II – The Commencement of Repression
The First Congregational Church of Ferndale stood silent, draped in the tree-cast shadows of late afternoon. No one was around, but the church was not empty. A soul suffering from an unrequited human life lurked among the pews and in the dark corners of the church. It was only a shadow of what it had once been.
Its life force took shape thousands of years before at a time when few humans walked the earth. Innumerable souls waited for their promised predestination as mankind reproduced in abundance. Each soul elated when their seed was conceived and planted within its mother’s womb.
The years passed and many disparate souls were dispossessed of their consummated destiny. They existed in a state of undesirable despondency that enfeebled their life force, making their seed less seductive and harder to descry.
Some lost their life force altogether, as they no longer remembered why they existed, and imploded like a star under the weight of its own mass. Some strayed from their karma; settling in desperation for a lower order life form.
Others drifted, which left them destitute of the characteristics and emotions needed to sustain a human life. The shadowy life force lurking in the church was one of those souls. And it was delusional.
It believed within its vaporous heart that the characteristics and emotions needed to sustain a human life persisted. This soul imagined it possessed a superior form of love, and a stalwart ability to protect a fragile human body. It learned mankind’s vulnerabilities, and the effortless art of exploitation.
It learned it had the power to take what it lusted for: the body and soul of a transcendent human being. The arrival of that soul would, at long last, set it free. Janek Walesa was that soul.
After leaving Abigail’s house, Janet went to The First Congregational Church. With Evan gone, he had no one to talk to. He hoped that Niklas would be able to help him sort out his confusion.
He was confident when he woke that morning that he had defined a good place to begin by educating himself on development in and around Ferndale. As the day waned, he found himself in a state of emotional confusion because he did things for reasons he couldn’t discern. The worst assumption was accepting Stephen Hartmann’s invitation to an interview, and believing the opportunity would impel him in the right direction.
He felt like a castaway on a deserted island who would die from loneliness long before he had a chance to starve to death. He needed his mother’s advice and comfort; yet his mother’s death was the source of his loneliness and confusion. The irony couldn’t have been crueler.
To his chagrin, Niklas wasn’t in the church. Janek would have to peruse the day’s events on his own. The last time he was at the church, he heard murmuring when he reached to open the vestibule door. The recollection of that incident made him feel uneasy. Nonetheless, he sat on the first pew in front of the pulpit and focused on the crucifix on the wall. He was afraid to let his eyes roam for reasons he couldn’t define.
“Mother, are you here?”
The sound of enormous wings threshed in the nebulous rafters. He was tempted to search for the source of the sound, but he kept his eyes on the cross.
“Mother, answer me!”
A down draft whooshed through the church as Anguish dived from its hidden perch among the rafters. He threw his arms over his head and ducked. It ensnared him in its talons, and its cruel beak crippled his ability to think.
“MOTHER ANSWER ME!”
Anguish was devouring the memory of why he had come to the church.
Freya’s voice resonated. “I’m here son.”
Anguish released him and returned to the dark rafters. Janek waited until his breathing slowed to normal before he said, “Why didn’t you answer me?”
“I’m here now.”
“Can’t you understand what my grief does to me?”
“I understand it frightens you, and you have no defense against it.”
Anguish had succeeded in damaging the memory of why he had come to the church. He groped his mind to retrieve what was forgotten.
“You’re crippled and confused son. You’ll have no defense from your grief unless you heal.”
“I don’t know how to heal.”
“You must stay here. If you leave this place you will die of a broken heart.”
“They must care for you.”
“Those around you.”
“I haven’t told them what happened to our family.”
“They won’t understand how I feel.”
“They don’t need to understand. They need to love and protect you.”
“I won’t ask people I hardly know to do that.”
“There’s no need to ask.”
All in one moment, Janek sensed his mother had gone, and his sobs for her resounded in the church. The darkness enveloped his mind in its celestial arms. It ingested his cognition and suffocated his memories. When his sobbing abated, he saw a harrowing shadow within the darkness.
Janek sat in a rocking chair on the porch drinking tequila. The parlor windows behind him shimmered with pale yellow candlelight. Drizzle blurred the hedges beyond the fence and suppressed the sounds of the windless night. He relinquished the feeling of isolation nights like this induced. There was something more pressing.
