The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 5

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 5

 On Monday morning, Janek and Lise met in the boarding house parlor. She read his diploma and letter of recommendation.

“Mr. Doyle was taken by you and your work,” she said, handing him back his letter of recommendation. “I’m not a bit surprised.”

She tried not to stare at him. His physical beauty coupled with his gentle and educated way of speaking was intoxicating, but the attraction she was developing for him wasn’t sexual. It was something she couldn’t explain. Her heart yearned for Christer, but that feeling faded when she was near Janek.

“Why did you leave Oregon? It seems you had every opportunity there.”

Janek had not formed a credible allegory, which to him represented an acceptable lie. He had to suppress his pensive avoidance and melancholy behavior, which served to encourage intrusiveness. He feigned cheerfulness. “I needed a new start. Mr. Doyle suggested San Francisco.”

Lise nodded, but looked unconvinced.

“I know nothing about you,” Janek said, steering the topic away from his life.

She saw through his charade. “I promise not to pry into your life any further.”

Janek mentally sighed.

“My parents emigrated from Denmark over forty years ago,” Lise said. “I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. They had just died when I met Christer. We married a few years later. Christer believed we could have a better life in the West with all the land to be had for free. We had nothing keeping us in Richmond, so, thirteen years ago, we boarded a ship bound for Los Angeles and ended up here. He died two years ago. He was a wonderful man, and I miss him terribly.”

“I’m sorry. No one should be alone.”

“I have been alone and lonely, but your arrival in Ferndale has begun to mend my spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

Lise wondered what had encouraged that vagary.

Janek was looking at her, but not in an expectant manner. He looked apprehensive.

“Do you hear that?” Lise stood up. Her eyes widened a little as she cocked her head and listened. She took several small steps, stopped, and then walked to the kitchen. Janek followed her. The kitchen was deserted. The other boarders were gone for the day. There was no sound except crackling embers in the firebox.

Lise walked onto the back porch then into the backyard. Janek trailed behind her.

“There’s no one here except you and me,” Janek said. He grabbed Lise’s arm and turned her around to face him. “What did you hear?”

“I thought I heard murmuring.”

Janek thought this was an intimation of what had happened to him in the church. He looked around the yard, and then back to Lise. The last thing he wanted to do was arouse unfounded fear by mentioning his experience in the church.

They contemplated one another for a few seconds before Janek followed Lise back into the house.

*****

Three weeks later, Janek was still staying at Lise’s boarding house. He had taken on more accounting work and was meeting with Lucas Dodd, the owner of the general mercantile store, at the kitchen table when Evan appeared at the kitchen door.

“Good morning. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve letters for Janek,” Evan said.

“Good morning,” Janek said.

“I’m surprised to see you, Evan,” Lucas said. “I thought you’d be gone by now.”

Evan went to the stove and poured a cup of coffee. “The schooner’s coming to pick me up on Monday morning. I’m planning on spending this weekend drunk and unruly. Would the two of you care to join me?”

“You know I will,” Lucas said.

Lucas Dodd was twenty-six and single. He inherited the general store and the apartment above it after his father died. With no surviving family, his life revolved around the store and a few friends. He worked hard all week and spent his Saturday nights drinking and playing poker at the Palace Saloon. He was sandy-haired and tall with a slim build and had the innocent face of a boy. While he had an even temperament, if provoked, he revealed the heart of a lion. Lucas was one of the few men in Ferndale whom Evan liked and trusted.

“I’ll be on the porch,” Evan said.

“There’s no need. We’re done,” Lucas said. He stood up, gathered his papers from the table, shoved them into his satchel, and said, “I’ll see you both tonight.”

“You said you had letters for me?” Janek said when Lucas had gone.

Evan handed him two envelopes. “One of them is from Eureka, and the other is from Salem. I hope its good news.”

Janek opened the letter from Eureka.

“This letter is from an accounting firm. They want me to interview for a position. I’m not looking for something permanent.”

Evan set his coffee cup on the table. “Aye, well I think you should go anyway. I’ll be there for a few days before we start our lumber runs up and down the coast. I can show you around.”

“I’m supposed to make enough money to move on to San Francisco. I’ll be wasting someone’s time if I go for the interview. It’s not ethical.”

