Become a Fan
By Jacqueline Larson
Friday, December 13, 2002
Part One of a series, the Ironic Dance is a quilt of an interweaving saga that spans two lifetimes.
Sarah McAllister sat down at her prettily made-up table. It was to be the first dinner on her new table, only just built by her husband, Jake, who was out harvesting winter meat, trying to beat an early snow. To make the difference between comfortable, warm winter nights and a terrified struggle to survive winter starvation. “If only he were as good with a plough as he is with a rifle”, she mused. “But he is not.” Sarah set down in a gentle mass of flowered denim with lace, upon the sturdy but beautifully carved chair and quietly tapped a china cup.
Jake enjoyed the contest between himself and beast-the focus of awareness where a single moment carried success or failure, fullness or hunger, warmth or frigidity. As for the careful planting and patient mindfulness necessary for a successful harvest, Jake carried no true desire. The plough held no such seductive hold over him as the rifle. “Its all hunting in the end,” Sarah had told him. “Dumb plants ain’t not contest”, Jake grunted. So off he was again, off to his beasts to win a fight or lose. “And to starve”, thought Sarah, her fingernails were scratching the stem of china flower. “And to miss your wife?” She wondered. She sat there for some time in silent stillness; then began to glance about her table. Jake had used the wood from her favorite tree. She was not able to understand why he had chopped it down. He knew how she loved that tree. It’s branches stretched out their leaves to shade her head, as she would sit outside, during warm afternoons, mending or cracking beans; all the while, her mind cast off to distant dreams. She would watch the sunrise and set from beneath its shade, would watch Jake walk down the path away from her just as the sun began its rise over the distant mountain- tops, away to the hunt.
Sarah McAllister had waited under the shade of her tree as Markus Fleming stole her husband’s steps up the same path toward her. The rustle of the leaves were a symphony as he kissed her. They made love upon the soft cool earth beneath as Sarah grasped the trunk with her fingernails, satisfaction consumeing her. The branches of her tree had shaded all her happiness.
She remembered that afternoon just weeks ago, when she had lain upon her back on the fallen leaves afterward; watching the afternoon sun glisten like a hundred sun catchers through bountiful leaves. She saw herself watching the lights shoot like stars through the little broken symmetries of the leaves and shine upon the face of the only man whom she had felt truly loved by. He was the man who could make her laugh and feel as if she really was in the midst of all of life’s fineries. He would sit beside her on the grass and rub the sides of her feet, on her toes, so cool from the earth. Every time that Sarah had lain with him, she felt the sunset that came afterward, was somehow the whole of her true home.
She was brought back to the present by a sudden longing. She sat there, the china cup in her hand, a sudden anchor in the vastness of her regret. She sat there at her proper table and longed and longed so hard that her hold smashed the china cup and bits and pieces of it’s flowers scattered and chipped about her. Her breasts rose and fell as in the pant of one’s last breaths, as the life in her fell like petals left too long on a funeral parlor table.
Marcus Flemming had been in the town of Feather Falls for the last three weeks of his life. He had come to stealthily and with aristocratic grace, swindle the townspeople of every dime they poccessed in their bank. The disinherited son of a wealthy philanthropist, Marcus had always looked at the money his father loved to share with the poor and meek, as dollars and cents stolen from him; and he felt quite correct to steal all he could back. But if he was a thief of the fruits of Feather Falls labor, Sarah McAllister was the thief of his heart; and that was why on this September Sunday in 1849, Marcus Elias Flemming was taking the spoils of battle and bidding an early peace, withdrawing from the war. He thought of Sarah. He felt a pang that seemed to invade his marrow and settle there. “If this is what guilt feels like, I can do well without it”, he said to himself. “Never”, he thought, “Never again will I sleep with a woman who isn’t painted and paid for”. The price of his fall from the unconscionable was the sudden daydreams he experienced where he was settled amongst the green fertile lands and abundant forest with his wife and children. He dreamt of himself as the dotting father of children he happily spoiled and played with; and of a wife with Sarah McAllister’s face, that he worshiped, and to whose happiness he was devoted. And the unsettling emotions after such journeys, was not simply the regret of what he could not have. It was the longing to be that man. It was that longing he would not identify, that drove him to mount his horse quickly and when he glanced once more about the town he had swindled, he did not wink, but only missed it.
