killed by Indians. You want it? I never look at it.”

“I would never take a family heirloom,” Kenyon said, handing it over. “Someday you may want to pass it down to your daughter. Was your uncle religious?”

“Land sakes, no! He was great!”

The missionary laughed. “William, tell me, do you often sleep under the stars?”

“No, never. I’ve been evicted from my lovely little home.”

“It’s perfect timing then. We need to have you sobered up before you meet the others. Come and eat,” Kenyon said.

“Others?” William looked past the missionary. “You eat a lot, don’t you? I’m not hungry.”

The missionary helped William gather his things, sifting through his new artist’s vermin-infested belongings in disgust. William struggled to stand straight.

“Mr. Kenyon, I guess I really don’t need any of this. Probably it won’t impress your friends to see that you’ve brought a vagabond.”

Kenyon looked relieved. “So you don’t want any of it?”

William pulled a threadbare shirt his mother had made from the pile. “Just this. I should bring at least a change of shirts.” He shoved it into his dirty haversack.

Kenyon cleared his throat.

“I have a few errands, Mr. Weldon.”

“Call me Bill if you want to,” William said with a quick glance before lighting a half smoked cigar.

Kenyon smiled at William’s tentative attempt at familiarity. “Anyway, you’re welcome to use my room to clean up. I’m staying at the brothel house over there.”

William laughed.

“I know, I know!” Kenyon said waving the laughter off. “During the day it’s so quiet and as respectable looking as any other place here. I got confused. Obviously I understood my error when night rolled round. There was a terrible scene with a poor girl disfigured by the pox and a drunkard,” Kenyon said.

“What happened?” William fished through his jacket, feeling for Thankful’s watch in his pocket.

“Nothing much in the end, thank God. I may not be young anymore, but I can stand against a drunk fairly well. I guess I’m hero of the whorehouse now—the perfect time to move on.” Kenyon said.

The missionary handed William the key and some money.

“What’s this for?”

“Consider it an advance, William—maybe you’d consider buying new clothes.” Kenyon tipped his hat and walked off to Matilda’s.

William turned toward the whorehouse not wanting to see Ginny. He cleared his throat and spit before slipping into the hotel and tiptoeing up the creaking stairs, almost turning left on the landing toward Ginny’s room by force of habit.

The key slid into the hole, but the door was jammed. William tried to jiggle it free quietly, but in the morning stillness his noises magnified. He heard Ginny’s door open, and groaned to himself. In the dim light, with her blonde hair hanging over her violet wrapper, Ginny almost looked pretty as she came to him. William felt broken-hearted. Why couldn’t he love her?

Ginny embraced him, running her fingers through his hair before whispering in his ear. “Billy, I’m terrible sorry about all I said.” She pushed him aside and opened Kenyon’s door. “Why are you going in this room?” she asked.

“Mr. Kenyon is a missionary and . . .”

Ginny laughed. “Oh yes, and I’m a nurse.”

“No, really he is and I’ve been hired on to work for him,” William said.

“By Alice?” Ginny asked. All work in this house came through Alice.

“No,” William replied. “No, I’m washing up, and then I’ll go meet his associates.”

“Associates? Where? Down the hall?” she laughed. “Billy, you still don’t know the way of the world yet, do you?”

William scratched his rib with a sigh. “Maybe you’re right. A missionary staying here? I guess I wanted to believe . . .”

Ginny pulled him into the room and kissed him. “Poor Billy, come sit beside me.”

“No, he’ll be back soon.”

She ran her hand over his unshaven face. “Let me take care of you. You need more than a good washing, but a shave and a haircut too.”

“No, Ginny, I don’t deserve your help.”

She went over to Kenyon’s small bag and found a pair of scissors. She turned back to him, her wrapper loose and her one arm still in its sling. As she snipped the long, gold locks, William grabbed her around the waist. Ginny was so soft and familiar, and he was afraid of everything else.

Ginny clipped away months of unclean living. Her robe slipped off, and she straddled him. “See how much I love you?”

William wasn’t sure how any of this was love. After a big night of drinks he always longed for sex, but remembered Ginny’s words about his performance and made no moves on her. He pulled the money from his pocket. “You can have it, Ginny. I owe you.”

Ginny tucked the money into her corset. Just then there was a knock at the door.

“William Weldon, it’s me,” called Kenyon.

When William didn’t respond, Kenyon opened the door to find Ginny moving off William. She greeted Kenyon casually. “Mr. Kenyon, I wanted to thank you again fer getting me out of a pickle the other night.”

“By having intercourse with this young man? I don’t see the connection,” Kenyon responded. “William, I wouldn’t have expected you to take advantage of my generosity.”