“To hell with that, you have to look after yourself! I don’t understand how a smart guy like you found himself near penniless. Do you think you got robbed?”

“I wish I knew.”

Evan’s voice took on a serious tone. “You know, sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe losing your money was fate. I know you’re running away from what happened to your family, but maybe you’ve run far enough.”

Janek’s heart quickened and he felt his chest tighten. “I told you about my family?”

“Aye, the day we went to the church. You don’t remember?”

Janek rubbed his chest without thinking. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t remember telling Evan something so important.

“I won’t breathe a word to anyone,” Evan said. “I know you’ve been carrying this burden with you all along. Some days it seems worse than others.”

“Do you think I’m going crazy?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I thought you were a lunatic. In fact, I’d like to see you stay for a while.”

Janek exhaled a soft laugh of relief. “I appreciate your honesty and discretion. This is not your problem, therefore, there’s no need for you to keep secrets for me.”

“I’m your friend, that’s all. I have to get back to the house. I’ll see you tonight at the Palace.”

Janek went to his room and opened the letter from Salem. It was from the law office handling the probate on his father’s will. The letter read:

 

 

September 12, 1872

Dear Mr. Walesa,

We have received your request for probate concerning your father, Aron Walesa and mother, Freya Walesa’s last will and testament. This office will be happy to represent you at the hearing that is scheduled for October 15, 1872. At the time of the settlement, we will act as your agent for the sale of the property in Albany, Oregon.

Enclosed, you will find the documents authorizing us to act in your behalf. Please sign and return them without delay. You will receive notification of the outcome of the probate hearing. If all is in order, the property will be put up for sale in accordance with the terms stated in the enclosed documents.

Regards,

Patrick Bright, Attorney at Law

Janek tossed the documents to the floor and ran his hands through his blond hair. He needed to rid himself of his constant companions: guilt, grief, shame, and loneliness. He was inundated by a state of mind foreign to his nature. It was like a malignant tumor, and he had no idea how to cure it.

There was no one he could talk to apart from Evan. The church was the only place he could hide from his constant companions. Despite his unsettling experience in the church, he decided to spend the afternoon sitting in the pew in front of the pulpit.

He walked to the church and entered the courtyard. When he touched the knob on the vestibule door, he heard murmuring. He took three steps backward and scowled at the door. The murmuring amplified into the voices of a thousand lost souls begging for a human life.

Janek rubbed his face to clear the imploration from his mind. The murmuring stopped. He contemplated the door and thought, I am going crazy.

He went back to the boarding house.

 

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 4

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 4

Reverend Niklas Arnold’s wavy light brown hair was brushed back from his strong handsome face. At six feet four inches tall, he towered over Lise Anders as he walked her home from the church. He was in love with her. Fear of rejection paralyzed his daily resolve to speak the words. He was thirty-five, and it was time to marry and have children. If he couldn’t gather the courage to tell Lise he loved her, he would have neither.

Niklas was from a large family whose ancestors emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1757. He grew up on a rural iron plantation near Carlisle, Pennsylvania where his father was the ironmaster of a large iron furnace and forge complex.

The youngest of eight children, he was a spoiled child who viewed religion as self-serving. After graduating from seminary school, he left Pennsylvania and traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to join a wagon train heading west. Six months later, in October 1868, he arrived in Ferndale.

When Niklas and Lise reached the boarding house gate he said, “What do you think of Janek Walesa?”

“I think he’s handsome.”

“He’s too young for you. You’re thirty-two, and he must be Evan’s age. I don’t think that comment is appropriate.”

“Don’t be stuffy.”

“You think I’m stuffy?”

“You can be,” Lise said. “Don’t misconstrue what I said about Mr. Walesa. He appears to be a nice young man, intelligent and polite.”

“He didn’t say why he was going to San Francisco. I wonder if he’s in some kind of trouble.”

“I don’t think so. I do think it’s strange that he has no money. Maybe he was robbed, and he’s too ashamed to admit it.”

“He said he was an accountant. I hired him to look over the church ledgers.”

“That explains why he looked embarrassed.”

“Do you think I was hasty in hiring him?”

“Are you having second thoughts?”

“No.”

