The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 8

II – The Commencement of Repression

Chapter 8

Liv told Janek to board a train bound for Salem, Oregon. When he arrived at the train station it was deserted. A thick layer of dust covered the rotting wood floor. Janek’s boots stirred the dust as he walked to the crumbling ticket counter. The dim brown light seeping through the tarnished windows was suddenly extinguished. He was plunged into darkness.

Liv said, “RUN JANEK! FOR THE LOVE GOD, RUN NOW!”

His orientation was skewed in the black train station, but he turned and ran anyway. The unseen monster that dwelled within the darkness panted and scraped the floor as it pursued him. It exhaled putrid breath on the back of his neck. He was shoved to the floor with violent force. Somewhere in the darkness, a bleating voice said, “The train stopped running the day you were born! You can never go home!”

Janek sat up in bed with a start. He got up and washed his face and hands in the basin on the washstand. The mirror over the washstand reflected a healthy face. His blue eyes were bright. Whatever had been ailing him was gone. The nightmare he awakened from was the remaining residue, and it left behind an innuendo. He had to make a decision: stay in Ferndale or go to San Francisco.

He was surprised to see Niklas and Evan sitting at the table when he entered the kitchen. Their presence early in the morning gave him the impression he was being guarded.

Lise dropped the pot she was washing in the sink and frowned at Janek. “Are you sure you should be out of bed? How do you feel?”

“I feel fine,” Janek said. “I apologize for being a burden in Eureka. Thank you for your care.”

Evan dismissed it. “Abby was your nurse.”

Janek sat at the table, poured a cup of coffee, and filled his plate with eggs and toast. As he picked up his fork, two new boarders appeared in the kitchen.

Lise made the introductions. “This is Emily and Stephen Hartmann.”

Stephen Hartmann and his wife were tall, and they painted a somewhat imposing picture standing side by side. They sat at the table and helped themselves to breakfast. Stephen was a brunette with graying hair at his temples and in his mustache, which he stroked on occasion, as he explained his participation in building a new creamery. He talked on and on while his wife looked bored.

Emily Hartmann was attractive with abundant auburn hair and eyes to match. Her forty-five-year old husband was eleven years her senior. He often neglected her in favor of his many business ventures, therefore Emily sought attention elsewhere. She insinuated her intentions by wearing her necklines low and sweeping her skirts high. Many men had been lured to her bed by the enticing manner of her behavior and appearance.

Emily poured herself a cup of coffee, and then appraised the faces gathered around the table. When her eyes fell on Janek, she favored him with a lascivious stare. She licked her lips, and the corners of her mouth rose to form a vague smirk.

Evan interrupted Stephen’s monologue. “Mr. Hartmann, your stories have been fascinating. Unfortunately, I have a schooner to catch. See you all in a month.”

Much to Janek’s relief, he now had an excuse to escape Emily Hartmann’s promiscuous sneer. He walked outside with Evan. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

Evan smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. “I didn’t think you’d sneak off to San Francisco without letting me know.”

“I’ve been thinking about what you said before we went to Eureka. Maybe I have run far enough. I need to decide. I can’t go on like this.”

“A man has to have peace of mind no matter how he finds it,” Evan said.

Janek hated to see Evan leave.

*****

Janek walked to city hall to investigate the plans for the creamery and the new port on the Salt River. City hall was a small two story building that housed the sheriff’s office, the jail, and the political comings and goings of Ferndale. He saw a clerk’s window to his right as he entered. Janek described what he wanted, and the clerk brought him two large leather bound books.

“Are you one of them investors?” the clerk said. “We get quite a few coming in asking to see public records.”

Janek shook his head. The truth was he didn’t know what he was doing or the motivation behind it. He took the books to a small table in a corner of the room.

He read that a man named J.B. Kinyon was driving the enterprise for the new port.  Stephen Hartmann was one of several investors backing the new creamery. Local farmers and other investors from Sacramento were pledging funds. As he read on, an item caught his attention. There was a spacious lot for sale on Main Street. The seller was Guthrie Sullivan.