“How do I know that you aren’t taking advantage of me?” William asked, his shoulders covered with tufts of hair.

The missionary asked Ginny to leave but with amused eyes. Kenyon picked up a few books and his writing implements, tucking them into a suitcase before latching it shut. He looked William over. “Land sakes, what did you let that girl do to you?” He laughed, shaking his head. “Clean up all that hair before some story gets out that I perform strange rituals.”

“Do you?” William asked.

“Mr. Weldon, in what way could I possibly take advantage of you? As you said yourself, you have nothing.” Kenyon laughed again.

William’s face went red. “It’s just that Ginny—well—she guessed that you were up to no good—after all—this is a brothel.”

“I explained that. I never said I was particularly observant,” Kenyon said. He checked his watch. “The others should be here this morning. I’m going to wait for them outside the church.” He grabbed his bags and walked out.

William continued to pick his hair off the ratty blankets on the bed.

“Mr. Weldon, are you coming or not?”

William jumped up, tripping on the leg of the bed. “Oh, I didn’t think you’d still want me to . . .”

“When I’ve had enough of you, I’ll let you know,” Kenyon joked, but saw that the bone-thin William didn’t like it. “Let’s get you some clothes, son.”

William went white. “I-I lost the money.”

“In forty-five minutes? How?”

William scratched his sunburned, dry scalp and loose hair fell like a spring shower. He looked at his shoes. “Sir, I’m afraid I lied. I gave the money to Ginny.”

“You couldn’t control yourself long enough to forgo fornication for clothes?” Kenyon asked.

“No, it’s not that. I owed her—she’s been my friend and good to me—mostly.”

Kenyon rolled his eyes. “So you saved nothing for yourself.”

William shook his head and chanced a glance at Kenyon.

“William Weldon, you’d make a fine missionary then.” He joked but grew more serious. “Son, I don’t ever abide by liars or thieves. It’s troubling that your first impulse was to lie.”

“I’m not a liar.”

“I don’t believe that you want to be, William, and this is only a friendly, but serious, warning. If I find you in a lie, I will cut you loose right quick. Out in dangerous territory all of us must be able to rely upon each other in word and deed.”

William wanted adventure and could not stay in town any longer, but didn’t for a second believe the missionary could be relied on. He tried to hide his unbelief, but Kenyon saw it and made another mental note. He wondered if William might be tougher than the Indians to win over.

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Are You a Critic?

“Reader, I think it proper, before we proceed any farther together, to acquaint thee that I intend to digress through this whole history as often as I see occasion; of which I am myself a better judge than any pitiful critic whatever. And here I must desire all those critics to mind their own business, and not to intermeddle with affairs or works which in no ways concern them; for till they produce the authority by which they are constituted judges, I shall not plead to their jurisdiction.” Henry Fielding

I’m (sort of) on vacation and reading Tom Jones and War and Peace (Prince Andrei just had an epiphany on the battlefield about striving for glory). The above passage by Mr. Fielding made me laugh.

ellen casinoLast week we visited the Oneida Mansion (the inspiration for Buck Crenshaw’s experience at a utopian society). My husband spotted the Oneida Casino (forget the name). It seems casinos are noted for their buffets(?). We stopped by after traveling back in time (at the casino it’s as if time stands still). I think we won $.50 but we only played about $5.00. The buffet was pretty good, but can anyone explain why there’s such a thing as an Ellen slot machine?

My tendency is to criticize noisy things. Like casinos. Despite my best intentions I ended up criticizing Ellen and the fact that slot machines no longer have levers which were the only things that made casinos even remotely bearable to me (I’ve been dragged to casinos three times in my life). My husband has no great love for casinos but he tends  to take flashing lights in stride–especially if there’s a good buffet to follow. 🙂

What about you? Are you a harsh critic? An annoying kill-joy critic or a more evolved person who realizes life is just too short to spend time criticizing? I’m somewhere in the middle (I think).

 

 

 

We Live in Deeds not Years

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; 
In feelings, not in figures on a dial. 
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives 
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best. 
And he whose heart beats quickest lives the longest: 
Lives in one hour more than in years do some 
Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins. 
Life’s but a means unto an end; that end, 
Beginning, mean, and end to all things—God. 
The dead have all the glory of the world.

Philip James Bailey

**Painting: Anna Pavlova by Sir John Lavery

Holiday Gratitude: Chestnut Trees

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling,–rejoicing,–sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

LINKS:

 A GIANT AMERICAN CHESTNUT MAY BRING BACK THE SPECIES

REVIVAL OF THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT TREE

A Dentist and a Misfit

1024px-morton_ether_1846

Meet Horace Wells, a fine young Aquarian dentist (we share a birthday). The studious and altruistic Wells volunteered (at a circus) to test the effects of nitrous oxide. He felt positively nothing and was the first patient in America to be operated under ether. Shortly thereafter he began using the stuff on his happy patients, but never considered having the painkiller patented believing such a wonder drug should remain as free as air to humankind.