Lise unlatched the gate. “Good.”

Niklas followed her through the gate to the porch. His daily effort to rally the courage to say I love you, Lise failed. Like a faithful puppy, he waited for her next move.

She turned and smiled and touched his hand. Love was written on his face, but as long as she grieved for her dead husband Christer, there would be no vacancy in her heart.

Lise opened the door. She hesitated before going in the house and looked at Niklas. “It’s baffling, but I can’t shake the feeling that Mr. Walesa needs looking after.”

This time she saw jealousy on his face. She went into the house and shut the door, leaving him to brood alone.

*****

Janek sat in the church thirty minutes before he realized he was daydreaming. For a short while, his burden of loneliness was lifted. His acute grief was softened. The after effects hung on him like delicate threads of silk.

He went back to the courtyard, took a shovel and a pickaxe from the shed, and climbed the stone steps to the cemetery. He avoided looking at the tombstones for fear he would see the wretched epitaphs of broken hearts.

He wandered among the graves until he found chalk lines around the burial site. Janek didn’t think he could dig the grave while the dead watched. Think about nothing, he thought, but that task was impossible.

A cool breeze ruffled his blond hair and tousled the leaves on the trees. The afternoon sun blinked and dimmed as clouds scurried across the sky like mischievous mice.

A sweeping view of the town of Ferndale, the Eel River Valley and the Pacific Ocean was visible from the cemetery hill. His eyes roamed the vista, watching the mice clouds leave giant mouse shadows on the landscape. How different this place was from the broad Willamette Valley where his parents and sister would sleep forever.

There would be no grave digging. He would lose his mind. He walked back to the church and encountered Reverend Arnold in the courtyard.

The reverend said, “Did you start digging that grave?”

“No, I changed by mind.”

Niklas took the shovel and pickax from Janek’s hands. “You aren’t the first man to say that. Are you up to painting the front stoop?”

“Yes.”

“Good. The painting supplies are in the shed. Mr. Walesa…”

“Please call me Janek.”

“Janek, may I ask why you’re going to San Francisco?”

“Does it matter?”

He searched Janek’s face. The only thing he saw was despair.

“You’re right. It doesn’t matter.”

*****

Janek was exhausted when he returned to the boarding house that evening. He went to bed without dinner. He had overestimated his stamina for manual labor after spending the last six months as a student at the university with no time spent working on the farm.

In the morning, he woke to the smell of coffee and bacon. He dressed and went downstairs. Lise was pouring coffee for the other boarders when he entered the kitchen.

She smiled at him. “Good morning, Mr. Walesa.”

Janek glanced at his paint-ruined shirt and stained hands. Lise set the coffee pot on the stove and walked into the hall. He followed her.

“The tub is on the back porch in the alcove,” she said in a lowered voice. “You’ll have to fill and drain it yourself. Pull the curtains for privacy. I’ll save you some breakfast.”

The other boarders were done with breakfast by the time Janek entered the kitchen. He sat at the table. Lise brought two cups of coffee, and a plate of bacon and toast. She sat across from him.

“How was your work at the church yesterday?”

“The work was satisfactory, Mrs. Anders.”

“Please, call me Lise.”

They sat in silence while he ate. She stared at him, and for the first time, she clearly saw his radiant blue eyes and refined facial features. He was the most beautiful man she had ever beheld.

Janek caught her staring. She shifted her gaze and busied herself with pouring cream into her coffee. Awkward silence hung between them. He finished his breakfast and got up to leave.

“Please, stay a moment,” Lise said, fearing he would shun her after the discomforting breakfast. “Niklas told me that you’re an accountant. I’d like to give you free room and board for the next week in exchange for going over my ledgers. If you’re interested, I may be able to get you more accounting work. My husband…I…have business connections in Eureka and Mendocino.”

Lise’s altruistic behavior was unsettling. It wasn’t only Lise. Everyone he met in Ferndale lavished him with offers of benefaction…except Guthrie, the bartender.

For lack of choices, Janek swallowed his apprehension and said, “I appreciate your offer. I can get my papers now if you like.”

“I’ll look them over tomorrow. I need to get ready for church. Are you coming to the service?”

“No. I’m Episcopalian…and…I have some matters…”

“You aren’t obligated to tell me anything.”