Mary Landis stood up and firmly grasped the top of the church pew in front of her. Her bonnet was disheveled over her chestnut brown hair; from all the shaking she had given her head during the town hall meeting called by Feather Falls’ Banker. She had listened to her fill of Preacher Branden’s plea for faith in God. In matter of fact, he contended, he and Mr. Flemming had prayed together for a good return on all the investments made for one East-West Interstate Co.
Mary took a deep breath and ushered forth her most authoritative voice (it worked well with her classroom) and declared “It’s time for us to stop deceiving ourselves about the intentions of Marcus Fleming and face the facts”. “He is not a friend ushering in a brighter future for Feather Falls. He is not going to connect us to the wealth of the eastern seaboard. He is not an experienced investor. We will not see our money multiply any day---It is gone. Now, we can keep a watchful eye on him, as Mr. Gainville of the mercantile has suggested, allowing his hands more time to do a thief’s work behind his back, or we can bring him to a proper and fitting justice….now!”
The folks sitting at the town hall meeting feigning as Sunday service, seemed to suddenly remember their money, coated with Flemmings’ suave promises. Suddenly the church was filled with victims and the atmosphere was electrified by uncertain murmurings. It was as if Mary McCandis turned the key that opened the door to their outrage.
“Yes! I agree!”, exclaimed Jan Lars in response to Mary’s call to arms. Lars had entrusted the better part of his farm’s capitol to the gentleman investor. “He’s too fine at what he does to not be known elsewhere---I bet we can get a good reward on his head”.
In a corner, in silence, sat Jedidiah James, the Bank Manager for the only bank in Feather Falls. He too had been swept off his feet by Marcus Flemming’s flattery and class. His ego, bruised by small town life, had only been to eager to believe Flemming’s lies and had enthusiastically urged the townspeople to entrust their savings to him. His friends and the family of his wife followed Jedidiah’s expert advice and invested heavily in Flemming’s phony enterprise. Jedidiah had not performed a proper check upon Flemming’s credentials. He knew now, for certain, what everyone else in the church felt in the pit of their guts---Marcus Flemming was a con artist. He was wanted in several eastern states. He was to meet with Sheriff Blythe after the meeting.
He wiped his forehead with his kerchief. He and everyone he knew were now bankrupt. Soon enough, they would know that he was the first fool that had in fact led them all to the destruction of the wolf in aristocrats clothing. Come tomorrow’s opening, the bank examiner would also know. His career was now ended. That night he would witness the horror in his wife’s face as he told her that her family, the wealthiest in the county, who had entrusted their moneys to her and her husband, were now bankrupt. “As bankrupt as me”, Jedidiah thought numbly.
Outside the church, he heard horses hooves. He looked out the window and saw Marcus Flemming sitting straight upon his horse, looking around him. From the distance, he seemed to Jedidiah, as the conqueror. “No.”, he said with his being, not thought. He stood up then, his whole life an obituary behind him. He walked out the door of the church without a word; the meeting a silent chamber he was unaware of. He walked into the street and strolled with the relaxed confidence of a ghost, to Marcus, as he was turning his horse and facing out toward the road leading out of Feather Falls. Flemming brought his horse to rest before James, but did not see his face, but rather his gun. The gun he wore every day, in the bank, as a protector of his patrons. There was nothing for either to say. In the span of 20 seconds, both men laid dead on the street beside a single colt 35. The future of the townspeople of Feather Falls, Oregon, was now beyond either of their power or care.
In the nightfall, in the outskirts of Feather Falls, amidst the sound of rustling trees, there was the farm of Jake and Sarah McAlister. The tragedy of the town had not yet touched them. Jake would never have given his money over to anyone. He belligerently refused to have any dealings with any bank. He used whatever profits he made on his farm to re-plant and he hunted. It was that simple.
Sarah sat at the same table; only the shreds of glass had been picked up. She sat there in the gray evening hours, stirring the tea around in her fresh cup, and did not take notice of the untouched food. The moon shone through her lace-curtained windows, casting a shadow over her white linen tablecloth. Her eyes glistened with the vision of her tree-shaded lover as he touched in the softness of her mind. Sarah did not see the shadow silhouette the moonlight drew behind her; a stick figure man holding her favorite apron in his hands, twisted into a necklace he made for his wife.
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