He left city hall and stopped for lunch at the Gingerbread Café. Stephen Hartmann entered the café before Janek ordered his meal. He asked Stephen to join him.

“I appreciate your hospitality Mr. Walesa,” Stephen said when he was seated.

While they waited to be served, Stephen leaned back in his chair and began his well-rehearsed rhetoric concerning his business ventures. He described The Brothers, Inc., the corporation he and his partners had formed, and their investment endeavors in Humboldt County and Northern California. Following a lengthy dissertation on his quest for wealth, he asked Janek what he did for a living.

“I’m an accountant.”

Stephen leaned forward in his chair. “Do you have experience in corporate accounting?”

“Yes. I worked for a corporate accounting firm in Salem, Oregon for two years.”

“Are you degreed?”

“In fact I have an advanced degree.”

“You don’t say? What are you doing in this one-horse town?”

Janek thought, what am I doing in this town? He said, “I provide accounting services for some of the local businesses.”

“We could use a local man to manage our accounting needs at the creamery. If you have proof of your degree and a letter of recommendation from that accounting firm in Salem, I could arrange an interview with The Brothers. Would you be interested?”

Janek was uncertain if he wanted to work for this self-absorbed and avaricious man. However,… he considered, perhaps this opportunity will move me out of the mire I find myself stuck in… He agreed to the interview.

“Good. I’ll be in touch,” Stephen said.

Janek left the café and went to Clara’s Boutique. The shopkeeper assisted him with his purchase. Then, he walked to the Sullivan house.

Abigail was sweeping leaves from the front porch when he walked up the cobblestone path to her house. The sight of him brought joy to her heart. She dropped the broom and hurried to meet him.

“Good day, Abby. I want to thank you for your care in Eureka. This is for you.”

He held a small box wrapped in pink flowered paper in the palm of his hand. Her eyes fell upon it, and she recalled his open palm awaiting the medicine for his fever. Her eyes moved to his boots then slid up his body. She beheld the physical flawlessness she saw when he was sick. All the breath left her lungs. Transcending her experiences, she saw an obscurity…an elegance. Elegance lived in the books she read not in real life, yet here it was standing in front of her. Everything about him was elegant from his dress and grooming, to the way he pronounced his words. She was spellbound.

“Abby?”

She blinked and breathed. Janek took her hand and wrapped it around the box. His gentle hands were enchanting, and they persuaded her to take the gift. She regarded his resplendent face. His hands dropped to his side, and the spell was broken.

She opened the gift and lifted a delicate tortoise shell hair comb from the box as if it were gossamer. “It’s beautiful!”

“My mother always said that a job well done should be rewarded.”

“Thank you! I’m glad you’re feeling well.”

“Please tell Mr. Sullivan I appreciate his help. I must be going. I hope we meet again soon.”

Abigail watched Janek’s tall figure recede. She recalled her father’s words, “He’s brought something with him that’s gonna change things…” She knew the change had begun.

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 7

II – The Commencement of Repression

Chapter 7

September 1872     

The schooner arrived in Eureka on Monday afternoon. The harbor pulsed with life; its heart beat to the ebb and flow of Humboldt Bay’s sacrificial offerings and weary travelers.

Janek was walking through a hive of people disembarking from a nearby clipper ship when Niklas found him and led him to the hotel.

As they entered the hotel lobby, Niklas said, “Since Evan has to stand duty on the schooner tonight, would you like to join me and my friend for dinner? The hotel restaurant has decent food and good service. I’m sure my friend won’t mind.”

Niklas’ friend was a seventy-two-year old reverend named Otto Young. He and Niklas grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania generations apart. Reverend Young was a fascinating man who spoke of his travels as a missionary and his search for spiritual guidance in the cathedrals of Europe.

Niklas and Reverend Young declined Janek’s invitation to join him for after-dinner drinks, so he sat in the hotel bar alone and drank tequila. He considered returning to Salem to face his demons in his own environment. At least people there will remember my family, and I can talk about them. On the other hand, people will expect me to behave in accordance with social mores during the bereavement period. That prospect, above all, kept him from going home.