220px-wells_horaceHorace kindly gave a demonstration to Boston medical students but the ether was improperly administered and the patient was none too thrilled. The students and society in general cried humbug! Horace left with a heavy heart in disgrace. He gave up dentistry and became a canary salesman. Birds are cheerful little creatures.

At some point while experimenting with chloroform for a few weeks he became addicted and demented. Wells ran into the street and poured sulfuric acid over a couple of prostitutes. When Wells came to his senses he found himself in prison. He asked the guards to escort him to his house to pick up a few things–including his shaving kit.

Horace quickly administered a dose of chloroform to himself before slitting open an artery in his leg. And then he died.

1864 COMMENTARY ABOUT ETHER, CHLOROFORM AND NITROUS OXIDE

AND ON A HAPPIER NOTE, A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Dew That Goes Early Away by Adrienne  Morris

The Dew That Goes Early Away

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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ART: The Song Of The Lark

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The Song of the Lark by Winslow Homer

“Quartering the topmost branches of one of the tall trees, an invisible bird was striving to make the day seem shorter, exploring with a long-drawn note the solitude that pressed it on every side, but it received at once so unanimous an answer, so powerful a repercussion of silence and of immobility, that one felt it had arrested for all eternity the moment which it had been trying to make pass more quickly.”  Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

LINK: THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY

Taken Prisoner

A Confederate officer stood alone at a crossroad goading his horse to move on in the aftermath of the Union retreat at BULL RUN. Sensing danger he glanced over his shoulder. A Yankee raced over the field tramping the freshly cut hay. As the Yankee drew closer he struggled to pull something from behind his back. The Confederate, with heart thumping through his uniform, pulled out his revolver and took aim.

The Yankee waved a white flag,  stopping abruptly at some distance. He wavered there for a few minutes until the Confederate swore he would do him no harm. Looking to his left and then right, the Yankee weighed his options and moved forward.

The Confederate noted the man’s flushed cheeks and face not yet ready to be shaved. The boy could not be more than twenty yet he was a lieutenant from a New York regiment.

“I give my word to you, sir. If you let me go I’ll never pick up a gun again. I’ll leave at once for my father’s farm,” the boy begged.

The Confederate kept silent and the boy on his horse soon followed, resigned to his fate.

The Confederate and the Yankee may not have realized at this early stage of the war that to be a prisoner was as deadly as fighting on the battlefield, but something in the young man’s cowardice already worked on the Confederate’s conscience. We don’t know if this Confederate officer cursed the angel on his shoulder as the two men walked ten yards.

“Go back to your friends, boy,” the Confederate ordered. “One more prisoner will hardly make a difference.”

When the Confederate met his own scouts they asked what had happened. When they set off in search of the “escaped” prisoner, the Confederate officer refused to join them.*

I wonder about the young New York lieutenant. The other night I happened upon our cat devouring the skin and fat of a just killed chipmunk and was surprised to see the organs still in movement. What moving things did this young man see at Bull Run? Was he a shy boy having trouble fitting in? No. There was something of a leader in him to be made lieutenant. Did he run all the way home or just to his friends?

A Confederate officer stuck on a stubborn horse gave the New York lieutenant his life back. Like a fish released from a net there was no time for gratitude. The currents of war and blood and peace move men along with hardly a moment to consider a chance meeting at a crossroad.

Why did boys on both sides enlist? CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS Their Expectations and Experiences by REID MITCHELL presents  the uplifting and awful traits that make us human.  Mitchell shares  the forgotten stories of individual men. Each one of them (unlike fish unable to escape mere instinct) left  marks on others they  encountered only briefly and never met again.

How did that New York lieutenant live and die? His fear, his youth, his innocence touched a Confederate soldier once. The man was never the same.

*A re-telling of one of the many poignant stories written about in Civil War Soldiers.

**Image courtesy CIVIL WAR TALK

Time To Rise

A birdie with a yellow bill
Hopped upon my window sill,
Cocked his shining eye and said:
“Ain’t you ‘shamed, you sleepy-head!”

Robert Louis Stevenson

chip2

We now believe Chip is a girl . . . any ideas for a name? Somehow she’s discovered my second story bedroom window and talks to me each morning (impatiently begging for treats). In the evenings she hovers above my head as I feed the sheep (it’s kinda weird being stalked by a duck!).