Their blue eyes met, and like Niklas, all Lise saw was despair in Janek’s eyes. She felt his despondency, and he recoiled from her by looking at the table. Lise wanted to say she was sorry for making him feel uncomfortable, but an apology would make matters worse.

She said, “I’ll be out all day. Sunday dinner for all my boarders is served at my other boarding house on Little River Street. My woman who oversees that location, Mary Kellen, does most of the cooking, so I have a little free time. If you want to join us, dinner is at five o’clock.”

After Lise left for church, Janek sat in a rocking chair on the front porch. He wrote the letters needed to start the process of settling his parent’s estate. The first letter was to his friend Patrick Bright in Salem. He asked him to begin the necessary paperwork and gave him the address to Lise’s boarding house. The second letter was to his former employer, Thomas Doyle. He wanted Mr. Doyle to know where he was, and that he may be using his letters of recommendation in Ferndale, Eureka, and Mendocino. He informed Mr. Doyle that he was preparing to settle the deed on the farm so he could sell it.

With his correspondence completed, Janek leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He thought about the experience he had in the church yesterday. The sharp edges of his grief were softened as he sat in the pew. He was uncertain if it was a daydream or something more spiritual, but without an explanation, the idea was disturbing.

The hinges on the gate squeaked. Janek opened his eyes and saw Evan O’Malley walk through the gate. Janek’s troubling thoughts disintegrated. Evan was a welcome sight—a tonic to keep his mind sane and in a grounded place.

“Janek! Good Sabbath to you!”

“Good Sabbath to you! Why aren’t you at church?”

Evan sat in the rocking chair across from Janek. “My family is Catholic. I got tired of asking the priest to forgive me for all my many sins so I stopped going to church. My father had a blow-up! He said I’m going to burn in hell forever.”

Janek laughed. “Burning in hell doesn’t sound promising. Eternity is a long time.”

Evan pulled a whiskey flask from his jacket pocket and took a swig from it. “I’m not worried. Want a drink?”

“I didn’t dig the grave for the reverend, but he had a lot of other work for me,” Janek said. He took the flask from Evan’s outstretched hand.

“Aye, was the pay fair?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been paid for work like that before.”

“Niklas claims the church council controls the purse strings, but I think he’s just cheap. He would’ve been digging that grave himself if he didn’t have more important things to do.”

“What do you mean?” Janek said as he passed the flask back to Evan.

“He has a crush on Lise. He thinks no one knows, but it’s obvious. If she’s there, he’s completely focused on her and what she’s doing. Digging that grave would’ve taken time he could’ve been spending with her.”

Evan passed the flask back to Janek. “Don’t get me wrong, the reverend is a good man. It’s just that I find it entertaining to watch any man fawn all over a woman who ignores his advances.”

They talked and drank whiskey for hours. Something watched them. The bond they were forming pleased the watcher.

Continued…..

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 3

I- The Catalyst

Chapter 3
September 1872

After breakfast the next morning, Janek walked to the stagecoach depot. He read the arrival and departure schedules written on the chalkboard behind the ticket counter. He started to purchase a ticket on the southbound run scheduled from Ferndale and asked, “The coach departing this afternoon only goes as far south as Mendocino?”

“Mendocino is an overnight stop. If you pay for fare all the way to San Francisco, you can stay with that stagecoach. The fare is three dollars.”

Janek took his purse from his inner coat pocket and rummaged through it several times. The purse contained exactly three dollars. How odd, he thought. When I paid Lise Anders for my room last night, I had at least three hundred dollars. “I’ll have to wait to buy the ticket,” Janek said. “I apologize for taking your time.”

He left the depot and tried to remember what he had done after he arrived in town. He didn’t want to believe he was robbed while he slept. The purse was in his coat, and his coat was draped over the foot of his bed. He was certain he had not dropped it on the way to the depot. I’m letting my grief distract me, he thought.

As he crossed Main Street, he felt a sensation likened to delicate fingertips brushing his chest. His mind lost focus and he began to black out. With great effort, he measured his breathing until his thoughts were clear. He shook his head to chase away the residue of the episode, and then continued to cross the street. On his walk back to the boarding house, he approached the Palace Saloon and went inside.