Janek awoke the next morning with a nauseating headache, which he blamed on the tequila. He pulled himself out of bed and got dressed.

His health deteriorated during the two-hour interview at the accounting firm. When the interview concluded, he went back to the hotel and fell into a feverish sleep. It was almost evening when the banging on his door woke him up.

“Janek are you in there?” Evan said from the other side of the door. “I’m off duty. Open up!”

Janek dragged himself out of bed, shuffled to the door, and opened it.

“You look terrible! What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure. I have a headache and my stomach is queasy.” Janek sat on the edge of the bed to ward off the dizziness.

“Do you want me to find Abby? She probably has something to make you feel better.”

“I just need sleep. I know you were looking forward to showing me around tonight, but I don’t feel well enough.”

“We can do that another time. I promised I’d look after you.”

“Who did you promise?”

Evan’s forehead wrinkled in thought as he tried to remember whom he had promised.

Janek got back in bed. “Never mind, it’s not important.”

Evan’s forehead relaxed. “Aye, well I’m going to find Abby.”

As he got to the bottom of the stairs, he saw her entering the hotel lobby. She was returning from shopping carrying bundles of fabric and a bag of sewing notions.

“Give me all that, and I’ll take it to your room. Can you look in on Janek? He’s sick.”

“Of course., what room is he in?”

“220”

Abigail shifted her load onto Evan. She went to Janek’s room and knocked on the door. “It’s Abby. Evan said you’re sick. May I come in?”

Janek sat up in bed in an attempt to look less pathetic. “Come in.”

Abigail entered the room and lit the gas lamp on the bedside table.

“Evan is behaving like a fussy old woman. I’m fine,” he said.

“I’ll make that decision,” she replied. She placed the palm of her hand on his forehead. “You have a fever. Do you feel nauseated?”

“Please, don’t make a fuss.”

“It’s not a fuss. Answer me.”

“Yes, and I’m dizzy when I stand up.”

“I’m going down the street to the druggist,” she said. “When I get back, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

“I’m fine. Please don’t …”

She was gone. Janek slid beneath the sheet and closed his eyes.

Abigail encountered Evan in the lobby.

“He has a fever and with his other symptoms, I can’t tell if it’s a serious ailment so I’m going to the druggist. There’s no need for you to stay. I’ll tend to him.”

“If you’re shooing me away, I won’t be back.”

“I’m aware,” Abigail said. She knew he would get too drunk to return to the hotel. Some woman would have him in her bed by the end of the night.

Abigail returned from the druggist and went to the kitchen to make tea. She put the capsules with the medicine in her pocket and climbed the stairs to Janek’s room. When she entered his room, she saw he was shivering within the confines of a feverish sleep.

Janek’s dream was a continuous loop. Liv’s sweet voice was ominous with dire potent: go home if you want to get well.  But he didn’t know where home was let alone how to get there.

Abigail set the cup of tea on the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed. His beautiful face, ruddy from fever, glistened with sweat. She gently stroked his sweltering forehead.

“Janek, wake up.”

Amidst his dream, he sighed.

As she stroked his forehead, Abigail perceived his physical flawlessness. It distracted her to the point that she forgot why she was touching his face. If he had not awakened, her hypnotic revelation would have continued without end.

Janek didn’t recognize her at first. He blinked his eyes and said, “Abby?”

She snatched her hand from his forehead.

“I was trying to wake you so I could give you a dose of medicine for your fever.”

He struggled to sit up. The smell of the tea made him gag.

“I can’t drink that,” he said and nodded his head toward the cup.

He offered the palm of his hand. She dropped two pills into his open palm and watched as he swallowed them dry. He slid beneath the sheet and closed his eyes. Although she wished it, there was no valid reason for her to stay there after he fell asleep. She turned off the gas lamp and quietly left his room.