He had decided to stay in Ferndale.
The frightening experience he’d had in the church was placing doubt on his decision. Something or someone other than his mother was in the church. The strange darkness soothed his anguish, but there was something horrifying within that darkness.
If I leave Ferndale because of what happened in the church, I’ll continue to run from grief and fear the rest of my life. The solution seemed simple. Avoid the church.
But he knew that was a lie. It wasn’t that simple.
The latch on the gate clicked open, and the hinges whined. Lise and Niklas walked through the gate. They were returning from Sunday dinner at Lise’s boarding house on Little River Street.
He set his tequila bottle on the floor beside his chair.
“I have dinner for you,” Lise said to Janek. “It’s cold so …”
“Thank you, Lise. Do you and Niklas have a moment to talk with me?” Before I lose my nerve and take the next stagecoach to San Francisco. If I tell someone, it will validate my decision and I’ll have to stay.
Niklas and Lise raised their eyebrows at one another.
“I’ve decided to stay in Ferndale.”
Lise touched her chest and sighed. Her dead husband, Christer, had come to her in a dream and told her that Janek would stay. She was terrified he was wrong.
Janek glanced at Lise before he said, “I have an interview for an accounting position with the new creamery.”
“I doubt the idea of working for the creamery has inspired you to give up your quest for San Francisco,” Niklas said with mild amusement.
Janek wasn’t sure if he had given up his quest. “I was at city hall a few days ago looking over public records. I noticed Guthrie Sullivan has a lot for sale on Main Street. Do you know anything about it?”
“It’s been for sale for twenty years, and it’s overpriced,” Niklas explained. “I think the old man doesn’t really want to let go of it. The original Palace Saloon was built on that site, but it burned to the ground four months later.”
“Why didn’t he rebuild there?”
“Guthrie doesn’t discuss his personal decisions with anyone except maybe his daughter. He used to own several parcels of land on Main Street.”
“I had no idea he was a man of means.”
“He was successful at gold mining back in ’49. Are you interested in buying that lot?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you’re interested, you’d better brush up on your power of persuasion. Guthrie’s obstinate, to put it mildly.”
Lise said, “I’m going to retire early tonight. Janek, your dinner will be in the kitchen if you want it. Good night.”
“Are you feeling all right, Lise?” Niklas asked as she opened the front door.
She didn’t look at him when she said, “I’m fine.”
Niklas stared through the parlor windows for a few seconds, trying to decide if he should follow her inside. He preserved his dignity and bid Janek good night. On the sidewalk, he stopped and looked back at the porch. Janek was gone.
Niklas suspected there was something between Janek and Lise, and Lise had confirmed it. She wasn’t shy in regard to voicing her opinion. Tonight, she seemed distracted as if she was keeping a secret. Her lack of reaction to Janek’s decision to settle in Ferndale led Niklas to believe she was privy to that decision.
He walked home to the vicarage next door to the church. He got the bottle of whiskey hidden in his desk drawer, and then sat on an old tree stump in the backyard. The cemetery seemed to watch him from the steep hillside behind his house. The full moon illuminated the tombstones and cast sharp shadows through the trees.
He swigged whiskey and focused on his jealousy. Lise would not acknowledge his amorous advances, yet she looked at Janek Walesa as if he were a divine being. She shielded her feelings for Niklas behind claims of mourning her dead husband. He was certain it was an excuse to avoid a romantic relationship with him.
A passing cloud eclipsed the moon, smearing the sharp shadows in the cemetery. A breeze sighed and rustled the trees; their leaves murmured an antiphony. Niklas listened to the peaceful exchange. The latch on the cemetery gate disengaged with a resounding clank. Niklas set his bottle of whiskey on the ground and looked in the direction of the gate.
Something vaporous brushed his cheek. Murmuring words said, “Look past your jealousy and you will see.”
Niklas was neither alarmed nor afraid.
“Love is many things,” the breeze moaned.
A tear escaped the corner of Niklas’ eye. He didn’t expect this, but he realized he should have.