Although it was only eleven o’clock in the morning, there were already several customers. He stepped up to the bar and ordered tequila. The bartender plunked a shot glass on the bar in front of him and filled it with tequila. Janek heard someone call his name.

“Mr. Walesa! Come join me.”

Evan O’Malley was standing at the other end of the bar, smiling and waving his hand.

To Janek’s surprise, he was glad to see Evan. He joined him.

“I didn’t expect to see you in here. You’re going to get a bad reputation patronizing the Palace before noon,” Evan said, laughing. “But I guess it doesn’t matter since you’re leaving this afternoon.”

“I’m not leaving. I can’t afford the stagecoach ticket.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to have to earn the money. Do you know where I could get short term work?”

“I don’t, but Guthrie might know.” Evan shouted at the bartender. “Guthrie, do you know anyone who needs someone to do odd jobs? My friend here needs to earn a few dollars.”

Guthrie sauntered to the end of the bar. He examined Janek from his frock coat with silk facings and braided binding on the collar, to his white cambric shirt beneath a double-breasted vest that revealed a gold watch chain.

“Old man Bixby died last night. I reckon Reverend Arnold will need someone to dig that grave.”

The thought of digging a grave repulsed Janek. He felt his mind begin to lose focus, but the feeling passed.

Guthrie continued to eye Janek and said, “You look soft for a job like digging graves. You think that kinda work is gonna suit you?”

“I assure you I’m capable of manual labor.”

Guthrie snorted in response.

Janek ignored him and said, “Can you take me there, Mr. O’Malley?”

“Aye, and by the way, it’s Evan.”

“Alright then; it’s Janek.”

As they walked to the church, Evan explained that he was the oldest of four children and the only son. “I’m twenty-six and Margaret, the oldest of my little sisters is sixteen. Ellen and Eliza are thirteen-year-old twins. I had three little brothers die before my sisters were born. It was hard on my mom.

“My family raises dairy cattle. Our farm is a mile outside of town, which is where I live when the schooner isn’t running up and down the coast.”

He went on to say that he hated farming much to his father’s disapproval.

“I went up to Eureka a few years ago just to see what it was like. I spent two days wandering around, getting to know the town. I saw a schooner anchored in the harbor. There was a help wanted ad at the harbor office for a deckhand on that very schooner. I didn’t have any sailing experience, but I could read and write so they gave me the job with potential to become first mate.”

Janek’s worries dissipated as he listened to Evan.

“My father had a conniption when I told him what I’d done. He made it seem like I’d betrayed the family. He still hates what I’m doing even though I was promoted to first mate over a year ago. So where’s your family? All you told me was Oregon.”

Janek didn’t want to talk about his situation, but wondered if saying the words aloud might begin the healing process. He was uncertain if death was an appropriate topic for casual conversation.

“I’m from Albany, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. My family has a farm there.”

“Farming doesn’t agree with you either?”

“My father sacrificed a tremendous amount to put me through school. I would have continued to help out on the farm after graduation.”

“So why didn’t you?”

The fingertips returned to wisp across Janek’s chest. He blacked out before he was aware it was coming. Without his conscious knowledge, he told Evan his family was dead. He spoke of his shock and guilt, and his profound regret that he had not been there to care for them or say goodbye. When his confession was through, his world brightened, leaving him with no memory of the blackout.

*****

The First Congregational Church of Ferndale stood on the southeast side of town. The clapboard New England-style rectangular structure with rows of long windows lining each side was built in 1850. The steeple towered above the small front stoop. The front and side yards were narrow and the grass was mowed. The back door opened onto a cobblestone courtyard. Several mausoleums were nestled in the steep hillside on the far side of the courtyard. Stone steps climbed the hill to a cemetery.

Janek looked up at the steeple with uneasiness as he and Evan walked through the tall arched gate with FERNDALE CEMETERY lettered in the iron work across the top.

They entered the courtyard, and a man approached them. “Evan, it’s good to see you!”

“It’s good to see you too, Reverend. How’s the church renovation going?”

“It’s nearly finished. Lise is inside cleaning the floors. I see you brought along a new face.”

“This is Janek Walesa. He’s looking for odd jobs. Guthrie said you might need a grave dug.”