*****

At eight o’clock the next morning, Abigail sent a messenger to Reverend Young’s house to fetch Niklas. She needed help with Janek, as Evan was preparing to get the schooner underway. It took Guthrie, Niklas, and Abigail to get Janek’s coat and boots on, pack his bag, check him out of the hotel, and help him into a carriage.

When they arrived at the dock, Evan and Niklas dragged him on board the schooner and put him in the captain’s cabin. Abigail stayed with him during the trip home. The schooner rocked and swayed. Janek threw up until there was nothing left in his stomach.

They arrived at the mouth of the Eel River late in the day. When the schooner docked, Evan sent a deckhand to tell Lise they had returned. They used the waiting mail wagon to take Janek to the boarding house. Lise met them at the gate. She was shocked by his condition. Niklas and Evan helped him to his room and into bed.

Abigail was reluctant to leave her patient, but she was obligated to go home with her father. The Sullivans gathered their belongings from the mail wagon and walked home.

“Daddy, it was kind of you to help Janek even though you don’t like him.”

“I like him fine Abby.”

“No you don’t! You blatantly ignore him.”

“What difference does it make? He’s just passing through. In a month or so he’ll be gone and that’ll be that. Are you sweet on him?”

“Don’t try to change the subject.”

“If you promise not to keep nagging me I’ll tell you. I get this feeling he’s brought something with him that’s gonna change things around here, and I’m not sure if I like that. It’s something I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m not ignoring him. I’m sizing him up.”

Abigail shared her father’s suspicious nature, but she didn’t sense anything dishonest about Janek, but she had to admit, they weren’t well acquainted.

“Are you saying he’s a criminal?”

“I don’t reckon it’s anything like that. I told you, it’s something I can’t quite identify. Can we stop talking about this?”

“No.”

“I’m just saying there are times when we meet people who’ll have a lasting impact on our lives. I think Janek Walesa may be one of them people. It’s nothin’ more so don’t go getting all in a dither.”

“Daddy, I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say, but I’ll take your word that it’s nothing to worry about. You know I love you.”

Guthrie patted her on the back and said, “I love you too. Now, let’s get on home. It looks like it’s gonna rain.”

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 6

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 6

The Palace Saloon was crowded every Saturday night. Guthrie Sullivan stood behind the bar wiping beer glasses.

Rules and self-righteousness didn’t sit well with Guthrie, but these days he didn’t fight it much. At sixty-two, he was stocky and strong, but his lined face told the story of the harsh adult life he had chosen to live. He grew up in Yorktown, Virginia in the shadow of old world traditions, strict paternal rules, and Methodist dogma. He joined the army in 1830, much to his proper English mother’s dismay.

Guthrie left the army in 1848 and settled in San Diego, where he met a Mexican woman named Liliana. She became his companion and traveled with him when he tried his hand at gold mining. He was successful and managed to keep his fortune out of the hands of thieves.

Liliana became pregnant and died giving birth to Guthrie’s only child on January 1, 1850, in Sacramento, California. The child was a girl, and he named her Abigail. He wrote his mother to tell her he had a new daughter, and to ask for advice on the matter of babies. His mother wrote back, instructing him to have the infant baptized within the Methodist community and find either a nanny or a wife.

When she was three months old, Guthrie moved to Ferndale, California with his baby daughter. He hoped the young community would be more forgiving of a half-Mexican child than those in Sacramento. He built a modest house and found a nanny for Abigail. Guthrie was one of the first businessmen in Ferndale. Twenty-two years later, he was an old man whose life had stalled.

Abigail Sullivan walked behind the bar and poured two glasses of beer. She worked at the Palace on the weekends, and when Guthrie needed extra help. “Daddy, will you take these beers to those men at the end of the bar?”

Guthrie dropped the bar towel and delivered the beers.

In a back room, Evan and Lucas sat at a poker table with Matt O’Neill and Josef Paullo, two men with whom they had grown up and attended school. Like Evan, Matt was from an Irish Catholic family. Josef’s family was a blend of maternal Danish and paternal Portuguese Catholic. They were tall strapping men; each worked their respective family dairy farm alongside their parents and many siblings.

