Memories of a War & Short Stories
by Avery L. Weeks


"Everything on earth
is but the dust of fallen
stars, and man himself
was once inside a star."

It was the end of the 'sixties. The flower children were fleeing the streets of San Francisco, seeking refuge in the small mountain towns of the Sierra Nevada.

 

 A FUND FOR JAMIE

by Avery L. Weeks

 

     The late November wind blew cold through the meadow grass. Faded sunlight filtered through the burned and bronzed oak leaves where Jard sat, his head tilted. A sweet melody rode the chilled breeze.

Jamie was in the meadow -- flowing mother-hubbard, long brown hair caressing the rounded buttocks. Her Husky dog Josie followed, worrying the fussy ground squirrels as they darted from one burrow to another. Jamie walked erect, her knapsack across her shoulder, the slender fingers of her right hand running up and down the slate-colored flute she held to her mouth.

The old stone house where she'd lived for the summer squatted unmolested by time behind the aged apple and pear trees across the meadow from the main house where Jard Simpson lived. That ancient hybrid of a structure -- half Victorian, half Swiss-Alpine -- hand constructed by Jard's grandfather, had silently watched three generations of Simpson live, hate, love and die. Now the old man was the last. The family burial place lay over the rise, beyond the barn, it's graves overrun with wild rye, thier fences sagged and rotted.

Ominous black clouds converged on the peak behind the big house, and rain seemed imminent as Jamie approached.

"Hi! Need help on anything? Here's an apple crisp." From her knapsack she extracted an oval baking dish heaped with a deep golden crust. "Sorry it's burned a little -- the late summer wood makes that old stove too hot." 

Jamie appeared up the muddy road leading into the ranch in April, accompanied by a huge calico-colored bitch dog buffoonishly coated in black, white, brown, orange, amber, red and grey, a mutant Alaskan malamute. Jamie's ragamuffin clothes were wet from rain, her skirt trailing in the red clay.

She asked if she might live in the old stone house -- damp and dark, one rusted wood stove, no running water, hardly fit for occupancy; but her delight with the place moved Jard to let her stay. Now, with winter coming on, he wondered where she'd go.

"This might be the big storm of the season, Jamie, and folks have frozen in this country."

Jamie, oblivious to the reality of her situation, maintained, with great intensity, that the Lord would watch out for her. "Hadn't he brought me here to this," she gestured, "God's country, the apples, pears and wild berries -- where one can live off the land." "This," she declared, with wide eyed conviction, "is truly paradise. I shall stay. The Lord will not let me suffer."

With Jard, religious rhetoric was either nonsense or pious hypocrisy, but Jamie's appalling trust in things where the Lord was concerned saddened him.

He knew the town folks used her obsession to gain advantage over her. Both girl and dog were a symbol of derision on the village streets They made fun of her reverence for life, laughed when her eyes avoided the ubiquitous deer hunters with their prey. Many people, in her presence, projected mock sorrow as they smashed the juicy green summer flies, and when they spoke of slaughtering the spring calves, she fell strangely silent. But Jard began to catch shadings of warmth in some conversations. More and more it was "Jamie" now -- less and less "that Hippy."

The town asked her for service and she served with loyalty and good will. When there was a house to clean, a meal to cook, Jamie came loaded with fresh vegetables from her garden -- a pampered and cultivated horn of plenty bursting with beans, okra, cabbage, corn, dill, and summer squash. Jard had picked the spot beside the chicken shed, rich with decaying matter and chicken manure. And in May when they planted the garden -- blue skies and crisp mountain air circumscribed their world. As the plow lifted the warm black earth, Jamie laughed like a child, clapping her hands and running to push the fat worms deep in the spongy soil beyond the reach of the scrambling red hens.

  On her knees, weeding, tying, watering, she spent endless hot july days "just loving the plants." She said, "So much of God is there."

She cleaned their houses, tended their sick, baby-sat their children, and when they said, "Jamie, sit down and eat" -- meals prepared from her own vegetables -- the meal was deducted from her meager wages. For there was little money given, but many size 20 to 40 shabby black and purple, orange and yellow organdy and chiffon dresses.

When Jard would find her trudging up the mountain with the old clothes, he would scold for accepting what he aid was less than fair exchange for her labor.

"They're using you, Jamie."

This brought a smile and an adamant, "Oh no, they are good people. Besides, it's their Karma. I can be responsible only for my own."     

Jard argued that she might be contributing to their bad Karma by allowing them to cheat her.