The reverend turned to Janek and said, “I’m Reverend Niklas Arnold.”

Janek reached to shake the reverend’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you Reverend.”

“What brings you to Ferndale, Mr. Walesa?”

“I’m passing through.”

“Where are you headed?”

“San Francisco.”

Reverend Arnold raised his eyebrows. “You embarked on such a long journey with no money?”

Janek mentally sighed. He was a stranger, and he supposed these people had a right to ask him questions. On the other hand, his money was lost or stolen in Ferndale, and he didn’t know whom he could trust. It wouldn’t help matters if he accused someone of robbing him at the boarding house.

“The situation is embarrassing.”

“What happened?”

“I’m an accountant, and I wouldn’t be irresponsible with money, but I somehow misplaced mine after I arrived here.”

“You’re an accountant? The closest accounting offices are in Eureka, and the fees are sky high. The church ledgers need to be reconciled. We spent a lot of money on the renovations. The church council would pay for your services.”

Janek preferred to earn money doing tasks better suited to his chosen profession, but he couldn’t understand why the reverend would be willing to put the church ledgers into a stranger’s hands. It made him feel uncomfortable.

“Reverend Arnold, you don’t know me.”

“I don’t know the accountants in Eureka either,” Niklas Arnold said, sweeping his arm as if the said accountants were standing beside him.

“I’m sure they are established and have credentials.”

“Do you have credentials?”

“Of course.”

“Then I see no problem.”

Janek was unconvinced, but he needed money and digging graves wasn’t going to pay his way to San Francisco. “When would you like me to look over your ledgers?”

“Shall we say, Monday morning?”

Janek tried to look conciliated.

Lise Anders opened the church’s back door and stepped into the courtyard. “Mr. Walesa, what are you doing here? I thought you had gone to buy a ticket at the stagecoach depot.”

Niklas frowned and said to Lise, “You know Mr. Walesa?”

“He’s staying at the boarding house.”

Niklas was relieved that Lise’s association with Janek Walesa was only business. He replied to her question before Janek could answer. “Your boarder has misplaced his money and is looking for work.”

“Oh,” Lise said. She looked at Janek. He looked away in embarrassment.

“I have to get going,” Evan said. “Mom has a list of things I’m supposed to pick up for her, and I haven’t started. See you all.”

Reverend Arnold said to Janek, “The burial site is on the south end of the cemetery and marked in chalk lines. Tools are in the shed. I’m going to walk Mrs. Anders home.”

Janek was left alone in the courtyard with his uneasiness. He thought of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church where he and his family had worshipped in Albany, Oregon. As children, he and Liv had been relegated to the youth room where they learned Bible verses and the liturgy. It was a comforting memory from a time when life held abundant happiness.

Perhaps, there is solace to be found in this simple church, he thought. He went inside through the back door and found he was in a vestibule. Coat hooks and benches lined the walls on his left and right. He opened the vestibule’s inner door and stepped into the church.

The inside of the church was as plain as the outside. The pulpit was to his left. A large crucifix hung on the wall behind the pulpit. A long aisle, flanked by thirty rows of shining wooden pews, ran through the middle of the church from the pulpit to the front door. The long windows gleamed and flashed as he walked down the aisle.

He sat in the pew nearest the front door and closed his eyes. A spiritual presence lured him into darkness, and the feeling of the wooden pew beneath him receded.

*****

Evan O’Malley returned to Main Street. He loaded his wagon with supplies from his mother’s list and drove home. As he rode, he thought of the painful admission Janek had made on the way to the church. Janek’s facial expression and the tone of his voice exuded desolation. Experiencing intense emotion from another man was foreign to Evan, and in his opinion, repeating those tormented words to anyone would be profane.

He knew the majority of people in Ferndale, but he was close with only a handful of people whom he trusted. He preferred Eureka with its saloons, and the ladies who frequented those saloons. The ladies loved Evan’s lean muscular body; his charm and attentiveness; and his sparkling green eyes. He and his schooner mates were known to spend entire days in a saloon, drinking, carousing, and sometimes getting into brawls. After a day like that, without exception, he continued drinking with a woman or multiple women, who appreciated his stamina to fuck them most of the night.