The men were struggling to keep a straight face. This was obviously Janek’s first poker game. If Evan didn’t do something, Janek was going to lose his shirt.

“Janek, let’s go get a couple of tequila shots.”

“If you leave the table, you’re out of the game,” Matt said. “We aren’t sitting around here waiting for you to come back. I know you Evan. You’ll get drunk and forget about poker.”

Evan was drunk. If he didn’t get Janek away from the table, he would be too drunk to do it later. He motioned for Janek to follow him. They shouldered their way through the crowd to the bar. Abigail knew Evan well. She brought two beers and set them on the bar in front of him without looking at Janek.

“Abby, have you met Janek Walesa?”

Abigail regarded all strangers in the saloon with suspicion, but she would be cordial for Evan’s sake. The person standing beside Evan made her forget about suspicion. He was beautiful.

Evan said, “Janek, this is Abigail Sullivan.”

“You’re Guthrie Sullivan’s daughter. Evan has mentioned you. I’m pleased to meet you.”

“I’m pleased to meet you too,” Abigail said, hoping she wasn’t staring or worse, blushing.

“Abby, can you bring us a couple of shots?”

She forced her eyes to shift from Janek’s face to Evan’s face. “Do you want whiskey?”

“Janek prefers tequila,” Evan interjected.

When Abigail was out of ear shot Evan said, “She’s pretty and petite with all that long dark hair. Her mom was Mexican. Most of the women in town shun her because of that, including my mother. If I married somebody it would be her. I love a woman with mystique.”

“She’s very attractive. However, I believe you would marry any woman your mother disapproved of.”

Guthrie brought the shots. He ignored Janek and said to Evan, “Me and Abby are taking the schooner to Eureka on Monday. Are you sure you can bring us back on Wednesday?”

“Aye, we’re scheduled to bring the mail back that day.”

Guthrie eyed Janek then walked away.

“Are you going to Eureka?” Evan said. “I still think you should go to the interview.”

Janek thought about his metaphoric carcinoma. He wondered if he could find a metaphoric elixir in Eureka. He said, “I’ll go.”

Abigail returned with a bottle of tequila and set it on the bar.

“This should hold you boys for a while. That boatload of prospectors who came into town today will keep me busy all night. We need a hotel in town. A lot of these men had to pay for beds on porches and in barns. It’s going to get worse when they build the new port on the Salt River.”

Evan filled the shot glasses.

“That explains why Lise is offering beds on her boarding house porches for ten cents a night,” Janek said. “Did you know about the new port?”

“Aye, they’re going to start construction in a week or so. It’s for sea-going vessels. The schooners will continue to use the docks on the Eel River.”

Janek considered what Abigail said in regard to needing a hotel in town. It sounded as if Ferndale was on the brink of becoming an important port of call.

“Janek, what are you doing? Get to drinking man!”

“I’m sorry, I was thinking.”

“Well, if you’re thinking about those two women hanging on the bar over there, forget it. You don’t want to wake up with something crawling on you that you can’t get rid of. Now, that little thing sitting at the table in the back, she’s new in town. Maybe you should introduce yourself.”

“No. You go if you want.”

“Nope not me, I tend to my personal business out of town. I don’t want some local woman thinking I’m beholden to her just because I spent time with her. I made that mistake once and I won’t do it again.”

Janek supposed if he had stayed in Salem, Sarah Williams would have expected a marriage proposal after they had sex the night of his graduation party. He was grateful for his absolution from the responsibility of marriage.

It was past midnight when Evan said, “I’m gonna go take a piss. If I don’t return in a few minutes, you may want to look for me.”

Evan made it to the back door but was unable to walk to the outhouse, so he did his business where he stood. As he buttoned the last button on his trousers, the leaves at his feet fluttered like baby birds preparing to fly. A cold vortex formed among the leaves, rising upward and spiraling around Evan’s body pulling him closer and closer to the center of its life force. With each rapid rotation it whispered, “Janek is vulnerable and weak. You must take care of him and keep him near.”