II – The Commencement of Repression
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?”
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?”
“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.”