Despite all the drunken sprees, Evan had the wisdom to forge relationships with businessmen and politicians who patronized the saloons in Eureka. He envisioned owning a schooner one day, and he would need professional backing to reach his goal. As a result, he built a reputation for discretion, sitting in the saloons, drinking with bankers and lawyers who were liars and cheaters, and listening to their woes without comment.

Thinking of Janek on his ride home, he discovered something he knew little about: sympathy. His father, William, was a hard-hearted Irishman with no patience for emotional displays. Sympathy was a rare commodity in the O’Malley household.

Evan resolved to keep Janek Walesa and William O’Malley from meeting.

Continued…..

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 2

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 2
August 1872

The solitary ride back to Salem devastated Janek. He stayed in his apartment, slept little, ate nothing, and drank excessive amounts of tequila. Death wasted his days and exhausted his sanity. When he did sleep, he dreamed of flies crawling on rancid dead bodies rotting on the back porch. When he was so drunk that he couldn’t stand up, he sobbed until his throat hurt and his eyes burned. Eight days later, he realized that he had to decide what to do with his life.

He arrived at the office of his employers, Doyle and Stromburg, at ten o’clock in the morning. Before he went inside, he dissembled his grief and put on the guise of his profession.

“I’ve come to discuss your generous job offer,” Janek said when he was seated in Thomas Doyle’s office.

“You have come to turn down the position. Am I right?”

“Yes.”

“I thought this might happen after your family passed.”

Janek was surprised to hear his family’s death was common knowledge. No one had come to his apartment to offer condolences.

“Are you thinking of leaving Salem?”

Janek nodded.

“Have you a destination in mind?”

“No.”

“I can recommend some accounting firms in San Francisco that are looking for good people. It might do you good to get as far away from here as possible.”

Janek stared at Thomas. San Francisco? That seemed drastic.

“I have to settle my parents’ estate and sell the farm.”

“Those things can be handled by correspondence. Your friend Patrick Bright is an attorney. He can take care of everything.”

Janek looked at the floor and said nothing.

“I know this is a dreadful decision, and I know you are suffering. You have as much time as you need to think things over.”

“I don’t … have time. I can’t stay here.”

“Then it is settled.”

Janek looked at Thomas.

“I will have the appropriate letters drawn up today and delivered to your apartment. I am sorry about your family. No one should have to endure such a tragedy. Stay in touch and let me know how things work out for you. There will be a position here for you if you decide to return.”

Thomas’ compassion touched Janek’s despondency. He wiped at a rouge tear. “Thank you. I won’t forget your kindness.”

*****

On Tuesday, August 20, 1872, with two carpetbags and the letters of recommendation from Thomas Doyle, Janek Walesa boarded a train on the Oregon and California Railroad. The train took him to the end of the railway line in Roseburg, Oregon. He wrote letters to Patrick Bright and the Wilkersons saying he was going to San Francisco and would be in touch. He mailed the letters at the train station in Roseburg.

From there, he paid for passage on a merchant wagon train bound for Eureka, California. The wagon train turned westward at the California state line, then south down the coast. Janek talked to no one unless it was necessary. Guilt and grief demanded his attention. They were his sole companions until shame pointed out his weaknesses and taunted him for leaving his dead family behind in graves few if anyone would visit.

His mind wandered.

“Come here and see your baby sister,” his mother said. She held what seemed to five-year-old Janek to be a bundle of blankets in her arms. He wasn’t sure what to think about a baby sister.

“Look, Janek! I caught a butterfly!”

He looked at his four-year-old sister’s out stretched hand. A small yellow butterfly rested on Liv’s palm. Its delicate wings were still.

“Be careful not to crush it.”

“I will!” Liv said and laughed as she skipped away to a place Janek couldn’t see.

Aron handed him a hammer. “This is why you’ll go to college son.”

“What does this have to do with … Father?”

*****

The wagon train arrived in Eureka, California on the morning of Friday, September 6, 1872. Eureka was a bustling lumber town on the coast, near Humboldt Bay. Clipper ships and schooners filled with people who were looking for investments or work arrived at the docks daily. Eureka and the surrounding areas offered opportunities in mining, logging, and fishing. Cruise ships originating in Portland, Oregon docked in Eureka on their way to points south.