  Dismissing that accusation, with subservience and passion she continued in their service, pleading to carry their burdens as though paying penitence for sins commissioned in some faintly remembered other existence. For Jamie believed with all her being in the transmigration of the soul.

With his pocket knife, Jard cut the apple crisp. Savoring the slices of soft honey-covered fruit, he spoke of his gratitude. 

The outside phone rang and Jamie ran to answer it.

"It was Pop Harding. I'm going to clean his house -- said he'd drive me back if it storms."

Jard watched as the two multi-colored figures, the gypsy Jamie and the harlequin Josie passed the barn and disappeared down the road.

By the time she had finished cleaning the bedroom, the pounding rain had turned to silent snow. Fluffy balls of cotton huddled in spots across the meadows, obscuring the dying summer grass. 

Pop Harding, shifting his eyes from Jamie's steady gaze, said they'd better not try to make it up the mountain till morning. She could sleep on the sofa.

Making sure Josie was on the porch, Jamie took the blankets Pop handed her and curled up on the couch. She slept little. He seemed never to leave the room.

The sun glistened on the window. Must be ten o'clock, Jamie thought, jumping from the make-shift bed. Devouring the sandwich she had stuffed into her knap-sack, Pop Harding offered her coffee.

"No thanks, I must go."

His doughy face flushed and quivering, he moved beside her, lunged forward and swung his hand up under her dress. His fingers penetrated and held on.

Hysteria, tears and vomit came simultaneously, dripping and churning on her contorted features. Weaving and stumbling, she fought him off. His grip slackened and he pushed her across the floor into the bedroom. Instinctively, her hands groped beneath the mattress grasping the huge yellow envelope. She dashed onto the highway and across the courthouse square.

"Here's twenty! Here's Fifty!" she shouted as she stuffed the money into surprised hands. Flinging money in all directions, she ran into the street -- stopping cars and throwing bills into the startled tourists. Josie thought this great sport and joined the madness, leaping and barking.

From her office window, Lucy Waterford the Welfare lady, recognized Jamie and put in a call to Jard.

The old man hurried down the road. Cade Huntington, pickup loaded with his legal limit of deer, spotted the scurrying figure.

"Hey Jard, need a lift?"

Jard climbed in, muttering that he must get to town -- Jamie was in trouble.

Cade smiled. "Those hippies can take care of themselves."

A crowd had gathered. Cade parked at the hotel across from the square. Sheriff Hawkins dashed from the courthouse, cornered the screaming girl, and began shaking her violently.

Josie coiled and sprang, teeth slashing at the young sheriff's throat. Dog and sheriff tumbled in wild disarray through the mud.

Jard broke into a run.

Cade grabbed his rifle, took careful aim, and Josie fell dead.

Jamie, wet with red clay and vomit, sat in the street, her arms and fingers frozen around the carcass of the dead Josie. It took the effort of Jard, Sheriff Hawkins and Lucy Waterford to release Jamie's hold on the lifeless Husky.

The sun had departed and a clammy mist clung to the group as they led the cataleptic girl to the sheriff's plane. her soiled mother-hubbard hung in listless strips of faded gingham. Arrangements had been made for psychiatric evaluation down at Napa State Hospital.

Jard started home. He clutched a crumpled piece of paper -- one of the many similar notes she had left around the ranch during the summer. It read: "You will find a fresh salad in your kitchen. The God of Love and Peace be with you always. Hare Kirishna, Jamie."

The sky darkened and snow flurries swirled through the musty forest. The Ten-Two Tavern loomed just down the road.

The door opened and Kate Keller, ruddy-faced and exuberant, called out, "Jard, come look at the money we've collected for Jamie!"

Jard entered the warmth of the tavern. Staring at the fruit jar bulging with money, his face hardened. Raising his hand, he smashed the jar. Glass, money and blood mixed with the slush on the floor. Jard sent chairs and tables flying.

"Money for Jamie," he choked, his brittle words aimed like bullets at the rows of familiar faces. "What good now? When it could have helped, there was none."

In the commotion, Kate Keller tried desperately to bandage Jard's hand. Cliff Huntington, Cade's lethargic, slow moving son, tripped and fell backwards, shattering the plate glass window with it's bold reddish-orange neon sign.

Thick clusters of heavy snow was falling, covering Jard's hat and sliding off the worn coat onto the bleeding hand.

He had destroyed and caused property to be destroyed; and, he had no doubt they'd call the sheriff's office and ask that he be picked up.

Making his way up the mountain, he honestly hoped that Jamie's Lord would not desert her now... 

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