Eureka’s ebb and flow of teeming hordes made Janek uncomfortable, and he heeded his urgency to escape. The next stagecoach departure was scheduled for Saturday morning. The overnight wait was more than he could bear, so he went to the harbor in search of another means of transportation. The only vessel offering passage was a schooner preparing to sail south to a small town called Ferndale. Janek leaned against the rail on the schooner’s stern and watched the blue water rush by.

Suddenly, he heard someone say, “Where’re you headed?”

He turned and saw a man, smiling. The man appeared to be the same age and height as Janek. He had green eyes, and his long dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck.

“Are you speaking to me?” Janek said.

“Aye.”

“San Francisco.”

“Never been. I’m Evan O’Malley, the first mate on this schooner.” He thrust a hand toward Janek.

Janek shook Evan’s hand. “Janek Walesa.”

“Where’re you from?”

Janek didn’t want to have a conversation with this man, but etiquette required an answer. “Oregon.”

Evan nodded and grinned. “I’ve been to Portland many times. There’s plenty to do there if you know what I mean.”

Janek had no idea what Evan meant. He remained silent.

“What kind of work do you do?”

“Corporate accounting.”

Evan whistled and let out a little chuckle. “You went to college?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t like math. It takes too much concentration.”

Janek supposed a response was required, but he was given a reprieve when the captain called for his first mate.

Someone shouted, “Arriving in Ferndale!”

Janek saw a rocky shoreline ahead and the mouth of a river to his right. The schooner slid in silence up the Eel River toward a dock where several smaller boats were moored. After he disembarked, he stood on the dock and wondered how he was going to get to Ferndale.

Evan jumped onto the dock and said, “Follow me.”

Janek picked up his bags and fell into step beside Evan.

*****

Ferndale was more settled and prosperous than Janek expected. Main Street was lined with businesses as well as a post office and city hall. Dodd’s General Mercantile Store was one of several ornate storefront buildings.

Janek said, “I need somewhere to stay tonight.”

“That’s where we’re going,” Evan said. “I have a friend who runs a boarding house.”

They entered a neighborhood east of Main Street. Janek noticed a church steeple protruding above the roof tops. He kept glancing at it. Evan stopped and opened a gate in front of a large white house with a widow’s walk on the roof and a sign on the door that read:

The Old Virginia Home
Lise Anders
Proprietor

Evan entered without knocking. Janek remained on the front porch. He heard Evan calling for someone inside the house. A feminine voice answered, and then a woman in her early thirties opened the door.

“I’m Lise Anders. Evan tells me you need a room for tonight. Come in and I’ll get you settled.”

Evan was standing in the entryway when Janek followed Lise into the house.

Janek said, “Thank you for your help, Mr. O’Malley.”

“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Walesa,” Evan said as he opened the door to leave. “Oh, a southbound stagecoach comes through here tomorrow afternoon. I thought you might want to know.”

Lise Anders led Janek into the parlor. “Please sit down.”

Janek sat in a chair in front of a small desk and watched Lise unlock a desk drawer. She was average height and small boned, but her slim waist accentuated the curve of her hips and full bust line. Her soft features and blond hair and blue eyes reminded him of his mother.

Lise removed the registration book and a key from the drawer. She opened the book and slid it across the desk to Janek. “Write your name and home address,” she said, handing him a pen.

He stared at the book. Is this what I have been reduced to—a homeless man?

“Is something wrong? Surely you can write.”

“I have no home address.”

“Well then, just write your name. The room is one dollar a night, which includes breakfast and dinner.”

Janek paid Lise.

She led him upstairs to his room on the second floor. “Dinner is at six o’clock in the dining room. Will you be eating with us tonight?”

“No.”

“Breakfast is served between seven and nine o’clock in the morning. I’m sure you’ll be hungry by then. If you need anything in the meantime, you can find me in the kitchen.”

When Lise had gone, Janek stripped off his clothes and lay on the bed. His familiar companions guilt, grief, and shame joined him. Loneliness consorted with this miserable group. He wondered what his real motive was for leaving home. Sorting through his emotions with his companions interjecting their opinions was exhausting. He dropped off into a dreamless sleep.

Continued…